June 30, 2010


Egan, Jennifer, A Visit from the Goon Squad (New York: Knopf, 2010) (From the book jacket: "A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic hunger for redemption--and escape the merciless progress of time--in the transporting realms of art and music . . ." Also see, Janet Maslin, "Time, Thrashing to Its Own Beat," NYT, Monday, 6/21/2010.).

Faulks, Sebastian, A Week in December: A Novel (New York: Doubleday, 2010) ("When, or rather if, the financial crisis ever stabilized, there would be a recession in what journalists charmingly termed the 'real' economy. Millions around the globe would lose their jobs; other millions would go without food, or at least see their modest lives stripped of comfort." "But I have mastered this world, thought John Veals . . . . To me there is no mystery, no nuance and no complication; I am a man alive to the spirit of his time, the one who hears thee whispers on the wind." "A rare surge of feeling, of something like vindication, came from the pit of his belly and spread out till it sang in his veins. As he stood with his hands in his pockets, staring out over the sleeping city, over its darkened wheels and spires and dome, Veals laughed." Id. at 390. See Gregory Cowles's review, "Sins of the Capitalist," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 3/21/2010.).

Hall, Sarah, How to Paint a Dead Man: A Novel (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009) ("Of all the conditions we experience, solitude is perhaps the most misunderstood. To choose it is regarded as irresponsible or a failure. To most it should be avoided, like an illness. Inside solitude people see the many compartments of unhappiness, like the comb of a pomegranate. To be emptied from the world, to be cast away and forgotten--is this what we fear most? So we must shake hands and pass money and hear talk of society and talk of our families and our selves. We must move in and out of doors, press buttons for lifts, catch each other's colds, laugh and weep, and contribute to the din and the restlessness. We must dance and sing, and visit the courts. We must make these daily contracts." "But if it is embraced solitude is the most joyful of commitments. In the grace of these quiet rooms I know far better the taste of each day. How well I know life. I understand water in its glass. As the afternoon circles, shadows move behind the objects on the table. There is a pinch of cinnamon in Theresa's lamb casserole. Such acceptance! Such intimacy! The paint on the chassis of the easel is a thick as guano on the cliffs where seagulls nest." "I am not lonely, but receiving such a letter reminds me of the other souls in this world whom I might have liked to meet." Id. at 16.).

Harding, Paul, Tinkers (New York: Bellevue Press, 2008, 2009) (From the book cover: "An old man lies dying. As time collapses into memory, he travels deep into his past where he is reunited with his father and relives the wonder and pain of his impoverished New England youth. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature." Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.)

Hynes, James, Next: A Novel (New York: Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown, 2010) (See Claire Messud, Journey's End," NYT Book Review, 4/4/2010; and Janet Maslin, "A Job Interview to End All Job Interviews," NYT, 3/11/2010).

Kennedy, A.L., What Becomes: Stories (New York: Knopf, 2010) (See Robin Romm's review, "Internal Injuries," NYT Sunday Book Review, 5/23/2010.).

Lee, Chang-rae, The Surrendered (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010) (See Michiko Kakutani, "Lives Scarred by Korean War," NYT, 3/8/2010, and Terrence Rafferty, "Death Pursues Her," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 3/14/2010.).

Leimbach, Marti, The Man From Saigon: A Novel (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010) ("If she can find a road, she could set up some kind of ambush, waiting for ARVN or the Americans to come along, and try to get their attention and identify herself before they opened fire. With this in mind, she could make a white flag out of some bamboo and her underpants. But then she thinks how they have not crossed a road in four days of marching; she thinks she would tire of dragging the pole. The previous night, she washed her underpants in the water of a tree stump. They dried in a stiff shape as though starched, smelling of earth. She picked ants off them, then put them back on and discovered that the elastic had stretched. That, or her thighs were much thinner; the pants sagged on her, looking like they belonged to another woman. What was she going to do when they wore out completely?" "Commonplace things--roads, plates, bedclothes, running water--feel unreachable, the thought of them absurd. Where would she find new underpants? She falls asleep for a few minutes, dreaming of fresh water and roads." Id. at 114. See Elizabeth D. Samet, "Hearts in Darkness," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 3/14/2010.).

Leithauser, Brad, The Art Student’s War: A Novel (New York: Knopf, 2009) ("The man who had always served as the family's military analyst drew on the remaining embers in the belly of his pipe. Then he said, within a sweet cloud of smoke, 'That's how it is with most wars. The origin is usually a mystery. What matters is that it comes to an end, darling. And this war's over.'" Id. at 496.).

Lipsyte, Sam, The Ask: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) (" ' . . . Here's what you need to know: The boy can walk away from the ogre's castle. He doesn't have to knock. Some people will tell you that it's better the boy get hurt or even die than never know whether he could have defeated the ogre and won the ogre's treasure. But those are the people who tell us stories to keep us slaves.' " Id. at 270. See Jennifer Schuessler, "The Book of Guys," NYRB, 4/8/2010, at 16; and Lydia Millet, "Target Practice," NYT Book Review, 3/7/2010.).

