Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for August, 2009

August 31st, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Making gentle pornography

Went to Wakefest yesterday afternoon to see local author/musician Phil Jenkins and friends at Kaffe 1870. In his introductory remarks Phil made mention of the Liverpool poets. I’m grateful to him for this because it prompted me to search them out, and find this gem called Party Piece, by Brian Patten:

He said:

‘Let’s stay here
Now this place has emptied
And make gentle pornography with one another,
While the partygoers go out
And the dawn creeps in,
Like a stranger.

Let us not hesitate
Over what we know
Or over how cold this place has become,
But let’s unclip our minds
And let tumble free
The mad, mangled crocodile of love

So they did,
There among the woodbines and guinness stains,
And later he caught a bus and she a train
And all there was between them then
was rain.


August 31st, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Time for Canadian literature to get plucked.

In a previous post I quote W.J. Keith’s review of W.H. New’s A History of Canadian Literature. Second Edition. (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2004) in which he says "readers interested in literature as art, who wish to be informed about its most distinguished practitioners, are likely to be disappointed."

A.J.M. Smith, says the same thing, more directly, at the conclusion of his review of the first edition of The Literary History of Canada (ed. Carl Klinck, 1965):

What is needed now is a comprehensive ‘critical history’ by a single author who can combine scholarly research with imaginative interpretation and who has enough faith in the literary quality of the best work drawn from all kinds of writing…to make evaluation his first business and let the chips fall where they may."

Smith’s prescription is quoted in An Independent Stance: Critical Directions, by W.J. Keith, (a book I can strongly recommend to anyone interested in criticism and attempts that have been made to discern what is good in Canadian literature), as an antidote to this wound Northrup Frye inflicted upon evaluative criticism in the concluding chapter of Klinck’s book: "Had evaluation been their guiding principle, this book would, if written at all, have been only a huge debunking project, leaving Canadian literature a poor naked alouette plucked of every feather of decency and dignity."

Forty years on and Canadian literature still hasn’t received a good plucking. 
August 31st, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Mankind’s true moral test lies in how it treats Animals

George Woodcock on Milan Kundera:

"The real subject of Kundera’s novels is the way that lying to the state leads men and women to lie in their relations with each other. Because the totalitarian state has destroyed the kind of natural trust and cooperation that should exist in a free society, infidelity flourishes, and Kundera’s novels are inhabited by petty Casanovas seeking freedom through promiscuity. They are guilty, they feel compassion for their victims, by they find it hard to stop."

Given the disgusting degree to which lying and deception epitomize 21th century Wall Street, and the dealings of corporate America’s big oil, armament, accounting and stock brokerage firms it’s clear that totalitarianism isn’t the sole cause of infidelity.

Woodcock continues:

"Kundera is really telling us that when the state becomes so powerful that trustfulness between human beings is destroyed, then men and women become ruthless towards each other. The relations between human beings become similar to the relations between humans and animals because, in such circumstances, humans, like animals, have no power."

And, yet, despite the truth in this and the way that Food Inc. mass produces and butchers innocent creatures, the bond between human and animal can be as strong or stronger than between human and human. Witness a recent local news story here where a three year old boy lost his life in an effort to save his dog.

August 30th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with John Bidwell, Curator of Printed Books and Bindings, Pierpont Morgan Library,

John Bidwell is Astor Curator of Printed Books and Bindings at thePierpont Morgan Library, before which he was Curator of Graphic Arts in the Princeton University Library. He has written extensively on the history of papermaking in England and America.

The Printed Books and Bindings collection at the Morgan contains works spanning Western book production from the earliest printed ephemera to important first editions from the twentieth century. Holdings encompass a large number of high points in the history of printing, often exemplified by a lone surviving copy or a copy that is perfect in every way. Areas of strength include incunables, early children’s books, fine bindings, and illustrated books.

