A preview of the table of contents from our forthcoming collection of poems (translated by Jason Weiss) by the Argentinian fabulist Silvina Ocampo, coming this January.
I do not wish to marry, and I shall not regret not having done so, even when I am old. That which we call our world of marriage is, as you know, a world of necessary bondage; and I sometimes think that the meanest slave has had more freedom than we women have known.
—Octavia, writing to her brother Augustus, after her divorce from Mark Antony, in John Williams’s Augustus
Diana punctually observes all kinds of birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s, Grandfather’s, and whatever other Day occurs to the calendar or to whoever runs these things, so that she doesn’t tolerate any neglect of those matters. If the forgotten date would have been her own birthday or my father-in-law, Don Martín Irala’s, or the anniversary of our marriage, I would do better to exile myself from the alley, because for me there would be no pardon.
—from Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novel, Asleep in the Sun. Today is the 100th anniversary of Bioy Casares’ birth and in the spirit of Diana, we didn’t want it to pass unnoticed.
Lucky for you North Texas residents out there, The Wild Detectives in Dallas is hosting a reading of Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel tonight at 7pm in honor of the centennial. For more information, visit the Art & Seek page for the event here or go straight to the Facebook event page here.
[Photo, R-L: Bioy Casares, Victoria Ocampo, and Jorge Luis Borges. Found at Wikimedia Commons.]
…for Rabelais was wrong, blue is the color of the mind in borrow of the body; it is the color consciousness becomes when caressed; it is the dark inside of sentences, sentences which follow their own turnings inward out of sight like the whorls of a shell, and which we follow warily, as Alice after that rabbit, nervous and white, till suddenly—there! climbing down clauses and passing through ‘and’ as it opens—there—there—we’re here! … in time for tea and tantrums…
William H. Gass, On Being Blue
A blue book and a blue mug, sent in by a Third Place Books (of Lake Forest Park, Washington) bookseller.
As always: If you have a photo of an NYRB Classic posed with a cup of coffee or tea, send it to this address and we’ll add it to the Classics and Coffee Club series. And let us know where you bought or borrowed the book—we’d be glad to shout out places that stock NYRB Classics.
“Let us drink to the nameless Cyclopes, to the memory of all our exhausted fathers who have perished, and to technology—the true soul of mankind!”
Andrey Platonov, Happy Moscow, translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
Today’s Classics and Coffee Club snap comes all the way from “Happy Melbourne.”
Yo, if you have a photo of an NYRB Classic posed with a cup of coffee or tea, send it to this address and we’ll add it to the Classics and Coffee Club series. And let us know where you bought or borrowed the book from—we’d be glad to shout out places that stock NYRB Classics.
If you’re in New York come celebrate Sanford Friedman and Conversations with Beethoven with us tonight at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side at 7 p.m.—poet and translator Richard Howard will be in conversation with Leo Carey, senior editor at The New Yorker, about Friedman’s final work. For more information visit the Barnes & Noble website.
Conversations with Beethoven makes it clear that the perceptions of others can add up to something thorny and difficult, not to mention out of the subject’s control. Friedman pastes together a complex, but eventually cohesive collage of scraps that describe a man. It’s an unflattering way to depict someone, and probably — shiver — the most accurate.
Finished CONVERSATIONS WITH BEETHOVEN today (by Sanford Friedman) and can’t overstate how happy I am to have done so. Towards the end there, I even felt a bit like I was intruding on something private. This collection of scribblings tells such a fantastic, at times tragic, but also hilarious story without even filling in both sides of the conversations. Definitely hanging on to this book for my personal collection. If you’ve ever been curious about Beethoven’s life, this book is a lovely snapshot.
We could not agree more! Thanks for the shout out.
Larry Kramer donated his signed copy of Sanford Friedman’s Totempole (and a couple of other books inscribed by Friedman as well), which he’d had since 1965, to Housing Works Bookstore to support the good work they do fighting AIDS and Homelessness.
Thanks to Mr. Sam Sacks of Open Letters Monthly (and other places) for alerting us this edition.
The first sign of trouble at Krishnapur came with a mysterious distribution of chapatis, made of coarse flour and about the size and thickness of a biscuit; towards the end of February 1857, they swept the countryside like an epidemic.
—J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur
There’s a rebellion brewing (baking?) in Farrrell’s fictional colonial Indian town of Krishnapur. The reader who sent in this photograph tells us that the book is one of his favorites of all time. He’s not alone.
As always: If you have a photo of an NYRB Classic taken alongside a cup of coffee or tea, send it to this address and we’ll add it to the Classics and Coffee Club series. And let us know where you bought or borrowed the book from—we’d be glad to shout out places that stock NYRB Classics.
IX. Letter: Gaius Cilnius Maecenas
To Titus Livius (13 B.C.)
