Philip Larkin

From the Stacks: “A Girl in Winter”

November 20, 1976

Philip Larkin would have been 91 today. In his honor, Joyce Carol Oates's review of his second novel, as originally published in The New Republic.

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James Wolcott reviews Martin Amis's "Lionel Asbo: State of England."

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The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume I, 1907-1922 Edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon (Cambridge University Press, 431 pp., $40) Hemingway: A Life in Pictures By Boris Vejdovsky with Mariel Hemingway (Firefly Books, 207 pp., $29.95) With a flourish of publicity and as much shameless hype as one of the oldest and most prestigious academic publishers in the world can get away with, the first of an estimated sixteen volumes of Ernest Hemingway’s correspondence has been released.

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The subject was dirt, or perhaps I should say “Dirt.” It was spring 1996, and I was a newly minted comp-lit Ph.D. candidate thrilled to be taking part in my first academic conference. Okay, it was a conference of grad students organized by my friends in the Harvard English department, but somehow that just made it feel more authentic, like college football compared to professional. I still have the flyer, which reproduces an artsy photo of a dump truck about to discharge its load into a giant quarry.

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Dearest Bun

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica Edited by Anthony Thwaite (Faber & Faber, 475 pp., $49.50) I. A good place to start on the protagonists of this curious correspondence—culled from some 1,400 letters discovered after the addressee’s death in 2001—is the wrap-around photograph that takes up most of both sides of the book’s dust jacket. The picture shows a grassy cliff-top on the island of Sark. It is, clearly, summer.

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Dearest Bun

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica Edited by Anthony Thwaite (Faber & Faber, 475 pp., $49.50) I. A good place to start on the protagonists of this curious correspondence—culled from some 1,400 letters discovered after the addressee’s death in 2001—is the wrap-around photograph that takes up most of both sides of the book’s dust jacket. The picture shows a grassy cliff-top on the island of Sark. It is, clearly, summer.

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Against Beauty

One of the running jokes in On Beauty, Zadie Smith’s third novel, is that its main character is philosophically opposed to beauty. Howard Belsey is a professor of art history at Wellington College, and like all middle-aged professors in campus novels, he is a ludicrous figure--unfaithful to his wife, disrespected by his children, and, of course, unable to finish the book he has been talking about for years. In Howard’s case, the book is meant to be a demolition of Rembrandt, whose canvases he sees as key sites for the production of the Western ideology of beauty. “What we’re trying to ...

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In this recent post, I proposed that those who defend and those who attack religion often share a belief in the harmony between truth, goodness, and beauty. While apologists for religion claim that the truth of God is both beautiful and good for humanity, champions of atheism tend to argue that human beings would be better off if they accepted the beautiful truth of godlessness. Frustrated by the Pollyannas on the atheistic side of the argument, I proposed Friedrich Nietzsche's tragic pessimism, which insists on the ugliness of the atheistic truth, as an alternative.

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The Life of Kingsley AmisBy Zachary Leader (Pantheon Books, 996 pp., $39.95) WHAT ESSENTIAL ingredients go to make up a satirist? In particular,what high-octane social gases are needed to fuel, and to spark, his (seldom, till the feminist revolution, her) process of internal combustion? Facit indignatio versum, snarled Juvenal, that poverty-stricken and passé gentleman place-seeker, two millennia ago: it is resentment that drives me to write.

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Textual Harassment

After Theory By Terry Eagleton (Basic Books, 231 pp., $25)   I. When I attended Cambridge in the mid-1980s, "theory" was sickly ripe. What looked like its fiercest flush of life, the red of its triumph, was in fact the unnatural coloring of fever. Paul de Man had just died, Harold Bloom was preparing his second career as a weak misreader of Clifton Fadiman, Roland Barthes was gone, the Yale gang of deconstructionists was breaking up, and much postmodern silliness among the signifiers was just around the corner.

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