Tag Archives: The Times Literary Supplement

The Hedgehog’s Array: March 18, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the past week:

“Homelessness and the Politics of Hope,” Sydney Morrow
“At what point ought we cease to hold people to a standard that they do not seem able or willing to maintain?”

“Viktor Shklovsky and the Horror Behind Ostranenie,” Alexandra Berlina
“When a scholar claims that ‘acute experience’ of the world is to be found in literature, one might suspect that his real life consists largely of book dust. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Shklovsky.”

“Home Economics,” Heather Boushey
“Today’s families need a new contract with their employers, one that provides stability in a world where we are interacting with the economy in new ways.”

“We Other Puritans,” Michael Robbins
“Successful genre work often recycles old tropes—the demons of adolescent sexuality have haunted folk literature for centuries. But The Witch is about as subtle as a jack in the box.”

“A Life in Letters,” Doris Grumbach
“Remember when, years ago, the waiter in an upscale restaurant would come to the table between courses and clear the cloth with a little plate and brush? Now I am doing this between memories, and the crumb I find there concerns a book I never wrote.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Polling the Soul,” Jeff Guhin
“Yet there’s another curious problem with Inventing American Religion, which is Wuthnow’s insistence that the problems of polling are somehow utterly separate from the broader problems of social science.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 4, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Dissolving the Dead,” Graeme Bayliss
“Bio-cremation is the funeral industry–approved term for alkaline hydrolysis, a method of corpse disposal in which lye and water are heated under pressure, dissolving flesh and leaving only bone fragments and whatever surgical oddments the body contained. The process is often faster than traditional cremation and costs about the same, and the end product takes up less space than a standard burial.”

“The Pyrrhonian Skeptic,” Richard Marshall and Katja Maria Vogt
“In the end, I guess the fact that we want knowledge and find it valuable doesn’t go away, even if knowledge is elusive.”

“As a God Might Be,” Meghan O’Gieblyn
“Among the modern-day Gnostics, says Gray, are the techno-futurists who believe that technology will usher in a state of spiritual perfection and emancipate us from our mortal forms. Many have contributed to this dubious gospel, but its chief prophet is Ray Kurzweil, who for several decades has been heralding the day when technological enhancement will facilitate unlimited knowledge, transforming humanity into an immortal and essentially divine super-race.”

“1916: The funeral of the Master,” Philip Horne
“James’s niece Peggy arrived in the first week in January. Her impression, she later told Edel, was that her uncle did have lucid intervals, but that whenever he said something characteristically Jamesian such as ‘“Now I must rest from my sensibilities and discriminations,” the nurses thought he was delirious.“‘

“Both Sides, Now,” Sam Sacks
“There’s no arguing with any of this because no argument has been made in the first place. Scott positions himself on both poles of each proposition so that he’s everywhere and nowhere at once, the Schrödinger’s cat of critics.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: December 11, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“The Divorce Colony,” April White
“To read the front pages of the country’s newspapers or sit in its church pews in 1892 was to know that the United States was facing a divorce epidemic. By one estimate, more divorces were granted in the United States than in all the rest of the Christian world combined.”

“Antigone in Galway,” Anne Enright
“The living can be disbelieved, dismissed, but the dead do not lie. We turn in death from witness to evidence, and this evidence is indelible, because it is mute.”

“He Really Was a Camera,” Katherine Bucknell
“Isherwood’s ambition is large; if he is a camera, like Lewis, he considers himself an artist as well. He adopts the posture of the English gentleman amateur, who prefers that nobody sees just how hard he is working as he smuggles into what was to be his third novel an unrecognized, American, democratic perspective and marries it to the leftist ideas in which he was then immersed.”

“Product Placement,” Lewis H. Lapham
“Although I never qualified for full membership in the company of Yale’s bohemian elect—it was known that I played golf, that my father had been tapped for Bones, that I was blind to the genius not only of Ginsberg but also of Joyce—I was by no means at a loss for instruction in the casting of a cold eye on human affectation and folly.”

“When Nothing Is Cool,” Lisa Ruddick
“Is there something unethical in contemporary criticism?”

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T. S. Eliot on Psychology and the Modern Novel

T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, June 1924. Via Wikimedia Commons.

T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, June 1924. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s not one of T. S. Eliot’s major works of criticism, and though it appeared in a French publication in 1927, the English version of “The Contemporary Novel” that he promised to Edmund Wilson at the New Republic was apparently lost. Recovered among his mother’s papers and soon to be published in the third volume of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, this seemingly slight essay on the novels of four contemporaries (D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, David Garnett, and Aldous Huxley) contains some strikingly canny observations about both modern fiction and certain tendencies in Western intellectual culture that persist to this day.

