The Prince Returns: In Defense of Lawrence Durrell

And now, in 2014, Durrell has failed to be appreciated in any substantial way by modern audiences. In fact, the opposite is true: he is positively derided in most serious literary circles nowadays, and his books are rarely studied in universities. His novels are said to be antiquated and selfish, indulgent and over-written. His prose, once thought to be incisive and muscular, is now judged as florid and confusing…

Puzzle Trouble: Women and Crosswords in the Age of Autofill

At this point in his speech, Steinberg suggested that the ever-widening gender gap in crosswords might be explained (or “boysplained,” as one puzzle blogger snarked) by the field’s shift to software-facilitated constructions. Like photography, film, and any number of once-analog trades, the process of puzzle-making has been digitized in the past twenty years…

Better Angels: On Rilke in Translation

If Rilke’s poetry has any relevance to twenty-first century Americans, it’s because we worry, now more than ever, that we are losing unmediated experience. We’re busy, we’re sleepless, we’re medicated, and we’re marooned in the everyday.

The Uses of Art: Little Beasts

Even when you’re in the right place and time, participatory art fails because art fails: too often nothing actually happens between a work and its viewer. We are so many strangers walking the streets of the city, hardly glancing at one another.

The Geography of Melancholy

To walk in the country is to walk in and among life. That which is growing is growing of its own accord; there is a dynamic force—what the Romantic poets called Nature naturans—that suffuses the natural existence. A single blade of grass may be impermanent; a field of grass is not. But to walk in a city is to walk among ghosts, the narratives of onetime denizens building up like layers of clay shards…

Review: On Lydia Davis’ “Can’t and Won’t”From the Print

This removed, and slightly veiled, narrative condescension is a trademark of Ms. Davis’ writing in Can’t and Won’t, a collection which takes empty, circular bourgeois life as its subject, and then immediately seems to resent having done so. Ms. Davis writes as if she were forced to take on this subject, as if it were an assignment, and so many of her stories here read like transcriptions of (elegant) tantrums.

Toward a Poetics of Skateboarding

The gears of capitalism create spaces in which behavior is prescribed and easily accounted for. Skateboarding’s opposition is thus a compositional process, partially of the individual body, which is recomposed against the “intense scopic determinations of modernist space,” and partially of a deeper critique of urban life: “production not as the production of things but of play, desires and actions”…

Micro-review: On Kate Durbin’s “E! Entertainment”

Enter into the arena Kate Durbin, whose latest book, E! Entertainment has just been published by Wonder Books, demonstrating seven years of atomically precise attention paid to the linguistic ecosystem of reality television. Deliciously designed in the prettiest of pink pages by Joseph Kaplan, E! Entertainment arranges, annotates, reports, and represents our favorite national pastime…

Journeymen

Billups was the archetype’s quintessence: experienced but expendable, affable but reserved, resilient and lonely. Yes, Chauncey, great work, bye. Welcome, Chauncey, powerful and baldheaded sharpshooter, we need you, we don’t, begone, be good. I can’t imagine Billups took all this with anything other than measured acceptance, a tip of the jockstrap, a grinning-bare of his huge many teeth, before zooming off in his Mercedes to some new part of America…

Three Vistas

A democratic vista is prose that is pliant to poetry. When prose is pliant to poetry, it means that prose bends to the authority of poetry without giving up its own self-concept…

Review: On Adam Begley’s “Updike”

The secret to John Updike’s long tenure as America’s preeminent man of letters can be found in the essays from Self-Consciousness, his 1989 memoir-of-sorts. The book is fairly representative: it’s an unabashed hymn to Updikehood, a finely recorded bout of nostalgia, a cheerful philosophical riff, and a masterwork of English prose…

Review: On Vijay Seshadri's "3 Sections"

Consciousness has caught up with the impossible soul on “the other shore,” the shore that permits, and legitimizes, the imagination, the vehicle of consciousness. Seshadri’s metaphor is doubly apt (if not multiply complex): improbable as it may seem, the imaginary number (i or √−1) regularly surfaces in science and engineering; it is present in the formalisms underlying modern technologies…