Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Banalata Sen

My translation of the Bengali classic poem Banalata Sen, by Jibanananda Das. As one can see, my strategy was ot lean ehavily on borrowings from the English poetic tradition to conjure a sense of "antiquity"--always a difficult quality to project across languages and cultures!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why is the NEW YORK TIMES so anti-theory?

It's interesting that the New York Times has this article extolling quantitative analysis solely because it is not deconstruction--in other context the Times would cavil at including so many noncanonical figures, and I myself an mainly interesting in knowing what the important Victorians thought--and in another article today the Times, or its critic, seems to think there was a serious, large-scale interpretive structure for literature before theory--if there was, theory would not have been needed. It is always the tactic of the anti-theorist to act as if pre-theoretical criticism was better than it was--and Lord knows I wish it had been. But we might also ask why the Times takes such an anti-theory line?  Is it to compensate for what are its left-wing politics in other areas, to make sure they do not go overboard? Or are they really more moderate or accommodationist in their politics and more overt about this when discussing theory? Do they object to any model of critical thought that stands in the way of a more directed consumer preference? Do they just wish all language to be on an easily comprehensible, journalistic plane? What is good about theory--and as I have said repeatedly, I am not a unilateral enthusiast about theory, particularly deconstruction--is that it foils such an understanding of language.

Friday, November 26, 2010

El Sueño del Celta

Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel, just published in Spanish,concerns Roger Casement, the Irish anti-colonial activist who later took up the irish cause against the British in World War I, going so far as to overtly collaborate with the Germans. He also was a homosexual, revelations of whose sexual hijinks seriously undermined his plea for clemency when the British decided to execute him for his political activity. Vargas Llosa is not an advocate for Casement, nor obviously does he celebrate all his activities, but he does present him as a fascinating and generally sympathetic figure. 

As my co-edited book indicates, Vargas Llosa is generally seen as of the Right politically; when he won the Nobel, the right-wing mediasphere either was content or faintly annoyed that somebody it felt sympathetic had finlaly own, thus no more griping at the seeming prejudices of the Swedish Academy. This new novel makes clear, though, that, though while Vargas Llosa may favor economic libertarianism and an anti-collectivist vision of society, he is not a moral traditionalist, a political legitimist, or nostalgic for the pre-colonial order, unlike so many on the Right. (Witness the indictment of Obama as 'anti-colonial', an epithet most US Presidents would have worn with pride). Moreover, Vargas Llosa is neither anti-gay nor in sympathy with politico- religious zealotry.

Pp. 448-49 of the novel--where Casements increasing celebration within Ireland is connected to Ireland becoming less dominated by ecclesiastical conservatism-- is a very explicit linkage of (neo)liberalism and anticolonialism, and confirms what have assumed all along about his views on religion and the gay issue. Interesting that Ross Douthat, the conservative NYT columnist, seems to blame Ireland’s break from strict Catholicism for the economic crisis, so in a sense Vargas Llosa is to this extent a 'moderate;. 

EL sueño del celta was much easier for me to read in Spanish than most of his other fiction, this is likely because I know the anterior subject matter well, but still seems a lot more accessible certainly than La casa verde.

The book has three parts: the Congo (early 1900s), Amazonia (circa 1910), and during the First World War and the Irish revolt. The book's middle, the Amazonia section, is very evocative, really brings alive the place (something rather difficult to do to a reader such as me who cannot read the language 'deeply', but even I sense he does it).

Vargas Llosa does take a really anti-colonial stance, which at this point is not controversial except the US Right is full of people saying the British Empire was wonderful; Africa had its finest times under European rule, etc. Even these might say the Belgian Congo is something different (and, indeed, Chinua Achebe makes the point that Conrad’s denunciation of Belgian imperialism actually privileged a more benign British imperialism) but it is clearly Vargas Llosa going to the 'left' again, at least as far as the US is concerned.

With regard to technical/formal considerations--the starting off with the execution scene and then flashing back, fairly conventional by now, but still well done. And the staying in Rogers consciousness virtually the whole time, the narration is not split as in La guerra del fin del mundo and La fiesta del chivo.. The author clearly does not agree with everything Casement does, but alas empathy, stays with him.

Clearly, as with Flora Tristán, the feminist hero of Vargas Llosa's novel The Way to Paradise, the Peruvian connection was the origin, and then he radiated out for the more global stories, it is in a sense of example of how one can be global and local at the same time. 

Funny there is not a  translation of 'Sheriff' into Spanish; I guess the word is so English (with its roots in 'shire') it just cannot be done.

Julio Cesar Arana, the rubber/robber baron of the Amazon,  is not a very positive portrait of a businessman (cf. Jean Knight's article in Vargas Llosa and Latin American Politics.

The Crusader analogy on page 27 is interesting in light of what I said in the da Cunha article in Vargas Llosa and Latin American Politics.

In general, I liked the book, and I felt critiques such as that of the usually spectacularly able Gustavo Faverón's slighted it. One might wonder why the author is so interested in Celts (we remember Galileo Gall, the Scotsman in La guerra) but not only is there sympathy for the underdog but perhaps a vestigial memory of the large Celtic admixture of the population of Spain, especially Galicia, named after the Gauls. Vargas Llosa is also quite an Anglophile, though, so the advocacy of Celticity is not polemical.....

Saturday, November 6, 2010

One more theory post

A colleague wrote me and asked what I thought of Guy Debord's semiotics, and I had to admit that I had never really read Debord, that the closest I came to him was reading Baudrillard. Debord is too Sixties-radical for me; he acted as if the dilemmas of semiosis could be solved through inversion or parody. What I value about Derrida and Foucault and Baudrillard is their sense of both celebrating instability and acknowledging limits; there is both euphoria and bitterness in their tone. It is not all-just deformation and--though I may be unfair to Debord here, as I said I have not really read him--this has always struck me as the agenda of his work.

I heard an interesting talk last week, where the speaker argued that our existing view of a certain text was limited because it had been anchored in what was essentially, though not locally, a New Critical reading which emphasized a binary approach to the work, when the interpretive possibilities it offered were much more variegated. Why this lasted, inferentially, was because it was good for the undergraduate classroom, it protected students form naive readings. But a reading that is there to protect from naive readings, if it becomes anchored and permanent, acquires the very naïveté it sought to dispel. This is why I go as high as two cheers for deconstruction, because if not for deconstruction who knows that these simplistic readings would not have endured forever. What is valuable in the undergraduate classroom in 1959 is not necessarily valuable in the graduate classroom over five decades later on, or in the very different undergraduate classroom of today for that matter. It is not just times change and people need to change with them but texts need to be read more thoroughly, more adequately. And deconstruction offered this, without, again, falling into simple deformation or parody--though many thought it did.

