December 2, 2016
Near the end of Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling, Jack Levitt runs into a pool-hall gambler he knew in Oregon:
“How’s old Portland?”
“Terrible. I haven’t been back in a long time. They closed the Rialto, tore down Ben Fenne’s building, shut up the card-rooms for poker action, everything. They got a lady mayor up there a few years ago came in and really cleaned house. Man, what a gas. . .
February 12, 2016
The infamously audacious French authoress Françoise Sagan has been described in multiple obituaries as a “luxury hotel existentialist.” Throughout her entire lifetime, Sagan remained indifferent to her acclaim, facing press and publication with a cheeky and terse disdain. She often appeared stylishly insouciant, the only indicator of her great wit a smirk or a quiet laugh. Understandably, this attitude was poorly understood by literary society in 1950s Paris, and Sagan found herself called an eternal spoilt child who waxed existential themes from a comfortable loft, surrounded by sports cars and expensive alcohol.
January 22, 2016
Let me start with a book, Daniela Hodrová’s Prague, I See a City…, a slim and disorienting text—maybe a novel, maybe a travel guide—in which Hodrová navigates the interdependence of Prague and her personal life. The book was originally commissioned as an alternative guidebook for French tourists after the fall of the Soviet Union. But as Hodrová completed the book, it evolved into an achronological menagerie comprising legends, memoir, literary criticism, and the occasional theater recommendation.
November 6, 2015
Most days there are at least fifteen documents open on my laptop. These consist of works in various stages, some newly drafted or in mid-revision, and others that seem close, but remain suspended in a state of near-completion. Generally, the newer works get the attention while the nearly finished are deferred. I have difficulty with that final phase, when the questions narrow and the focus tightens, and as a result, I tend to temporize. This includes looking for answers outside the work—trolling online articles or revisiting well-loved books and essays—though this is nothing more than distraction disguised as research...
On The Rhetoric of Fiction
May 10, 2015
The art of rhetoric could easily be rephrased as the philosophy of the audience. What, after all, are rhetoricians contemplating other than the ways in which one persuades? That verb requires a person to be persuaded. And if another person is required, wouldn’t it then be natural to assume that rhetoric must fundamentally be about that person’s mindset, judgment, beliefs, responses, etc.? Rhetoricians study people first and then translate their conclusions into techniques with which to approach said people. Ancient Greek rhetoricians made certain assumptions (sometimes stated explicitly, sometimes implied) about the audience, the listeners to the speeches of the time.
A Colloquy in Westminster Abbey
May 3, 2015
There are certain half-dreaming moods of mind, in which we naturally steal away from noise and glare, and seek some quiet haunt, where we may indulge our reveries and build our air castles undisturbed. In such a mood I was loitering about the old gray cloisters of Westminster Abbey, enjoying that luxury of wandering thought which one is apt to dignify with the name of reflection; when suddenly an interruption of madcap boys from Westminster School, playing at football, broke in upon the monastic stillness of the place, making the vaulted passages and moldering tombs echo with their merriment...
On Reading Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter
April 24, 2015
In an interview with The Paris Review in 1953, Graham Greene had this to say about his work: “I write about situations that are common, universal might be more correct, in which my characters are involved and from which only faith can redeem them, though often the actual manner of the redemption is not immediately clear.”
Reading Greene's The Heart of the Matter, I find I object to this statement. In fact, I actually think it's the exact reverse.
March 6, 2015
Writers, especially young, developing writers, read differently than non-writers. With each word, each sentence, we search for guidance, advice, a hint at how it's done. We mark in our minds passages that seem to articulate what was before inexpressible, and we note things we don't like, in order to avoid such problems in the future. This process, though, isn't smooth—there is no causal development easily traced. Literature, stubborn as it is, refuses to make such aesthetic judgments universal. Every new novel we pick up has the chance to contradict what the last novel just taught us.
February 17, 2015
There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. While the one have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others want money; and so they write, for money. Their thinking is part of the business of writing. They may be recognized by the way in which they spin out their thoughts to the greatest possible length; then, too, by the very nature of their thoughts, which are only half-true, perverse, forced, vacillating...
November 2, 2014
Having now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible.
October 27, 2014
“His life was short and unhappy, if unhappiness can be short.”
Jorge Luis Borges wrote this clever epitaph in his Introduction to American Literature. He was referring, quite fittingly, to Edgar Allan Poe, the great poet of madness and melancholy. While many notable authors have sneered at Poe and treated him as an inferior writer (“To take him with more than a certain degree of seriousness is to lack seriousness one’s self,” wrote Henry James), Borges recognized Poe’s importance in the history of literature.