Malouf, David, Ransom: A Novel (New York: Pantheon, 2009) (From the jacket cover: "A moving novel of suffering, sorrow and redemption, Ransom tells the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and woeful Priam, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles. Each man's grief must confront the other's for surcease and resolution: a resolution more compelling to both than the demands of war. . . ." Also see Steve Coates, "Troy Story," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/24/2010.).

Marlantes, Karl, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Berkeley: El Leon Literary Arts; & New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010) (". . . Mulvaney turned to the large map and began outlining the next day's plan of the the ongoing operation, all the while feeling that somehow he had let his regiment down. Working with the goddamned gooks wasn't his idea of fighting a war, particularly when all that would probably happen was a few old political scores would get settled in Cam Lo. Some SEAL team had been operating in the villages for several years now, assassinating 'known Vietcong leaders,' but where the fuck did that information come from? Supposedly from the CIA, but then none of those spooks were hanging out in the villages. Christ, they're all six-foot-two white boys from Yale. So where did the spooks get their information? Probably from one of the damned secret societies who were just fingering a leader of another secret society over the control of some drug market and getting their dirty work done courtesy of the United States Navy. And Vietcong leadership, if the Vietcong existed in force there at all after their buddies from the north set them up to be obliterated by American firepower during Tet, would be long gone by the time all the security leaks from the ARVN trickled down. Yes, Mulvaney mused, power in the secret societies would definitely shift after Cam Lo, and the spooks would be played for suckers, and his Marines would pay the price. He wanted to kick the CIA's ass and break the fucking ARVN's scrawny necks. " Id. at 180. See Sebastian Junger, The Vietnam Wars," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 4/4/2010.).

McEwan, Ian, Solar (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010) ("'And this brings us to the central question, the burning question. How do we slow down and stop while sustaining our civilization and continuing to bring millions out of poverty? Not by being virtuous, not by going to the bottle bank and turning down the thermostat and buying a smaller car. That merely delays the catastrophe by a year or two. Any delay is useful, but it's not the solution. The matter has to move beyond virtue. Virtue is too passive, too narrow. Virtue can motivate individuals, but for groups, societies, a whole civilization, it's a weak force. Nations are never virtuous, though they might sometime think they are. For humanity en masse, greed trumps virtue. So we have to welcome into our solutions the ordinary compulsions of self-interest, and also celebrate novelty, the thrill of invention, the pleasures of ingenuity and cooperation, the satisfaction of profit. Oil and coal are energy carriers, and so, in abstract form, is money. And the answer to that burning question is of course exactly where that money, your money, has to flow--to affordable clean energy.'" Id. at 150-151.).

Morgan, Ted, Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America Into The Vietnam War (New York: Random House, 2010) ("In terms of the will to win, thought Navarre, the Vietminh were united, while the French were divided, with the Communists and Gaulists in the National Assembly opposed to the war. The Vietminh kept its secrets, while in Paris secrets were routinely leaked. Navarre didn't even know where the Vietminh headquarters--a cluster of well-guarded bamboo huts, a few dozen aides, easily movable--was. The Vietminh led a monastic life, while in Saigon, the glittering social scene was awash in champagne dinners, women with low necklines, golf and tennis, and the rumor mill. The Vietminh waged war. The French command deployed troops from their air-conditioned offices." Id. at 170.).

Shriver, Lionel, So Much For That: A Novel (New York: Harper, 2010) ("What do you pack for the rest of your life? . . . In the face of infinite contingencies, his impulse was to take nothing." Id. at 1. " ' Why are you trying to make your own children feel dumb?' 'I'm not! I'm trying to make them them feel uneducated, which isn't the same thing.' 'I'm willing to bet the distinction is lost on them'" Id. at 171. " 'We pay good money so these kids learn something. Instead they're so coddled that Heather doesn't even get proper grades. What do we get on her report card? 'Does consistently,' 'does usually,' or 'does with assistance.' There's no 'doesn't do,' 'won't do,' or 'does, but it's crap.' And you saw that newsletter: they won't let teachers use red pen anymore. Red's too 'confrontational' and 'threatening,' so now her tests are marked in a 'soothing' green. They've chucked the bell between classes to make the environment more 'welcoming.' They keep this up, Heather'll grow up and get a job, and the first time her boss says, 'You're late,' or has a tiny bit of a problem paying her to do work she didn't do because she didn't feel like it? She'll jump off a bridge.' . . . 'But this obsessive bolstering of self-esteem--well, I got no problem with self-regard so long as you think well of yourself for good reason. But now they're told they're God's gift, whether or not they've learned to spell. I read a study . . . in The New York Time. . . . They asked a bunch of Korean kids and a bunch of American kids whether they thought of themselves as good at math; thirty-nine percent of the Americans thought they were great at it. Only six percent of the Koreans thought they were any good, and the rest thought they sucked. But when you looked at their test scores, the Koreans were way ahead of the Americans in math. Students in this country are taught to be delusional.' " Id. at 170-171. See "Pre-existing Conditions," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 2/14/2010.).

