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Monday, November 29, 2004

If the whole world is a poem, then the poet doesn't need subjects in the usual sense; he becomes like a sponge, soaking up poetry as he lives, sees, and travels. Increasingly in his recent work, Walcott has had less and less use for subjects and occasions; all of his poems have come to seem like parts of one long poem, which is his life itself. This tendency is brought to perfection in The Prodigal, where there is not so much a plot as a continuous provocation to verse: a conversation on a train, a hotel lobby, a Swiss Alp, a Caribbean beach, are all woven together in a single tapestry.... for readers who know and love the work of the man who deserves to be called the greatest living poet writing in English, The Prodigal will seem like a fitting culmination to a life's work.

-- Adam Kirsch, reviewing The Prodigal in Slate today.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Another sort of novelist would be prone to giving Willie some moment of insight into the shapelessness of his own personality--or perhaps a realization about the course taken by the world over the six decades of his life. Naipaul, however, is never tempted to let his central character do anything but drift. (Even Willie's little moment of waxing philosophical at the close sounds like an evasion of real insight.)

In interviews, Naipaul has indicated that Magic Seeds may be his last book. Finishing it, one has the sense that--in returning to the novel, as if to say a farewell--the author created a kind of scapegoat figure. It is as if Willie were an embodiment of all the anomie that Naipaul had to purge from his system in order to create.

There is a terrible purity to the prose. It is clean and dry, tough but never brittle. Naipaul is pitiless in depicting lies, shame and bad faith. He makes real life look like play-acting--a fiction that nobody really believes. This sounds like misanthropy, and I suppose it is. But when you read Naipaul, it feels like cowardice ever to think otherwise.


-- From Scott McLemee's review of Magic Seeds in today's New York Newsday.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The award-winning US writer Edwidge Danticat is leading calls for an inquiry into the death in custody of her uncle, an 81-year-old Baptist minister who fled Haiti to seek asylum in the US. Human rights groups say his death highlights a discriminatory asylum policy against Haitian refugees.

Joseph Dantica, whose funeral takes place in New York today, was detained at Miami airport on October 29 after requesting asylum, though he had a valid US visa. He died in custody five days later.


From Maya Jaggi's report in the UK Guardian. The wire services have picked up the story and many newspapers in the US & elsewhere have run it already; I hope they'll continue to ask hard questions of the Homeland Security officials involved. I myself can't help wondering if there's any connection between Edwidge Danticat's public opposition to the Bush administration & her uncle's detention.

Friday, November 12, 2004

August 1, 1835, Concord

After thirty a man wakes up sad every morning excepting perhaps five or six until the day of his death.

-- Emerson, from his journal

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The art museums, once haunted by a few experts, students, and idlers, have become the temples of the Ideal, of the Other, of the something else that, if only for a peaceful moment, redeems our daily getting and spending. Here resides something beyond our frantic animal existence. Leonardo spoke scornfully of those men who do nothing in their time on earth but produce excrement. Art, in its traditional forms of painting, drawing, and sculpture, is a human by-product whose collection, in homes, galleries, and museums, lightens the load, as it were, of life. By its glow we bask in the promise of a brighter, more lasting realm reached by a favored few--St. Vermeer, St. Pollock, St. Leonardo.

-- John Updike, in this week's New Yorker, on visiting the new MoMA.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Saturday, November 06, 2004

From The Future Dictionary of America:

yestoday [yes'-toh-day] vt. to find something every day that makes you say yes. Not an egotistical, fist pumping yes (i.e. jumping up and yelling "Yes!" when your team scores a touchdown, or when you win a round of rummy or billiards, or when your country bombs another country). A quiet yes. A yes of wonder. A yes that affirms the basic goodness of the world. Going outside and looking at a plant is recommended. Even a weed. Maybe a bird. Did you yestoday yet? COMPARE yestomorrow n. putting off saying yes today. Be advised that yestomorrow rarely comes. It's best to yestoday today. --Gayle Brandeis

Friday, November 05, 2004

Simon Schama on the two Americas, in today's UK Guardian:

"We are one nation," the newborn star of Democrats, Senator-elect Barack Obama, exclaimed, even as every salient fact of political life belied him. Well might he invoke Lincoln, for not since the Civil War has the fault line between its two halves been so glaringly clear, nor the chasm between its two cultures so starkly unbridgeable. Even territorially (with the exception of Florida, its peninsular finger pointing expectantly at tottering Cuba), the two Americas are topographically coherent and almost contiguous. One of those Americas is a perimeter, lying on the oceans or athwart the fuzzy boundary with the Canadian lakes, and is necessarily porous and outward-looking. The other America, whether montagnard or prairie, is solidly continental and landlocked, its tap roots of obstinate self-belief buried deep beneath the bluegrass and the high corn. It is time we called those two Americas something other than Republican and Democrat, for their mutual alienation and unforgiving contempt is closer to Sunni and Shia, or (in Indian terms) Muslim and Hindu. How about, then, Godly America and Worldly America?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The last lights off the black west went, but Harper's is trying to have a sense of (black) humour about it:

A reader’s guide to expatriating on November 3

So the wrong candidate has won, and you want to leave the country. Let us consider your options.
Theo Tait reviews Magic Seeds in the LRB:

Magic Seeds, even more than its predecessor, is a horrible novel--icy, misanthropic, pitiless, purposefully pinched in both its style and its sympathies. If The Enigma of Arrival (1987), a sad and wonderful book, belongs to Naipaul's "autumnal stage", this is bleak midwinter: the cold fury before the end.

And Uday Benegal in the Village Voice:

That Naipaul has been, for most of his career, a remarkably astute--if not always accurate--witness to the world with an extraordinary contribution to literature is irrefutable. But Magic Seeds is a life away from his real worth as a writer. The book is mostly prosaic, needlessly repetitive; if nothing else, perfectly symbiotic with Willie Chandran's own flaccid character. Like Willie it stutters and drifts, lacking cogency and depth of spirit. Naipaul himself seems drained of all desire to engage the reader, or too jaded to try.

And I am too jaded today to try to understand the world.