Breaking the Spell of the Centaur, and Other News


On the Shelf


Ernst Albert Fischer-Cörlin, Nixen und Kentauren beim Bade, ca. 1932.

  • Our Summer issue features an interview with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, “the quiet rebels of Russian translation”—now Literary Hub has the longest excerpt of it you’ll see online. Among its many revelations, you’ll learn of Pevear’s long-hidden talents as a jingle writer: “Who’s that knocking at my door? / His badge is stamped with number four. / His shoulder bag is big and fat. / His coat is blue, so is his hat.”
  • Claudia Rankine on black lives and mourning: “In 1955, when Emmett Till’s mutilated and bloated body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River and placed for burial in a nailed-shut pine box, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, demanded his body be transported from Mississippi, where Till had been visiting relatives, to his home in Chicago. Once the Chicago funeral home received the body, she made a decision that would create a new pathway for how to think about a lynched body. She requested an open coffin and allowed photographs to be taken and published of her dead son’s disfigured body.”
  • Tired of all your friends talking about the Enlightenment as if it were the very realization of paradise on earth? So is Vincenzo Ferrone, a historian aiming to puncture the era’s inflated reputation—and to kill a few centaurs along the way: “Every attempt to define an epoch—the age of steam, say, or the age of empire, or the age of the internet—involves making a link between two different registers: on the one hand a specific kind of activity, and on the other a stretch of historical time. As far as Ferrone is concerned, however, the idea of the Enlightenment is unique because it yokes a period not with something real but with a set of ideals: philosophical notions of truth, virtue and knowledge … the Enlightenment is another of [philosophers’] high-flown fictions, and when the historians took it over they had no inkling of the trouble they were getting into. It would prove to be a philosophical Trojan horse, or poisoned chalice, and Ferrone repeatedly denounces it as an ircocervo—a monstrous hybrid of goat and stag, or, as his translator would have it, a ‘centaur.’ He then sets out to ‘break the spell of the centaur’ by documenting the damage it has done.”
  • “Maybe Oxford is just full of dull old farts who only vote for the obvious. I don’t think they have anything to be proud of here.” Simon Armitage has been voted Oxford’s new Professor of Poetry, and not everyone is happy about it. (Spoiler alert: some people are actively unhappy about it.) The post dates to the nineteenth century; professors emeritus include W. H. Auden, Robert Graves, and Cecil Day-Lewis.
  • Meanwhile, in Italy: no one has yet unmasked Elena Ferrante. She’s a finalist for the Strega Prize, which will be awarded in July—so people really, really, really want to learn who she is.