Reading The Cantos

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1948 New Directions Edition

READING THE CANTOS

I am not the only person in the United States reading The Cantos. I know because the internet tells me so. Another man is blogging The Cantos. He started in 2015—he’s up to LXVII, about fifty more to go. Elsewhere, The Cantos Project (“peer-reviewed by a board of scholars”), is seemingly the only active website dedicated to them, and has annotations up to XVI. I am neither impressed nor depressed by these on-line affairs. Nobody “likes” to read The Cantos and of the few called, many are passionate. The Cantos become an obsession because they are about large swathes of human history and its languages, subjects equally infinite. Guy Davenport avers, “I have seen students learn Chinese because of him, or take up mediaeval studies, learn Greek, Latin, music…” I expect others ardently caught up are similar to myself—undoubtedly most male, politically disenfranchised by both squirming sides, hunched over a haul of books, rueful at not being brought up in a French or Italian immersion school, and feeling fucked by standard stateside curriculum that left Latin in the dustbin. Continue reading

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Object Fiction?

In “Collaborating with Surveillance: Wolfgang Hilbig’s East German Fiction” (see below), Angela Woodward highlights, among other things, Hilbig’s tendency in his fiction to privilege objects over persons:

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Yi Yi: The Best Film You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

During the opening wedding reception, the yawning father (NJ) takes his son (Yang-Yang) for food he wants to eat.

How often do two people who have been watching a film look upon each other breathless and transfixed at the end? I had seen Yi Yi, Edward Yang’s 1999 film, but as is often true with any pleasure, I had to share the experience with someone and so a week after seeing it I played the DVD for a friend. For a second time I was crushed, weeping at many of the same scenes, yet finding different shadings in the various plots and subplots. It’s the story of birth and death in an extended family, but it is much more.

The film is set in Taipei, and its opening piano music set over a wedding reception makes one think it may be a Taiwanese Terms of Endearment. To some extent this is true, but people coming into this film won’t be overwhelmed by the star power of the American film, though a few of Yi Yi’s actors are famous in the East. If all the players are strangers and to some extent the culture (the island of Taiwan has a checkered history, being thrown back and forth between Chinese and Japanese rule), audience identification can be purer. If given, trust won’t be tainted by the accuracy of marketing to the right demographic. So who is Yi Yi aimed at? Yang’s film is directed to the humanists and to the people who have loved life and hated it—people who have tried to do their best and ever endeavor to know themselves better.

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“I don’t know why we live…but I believe we can go on living for the reason that life is the most valuable thing we know anything about”

From Letters of Note:

In July of 1883, the novelist Henry James received an emotional letter from Grace Norton — a good friend and fellow writer who, following a death in the family, had recently become depressed and was desperate for direction. James’s beautiful response can be seen below. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest letters of advice I’ve ever had the fortune to read.

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Report from the Middle of The Ambassadors by Henry James

Embedding oneself in The Ambassadors by Henry James is like reading little else. Every time I take book in hand again, an unending endoscopy of my perceptions proceeds until I shut it. Take this section of beauty from a quarter of the way through. Strether, the main character, is talking to Madame de Vionnet—a woman who has some hold on Chad. This young man is the son of Mrs. Newsome. It is she who has dispatched Strether to Paris to see what is keeping her son there—she wants him to return to Massachusetts and take over the family business. Mrs. Newsome is also Strether’s love interest and it is probable he will marry her if he succeeds in getting her son back to the old USA:

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Putting the Parts Together

There are several ways to read the title of David Lodge’s novel about H.G. Wells, A Man of Parts. Lodge himself directs us to two readings in an epithet taken from Collins English Dictionary:

Parts PLURAL NOUN 1. Personal abilities or talents: a man of many parts. 2. short for private parts.

Both of these readings are clearly sustained throughout the novel. Wells is clearly a man of talents, which are varied if not always compatible. He is also a man driven by his private parts, a priapic adventurer whose sexual conquests often undid much of what his talents might have achieved. But having read much by and about Wells over the last few years, I am inclined to a third reading: that he was a man in parts, a man whose life was in bits that in a sense even he could not put together. He was not whole. Continue reading

A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: The Tree of Life

[By now it was late. The three stars were dimpling the sky. The baby raccoon was crying for its milk (I’d taken in an orphan the week before). But Jeremy and I weren’t finished yet discussing the movies we’d just watched.]

A D: You had a rather serious reaction to this one, Jeremy. Were you crying afterward?

Jeremy: Yes. Crying because I realized how much of my life I had wasted watching movies. What George Lucas did for his own franchise with the prequels, Malick did for all of cinema with The Tree of Life.

Jiminy.

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