The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘T. S. Eliot’

Obnoxious Effluvia at Every Turn, and Other News

October 1, 2015 | by

“A London Fog” (detail), 1802, colored aquatint.

  • “I love the nuance and depth of feeling in the poems of T. S. Eliot,” you’ve probably said to yourself, sighing: “If only the man had written more erotica!” Reader, he did, and soon it will be yours to behold. A new edition of Eliot’s poems will feature several previously unpublished efforts dedicated to his second wife, Valerie, and found in notebooks. Steel yourself for such succulent similes as “Her breasts are like ripe pears that dangle / Above my mouth / Which reaches up to take them.” And while the Eliot fire sale is in progress, you might as well get your hands on his formerly unpublished volume of several works by Alfred North Whitehead. It contains the words “Foxy Grandpa.”
  • The contemporary fascination with castrati has two sources. First, we’ve never heard their music, and unheard music haunts us; second, they were people with no testicles, and we are, as a people, obsessed with testicles and wonder how they got along without them, what they did in bed, et cetera. “The very in-betweenness of castrati, their being neither women nor complete men, neither peasants nor aristocrats, having access to kings’ ears and girls’ bedrooms, allowed them to move into positions of easy privilege and influence … From this middle ground he could have a great deal of fun and wield a good deal of influence. It is also important to remember, in this context, that same-sex relations did not have the same meaning as they would later come to have.”
  • The debate surrounding appropriation has reached a fever pitch: “Questions about the right to your creation and labor, the right to your identity, emerge out of old wounds in America, and they provoke familiar battle stances … Can some kinds of appropriation shatter stereotypes? This has been literature’s implicit promise: that entering into another’s consciousness enlarges our own … What conversations about appropriation make clear is that our imaginations are unruly kingdoms governed by fears and fantasies. They are never neutral.”
  • In William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novella, The Doom of the Great City, Londoners are “choked to death under a soot-filled fog”—an unsettlingly prescient conceit, from our vantage point. Or is it just kooky propaganda for the miasmatists, who believed that bad smells meant bad air? “At their best, the miasmatists practiced social medicine that included a focus on diet, education, and forms of social uplift. At their worst, they were racist and classist bureaucrats. But whatever their scientific and ideological deficiencies, miasmatists were amazingly successful at marshaling the resources and political will (often with the important tool of disgust at their disposal) to create a compelling vision of the sanitary city.”
  • The inimitable Peggy Guggenheim came into her second inheritance in 1937 and decided to open her first gallery in London. “‘I am in Paris working hard for my gallery and fucking,’ she wrote to her friend Emily Coleman the following January; and when Coleman remonstrated, Peggy wrote back to reassure her: ‘My fucking is only a sideshow. My work comes first every time.’ ”

It’s Not a Bean, It’s an Oil Bubble, and Other News

August 14, 2015 | by

Karmay’s suspiciously Kapoor-ish new sculpture.