Soli, Tatjana, The Lotus Eaters: A Novel (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010) ("Helen closed her eyes. She thought of the rolls of film in the car, the images cradled in emulsion, areas of darkness and light like the beginnings of the universe. She herself full of latent images taken over the years, and yet what she had seen would stay inside her, hidden. Linh had covered her eyes during the mission out of Dak To, because he understood that for them the eye was the most important thing. We close our eyes to spare ourselves or those we love. To see demanded responsibility. To gain power over their enemies, armies blindfolded prisoners. In the field, the Khmer Rouge had the people turn away so that the executioners would not see themselves in their victims' eyes." Id. at 373. See Danielle Trussoni, "The Vietnam Wars, NYT Book Review, Sunday, 4/4/2010.).

Syjuco, Miguel, Ilustrado: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) (From the book jacket: "It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River--taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Gone, too, is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families. Miguel, his student and only remaining friend, sets out for Manila to investigate." "To understand the death, Miguel scours his teacher's life, piecing together Salvador's story through his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga of four generations, tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves. Finally, we are surprised to learn that this story belongs to young Miguel as much as to his lost mentor, and we are treated to an unhindered view of a society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress." Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. See Raymond Bonner, "Manila Vice," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 6/13/2000.).

Wilson, E. O., Anthill: A Novel (New York: Norton, 2010) ("Raff folded the moccasin encounter into his lifelong experience in the Nokobee. In time it became part of the whole. As this and the many other memories piled one upon the other, his devotion to the tract became stronger, but also more realistic. From his passion for Nokobee's wildness, he drew his version of the land ethic. Where farmers love the land for what it yields to their labor, and the hunter love it for the animals they kill and take away, Raff came to love Nokobee for its own sake. It became to him another way to look at the world, different than what he heard at school and from his parents. He constructed a broader context in which he drew a picture of humanity, and of himself. The image was at first vague, but it grew thereafter steadily in clarity. In time he understood that nature was not something outside the human world. The reverse is true. Nature is the real world, and humanity exists on islands within it." Id. at 139-140. See Margaret Atwood, "The Homer of the Ants," NYRB, 4/8/2010, at 6; and Barbara Kingsolver, "Ear to the Ground," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 4/11/2010.).

June 29, 2010


Viewed the film Michael Clayton again this evening. It should be required viewing for every first-year law student. Then, perhaps, they may begin to appreciate that law has little to do with justice. And that lawyers, even the best of the profession, may simply be glorified janitors . . . engaged in cleaning up other peoples' shit.

June 14, 2010


Giordano, Paolo, The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside (New York: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 2009) (See Liesl Schillinger, "Counting on Each Other," NYT Book Review, 4/11/2010.).

Grossman, Edith, Why Translation Matter (Why X Matters) (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2010) ("It is true . . . people do not read books by the pound, or keep a competitive record of how many volumes they own, or have their intelligence and education judged, by themselves or by others, on the basis of the number of feet of book-filled shelving that lines their walls. But the reality is staggering: keeping up with what is originally published in English each year would mean, at the very least, that we would have to give up gainful employment, never see another movie or play, never attend another concert, and certainly never take another walk or have another leisurely meal with friends. And yet it is also true that the fundamentally judicious and logical question, along with its implicit answer, of why we should even bother to translate books that may very well go unopened by readers who are increasingly pressed for time (not to mention a depressingly large public that has no interest at all in reading for what some publications irritatingly term a 'literary experience') needs to be countered with another, even more fundamental question: what do we forfeit, historically, potentially, and in actuality, as individuals and as a society, if we somehow lose access to translated literature by voluntarily reducing its presence in our community or passively watching and quietly standing by as its availability to us is drastically and arbitrarily curtailed?" Id. at 38-39. "[T]here is the disquieting matter of the growth and spread of an increasingly intense jingoistic parochialism in our country--the kind of attitude that leads certain people who should know better to believe that their nation and their language are situated, by a kind of divine right, at the center of the universe. The resulting self-image or self-conceptualization by definition transforms everyone else in the world into benighted barbarians whose cultures are unimportant and whose languages are insignificant. . . . In the United States, some speakers of English believe their native tongue is sanctified and therefore spiritually superior to any other. I am sure many of you have heard about and some may even have seen the bumper sticker, widely popular in those parts of our country where people have mounted impassioned crusades against bilingualism in any form, but especially Spanish/English bilingualism, which claim: 'If English Was Good Enough For Jesus, It's Good Enough For Me.' After the first incredulous giggle, this public display of ignorance verging on the lunatic brings more than one despairing tear to my eye. . . ." "The high degree of xenophobia rampart in our country may help explain the American reluctance to embrace translation . . . ." Id. at 42-43. See Richard Howard, "Duet for Two Pens," NYT Book Review, 4/11/2010.).

Jia, Pingwa, Turbulence: A Novel translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (New York: Grove Press, 1987, 1991, 2002) (set in rural post-Mao China).

Larsson, Stieg
, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: A Novel translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland (New York: Knopf, 2010)
(See David Kamp's review, "The Hacker and the Hack," The NYT Book Review, Sunday, 5/30/2010.).

Mankell, Henning, The Man From Beijing: A Novel translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (New York: Knopf, 2010) (See Mike Peed, "Murder Most Global," NYT Book Review, 2/28/2010.).

