Posts Tagged ‘France’
November 11, 2013 | by Glyn Maxwell
In honor of Veterans Day, we are re-running this favorite post.
In the last century, a few years of sodden slaughter in France and Flanders turned British poetry from Keatsian lyricism to raw, aghast reportage. Isaac Rosenberg’s poems, for instance, moved from prewar patriotic exultation—“Flash, mailed seraphim, / Your burning spears”—to, three years later, this numb, bone-dry mutter from the trenches: “Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies.”
In Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love” you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem—between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It’s the most astonishing line break I’ve ever encountered. It’s the sound of a culture’s poetic history cracking in half.
“To His Love” begins as an almost doggedly traditional elegy, with the Byronic echo of “We’ll walk no more on Cotswold.” It meanders through rivers, beasts, flowers, and the old tropes—nobility, “pride,” “memoried.” We are lulled into thinking that the urgency of “Cover him, cover him soon!” arises from intense soldierly love, rather than the desperate need to hide a shredded corpse, that “red, wet / Thing.” The euphemistic Latinate décor is stripped away; the haplessly tall T does it’s pitiful duty by the form, like a Tommy too shell-shocked to hide, a standing target.
The fragile Gurney was gassed and traumatized by the war, and he lived out his days in asylums. Read More »
July 15, 2013 | by Ted Scheinman
So hangs it, dubious, fateful, in the sultry days of July. It is the passionate printed advice of M. Marat, to abstain, of all things, from violence. Nevertheless the hungry poor are already burning Town Barriers, where Tribute on eatables is levied; getting clamorous for food.
—Thomas Carlyle, History of the French Revolution
The old saw that “an army marches on its belly” was blunted on July 14, 1789, as a half-starved, bibulous mob overran the walls of the Bastille, the Bourbon kings’ infamous political prison-turned-armory. Leaders of the rabble were more excited about hoarding gunpowder and fusils than about liberating the prison’s seven remaining, apparently apolitical inmates. Over the next two centuries, La Fête Nationale (or simply “le quatorze Juillet”) has metastasized from a Gallic celebration of freedom to a worldwide excuse for holding a multiday anarchic party, ideally with decent wine and minimal casualties. Read More »
March 27, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
March 8, 2013 | by Mike Duncan and Jason Novak
February 25, 2013 | by Sarah Gerard
To call Marie Chaix’s work autobiographical would be incomplete, though most of her books tell and retell the stories of her life. Her writing is porous and breathes memory, attesting to memory’s transience and the impressions it leaves on the body.
At the age of twenty-six, Chaix read the notebooks her father had kept during his ten years in prison following World War II. Unbeknownst to her family, he’d been the right-hand man of pro-German Fascist collaborator Jacques Doriot and had fought in the Wehrmacht beside him. This was a shock and became the topic of Chaix’s first book, The Laurels of Lake Constance. Like many of Chaix’s works, it hovers somewhere between memoir and fiction. In June, Dalkey Archive Press will publish The Summer of the Elder Tree, translated by Chaix’s husband, Harry Mathews. It concerns her ten-year hiatus from writing following the death of her editor and reincorporates many of the places she visited in The Laurels of Lake Constance and in her second book, Silences, or a Woman’s Life, which Dalkey published late last year.
Chaix spoke to me on the phone from her home in Key West.
As someone who writes a lot of autobiography, do you believe that a story is preexisting—that a writer’s job is to find it, retrieve it, and record it—or is there some invention in autobiography?
Well, I didn’t realize it before writing, but in general I discovered that, even if you have characters that you know very well—even if you write about yourself, about your “life,” your memories—the result is exactly the same as if it was fiction. I think that readers know that it’s autobiographical because writers care when it’s autobiographical, but they read it and think about themselves, which is what happened to me.
But I think writing doesn’t work like that, you know? Of course, you have a motive, you have yourself, you have your family. But they become completely—and even yourself—you become completely part of a larger world, a larger story. Read More »
November 2, 2012 | by Jason Novak
The first European in my mother’s family to set foot in North America was a short, olive-skinned Frenchman from one of the outermost communes of greater Paris. He fled France amidst the turmoil following the revolution of 1848 for the gold fields of California and chased an elusive mother lode all the way up the coast into Alaska before giving up. He was an exact contemporary of the early Impressionists, and a full generation older than Marcel Proust. He spent the final years of his life a broken man, having outlived two of his three children, and subsisting on a homesteaded vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains long before California wine was a profitable industry.
The only relic of him my family still possesses is a stack of letters spanning thirty years from his sister, Geneviève, imploring him to come home. A Parisian relation visiting his cabin in the 1890s noted that he wept at the thought of his homeland. As far as I know, he shares no direct connection with Proust, but the world he came from is Proust’s world, and seemed to me, as a child, enchanted when contrasted with the drab California suburb I grew up in. Sadness is a condition that can ripple across many generations, and if his was earned through the loss of a time and place, mine was inherited from the ruined family that struggled to make sense of his mournful legacy.
But his still-hopeful departure from Le Havre for the new World in 1852 would have been immediately preceded by a train ride from Paris through Normandy – a train ride through the same countryside that left Proust enraptured on his childhood sojourns to Illiers-Combray. What follows is an illustration of that train ride, as recounted in Proust’s sprawling lifework, À la recherche du temps perdu. This passage occurs in Part Three of the First Volume and constitutes but a few rich, supple pages.
Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.