The last lighthouse keeper in Capri: “Every evening in a modest apartment on the island’s remote south-western tip, a 64-year-old sailor named Carlo D’Oriano slowly climbs 136 steps up a spiral staircase to the lonely lookout tower of the Punta Carena lighthouse and peers through a pair of binoculars across the ocean. When the sun sinks into the Tyrrhenian Sea, D’Oriano logs his handwritten findings in a diary, just as the island’s lighthouse keeper has done each day here for the last 151 years.”
Ypres, a century later: “All is quiet today among the eight tidy rows of chalk-white tombstones on the edge of Ypres, the staging ground for the Western Front of World War I. One-hundred-ninety-three soldiers have lain beneath the tidy lawn of this patch of ground in Belgium for more than a century. Fresh flowers, bright clusters of furiously red poppies, rest against the three-foot-tall markers.”
The Vatican has released a game called Follow JC Go, which is based on Pokémon Go. “Players have to keep track of their avatars’ nutrition, hydration, and ‘prayer count’ by collecting special objects, saying prayers for the sick, and going into a church whenever they pass one.”
The lessons of Rome’s decline. “While some commentators would have today’s republicans believe that the Caesars have already arrived, Duncan posits that America, if it is in decline at all, is somewhere on the Roman timeline between conquering threats on the Roman borders (which corresponds to America’s conquest of the twin threats of communism and fascism) and the period of the great Roman civil wars. Indeed, the parallels between America and the Roman republic do not stop there. In Duncan’s telling, the rift that would eventually tear apart the republic began with concerns that should be quite familiar to American readers: rising income inequality due to an influx of foreign money and cheap labor (which in Roman times meant slavery) and factional divisions between populists and establishment senators.”
Patrick Kurp reviews Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Stories: “Life in Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Stories is a biological imperative, nothing more. His world makes Beckett’s look homey. Morals, faith, and manners crystallize and blow away in the cold, dry air.”
The “mystical, moving” work of Osvaldo Licini: “He was in the stable of younger artists Guggenheim collected. Licini’s work is rare and much loved among Italian connoisseurs. It expresses an unusual vision and is a slice of the avant-garde unknown to Americans. Its small, spooky, and beguiling work teaches us some overlooked lessons.”
How does Catholic literature regain its influence? Not by turning to “beauty will save the world” clichés that beckon “us away from the culture wars and into the ‘disinterested’ pages of beautiful things,” Joshua Hren writes.
The return of tiny books: “This month, Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House, began releasing its first batch of mini books, with four reissued novels by the best-selling young-adult novelist John Green. The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin. They can be read with one hand — the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone.” Tiny books aren’t new, of course, and I’m not sure why they decided to print the text horizontally. Have you ever tried to flip “pages upward” as you’re holding a book sideways? I have. It’s a pain.
Essay of the Day:
At LitHub, Adam Kirsch writes about Lionel Trilling’s “moral” literary criticism:
“It is rare for a literary critic to remain alive for readers decades after his death—even rarer than for a novelist or a poet. Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) belonged to what Randall Jarrell called ‘the age of criticism,’ a time when the analysis and judgment of texts had a prestige that is hard to imagine today. Many of the leading figures of that golden age appear in the correspondence collected in this volume, as Trilling’s friends, colleagues, or antagonists. But only a few of them are still in print today, and fewer still have the ability to inspire devotion or argument.
“If Trilling is the exception, it is because his own position in the age of criticism was exceptional, even anomalous. He was not, like the New Critics Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, a close analyst of textual strategies—one reason why he seldom wrote about poetry. He was not a journalist-critic like Edmund Wilson and Alfred Kazin, helping to shape the public’s taste for new books and writers. Nor was he, after his first book, a literary historian like Newton Arvin or Leon Edel.
“Perhaps to describe Trilling as a literary critic at all, though inevitable, is somewhat misleading. (When the philosopher Etienne Gilson told him that he ‘wasn’t really a literary critic,’ Trilling responded with delight.) Really, he belonged to a different, though related, species: he was an intellectual, a thinker about society, politics, and ideas, who used literature as the medium of his investigations. Yet here, too, Trilling stands out from his contemporaries. Without a doubt, he was a charter member of the group known as the New York intellectuals—the writers, mostly first-generation American Jews, whose work filled the pages of Partisan Review and Commentary. He shared the eclectic approach of this group, as described by Irving Howe: ‘The kind of essay they wrote was likely to be wide-ranging in reference, melding notions about literature and politics, sometimes announcing itself as a study of a writer or literary group but usually taut with a pressure to ‘go beyond’ its subject, toward some encompassing moral or social observation.’
“Trilling, too, writes at what he famously called ‘the bloody crossroads’ of literature and politics. When he discusses Orwell’s honesty, or Keats’s affirmativeness, or Forster’s rejection of greatness, he is describing literary qualities that are at the same time visions of life and society.”
Photo: Sunset in Hong Kong
Poem: John Foy, “Bile”
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