Marias, Javier, Your Face Tomorrow, Volume One: Fever and Spear translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (New York: New Directions, 2003, 2005) ("It's interesting how the law takes [distrust] into account and, even odder, takes the trouble to warn us: when someone is arrested, at least in films, he is allowed to remain silent, because, as he is immediately informed, 'anything you say can be used against you.' There is in this warning a strange -- or indecisive and contradictory -- desire not to play entirely dirty. That is, the prisoner is told that the rules will, from now on, be dirty, he is informed and reminded that, somehow or other, they are going to catch him out and will make the most of any blunders, lapses and mistakes he might make -- he is no longer a suspect, but an accused man whose guilt they are going to try to prove, whose alibis they will destroy, he has no right to impartiality, not between now and the day he appears in court -- all their efforts will be channelled into gathering the evidence that will condemn him, all their vigilance and monitoring and investigation and research into collecting the clues that will incriminate him and support their decision to arrest him. And yet they offer him the opportunity to remain silent, indeed, almost urge it upon him . . . ; remaining silent appears or is presented as being clearly the most sensible option, one that could save us even it we know ourselves to be and are guilty, as the only way in which this self-declared dirty game can be rendered ineffectual or barely practicable, or at least not with the involuntary and ingenuous collaboration of the prisoner. . . ." "The game is, in fact so dirty and so biased that, on such a basis, no justice system can possibly presume to be just, and perhaps, therefore, there is no possible justice, ever, anywhere, perhaps justice is a phantasmagoria, a false concept. Because what the accused is told boils down to this: 'If you say something that suits us and is favorable to our aims, we will believe you and accept it and use it against you. If, on the other hand, you allege something to your advantage or in your defence, something that proves exculpatory for you and inconvenient for us, we won't believe you at all, they will be like words in he wind, given that you have the right to lie and that we simply assume that everyone- -that is, all criminal-- will avail themselves of that right. . . . It is thus taken for granted that both the innocent and the guilty will proclaim themselves to be the former, and so, if they speak, there will be no difference between them, they will be made equal, on a level. And it them that these words are spoken: 'You have the right to remain silent', although this won't help to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty either. . . ." Id. at 6-8.).

Marias, Javier, Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two: Dance and Dream translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (New York: New Directions, 2004, 2006) ("Let us hope that no one comes to us and says 'Please', or 'Listen'--the words that always precede all or almost all requests: 'Listen, do you know?', 'Listen, could you tell me?', 'Listen, have you got?', 'Listen, I wanted to ask you: for a recommendation, a piece of information, an opinion, a hand, some money, a favourable word, a consolation, a kindness, to keep this secret for me or to change for my sake and be someone else, or to betray and to lie or to keep silent for me and save me.' People ask and ask for all kinds of things, for everything, the reasonable and the crazy, the fair, the outrageous and the imaginary--the moon, as people always used to say, and which was promised by so many people everywhere precisely because it continues to be an imaginary place; people close to us ask, as do strangers, people who are in difficulties and those who caused those difficulties, the needy and the well-to-do, who, in this one respect, are indistinguishable: no one ever seems to have enough of anything, no one is ever contented, no one ever stops, as if they have all been told: 'Ask, just open your mouth and keep asking.' When, if fact, no one is ever told that." Id. at 3-4. "The tendency today is to enclose children in a bubble of foolish happiness and false security, by not bringing them into contact even with the mildly disquieting, and by keeping them ignorant of fear or even of its existence, indeed, I understand that nowadays you can buy--and that some people actually give or read these to their children--censored, doctored or saccharine versions of classics like Grimm or Perrault or Anderson, stripped of all the darkness and cruelty, of anything that's threatening and sinister, and probably with all the upsets and deceptions removed. Rank stupidity in my view. Namby-pamby parenting and irresponsible teaching. I consider that a crime of neglect, really, and a dereliction of duty. Because being exposed to other people's fears provides children with a lot of protection; they can imagine it serenely from the background of their own security and can experience it vicariously, through others, especially through fictional characters, like a short-lived contagion which, while only borrowed, is nevertheless not pure fakery. By imagining something you are starting to resist it, and that applies to things that have already happened as well: you can withstand misfortunes more easily if, afterwards, after experiencing them, you can manage to imagine them. And, of course, the way most people do this is by taking about them. . . ." Id. at 252-253.).

