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Posts Tagged ‘Goethe’

An Irresistible, Almost Magical Force

April 22, 2014 | by

Goethe’s strange, elusive third novel, Elective Affinities.
Goethe_Campagna

Johann Heimlich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787.

There were no best-seller lists in 1809, but it was quickly clear to the German reading public that Goethe’s third novel, Elective Affinities, which appeared in the fall of that year, was a flop. His first, The Sorrows of Young Werther, had inspired a fashion craze and copycat suicides, and had fired the heart of a young Napoleon. His latest effort, on the other hand, received befuddled notices from critics and little love from the coterie of writers and philosophers drawn to the Great Man. Everyone from the Brothers Grimm to Achim von Arnim to Wilhelm von Humboldt agreed that the book was a bore, that its plot made nearly no sense, and that its treatment of adultery bordered on the distasteful.

At sixty, Goethe was not one to let bad reviews get him down. The universally beloved Faust had appeared in 1808, and by 1810, Goethe was to have completed his Theory of Colors as well as his autobiography, Poetry and Truth. Nonetheless, in the correspondence he sent out around the time of publication, Goethe found himself compelled to admit that he had as little idea as anyone else of what he was trying to accomplish with his most recent book, or of what it had finally become. Then as now, Elective Affinities is an incredible, deeply mystifying read, the headstone of a man who hoped to groom the wilderness of life into an English park where even loss, pain, and death have finally found their proper place. Read More »

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A Conspiracy in a Teapot

December 28, 2012 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

At three in the morning, Almaty’s tiny airport is no match for the crackling expanses of sky and snow. As we rise from our seats, the local women shrug on their fur coats, shape shifters assuming animal form. New York hasn’t seen much winter lately, and I’m glad of evidence that the seasons still exist—even if I had to come on a business trip to Kazakhstan to find it.

The long smooth road from the airport is lined with luxury-car dealerships and dilapidated beer shops, their signs askew. “Double beer!” one sign cries, sounding drunk. The streets are named after poets, heroes, and Soviet institutions.  (Meet me at the intersection of Goethe and Komintern. Sentences like these are the reward for time spent in the former Soviet Union.) We pass a fluorescent Eiffel Tower standing sentry in front of a shopping center. “What’s that?” I ask the driver. “The Eiffel Tower,” he answers, matter-of-fact. I’m reminded of a Kyrgyz woman who told me that the Great Wall of China did not exist. Though she herself had visited the wall, she insisted that the section she’d seen was the only real part, built recently to dupe foreigners. “But you can see it from space,” I protested. “The Chinese are very clever,” she answered. “And those Buddhas in the caves? You think those are a thousand years old? All from the eighties. Trust me.”

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Fake Books, Fictional Detectives

September 20, 2012 | by

  • “Would anyone go and ‘consult’ him? One feels not.” In a rediscovered Agatha Christie document, the author admits to a love-hate relationship with her creation, the debonair Belgian detective Poirot, and critiques other mystery writers.
  • The Marquis de Sade wanted even more days of Sodom? Unfinished novels of great writers.
  • “Wanting for some unknown reason to fill a space in his study with a selection of false books—complete with witty names he thought up himself—[Dickens] wrote to a bookbinder with a list of ‘imitation book-backs’ to be created specially for his bookshelf.” Now, the New York Public Library has re-created several of these fake books.
  • And speaking of the NYPL! Thanks to a donation, the library has reconsidered its controversial plan to relocate many of its books.
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    April Ayers Lawson on “Virgin”

    September 21, 2010 | by

    April Ayers Lawson’s short story “Virgin” appears in our new issue. It is Lawson’s first appearance in a magazine with national circulation. Last week she was kind enough to answer a few questions from her home in Greenville, South Carolina.

    In “Virgin” you describe sexual frustration and desire very convincingly—and very specifically—from a man’s point of view. How did you do it?

    Close observation. Male frustration seems to me more focused, more linear, than female frustration. This interests me a lot. Also, I enjoy asking men about what they think it means to be a man. I like to hear about the women in their lives—how they view their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives. I like to try to understand what it means to be “manly,” what it means for a man to think he's failed to be manly. The more I understand men, the more I understand women.

    Also, when a story is about women—I consider the story to be mostly about the women—it makes more sense to me to feel them from the perspective of a man.

    Did you ever feel out of your depth?

    The perspective came naturally. If it didn't I'd have aborted. When I write I’m doing it as an act of discovery. Also to get high. What I’m writing should feel at least as real to me as what’s physically around me. It should rise out of and also sustain a heightened sense of emotional reality. Otherwise, no point, no pleasure.

    The stories of yours that I have read are all set in the South among Evangelical Christians. Do you write with a Southern Christian reader in mind? Read More »

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