I would argue the age of deconstruction has most likely neared its end, and we need to think in new ways, but this thought made a very important contribution to the history thinking about literature, for, among others, the reasons outlined above.

Monday, November 1, 2010

THEORY and deconstruction

No, not theory as such, but my recently issued book, THEORY AFTER THEORY (Broadview).

Some professors have been asking publishers' representatives whether the use of the subtitle 'deconstruction' in nearly all the chapter titles meant the book was endorsing or favoring deconstruction, or applying deconstruction as a method across the board.

The answer is, emphatically, no. The book is indeed quite critical of deconstruction and its limitations, and only part of chapter 2 is devoted to deconstruction per se. What the book, does, though, argue is that principles analogous to deconstruction can be found in the other theories, and that there is an intimate intellectual relationship between them; they are not cordoned off.

But the book is not entirely critical of deconstruction, thus differentiating it from Eagleton or, on the other side of things, Corral/Patai. It is not saying deconstruction is/was worthless.  Its stance is deconstruction happened, it mattered,it is now over, and we can assess its strengths and weaknesses. Its stance is. at most, 'two cheers for deconstruction". 

That's what I asked my publisher to tell people. You might though  ask hen why I chose the title in the first place when any intelligent person might predict these sorts of questions would arise (and potentially turn off customers/readers). I did it because deconstruction is the word, and the set of ideas/practices, that really arouse emotions about theory, and one of the agendas of the book is to explain to today's students, who if they are traditional-age were born well after the heights of debates about theory, why people got so emotionally worked-up over theory. I wanted, as that non-deconstructionist Gerald Graff would say, to 'teach the conflict'. Also, I wanted to normalize the word deconstruction, to make people less afraid of it, to render the willing to remember and cultivate the good aspects of the 'method', if it was such--and that someone clearly as non-card-carrying-deconstructionist as myself is willing to use the term should help accomplish this task of normalization. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Memory of Nestor Kirchner

I am very surprised by how little coverage the sudden and unexpected death of former Argentine President  Nestor Kirchner has received in the US media, This was the pivotal recent leader in one of the four most important countries in the hemisphere, one of the thirty most important in the world. This was someone who took a country many had given up on and made it a factor once again. I was not in lockstep with his every political move or viewpoint, and, follow it as I can, I am insufficiently attuned to the interstices of Argentine domestic politics to judge the nuances of his, and now his wife Cristina Fernandez's, every move or policy. Bur he deserves to be noted and, as appropriate, mourned.  Surely if Jacques Chirac had unexpectedly died, there would be more attention. And, despite his recent heart problems, it was unexpected: he was at the New School (which has developed an institutionally strong relationship with Argentina and Argentine institutions) to speak last month and looked fit as a fiddle, vigorously taking on those who accused him and his wife of passing the presidency between them as a political football.

In any event, Argentina matters to me, though apparently not the US media.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel Prize

I am thrilled that the great Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has been declared the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature. Vargas Llosa has had an exemplary literary career. As a novelist, he has excelled over five decades in many genres and modes, from the grim confines limned in The Time of The Hero to the portrayal of the life of disaffected youth  a dictatorship in Conversation in the Cathedral, from the engaging satire of soap opera and young love in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to the searing yet empathetic portrait of millennialism in The War of the End of the World, to his masterpieces of the past decade, The Feast of the Goat with its convulsive sense of trauma and machinations amid an authoritarian regime, to the moral progress, or regress. of the boy-made-good gone bad in The Bad Girl.  Effortlessly adapting himself to eroticism in the Don Rigoberto books, the mystery-thriller in Death In The Andes and Who Killed Palomino Molero?, and the historical novel, in some of the books mentioned above as well as in El sueño del Celta, his forthcoming novel about Roger Casement in the Congo, Vargas Llosa is a deft craftsman even as there is always substance, heft, behind his every gesture.  Vargas Llosa is also an accomplished critic, writing on authors from Flaubert to Hugo to Arguedas. encompassing the European and Latin American inheritance. I don;t agree with a lot of his politics, rather obviously, but his role as political commentator has also been distinguished, especially as exemplified in his widely syndicated Piedra de Toque columns. Vargas Llosa has lived out his imaginative vision in public life; while he asks no one to approve of all his positions, he has thrown his moral weight behind them in a manner that commands respect. I am very pleased to have edited, with my Lang Literary Studies colleague Juan E. De Castro, an anthology on Vargas Llosa's recent work; those looking for an orientation to the latter half of Vargas Llosa's career may find it useful.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fruit Keys

Burt Kimmelman, As If Free, Jersey City, Talisman House, $14.95,  88 pp, ISBN 978-1-58948-069-8

