31 July 2006


I completely agree with the Little Professor, who notes:
Apparently, there's yet another TV adaptation of Jane Eyre in the works, as if the world needed yet another adaptation of Jane Eyre. (Incidentally, isn't Francesca Annis a little over-qualified for a two-bit character like Lady Ingram?) Even more so than many Victorian novels told in the first person--or, for that matter, many Victorian novels with strong narrative voices--JE is not at all suited to cinematic realism. It's not just that the novel's literary effects depend on JE's very distinctive, complex POV, but also that its events themselves often seem bizarre or bathetic when rendered in "objective" form. The "Red Room," the symbolic lightning bolt (when it's included), Rochester's "telepathic" connection to Jane, and so forth frequently appear uncomfortably comical--especially when, as is usually the case, the filmmaker strips the narrative of its theological underpinnings and turns it into a straightforward twentieth- or twenty-first century romance. That being said, I think that in JE's case an overtly stylized or even surreal aesthetic might work in an adaptation's favor.
Exactly. There isn't an adaptation out there that hasn't come off as clumsy or melodramatic in parts--and the final act is invariably botched (or passed over altogether), completely missing the point of how the force of Jane's convictions fuel her strength of will. (And I liked Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald in The Tennant of Wildfell Hall...but Stephens as Rochester? Doubtful.)

27 July 2006

Thin soup

Poet Scott Cairns on the perils of putting the words "Christian" and "poetry" in the same sentence:
My sense is that 20th Century American Christianity–its most vocal elements, anyway–has been a largely anti-intellectual endeavor, largely suspicious of art in general, and pretty much dumbed down in comparison to earlier epochs, making what usually passes for "Christian poetry" to be pretty thin soup. Moreover, the apophatic, parabolic, essentially poetic character of traditional theological discourse itself has been eclipsed in the most visible Christian communities by a reductive literalism, and by a disposition that has substituted arrogance for mysteries, substituted allegory for metaphor, substituted zeal for love, substituted earnestness for joy. As if that weren't trouble enough, I also sense that poetry in general has undergone a similar diminishment, wherein the poem has come to be understood as a document of experience, rather than a scene of revelation, retrospective rather than prospective.
(via The Page)

Beauty as interconnection

From a 1981 interview with William Gass:
There is a view that some ideas are so obnoxious that they can't be put into a form that would be rather beautiful. Some believe there is a conflict between, for example, moral value and aesthetic value, such that viciousness can't be beautiful. I claim it can. One way of doing that is to demonstrate it. It is perfectly possible, it seems to me, for there to be a beautiful anti-Semitic speech. My present work requires me to do just that. So some of it is the challenge of creating something out of garbage, and there's a philosophical point there if you can make it. But also, the words are nothing by themselves until they're placed in relationships. For me, there are no bad words; there are just ill-written things. So the idea is to find contexts so integrated and interconnected that they have the beauty some mathematicians speak of. Everything fits. Everything's functioning fully. You have a complete system. It's sometimes a challenge to make that system out of things people find rather awful or objectionable. It's careless to associate what the characters say with what the author thinks. I frequently don't agree with what mine say. The challenge is, to me, to be able to say it as well as I can and represent and fit it into the larger scheme. It doesn't matter whether what I'm saying is nice or true.
(via wood s lot)

26 July 2006

Thinking twice

In the Contemporary Poetry Review, Daniel Bosch expresses his ambivalence about the now-infamous collection of Elizabeth Bishop's leavings:
I am determined, shamefacedly, to overcome my own reticence in writing reviews and comments. The opening paragraphs here—whatever their other faults—now seem to me gutless throat-clearing. How delighted I was, in March, to present my own muddling through of the incorrigible situation created by the publication of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box. There I go, pottering about, careful to acknowledge, on the one hand, the potential usefulness of some of the writing in this volume, and yet careful to deplore the commodification of Bishop’s unpublished works and the contravention of so many years of her artistic practice.