Some years ago my friend Horace described to me the way he made a poem. We had had some wine and were talking seriously, and I believe that his description then was a more accurate one than that contained more recently in the so-called Letter to the Pisos—a poem upon the art of poetry which, I must confess, I am not particularly fond. He said: “I decide to make a poem when I am compelled by some strong feeling to do so—but I wait until the feeling hardens into a resolve; then I conceive an end, as simple as I can make it, toward which that feeling might progress, though often I cannot see how it will do so. And then I compose my poem, using whatever means are at my command. I borrow from others if I have to—no matter. I invent if I have to—no matter. I use the language that I know, and I work within its limits. But the point is this: the end that I discover at last is not the end that I conceived at first. For every solution entails new choices, and ever choice made poses new problems to which solutions must be found, and so on and on. Deep in his heart, the poet is always surprised at where his poem has gone.”
I thought of that conversation this morning when I sat down to write you once again of those early days; and it occurred to me that Horace’s description of the making of a poem had certain striking parallels to our own working out of our destinies in the world itself (though if Horace heard this, and recalled what he said, he would no doubt scowl dourly and say that it was all nonsense, that you made a poem by discovering a topic, disposing the topic properly, by playing this figure against that, by this disposition of the meter against that sense of the language, and so forth and so on).
For our feeling—or, rather, Octavius’s feeling, in which we were caught up as the reader is caught in a poem—was occasioned by the incredible murder of Julius Caesar, an event which seemed more and more to have simply destroyed the world; and the end that we conceived was to have revenge upon the murderers, for the sake of our honor and the state’s. It was as simple as that, or it appeared to be. But the gods of the world and the gods of poetry are wise, indeed; for how often they save us from the ends toward which we think we strive!
My dear Livy, I do not wish to play the father with you; but you did not even come to Rome until our Emperor had fulfilled his destiny and was master of the world. Let me tell you a little of those days, so that you might reconstruct, these many years later, the chaos that we confronted in Rome.
Caesar was dead—by the “will of the people,” the murderers said; yet the murderers had to barricade themselves in the Capitol against those very people who had “commanded” the act. Two days later, the Senate gave its thanks to the assassins; and in the next breath approved and made law those very acts of Caesar for the proposal of which he had been killed. However terrible the deed, the conspirators had acted with bravery and force; and then they scattered like frightened women after they had taken their first step. Antonius, as Caesar’s friend, roused the people against the assassins; yet the night before the Ides of March he had entertained the murderers at dinner, was seen speaking intimately with one of them (Trebonius) at the instant of the murder, and dined again with those same men two nights later! He aroused the populace again to burn and loot in protest against the murder; and then approved their arrest and execution for that lawlessness. He made Caesar’s will to be read publicly; and then opposed it enactment with all his power.
Above all, we knew that we could not trust Antonius, and we knew him to be a formidable foe—not because of his shrewdness and skill, but because of his thoughtlessness and reckless force. For despite the sentimental regard in which some of the young now hold him, he was not a very intelligent man; he had no real purpose beyond the moment of his will; and he was not exceptionally brave. He did not even perform his own suicide well, and he did it long after his situation was hopeless, so that it was too late for it to be done with dignity.
How do you oppose a foe who is wholly irrational and unpredictable—and yet who, out of animal energy and the accident of circumstance, has attained a most frightening power? (Looking back on it it is odd to remember that once we construed Antonius to be our foe rather than the Senate, though our most obvious enemies were there; I suppose instinctively we felt that if such a bungler as Antonius could manage them, we should not have that much trouble with him either, when the time came.) I do not know how you oppose him; I only know what we did. Let me tell you of that.
We had seen Antonius and had been brusquely dismissed by him. He was the most powerful personage in Rome; we had nothing except a name. We determined that our first necessity was to get recognition from him. We had not been able to get that by overtures of friendship; thus we had to try the overtures of enmity.
"What a burden we would be to our parents, workers, passersby, shop owners, if we didn’t have to go to school!"
It’s back to school season, which means we’re returning to Robert Walser’s A Schoolboy’s Diary and taking notes from the essays of our favorite fictional schoolboy, Fritz Kocher. Last year, Fritz reminded us that “Grades are a stupid invention,” and this year we’ll join “every smart and truth-loving schoolboy” in agreeing that, “Yes, really, school is a nice arrangement.”
"The Classroom" was drawn by Karl Walser, Robert Walser’s brother, and is one of the several drawings that illustrate "Fritz Kocher’s Essays" in A Schoolboy’s Diary.
What: George Prochnik in conversation with Gideon Lewis-Kraus
When: Tuesday September 30 at 6:30 pm
Where: The Center for Jewish History |15 W. 16th St. | New York, NY 10011 | (map)
Price: $5 for members,
$100$10 for non-members
RSVP: (212) 744-6400