Books

How Much Can We Stand?
April 09, 2008

A Secular AgeBy Charles Taylor(Harvard University Press, 874 pp., $39.95) I. 'Bored" and "uninformed" was how Philip Larkin felt on entering a church, wondering: "when churches fall completely out of use / What we shall turn them into." Unlike Britain, where the pews are generally empty, America is not likely to see its churches fall into disuse anytime soon. The apparent vitality of religion on this side of the Atlantic has long been invoked as a conspicuous contrast with the increasing de-Christianization of Europe.

The Smirk
April 09, 2008

I Am a Beautiful Monster: Poetry, Prose, and Provocation By Francis Picabia Translated by Marc Lowenthal (MIT Press, 477 pp., $39.95) 'He had 7 yachts, 127 automobiles, and that is little compared to his women, " Francis Picabia's last wife wrote of him in 1949, with the painter's grinning complicity. Spanish and Cuban on his diplomat father's side, related through his mother to the conservative Parisian haute bourgeoisie, Picabia was born into a life of privilege in 1879 and, by virtually all accounts, he never grew up.

Late Pieta
April 09, 2008

Because, in spite of the splendor it's revealed in him, in spite of a lifetime unbinding its homeliest and sublime expression from locked, stone-fast torpor, the body is not at the end godlike, bends in the wrong places, drags its feet and head sloppily, incontinent--let it dangle here, pregnant with true origin and destiny. And because at the end someone must be there, some one or two (for it is heavy) to suffer its new demands, let them be tender, a worn father, a young mother, like his, though neither would comprehend anymore his need now--dim memory?

The Purposes of Circuses
March 26, 2008

I used to know a guy, at least I wish I did Who could stand on one finger for a minute flat.   I never said he could dance at the same time. Did I? I never said I really knew him.   But I saw him once at the Greatest Show Well... at that time... on Earth. Saw him true   With these very eyes. We even got to counting down Or counting up depending on your numbers system   Fifty one, fifty two, like that. And by the end, We were all cheering like raspberries were in season.   I tried it once myself when I was in the Navy And full of beans.

Jeanne's Way
March 26, 2008

Madame Proust: A Biography By Evelyne Bloch-Dano Translated by Alice Kaplan (University of Chicago Press, 310 pp., $27.50) IT HAS NEVER BEEN CLEAR what, if anything, should be made of the fact that Proust's mother was a Jew. This genealogical fact means that in the patently irrelevant terms of Jewish law, he, too, could be called a Jew, while in the equally irrelevant terms of biology he was half-Jewish.

The Troubadour Intellectual
March 26, 2008

Alfred Kazin: A Biography By Richard M. Cook (Yale University Press, 452 pp., $35) I. Alfred Kazin had one great, abiding subject. He wanted to tell the world what it felt like to become a writer in mid-century America. In three autobiographical volumes published over a period of a quartercentury, he dug so deep into his own life story, which had begun in hardscrabble Brooklyn and climaxed in the glamorous Manhattan of the 1960s, that he managed to tell the story of an entire generation.

A Noble Career
March 26, 2008

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Volume II: The Public Years By Charles Capper (Oxford University Press, 649 pp., $40) LIKE WALT WHITMAN, her slightly younger contemporary, Margaret Fuller was one to contain multitudes. No American woman of the pre-Civil War era--and no European woman of the era--wrote so brilliantly about so many things, while living so intently and intensely. For that matter, you would be hard put to think of a man who equaled Fuller's range of literary, intellectual, and political accomplishments.

The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America
March 12, 2008

Translated by Ruth Gay (Yale University Press, 192 pp., $32.50) I.For as long as I remember, my father took a lively interest in how many people showed up at the funerals of his friends and acquaintances, most of them members of the synagogue where he served as president or of the many Jewish organizations with which he ceaselessly busied himself. "Mollie," he would say with excitement when he returned from the funeral parlor, "you should have seen Stanetsky's this afternoon.

Beauty's Law
March 12, 2008

The Flowers of EvilBy Charles BaudelaireTranslated by Keith Waldrop(Wesleyan University Press, 196 pp, $24.95)I.Just over one hundred fifty years ago, in the summer of 1857, Charles Baudelaire published Les Fleurs du mal, his first collection of poems. The book's fate in France is well known. Of the few critics who reviewed it, most were dismissive. Some called the poems obscene.

Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia
March 12, 2008

What are you doing, moon, up in the sky;what are you doing, tell me, silent moon?You rise at night and go,observing the deserts. Then you set.Aren't you ever tiredof plying the eternal byways?Don't you get bored? Do you still wantto look down on these valleys?The shepherd's lifeis like your life.He rises at first light,moves his flock across the fields, and seessheep, springs, and grass,then, weary, rests at evening,and hopes for nothing more.Tell me, moon, what goodis the shepherd's life to himor yours to you?

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