[Eurrrghhhh! I had a lovely, long post all ready to go after about an hour's work in a very busy day, and then Blogger wouldn't save and Firefox froze. Boo to both Blogger and Firefox! So nearly the whole post disappeared. Try to believe in the former brilliance of the "lost post" while reading my attempts at reconstructing it ...]


Critical Mass, the blog of the National Books Critics Circle (or, perhaps I should say, of their Board of Directors), has declared a project after my own heart: every week for the next 658 weeks, they will highlight one of their prize's finalists and winners with reviews, critical essays, interviews, etc. until they have reached the end of the list (which is current 658 books long). But what, I have to ask, being unusually familiar with the tricksiness of these projects, will they do as the list grows longer with every passing year? Surely, over the next 12 years this project is currently anticipated to take, the list will exceed the boundaries currently set for it. Ah, delightful.


I am probably the last blogger on earth to encounter Brotherhood 2.0, two very witty brothers who have decided (after discovering that their conversations had been reduced to a series of IMs and emails) to spend a year communicating only non-textually, and specifically by means of a joint video blog. As for those of you who have yet to experience their daily video exchanges, I warn you with all possible sternness that they are utterly addictive.

And now I am filled with sadness and regret that their project is almost two-thirds of the way over. Sigh....


Is the U.S.A.'s literature post-colonial? The Empire Writes Back, an influential introduction to the field of post-colonial studies, says yes, adding that "its relationship with the metropolitan centre as it evolved over the last two centuries has been paradigmatic for post-colonial cultures everywhere" (2). I myself would give this answer: it depends on the context and concerns of the specific work.

Do the novels, poems, and plays of the U.S. regularly engage with our colonial past, or with the residue left by the appropriation of land and resources by the imperial powers who settled our nation? Does American (by which I mean, in this context, U.S.) literature frequently interrogate its anxious relationship to the culture of our colonial relatives, continually questioning what the appropriate relationship to Spanish and British culture is, and whether it is superior or inferior to our own? I think the answer would have to be "no" to both of these questions, which form the foundations of what is awkwardly known as "post-colonial literature" (as if the era of exploitation is neatly contained by the past, or the topics of colonial exchange and inheritance are the only issues of any interest to the regions in question).

On the other hand, are there significant strains of American literature that do engage with these questions? Certainly. Are these works post-colonial in their concerns and references? Sure! (I am really enjoying the call-and-response-with-myself style of tonight's post. What can I say? I'm an only child. As Whitman would say, I contain multitudes.)

I would love to hear other ideas about this question - can the U.S. be included in the cultural and political designation "post-colonial"? If so, how is that reflected in our attitudes and artistic expressions?

I am reminded of the time when I advised a medievalist I knew slightly, while he was agonizing over what to say at a job talk for which he had been senselessly given the topic "Post-colonial Britain," that he should begin his lecture with this bold statement: "Britain has always been a post-colonial culture." He could then, I added, go on to talk about the Roman and Norman conquests, the Viking presence, various waves of assault and occupation, and the continued history of ethnic, linguistic and religious difference in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. His talk could then culminate in a discussion about the dynamic new cultural diversity of the U.K.'s population, and the oddly (or not) simultaneous growth of regional bonds of identity based on sport, industry, political devolution, etc.

Judging by the look on his face as I proposed this strategy to him, I am not convinced that he ultimately took me up on it....


Crow's feet around the eyes are the primary indicator of a sincere smile. Who knew?

Well, cognitive psychologists, that's who.


The Phrontisery is exactly what I needed when I was reading The Road. When is the next time I am going to require constant access to a dictionary of rare and obsolete words? Maybe I should start actively seeking out situations that will supply me with that need...


At first today felt like it was going to be a sonnet day, but then Petrarch seemed too precious, Shakespeare too familiar, the modern sonneteers too unfamiliar and difficult for the lateness of the hour, and Sidney too absent from my usual internet haunts to be easily accessed in an immediately reliable form.

So instead I turned to a different genre of poem entirely, a new-to-me work by a favorite poet: Anna Akhmatova. Here is an excerpt from her poem "Lot's Wife," beautifully translated (although, not being a Russian speaker, I can't vouch for its fidelity) by Max Hayward and Stanley Kunitz (found in its entirety here):

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
"Flaked," in the first of these stanzas, is such a delicate, unusual verb choice. And I had never thought, before reading the second stanza, that Lot's Wife and Orpheus and Eurydice were expressions of the same archetype - that is, of the hairline fracture of faith that is exposed and widened by exposure to sensual and emotional temptation. In Mme. Lot's case, of course, the resulting loss is of life (a return to the purely mineral, the deprived-of-choice), while in Orpheus's it is of love. In both tales, the women bear the brunt of the punishment. Or perhaps not: did Eurydice in fact want to be dragged back to the world of the living, forced to face the dread of dying yet again?

What is remarkable about the final stanza of the poem is that Akhmatova figures this archetypal turning-back almost heroically, but more pointedly as a profoundly human act of choice. The phrase "deny her" has a double meaning in English, encompassing both the sense of refusing Mme. Lot the right to choice that includes the freedom to change her mind, and the idea of repudiating any knowledge of or bond with her (as, most famously, Peter thrice denied Christ). Furthermore, this insertion of choice calls into question the motivation of Lot's wife, and, for that matter, Orpheus. Is it enough to call this "doubt" and "faithlessness"? Is it an expression of individualism? A need to verify the unfolding of events against the proof of one's own perception?

A delicate interrogation of the true nature of weakness in what we are told is an archetype of failure.


This is a mad week of work, so I am still in the midst of The Guardians (but almost done, I promise). In excellent news, I received my ARC of Empire Rising from HarperCollins yesterday. More on it in a future "In other news," since I am far too exhausted to recreate this section of the great lost post. Apologies if there are more typos than usual in today's ramblings - remember the lost brilliance that was and curse the name of freezing browsers.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Melwyk says:

    Curse frozen servers. I feel for your loss!
    Still. This Akhmatova poem is so beautiful; in Sunday school I never understood why Lot's wife looking at the destruction of the city with sorrow/empathy was a bad thing. I only wish I could have expressed such ponderings with Akhmatova's skill.

  2. Thanks, melanie! It is nice to get such kind comments, since I am engaged in a bit of a comment-scuffle over at the "F for Fake" post. I honestly can't understand how it got started.

    I think I may have to return to the Biblical story of Lot's wife sometime soon, since the poem opened up so many possibilities about it in my mind. I am glad that you enjoyed it! (I say, taking credit for a brilliance which is entirely Akhmatova's. :) )

  3. Anonymous says:

    Oy, you didn't know about the Green brothers? I am deeply remiss as a friend! Did you see Accio Deathly Hallows yet?

  4. Anonymous says:

    A tip (too little too late): use Wordpad (on PC; TextWrangler's mine on a Mac) to compose blog posts. Save periodically, then paste into Blogger at the very end. Browser-based is so ephemeral - one wrong key combination and poof! - all gone.

    Love Akhmatova.

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