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Posts Tagged ‘Qatar’

Briggflatts, Bibliophagy, and Other News

June 22, 2016 | by

"You'll eat your words," God said, and lo, Ezekiel did. (Source gallica.bnf.fr)

“You’ll eat your words,” God told Ezekiel, and lo, Biblical literalism was born. Image via Gallica.

  • If your daily commute this past year was anything like mine, then your daily commute was nothing like Basil Bunting’s in 1965. That was the year Bunting composed Briggflatts, his magnum opus, while riding the train to and from his day job as a newspaper subeditor. Bunting started the poem not long after Tom Pickard showed up at his door and told him, “I heard you were the greatest living poet.” (At the time, Bunting had not published anything in thirteen years; he later said he wrote Briggflatts “to show the boy how it was done.”) The result, first published fifty years ago, in Poetry, was, as August Kleinzahler has it, “a very particular Northumbrian British flowering of all that Pound and Eliot had earlier achieved in their modernist project, while at the same time more emotionally freighted, more ‘human’ than The Cantos or The Waste Land.” 
  • Ask my sixteen-month-old whether books ought to be devoured or digested and he’ll be quick to demonstrate, locking jaws on his favorite compendium of fire-truck photos, that he’s a “both and” kind of guy. In the eighteenth century, it seems, the question was merely metaphorical: “Educational manuals, essays and advice books pitted ‘digestion’ against ‘devouring’ in order to slow down the increasingly fast-paced reading habits of their modern world, realigning reading with the process of character formation. ‘Readers may cram themselves in vain with intellectual Food … for want of digesting it by proper Reflections,’ cautioned Isaac Watts in The Improvement of the Mind (1741). This distinction allowed writers to position ‘digestive’ reading as an ethical ideal, while condemning ‘devouring’ as unthoughtful and hedonistic.”
  • I stopped watching Game of Thrones when I realized that the show existed only to supply grist for Sarah Larson’s ecstatic mill. Why watch the rough draft when you can go straight to the finished objet? This week’s episode pushed her to peak form: “A snow begins to fall, and Sansa, fittingly, gets the last word with Ramsay, who’s tied up in a dungeon, with the vibe of Hannibal Lecter. ‘Hello, Sansa,’ he whispers. She gives him a good cold speech and then reminds him that he hasn’t fed his dogs. Ah, the old bark-and-chew. Never have I been so happy to see someone’s face pounded in, then eaten off by his own dogs. Sansa watches calmly, then smiles. You’ve come a long way, baby. Or she’s become a monster, and so have I.”
  • In March, the New York Times held a three-day conference in Qatar, which featured Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, and Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the newspaper’s publisher and chairman. The conference addressed such themes as “What is the civic responsibility of the collector in the digital age?” and “How can true, untrammelled, artistic creativity be harnessed in the service of social and economic wellbeing?” It did not, apparently, worry much about what “true, untrammelled, artistic creativity” might mean in a country that imprisoned a poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, for writing poems that criticized Qatar’s autocratic emir: “The inflammatory issues of the region’s present—censorship, labor rights, dynastic succession—are left unaddressed in the Times’s plenary sessions. Rather, the proceedings circulate around the placid lexicon of TED Talks, platitudes of futurism veering into the apolitical and commercial. But in Qatar, you cannot separate politics from art, in large part because the emir’s family is the patron of the arts.” 

What We’re Loving: Voyeurism, Privacy, the King of the Monkeys

July 18, 2014 | by

Illustration_of_Sugriva_challenging_Vali_from_the_Ramayana_(c._1628–1649)

An illustration from the Ramayana of Sugriva challenging Vali, ca. 1628–1649

God bless the anonymous German who published, in 1804, The Nightwatches of Bonaventura, a novel full of bizarre comic brio, pitched perfectly and awkwardly between Gothicism and Romanticism. Nightwatches is narrated by Kreuzgang, a poet manqué—and actor manqué, and even puppeteer manqué—who’s taken on a gig as a night watchman for a steady paycheck. He skulks about, muttering to the reader, warding off boredom by staring in people’s windows and riffing on the devil. All the while he seems to suffer from some kind of mood disorder; he’s acerbic where I expect him to be gentle, sententious where I expect him to be forgiving. As he observes, through curtains and windows, a succession of excommunications, thefts, murders, love affairs, and hauntings, Kreuzgang begins to charm with his lyrical cynicism. In his more aphoristic moments, he comments on our era as much as his own: “The character of the times is patched and pieced together like a fool’s coat,” he says, “and worst of all, the fool buttoned in it would like to appear serious…” There’s something perversely irresistible in Nightwatches’s voyeurism and its willful profanity. A new edition is coming in October; its publisher says it’s “one part Poe and one part Beckett,” which is apt, but I thought first of Tom Stoppard at his most playful. If he’d taken some bad LSD in the German countryside, he might’ve written this. —Dan Piepenbring

Some time ago, on their Tumblr, the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora featured a conversation between James Baldwin and the incomparable Audre Lorde. Originally published in Essence in 1984, the conversation, in this iteration, opens with Baldwin’s comment “Du Bois believed in the American dream. So did Martin. So did Malcolm. So do I. So do you. That’s why we’re sitting here”—to which Lorde responds, “I don’t, honey. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that go past. Deep, deep, deep down I know that dream was never mine. And I wept and I cried and I fought and I stormed, but I just knew it.” It’s only the beginning of a vigorous exchange about Baldwin’s experience of being black in America, and Lorde’s of being black and a woman. During the women’s liberation movement in the seventies, black women fought on two fronts for equal rights, and Lorde is gloriously unrelenting on that fact. “Even worse than the nightmare is the blank,” she tells Baldwin. “And Black women are the blank.” —Nicole Rudick

For the first time in almost two hundred years, the Mewar Ramayana can be read and viewed as a complete work, thanks to the British Library’s digital reunification of the beautifully illustrated manuscript. The Mewar version of the great Hindu epic is distinguished by its richly saturated colors and its nonlinear depictions of the Prince Rama story; it was commissioned by Jagat Singh I of the Mewar dynasty in the seventeenth century. Today, the physical pages of the manuscript are divided between the British Library and several different collections in India, but the online project allows the work to be read in full, with a few lovely supplementary materials to boot. It’s that rare digital edition that succeeds by mostly staying out of the way: the focus is on the incredible hi-res images of the paintings and the original Sanskrit script, but there are also unobtrusive English descriptions (text and audio) and commentary from art historians to accompany each page. In one of my favorite illustrations, Rama helps Sugriva overthrow Bali to become king of the monkeys. Sugriva stands outside his brother’s pink confectionary palace, roaring “so that the very birds fall out of the sky in fright.” Rama puts an arrow through Bali, killing him. In the next panel, Rama sits jilted as the enthroned Sugriva, distracted by all the sex and wine that comes with being the monkey king, has forgotten about his greatest ally. So it goes. —Chantal McStay Read More »

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Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job

December 3, 2010 | by

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I'm everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

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