Nicole Eisenman, The Session. Image via The Easel.
- Hatred, they say, loves company—especially the company of artists and writers. Well, it’s getting worse: before we know it, hatred may become the dominant critical school of the century! Consumed with hatred, by that time, you will fail to remember that it all began with The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner’s book-length essay. More recently, though, Lerner’s hatred has infected Hal Foster, respected critic and historian of visual art. The two spoke at Frieze New York, and the conversation has now been transcribed. Here is Foster reminiscing about his early years, when he hated painting and tried to kill it: “Well, I was part of a critical clique that, at an early point in the debate over postmodernism, wanted to put painting to death. There is a revolutionary rush to the declaration of any end. The history of modernism is punctuated by the thrill of the fini!”
- The debate over nationalist and cosmopolitan literature rages in the halls of nowhere. Meanwhile, Julian Hanna, over at Berfrois, considers Canada’s literary identity by way of its manifestos. “What Canadian literary identity?” you ask. The question, you’ll find, is the answer. “Manifestos usually posit a ‘year zero’ in order to make a clean break with the past. This is especially true of avant-garde manifestos, but it can be seen in other types as well. In Canadian manifestos, the obliteration of the past is less a conscious revolution than a casual blindness to the culture that already existed. Canada is assumed to have no cultural heritage, or at least none worth saving. In Europe, the bluster and blast of manifestos has often masked shortcomings in terms of actual artistic achievement. In Canadian manifestos, on the other hand, the perceived absence is the absence of a viable literature.”
- Antonio Di Benedetto’s Zama, an influential work of Argentine literature, has finally been published in English. The novel’s long gestation in translation—it took six years—raises a single question: Could we have translated it with Google years ago? Obviously not. Still, Esther Allen at Publishers Weekly writes that Google Translate’s inability to translate has strangely aided literary translators: “Google Translate has been great for literary translators like me, but not by making our work obsolete, as many people assumed it would. Instead, by inviting everyone to participate in the act of translation, it has created much greater awareness of how very challenging translation is and how elusive and evasive linguistic meaning—not to mention linguistic beauty—can be. Over the last decade or so, literary translation has experienced something of a Renaissance in the English-speaking world, becoming much more widely appreciated and studied. It may well be that Google Translate has played a part in that.”
- I now await the inevitable buddy movie about the unlikely friendship between Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin. The drama is all there. They meet for the first time at a party. The conversation is cool—they come from different worlds, after all. Later, brought together by exile, they commit to one another. Elsewhere: their friends do not approve. (Adorno pouts, “Under Brecht’s influence, Benjamin is doing only stupid things.”) Gavin Jacobson, at the New Statesman, fills in the rest of the montage: “[In Skovsbostrand,] the two of them worked on the garden, listened to the radio, read the papers and wrote and commented on each other’s work. They took trips in to town in Svendborg and, most importantly, they played chess. It is no coincidence that three out of the four existing photographs of Benjamin together with Brecht show them playing chess. The game provided some friendly competition and exposed their contrasting personalities: the mercurial self-confidence of Brecht against the quiet, ironclad focus of Benjamin (Brecht usually won).”
- Let’s circle back, for the moment, to painting. At The Easel, Morgan Meis heralds the return of the figure in painting after decades of tyrannical abstraction. Focusing on the work of Nicole Eisenman, he notes that narrative, of all things, is the vehicle. Meis writes, “But the significance of Eisenman’s work isn’t just that she’s an unashamed figurative painter. What she does with those figures is key. Often, she puts her figures in relationship to one another within social space. That’s to say, Eisenman isn’t just a figurative painter, she’s a narrative painter. Can a painting tell an honest-to-goodness story?” Maybe it can, Hal Foster, if you don’t hate it to death.