The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘letters’

Shhhh—It’s the Desert, and Other News

October 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Simon Prisner.

  • From afar, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature seems like a real laugh riot, at least to those of us whose main ambition in life is to gain the adulation of the Swedes. But a new volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters suggests that taking home the Nobel is not such a bed of roses: “The Beckett of the years covered by this fourth and final volume of letters is lionized even before he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Although, in his case, the word ‘award’ is wholly inappropriate: he considered the prize a threat to his creativity (‘I hope the work will forgive me and let me near it again’). He was on holiday in Tunisia with his wife, Suzanne, when his publisher sent a telegram: ‘In spite of everything they have given you the Nobel Prize.’ Writing to his lover Barbara Bray a week later, Beckett’s response to his laureateship couldn’t be less effusive: ‘Here things are pretty awful and little hope of improvement.’ ”
  • Want some peace and quiet? I don’t mean your garden-variety hushes or lulls. I mean some real fucking silence. Well: go on a hot-air balloon ride in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. You won’t hear a peep. Ian Thomson did it, and I gather it went pretty well: “In some parts of this shadowless immensity it has not rained for four hundred years … From the air, the Atacama resembled an African savanna, with thorny gorse, inland beaches of white dunes, and the occasional llama skeleton picked clean by condors. I thought: this must be one of the most magnificent views in all the world. We could clearly see horses grazing in a ranch; and away there, beyond a row of solitary carob trees, meadows of alfalfa dwindling in size to resemble toy-railway lichen … In the silence of the Atacama evening, the moon hung bright and radiant; the silence was as deep and complete as if never disturbed. In Santiago the next day it really felt as if we had returned from the moon.” 

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In His Own Words

October 18, 2016 | by

Newly revealed letters from Heidegger confirm his Nazism—not that there was any doubt.

Illustration: Herbert Wetterauer.

Martin Heidegger never apologized for his support of the Nazis. He joined the party in 1933 and remained a member until the bitter end, in 1945. First, he spoke out enthusiastically in favor of a conservative revolution with Hitler at its helm. From about 1935, he found his own ambitions disappointed, and grew more silent. Yet, when he called his dalliance with National Socialism his greatest mistake after the war, he was upset not at his crime, but at the fact that he got caught.

Not that Heidegger has had to apologize, either. For the past seventy years, his many apologists and acolytes have gone to astounding lengths in trying to prove that his philosophical oeuvre exists independent of what was, they avowed, a mere weakness of character, an instance of momentary opportunism. In 2014, a group of French philosophers even tried to halt the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, his philosophical diaries. But if antisemitic references in his philosophy are oblique and, as some would have it, coincidental to his critique of modernity, the Notebooks leave little room for such charitable reading. Even after the war he would bemoan the Jewish “drive for revenge,” with their aim consisting in “obliterating the Germans in spirit and history.” 

And yet, the Black Notebooks haven’t lain to rest one of the more irksome debates around continental philosophy. Perhaps that’s what the release of Heidegger’s correspondence with his lifelong confidante, his brother Fritz, will achieve. His heirs, having held back these letters for many years, have finally caved to the pressure that began to mount following the release of the Black Notebooks. The excerpts released in advance by Die Zeit and Le Monde last weekend show Heidegger for what, apparently, he was: the real deal, a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi who bought into Hitler’s ideology wholesale. And he wasn’t a particularly sophisticated one. In his letters, the forefather of deconstruction voices his impassioned belief in Volk and Führer, perpetual German victimhood, “world Jewry,” the threat of Bolshevism, and American decadence.

Perhaps it’s inconvenient, but it’s hardly shocking: Heidegger was not just a member of the Nazi party, but also a Nazi. Nor was he just a “metaphysical antisemite”—he also just really disliked Jews. Let’s hope this settles the matter. Read More »

The Oscar Wilde of Your Dreams

October 12, 2016 | by

Katherine Mansfield.

In a November 1920 letter to her husband, John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield describes a dream in which she met Oscar Wilde. Read more of her correspondence in The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield.

In a café, Gertler met me. “Katherine you must come to my table. I’ve got Oscar Wilde there. He’s the most marvelous man I ever met. He’s splendid!” Gertler was flushed. When he spoke of Wilde he began to cry—tears hung on his lashes but he smiled. Read More »

Madness Is a Waste of Time

October 4, 2016 | by

From the cover of Anne Sexton: A Self-portrait in Letters.

Anne Sexton, who died forty-two years ago today, did her best to respond to the legions of fans who wrote to her. The letter below, from August 1965, finds her dispensing unvarnished advice to an aspiring poet from Amherst. Read more of her correspondence in Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters.

Your letter was very interesting, hard to define, making it hard on me somehow to set limits for you, advise or help in any real way. First of all let me tell you that I find your poems fascinating, terribly uneven … precious perhaps, flashes of brilliance … but the terrible lack of control, a bad use of rhyme and faults that I feel sure you will learn not to make in time. I am not a prophet but I think you will make it if you learn to revise, if you take your time, if you work your guts out on one poem for four months instead of just letting the miracle (as you must feel it) flow from the pen and then just leave it with the excuse that you are undisciplined.

Hell! I’m undisciplined too, in everything but my work … Everyone in the world seems to be writing poems … but only a few climb into the sky. What you sent shows you COULD climb there if you pounded it into your head that you must work and rework these uncut diamonds of yours. Read More »

A Compound of Knave and Blockhead

September 26, 2016 | by


Happy 128th, T. S. Eliot. Here’s a letter he wrote to the poet Stephen Spender in June 1932. Eliot had argued, in his religious essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” that young people needed to be taught “chastity, humility, austerity, and discipline.” Spender wrote him to dispute that notion; the below is Eliot’s rebuttal. This excerpt comes from The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6, edited by John Haffenden.

I can’t agree that religion provides such an effective escape as you seem to think. The great majority of people find their escape in easier ways; there are a great many unimaginative, selfish and lazy people who profess to be religious, but a vastly greater number who are not … All of the middle classes want to be gentlemen, and being a gentleman is incompatible with holding any strong religious convictions; with the latter, one must at least be prepared sooner or later to commit some ungentlemanly act. And for one person who escapes through religion into a “sentimental dreamland,” there are thousands who escape by reading novels, by looking at films, or best of all, by driving very fast on land or in air, which makes even dreams unnecessary. Read More »

Who the Hell Is This Joyce

September 21, 2016 | by

H. G. Wells does not approve.

In honor of H. G. Wells’s sesquicentennial, here’s a letter he wrote to James Joyce in November 1928, brought to light a few years ago by Letters of Note. The note finds Wells reacting, irascibly if not uncharitably, to early passages of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which had by then begun to circulate in literary magazines. 
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