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Letters & Essays: V-Z

Letters & Essays of the Day

Postwar Paris: Chronicles of Literary Life

By Alice Adams

Two of the most distinguished American literary artists of their generation—their names as frequently invoked by critics and historians as they are seldom linked—appear here in a conversation that is mostly about being in Pans after the Second World War. The occasion giving rise to this conversation was a late September, 1996, University of Pennsylvania weekend observation of my retirement from the English faculty there. When friends Norman Malier and Richard Wilbur accepted invitations to attend, I suggested talking about this experience that both had often said was personally important, that neither had ever overtly visited in his works, and that happened to have a particular relevance to the Penn audience in that season.

The Flaneur

By Edmund White

Paris is a big city, in the sense that London and New York are big cities, and that Rome is a village, Los Angeles a collection of villages and Zurich a backwater. A reckless friend defines a big city as a place where there are blacks, tall buildings and you can stay up all night. By that definition Paris is deficient in tall buildings; although President Pompidou had a scheme in the sixties and early seventies to fill Paris with skyscrapers, he succeeded only in marring the historic skyline with the faulty towers of a branch university, Paris VII at Jussieu (which was recently closed because it was copiously insulated with asbestos), the appalling Tour Montparnasse-and the bleak wasteland of the office district, La Defense.

On the Cover: Kenneth Noland

By Karen Wilkin

Kenneth Noland’s name is synonymous with a particular kind of American abstraction—one based on the potency of color, rooted in the belief that relationships of hues, like music, can directly and wordlessly stir our deepest emotional and intellectual reserves. Noland’s name stands, too, for pictures with lucid, near-geometric formats—images that ring changes on frontal, symmetrical, deceptively simple compositions, brought to life by seductive color. Probably the best known of these are the Circle paintings—unabashedly beautiful concentric rings of disembodied hues—with which he first announced himself as a painter to be reckoned with, four decades ago.

Growing up with Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy

By Reuel K. Wilson

My earliest memories revolve around a handsome white house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, built by a sea captain toward the middle of the nineteenth century. It rests midway down a low-lying rise called Money Hill. Perhaps money had once been buried there; in any event its illustrious owner, EW, never had enough of it-due to financially irresponsible habits that included not paying income taxes, the lavish use of taxis (he never learned to drive) and the long-distance telephone.