Posts Tagged ‘Moby Dick’
June 11, 2013 | by Rowena Kennedy-Epstein
In the Library of Congress archive of the American poet Muriel Rukeyser, there is a vast network of one-sided correspondence, incomplete drafts, unpublished texts, notes, proofs, diaries, and datebooks. It is a space of the unfinished, of process, and of radical possibility. Its silences represent the often violent effects of cold-war intellectual suppression, the sexism of editors, and the deaths of lovers. Over the course of six years I came and went, making the trip from New York to D.C., piecing together a literary history about a writer whose life and work are notoriously difficult to map.
The archival breaks, aesthetic pronouncements, and biographical lacunae that characterize Rukeyser’s archive do not feel particularly surprising for a writer whose career and work appear always disrupted and open-ended—visible and invisible at the same time. Rukeyser’s poems, biographies, and essays have persistently challenged the rigid artistic, political, and intellectual binaries that have shaped the twentieth century, and because of this she has experienced a continual burial and recovery. She has been alternately denigrated and admired for being an avant-garde and radical poet, a feminist, a theorist, an activist; for being sexually liberated and a single mother. She has been viewed from both sides of the critical establishment as being either too aesthetically experimental or not aesthetically rigorous enough, as too radical or insufficiently Marxist. These dichotomous readings of Rukeyser highlight the ways in which her work defied and remade the political and artistic programs of her historical moment. “For our time depends not on single points of knowledge,” she wrote in The Life of Poetry, “but on clusters and combinations.”
The Life of Poetry begins on a boat evacuating Barcelona during the first days of the Spanish Civil War. In it, she describes an experience of profound transformation, writing of Spain as the place where “I began to say what I believed.” I followed that thought into her archive and back out again. Almost no one had written on the subject; her writings on Spain were like unmarked graves scattered through her work, identifiable only by a phrase or image repeated and refigured in other works, some of them long out of print, others lost and buried in the archive. But the silences of each gave access to the other: a line in a poem made a map into the archive; the material recovered in the archive made visible not only that which was hidden in her already published work, but elucidated new literary and political histories. Rukeyser wrote about Spain for more than forty years, in every genre. The texts overlap and echo each other; they proliferate across decades and are intertwined with other histories. Always they carry a sense of urgency, and always they return to just five days in 1936. Read More »
May 1, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
January 29, 2013 | by James Santel
Nostalgia is a dangerous feeling to indulge. It transforms other people, including old versions of one’s self, into figures whose lone purpose is to lend texture and credence to a diorama of the past. And just as an elementary-school diorama of, say, a Roman frontier fortress, no matter how meticulously researched and constructed, can never convey the totality of what it would have been like to stand sentry in Germania circa 70 A.D., so the version of the past constructed by nostalgia is a distortion, albeit one that relies upon memory (itself a kind of distortion, as neuroscience tells us) and experience to weave what is in essence a fairy tale.
Nostalgia’s refractions aren’t limited to people, of course. Its influence extends to places, too, refusing to acknowledge that places have presents and futures—presents and futures that often don’t involve one’s self, hence the willingness to ignore them—but only pasts: your pasts. Whenever I visit the University of Chicago, for instance, Hutch Courtyard is never Hutch Courtyard, a pleasant flagstone enclave that’s served as a favored warm-weather gathering spot for generations of undergraduates, but instead the place where I sat reading Moby-Dick when I learned that my grandmother had died. That’s it. All of the hopes and dreams, joys and fears toted through that spot by millions of human beings for more than a century, brushed aside by my solipsistic longing for a past that wasn’t nearly as honey colored in the living as it is in the remembering. I recall seeing a picture of Prince Charles passing through Hutch Courtyard during a 1977 visit and thinking, There’s Prince Charles walking right by the spot where I was when I heard that Grandma died. Nostalgia, which presents the past as a meadow of boundless possibility, is actually quite constricting. Read More »
November 16, 2012 | by J. D. Daniels
At last I had begun writing my long-planned book about Captain Ahab’s doomed enterprise in Moby-Dick—about Robur’s doomed enterprise in Verne’s Maître du Monde—about the doomed enterprise of Doctor Hans Reinhardt from the 1979 science-fiction film The Black Hole.
Eleven thousand words in, and may God grant that I learn it sooner next time or else not at all, I understood with blinding clarity that my book itself was another doomed enterprise.
As Don Quixote said: y yo hasta agora no sé lo que conquisto a fuerza de mis trabajos—I do not even know what I am conquering.
“Master of the world”! Robur-le-Conquérant!—what a delusion! what a farce! The quintessence of megalomania: Richard Wagner named his dog Robur.
November 9, 2012 | by The Paris Review
Not long ago I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of a Swede and a Russian Jew. It was not a religious ceremony (unless you count the Universal Life Church), but when the three of us sat down to discuss vows, the bride and groom agreed that the Book of Common Prayer couldn’t be beat; we just had to kill the “obey” clause and the stuff about God. It felt funny, crossing out words in my great-grandfather’s prayer book, but according to a new monograph by Daniel Swift, Shakespeare did pretty much the same thing, repeatedly. Shakespeare’s Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age makes a case for the Anglican liturgy as a work of politics and art and as a crucial influence on English literature. It made for perfect candelight reading after lower Manhattan lost power. —Lorin Stein
November 7, 2012 | by Sadie Stein