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Let us Remember: Julian Barnes Attempts Historical Fiction

The Noise of Time is a novel of threes. It begins with three mysteriously unnamed characters meeting on a train platform, and it is parted into three sections. Each of these sections is allocated a different setting — the lobby just outside two elevator doors, a plane seat and a car seat. In each of these sections, the main character never moves. Instead, he reflects.

T.S. Eliot

MEISEL | No More National Poetry Month

For the past twenty years the Academy of American Poets, with support from a number of big-name publishers and bookstores, has christened the month of April “National Poetry Month.” The Academy now claims that National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world. Each year it amasses plenty of support, due in some part I imagine to the simplicity and ease with which one can engage with poetry. If you’re running short of ideas, the Academy’s website suggests memorizing poems, showing other people your favorite poems and even asking your representatives in local government to issue proclamations in support of National Poetry Month (that last one is very real). It also suggests specific books to buy and particular essays to write, quite a number of which lead back to the Academy of American Poets. I find it pretty difficult to think about National Poetry Month from a critical standpoint.

GEORGE CONDO. NUDE ON PURPLE II. 1957

GOLDFINE | On Misogyny in Art and Women’s Credibility

In certain intellectual spaces, social and academic alike, it often feels like it’s been decided that talking about misogyny in art and literature is a moot point — an extraneous, distracting, overly orthodox and immature interruption to the real conversation. It feels like it’s been decided that the only inquiries there are to be made about artistic misogyny will inevitably be reductive, simplifying and short-sighted, and that whatever conversation there is to be had about misogyny in art and literature will be a short, perfunctory one; something to be gotten out of the way so that we can get at the real meaning. So, the female student who is preoccupied with, disturbed by, skeptical of or, at the very least, who finds herself unmoved by the aestheticized, unchallenged objectification of a Brian Jones sculpture, the sexual politics of a Woody Allen film or the gratuitous violence against women in American Psycho — and who wishes to engage with and speak aloud about the way she feels — takes a risk of not being heard. As it is with the reactions to many particular realities of being a woman, feeling discomfort and alienation from art is often met with gas-lighting or, perhaps no less toxically, a, “Well maybe, but that’s not the point.”

To voice disgust or reservation; to externalize one’s grappling with gratuitous and unchallenged depictions of female exploitation, violence, abuse, manipulation or subservience in a painting, novel or film — or god forbid, to claim that something is misogynistic — often seems to translate to failure of artistic literacy; an inability to “see past the obvious”: placing critical women on the same intellectual level of the parent who looks at a Jackson Pollack and says, “my kid could do that.”

To be clear, I’m making no claims that any particular art is misogynistic (the examples above are simply art that has been contested on these grounds) and I’m especially not making any claims about what women should read as misogynistic or be troubled by. I’m only saying that, in a patriarchal society, particularly considering that the art and literary worlds have and continue to be extraordinarily male-dominated spaces, women will experience art differently than men — in an endless number of different way, many of which might involve the discomforts of never really having been the intended viewers and readers of the art, at all.

Photo Courtesy of Carica dei Lancieri

THE E’ER INSCRUTABLE | 1916: Annus Equi Sine Rectore and the Mechanized Frontier

“The machines were more to his soul than the sun. He did not know these mechanisms, their great, human-contrived, inhuman power, and he wanted to know them… He wanted machines, machine-production… He wanted to go…  beyond the Self, into the great inhuman Not-Self, to create the great unliving creators, the machines, out of the active forces of nature that existed before flesh. But he is too old. It remains for the young Italian to embrace his mistress, the machine.” -D.H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy

It was with a heavy heart that D.H. Lawrence published his aforementioned 1916 travelogue; the old Europe had by then taken up arms, and every peninsular limb of her gangrenous body stood poised to strangle the other. A crossroads had been reached: the two year hump of the war, the hellfire of Verdun and the Stahlgewitter of the Somme, the stalemate of offensive and counter-offensive swallowing up young male blood in torrents.

Photo Courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

THE E’ER INSCRUTABLE | 1916 Annus Fructus Extranei: Lynching and America’s Blood Theatre

“The chief failing of the day with some of our well-meaning philanthropists is their absolute refusal to face inevitable facts, if such facts appear cruel.” -Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race

As a prelude to his article, the second of my series on tumult and upheaval in 1916, I must warn any potential reader that the content may be distressing to those sensitive to racism and violence. I would advise discretion. The controlled use of violence as spectacle has been a social glue since time immemorial: the Romans handpicked slaves to fight to the death over the graves of their patrician masters, and the despots of feudal Europe relished the drawing, quartering and parading of ghettoized pariahs and their ilk, be they Jewish, Huguenot, or Cathar. These previous blood-shows of Antiquity and the Middle Ages were the concerted efforts of knightly orders to, as they saw it, cut off gangrenous social limbs from the corpus politicum. D.H. Lawrence, in his compendium of critical analysis on the growth and stagnation of American literature, once wrote that a white man would never be at ease on American soil: the dust and mud and bronzed ochre itself would forever reject him, the usurper of one native population and the enslaver of a another he had imported.

Cornell Alumni Writers Inspire Students

Three well-respected alumni authors drove students to delay the start of their weekend on Friday afternoon and gather for a panel discussion in Kauffman Auditorium.
Junot Díaz MFA ’95, Julie Schumacher MFA ’86 and Melissa Bank MFA ’88, three published writers and three graduates of Cornell’s MFA program, offered curious listeners and hopeful writers a look into the world of 21st century fiction writing. At the afternoon panel, they fielded questions from the audience, lending advice to eager minds. Later that evening, they held a reading in Rockefeller Hall, sharing their works before a standing-room-only audience.

'Because It Is My Calling'

If the verbal visionaries of Cornell’s nearly 105-year history of writing stood on each other’s shoulders; Nabokov as a base, cursing in Russian, Vonnegut next to him, muttering to himself about the absurdity of it, Pynchon above them, with a foot on each deltoid, shakily supporting Morrison, and so on — you’d have a ladder of literary giants to rival the clock tower. Even then, despite this towering tradition, the adrenaline-and-laughter inducing irreverence and innovation of Junot Díaz, MFA ’95, displayed to the delight of many in the Cornell community last week, would be enough, sure as Ithaca is cold, to make Uncle Ezra roll over in his grave and call for a pen. The Dominican-born author returned to campus Feb.

Conversation With a Literary Giant

What with the ghosts of Nabokov, Vonnegut and Pynchon haunting its corridors, Goldwin Smith Hall must have felt quite comfortable to former Poet Laureate Charles Simic, who stopped by Ithaca on Thursday, October 2nd as part of the Creative Writing Program’s Writers at Cornell reading series. The poet, a native of Belgrade who moved to the United States at the age of 15, has won numerous accolades for his terse and often dark poetry, including the Wallace Stevens Award, a MacArthur Fellowship and the Pultizer Prize. Decked out in a brown leather jacket and his trademark tinted glasses, the 70-year-old poet sat down with The Sun a few hours before the reading in the office of English professor J. Robert Lennon: