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Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Dreiser’

The Art of Friendship

November 20, 2012 | by

Philia, the root of Philadelphia, roughly translates to “friendship” in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, an enduring source for understanding the ethics of friendship. Aristotle identifies three essential bases for friendship: utility, pleasure, and virtue. Friendships of virtue, Aristotle believes, are ideal because only they are based on recognition.

When I was thirty, I moved back to Philadelphia. I had only been gone a few years, and though I knew better, I had half expected it to be just as I’d left it. It was not: most of my friends had left the city altogether or moved, married, to the edges of town. Occasionally, I would run into people I had once known, encounters that produced deep and surprising embarrassment in me; unexplained life choices digested in fast, always alienating, appraisal. The more unsettling thing was that my close friendships were changing, too.

Friendship has never seemed both more important and less relevant than it does now. The concept surfaces primarily when we worry over whether our networked lives impair the quality of our connections, our community. On a nontheoretical level, adult friendship is its own puzzle. The friendships we have as adults are the intentional kind, if only because time is short. During this period, I began to consider the subject. What is essential in friendship? Why do we tolerate difference and distance? What is the appropriate amount to give? And around this same time, I discovered the curious, decades-long friendship between the writers Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and the sculptor Wharton Esherick. Their relationship seemed to me model in some ways; they were friends for over twenty years, mostly living in different cities. Each man was dedicated to pursuing his own line of work, and the insecurities and single-mindedness of ambition seemed analogous too to the ways that adulthood can separate us from our friends.

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North American Books I Read as a Child in Castro’s Cuba

October 19, 2011 | by

Havana, Cuba. Photograph by Jordi Martorell.

In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.

A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”

My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Bookshop Door, Thinking Fast and Slow

September 16, 2011 | by

The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door at the Harry Ransom Center.

Thinking, Fast and Slow sums up the cognitive research that won Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics (a first for a psychologist). It is also an old-fashioned work of philosophy: a series of DIY experiments that teach you how and why to doubt your intuitions about things as basic as cause and effect. —Lorin Stein

The Ransom Center has launched a curiously fascinating exhibit online, based around a door from Frank Shay’s bookshop that was signed by hundreds of the habitués of 1920s Greenwich Village, including Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis. The original shop was across the street from my current apartment and exploring the site, and the interconnected histories of the people who frequented the store, is a nifty way back in time—like a portal to twenties social networking. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I’ve been looking forward to pulling Dalkey Archive’s new collection of stories and essays by Mina Loy off my shelf, but it hasn't yet found it’s way into my reading cycle. I have managed to dip my toe in by way of Triple Canopy’s excerpt of her play “The Sacred Prostitute,” a very funny send-up of, among other things, men’s attitudes toward women. What’s more, some young genius at the magazine has put a handful of CF’s sublime, seductive drawings into the mix. —Nicole Rudick

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