June 13, 2016 | by Fernando Pessoa
In 1929, after a nine-year silence, Fernando Pessoa renewed his correspondence with Ophelia Queiroz, with whom he had enjoyed the only romance of his life. Where his earlier letters, from 1920, found him effusive (perhaps excessively) in his affections, this later chapter sees him in a far more disturbed frame of mind; by the end of the year he had broken off their correspondence again, this time for good. Read more of his letters in The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa.
September 24, 1929
So tell me, my little Wasp (who’s not really mine, though you are a wasp), what words you want to hear from a creature whose mind took a spill somewhere on the Rua do Ouro, whose wits—along with the rest of him—got run over by a truck as it turned the corner onto the Rua de Sao Nicolau. Read More »
June 6, 2016 | by Thomas Mann
In December 1903, Thomas Mann wrote his older brother, Heinrich, a long letter reviewing the latter’s novel—with brutal candor. Some of the most scathing bits are below. The complete missive is in The Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900–1949.
My impressions? They are not exactly very pleasant—which impressions, indeed, don’t absolutely need to be. It didn’t exactly make agreeable reading—which, indeed, however, is absolutely not necessary either. I struggled back and forth with the book, threw it aside, took it up again, groaned, complained, and then got tears in my eyes again … For days, in the lowest barometric pressure in a hundred years (according to the meteorologist), I went about in the agony your book caused in me. Now I know approximately what I have to say to you.
That I am not in agreement with your literary development—that must finally be said … When I think back ten, eight, five years! How do you appear to me? How were you? A refined connoisseur—next to whom I seemed to myself eternally plebeian, barbaric, and buffoonish—full of discretion and culture, full of reserve toward “modernity” and historically as talented as could be, free of all need for applause, a delicate and proud persaaonlity for whose literary endeavors there would quite probably be a select and receptive public … And now, instead of that? Instead, now these strained jokes, these vulgar, shrill, hectic, unnatural calumnies of the truth and humanity, these disgraceful grimaces and somersaults, the desperate attacks on the reader’s interest! … I read them and I don’t know you anymore. The psychological constant of the work, the desire of weak artificiality for life, this desire that would gladly masquerade as amorous desire within the lonely and sensuous artist—how is it supposed to move, to work convincingly when not even an attempt is being made to come close to life, to observe and capture even the air of the inner impulse of this simple madcap? Everything is distorted, screaming, exaggerated, “bellows,” “buffo,” romantic in the bad sense … Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Are you enjoying yourself at the moment? Please stop. It’s Thomas Hardy’s birthday, and he will wipe the smile right off your smug, contented, life-affirming face. You’re dealing with a man who knew how to deploy the word Niflheim, defined by the OED as “the region of eternal darkness, mist, and cold inhabited by those who died from old age or illness.” Hardy uses it to dispirited perfection in The Woodlanders, relating a kind of failure to connect: “But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way.” Actually, The Woodlanders is full of an evocative, despondent murkiness. It extends even to the tiny twigs on the ground, which Hardy takes care to describe as they’re destroyed by a passing carriage: “they drove on out of the grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and common plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the track.”
But I’ve already digressed. I’m writing mainly to share a few excerpts from his letters that find him at his morose peak (nadir?). As a kind of warm-up, here’s a note from 1898 in which he critiques a prime minister’s funeral—always an exercise in good taste. Read More »
May 9, 2016 | by J. D. Daniels and Mike Nagel
In the exchange below, J. D. Daniels and Mike Nagel discuss Didier Anzieu’s The Skin-Ego, available in a new translation by Naomi Segal. Anzieu (1923–99) was a French psychoanalyst and theorist whose work brought the body back to the center of psychoanalytic inquiry; The Skin-Ego, first published in the mideighties, found him meditating on the function and structures of the skin as a “psychic envelope.” Naomi Segal is a professor of modern languages, specializing in comparative literary and cultural studies, gender, psychoanalysis and the body.
I just got back from New Orleans, where my friend Nicky told me his theory of swamp karma.
Anything you drop down here will sprout, he said, whether it’s a seed from a plant or a deed you sow. This land is fertile and karma is quick. If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad. If you don’t know how you did, you can always check on what you got. Read More »
March 28, 2016 | by Iris Murdoch
March 9, 2016 | by Vita Sackville-West & Virginia Woolf
Vita Sackville-West, born on this day in 1892, and Virginia Woolf exchanged the letters below in January 1926. The two began an affair in the midtwenties that inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando. These letters came after their first separation; their affair ended in 1929. Original spelling and punctuation have been retained. Their correspondence is collected in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf.Read More »