From the Archive
June 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
An excerpt from Susan Howe’s “Defenestration of Prague,” originally published in our Winter 1982 issue. Howe, who was born in Boston, is eighty-eight today. People often tell me my work is ‘difficult,’ she told the Review in 2012. “I have the sinking feeling they mean ‘difficult’ as in ‘hopeless.’ ”
long illness of little difference Read More »
May 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “On the Literary Life,” a series of excerpts from John Cheever’s journals published in our Fall 1993 fortieth-anniversary issue. Cheever, born on this day in 1912, had amassed twenty-eight notebooks by the time he died, in 1982; he wrote the extracts below between 1974 and 1978. “These were workbooks, a place to take notes, to practice and to fume,” Cheever’s son, Benjamin, says in his introduction. “Please remember that this is just one piece of the man. An interesting piece, I think: diverting, instructive, candid, and intimate. But not the whole guy.”
The telephone rings at four. This is CBS. John Updike has been in a fatal automobile accident. Do you care to comment. I am crying. I cannot sleep again. I think of joining Mary in bed but I am afraid she will send me away. I think I am right. When there is a little light I feed the dogs. I hope they don’t expect to be fed this early every morning, she says. I do not point out that John will not die every morning and that in any case it is I who feeds them. The restraint costs me nothing. When I go into the kitchen for another cup of coffee she empties the pot into my cup and says: I was just about to have some myself. When I insist on sharing the coffee I am unsuccessful. I do not say that the pain of death is nothing compared to the pain of sharing a coffee pot with a peevish woman. This costs me nothing. And I see that what she seeks, much more than a cup of coffee—is to gratify a sense of denial and neglect—and that we so often, all of us, put our cranky and our emotional demands so far ahead of our hunger and thirst. Read More »
May 22, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “The Designs for Motion,” a portfolio and interview with the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely from our Spring-Summer 1965 issue. “Today we can no longer believe in permanent laws, defined religions, durable architecture or eternal kingdoms,” Tinguely said in the fifties. “Immutability does not exist. All is movement. All is static.” He speaks here to Laura Mathews; this was her first published work.
If you were in my place, what questions would you ask?
… I would ask first of all: why do things move in your work? It’s the most simple, and also the most complicated, question. And I answer: things move because if they didn’t move, they might move; that is, in trying to make static things I have tried what everyone tries, and I’ve found that one petrifies situations, the phenomena that one is trying to seize. And finally one finds that as you try to seize these things, the things tell you something. In our time, things race and revolve automatically; industry and automation dominate us and impose a rhythm on us. Faced with that kind of thing, my work must move to remain vital, to avoid obsolescence … one doesn’t admit it, but one knows very well that in moving machines one is faced with life against death. Movement is so natural and so forceful that it is a fundamental dynamism. And anyway, one wants machines to move … Read More »
April 29, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“On the Ship,” a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy from our Spring 2005 issue. Cavafy was born on April 29, 1863; he died on his seventieth birthday.
It certainly resembles him, this small
pencil likeness of him.
Quickly done, on the deck of the ship;
an enchanting afternoon.
The Ionian Sea all around us.
It resembles him. Still, I remember him as handsomer.
To the point of sickness—he was that sensitive,
and it illumined his expression.
Handsomer, he appears to me,
now that my soul recalls him, out of Time.
Out of Time. All these things, they’re very old—
The sleuth, and the ship, and the afternoon
Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn.
