The Bars of Atlantis: Selected EssaysBy Durs Grünbein Translated by John Crutchfield, Michael Hofmann, and Andrew Shields (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 323 pp., $35) Descartes’ Devil: Three MeditationsBy Durs Grünbein Translated by Anthea Bell (Upper West Side Philosophers, 136 pp., $25.95) Durs Grünbein’s scintillating essays flare up off the page in extravagant fashion, displaying here a philosopher (Seneca, Nietzsche), there the natural world (deep-sea fishes); here a poet (Hölderlin, Rilke), there an obsession (addictive diving).
The first editors of the first issue of The New Republic in 1914 began their books and arts section with what was, and still is, a bristling admonition to critics. The words belonged to Rebecca West, called “indisputably the world’s number one woman writer” by Time in 1947 (though she probably resented the gender modifier). She titled her essay “The Duty of Harsh Criticism,” and she was as harsh on herself as she was harsh on the two males she put to scrutiny, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, certified “great men” who have passed way into the deep past.
The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Secret State Intelligence System By Jacob Soll (University of Michigan Press, 277 pp., $65) That resonant piece of verbal shorthand, TMI--or Too Much Information--would make a fine epigraph for our age. Anyone with an Internet connection today has access to exponentially greater quantities of writing, images, sound, and video than anyone on earth could have imagined just twenty years ago.
I am heartened that Martha Nussbaum judges my Vindication of Love "provocative and useful," its author a "very sensible person," and its effect upon readers probably "emboldening." I am less happy that she excludes men from these readers--as though love and failure, love and art, love and wisdom were issues that could interest only women.
I used to try to read every book that came over the transom. That didn’t last long, but there are always those amidst the flow that grab my attention, and among them, a few that really stick with me. Lately I have been struck by three. Marcus LiBrizzi exhumes the story of the tiny Atusville community on the outskirts of a small town in Maine (Lost Atusville: A Black Settlement from the American Revolution). Atusville was a black district – but not one of the grand old bustling commercial black meccas that thrived in most large American cities until the fifties like Chicago’s Bronzeville.
I have to get a copy of the new novel by E.L. Doctorow, which takes its inspiration from the lives of the eccentric Collyer brothers, Langley and Homer, who lived and died in an inherited New York brownstone that, by the end, the pathological pack rats had piled high with everything from old magazines to car parts. The men's hoarding, in fact, was central to their end, when, in 1947, a tunnel of junk collapsed on Langley, suffocating him and trapping poor, blind Homer, who starved to death. I've always been fascinated by people who compulsively collect things, especially as they grow old.
The Constitution in 2020 Edited by Jack M. Balkin and Reva B. Siegel (Oxford University Press, 355 pp., $19.95) There is a genre, the "constitutional manifesto," that sits uneasily between the scholarly or theoretical analysis of constitutional law and the buzzwords of day-to-day constitutional politics. The latter category may be nicely illustrated by the competing slogans of interest groups contesting the Sotomayor nomination: "judicial activism," "empathy," and so on.
THE CONSTITUTION IN 2020 Edited by Jack M. Balkin and Reva B. Siegel (Oxford University Press, 355 pp., $19.95) There is a genre, the "constitutional manifesto," that sits uneasily between the scholarly or theoretical analysis of constitutional law and the buzzwords of day-to-day constitutional politics. The latter category may be nicely illustrated by the competing slogans of interest groups contesting the Sotomayor nomination: "judicial activism," "empathy," and so on.
a dream I lay my head against the blast wall of the barracks and the mattress rises up against me. You get high off it, right?