Marias, Javier, Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Three: Poison, Shadow and Farewell translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (New York: New Directions, 2007, 2009) ("'That's a very naive question, Jack, you disappoint me sometimes. . . . It's in your interest that your neighbor should be in your debt or that you should have caught him out in some way and be in a position to hurt him by reporting him or doing him the favor of keeping quiet about it. If people didn't infringe the law or try to get around the rules or if they never made mistakes or committed base acts, we would never get anything, it would be very hard for us to have any bargaining power and almost impossible to bend their wills or oblige them to. We'd have to resort to force and physical threats, and we tend not to use that much any more, we've been trying to give it up for some time now, because you never know if you'll emerge from that kind of thing unscathed or if they'll end up taking you to court and ruining you. Truly powerful people can do that, they can make your life very difficult and have you dismissed, they can pull strings and make you the scapegoat. We still use force on insignificant people. . . . There's no more effective method, I can assure you. With people who won't utter so much as a murmur of complaint. But with other people, it's always a risk. You can't influence them with money either, because they have so much. On the other hand, almost all are capable of weighing things up and making a judgment, of listening to reason, of seeing what's in their best interests. Everyone has something to hide, as you know, I've never known anyone who wasn't prepared to give in, either a little or a lot, in order to keep something quiet, so that it didn't get around or, at least, didn't reach the ears of one particular person. How could it possibly not suit us that people should be weak or base or greedy or cowardly, that they should fall into temptation and drop the occasional very large gaffe, or even be party to or commit misdemeanors? That's the basis of our work, the very substance. More than that, it's the bedrock of the State. The State needs treachery, venality, deceit, crime, illegal acts, conspiracy, dirty tricks (on the other hand, it needs very few acts of heroism, or only now and then, to provide a contrast). If those things didn't exist, or not enough, the State would have to invent them. It already does. Why do you think new offenses are constantly being created? What wasn't an offense becomes one, so that no one is ever entirely clean. Why do you think we intervene in and regulate everything, even where it's unnecessary or where it doesn't concern us? We need laws to be violated and broken. What would be the point of having laws if everyone obeyed them? We'd never get anywhere. We wouldn't exist. The State needs infractions, even children know that, although they don't know that they know. They're the first to commit them. We're brought up to join in the game and to collaborate right from the start, and we keep playing the game until the very last, even when we're dead. The debt is never settled'" Id. at 127-128.) .

Munif, Abdelrahman, Cities of Salt (Volume 1 of the Cities of Salt Trilogy) translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux (New York: Vintage International, 1989) (From the backcover: "Set in an unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom in the 1930s, [the] novel tells the story of the disruption and diaspora of a poor oasis community following the discovery of oil there. The meeting of Arabs and the Americans who, in essence, colonized the remote region in a cultural confrontation in which religion, history, superstition, and mutual incomprehension all play a part.") .

Munif, Abdelrahman, The Trench (Volume 2 of the Cities of Salt Trilogy) translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux (New York: Vintage International, 1991) ("'I don't think Hammad's behind it--he's a good boy and knows his horseflesh.' Then he added suddenly: 'But even so, he or whoever it is, near or far, should know that all wars start with words.'" Id. at 408. From the backcover: "'[T]he only serious work of fiction that tries to show the effect of oil, Americans, and local oligarchy on a Gulf country' (Edward W. Said), The Trench is a powerfully satiric and deeply affecting novel depicting the royal government of an oil sheikdom very much like that of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait." "Set in the 1950s, the novel . . . evokes the royal court of an obscenely rich monarchy, in all of its fatuousness, turpitude and savagery, residing over artificial boundaries set by imperialists, depending on foreign intriguers ad masses of migrant workers for its luxury, and practicing severely repressive policies." .

Munif, Abdelrahman, Variations on Night and Day (Volume 3 of the Cities of Salt Trilogy) translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux (New York: Vintage International, 1993) ("The Awali War was hard to record or describe, because its three battles were extremely complex and confusing, the interests at stake were murky and convoluted, and reports of the war were highly contradictory. There were the discrepancies and conflicts of narrators, the shifting positions of the fighting forces, and the paucity of surviving eyewitnesses--no need to wonder why there were so few! History had become a huge assemblage of lies and fabrications, much as history is merely the history of victors, from their own perspective, with a tendency to be kind to themselves, rich in chicanery and irony, recounting one episode in many very different ways--not always ascribable to evil intent or neglect, but to the injuries of time and disputed sources, the accumulation of small lies and the illusions that, in the end, created the single illusion of absolute truth, or the one truthful telling of an illusory history!" Id. at 119-120. "When Hamilton said that he wanted to take a few years to study the ruins, the Sultan declared that 'if we are able to dispense with our heavier cares, Sahib, and have an untroubled mind, and if you wish, I will have my men pick up all these stones and idols and carry them wherever you like!'" "Hamilton laughed heartily, and when he was through, he said, 'History can't be carried around, Your Majesty. Anyone who wishes to study or write about it must go to it, freely, obediently; on of the historians' greatest mistakes is to strip history of its spirit, of the place where it transpired, of the people who were part of that history.'" Id. at 157-158. From the backcover: "Full of Machiavellian intrigue and searing political satire, Variations on Night and Day . . . chronicles the creation of a Persian Gulf nation by a corrupt Arab monarch and conniving British empire builders." "Set in the 1930s, the novel depicts the rise to power of Sultan Khureybit and the emergence of Mooran as a modern nation. Khureybit expands his dominion, crushing rival clams by military force and internal opposition with bribes, guile, assassinations, and executions--all in the name of holy war, even as he is being sponsored by the British Empire, which is playing rival sultans off one another to secure its influence over the region. Against this setting we see as well the venality of the Sultan's polygamous household, in which his several wives vie for preeminence through gossip, chicanery, and murder.").

