I am deep in the dual labyrinths of teaching Ulysses and watching March Madness, and I have to admit that I am finding these to be two of the most narratively rich experiences I have had in some time. I have also developed a bit of a team crush on Davidson, another North Carolinian team who are in the midst of a Cinderella surge in the NCAA tournament thanks to their star player, the delightfully childlike Stephen Curry, who has made three 3-pointers in a row since I began typing this post a couple of minutes ago. What a charmer he is.
And of course, this is only compounded by the fact that Davidson was responsible for sending Georgetown home in the last round. Georgetown has been my back-up nemesis (understudy to Duke, of course) since they sent us home ignominiously, soul-shatteringly in last year's Elite Eight round. Now that both Duke and Georgetown have been knocked out of the tourney, I feel dreadfully lost. How am I to get at any sense of self-definition without a nemesis? I am utterly unmoored without my ire.
Art can be a perilous craft, and not merely because of the famous fickleness of the muse. The inspired leader of an Uzbek theatre company (which is contrarian and avant-garde to the point of dissidence) was assassinated outside of his home late last year, but his colleagues are still stoically touring. Their work sounds quite fascinating.
Meanwhile, a Russian artist named Anna Mikhalchuk, who had been persecuted for art her opponents called "blasphemous," has disappeared from her Berlin home. Very worrisome.
I can understand the appeal of the book-as-art-object or of a really stunningly crafted tome, but is there any bibliotrend tackier than the "superbook"? I have two separate reactions of revulsion: On the one hand, consider how many books (new, shiny, author-supporting volumes or used tomes rich in history) you could buy with the $2000-$15,000 one of these superbooks costs. On the other, it is utterly alien to my experience of reading to think of owning a book that is always kept under a "crystalline tower case." Surely the point of a really beautifully made folio is that it enhances all the sensory pleasures of reading a book? Still, if there were a spare Shakespeare quarto looking for a good home, I might consider taking it in and keeping it in a crystalline tower.
Tom Stoppard's politics have always been a source of unease for lefties like me who love his work. Still, much of what he says, in his art and in his own persona, seems more classically, idealistic liberal than truly reactionary. Maybe this is what really makes readers like me uncomfortable: our own unease with the possibility that we might fall under the much maligned rubric of liberalism when we really wish we were radicals. In this article on the 1968 protests and riots, Stoppard's distaste is startling but ultimately commonsensical. I love this anecdote:
In 2005 I interviewed a film-maker in Belarus who had been beaten up by state security for the usual reasons and he said a few things which were remarkably like a speech I had just written for a Czech Anglophile in Rock’n’Roll.
What the film-maker in Minsk told me was this: “The fact that you can call your prime minister a liar and a criminal is not [an attack on] his virtue, it is your virtue.” The article that I subsequently wrote about Belarus was published almost on the very day that Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year-old Labour party member, was forcibly ejected from the party conference for heckling the foreign secretary. I received a gleeful postcard from Harold Pinter.
I have made NO pleasure-reading progress lately. Boo to me. Blame the minotaurs with whom I am doing battle at the heart of my labyrinths of March and Joyce Madness. So my short term reading list remains:
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
- To Hate Like This is to Be Happy Forever by Will Blythe
- Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga
- The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
- Ulysses by James Joyce