Reviewed by Nicholas Birns

In “The Seeds of the Red Maple,” one of the most commanding poems in his new anthology, Burt Kimmelman annotates for the reader the phrase “fruit key”,  is “a type of seed or pot of seeds in which a flattened leaf of fibrous, papery tissue, called a wing, develops from the ovary wall.” (64). The phrase “fruit key” fiancées not just bauxite of its conjunction of the organic and the mechanical but because fruits are products of a process, whereas keys illuminate or investigate processes; because using a key is active, while reaping a fruit can at least seem passive; because fruit is abundant, while keys are scarce. Kimmelman's definition tantalizes as well, with its vocabulary that could be used as well of human as of arboreal reproduction.
      The tree is captured at a moment of transition, of late summer, even perhaps late midsummer, at the height of  its :majesty: yet ready “to let go of its seeds”. Nothing is still; even the still luxuriance nature contains hints of its succumbing. But Kimmelman is not plaintive or elegiac; the seeds of the tree, in literal terms,  become a tree diaspora, making the children who play with them “people of the tree”; the tree distributes itself, mixes itself in the world, in a mode of cyclical death—and-rebirth but also as a vehicle of a more widespread propagation which is moral and spiritual as well as natural.  The title of the volume comes in here: the seeds are cast off as if free, sent out into the world on their own missions The almost Kantian irony of the title—and its three words are indeed together three very important words in Kant’s thought—are suggestive; the tree is not really free to go outside its own natural rhythms, but its exuberance and prodigality make it seem almost as if it were, and it is that freedom, as much as and concomitant with the tragic awareness of mortality that this midsummer casting-off inevitably denotes, which is the affect the poet wants us to reap from the occasion,
   Kimmelman writes in the Objectivist tradition of Zukofsky, Oppen, and cognate figures such as William Bronk as well as contemporary practitioners such as the masterful  Michael Heller; but his principal difference from them all is that he is not worried about sounding too romantic or lyrical; he can look at nature without total severity and can model rather than carve experience without thinking he will mutate into Wordsworth or Sara Teasdale if he lets down his guard too much. Kimmelman is not just a poet of stance but of place. His Cape May nature poems, illustrated by Fred Caruso, are among the most absorbing site-specific poems of this time, poems that travel towards readers in one direction even as they travel towards Cape May in, for the most part, another. The poem in this volume of the opposite topographical extreme in New Jersey, the Delaware Water Gap, is similarly convinced by nature yet not overcome by it. He does not presuppose a Romantic unanimity or ease of reference about places, but they do exist: he does not enforce the composition of the frame (as others in his tradition might) so as to preclude them. 
Kimmelman is a better poet as he tries less to be a loyal objectivist, and this can be seen in the ekphrastic poems scattered throughout the volume. In “The Deception,” on Giorgio Morandi's 1955 still life as seen in the Metropolitan Museum in 2008, Kimmelman speaks of the ‘stubborn craft” of a “made world” (72). Compelling as an evocation of the painting as such, in the broader context this is a kind of creedal affirmation, an Objectivist flag-waving so determined to avoid any epistemological connection between perceiver and referent that it becomes a bit doctrinal and airless. In some of his other poems about paintings, though, Kimmelman more than makes up for this, In writing about the sculpture of Laocöon in the Vatican—that famously inspired G. E. Lessing’s ate eighteenth-century treatise on space and time in art—Kimmelman prizes the analogy between sculpted and human body, “the ecstasy. of sinuous bodies” (68)  in the sculpture both contradicted and reflected by the aging and vulnerability of actual bodies.  “Variation of Green,” on an Ellsworth Kelly painting at the Metropolitan, makes a punt similar to that attempted by the Morandi poem but without any dogmatic recitation: the painting is “a sure possibility” that is “just there” calling us to “stand alongside it./ in astonishment” (64). The registering of the power of art is manifested without any aw-shucks excess or overly ascetic restraint: the poem opens itself up to the force of the painting without being overwhelmed by it.
    There is a delightful and even bracing variety in this volume, an unwillingness to limit the poet’s gaze to a certain idea of the poetic, a reluctance to deny the potential integrity of any aspect of experience. “Reading Barbara Hemming’s Poems”  praises ‘the possibilities” that notice of the world affords, possibilities as likely to be gratified in  a grimy urban landscape or “a toilet overflowing” as in “the hills outside Santa Fe” (28)  In “The Sleep of the Dead” death is resisted yet also seen as a state of calm and peace; a sleep we want to, and want our loved ones to, do their best to avoid  but which also offers possibilities for wholeness, healing, and links between the generations.
     Most of these poems are a page or two long, giving enough scope for setting the scene, for an exfoliation—or a seed-scattering—of ideas, and for an often unexpected turn or conclusion to reveal itself. In some poems, though, Kimmelman works within a shorter compass, unafraid to let every word matter, as in “Abandoned House:

Thin tendrils of moss,
Bright green in the shock
Of morning sun across
Red brick stones, stand up straight
To tough the light (50)

With only three words more than one syllable, each word carried a large burden, yet the way the moss/across poem wins out, in its contrast of stasis and movement, over any potentially over-melodic associations tallies with the air of alertness, of readiness, of crispness in the scene. If we do our best with nature, Kimmelman hints, if we stand at attention towards it, it can yield it can yield moments of quickened, restless unfolding such as this.
      Kimmelman‘s experience in many different aspects of acidic literary studies (medieval literature as well as modern poetry) and his respect for academic ways of thinking without succumbing to being constricted or defined by them. His poems in past volumes on personal and family life are generally not repeated here, but lend their felt engagement to what in other hands might be more distanced considerations of nature and art. There is a sense of experimental, if not necessarily perceptual or moral, optimism here. We may not be free but acting as if we are will not only be inspirational can yield the exacting concentration and unlooked-for deliverance, the “quick tremor” (84) of these most welcome poems. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

L'heure zéro

I saw, without much expectation, Pascal Thomas's 2007 adaptation of Agatha Christie's Towards Zero as L'heure zéro  and was very pleasantly surprised, Thomas showed a scrupulous fidelity of the text, using names in the text as much as possible, or seeing the closest French equivalent, Nevile Strange became Guillaume Nouvelle, Audrey became Aude, Kay became Caroline, Thomas Royde Thomas Rondeau, etc. This showed both a certain ingenuity, a game-playing in the realm of translating miming the greater game of the puzzle and the text constituted by the original work, and also showed a comprehension that, in adapting Christie, fidelity matters, unlike the recent British adaptations, which have exploded the text in search of a more gratifying 'story'; the adaptation  of The Secret of Chimneys, that most delicate and pleasing of farces, made it into a creaking melodrama, and made the text's most genial character into the movie's villain. The French adaptation approached Christie as if she were Shakespeare--not to say that she is anything close to Shakespeare, but that her texts respond similarly to attempts to keep the plot and characters. that the setting was French, the language was French, made little difference, the integrity of the original was there--only in two small points did the movie stray from the text, and the only crucial one is that a certain car accident is meant to be an accident, not a part of the murder  scheme for artistic reasons: not all bad things in life are the product of malevolence, there is risk, fortune, which of course has been an element of many tragedies. I was surprised that so little was lost in making the milieu and characters over into French  one,s and perhaps we need to reevaluate Christie;s presumed cozy Englishness, ,perhaps this is not in any way essential to getting her work right, no more than Jim Thompson's; rough-hewn Americanises proved a barrier to rendering his oeuvre into French adaptations. French academics (Pierre Bayard) and writers (Michel Houellebecq)  have been at the forefront of recent revaluations of Christie, but there is more than a touch of irony in their championship  of her; this movie took her completely straight, and provided a gratifyingly faithful and intricate rendition of one of her best, and most engrossing, novels.