Musil, Robert, The Man Without Qualities I: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails translated from the German by Sophie Wilkins (New York: Knopf, 1995) ("A motorcylist came up the empty street, thundering up the perspective bow-armed and bow-legged. His face had the solemn self-importance of a howling child. It reminded Ulrich of a photo he had seen a few days ago in a magazine of a famous woman tennis player poised on tiptoes, one leg exposed to above the garter, the other flung up toward her head as she reached for a high ball with her racket, on her face the expression of an English governess. In the same issue there was also a picture of a champion swimmer being massaged after a contest. Two women dressed in street clothes, one at the swimmer's feet, the other at her head, were solemnly looking down at her as she lay on a bed, naked on her back, one knee drawn up in posture of sexual abandon, the masseur standing alongside resting his hands on it. He wore a doctor's gown and gazed out of the picture as though this female flesh had been skinned and hung on a meat hook. Such were the things people were beginning to see at the time, and somehow they had to be acknowledged, as one acknowledges the presence of skyscrapers and electricity. A man can't be angry at his own time without suffering some damage, Ulrich felt. Ulrich was also always ready to love all these manifestations of life. But he could never bring himself to love them wholeheartedly, as one's general sense of well-being requires. For a long time now a hint of aversion had lain on everything he did and experienced, a shadow of impotence and loneliness, an all-encompassing distaste for which he could not find the complementary inclination. He felt at times though he had been born with a talent for which there was at present no objective." Id. at 57-68. "Without going further into the morality of these examples, we cannot overlook the uncertainty that leads in every case to a compromise between objectively and the subjectively proper attitude." "This uncertainty gave Ulrich's personal problems a broader context. In earlier times, one had an easier conscience about being a person than one does today. People were like cornstalks in a field, probably more violently tossed back and forth by God, hail, fire, pestilence, and war than they are today, but as a whole, as a city, a region, a field, and as to what personal movement was left to the individual stalk--all this was clearly defined and could be answered for. But today responsibility's center of gravity is not in people but in circumstances. Have we not noticed that experiences have made themselves independent of people? They have gone on the stage, into books, into the reports of research institutes and explorers, into ideological or religious communities, which foster certain kinds of experience at the expense of others as if they are conducting a kind of social experiment, and insofar as experiences are not actually being developed, they are simply left dangling in the air. Who can say nowadays that his anger is really his own anger when so many people talk about it and claim to know more about it than he does? A world of qualities without a man has arisen, of experiences without a person who experiences them, and it almost looks as though ideally private experience is a thing of the past, and that the friendly burden of personal responsibility is to dissolve into a system of formulas of possible meanings. Probably the dissolution of the anthropocentric point of view, which for such a long time considered man to be at the center of the universe but which has been fading away for centuries, has finally arrived at the 'I' itself, for the belief that the most important thing about experience is the experiencing, or of action the doing, is beginning to strike most people as naive. There are probably people who still lead personal lives, who say 'We saw the So-and-sos yesterday' or 'We'll do this or that today' and enjoy it without its needing to have any content or significance. They like everything that comes in contact with their fingers, and are purely private persons insofar as this is at all possible. In contrast with such people, the world becomes a private world and shines like a rainbow. They may be very happy, but this kind of people usually seems absurd to the others, although it is still not at all clear clear why." "And suddenly, in view of these reflections, Ulrich had to smile and admit to himself that he was, after all, a character, even without having one." Id. at 158-159. "'No one is born a rationalist and utilitarian,' she reflected. 'We all start out as a living soul. But ordinary, everyday existence silts us up, the usual human passions go through us like a firestorm, and the cold world brings out that coldness in us that freezes the soul.'" Id. at 463. "Still, a criminal's life can often be a picnic compared with the strenuous brainwork he imposes on the pundits of the law. The offender simply takes advantage of the fact that the transitions in nature from health to sickness are smooth and imperceptible, while to the jurist it is a case of 'The arguments pro and contra freedom of the will or insight into the wrongful nature of the act so tend to cut across and cancel each other out that no system of logic can lead to other than a problematic verdict.' A jurist has logical reasons for bearing in mind that 'in regard to one and the same act there is no admissible possibility that it can arise from a mixture of two different mental states,' and he will not permit 'the principle of moral freedom in relation to physically conditioned states of mind to be lost in a vague mist of empirical thought.' He is not beholden to Nature for his concepts, but penetrates Nature with the flame of his thinking and the sword of moral law. . . ." Id. at 583.).

Musil, Robert, The Man Without Qualities II: Into the Millennium translated from the German by Sophie Wilkins; From the Posthumous Papers translated from the German by Burton Pike (New York: Knopf, 1995) ("As the man who had entered Agathe's life at the poet's grave, Professor August Lindner, climbed down toward the valley , what he saw opening before him were visions of salvation." "If she had looked around at him after they parted she would have been struck by the man's ramrod-stiff walk dancing down the stony path, for it was a peculiarly cheerful, assertive, and yet nervous walk. Lindner carried his hat in one hand and occasionally passed the other hand through his hair, so free and happy did he feel." "'How few people,' he said to himself, 'have a truly empathic soul!' He depicted to himself a soul able to immerse itself completely in a fellow human being, feeling his inmost sorrows and lowering itself t his innermost weaknesses. 'What a prospect!' he exclaimed to himself. 'What a miraculous proximity of divine mercy, what consolation, and what a day for celebration!' But then he recalled how few people were even able to listen attentively to their fellow creatures; for he was one of those right-minded people who descend from the unimportant to the trivial without noticing the difference. 'How rarely, for instance, is the question "hoe are you?" meant seriously,' he thought. 'You need only answer in detain how you really feel, and soon enough you find yourself looking into a bored and distracted face!'" Id. at 1136.).

