Sunday, February 06, 2011

"Never pay any attention to what critics say," Jean Sibelius once told a fellow composer. "Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic!"
Wilfrid Sheed, who was (almost) as good a novelist as he was a critic, died two weeks ago Max Jamison

Daniel Bell, sociologist of big ideas, cultural critic, founding editor of The Public Interest, is dead ;

When it comes to writing sentences, we’re told – by Orwell, by Strunk & White – that brevity is best. But a minimalist style can encourage minimalist thought, and that’s a problem... The art of good writing

The saddest story: Three Questions You Would Ask Me If I Told You My Name Dude, Who Moved My Samovar?
Wall Street Journal devoteS in its entirety to a review of the new off-Broadway production of Three Sisters. I used to have four sister, but now I only have three Eva, Margaretta, and Lidia. Agnesa’s (aka Aga) saddest story is swimming on the Amazon river …

In matters of style, swim with the current;
In matters of principle, stand like a rock
~T. Jefferson
In Ira Gershwin's lyric for "But Not for Me," a heartsick postmistress declares that love has brought her "more clouds of gray/Than any Russian play/Could guarantee." If I had to guess, I'd say that the lady in question had "Three Sisters" in mind. Few plays are more depressing than Anton Chekhov's soft-spoken study of a turn-of-the-century trio of provincial Russian women who long for the bright lights of Moscow but are forced to settle for ordinary small-town lives that bring them little in the way of joy. What makes their story endurable is the lightness of touch with which Chekhov tells it--which is also what makes it so agonizing to see their remaining hopes dissolve at play's end.

Her demeanor and voice are so obviously contemporary as to jolt the eye and ear.... [The sisters' tale is, of course, characteristically Russian in its jarringly close juxtaposition of comedy and heartbreak ; Born in the Soviet Union, buried in Venice, a citizen of America, the poet Joseph Brodsky was a nowhere man – a universalist and a cosmopolitan Buried in Venice – it is where I want to be buried after Vrbov; Your Honor, as you know, I have already pled guilty to the charges against me, but I appreciate this opportunity to provide some background for my actions …]
• · Both novelists and philosophers ask big questions and try to impose order on the muddle of the world. But can a novelist write philosophically? ; Literary fiction is a sanctuary from everything coarse and shallow. Or so many novelists believe. It might explain why they’ve long ignored the Internet
• · · Late in life, Rousseau acknowledged that it was arrogant of him to promote virtues he couldn’t live up to Sorry, Socrates, the examined life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be; Too much prosperity, enjoyed for too long, tends to devour itself
• · · · The media don’t shape the culture; they merely reflect it, giving rise to today’s common readers: Those who have fallen in love with their own mediocre taste; Welcome to the new age of cultural populism: Elites are in retreat; hoi polloi have taken over. Could anything be more American?
• · · · · Paul Theroux is 69, a good age to begin an autobiography. But after 500 words, he stopped with a realization: He can’t be trusted to tell the truth about himself. Across the dark sky of exile, Sirin passed... like a meteor, and disappeared, leaving nothing much else behind him than a vague sense of uneasiness. The more I reflect on my life, the greater the appeal of the autobiographical novel. The immediate family is typically the first subject an American writer contemplates. I never felt that my life was substantial enough to qualify for the anecdotal narrative that enriches autobiography. I had never thought of writing about the sort of big talkative family I grew up in, and very early on I developed the fiction writer’s useful habit of taking liberties. I think I would find it impossible to write an autobiography without invoking the traits I seem to deplore in the ones I’ve described—exaggeration, embroidery, reticence, invention, heroics, mythomania, compulsive revisionism, and all the rest that are so valuable to fiction Therefore, I suppose my Copperfield beckons.; The multilingual, multicultural online journal and community of arts and ideas There's a heaven above you, baby.
• · · · · · In spite of what arriviste critics tell us, good, even great writers are lost in the cracks in every generation, and we must always ask ourselves if we have chosen to be a society too smug to indulge such a humble notion. It is for this reason alarming to see literary agents, editors and critics take refuge in the self-serving lie that what deserves to be published is published. But as the means to publish expand and new technologies evolve, the critical apparatus is unable and unwilling to keep up. Many good works are ignored. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said of critics that they reflect the ignorance of the age. I find this amusingly harsh. I owe much to critics for directing me to worthy books. But the odor of truth lingers about Shelley's observation. There are some writers in every genre—I would extend this to the plastic arts—who by nature touch so many raw nerves that even when editors and critics see merit in their work they decline the work because it has nicked them in some vulnerable place. With luck, such writers and artists may find the one advocate whose commitment to creativity surpasses his or her vulnerability to disturbing insights.
It's all very well to say that editor after editor passed up Herman Melville's Moby-Dick because the crazy pursuit of a whale wasn't deemed a suitable literary subject, but I suspect it was the profound insights that Melville sewed into the seams of his work that put off those editors. Their supposed disinterest in a whale was their cover story. Savoring this tone, this profane interiority, is like watching and listening to an attractive young woman walking on a crowded street talking to herself… A good poet knows exactly how her inmost dialogue is conducted, how it sounds, and so she is very like the young woman walking down the street fully engaged in the life of her own mind. We may choose to put her down as crazy, but in our hearts we know she’s into herself, exactly where you have to be to mean what you say and say what you mean. A Restless Experimenter With A Savvy Voice ; Recent history indicates that Central Europe and Latin America have a lot in common ; All Too Quiet on the TRANSITIONS ONLINE Front