The Art of Distance No. 6


The Art of Distance

In March, The Paris Review launched The Art of Distance, a newsletter highlighting unlocked archive pieces that resonate with the staff of the magazine, quarantine-appropriate writing on the Daily, resources from our peer organizations, and more. Read Emily Nemens’s introductory letter here, and find the latest unlocked archive pieces below.

“In celebration of the warmer days soon to come, this installment of The Art of Distance is devoted to spring—to stories, poems, and other pieces that put us in mind of the season’s hope, bounty, and optimism. Spring has sprung in these pages, at least.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Digital Director

Photo: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma.

I’m watching spring blossom through the window of my sister’s childhood bedroom; the sun is bright, the breeze is cold, and the birds are louder here than in Manhattan. Reading William Styron’s “Letter to an Editor,” the preface to issue no. 1, I imagine that the spring of 1953 was as crisp and as bright as this one. Styron’s letter is an anti-manifesto manifesto, a critique of criticism itself, its very syntax exuding a biting and springlike energy. He admits that all ideas fall subject to scrutiny when put to paper. He writes, “It’s inevitable that what Truth I mumble to you at Lipp’s over a beer, or that Ideal we are perfectly agreed upon at the casual hour of 2 A.M. becomes powerfully open to criticism as soon as it’s cast in a printed form which, like a piece of sculpture, allows us to walk all around that Truth or Ideal and examine it front, side, and behind, and for minutes on end.” Styron asks, however, that we try to put all that aside, resisting intellectual exercise and simply enjoying the patient work of writing and reading. —Elinor Hitt, Intern 

Spring, to me, inevitably leads to the singsong rhyme “April showers bring May flowers” repeating in my head, and when I think about flowers, I think about this Clarice Lispector short story (translated from the Portuguese by Rachel Klein). “Someone who has never stolen is not going to understand me,” goes the first paragraph. “And someone who has never stolen roses will never be able to understand me. When I was little, I stole roses.” But wait, there are many more roses in the archive, including in the brief poem “In the Storm of Roses” by Ingeborg Bachmann (translated from the German by Mark Anderson): “Wherever we turn in the storm of roses, / thorns illuminate the night.” Though they are separated by an ocean and different languages, there’s something oddly similar about Lispector’s and Bachmann’s writing. —Rhian Sasseen, Engagement Editor

Spring is my least favorite season. It’s too cold to enjoy being outside, yet (most years) one feels wrong staying in. I love how Galway Kinnell’s poem “Last Spring” acknowledges spring’s harshness, like some kind of vengeful seasonal reformer after the long dreamy winter. Spring’s onslaught of light destroys cozy illusions—“It sent up my keepsakes / My inventions in dust / It left me only a life”—and demands that we be here now. I’m grateful to the poem for recognizing how hard that is (in any season, and whether you’re a spring skeptic or not) with the wonderful final line, in which the speaker finds himself “knocking on the instants to let me in.” —Jane Breakell, Institutional Giving Officer

Blackberries, an early concern of this long story by W. S. Merwin, won’t be in season until July, but his sensuous language is perennially evocative of life’s springtime stirring: “The limestone upland, the causse, was fragrant too, in whatever season, and its scents changed through the hours as the shadows moved, and the cool patches in the air, the damp currents from under the trees. Beyond the west wall of the garden, in the spring, three big bird cherry trees silently exploded in white flowers, their thick sweetness laced with a rank bitterness like that of almonds.” It’s a story not only long but lingering, asking a patience befitting its pastoral nature. The time is made rich by loamy smells, verdant pastures, and all the decadent flavors of food freshly harvested. —Lauren Kane, Assistant Editor

New Yorkers know this is tulip season: I’ve seen the East River Park abloom in Dutch delights—to say nothing of Tompkins Square and its daffodils. Walking the pooch down petal-laden paths, I’ve been reminded of what a bloom can do, and I think back to the fun we had in issue 228 with sculptor Francesca DiMattio’s amazing ceramics. Her maximalist vases are sculpture in their own right, but they also embrace their vestigial purpose as vessels, standing at the ready for any bouquet. And if we’re looking for floral motifs in TPR’s art, don’t forget Thomas Demand’s cut-paper cherry trees (accompanied in issue 212 by Ben Lerner verse) or Michel Beret’s “fastidious flower fantasies” from issue 4. —Emily Nemens, Editor

At the cold center of Amie Barrodale’s short story “William Wei” is a relationship for our moment: a forged-over-the-phone nondalliance between the narrator and a mysterious woman named Koko, who calls one night as he is eating a Mediterranean salad while lying belly-down like a dog on his army-style cot. Their eventual meeting smolders into an anticlimax perfect for reading as the flames of midspring lick at our windows from the outside, always beyond reach. —Brian Ransom, Assistant Online Editor


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