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Posts Tagged ‘modernism’

What a Good Book Can Be: An Interview with Edwin Frank

April 7, 2016 | by

In 1999, Edwin Frank founded New York Review Books to reintroduce out-of-print works—many in first translations from around the world—to the reading public. “From the beginning, it was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue,” Frank told the New York Times last year. “We set out to do the whole mix of things that a curious person might be interested in, which would take you back and forth from fiction to certain kinds of history.” In the last seventeen years, you’ve likely picked up a New York Review Book—maybe because you were taken with its arresting design, or because you recognized a work you didn’t know by a major author: Walt Whitman’s unexpurgated Drum-Taps, say, or unpublished stories by Chekhov, or new versions of Aeschylus and Balzac, Dante and Euripides, or essay collections by Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm.

Since its inception, the series has won dozens of awards for its translations; the New York Times chose Magda Szabó’s The Door as one of the ten best books of 2015. New York Review Books have met not just with critical plaudits but commercial success, which naturally leads the curious reader to wonder: Who is Edwin Frank, anyway? We met in his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to discuss his process: how he finds the books he publishes and what provokes his interest. Frank has a soft-spoken manner and a reader’s excellent dispatch of vocabulary, but he clearly enjoys regular punctuations of loud laughter, provoked by his knowing, bone-dry sense of humor.

You’ve published two books of poetry. Has your background as a poet affected your tastes as an editor? 

Well you could say that reading and writing poetry saved me from ever being a professional reader or writer. I had a Stegner Fellowship after college, but the main thing I took away from it was a permanent aversion to the world of writing programs, and poetry is also a pretty effective inoculation against commercial publishing. And I was always sure that I wanted to have nothing to do with the academic study of literature. Then again, poetry did in some sense lead me to publishing—a kind of gateway drug—since in the nineties my friend Andy McCord and I started a small press, Alef Books, in which we published Joseph Lease, Ilya Kutik, Melissa Monroe, Michael Ruby. But that was a labor of love. In fact I came to editing very late, in my midthirties, which is unusual in publishing, a business people mostly go into right after college. It was a lucky break. I needed a job and I thought that having put out a handful of books of poems would make me of interest to publishers, which of course was dead wrong.
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Clairvoyant Observation

March 9, 2016 | by

A vision of Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” at its centenary.

Diane Szczepaniak, Stanza 6 (Is there no change of death in paradise).

When “Sunday Morning” was first published in the November 1915 issue of Poetry, just over a hundred years ago, Wallace Stevens was thirty-six; the poem was one of his first major publications. He’d recently moved to the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would spend the rest of his life insuring people against the hazards of sudden change. His professional and poetic lives converged on that fact: everything changes.

A spiritual meditation for a secular era, “Sunday Morning” glows with the ripe colors of late summer and early autumn, brief arc segments of the seasonal cycle whose rhythms Stevens celebrates.

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In 2007, my mother, Diane Szczepaniak, a lifelong abstract painter and sculptor, began to memorize “Sunday Morning.” She was unaccustomed to memorization; it became a kind of ritual for her. She kept Stevens’s book by her bed and worked through the poem line by line. As she built each stanza in her memory, she began to paint her experience of the images, music, and emotions carried by the language. The paintings became her “Sunday Morning” seriesRead More »

Extra, This Is the Meaning of Life

December 8, 2015 | by

From the cover of our Winter 1986 issue. Edward Ruscha, Several Monograms (detail), 1986, dry pigment and acrylic on paper.

“Sonnet,” a poem by Delmore Schwartz from our Winter 1986 issue. Schwartz was born on this day in 1913 and died in 1966; this poem, dated 1938, was drawn from his unpublished manuscripts and typescripts at Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Robert Phillips called it “a good example of his earliest work, which took Eliot and Yeats as models. Compact, rhyming, and formal, the poems attempted to mythologize Schwartz, to dramatize history, and to pay homage to the world of culture.” —D. P. Read More »

Precious Moments

October 20, 2015 | by

It’s no great shock that Leonard Woolf was recorded on film, not when you think about it—after all, the writer, publisher, and widower of Virginia lived into 1969.

And yet! And yet! It seems somehow magical that here he should be, modern and in color, talking about Maynard Keynes for all the world as if he is not a living bridge to a storied past, most of which went as unfilmed—as though Bloomsbury had not belonged to modernity at all, let alone invented it. Read More »

Great Rot

September 22, 2015 | by

Little did you know, when you woke up today on this rather ordinary Tuesday, that a treat awaited you. I speak, of course, of the above clip, in which Evelyn Waugh critiques modernism.

No one ever made the mistake of confusing the Waugh of the 1950s with a progressive: by this point, he was fully inhabiting the role of an outspoken, old-guard crank, as loudly disillusioned with modernity and its art as he was by the Church of England. And yet! Even so, one is not quite prepared for his strident tone. He refers to Gertrude Stein as an author of “absolute gibberish”; James Joyce, that “poor, dotty Irishman,” is a producer of “great rot.” Between takes, apparently, Waugh sexually harassed his interviewer, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Read More »

Panther and Lilies

August 6, 2015 | by

Parduc_es_liliom_1930-33

Lajos Vajda, Panther and Lilies, 1930-33, photocollage on paper, 25.5" x 20"

The Hungarian artist Lajos Vajda died in 1941, when he was only thirty-three—having long suffered from tuberculosis, he’d fallen ill during a compulsory stint in the Labour Service, the government’s antisemitic substitute for military conscription. Vajda’s paintings had garnered him a reputation among the avant-garde from a young age: an early critic called themmodern catacomb art.” As a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, one of his exhibitions met with such disdain among the conservative faculty that he was expelled. By the end of the twenties, he’d allied himself with the Munka Kör, a revolutionary group of artists, intellectuals, and workers.

Vajda spent the early thirties moving from hostel to hostel in Paris, where he developed a fascination with film that led to a prolific period as a collagist. You can see a number of his photomontages from this time below—like his paintings and works in charcoal, they exude a fear of fascism and prefigure the violence of the Second World War. Ironically enough, a posthumous show of his work in 1943 at the Budapest Alkotás House of Art had to be evacuated. It was interrupted by an air raid.Read More »