- M. H. Abrams, whose Norton Anthologies have united the bookshelves of English majors across time and space, is dead at 102. His seminal work, The Mirror and the Lamp (1953), was that rare thing, a work of criticism that permeated the culture and changed the way we read; it resuscitated the reputation of the British Romantics and launched a new school of thought. “The first test any poem must pass,” Abrams wrote, “is no longer, ‘is it true to nature?’ but a criterion looking in a different direction; namely, ‘Is it sincere? Is it genuine?’ ”
- Maureen Freely, Orhan Pamuk’s longtime English translator, has come to see Istanbul through his eyes: “The Istanbul of my own childhood had vanished. I was left, instead, with men streaming down badly paved streets in shabby suits and covered women waiting on the roadside for the bus that never arrived; with collapsing Ottoman palaces, and fountains that had ceased working two centuries ago, and mosques whose lead domes were being plundered piece by piece.”
- Rupert Brooke, who died in 1915 of a mosquito bite, was once of Britain’s most beloved poets—devastatingly handsome, wealthy, and deeply patriotic, he was an ideal poster child for all things English. But today his sonnets on World War I make him look like a “posh idiot nationalist”: “As with the work of many writers whose worlds have so thoroughly vanished and whose lives have sunk into myth, it can be hard to grasp the humor and the lightness in Brooke’s writing.”
- “Philip Glass has written a memoir. The composer Philip Glass has written a memoir. Philip Glass has written a memoir. It begins in Baltimore. The composer Philip Glass has written a memoir. It begins in Baltimore. The American composer Philip Glass, known for his use of repetition and incremental variation, has written a memoir.”
- When the scatological meets the diabolical: a history of poop as a weapon. (Oh, like you’ve never tried to kill anyone with it.)
Reviving the art of Turkish miniatures.
In Turkey, people used to yawn when they heard the word miniature. “He looks just like one of those guys in miniatures” was a good way to insult someone. Generations of students have learned to ignore, or dislike, the art of miniature and the broader category of traditional Turkish arts—tezhip, the art of illumination; ebru, paper marbling; cilt, bookbinding; and hat, calligraphy. After all, uncool people practiced them—better to keep one’s distance.
Miniature paintings date to the third century A.D. They’re small paintings used in illustrated manuscripts (decorated books, basically) to depict scenes from the classics: the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Bible. Illuminated bibles—like the Syriac Bible of Paris, believed to have been produced in the Anatolian city of Siirt—helped spread the message of God. In Asia, miniatures developed into an independent art form, with techniques quite distinct from those of Western painting. As Wikipedia says, in Persian miniatures,
walls and other surfaces are shown either frontally, or as at (to modern eyes) an angle of about forty-five degrees, often giving the modern viewer the unintended impression that a building is hexagonal in plan. Buildings are often shown in complex views, mixing interior views through windows or “cutaways” with exterior views of other parts of a facade … The Ottoman artists hinted at an infinite and transcendent reality (that is Allah, according to the Sufism’s pantheistic point of view) with their paintings, resulting in stylized and abstracted depictions.
Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād was one of the most prominent practitioners of Persian miniatures. Read More
For years now, whenever I read a novel, narrative has been impressing itself more and more visually in my mind. Or maybe it’s that my mind has gone more and more toward these fictional visions. Even though I’m a writer, it’s not always language I’m drawn to. When I start writing a new story, I often begin with setting. Before plot, before dialogue, before anything else, I begin to see where a story will take place, and then I hear the narrative voice, which means that character is not far behind. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about landscape painting and literature, and perhaps as an extension of this I have started to think through the idea of character and landscape as similar things, or at least as intimates, codependent.
In I Await the Devil’s Coming, Mary MacLane writes, “We three go out on the sand and barrenness: my wooden heart, my good young woman’s-body, my soul … this sand and barrenness forms the setting for the personality of me.” This is a gentle Mary MacLane, not a caustic one, going sadly out into her Montana landscape (she would rather be in the city). Again and again. Taking the reader there too. Taking the reader to her personality. For where are we when we read Mary MacLane? We are in the three things that form her, and we are in the sand. I would like to visit MacLane’s Montana in the same way I would like to visit the wasted, spectral landscape in Paul Delvaux’s painting The Lamps (those gray, crumbling hills), partly so I might meet the female figures who haunt it—doppelgängers—except there are five of them trudging across that land. Read More
It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” but that’s like the difference between hardwood and laminate. Homesickness is hiraeth-lite. A quick history lesson is a good idea before a definition: in 1282 Wales became the first colony of the English empire. Because England eventually ruled half the globe, we all know its first colony by the name the colonizers gave it: Wales, which means “Place of the Others,” or “Place of the Romanized Foreigners.”
So that’s how the Welsh—the original Britons—became “foreigners” on their own island. Talk about a semantic insult. To Welsh speakers Wales is Cymru (pronounced Kum-ree): home of the Cymry, or fellow countrymen. But not too many schoolkids outside Llandysul know that. Arthur—the once-breathing chieftain, not Merlin’ s once-and-future pal—lived around the time the name “Wales” stuck, in the sixth century. He tried to hold back the English (really the Saxons) and failed. Then in 1282 Llywelyn failed too. He was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, aptly named The Last, and he was killed in battle by soldiers of Edward I. After that Wales became a subject state. Since then time’s centrifuge has spun it to the margins of history. Wales is a poor, rural place of mountains and ribboning hills with empty underground pockets where its coal used to be, but which, miraculously, has clung to its birthright language. Twenty years ago Welsh was spoken by eighteen percent of the population, mainly elderly folk in isolated areas. Today twenty-two percent speak it, including a burgeoning segment of young professionals who’ve helped create things like Gweplyfr (Facebook) and Twitr (Twitter).
- Spend your lunch at MoMA with Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, written while O’Hara worked at the museum.
- The name says it all: Gladwell title generator.
- Elif Batuman visits Orhan Pamuk’s Musuem of Innocence, with eye-opening results.
- Ask Maira Kalman. She’ll answer questions live!
- Watch the trailer for On the Road.
- A literary mixtape for … the brain? Eyes?
- Slate weighs in on the e-book case: “The DoJ’s action effectively robs publishers of the ability to price their own products and robs other retailers of any hope of competing effectively with Amazon. Hence the DoJ has all but guaranteed a future in which readers end up with fewer well-edited books—both physical and electronic—and in which writers feel less free to speak against concentrated power.”
- Here is an igloo made of books.
- Baboons reading … remedially.
- We have a title: J. K. Rowling’s adult debut will be titled The Casual Vacancy.
- Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul Museum of Innocence (which started as a novel) opens later this month.
- The challenge of culling books.
- Jack London did not sugarcoat it for a young writer.
- David Sedaris: “Throughout my 20s and early 30s—my two-books-per-week years—I did most of my reading at the International House of Pancakes.”