The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that memory was “the treasure-house of the ideas supplied by Invention.” They took this metaphor very seriously. To them, visualizing things in time and space was central to the art of remembrance. In the first century A.D., Quintilian developed an elegant technique that has withstood the test of time.
At the peak of its underground prestige, Sub Pop Records was known to wave off the innumerable demo submissions that didn’t interest them with a form letter that opened with “Dear Loser.” It was less a gesture of hipster mean-spiritedness than brand consistency. In its late-1980s infancy, Sub Pop had found the tone that most appealed to and came to define a generation, that of self-deprecation and detachment, but also of self-identified social and economic ostracism. It printed a t-shirt that simply read “LOSER,” worn by its most popular bands (and Eddie Vedder), who played the label’s first “Lamefest” in 1989. It didn’t seem to matter that Sub Pop’s own motto was “World Domination,” and that its business model was borrowed from pop factories like Motown, or that the business itself was near bankruptcy.
In 1954, at the behest of Alfred A. Knopf, Wallace Stevens gathered his seven books of poetry into a single volume. The Collected Poems was full of typos, chance misprints, and inconsistencies of spelling and punctuation, and has remained that way in half a century’s worth of subsequent printings. Vintage Books has now published a corrected edition, albeit only in paperback. The editors, John N. Seriro and Chris Beyers, have done exemplary work, drawing upon manuscripts, Stevens’s amended galleys, correspondence, and common sense. Missing section numbers are supplied, misspellings (“scrurry”) are emended; occasionally words are replaced or inserted.
Teaching is the most misunderstood profession in America today. Too many people—politicians, parents, school administrators, even teachers themselves—seem to be under the impression that education means meeting or exceeding “standards” set by state authorities and “testing”: if students can prove without the help of others, while isolated in silent focus at their desks, that they know what the gurus want them to know, the way they want them to know it, they’re home free. Teachers are considered either miracle-workers who put sight into blind eyes or dilettantes who have failed to find a real job. In Woody Allen’s memorable phrase, “those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
In March 2014, the Pew Research Center released a study entitled, “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends.” The study found that millennials “are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation” in the last quarter century. In a different study, published by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, only 33 percent of millennials in the United Kingdom said they are even “fairly interested” in religion, and only 54 percent said the same for politics,. In that same study, “taking an interest in politics” ranked 17th on the list of interests proclaimed by British millennials.
“At the end of our time together,” John Lahr writes in his profile of the director Mike Nichols, “he [Nichols] sat back on the sofa and declared himself pleased with the conversation. ‘I do well with the fundamentally inconsolable,’ I said. The words seemed to surprise Nichols and to press him back in his seat. His eyes fluttered shut for a moment, then opened. ‘We get a lot done, you know,’ he said.”
When he was a young man, James Wood stumbled across the book that would change his life. It was, he wrote:
not a novel or a book of poems; was not the Bible or Shakespeare’s Collected Works, or The Hobbit or Dune, or any of the high or low stories that are canonically invoked when readers and writers look back in fondness. It was a book called Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction, edited by the brilliantly wayward poet and man of letters Martin Seymour-Smith. I found it in 1981, when I was fifteen, at Waterloo Station, on table piled with discounted books.
When Aviya Kushner enrolled in Marilynne Robinson’s Old Testament course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she didn’t recognize the text her teacher and classmates were familiar with. She wasn’t new to the stories they were studying; she had read them many times since she was a young child. But Kushner had read them in Hebrew as part of her Orthodox Jewish schooling, and the translations her Christian classmates knew well sounded nothing like the Hebrew to Kushner. With Robinson’s encouragement, Kushner set out to collect a wide variety of English translations, then compare them with each other and with the Hebrew Bible.
“If it bleeds, it leads” is not a maxim one typically associates with literary biography, but it vey much applies to Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s new biography of Edward Thomas. Wilson opens with her discovery of evidence confirming that the death of the English poet—one of the forerunners of modernism, a friend of Frost, and an influence on Auden, Larkin, and many more—at the Battle of Arras in 1917 could not possibly have occurred in the absurd manner that had long been believed: his body found intact and unblemished after the battle, as though the spirit had been knocked out of him by the percussive shock of an explosion.