Eliot begins by quoting Henry James’s critical assessment of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories:

They are moral, and their interest is moral; they deal with something more than the mere accidents and conventionalities, the surface occurrences of life. The fine thing in Hawthorne is that he cared for the deeper psychology, and that, in his way, he tried to become familiar with it

Like James, Eliot appreciated Hawthorne for both his moral seriousness and his care for the “deeper psychology,” and he esteemed James for that very same conjunction of concerns. Indeed, Eliot suggests that what is most interesting about both writers is their shared assumption of a deep connection between psychological depth and moral seriousness, a connection that Eliot believed was becoming progressively de-linked in his own time, nowhere more obviously than in literary and intellectual understandings of psychology itself. Writes Eliot:

James’s book on Hawthorne was published in 1879. “Psychology” had not then reached the meaning of to-day, or if it had the meaning had not reached Henry James. One could not use the phrase now without surrounding it with a whole commentary of exposition and defence. But one feels that it is right; and that our contemporary novelists, under the influence of the shallower psychology by which we are all now affected, have missed that deeper psychology which was the subject of Henry James’s study.

To Eliot, the primary source of this new and shallower psychology was clear: the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud. “It would,” he wrote, “be a work for a more highly trained and specialized mind than my own, to trace the effect of psycho-analysis upon literature and upon life, within the last thirty years or so. This effect is probably both greater and more transient than we suppose.”

Transient, perhaps, but Eliot had no doubt about its decisive influence on the work of contemporary novelists, including the four that he addressed specifically in the essay:

All that I wish to affirm is that nearly every contemporary novel known to me is either directly affected by a study of psycho-analysis, or affected by the atmosphere created by psycho-analysis, or inspired by a desire to escape from psycho-analysis; and that, in each case, the result is a loss of seriousness and profundity, of that profundity which Henry James, if he did not always get it, was at least always after.

Was Eliot here revealing his own prudish fastidiousness? Was this the prim judgement of the Anglo-Catholic poet, horrified by Freud’s probing of the recessive, sexually driven workings of the human unconscious? It might seem so. But in words so elliptical as almost to obscure their intent, Eliot complicates his assessment of Freud (and our understanding of Eliot himself) by mentioning the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, implying that the Russian novelist’s understanding of human psychology was no less appreciative of the power of the unconscious than Freud’s, but still decisively different:

 It [the influence of psychoanalysis] would have to be distinguished from the influence of Dostoevski; or rather, one would have to reconstruct hypothetically what the influence of Dostoevski would or could have been had not one aspect of his work been tremendously reinforced by the coincidence of his vogue in western Europe with the rise of Freud.

The key phrase here is “one aspect.” More by implication than by explicit argument, Eliot credits Dostoevsky with peering into the abyss at least as intently as Freud and his acolytes did, but nevertheless coming away from the experience with a richer, fuller, and, yes, deeper understanding of human psychology. Dostoevsky did so precisely because he did not take such depths to be all-shaping or ultimately determinative. He did not reduce the complex dynamics of human motivation to one set of primal drives. He understood—and his greatest novels demonstrated—that human motivations were just as powerfully influenced and shaped by moral aspirations and spiritual longings. In short, in Eliot’s view, Dostoevsky resisted the seductions of reductivism that drew so many of the best modern minds toward a tragic misconstrual of the human person.

What Eliot was also getting at was a larger cultural-intellectual affliction: the seductions of ideas and ideologies. And it was precisely in his resistance to such seductions that Eliot saw James as such an exemplary artist and mind: of a kind that seemed, in Eliot’s view, to have largely disappeared after the death of James himself, in 1918. In that same year, Eliot wrote these words about James in The Little Review, words that merit reconsideration in light of the recently recovered essay:

James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation.

Jay Tolson is editor of the Hedgehog Review.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: July 24, 2014

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Duties of Care in the Study of Literature,” Alex Wong
“How can anyone choose, except at random, what to take for representative? The judgement, the recommendations, the selectiveness of past readers can become, in this matter, a practical aid; ‘can become’, and in reality always do, like it or not. We might as well like it.”

“Indulgences: Counted & Forfeited,” Maureen Mullarkey
“Like any childhood game, my variant of double-entry bookkeeping was played in earnest. Saturday afternoon confession took care of the debit side. My little ledger memorialized the credit side.”

“Caved-in and Chopfallen,” Brett Busang
“It is Witkin’s capacity to both reflect and transform that is his greatest gift. For those of us who look for America in its facades and factories, Witkin’s apocalyptic vision is not reassuring. The old gods have been toppled, but not replaced.”

“John Craske’s Embroidered Life,” Alexandra Harris
“It is hard to tell whether this is a simple or a complicated book: its power lies in its being both.”

