“What is missing from Testimony is the customary idealistic hero, the one last encountered in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass who doesn’t avert his eyes from suffering and sordidness, but who nevertheless is full of hope for a better future. Testimony is a corrective, an anti-epic.” Charles Simić recounts Charles Reznikoff’s long poem Testimony: The United States (1885-1915): Recitative in the NYRB.
This week, New Directions offers up a collection that may offer some context to the Roberto Bolaño oeuvre. As the catalog copy suggests, “Between Parentheses collects most of the newspaper columns and articles Bolaño wrote during the last five years of his life, as well as the texts of some of his speeches and talks and a few scattered prologues.” Also out: Library of America does Kurt Vonnegut with Novels & Stories, 1963-1973; The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, a political tome by playwright David Mamet; and Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman, the scientist and polymath who was recently profiled in the New Yorker.
“In the twenty-first century, the lyric essay at its worst is a utility or an app; at its best, it’s a cross-hatch of a genre in which things cross over; implicitly chiasmic, it’s a space in which incompatible discourses are allowed to intermingle; wherein poetry and prose create productive frictions, enabling a new, unnatural form, illegible and readable for the first time.” Mary Cappello writes about the lyric essay and Djuna Barnes.
In the sixties, when he was a student at Cambridge, Stephen Greenblatt came across a book of Persian art. The book inspired a lifelong interest in the region, which in part explains why, after the University of Tehran invited him to give the keynote address at the first annual Iranian Shakespeare Congress, he packed his bags and headed over to the Middle East. In The New York Review of Books, the Harvard professor and Swerve author writes about his experience.
“I preach the radio. I do not preach thinking you must know what you are about. Faulkner had good drugs and a big radio. I recall having heard my own little radio at times. It is rare, yes, and it is, now, rarer. But you are young and have your juice, you’re still full of poop, which is the necessary requisite to tuning the radio. Got to be some poop out there, on the airwaves, or in there, in you, for you to tune it in. Cherish the poop you are full of, and work on excreting it with sound fundamentals. End of tantric wisdom.” The ever-entertaining Padgett Powell was interviewed over at LitHub for the release of his new book, Cries for Help, Various.
“When I want to be ambushed, captured, thrust into a strange and vivid world, and tossed aloft until I cannot stand it, until everything is at stake and life feels almost unbearably vivid, I do something simple. I read short stories.” Electric Literature has posted Ben Marcus‘s “paean to the contemporary American short story,” which doubles as the introduction to New American Stories and does a pretty good job of capturing just what it is we love about reading fiction.