The two wives of Guillaume were, incidentally, both played by children of famous actors, Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Marcelo, and Laura Smet, daughter of Nathalie Baye. Both were stunning. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Franzen and Shakespeare

Amid all the hubbub about Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom, what has not, as far as I know, been noticed so far is that the epigraph from The Winter's Tale is very significant not only for the plot but for the overall formal and thematic sense of the book. The passage in question is Paulina's speech in Act V, after the miraculous resurrection of Hermione and her restoration to her repentant husband, Leontes, a resurrection which Paulina has either stage-managed or presided over:

Go together,
You precious winners all; your exultation
Partake to every one. I, an old turtle,
Will wing me to some wither'd bough and there
My mate, that's never to be found again,
Lament till I am lost.

Franzen takes advantage of a semantic migration that often occurs to people reading this passage, that we speak of "winners", as in the sense of"winners and losers, more colloquially than did those in Shakespeare's day, and that moreover the rise both of capitalism and of ideology has given the entire idea of winning a sense both of competition and of polemics that, though undoubtedly there in Shakespeare's day, was not as accented. (indeed, Franzen's novel somewhat argues that it was even in modernity not as accented until the 1980s, and that is part of the book's weft of implication).  In a book all about status and the ideological means to status, this verbal gap is very pertinent,. But also of note is that, like Shakespeare's play, Freedom is a story of multiple generations, where the younger generation seeks to atone for, correct, or walk back the mistakes of the elder. Without giving away the story--I finished the book yesterday, but many have still to read it--I can say that. although Freedom is hardly a pastiche or rewrite of The Winter's Tale, and--though I enjoyed the book--not remotely in Shakespeare's league-- there are fascinating echoes, which only serve to enrich both the book itself and our response to it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama and Responsibility

I differ from the mainstream media consensus in seeing President Obama's speech last night as really very good--contrary to what most people have said, it was not 'just about Iraq', it was using the end of active US combat in Iraq as a signal that positive developments can still occur--pace the naysaying of the media for the past nine months or so--and that the economic difficulties we have now should be viewed in an ampler context. Even more, he was trying to provide some perspective so as to cirucmnavigate the endless drumbeat of bad news.

I was, though, admittedly predisposed to be particularly sympathetic to Obama by reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's article in Monday's Times, which suggested that business executives were surprised Obama was so progressive in economic terms--after all, they said, he was a 1980s Ivy League graduate! This is especially amusing given that, in that era, every Ivy League institution, no matter how relatively conservative on the spectrum, was seen as politically liberal, leaning towards the Democrats--but Obama was thought to be a reliable endorser of corporate interests simply because of when and where he attended college! This made me muse on something Obama had said in his Inaugural Address, indeed perhaps its most resonant and best-trmemberedlnie'his call for  a 'new era of responsibility', and, with its Biblical resonance, his imploring that we 'set aside childish things'. How this was read was: Americans had been living above their means or pursuing self-interested agendas, this had been a form of narcissistic immaturity, now we must grow up and own our own actions. In a vacuum, this made perfect sense, and was of course a potentially bipartisan argument, given (somewhat reactivated) Republican concern for deficits.

But--as the assumptions about Obama's generation in Sorkin's article indicate--in this era, adulthood, maturity success, self-realization has been associated with endorsing the imperatives subscribed to by the corporate world, not the public weal. Obama was not so much asking the immature to become mature as to ask those who thought they had indeed become mature to adopt a new definition of maturity. He was urging people who thought they had definitively arrived at who they were to reconsider their basic assumption. And it is, here, perhaps, that his message feel on deaf ears, and why his efforts to lead the country have proved so oddly frustrating....   Not the only reason, of course, or even the main ones--but it is one of them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Richard Maxwell, scholar and gentleman

Richard Maxwell, who preceded me as editor of POWYS NOTES, died on July 20, after a nine-month battle with cancer. Richard taught at Valparaiso University for many years and for most of the past decade had held a position at Yale. Like all truly dedicated reader of John Cowper Powys, Richard was not just a narrow cultist but also someone for whom Powys was one of myriad arteries through language, history, and imagination. Richard was a truly wide and comprehensive reader, for whom no byway was too obscure. When I learned of Richard's death I was reading a provocative review-article by Frank M.Turner in the Victorians Institute Journal, lamenting that we had gone away from Matthew Arnold's small circle of privileged texts and loosened the gate sot admit, in canonical terms, all and sundry. No reader was a better reflection of the benefits of the broadening of the canon, though, than Richard; he delighted in Naomi Mitchison and Harrison Ainsworth, Anthony Powell and Mervyn Peake, the most obscure of Sir Walter Scott's novels, the rediscovered critical writings of Clara Reeve. His vision of literary study included old books and new theories, the subversive and the antiquarian. Richard combined this of course with a thorough appreciation of the Big Names; Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Hugo. As this list shows, Richard was multilingual both literally and figuratively, and was one of the few people I have known truly worthy to teach in a Department of Comparative Literature.
     Richard was a man incredibly genial, gracious man. He was erudite but not pedantic or pretentious, and had gentleness and a compassion that made him approachable whereas otherwise his sheer intellect might have made him intimidating. He was tremendously encouraging to me, and delivered even criticism in an affirmative, caring way; he was in academia to help people and to share knowledge, and he made those traits abundantly clear. He seemed to have friends everywhere, among academics and creative writers, literary types and common readers.
Richards great summa on the historical novel came out last year, his co-edited Companion to the Romantic-period novel in 2008, and I really saw these years as Richard’s coming into his own; still in the prime of his career, he seemed likely to have many more books in him. As abundant as his production has been, his early death robs us of so much more. But his sly humor and his ferocious energy as a reader of literature remain as inspirations.
Now that Richard is gone, both the blurbers for Understanding Anthony Powell are dead. This was probably not a surprise in the case of Congressman John S. Monagan, who was over 90 when he blurbed the book, though John also seemed to have enough energy and intelligence to last forever. However, it is truly a shock that Richard is gone so soon. His blurb, incidentally, was both generous and tactful, and it is a rare bird that can show both traits. In any event, I was lucky to have two such distinguished and virtuous people endorse my book.

