Sunday, October 15, 2023

Entertain As Well As Illuminate

“I don't know how much value I have in this universe, but I do know that I've made a 
few people happier than they would have been without me, and as long as I know that, I'm as rich as I ever need to be." 

- Robin Williams

Are we born to hold a tune or can we learn it? The science of singing

The functional, glossy fitted kitchen of modern times is giving way to a less sanitised, more soulful vibe using freestanding, reclaimed pieces

In 1977, the cookery writer Elizabeth David wrote an article in which she described her ideal kitchen

Her fantasy was a free-spirited fusion of beauty and utility an overhead drying rack, ladles and whisks hanging by the cooker, and a few wooden spoons in a jar. “Like a painter’s studio furnished with cooking equipment”, as she put it. It was David’s riposte to the predictability of the fitted kitchen.

Almost half a century later fashion’s pendulum has swung back…

Female frogs pretend to be lifeless to dodge matingInteresting Engineering

Virginity vs. promiscuity: The philosophical problems with sex Big Think 

The author was left blind in his right eye after a man attacked him during a lecture in New York last August.

How A Tiny, Newish Bay Area Publisher Snagged The Nobel Prizewinner’s Books

Of course, Jon Fosse hadn't won when Transit Books got its start. - Los Angeles Times

Entertain As Well As Illuminate'

“Here’s a thought: literary criticism ought to entertain as well as illuminate.” 

Bracing words to encounter while writing a book review. The writer is the poet David Mason. Quoted is the opening sentence of his review/essay “Two Poet-Critics,” devoted to Clive James and John Burnside. I haven’t read the latter but James is a sort of writer-hero, in part because he is so entertaining. That’s a dirty word among many critics and readers, especially academics. But stridency and humorlessness do literature (and readers, especially young readers) no favors. I suspect many dislike James out of envy over his learning, prolific output and quasi-bestseller-dom. They are snobs. With V.S. Pritchett, he is the model for anyone writing a review that will actually be read. I bought Cultural Amnesia in 2007 when it was published and return to it often. In his essay on Eugenio Montale. James writes:


“In any kind of bad art, it is when the gift is gone that the experiment really does take over – the eternally cold experiment that promises to make gold out of lead, and bricks without straw. Leaving coldness aside (and we should leave it aside, because barren artistic experimentation can also be done in a white-hot frenzy), it might be useful to mention that Montale, in another essay, came up with the perfect term for a work of art that had no other subject except its own technique. He called it the seasoning without the roast.”


So much for "experimental" writing. James’ prose is always animated, learned and precise. He never waffles. He has a gift for aphorism. His best-known quip might serve as his epitaph: “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing”. Mason continues his opening thought, writing shortly after James’ death in 2019: 


“That puts most critics out of business on two fronts. So much of our exegesis reads like the minutes of a country club meeting in which we are all agreed on the value of this and that, so little of it chases the vitality literature itself is devoted to. Readers easily offended by anything remotely transgressive ought to toughen up and face the world in all its bloodiness. No one has permission to do anything in this life, so you might as well see what you can see, say what you can say, and hopefully do so as beautifully as possible.”


[Mason’s essay is collected in Incarnation & Metamorphosis: Can Literature Change Us?(Paul Dry Books, 2023).]