April 23, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
An exchange between J. P. Donleavy—who’s eighty-nine today—and John Irving, from our Spring 1988 issue. Some two years previous, in his Art of Fiction interview, Irving had disparaged Donleavy at length, speaking of their meeting at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where Irving taught in the seventies:
I like meeting other writers, and Iowa City is a good place to meet them, but I didn’t enjoy Donleavy. John Cheever and I, who were in a particularly ritualized habit of watching Monday Night Football together, while eating homemade pasta, were happy to hear that Donleavy was coming. We’d both admired The Ginger Man and we wanted to meet the author. I went to the airport to meet him; I’d written three novels—but not yet The World According to Garp; I wasn’t famous. I didn’t expect Donleavy to have read anything of mine, but I was surprised when he announced that he read no one living; then he asked if we were in Kansas. I told him a little about the Workshop, but he was one of those writers with no knowledge about writing programs and many prejudices about them: to be a student of writing was a waste of time; better to go out and suffer. He was wearing a very expensive three-piece suit, very handsome shoes, and handling a very posh walking stick at the time, and I began to get irritated. In a meeting with Workshop students, he told them that any writer who was lowering himself by teaching writing wasn’t capable of teaching them anything. And so I was quite cross by the time I had to pick up the great man and drive him to his reading. I said we would be taking Mr. Cheever with us to the reading, and that both Mr. Cheever and I were great admirers, and that although I knew Mr. Donleavy did not read anyone living, he should know that Mr. Cheever was a wonderful writer. His short stories were models of the form, I said. But when I introduced Cheever to Donleavy, Donleavy wouldn’t even look at him; he went on talking to his wife, about aspirin, as if Cheever wasn’t there. I tried to say a few things about why so many American writers turned to teaching—as a way of supporting themselves without having to place the burden of making money upon their writing; and as a way of giving themselves enough time to practice their writing, too.
But Donleavy wasn’t interested and he said so. The whole trip he was taking was tiresome; the people he met, the people everywhere, were tiresome, too. And so Cheever and I sat up front in the car, excluded from the conversation about the evils of aspirin, and driving the Donleavys about as if they were unhappy royalty in a hick town. I will say that Mrs. Donleavy appeared to suffer her husband’s rudeness, or perhaps she was just suffering her headache. Cheever tried a few times to engage Donleavy in some conversation, and as Cheever was as gifted in conversation as any man I have ever met, I grew more and more furious at Donleavy’s coldness and unresponsiveness and total discourtesy. I was thinking, frankly, that I should throw the lout in a puddle, if there was one handy, when Cheever spoke up. “Do you know, Mr. Donleavy,” Cheever said, “that no major writer of fiction was ever a shit to another writer of fiction, except Hemingway—and he was crazy?” That was all. Donleavy had no answer. Perhaps he thought Hemingway was still a living writer and therefore hadn’t read him, either. Cheever and I deposited the Donleavys at the reading, which we spontaneously decided to skip. It was many years later that I met and became friends with George Roy Hill, who told me that he’d been a roommate of “Mike” Donleavy at Trinity College, Dublin, and that “Mike” was just a touch eccentric and surely not a bad sort. But I remembered my evening with Cheever and told George that, in my opinion, Donleavy was a minor writer, a shit, or crazy—or all three. I should add that drinking wasn’t the issue of this unpleasant evening; Cheever was not drinking; Donleavy wasn’t drunk—he was simply righteous and acting the prima donna. I feel a little like I’m tattling on a fellow schoolboy to tell this story, but I felt so awful—not for myself but for Cheever. It was such an outrage; that Donleavy—this large, silly man with his walking stick—was snubbing John Cheever. I suppose it’s silly that I should still be angry, but George Plimpton told me that Donleavy has a subscription to The Paris Review [a complimentary subscription—Ed.]; this presents an apparent contradiction to Donleavy’s claim that he doesn’t read anyone living, but it gives me hope that he might read this. If the story embarrasses him, or makes him angry, I would say we’re even; the evening embarrassed Cheever and me, and made us angry, too.
Donleavy wrote the following response; the editors also published a riposte from Irving. Read More »
April 22, 2015 | by Elizabeth Handel
A poem by Elizabeth Handel from our Fall 1976 issue. Handel went on to become a doctor; Google suggests that the composer Thomas Janson adapted this poem for choral performance sometime in the eighties, but no recordings have turned up.
Clarence was not known for speech or grace;
His looks were those of ordinary men;
In Roman times he might have washed the grapes for others’ orgies,
For his were lowly tasks of preparation
Behind the diamond window of a swinging door.
Clarence was a chosen person that they got somewhere
To be lower than a cook, but higher than a dishboy.
He placed lobster claws, two by two,
Beside their preboiled fuselages, busted up for fancy salads,
Antennae waving carefree from the luncheon platter;
So he could count, make no mistake.
The hostess banned him from the dining room
(He had no “class”) but she couldn’t stop his fingerprints,
Which entered by the hundreds on the backs of shellfish—
And this is what he loved: to watch his works in grand procession,
Held high above all men on sacred trays.