Gustafson on Fet, 45 years later

In doing final, reconfirmatory research on my Tolstoy paper for October I have become intrigued by the figure of Afanasy Fet, the poet and friend of Tolstoy’s whose jovial pessimism' (Medzhibovskaya's phrase) made him a congenial and understanding friend to Tolstoy despite many manifest political and philosophical differences. I saw that one of the few books on Fet in English (I am getting slowly better with this Russian thing but still very much forced to rely largely on my own language here) was by Richard Gustafson, later to become renowned as a leading scholar of Tolstoy and the Russian religious/mystical tradition. In reading Gustafson’s 1966 book The Imagination of Spring: The Poetry of Afanasy Fet, I became intrigued by how different it was from (or, as the Australians would say. "different... to") a comparable book in English studies in the same era. Gustafson’s book is a work of interpretation; in other words, it is not comparable to the merely taxonomic single-author works of the era covering noncanonical authors, such as the Twayne series. It is actual literary criticism, which 95% of the Twaynes did not remotely achieve. Yet when compared to similar books of equivalent intellectual ambition and critical accomplishment in English studies, Gustafson’s book is far more multiple in its competencies. There is no separation of form and history language and milieu; no Wimsattian fallacies, no trace of what, in Theory After Theory, I term 'the resolved symbolic'. This, though is easily attributable to differences in national tradition (and Russian Formalism being, despite the weary, recuperative attempts to yoke them as cognate, very different form the new Criticism), and Slavicist criticism, since the time of Belinsky et al, being more open to social influence, many times, of course, restrictively so. The most notable difference between Gustafson’s treatment of Fet and equivalent treatments, of the same period, of Anglophone poets is that Gustafson is not partisan; he is not out to advocate Fet at the expense of others, to denigrate Fet to the benefit of others, or to give a rereading of Fet that would redefine him towards or away from romanticism, conservatives, classicism, Christianity etc. Indeed, Gustafson is less partisan than Fet himself; he does not simply ventriloquize or update the poet’s aestheticism, but regards it in the light of an overall appreciation of Fet's artistic vision; the ideology refers to the poet, nor vice versa. There is none of this here; it is simply full, responsive, telescopic overview of a poet's career, done with flair and nuance, yes, it is obviously a first book, lacking the characteristic religious and mystical emphasis of Gustafson’s signature later work. But one could say that the lack of partisanship, the deft, economical organization of material, and the avoidance of formula in the Fet book foreshadowed Gustafson’s later agility, his capacity to take positions and manifest emphases without these making him narrow or polemical as a critic. It is thus a book that can still be useful now—even after several further studies on Fet have appeared—and not just a museum-piece in the archive of lapsed ideologies, as would be true of so many books on Keats or Donne or Hopkins,

Fet is an intriguing, idiosyncratic figure, for one thing exemplifying the nineteenth-century Russian taking the Muses far more seriously than any poet of his century.  Fet's muse has real power, can, as Gustafson says, give the poet "the power to speak: in a way more imperative than ceremonial. 

I just realized "Afanasy" has to be the Russian version of "Athanasius". Intriguing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Loose Baggy Monster and the Great White Whale

I am usually much more of a connoisseur of the obscure than this--I recall a former colleague of mine some fifteen years ago riding me for not writing about 'major figures'--but I have been reading Tolstoy and Melville a lot recently, both in relation to fall activities at the New School--Melville for an 8 AM (!) single-book class on Moby-Dick I am teaching, Tolstoy because I am speaking at the international Tolstoy conference and celebration being organized, in a truly herculean effort, by my treasured colleague Inessa Medzhibovskaya. Aside from writing books of great size--indeed, if Henry James thought Tolstoy an author of loose, baggy monsters, it is interesting what he would have said of Moby-Dick--whose revival did not occur until after the Master had gone off to the great drawing-room in the sky--Tolstoy and Melville have little in common. Indeed, the gravamen of my paper is that Tolstoy is de-romanticizing or even 'novelizing' the novel, whereas Melville  deliberately incorporates huge masses of seventeenth-century prose and allusions in his work, as if to deliberately keep alive a link to an earlier time in which writing was more curiously wrought. (Russia of course had no equivalent of the 'Metaphysical' period in its literature, which was, as I will argue, one of the cards Tolstoy held in his hand). Although both men lived complicated lives, had vexed relationships with their national identities, came from families of repute in their respective lands, their courses on this planet were quite different, Tolstoy being one of the most famous and admired men in the world, whose very death was an event, Melville dying in obscurity.

Yet I kept on having two feelings about them. One is, that as an American I knew what Melville was 'driving at' much more, but felt a far greater affinity to Tolstoy in terms of what was important to me. (I am not presuming to at all compare myself fin stature with either, believe me). But the second is that, as simple as this might sound, there was actually something in common in them--a quest for social justice. I mean this both manifestly, in that Tolstoy, after 1880, obviously put his moral and ethical work above his literary, and even Melville, in Billy Budd--one of the books included in my university’s Core course and always pleasure to teach--made a final plea for humanity and equity, aboard ship and, implicitly, on land as well. But there is also a call for social justice in their celebration of the unusual, their nonconformity, their spurning of conventional social expectations. Melville hailed Hawthorne for saying "NO--in thunder"; Tolstoy thundered in a different, more hopeful  key, and thundered not at world-affirmation but at those greedy for power and control. but I think his motivation for thundering was fundamentally the same.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

'Lennon' versus 'McCartney'

Getting back to the Gilmore book, an interesting aspect of its citation of “Heart of Glass" as an indexical citation of the time period was that, if polled at the time, everybody would have chose that as just the song to be so employed; it was indexical of its time as a  past time even as it was current!

Thinking of this period also reminded me of a minor vexation that has stuck with me all these years, though most recently occasioned by seeing McCartney at Citi Field last year: the theories of canonicity proposed by the way teenager so that period valued the solo, post-Beatles work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This valuation was one-way and total: Lennon was cool, McCartney was not. (This was before Lennon's murder, which of course changed things, it was understandable afterwards why Lennon, for a time, would be more highly regarded, but I am skipping of the time before). That McCartney sold more records, that the people involved actually knew most solo McCartney (I e. Wings) songs than they did solo Lennon songs, did not move them; nor was the preference made on the basis of n sort of musicological or aesthetic criteria. Lennon was cool, basically, because the adults, or the elder siblings, in their lives told them this was so; there was no autonomous judgment, no heart-swell of an incipient generational cri de coeur. 

