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What We’re Loving: Girls, Cribs, and Literary Detective Work

May 18, 2012 | by

How often have you read a TV review by a writer of our generation and thought of Susan Sontag? It's never happened to me—until this week, when I read Elaine Blair’s review of Girls in The New York Review of Books. By paying attention to one little sex scene, Blair makes deep arguments about sex scenes in general, the limits of romantic comedy, and the real meaning of sexual freedom. —Lorin Stein

About a decade ago, my friend Mikey loaned me a book he thought I’d enjoy. I’ve only just got around to picking it up. Though I’m a bad friend, he isn’t: the book—Leonid Andreyev’s The Little Angel—is terrific, after a fashion. The stories are intriguing, especially “At the Roadside Station” and “The City," but the translation is rather bad. I’d love to see it revisited by another publisher and translator. I’m looking at you, NYRB Books. And how about Natasha Randall? I loved her translations of We and A Hero of Our Time. —Nicole Rudick

For those with a green thumb and a love of literature, look no further than Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries for an insightful glimpse into garden writing over the last two-hundred years. Lush illustrations color the pages and accompany extensive excerpts from the writings of influential figures of gardening’s past and present, such as Thomas Jefferson, Gertrude Jekyll, and Michael Pollan. Gain a little inspiration for your own beckoning plots, or simply get yourself excited for summer’s peak. —Elizabeth Nelson

I was so ready to give up on the Cribs. The addition of Johnny Marr to their last album, Ignore the Ignorant, had a pointing-in-the-mirror, laughing-at-the lint-in-their-belly-button stupidity to it, which just goes to show that Johnny Marr ruins EVERYTHING. In the Belly of the Brazen Bullnot only returns the Cribs to their punk-rock roots but shows a maturation that hasn’t been present in previous albums. Songs like “Uptight” and “Stalagmites” start with the band’s routine power chords and trash-banging drums, but evolve into beautiful heartfelt harmonies. And the postscriptish “Like a Gift Giver” reels along in a dreamy one-minute package. I have no problem predicting that it will prove to be one of the more complex and well-thought-out rock albums of this generation. —Noah Wunsch

As readers of the Daily know, there are plans in the works to revamp the New York Public Library. If you want a five-minute explanation—from both sides—of what’s at stake, check out this week’s Room for Debate in The New York Times. —Lorin Stein

For years, a thing that has bugged me is the claim made in David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel that “the last words of the original edition” of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy are “Farewell and be kind.” It’s a beautiful phrase, and not without significance in Markson’s own book, where it also serves as the last line. The novel/poem/essay (whatever Markson’s book is) ends: “Then I go out at night to paint the stars. / Says a Van Gogh letter. / Farewell and be kind.”

I looked at some early editions of Burton’s book—not the first (couldn’t get access) but pretty early—and didn’t see the phrase anywhere, couldn’t find it online—except in references to This Is Not a Novel. I’d more or less concluded that Markson made it up—would have been a good joke and right somehow, in the context of that work, for him to have planted a false clue—but then I cribbed a password to Early English Books Online and got a look at the first, 1621 edition. Sure enough, at the very very end, there’s a postscript or appendix titled “Conclusion to the Reader,” and it ends “Vale & faue.” I.e., Vale et fave. I.e., Farewell and be kind (or look kindly on me).

Jumping ahead a few years to the 1624 edition, the “Conclusion” is gone, and the last section, “Cure of Despaire,” ends instead with two different sign-offs, one in English and one in Latin: “Be not alone, be not idle,” and “SPERATE MISERI, CAVETE FæLICES” (“Let the wretched take hope, and the happy beware”—from Horace, maybe? Or just an anonymous motto).

On the basis of some cursory Google-booking, “vale et fave” was a known, if not exactly common, tag. Leibniz and Linnaeus both used it.

What’s sort of amazing and funny is that Markson has written this perfect English sentence (“Farewell and be kind”—it sounds as elemental as “I miss you” or something, but you can’t actually find it, naked like that, outside of This Is Not a Novel), and he's attributed it to Burton’s book, which is, after all, a great work of English literature (though macaronically strewn throughout with Latin). But Burton never wrote that sentence. He wrote “Vale & faue,” and didn’t really even write that; he was just using a charming if slightly recherché formal expression he’d seen. Seeming to flaunt his allusiveness, Markson conceals his inventiveness. —John Jeremiah Sullivan

3 COMMENTS

3 Comments

  1. Chris Roberts | May 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Author John Jeremiah Sullivan amply displays the essay as a non-genre in his “Mister Lytle.” It is spirit breakingly (new word) insular and it reads/grates across the mind like a punishment, a breach of the author-reader pact. Sullivan also serves to prove my maxim that there are no great writers, only great concepts unrealized.

  2. I am Curious (George) | May 19, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Every week I look forward to What We’re Loving on a Friday and really enjoyed John Jeremiah’s Latin lesson(particularly since I’m a fan of Messrs Burton, Markson and indeed Sullivan). Also, given that he has previously mentioned reading Frances Yates in preparation for a future project, I wonder if we’ll get to read a longer piece on the Renaissance sometime soon?

  3. Timberland | January 8, 2013 at 9:42 am

    This actually solved my problem, appreciate it!

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