  • Plenty of adjectives are fit for Norman Mailer—insecure, misogynistic, overrated—but the one people seem to settle on, as a kind of euphemism, is pugnacious. Yes, here was a man whose ears always pricked up for the call of combat, a man who’d ask you to put your dukes up even when no one was watching: “Imagine it: Mailer is living in small-town Connecticut. He takes his dogs out after midnight to relieve themselves. He chances to stroll past a few young men sitting on a porch, one of whom points out the obvious: Mailer’s well-groomed poodles were probably queer. Mailer must have seen the implication: Who would own homosexual dogs, if not a homosexual man? In the middle of the night, with no one there to impress, one of the world’s most famous authors demanded satisfaction … Fearing for his life and bleeding from both eyes, Mailer surrendered and dragged himself home. Laid up in a dark room for days afterwards, he didn’t feel too badly about himself: there was only dishonor in flinching from a fight, not in losing decently.”
  • Joan Didion, meanwhile, has been held up as the embodiment of feminine cool, even with her wincingly elitist, antifeminist politics: “It’s interesting to think about how Didion would have fared had she come to New York in 2015 rather than 1955. She is, after all, a writer for whom feelings (especially her own) are inherently unreliable sources. She assailed feminism’s ‘invention of women as a “class” ’ and wrote dismissively of the oppressed ‘Everywoman’ who ‘needed contraceptives because she was raped on every date … and raped finally on the abortionist’s table.’ She never got involved in the women’s movement, because, according to a friend, ‘she was beyond that.’ Didion is, for all her sensitivity and curiosity, more than a little bit of a class snob.”
  • The Contemporary Novel,” an 1927 essay by T. S. Eliot, is finally seeing publication in English, nearly ninety years later. Of novelists like Woolf, Lawrence, and Huxley, he writes, “I can find unity—or rather, unanimity—only in the fact that they all lack what [Henry] James seems to me so preeminently to possess: the ‘moral preoccupation.’ And as I believe that this ‘moral preoccupation’ is more and more asserting itself in the minds of those who think and feel, I am forced to the somewhat extreme conclusion that the contemporary English novel is behind the times.”
  • Some twenty-five hundred words of a lost F. Scott Fitzgerald novel have been found languishing in a box in the Princeton library. They’re from an unfinished work called Ballet School—Chicago, which is about, sure enough, “a ballerina trying to make her way in Chicago. She has an attraction to a wealthy neighbor because he can get her out of this tough existence … and she can have a happy life with him. The story goes into the very hard training for ballet dancers. But then something quirky and unsuspected happens that changes her impression of him.”
  • Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, otherwise known as “the Bean,” has been a major attraction in Chicago since 2006, which is maybe why in China, the city of Karamay, Xinjiang, has just ripped it off with a new, shiny, surprisingly Bean-like sculpture of their own. “A spokesperson from the Karamay tourism bureau went on the record to defend the sculpture, telling the Wall Street Journal that while Kapoor’s sculpture was ‘a bean shape,’ the sculpture in Karamay ‘looks like an oil bubble.’ ”

Kafka on the Shore Stage, and Other News

August 10, 2015 | by


From Kafka on the Shore. Photo: Takahiro Watanabe

  • “It wasn’t easy to interest glossy magazines in poverty in the 1980s and 90s,” Barbara Ehrenreich writes: “I once spent two hours over an expensive lunch—paid for, of course, by a major publication—trying to pitch to a clearly indifferent editor who finally conceded, over decaf espresso and crème brulee, ‘OK, do your thing on poverty. But can you make it upscale?’ ” That was then. Today, things are even worse: “Now there are fewer journalists on hand at major publications to arouse the conscience of editors and other gatekeepers. Coverage of poverty accounts for less than 1% of American news.”
  • How New York Review Books is perfecting the art of the reissue: “It was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue … 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 … We were picking low-hanging fruit, only no one knew the fruit was out there, hanging from the branches.”
  • In 2003, the Russian writer Kirill Medvedev lifted the copyright from his publications, putting them all into the public domain worldwide. Twelve years later, he defends his choice:Do you, as a poet or writer or musician, really want to go the way of prohibitions, fences, barbed wire and guard towers to defend texts and music the way some would defend private cottages, private forests, private fields and private earth?”
  • Nearly a century after it was composed, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” remains the quintessential adolescent poem: “Eliot himself was barely out of his teens when he wrote it, uncannily in touch with the exquisite torments of hypersensitive youth, and with the peculiar burden of seeing through everything without having experienced much of anything. This was a different species of verse. It exuded cinematic urgency rather than exam-ready ‘messages’ and ‘themes.’ It was full of sudden rhythmic jolts and colliding tones, and could make emotional pirouettes on a vowel. Unapologetic, brash, discontinuous, ‘Prufrock’ taught me the thrill of disorientation in language. No matter how often I returned, it was never tamped down by classroom-style explanations. It grew. It seemed to understand me more than I understood it.”
  • Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore has been adapted for the stage at Lincoln Center by Yukio Ninagawa: the production is “a collage of modern, neon-lit, commercialized, glitzy Japan, haunted by dark, mostly unspoken memories of World War II, including the atom bomb, shown in what looks like a stylized advertising logo … [it’s] still unmistakably Japanese: stylized, poetic, comical, violent, full of spectacular effects, and often exquisitely beautiful to look at.”