To put it in theoretical terms—and, en passant, I might indicate my Theory book is mow definitely published, a copy is by my desk as I type this—one might use this to say something like: usually, the debate over pop culture is framed as a contrast e g. between Adorno’s wholesale rejection of it as conformist instinctual trash, and corporate versus Hebdige’s defense of the proliferation of subcultures and consciously styled practices in the aftermath of rock, punk, etc. But what if one has the conformism Adorno castigate manifested itself in a minor snobbery that seems to be Hebdigean in savvy but is in fact totally ersatz and handed-down? Or, to put it another way, when high art is no longer used as cultural capital, when a mass phenomenon is used in just the way Bourdieu discussed avant-garde painting being used as such, how does that affect the frame? (In a sense this question continues the thread I started with my Caillebotte post on this blog of spring 2009).  It may well be that the solo work of John Lennon was better than that of Paul McCartney; at this point, to make that judgment I would have to listen to their entire oeuvres and probably write on them. It is not the judgment that was the problem; it is that the people who made it had no adequate criteria of reaching that judgment.

Additionally, the unthinking preference for Lennon had these problems:

1)  -- It branded itself as the consensus of a new generation-that later to be called Generation X—yet not only was the valuation in question made of artists of a previous generation, the critical judgment and valued were totally those of elders—if was as if something manufactured in one country was relabeled as being made in another than marketed as echt indigenous to the second country.
2)   -- It had nothing to do with msic-0evne the most atavistic, instinctual, un-cerebral response to music, It had totally to do with wanting to be cool and in with the in-crowd. The only lessons about aesthetics that were relearned were the lessons of canon-making.
3)   --It used a form originally liberating, and intended by both Lennon and McCartney in their different ways, to still be liberating, as a mode of confirms and oppression, of a herd mentality that was precisely hegemonic because it presented itself as a sophisticated cutting-edge judgment.
4)  -- It used a potentially critical perspective—of not just supposing McCartney’s larger sales made him a better artist—to foster a stupid consensus. And it made somebody who took risks with his life and art—John Lennon—into an organ of cultural policing and of social authoritarianism. McCartney deserved better so did John Lennon. In addition, this attitude used the semantic and emotional vocabulary of critical judgment, without the actual presence o fit. This was even worse than just not being critical at all, merely being enthusiastic or consensus-driven, because this attitude had the aura, the aroma, of a critical mentality without its real presence. This led to the assumption, vis a vis critical thought, that this generation had ‘been there, done that’ and that, for this generation, such critical frames as e. g. literary theory of the 70s and 80s provided were supernumerary. Much of the backlash against theory in the 1990s and 2000s can be traced to this perception that a critical stance had already been canvassed and integrated when in fact it had been only glimpsed.
       I pledged not to get into the McCartney-Lennon debate, and John Lennon is profoundly important to me in a way I cannot even get into here,  but I can’t resist throwing this out—if Lennon had lived, would he ever have collaborated with Michael Jackson? 

Spies of the Balkans

A few books later, I read Alan Furst's Spies of the Balkans. This presented a contrast to Gilmore’s book in several ways:  an older, established writer as opposed to a young emerging one. anemone who writes consciously as a genre writer as opposed to a high-literary novelist; and, perhaps most crucially, a setting not that far away--just forty years back from Gilmore’s--but one which mandated s a very different approach to detail. Giving away the plots of Furst's spy novel would be even less productive than with Gilmore’s .What I want to think about here is how his approach to detail is both similar and different. Gilmore is writing about a past time, but, most immediately, a similar place: she assumes most of her readers will be culturally savvy residents of the Northeast Corridor, with the faraway reader, who happens to come into contact with the book, finding it more exotic but perhaps needing more help to navigate the cultural patterns. For Furst, both time and place are different he not only writes novels of the World War II era, but novels of that era without English-speaking protagonists: his point of view characters have ranged from the French to the Polish to, in this book, the Greek. Not only does Furst give the reader a mixture of the familiar and alien--they may know that Germany invaded Greece but have forgotten that Greece at the time was under the quasi-Fascist dictatorship of Ion Metaxas, they may know generally what clothes people wore and what customs the practiced in the 1940s, but not known a Greek police officer would drive a Skoda 420 car or smoke a Papastratos No. 1 cigarette--but he has to let the details do the vast majority of the work. Whereas Gilmore can assume a background--one that can be adjusted to fit the experience of relevant generations of readers--even the oldest of Furst's readers would know World War II as foot soldiers and not grand strategies, and so Furst is in a sense engaged in what Peter Carey (whose latest, Parrot and Olivier, I highly recommend),  has called 'writing science fiction of the past".
    Gilmore is able to have her details and plot dovetail; they generally complement, vouchsafe one another. Furst cannot do this; if he did, there would be no action, and his books would simply be catalogues of lost time. That they are not is due to his ability to render suspense and action, but this has to run counter to the detail; as a writer Furst zigzags, diligently constructing detail with one hand, cross-cutting against it with suspense and action with another. This to-and-fro means his novels are fascinating not just on the narrative but on the architectural level, and why they are so reread able.
Intriguingly; Furst's books, like Gilmore’s novel, are, in many ways, post-1989 fiction; they are fiction rendered conceptually possible by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gilmore’s sense that Communism is an utterly ludicrous option would not have seemed so apparent to the literati before then (see my previous post on the deutero-Katyn tragedy of last April, which in a sense was an occasion for the first Katyn tragedy to be fully ventilated in the Western press for the first time). And Furst's detailed exploration of the small countries of central/eastern Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s would have seemed beside the point before 1989, not so much, for the most part, out of pro-Communist prejudice but because of a sense that the countries involved were simply not 'players' on the international power scene. After 1989 this changed; and the map of wartime Europe Furst provides has some features, such as an independent Slovakia, that would mirror today’s.
     Yet his map is not just of the wartime Balkans as such, but of an escape route through them--before Yugoslavia and Greece were in the war, one could escape from German-occupied Austria through pro-German but neutral Hungary down through Serbia and to the Aegean at Salonika--and this calls to mind an even more important facet of Furst's books: they are often either literally about neutral countries in wartime or people in neutral situations who are jostled by events into having to commit. Even amid total war, there is neutrality some countries (Sweden, m Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland) stayed neutral for all of the war or (Turkey) for most of it; and Furst is superb at working out with an almost mathematical precision how people could take advantage of these suspended neutralities to navigate to and for, in covert service to one side or another or trying to evade both on their personal odysseys. Furst thus sees wartime through a second, reflective level, and it is this, as much as in his understatement and ability to skillfully evoke a fully rendered scene with a few storks, that the profound influence of Anthony Powell is apparent. Furst has spoken of his admiration for Powell often and made a bravura and generous contribution to last year’s Powell conference in Washington, DC, which I co-convened. Like Powell, Furst can treat the war as, on the one hand, an unabashed struggle of good versus evil, and, on the other, a tableau with all sorts of interstices, contradictions, banalities. perhaps Furst’s most impressive display of this was in Dark Voyage where the sheer skill of plotting a trajectory of a neutral ship from the Mediterranean to the Baltic required as much ingenuity as the plot itself. This sort of cerebral dobbing of the books' action in its mental planning has all of Powell's nuance and precision. Powell himself was also keenly interested in the lesser-known countries of Europe during the war, and Furst's cycle in many ways is the latter-day fruition of this interest.
     Greece and adjoining areas are new territory for Furst, but he handles them well. Where will he go next?  Albania, though interesting, would be almost too recondite, The Baltics? he has touched on them in Dark Voyage but never a full-scale treatment. Tere öhtust, as they would say in Tallinn. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Something Red