“In Praise of Boredom,” Claire Messud
“The need for art, film, and literature to entertain becomes disturbingly pressing: that is its purpose. It’s the reason why we bother with it, and without a reason, who would bother?”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 20, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Purple Reign,” Chris Lehmann
“What Mayer is pleased to call the [Yahoo’s] stable of ‘digital magazines’ is, in reality, the barest of fig leaves for an orgy of sponsored content—i.e., copy commissioned, inspected, and (increasingly) edited by advertisers, and misleadingly packaged as reliable, independent journalism in order to win eyeballs and reader trust.”

“Will Predatory Lending Take Down More Colleges?,” Alan Smith
“Is Sweet Briar the canary in the coalmine? Banks are certainly making obscene profits on the backs of the swap deals in the UC system, at the University of Michigan, and at American University.”

“Advertisers Should Pay You,” Thomas R. Wells
“If advertisers had to negotiate directly with you, or at least your software agent, then they would have to start paying a price that would not leave you feeling violated. And at that price they would want to buy much less of your attention than they do at present.”

“Tolstoy Replays History,” Andrei Zorin
“Both Darwin and Marx presented their books to the reader not only as scientific discoveries, but as an important stage in their personal biographies. In the same manner Tolstoy was attempting a total explanation of the current state of Russia that had to be at one and the same time a panoramic historical reconstruction and an intellectual autobiography.”

“We Buy Broken Gold,” Clancy Martin
“I came by my own dishonest trade honestly.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: February 13, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“AA Envy,” Helen Andrews
“Why this special treatment for twelve-step programs? Because all the other moral languages in which modern Americans are fluent, the languages that sound so inspiring and correct when talking about politics, turn useless in the face of addiction.”

“One Wine, Two Wine, Red Wine, Blue Wine,” Damion Searls
“The most well-known color-translation problem is Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’—the sea rarely being, of course, what we would call the color of wine of any color.”

“A Place of Pasts,” Joseph Mitchell
“In the fall of 1968, without at first realizing what was happening to me, I began living in the past. These days, when I reflect on this and add up the years that have gone by, I can hardly believe it: I have been living in the past for over twenty years—living mostly in the past, I should say, or living in the past as much as possible.”

“Iammmmyookkraaanian,” Peter Pomerantsev
“After decades in Moscow with its aestheticised cynicism and London with its apolitical resignation, Kiev’s uprush of utopias was refreshing, and occasionally disturbing. Soon I found myself sitting in cafés scribbling my own pet utopia: Ukraine as a Russia 2.0.”

“A Clever Collection,” Matthew Walther
“We hit astonished, indeed open-mouthed, upon the truth, namely that the teenaged Austen was already a prudent, wise, humble person trying to make sense of a world full of boorishness and stupidity.”

“Your Snitching Gadgets,” Jacob Silverman
“Always-on data collection, combined with porous privacy policies and insecure devices, are changing our expectations for security and privacy. What matters now is not just what our devices and apps collect but also why, for whom, when, and how.”

“Why Max Weber Matters,” Duncan Kelly
“For those who hold fixed ideas about Weber the political animal, Ghosh’s claims will be hard reading. But part of the problem with seeing him as a straightforward nationalist was that even incandescent rage about national shame was allied to a profound understanding of geopolitics and political responsibility.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Cézanne and the Modern,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“Henry Pearlman liked to say that every time he saw his art collection, it gave him a lift. We should all be so lucky.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: January 23, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Instagram’s Graveyard Shift,” Jeff Sharlet
“When I was first drawn into this nighttime Insta­gram grid, I was looking for a distraction, for ­images to displace the thoughts that had agitated me to exhaustion. What I found instead was something that seemed descended from Walt Whitman’s ‘Democratic Vistas,’ his great prose poem of an essay that was really a proposal for a new kind of literature, a way of speaking, a way of seeing.”

“Confronting the Technological Society,” Samuel Matlack
“How did we reach a point where ‘nothing at all escapes technique today’? Ellul offers a long genealogy of technique, from primitive man to the Greeks and Romans, to Christianity, the early modern era, and lastly the Industrial Revolution, when technique finally came into ascendancy.”

“The Trouble With ‘It Girls,'” Anne Helen Petersen
“In naming someone an It girl, a publication is either hedging a bet (Gretchen Mol will be all that anyone’s talking about in 1998) or trendspotting (Cara Delevingne is everywhere in New York; you’ll be seeing her everywhere else soon).”

“Artificial Arms,” David Gelber
“England in the time of Shakespeare lived in a state of heraldic enchantment. The spell was cast at court, where participants in tournaments decked themselves in heraldic emblems and carried onto the field specially designed imprese expressing some cherished virtue.”

“The Hunting of Billie Holiday,” Johann Hari
“In the end, the Treasury Department told Anslinger he was wasting his time taking on a community that couldn’t be fractured, so he scaled down his focus until it settled like a laser on a single target—perhaps the greatest female jazz vocalist there ever was.”

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