I recently finished re-reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, one of my favourite books. Now, I am dipping into the multi-volume edition of his letters. All of the books are secondhand copies, and I am sure that some of them have their own stories to tell. My copy of the first volume once sat on the shelves of a branch of The New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue in Mid-Manhattan.
The letters are collected according to theme. There’s a volume of correspondence covering Merton‘s close friendships; there’s one devoted to poetry, literature, and the vocation of writing; and yet another two that deal with religious experience. The fifth and final volume collects together his letters on “Times of Crisis”. I think I might start with that one.
Sad to hear that Deirdre Bair, who wrote the first major biography of Samuel Beckett, has died at the age of 84. Her work continues to exert an influence on contemporary Beckett scholarship, to say nothing of its inspiration to modern practitioners and performers of his writing. She also wrote a biographies of Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs Nin, Carl Jung, Saul Steinberg and Al Capone. Most recently, she was the author of Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir. She will be sorely missed.
Neil Genzlinger has written an obituary for Bair in The New York Times.
“The first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected. In fact, disasters, I found while living through a medium-sized one (the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area) and later writing about major ones (including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan), are crash courses in those connections. At moments of immense change, we see with new clarity the systems – political, economic, social, ecological – in which we are immersed as they change around us. We see what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t.”
Rebecca Solnit, ‘The impossible has already happened’, in The Guardian, 7 April 2020.
The coronavirus has sparked a widespread cultural revaluation of writers who touched on themes of solitude in their work. Holland Carter takes a look at Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, and suggests that “there’s plenty to learn from standing still”. Source: The New York Times.
“Any adversity makes artists move closer to what is important, essential. Only time can show what fruits will such a focusing on the essential bear.”
In a new interview, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt suggests what the coronavirus might mean for society and the arts. Source: Arvo Pärt Centre.
“I translate it in my head as ‘far away from here’, the longing to be elsewhere.”
In a recent interview with Granta, Teju Cole discusses his new book of photographs, Fernweh (literally, ‘far-woe’). Source: Granta Magazine.