books, quotes

the fierce energy of his own keen nature

“…Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.”

– A.C. Doyle, “A Scandal In Bohemia,” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (5)

books, ideas

why characters in novels act as they do

“…One already sees the “application” of “results” from the neurosciences and evolutionary biology to questions about why characters in novels act as they do or what might be responsible for the moods characteristic of certain poets. People seem to be unusually interested in what area of the brain is active when Rilke is read to a subject. The great problem here is not so much a new sort of culture clash (or the victory of one of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”) but that such applications are spectacular examples of bad literary criticism, not good examples of some revolutionary approach.

If one wants to explain why Dr. Sloper in Henry James’s novel, “Washington Square,” seems so protective yet so cold about his daughter Catherine’s dalliance with a suitor, one has to begin by entertaining the good evidence provided in the novel ─ that he enjoys the power he has over her and wants to keep it; that he fears the loneliness that would result if she leaves; that he knows the suitor is a fortune hunter; that Catherine has become a kind of surrogate wife for him and he regards her as “his” in that sense; that he hates the youth of the suitor; that he hates his daughter for being less accomplished than he would have liked; and that only some of this is available to his awareness, even though all true and playing some role. And one would only be getting started in fashioning an account of what his various actions mean, what he intended, what others understood him to be doing, all before we could even begin looking for anything like “the adaptive fitness” of “what he does.”

If being happy to remain engrossed in the richness of such interpretive possibilities is “naïve,” then so be it.

– “In Defense of Naive Reading,” NYT

books, quotes

delectatio morosa

“The classic result of all sudden ruptures and reversals is the rumination on one’s own worthlessness and the desire to punish oneself, known as delectatio morosa. I would never have been cured of it had it not been for the beauty of the earth. The clear autumn mornings in an Alsatian village surrounded by vineyards, the paths on an Alpine slope over the Isère River, rustling with dry leaves from the chestnut trees, or the sharp light of early spring on the Lake of Four Cantons near Schiller’s rock, or a small river near Périgueux on whose surface kingfishers traced colored shadows of flight in the July heat–all this reconciled me with the universe and with myself.
      But it was not the same as it had been in America; it was not only nature that cured me. Europe herself gathered me in her warm embrace, and her stones, chiseled by the hands of past generations, the swarm of her faces emerging from carved wood, from paintings, from the gilt of embroidered fabrics, soothed me, and my voice was added to her old challenges and oaths in spite of my refusal to accept her split and her sickliness. Europe, after all, was home to me. And in her I happened to find help…”

– Czeslaw Milosz, “Tiger 2,” Native Realm, 293

books, poetry


An unpublished Hughes-Plath letter from “Birthday Letters,” which wasn’t included in the collection, has been discovered. I’m extremely interested. BL has become more and more important to me over the course of my time in the MFA (I read the earthenware head poem as the lead-in to my reading on Monday). I am very, very, very excited to read this poem, as soon as I can get ahold of a copy of the New Statesman.

Also, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel.

books, quotes, writing

it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire

“Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.

It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.

The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.”

– Michael Cunningham, “Found in Translation,” NYT

books, quotes, writing

a comparatively settled and domestic routine

“For whatever reason–success, removal from Ireland, the realities of the war years, a comparatively settled and domestic routine–the number and variety of Beckett’s complaints had diminished. He would still get cysts from time to time, his teeth would give him trouble and so would his eyes, but the panic attacks which had impelled him into psychoanalysis were now a thing of the past.”

-Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, (27.439)

books, quotes, theater, writing

their siren voice

“In June [of 1958], however, he [Beckett] was still resolutely struggling with the new prose work and finding it horribly difficult. Even though he could see clearly what he wanted to do, and that it should be only about 100 pages, he felt he was making very little progress, or only just enough to keep him from giving it up in disgust. ‘I rely a lot on the demolishing process to come later and content myself more or less with getting down elements and rhythm to be knocked hell out of when I am ready…It all takes place in the pitch dark and the mud, first part man alone, second with another, third alone again. All a problem of rhythm and syntax and weakening of form, nothing more difficult,’ he told Barney Rosset. Yet, comically perhaps, he was once again hankering after other forms of composition–theatre or radio. ‘I hear their siren voice and tell them to stick it up.’ “

– Anthony Cronin, Beckett: The Last Modernist (30.489)

books, quotes

as telescoped and important as “Montaigne”

“Recalling the urgency I felt about my Work as a young sprat makes me laugh inwardly, a long, low, mocking guffaw that would curdle the blood of anyone who heard it. My Work! I still have it all somewhere, all the reprehensibly impish doggerel, the self-serious philosophical grandiosities. The arrogance of youth–those poems I wrote stank like soiled diapers in the sun, the essays were so snot-nosed they might as well have been written with colored chalk on a sidewalk in a hopscotch pattern. […] I cringe to think of the way I used to whisper aloud my own name, Hugo Whittier, the smarmy thrill I would feel at my breathless intimations, soon-to-be renowned. . . .As I recall, I intended that it would be shortened, in seminars and in conferences, to a crisp ‘Whittier,’ as telescoped and important as ‘Montaigne,’ or (the happy young Hugo inside me whispers urgently) ‘Shakespeare.’ ”

– Kate Christensen. The Epicure’s Lament. Doubleday: 2004. (204.)