The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘letters’

Great Waves of Vigilance

October 30, 2015 | by

Abdellatif Laâbi’s poems are at war with barbarism.

Abdellatif Laâbi.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, here.

In Le livre imprévu, his 2010 collection of autobiographical essays, the Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi suggested that there were “two branches of the human tree” with which he’d been in touch over the course of his turbulent life:

I think I know well miseries and luminosities, pettinesses and grandeurs, barbarism and refinement. Provisionally, I’ve fixed myself in the space between the two, the better to estimate the fault line that separates them and the state of the roots in which they meet far under the earth.

Laâbi has returned to the word barbarism throughout his career. “I am happy,” he wrote his wife in one of the many revelatory letters he sent her during his eight-year jail sentence under King Hassan II for “infringing on the internal security of the State.” He continued: “What a paradox for the barbarians, the enemies of the sun.” Early in L’arbre de fer fleurit, the first of several long poems he published from prison, one verse’s speaker encourages an unnamed friend to hold on when it comes time to take “your first steps in the barbarous night.” And the five poems collected in Laâbi’s first book, The Reign of Barbarism, were written in Rabat years before his arrest in 1972, but first published in 1976 by the publishing imprint of his friend Ghislain Ripault’s literary magazine BarbareRead More »

Rimbaud Ascends the Alps

October 20, 2015 | by

Over the Gotthard, an engraving by Wilhelm Rothe after a drawing by Johann Gottfried Jentzsch, 1790.

From a letter by Arthur Rimbaud to his family, dated November 17, 1878, and sent from Gênes. After a disastrous affair with Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud, born on this day in 1854, left France to travel the world, eventually setting up shop in Ethiopia, where he sold coffee and arms before falling gravely ill. This note chronicles his harrowing journey through the Gotthard Pass, in the Swiss Alps. It’s translated from the French by Wyatt Mason, from I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud.

As for how I got here, it was full of wrong turns and sporadic seasonal surprises … for after a certain point no carriage could get through with an average of fifty centimeters of snow and a storm brewing. The Gothard crossing was supposed to be the route; you can’t get through by carriage in this season, and so I couldn’t get through either.

At Altdorf, on the south side of lake Quatre-Canton along the border of which we strolled through steam, the Gothard road begins. At Amsteg, fifteen kilometers from Altdorf, the road begins to climb and follow the contours of the Alps … At Göschenen, a village that has become a market town because of the affluence of its workers, you see the opening of the famous tunnel at the back of the gorge, the studios and canteens of businesses. Moreover, this seemingly rough-hewn countryside is hardworking and industrious. Even if you can’t see the threshers going in the valley, you can hear the scythes and mattocks against the invisible heights. It goes without saying that most of the local industry manifests in wood. There are many mining operations. Innkeepers show you mineral samples of every variety, which Satan, they say, buys on the cheap and resells in the city. Read More »

Will They or Won’t They?

September 24, 2015 | by

The not-quite-romance of Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald.

Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald.

Some friendships hover between romantic and platonic, anchored to the latter by circumstance or fate. It’s a sitcom trope: the will-they-or-won’t-they couple, always teetering at the edge of love. But though TV demands a tidy resolution—the answer is almost always that they will, and do—in life such friendships often remain in limbo indefinitely, stretching on for years, even decades.

Such was the case for Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald. By the time they became acquainted, in 1970, both were well established in their fields—Welty in that nebulous genre called Southern literature, and Macdonald in hard-boiled detective fiction. Welty’s stories and novels captured the voice of small towns in Mississippi; Macdonald, the pen name for Ken Millar, set his novels in Southern California, where he and his wife, Margaret, had settled. His books explored, through his Philip Marlowe–equivalent Lew Archer, the ways in which the dream of suburbia could turn twisted and nightmarish.

Welty was an avid reader of crime fiction, so much so that the now-defunct Choctaw Books in Jackson used to keep a pile of paperbacks on hand for when she stopped by. Though she went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, the only award Welty publicly displayed in her house was the Mystery Writers of America’s Raven Award, which she received in 1985 for being the Reader of the Year. She and Millar, by all accounts, had admired each other’s writing from afar for many years, but never connected. Then Welty published her novel Losing Battles, and Millar, using his real name, wrote her a brief, appreciative note. Read More »

Small Man on Campus

September 17, 2015 | by

Williams ca. 1920.

From letters William Carlos Williams sent to his mother as a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. During his time there, Williams, born on this day in 1883,  joined Mask and Wig, the nation’s oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe, and landed speaking roles in at least two productions. He was a varsity fencer and the art editor of the med-school yearbook, which awarded him the superlative “most versatile.” He also met Ezra Pound, beginning a long and sometimes turbulent friendship; here Williams mentions some of their earliest days together. Read More »

Fun with Freud

September 10, 2015 | by

H.D., 1922

A letter from Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) to her companions Bryher and Kenneth Macpherson, sent March 1, 1933. H. D., born on this day in 1886, had journeyed to Vienna to commence her psychoanalysis with Freud himself, though he was old and frail by then. She wasn’t supposed to discuss her analysis with friends, but she wrote about it in great depth to her loved ones; those letters are collected in Analyzing Freud. Here, she chronicles their first meeting and the difficult initial session. The analysis soon improved, though H. D. remained wary of Freud; among other concerns, she found it perturbing that he preferred dogs to cats. Read More »

Driveling Idiots from All Over Europe

September 2, 2015 | by

Joseph Roth, potentially exercised.

Part of a letter from Joseph Roth to Blanche Gidon, his French translator, sent October 11, 1932. Roth, born on this day in 1894, used his letters to vent his spleen, often about money and politics; in this note he rails against French publishing. (“Une heure avec” refers to a regular interview feature in the literary weekly Les Nouvelles Littéraires.) “His actual molten, sun-spotted core,” writes his English translator Michael Hofmann, “flares nakedly in these letters.” Hofmann’s Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters was published in 2012.
Read More »