I read Helen Vendler’s review of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke Box in The New Republic of April 3 with self-recognition and a bit of horror. I am not Helen Vendler, nor was meant to be. Vendler writes from power:
Students eagerly wanting to buy ‘the new book by Elizabeth Bishop’ should be told to go back and buy the old one, where the poet represents herself as she wished to be known....In the long run, these newly published materials will be relegated to what Robert Lowell called ‘the back stacks,’ and this imperfect volume will be forgotten, except by scholars. The real poems will outlast these, their maimed and stunted siblings.
Unlike [Meghan] O’Rourke, or [Peter] Campion, or even [Charles] Simic, she need not make nice with an Alice Quinn or a Farrar Straus & Giroux. Vendler’s lack of reticence, her ability to step up and to stake her claim, clearly and vigorously, exposed for me the vapidity of my own earnestness. What exactly was my interest in presenting a persona who would promise not to follow through on the moral objections he was just about to raise? What else but the creation of some slack space in which to enjoy the prospect of a guilty pleasure. Not every reticence is powerful.

21 July 2006

Another way

This article confirms all of my cynical suspicions about graduate school ("To succeed as a Ph.D. in English, you have to give up all of the things that attracted you to the subject in the first place"). More and more I feel I made the right decision in avoiding it--at least in the U.S.
The problem is you can't get to where I am now without going through a decade or more of immersion in a highly politicized and anti-literary academic culture. You have to spend so many years conforming that, by the time freedom presents itself, you don't know why you became an English major in the first place. You might even have contempt for your seemingly naïve students, who represent the self that you had to repress in order to be a professional.
It seems that "idealistic" people such as myself have to find alternate routes to express this insatiable love of literature and are compelled to delve deeper into modes of personal study (which isn't a bad thing). Yet somehow, I still harbor the small hope that more will come of this passion. I especially wonder how Mr. Benton's observations would apply to literature departments in other countries. How widespread is this political disease?

But in the meantime, litblogs are the perfect place for misplaced former English majors to continue their exploration of and contribution to the world of books. Something inside of me is deeply satisfied by the times when I more rigorously examine works and ideas in this little corner of cyberspace.

(via The Reading Experience)

18 July 2006

Cruelly parted

Am currently feeling the brunt of my separation from two marvelous books I wasn't able to finish before leaving the country again: Richard Powers' Plowing the Dark and the newly-reissued collection of essays by Wendell Berry, Standing by Words. It's horrible. Perhaps my frequent silences here are due to the fact that I feel these sorts of things so keenly I'd rather *not* know what I'm missing.

All the same, I was able to find several gems in my used-bookstore hunts (Galatea 2.2 being one of them), so I plan to focus on the upside of things and share a bit more of what I do have.

Yesterday, I finally started James Longenbach's The Resistance to Poetry (which took over four months to reach me via airmail!). Already I'm seeing an interesting tension between his preface and Berry's essay, "The Specialization of Poetry." But I don't think they necessarily disagree...

More soon.

03 July 2006

Translators needed

Here's a (possibly ignorant) question. Much has been made (and rightly so) of the lack of attention given in various quarters to literature in translation. It's important that awareness of global literature increases for English-speaking readers. But what about books originally written in English and translated into other languages?

I have searched in vain for Spanish translations of Ellison's Invisible Man, or anything by Walker Percy or Annie Dillard. Joan Didion, David Markson, Stephen Dixon, and Wendell Berry are similarly absent, although Nabokov, Pynchon, and Vonnegut seem to be pretty-well represented (thankfully).

William Gass' In the Heart of the Heart of the Country is translated, but unavailable. There is a Spanish version of Richard Powers' In the Time of Our Singing, but these two seem to be the only translated works of the above authors.

Flannery O'Connor's stories (as well as Wise Blood) are translated into Spanish, but not Mystery and Manners.

Are these decisions entirely market-based? Is it up to each publisher to decide whether a work is "worthy" of translation into a second language (Spanish in this case)? Granted, all I did was look up certain authors on Amazon. Is there another resource I should be using instead, a better way to discover which works have been translated? (I find it very difficult to believe that Ellison hasn't been translated into Spanish.)

I am sure there are many possible explanations and responses to the issue (I'd love to hear them! Perhaps I just need to learn more about how publishing works?). But is there a way for the average Spanish-speaking reader to obtain copies of items not found in a general web search? Or is it true that these authors simply have not yet been translated into Spanish?

Sonata para que amanezca

Estoy en el fondo de un barco roto
Estoy en el medio de un mar agrietado
Estoy en la orilla de un cielo horadado.

Estoy horadada en el medio de un barco
Estoy agrietada en el fondo de un cielo
Estoy rota en la orilla de un mar.

Estoy en el cielo de un fondo roto
Estoy en el barco de un miedo horadado
Estoy en el mar de una orilla agrietada.

Pronto veré la luz.

~ María Clemencia Sánchez

(English translation)