Oe, Kenzaburo, The Changeling: A Novel translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm (New York: Grove Press, 2010) ("The voice on the tape had just said, 'So anyway, that's it for today--I'm going to head over to the Other Side now,' when Kogito heard a loud thud. There was silence for a moment, then Goro's voice continued: 'But don't worry, I'm not going to stop communicating with you. That's why I made a special point of setting up this system with Tagame and the tapes. Well, I know it's probably getting late on your side. Good night!'" Id. at 3. "Now forget the dead, forget even the living. Turn you mind only to the unborn." Id. at 468.).

Pasternak, Boris, Doctor Zhivago translated from the Russian by Max Hayward & Manya Harari (New York: Pantheon, 1958) ("'Why the mock modesty? If instead of using that sarcastic tone you took the trouble to find out what we do in our classes, you wouldn't be so supercilious.' "'Heavens, Liberius Averkievich, I'm not being supercilious. I have the utmost respect for your educational work. I've read the discussion notes you circulate. I know your ideas on the moral improvement of the soldier, they're quite excellent. All you say about what the soldier's attitude should be to the people's army, to his fellows, to the weak, the helpless, to women, and about honor and chastity--it's almost the teaching of the Dukhobors. All that kind of Tolstoyism I know by heart. My own adolescence was full of those aspirations toward a better life. How could I laugh at such things?' "'But, first, the idea of social betterment as it is understood since the October revolution doesn't fill me with enthusiasm. Second, it is so far from being put into practice, and the mere talk about it has cost such a sea of blood, that I'm not sure that the end justifies the means. And last--and this is the main thing--when I hear people speak of reshaping life it makes me lose my self-control and I fall into despair.' "'Reshaping life! People who can say that have never understood a thing about life--they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat--however much they have seen or done. They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch. But life is never material, a substance to be molded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.'" Id. at 337-338.).

Rahimi, Atiq, The Patience Stone: Sang-e Saboor translated from the French by Polly McLean (New York: Other Press, 2008, 2009) (From the book jacket: "According to ancient Persian folklore, sang-e saboor is the name of the magical stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that one day it will explode, overflowing with hardship and pain." "In Atiq Rahimi's strirring take, the sang-e sabor is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. His wife dutifully cares for him, but as she confronts her frustrations with his injury and the petty war that caused it, she begins to test the boundaries of his awareness by revealing deeply held secrets and confronting her darkest, most repressed thoughts. While in the streets rival factions clash, she speaks of her life, never knowing if her husband really hears. The result is an extraordinary confession, without restraint, about sex and love and anger toward a man, and by extension a culture, who never offered her respect or kindness. Her admission releases the immense pressure of marital, social, an religious subjugation, and ends with the most shocking revelation of all.").

Serge, Victor, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, translated from the French by Willard R. Trask, introduction by Susan Sontag (New York: New York Review Books, 1950, 2004) (life under a police state).

Serge, Victor, Unforgiving Years Case of Comrade Tulayev, introduced and translated from the French by Richard Greeman (New York: New York Review Books, 1950, 2004) (From the backcover: ". . . a thrilling and terrifying journey into the disastrous, blazing core of the twentieth century. . . ." "The book is arranged into four sections . . . . In the first, D, a lifelong revolutionary who has broken with the Communist Party and expects retribution at any moment, flees through the street of prewar Paris, haunted by the ghosts of his past and his fears for the future. Part two finds D's friend and fellow revolutionary Daria caught up in the defense of a besieged Leningrad. . . . The third part is set in Germany. On a dangerous assignment behind the lines, Daria finds herself in a city destroyed by both Allied bombing and Nazism, where the populace now confronts the prospect of total defeat. The novel closes in Mexico, in a remote and prodigiously beautiful part of the New World where D and Daria are reunited, hoping that they may at last have escaped the grim reckonings of their modern era.") .

Svevo, Italo, Emilio’s Carnival (Senilita) translated from the Italian by Beth Archer Brombert (New Haven & London: Yale Nota Bene/Yale U. Press, 2001) (From the backcover: "In Senilita, Svevo tells the story of the amorous entanglement of Emilio, a failed writer already old at thirty-five, and Angiolina, a seductively beautiful but promiscuous young woman. The novel traces her intoxicating effect on an indecisive daydreamer who vacillates between guilt and moral smugness.").

Svevo, Italo, Zeno’s Conscience (1923) translated from the Italian by William Weaver (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2001) ("Present-day life is polluted at the roots. Man has put himself in the place of trees and animals and has polluted the air, has blocked free space. Worse can happen. The sad and active animal could discover other forces and press them into his service. There is a threat of this kind in the air. It will be followed by a great gain . . . in the number of humans. Every square meter will be occupied by man. Who will cure us of the lack of air and of space? Merely thinking of it, I am suffocated!" Id. at 436.).

June 9, 2010


Benda, Julien, The Treason of the Intellectuals (La trahison de clercs [1927]) translated from the French by Richard Aldington, introduction by Roger Kimball (New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 2007, 2009).