One of my first readings of this summer was my colleague Jennifer Gilmore’s novel Something Red. I had heard Gilmore read an excerpt from it in a faculty reading series and was intrigued  by its portrait of three generational of a Washington, DC intellectual Jewish family in 1980, at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the grain embargo, Olympic boycott, etc. What I expected, and received, from the novel was a sharp, provocative portrait of our country at a crucial liminal time in its history. To do what Gilmore attempts a risky step for the author to take as there is still not a consensus about what this era meant or who were the good guys or the bad guys in it, and even her citations of popular songs such as Blondie’s Heart of  Glass or (of a moderately earlier vintage) the  Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight will not only mean different things to those who originally heard them on the radio versus those too young to know them or having encountered them as part of the  archive of the past, but no tow people ‘old enough’ to ‘be there' may well agree on what the tonal/political valence of those memories are. This aspect was as I expected, although Gilmore's achievement is to make the two elder generations-those in their forties and in their seventies in the represented time of the novel—as or more interesting than the teenagers whose manners and bearing most incarnates what we now remember as ‘typical’ of the time.
   This is what I expected from the book, and received. But what I did not expect—and what makes me not just suggest but insist that anyone who likes contemporary fiction read this book immediately—is the spectacular nature of the ending, which I am not remotely going to give away because experiencing it is such a convulsive treat.   The ending so bravura, so striking that it conveys a pleasing element of fantasy, pleasing because in a generally realistic book it supplied the element of cognitive fantasy—one felt one was not just  in the ‘real world; of 1980 but in your own fictional world, and, paradoxically, , as someone who remembers the era I wanted fiction, I wanted something autonomous, within the frame—and the dénouement gave it a hundredfold. What courage Gilmore must have had to do this, and what a great result—to have both the collective base of memory that draws the reader initially to the novel, and to then have the train of plot events which gives the novel its own subjectivity, its autonomy, makes its world one of its own interior integrity not dependent on any externals.

Without, though, knowing this was in store, I decided, as a readerly exercise, to cut out my own memories of the time period, to read it in a more abstract way; Interestingly I think even had I not done this by page 80 or so I would have extrapolated myself from my own awareness of the context (which can be both enabling and debilitating). Really the only character the context is intrusive with is Vanessa, though since she is the primary register of the indexical aspects (the pop songs, teenage fads etc.) of the item, this is probably necessary and won’t be minded by the younger reader.  But as it turned out the novel went so far beyond its premise I did not need to do this.

Detail is very important in this book and I identified,, roughly, three kinds. The main mode of narrative detail, e..g. the mother Sharon's meals (hilarious and pitch-perfect) in terms of rendering the 'gourmet’ cooking; of the time  Sharon’s musings on e.g. page 28. This is for me where the novel is so outstanding, as it is everyday detail but it is replete with a panoply of feelings, reverberations, sensory perceptions—the ordinary flow of detail is as rich as those on subjects that are the products of expertise; (the DC geography, the time period. Etc.). Then there is e. g. the kind of detail linked with Dennis, the father, , his memories of his own  father’s Leftist organizations, where he is very aware of his own cognitive dilemmas, the details are background to these, but where his mind is stands out independently from the details. Then we have detail with Vanessa, and I have to say (again with the caveat that the younger reader, one who cares less about the time per se, won’t mind this) that I feel  Vanessa is overly enmeshed in detail, she sues detail to constitute her identity, it’s Jimmy Carter, punk rock, whatever is around, with little judgment or filter. Part of this is because she is the youngest most undeveloped character, but I began to see her as oppressed by her immersion in detail, and hoped  that when she became an adult she acquired more agency and perspective—she almost becomes a ‘camera’ at times, a passive recorded of data. The characters whose relations to detail did not have to evoke the period as such were actually much more captivating.

Vanessa’s elder brother, Benji—who would no doubt ask that I call him Benjamin—on the other hand I really enjoyed, and was very comfortable with him, his reactions to Brandeis, his relationships. In the end his relationship with his girlfriend Rachel was the most admirable one in the book, I felt there was real love there, and he also showed the greatest self-awareness—the urge to go out West with Rachel and get away from his family’s tangled dysfunctionality, even if utopian like his father's, Dennis's excursion to the West with his best friend' Len when young, still speaks to a diagnosis of the uncivil state of the family which lurks beneath its placid, liberal- bourgeois surface. . At first one thinks Ben is a hippie--come-lately, pathetic in coming to the party after it is over; in the end though he is a character of real discernment and offers hope for the tableau It is interesting how Ben’s sex with Rachel seems at least somewhat wholesome, whereas Sharon’s adulterous sex with the ‘social activist; Elias is tawdry—though here is a moment where Sharon thinks that after sex, he is either going to pay her or SHE will have to pay him is laugh out loud hilarious! In general, the men in this book seem healthier than the women, I think that is true in all three generations. In a sense it can be said that all three women are too passive, tether themselves to ideologies—Tatiana to the pieties of the Old Left, Sharon to the LEAP program, a nasty self-improvement cult  which she admits is a displacement of her lapsed religious faith, Vanessa to consumer culture and sex she is too young to comprehend. I feel the men are at least aware of their shortcomings and try to get out of their debilitating circumstances ;I do not mean to overly psychologies the characters but this gender difference was pronounced., and even the writing of the genders was different.

