Most Jaw-Dropping News Item of the Week

In today’s New York Times, self read in an article on p. 9 (by John F. Burns) that Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, “my friend.”

(Self only buys the Sunday New York Times every other month or so: what a shock to learn today that the price for the paper is now $6.00)

In a Tower

In a tower, self feels she is in a tower. The radio hums a meaningless drone, Heloise sleeps on her little pillow. Far below is the hum of traffic and the occasional siren. The schoolchildren in the classroom in the next building are silent today.

Yesterday, dinner with a cousin on East 40th street. The subway train from Bleecker to Grand Central had a functioning airconditioner, thank God. The crowds spilled out on 42nd Street, self’s feet ached from all the walking.

But it has not rained! Not since the night of her arrival. Everyone talks about it, though: they all say it rained terribly last week, or a few days ago, or even just before self arrived. Thunderstorms! Lightning! It all sounds terribly dramatic and exciting.

From California drift echoes: Son is always out! But that’s what young men do, isn’t it? They go out. Hubby is always at work. But we’re lucky, aren’t we? That he has work?

Self reads yesterday’s New York Times. Ex-tennis champion Yannick Noah apparently now has a thriving musical career (and, judging from the evidence of the accompanying picture, still looks good). M says that Read the rest of this entry »

Self is So Tired of This: What is an “American” Short Story?

Excerpt from A. O. Scott’s New York Times piece on “the American Short Story” :

To call an American writer a master of the short story can be taken at best as faint praise, or at worst as an insult, akin to singling out an ambitious novelist’s journalism — or, God forbid, criticism — as her most notable accomplishment. The short story often looks like a minor or even vestigial literary form, redolent of M.F.A.-mill make-work and artistic caution. A good story may survive as classroom fodder or be appreciated as an interesting exercise, an étude rather than a sonata or a symphony.

Here is a list of authors who are mentioned in his article as particularly iconic practitioners of this rarefied genre, the genre of “the American short story”:

Raymond Carver (of course)
Herman Melville
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Henry James
Edgar Allan Poe
Flannery O’Connor
John Cheever
Donald Barthelme
Wells Tower

Yawn. Hello? There is only one woman A. O. Scott mentions: Flannery O’Connor. (Though, dear blog readers take note, Scott slips in the feminine pronoun “her” when referring to the practitioner of aforementioned “vestigial literary form.”)

There are also no writers of color.

And, in addition, this conjuring of a divide between the humble short story and the magnificent novel is old, old, old. Some of us are better at writing short stories. Some of us are better at writing novels. Which is better? Who knows? More important, who cares?

Self feels the difference is likely a matter of temperament. She knows for sure it isn’t a matter of one set of skills being superior to another. She is sure Ron Carlson, Edwidge Danticat, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steven Milhauser, Joyce Carol Oates, ZZ Packer and Bienvenido Santos (among others) would agree.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Asian Art at the Met: Why Self Loves Chinese Painting

Dearest Mum is leaving tonight for Japan, where she is slated to give a concert, at the behest of one Sister Remedios, who self remembers as her sixth grade art teacher (To this day self knows her only as “Sister Remedios”) Self called Dearest Mum to wish her Bon Voyage. In the midst of the conversation, Dearest Mum suddenly said that if self was planning to bring books to Tel Aviv for Ying, self had better make sure they were audio books. She said it so casually, as if it were the most matter-of-fact thing in the world. Sighing, she then added, “Well, you know, when the body starts to go downhill . . . ”

* * * *

Self found this article in the Weekend Arts section of the Friday, 14 March 08 New York Times, along with a picture of a section of Qian Xuan’s masterly painting, “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese” :

An Art Review by Holland Cotter:

From his terrace, the world is blue and green — mountains and trees — or almost green. Spring is on the way: the geese are back. One, then two, alight on the river, with more still invisible but close behind. Pavilion living! The only way. With the city somewhere down there, and nature everywhere up here, he watches mist rise. River meets sky.

The calm watcher is the fourth-century scholar-artist Wang Xizhi, father of classical calligraphy and model for living an active life in retreat. He is depicted by the painter Qian Xuan, another connoisseur of reclusion, in a 13th-century handscroll at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scroll is in “Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings,” a spare, studious show that offers , along with many stimulations, a retreat from worldly tumult — the religious fervor, the courtly pomp, the expressive self-promotion — that fills much of the museum.

This exhibition is also a refuge from the hurly-burly of Asia Week in New York, which is now in session and has mushroomed into three weeks this year. Dealers are in town from abroad with special shows; others arrive next week. Two art fairs are returning. Add a passel of events devoted to contemporary Asian art, along with the auctions, and the situation is clear: a marathon stretch of looking, judging, sorting, tsk-tsking and oh-mying, not to mention wheeling and dealing. Naturally, the urge to get away from it all can be strong.

I mean, isn’t part of the point of our Western passion for Asian art to find a serenity that we can’t seem to cook up on our own, a metabolic slow-down, a less-is-more state of grace? One 15th-century Chinese writer recorded such an ideal in a lifestyle wish list that includes:

“A nice cottage. A clean table. A clear sky with a beautiful moon. A vase of flowers. No cares of the world.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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