"The notion that political warfare involves a war of cultures is entirely an invention of modern times, and confers upon them a conspicuous place in the moral history of humanity." Id. at 20. think about certain characterization of the so-called 'war on terror,' or of America's seemingly neverending 'culture wars.'

"[T]here existed until the last half century [note: Brenda is writing in the 1920s] another, essentially distinct humanity, which to a certain extent acted as a check upon the former [i.e., "the masses, whether bourgeois or proletarian, kings, ministers, political leaders, all that portion of the human species which I shall call 'the laymen,' whose whole function consists essentially in the pursuit of material interests, and who, by becoming more and more solely and systematically realist, have in fact only done what might be expected them"]. I mean the that class of men whom I shall designate 'the clerks,' by which term I mean all those whose activity essentially is not the pursuit of practical aims, all those who seek their joy in the practice of an art or a science or metaphysical speculation, in short in the the possession of non-material advantages, and hence in a certain manner say: 'My kingdom is not of this world.' Indeed, throughout history, for more than two thousand years until modern times, I see an uninterrupted series of philosophers, men of religion, men of literature, artists, men of learning . . . , whose influence, whose life, were in direct opposition to the realism of the multitudes. To come down specifically to the political passions--the 'clerks' were in opposition to them in two ways. They were either entirely indifferent to these passion, and . . . set an example of indifferent to these passions, and, . . . . set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence; or gazing as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms . . . , they preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to those passions. . . .

"Now, at the end of the nineteenth century [and certainly now at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century] a fundamental change occurred: the 'clerks' began to play the game of political passions. The men who had acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators. . . ."
Id. at 43-45.

"I shall point out two more teachings inspired in the modern 'clerks' [i.e., the modern intellectual], by their preaching of the 'strong State,' and it will not be necessary to add that they are new in the ministers of the spiritual:--

"The first is the teaching whereby they declare to Man that he is great to the extent that he strives to act and to think as his ancestors, his race, his environment thought, and ignores 'individualism.' Thirty years ago many of the French teachers hurled anathemas against the man who 'claimed to seek truth for himself,' to arrive to arrive at his own opinion, instead of adopting the opinion of his nation which had been told what it ought to think by its vigilant leaders. Our age has seen priests of the mind teaching that the gregarious is the praiseworthy form of thought, and that independent thought is contemptible. It is moreover certain that a group which desires to be strong has no use for the man who claims to think for himself.

"The second is the teaching whereby they declare to men that the fact that a group is numerous constitutes a right. This is the morality which the over-populated nations hear from many of their thinkers, while the other nations hear from many of theirs that if their low birth-rate continues they will become the objects of a 'legitimate' extermination. The rights of numerousness admitted by men who claim to belong to the life of the mind--that is what modern sees. But it is certain that if a nation is to be strong, it must be numerous.

"This cult of the strong State and the moral methods which ensure it have been preached to mankind by the 'clerks' far beyond the domain of politics, and on a wholly general plane. This is the preaching of Pragmatism whose teaching during the past fifty years by nearly all the influential moralists of Europe is one of the most remarkable turning point in the moral history of the human species. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of a movement whereby those who for twenty centuries taught Man that the criterion of the morality of an act is its disinterestedness, that good is a decree of his reason insofar as it is universal, that his will is only moral if it seeks its law outside its objects, should begin to teach him that the moral act is the act whereby he secures his existence against an environment which disputes it, that his will is moral insofar as it is a will 'to power,' that the part of his soul which determines what is good is its 'will to live; wherein it is most 'hostile to all reason,' that the morality of an act is measured by its adaptation to its end and that the only morality is the morality of circumstances. The educators of the human mind now takes sides with Callicles against Socrates, a revolution which I dare to say seems to me more important than all political upheavals."
Id. at 123-124.

Do a search through those newspapers aspiring to be 'papers of record,' such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and through just about any academic journal ostensibly concerned with political, social, moral issues, and note the numerous characterization of, and praising of, some person, some policy, some thesis, some action, etc., as 'pragmatic,' or 'realistic,' or 'practical,' or 'instrumental.' It is the valuing and pursuit of the material interests to the virtual exclusion of the, admittedly abstract, values of morality, humanity, justice, independent thought, and Truth. Under the logic of the ends justify the means, everything goes . . . if it works. Have the lights gone out of the great advancement called The Enlightenment?

June 4, 2010


This morning I finished reading Martin Amis, The Pregnant Widow: A Novel (New York: Knopf, 2010). This afternoon the New York Review of Books arrived, and held within its pages is Edmund White's review, "More Lad Than Bad," NYRB (6/24/2010,Volume LVII, Number 11). White writes, "Keith Nearing is more lad than bad in The Pregnant Widow--and by the end of the book he has clearly matured, if that means to have grown bleak with insights and depressing wisdom. Amis's readers will be delighted by this return to form--that is, a new depth brought to familiar themes. And no one can deny the superb writing throughout, the attention to detail and to language lavished on every sentence. At one point close to the present Keith wonders if beauty has gone out of the world; if it did, it has just reentered literature through this strange, sparking novel." Id. at 16. Real beauty is rare in our commercialized, commodified, sterilized, bureaucratized, thirty-seconds-attention-spanned, pop-up society; so grab it, gaze upon it, read it, etc., when you can.