Yolande de Soissons in Prayer
"Psalter-Hours of Yolande de Soissons"
France, Amiens, ca. 1280–90
MS M.729, fol. 232v
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1927

The collection is founded upon acquisitions of Pierpont Morgan, who sought to establish in the United States a library worthy of the great European collections. Among the highlights are three Gutenberg Bibles, works by Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, John Ruskin, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and William Morris, and classic early children’s books. The Carter Burden Collection of American Literature, a major 1998 gift, strengthens the Morgan’s twentieth-century holdings with authors such as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, and Tennessee Williams.

I talk here with John Bidwell about the collection, what it contains, how it was acquired.

 Copyright © 2009 by Nigel Beale.
August 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Looking for a sound cultural investment? Subscribe to a little magazine.

George Woodcock from "Little magazines and the ironies of Fate," in Powers of Observation (Quarry Press, 1989):

"…in almost every country, the little magazine – read by a few people, seeking out new talent, offering them exposure rather than cash – has been one of the symptoms of a healthy and growing literature. In the development of Canadian literature, for example, the little magazines played a central and essential role…In these magazines [ McGill Fortnightly Review, Preview, First Statement, Northern Review] most of the first generation of modern Canadian poets began their careers…I would suggest that subscribing to such journals is a sound cultural investment even if in the short run a doubtful financial one. Though, I suspect anyone who invested in the Little Review in 1914 and sold his copies today [1980s] would make a handsome profit in the rare book market."

Click here for info on how to subscribe to a little Canadian literary magazine.

August 26th, 2009 • Posted in Nigel Beale Photos

Toronto’s Chinatown

August 26th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Abraham Lincoln Bibliophile

Lincoln Institute

Ronald White’s new biography of Abraham Lincoln treats the 16th President of the United States as reader, writer and orator. Lincoln loved books. As a young congressman in the 1840s he was often seen walking out of the Library of Congress carrying books over his shoulder wrapped in a scarf tied to the end of a pole. As David Blight puts it in his Washington Post review : “Lincoln didn’t just enjoy books, he craved them – from Blackstone’s Commentaries to Shakespeare, from many kinds of history to regular reading of the Bible (often aloud), including political philosophy and the poetry of Robert Burns.”

August 26th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Progress is Pernicious

For John Gray, the Enlightenment idea of the soul progressing in tandem with technological advances is pernicious. Progress in science is real, and at times good – painless dentistry and the flush lavatory – he concedes, but spiritual progress is a myth. “Scientific and technological advance has not, and cannot, diminish the realm of mystery and tragedy in which it is our lot to dwell” 

“The idea of progress is detrimental to the life of the spirit, because it encourages us to view our lives, not under the aspect of eternity, but as moments in a universal process of betterment. We do not, therefore, accept our lives for what they are, but instead consider them always for what they might someday become."
Wisdom, says John Banville concluding his review of Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings (400pp, Allen Lane, £20) # Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings # by John Gray # 400pp, # Allen Lane, # £20″>in the Guardian, lies in recognizing the truth of this contention.


August 26th, 2009 • Posted in Wicked Quotes

Helpful responses to those who have written an unpublishable novel

Sanguine words from QD Leavis to those who have written an unpublishable novel: “A bad novel is ultimately seen to fail not because of its method but owing to a fatal inferiority of the author’s make-up;” and, from Henry James: “No good novel ever proceeded from a superficial mind.”

On a more helpful note: read the canon.

August 25th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Amis at 60: Incapable of writing a dull sentence.

Rex Features (an Amis character?)

Happy to second Nick Lezard on Martin Amis (see Guardian slide show here) at 60:

"Above all, he is never bland. It is a commonplace observation, I know, but there really isn’t a dull sentence in his work. He has not become comfortable, or flabby. He wrestles with the contemporary condition on a permanent basis; it is his default condition. To see him as a cosy or complacent pundit is unimaginable. You might not like what he says at times, but the way he says it is unignorable. And of whom else can you say that these days?"

and to direct you to one of my all time favourite posts