Despite this, though,  Sharon—the character furthest from me in terms of ;who she is’--was the character I most identified with in terms of her subjectivity, it is a very vividly rendered character, as is Dennis—the ultimate in-betweener, in-between ideologies (Washington and Moscow) , generations, and what he wanted to do with his life versus the reality of what he did with it. But Sharon one saw from the inside,--somewhat surprisingly because at first one thinks Vanessa is the main point-of-view  character and Sharon is ‘the mother’) whereas Dennis was meticulously sketched from the outside—his uncertainty, unrealization, is fascinating and is itself extraordinarily realized.

Yet for all the presence of Sharon’s personality, I felt the men came off better than the women, act with more integrity. That in this case the author was female, and the reader male, indicates that, again what was achieved here was firstly an exciting plot, secondly a compelling setting, but thirdly and most importantly real fictional autonomy, fiction that in the end operation its own steam….

As a kind of ironic coda to a book preoccupied by various iterations of the Left--Gilmore’s portrayal of a kind of vestigial radicalism on the Brandeis campus, the very tail end of 60s-70s protest, is well rendered, though curiously this man was Brandeis’s most famous graduate of the period.

Friday, May 14, 2010

If LeBron stays....

With the unexpected (especially by me) departure of the Cleveland Cavaliers from the NBA playoffs, the next two months will be dominated by speculation about LeBron James coming to New York to play for the Knicks. Without making any basketball-related predictions, I am intrigued by what it will mean if LeBron ends up staying in Cleveland. If he goes to NYC, of course it will mean that once again an athlete has gravitated to the Big Apple not so much for money (the money would be more or less equal anywhere), not even for supplemental advertising revenues, but for fame--witness the famous Reggie Jackson quote, ca. 1973, "If I played in New York they would name a candy bar after me", which, when Jackson ended up playing in New York in 1977, they did, although both Jackson’s stint in New York and the marketability of the candy bar were slightly shorter than was once thought, Jackson was not talking about money from the candy bar; he was talking about fame. 
     But can LeBron be any more famous? If they named a candy bar (or, given our more health-conscious era a granola bar or sports drink), could he be any better-known? And can anyone be more famous in their field than Michael Jordan, who never played in New York, and Wayne Gretzky, who did only late and inconspicuously? And does this matter less in basketball, a more compact sport with smaller teams, a shorter schedule, so many of whose games are nationally televised? Even more so, is the centripetal assumption behind the "I can only make it big in NYC” scenario still valid? Has cultural pluralism, the dislocation of conventional scenarios of place made possible by the Internet and other forms of virtuality, hybridity, diaspora, migration, all those critical buzzwords, made where one works, in any profession, less central? After all, I am typing this in the heart of Manhattan, but for this to reach the person reading it now I could as well be in Cleveland gazing upon the (hopefully) blue reaches of Lake Erie, no? If LeBron stays, it won't be just a matter of "local boy wanting to stay in hometown". We will then know the postmodern communications revolution has succeeded to the point where the big city cannot automatically claim the sort of cultural hegemony--in the arts, sports, learning--that it enjoyed during the era of High Modernity, where glorious athletic careers could be totally unknown nationwide if the athlete had the bad luck not to play in New York…

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wycliffe to Wyclef

At yesterday's final event in the spring Lang faculty reading series. my colleague Henry Shapiro mentioned having attended Balliol College, Oxford, one of whose early graduates was the Lollard Bible-translator John Wycliffe...later on, my colleague Ferentz LaFargue mentioned a possible project on Wyclef Jean, who needs no identification--Wyclef Jean was apparently named after John Wycliffe (I don't know why I never put this together before, but I didn't) which makes a neat symmetry! And of course both of their careers raise issues of expanding literacy, new modes of verbal expression, and crossing linguistic boundaries...that would make a trendy course, "From Wycliffe to Wyclef: Vernacular Sampling from the Fourteenth to Twenty-First Centuries." Someone else would have to teach it though!

Friday, April 30, 2010

THEORY AFTER THEORY now available for pre-order

It may not be my 'magnum opus' (as one of my colleagues graciously referred to it) but it has been three years in the making, and it does set out my views on a number of subjects, most notably the challenging and poorly understood realm of recent literary theory.

Theory After Theory, with a beautiful  cover, is now available for pre-order from the splendid Broadview Press; the actual book should be physically available in a month.

It can also be ordered from Amazon.

I take particular pleasure in this book as it is a subject I have taught so much, and it exemplifies a real relation between my teaching and my research.

Sorry to only be blogging about my own books recently, but I am a minimal blogger; that is just the way it is :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish tragedy

Though it seems somewhat mechanical to blog after every catastrophic event--the victims of the West Virginia mine disaster and the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes solicit, in their pain and loss,  blog entries just as much--the plane crash in which President Kaczynski of Poland and many others were killed is particularly awful because they were about to participate in an act of reconciliation with respect to the slaughter perpetrated by the Soviets at Katyn. As I dealt with the consequences of the Katyn massacre in my Anthony Powell book (t=due to Powell's references to the event in his fiction), and learned about the continuing trauma felt by Poles in its aftermath, this plane crash is devastatingly sad as it occurred just as some painful memories from the past were about to be at least partially healed.

This article (in German) puts the complicated skein of history and tragedy in context.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vargas Llosa and Latin American Politics

The anthology of essays on mario Vargas Llosa I co-edited with my Lang colleague Juan E. De Castro is now available for pre-order on Amazon. While the price os pretty much prohibitive except for libraries, if you are interested not just in Vargas Llosa's work since 1980 but in a case study in how a single career interacts with ideas of neoliberalism, anti-Communism, and postmodernism--and in how we see literature and politics differently in an age dominated by the Right--the book might well be for you. The contributors are all first-rate and interesting, from a great variety of contexts and viewpoints--Juan and I really enjoyed assembling the essays and framing them with our own commentary and we also contributed one essay each ourselves!