Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Spring is here, though on this morning the morose Cardiff sky begs to differ. I have finished reading Thomas Merton‘s memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, and would highly recommend it. I have now picked up Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead, a first-person narrative that takes the form of a letter from an ageing Idaho Reverend to his young son. The novel is beautifully understated and really quite moving.

I recently interviewed the academic David Lloyd about his book on Samuel Beckett and art, entitled Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press). Lloyd shares his passion for Beckett’s writing, and traces the writer’s abiding fascination with painting (while also acknowledging his abiding friendships with a number of twentieth-century European artists). Among other things, Lloyd mentions Beckett’s visual memory: “Beckett had an amateur’s (in the best sense) deep knowledge of the Old Masters, from Flemish and German painters to Italian painters of the high Renaissance. […] He had remarkable visual recall: to give just one example, there is a St Sebastian by Antonello da Messina that he saw in Dresden in 1937 that he describes with astonishing accuracy and detail in a letter to Duthuit in 1948.”

Finally, I see that my friend Scott Eric Hamilton is guest-editing a forthcoming issue of The Parish Review, a journal celebrating the work of Flann O’Brien. It’s lovely to see that he is currently accepting submissions.

Autobiography is always negotiating two or more voices, speaking from separate and distinct moments in time. We can see this in what is perhaps the earliest example of modern autobiography, St Augustine‘s Confessions, where a present-day narrator attempts to reconstruct a previous life. In this way, autobiographical writing attempts to collapse the distance between childhood and adulthood, innocence and experience, and past and present.  (more…)

The Journal of Jules Renard, ed. and trans. Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget (Tin House Books, 2008).
The Journal of Jules Renard, ed. and trans. Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget (Tin House Books, 2008).

When in doubt, pick up Jules Renard. His journal is unrivalled. A few choice picks from today’s reading (translated from the French by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget):

  • On the ridiculous: ‘Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it’ (February 1890).
  • On André Gide: ‘He is clean-shaven, has a cold in the nose and throat, an exaggerated jaw, eyes between two welts. He is in love with Oscar Wilde, whose photograph I perceive on the mantel: a fleshy gentleman, very refined, also clean-shaven, who has recently been discovered’ (December 1891).
  • On Oscar Wilde: ‘Oscar Wilde next to me at lunch. He has the oddity of being an Englishman. He gives you a cigarette, but he selects it himself’ (April 1892).
  • On criticising others: ‘All our criticism consists of reproaching others with not having the qualities that we believe ourselves to have’ (July 1895).
  • On observing nature: ‘I want my ear to be a shell that keeps in itself all the sounds of nature’ (September 1895).
  • On modesty: ‘Be modest! It is the kind of pride least likely to offend’ (September 1895).

Rain, wind, moments of bright sunshine. Continuing to enjoy Thomas Merton‘s The Seven Storey Mountain: having completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia, he is now studying William Blake‘s poetry at postgraduate level.

Early handwritten manuscript for William Faulkner 'A Rose for Emily'
Early handwritten manuscript for William Faulkner ‘A Rose for Emily’

Rain. I walk to work every day, so adverse weather conditions require no small degree of ingenuity. Angling my umbrella towards the wind, I found a dry route through the city’s main shopping centre. As I neared the main building, I happened to chat briefly with several former students, and my former boss.

I see that the University of Virginia is hosting an exhibition celebrating the life and work of American writer William Faulkner. The website offers a wonderful glimpse of the materials on display, including photographs, garments, and an early handwritten manuscript of ‘A Rose for Emily’. Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to explore ‘Digital Yoknapatawpha’, an interactive virtual tour of Faulkner’s fictional Mississippi county. The exhibition runs until 7 July.

Reading Thomas Merton‘s The Seven Storey Mountain. Having left Cambridge University under somewhat mysterious circumstances, Merton is now studying literature at Columbia in the US. His grandfather, ‘Pop’, has died suddenly. Merton writes: ‘In the last year or two we had drawn rather close together. He often got me to come to lunch with him downtown and there he would tell me all his troubles, and talk over the prospects of my future’.

 

12403-franz-kafka-max-brodOvercast, but bright. The marine layer has moved in over the city. Watching political commentators reflect on the unfolding of the Trump administration—particularly impressed by the insights of MSNBC reporters Rachel MaddowKatie Tur, Joy ReidChris Hayes, Kasie Hunt and Chuck Todd.

Robert Cohen has written Franz Kafka‘s ‘Budget Guide to Florence’, filed under The Paris Review‘s ‘Department of Tomfoolery’. It includes a vital piece of Kafkaesque advice: ‘In the struggle between one’s self and the world, bet on the world.’

Meeting friends for coffee, and hoping to find some time to read Thomas Merton.

Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton
Bright morning. Watching American news broadcasts. Currently reading Thomas Merton‘s journals, and was reminded that he entered the monastic order during the Second World War (c. 1941).

Attended a fascinating talk by Professor Chris Weedon yesterday evening at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University. The talk was entitled ‘The Cultural Politics of Memory: the Case of GDR’, and explored what often gets forgotten in accounts of the German Democratic Republic.

In an insightful piece for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino revisits Ivanka Trump‘s 2009 self-help book The Trump Card. Tolentino observes: ‘Ivanka’s aesthetic differences from her father are often parsed as political differences, and she has made the most of such misperceptions.’

Michiko Kakutani has listed George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a must-read for 2017.