RIP Karl Miller, one of the founders of The London Review of Books and an editor of the magazine for thirteen years. Originally meant to fill a vacuum left by a strike at the Times Literary Supplement, the LRB grew into “the liveliest, the most serious and also the most radical literary magazine we have,” in Alan Bennett’s words.
But if procrastination is so clearly a society-wide, public condition, why is it always framed as an individual, personal deficiency? Why do we assume our own temperaments and habits are at fault — and feel bad about them — rather than question our culture’s canonization of productivity?
Michael Robbins is our contemporary poet laureate for beautiful sins of language. The New Republic calls Robbins a prankster. He rather reminds me of that whiskey priest, his lines by turns abrasive and aphoristic, but never apathetic.
It’s a question that puzzles writers of all stripes: why is so much academic writing so terrible? It’s an issue that’s been a lifelong head-scratcher for the linguist Steven Pinker, who set out to answer the question once and for all. His verdict? It has to do with the meaning of “literary style.”
In general, we think of translators as people whose job, briefly summarized, is to create elegant texts out of works in foreign languages. But J.R.R. Tolkien, in his translation of Beowulf, set out to do something different. The Lord of the Rings author published a translation that he kept intentionally clunky. Why? In his telling, he did it to better imitate Old English.
I am going to try to convince you that The Novel is one of the most important works of both literary history and criticism to be published in the last decade, surpassing even such monumental works as Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’s A New Literary History of America and John Sutherland’s The Lives of the Novelists. The reason Schmidt’s book is so effective and important has to do with its approach, its scope, and its artistry, which all come together to produce a book of such varied usefulness, such compact wisdom, that it’ll take a lot more than a few reviews to fully understand its brilliant contribution to literary study.
In the end, no special effects, dazzling displays, augmented realities, or multimodal cross-platform designs substitute for content. Scholarship, good scholarship, the work of a lifetime commitment to working in a field — mapping its references, arguments, scholars, sources, and terrain of discourse — has no substitute.
I think writing about the real world, as we live in it today, is very difficult; many writers try to escape it. But then what books will be the classics from our generation? Which of them will be the commentaries on our lot?
"If Michon’s imaginative exercise demonstrates anything, it’s that language can indeed hold its own against the vibrant swirl of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes.” Our own Matt Seidel reviews Alessandro Baricco's Mr. Gwyn and the art of literary portraiture.