Far-Out Kandy-Kolored Machine Dreams, and Other News

June 22, 2015 | by


A “dreamscape” made from random noise. Illustration: Google, via the Guardian

  • As an undergraduate at Harvard, T. S. Eliot risked flunking out—but fear not, for his febrile poetic mind was already hard at work: “He invented the characters of ‘Columbo’ and ‘Bolo,’ who for years to come starred in a series of scatological, violent, and racist poems. Circulated privately, these verses became known to a wider readership only after Eliot’s death, when they presented the immensely refined poet in a bizarrely crude light … such writing served a purpose for the shy, physically awkward, and sexually late-blooming Eliot. It was a way for him to bond with his peers … ”
  • Advertisements used to contain words—many words—even those aimed at such famously illiterate audiences as rock-music fans. A look at the Rolling Stone archive reveals a surprising amount of po-mo sophistication in record-label copywriting. A 1979 ad for the singer-songwriter Sirani Avedia, for example, begins, “After the chic anarchy of punk, the escapism of disco, and the cerebral celebrations of jazz fusion … something real.”
  • An old photograph by Giovanni Gargiolli inspires ruminations on fatherhood: “The photograph was taken outside a Franciscan church in Alatri, a village south of Rome, in 1902 or 1903 … I recognize myself in that father who is leaning out of the family portrait in the church doorway. I feel an apartness, and I wonder: Is it a movable obstacle to the fullness of fatherhood, a primordial paternal taint, or a simple truth about the way men who have children are around their children?”
  • Disturbing news from the tech sector: research suggests that our computers, the very beings on which our civilization depends, are no more than drug-addled dreamers, lost in psychedelic reveries every bit as inscrutable as those of your average dusthead. Google discovered what its image-recognition networks “imagine” by “feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognize a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasize the feature it recognizes. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasize them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.”
  • Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education for Unflattening, a dissertation in the form of “a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.” Its lowly ambition? “Insurrection against the fixed viewpoint … Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge.”

Write Tight

April 21, 2015 | by

What is poetry? Etymology provides more questions than answers.


Contest of the Poets, a float design by Jennie Wilde for the 1910 “Comus” Mardi Gras

T. S. Eliot, who once famously called National Poetry Month the cruelest, was also one of many to point out the hopeless semantic tangles that ensue because “poetry” has two opposites. Poetry can be the lined stuff, often with rhymes, as opposed to sentences and paragraphs; poetry can also be the good stuff, as opposed to the plodding or simply informational. But if good prose can be poetic, a novel can be “pure poetry,” and poems can be prosaic, then it’s not clear what anyone is talking about, really. Or rather, it’s clear except to theorists trying to come up with definitions. Poetry is what’s thrilling, while a poem is that poor thing with eleven readers, eight of them members of the poet’s extended family.

Etymology doesn’t help—it only highlights that the apples and oranges here are how the thing is made and how it moves. Poetry is from the Greek poiein, “to make”: a poem is something made, or in English we would more naturally say crafted. Yet everyone agrees good prose is well crafted, too. Prose means, literally, “straightforward,” from the Latin prosa, proversus, “turned to face forward” (whereas verse is all wound up, twisty and snaky, “turned” in every direction except, apparently, forward). Yet we all know that poems can be clear and direct, too, especially when they’re songs. Read More »

Strandelion, and Other News

April 2, 2015 | by


From a 1960 German postage stamp.

  • The politics of genre fiction: “the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It’s critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world … The thriller, on the other hand, tends towards the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down.”
  • Mark Strand’s final interview takes a fittingly existentialist turn: “I don’t know why I was born ... here I am: a sentient being, talking about life. I had the luck to be born a human being who can speak. I might have been a dandelion or a goldfinch. I might have been a buffalo in the zoo. A fly! I don’t know why I’m here.”
  • Philip Pullman has a transcendently simple (and hyperrealist) way of working through writer’s block: “If you’re stuck, if you’re really desperate—dialogue: ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh hello.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Not too bad, thanks. How are you?’ ‘Not too bad.’ Half a page already.”
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “was one of the only books that James Joyce, his eyesight fading, allowed himself to read while taking breaks from Finnegans Wake.” (Other admirers: Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, E. B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, and Rose Macaulay.)
  • Before he decamped for England and a lifetime of Anglophilia, T. S. Eliot “spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896.” The T. S. Eliot Foundation plans to turn the house into a writers’ retreat.