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Letters & Essays: J-L

Letters & Essays of the Day

The Mirror Test

By Melissa Febos

1.

 

always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

—Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”

 

In the eighteenth century, “slut’s pennies” were hard nuggets in a loaf of bread that resulted from incomplete kneading. I imagine them salty and dense, soft enough to sink your tooth into, but tough enough to stick. What could a handful of slut’s pennies buy you? Nothing—a hard word, a slap in the face, a fast hand for your slow ones.

A slut was the maid who left dust on the floor— “slut’s wool”—or who left a corner of the room overlooked in her cleaning—a “slut’s corner.” An untidy man might occasionally be referred to as “sluttish,” but for his sloppy jacket, not his unswept floor, because a slut was a doer of menial housework, a drudge, a maid, a servant—a woman.

A slut was a careless girl, hands sunk haphazardly into the dough, broom stilled against her shoulder—eyes cast out the window, mouth humming a song, always thinking of something else.

Mishima in 1958

By Donald Keene

Yukio Mishima was born Kimitake Hiraoka on January 14, 1925 in uptown Tokyo. His father was the deputy director of the Bureau of Fisheries in the Agriculture Ministry; his mother, from a family of educators and Confucian scholars, was herself well-versed in literature. The family lived in a well-to-do neighborhood in a rented two-floor house with a houseboy and six maids, an unusual extravagance. But for the first twelve years Mishima lived downstairs with his grandmother in her sickroom, leaving the room only with her permission.

Bagatelles

By Daniil Kharms

The life of the Russian avant-garde author Daniil Kharms (1905-1942) was every bit as absurd, as abrupt and as symbolically charged as one of his stories. The son of a populist-radical writer with religious leanings, he began a promising career as a poet in the freewheeling artistic scene of late-twenties Leningrad; he knew the great avant-garde artists Malevich, Tatlin, and Filonov, the formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky and the famous children s authors Evgenii Shvartz and Samuil Marshak. Kharms was one of the founders of OBERIU, the Union of Real Art, an artistic society heavily influenced by constructivism, futurism and the za'um (Trans-sense) poets.

Malcolm Lowry and the Outer Circle of Hell

By Conrad Knickerbocker

The themes of Lunar Caustic, like unreliable demons, pursued Malcolm Lowry for most of his writing life. He first undertook the story in 1934, during his particularly black discovery of New York in his youth. The city, he once wrote a friend, “favours brief and furious outbursts, but not the long haul. Moreover for all its drama and existential fury, or perhaps because of it, it’s a city where it can be remarkably hard—or so it seems to me—to get on the right side of one’s despair...”

Swinging The Paradise Street Blues: Malcolm Lowry in England

By Conrad Knickerbocker

On the night of June 26, 1957, Malcolm Lowry pitched forward and died, and his body lay on the floor all night amid a gin bottle’s broken splinters. His big novel, Under the Volcano, had been published ten years before, and somebody called him a genius then, but after the inquest “death by misadventure" only eight people attended his country church funeral. The Brighton Argus ran a few paragraphs under the headline, ’’She Broke Gin Bottle.” The Times did not cover it.