Wednesday Backreading: The Haunted Room, Essay by Carole de Santi (Women’s Review of Books, vol. 26)

  • “Give her another hundred years . . . a room of her own and five hundred a year,” wrote Virginia Woolf in 1929, of the woman novelist. “Let her speak her mind . . . and she will write a better book one of these days . . .” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own

  • Woolf “knew very well that creative and intellectual freedom depend on material resources, and that women have always been poor . . . Despite bestseller rankings and lifestyle features, big advances, and superstardom, many women writers seem to be living hardscrabble creative lives. Even those whose ‘rooms’ are more like palaces are nailing down the floorboards, putting buckets under leaky roofs, and wondering how to keep the lights on, particularly those of the incandescent mind.” — Carole DeSanti, The Haunted Room

“Beyond the Waters of Death,” Joan Acocella’s New Yorker piece on the making of GILGAMESH (14 October 2019)

  • “A young Londoner, George Smith, who had left school at the age of fourteen and was employed as an engraver of bank notes,” was fascinated by artifacts. He spent lunch breaks at the British Museum and “studied the shards for around ten years . . . it was he who found the most famous passage inscribed on them, an account of a great flood wiping out almost all of humanity, with one man’s family surviving. When he read this, we are told, he became so excited that he jumped out of his chair and ran around the room, tearing off his clothes.”

George Smith died of dysentery in Aleppo, where he’d gone to do research, age 36. But not before he discovered the oldest long poem in the world, Gilgamesh.

Everywhere in the world has an ancient flood story. Even Mexico. Even the Philippines. Self thinks this means there must have been an actual climactic event whose effects were felt worldwide.

Stay safe dear blog readers. Stay safe.

 

The Legacy of George Floyd (The Economist, 13 June 2020)

George Floyd was not famous. He was killed not in the capital of the United States, but on a street corner in its 46th-largest city. Yet in death he has suddenly become the keystone of a movement that has seized all of America. Still more remarkably, he has inspired protests abroad, from Brazil to Indonesia, and France to Australia. His legacy is the rich promise of social reform. It is too precious to waste.

Lexington in The Economist, 18 April 2020

Self will summarize the finer points:

  • The corona virus has killed 31,000 Americans (This number is significantly higher now)
  • Trump is “a human wedge.”
  • The 2000 presidential election was “a watershed moment … the last decided by persuadable voters.”
  • “Even before Trump made factionalism a governing strategy . . . ” (lol)
  • “Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s effort to give it a Chinese face (he reverted this week to calling it ‘the Wuhan virus’) . . . ” (smh)
  • “Infectious diseases like density, which is one of the most reliable predictors of Democratic support there is . . . This makes Republicans more receptive than Democrats to Mr. Trump’s call for a reopening of the economy: an issue that — by pitting the certain tragedy of 17 million unemployed workers against the likelihood of additional infections — could scarcely be more polarising.”
  • The differences between the Democrat and Republican response to the pandemic could not be more stark: Democrats are demanding “better, cheaper health care” while “Republican states including Texas and Ohio have meanwhile used the lockdown to try to ban abortions . . . “

On the last point, a political party that cares only about banning abortions when a virus is killing 10x as many Americans as the number of fetuses aborted annually is surely loco.

The article mentions William Barr and describes him as a “cultural warrior,” self hopes in jest. And refers to Ron DeSantis of Florida as “a Trump proxy with ratings to match.”

Stay tuned.

 

 

The New Yorker, 6 April 2020: Unscientific Method

From The Talk of the Town:

  • Trump’s quackery was at once eccentric and terrifying — a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to strike the country in a century. Yet his conduct typified his leadership as the crisis has identified: his dependency on Fox News for ideas and message amplification, his unshakable belief in his own genius, and his understandable concern that his re-election may be in danger if he does not soon discover a way to vanquish COVID-19 and reverse its devastation of the economy.

Sentence of the Day: Hilary Mantel in NYRB, 11 January 2007

She had not been encouraged to consider physical decay; when she had made her triumphal entry into France, and crowds turned out to see her, ugly people had been warned to stay away.

— from The Perils of Antoinette, a review by Hilary Mantel

That is such a Hilary Mantel sentence. The tone is so calmly authoritative that one doesn’t even pause to ask: WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA FOR ‘UGLY.’ (Missing teeth? Pox-scarred skin? So many possibilities!)

The NYRB is making the entire piece available, through April 2020.

 

Recommended Reading: Kate Evans in Hakai Magazine, 6 January 2020

Six men set out from Iceland in a small rowboat. Their destination: Eldey, the nesting ground for the rare great auks.

Jumping ashore, they spotted a pair of the birds guarding an egg. In the ensuing chase, the two auks were killed and their egg was accidentally crushed. The men didn’t know it, but they had just killed the last great auks ever seen alive.

Read the article here.

 

Sentence of the Day: Penelope V. Flores

“Lately, my preoccupation with names has become an obsession.”

— Penelope V. Flores, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University

Read the rest of her interesting article, How Filipinos Got Their Surnames, in Filipinas Magazine, here.

How To Stoke the Fire: More from Rosario Ferré

This summer self made a stab at re-reading the late Rosario Ferré’s story collection The Youngest Doll. She remembers being stunned by the title story, the first time she read it. The intervening years have not changed her response to the story, not one bit. She urges everyone interested in feminist literature/island literature/Puerto Rican literature or just plain literature to read it.

In addition, self has been slowly re-reading Ferré’s essay on her writing process, The Writer’s Kitchen. The essay was published decades ago, in the Journal of Feminist Studies, but every time self re-reads it, the words are as fresh as the first time.

20190928_205621

HOW TO STOKE A FIRE

I would now like to speak a bit about that mysterious combustible element that feeds all literature — imagination. This topic interests me because I often discover, among the general public, a curious skepticism toward the existence of the imagination and because I find that both laypeople and professionals in the literary community tend to overemphasize the biographical details of authors’ lives. One of the questions most often asked of me, by strangers as well as friends, is how I was able to write about Isabel la Negra, a famous whore of Ponce, my hometown, without ever having met her. The question always surprises me because it bespeaks a fairly generalized difficulty in establishing boundaries between imagined reality and lived reality, or perhaps the difficulty lies only in understanding the intrinsic nature of literature. It would never have occurred to me to ask Mary Shelley, for example,  if on her walks along the bucolic paths surrounding Lake Geneva, she had ever run into a living-dead monster about ten feet tall.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

SIGN: Flash Stories by the members of Seventeen Syllables, curated by Grace Loh Prasad for Jellyfish Review

From the Introduction by Grace Loh Prasad:

A hand or patch over one eye. A rainbow flag. A kneeling athlete. An eggplant emoji. A thumb pointing down.

What do these have in common? They are all symbols, representing something more than what is literally pictured. A symbol is a kind of sign — at its simplest, a unit of meaning. Whether they’re labels for places or ideas, indicators of prestige or health, or warnings of what’s ahead, signs operate at a level deeper than language. A sign is like a boat, but instead of water it navigates through meaning, through a shared set of references within a community.

Read the rest of the introduction, here.

Stay tuned.

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