June 2021 | Reading & Writing

Best of what I've been reading, watching, listening.


César & César & César at Almine Rech Gallery
César & César & César at Almine Rech Gallery

Exhibitions seen this week: the sweeping color landscapes by Hans Hartung at Galerie Perrotin and the sculptures by the French sculptor César, exhibited at César & César & César at Almine Rech.

#book #literature | The Actual by Saul Bellow

This novella, written by Bellow in his later years, follows a couple of days in the lives of New York’s rich and retired businessmen-slash-socialites. I much preferred Bellow’s Herzog and More Die of Heartbreak, the novella at hand seemed a few layers short of depth.

#book #literature | Index Cards by Moyra Davey

You either like the Sebaldian essayist writing, reading the author who’s all-encompassingly immersed in satisfying their curiosity around a specific topic. Or you don’t. The books entailing a collection of literary essays on subjects like arts and culture are one of my favorite forms. Moyra Davey’s essay collection ranges between photography, writing, and visual arts. Each essay is a permission and a purpose for Davey to delve into the works of her favorite authors and to craft their thoughts, quotes, and her own ideas into a meditation on the subject.

The way Davey describes her multifarious reading habits is highly relatable.

“Reading is a favorite activity, and I often ponder its phenomenology. … Sometimes it feels like a literal ingestion, a bulimic gobbling up of words as though they were fast food. At other times I read and take notes in a desultory, halting, profoundly unsatisfying way. And my eyes hurt.”

Some other notes n’ quotes from the book:

“I think we ought to read only the books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? … What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the deaath of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” – Kafka

“If randomness determines the universe it might a well determine my reading too.” – John Cage

“We participate in the creation of the world by correlating ourselves.” – Simone Weil

“Light writing” is the Greek origin of the word “photography,” and Henry Fox Talbot used the expression of “words of light” to describe his first photographs. In Camera Lucida Barhes gives us a possible Latin equivalent for “photograph”: imago lucis opera expressa, an image “expressed (like the juice of a lemon) by the action of light.”

“Most photographers have always had an almost superstitious confidence in the lucky accident.” – Susan Sontag

“All the canonical works of photography retain some trace of the medium’s underlying, life-giving accident-proneness.” – Janet Malcolm

As such essay collections go, it left me with a long list of books to read next.


Jacquet Alain, L’enlèvement d’Europe (1965)

Exhibitions seen in the past two weeks: Alain Jacquet at Galerie Perrotin, Elles font l’abstraction at the Centre Pompidou, Les origines du monde at musée d’Orsay.

#literature #culture #bookreview | The Best Minds, Marjorie Perloff reviewing Louis Menand’st latest book The Free World, via Times Literary Supplement

Of Menand’s encyclopedic overview of the Western post-war culture, from the art of Polllock to the avant-garde compositions of Cage to the philosophy of Sartre and Arendt. The subjects covered also cover theater and poetry among others. As Perloff notes: “I recall only too well those days when studying literature was considered an important and valuable pursuit, when – yes – ideas mattered, poetry mattered.” Then, things changed fast.

#literature #book | Ways of Re-thinking Literature, edited by Tom Bishop & Donatien Grau 

The essay collection owes its existence to a 2013 international conference titled “Re-thinking Literature,” held at New York University’s Center for French Civilization and Culture. Grau and Bishop provided a platform for leading literary thinkers to contemplate the state of literature – “la grande étrangère” to use M. Foucault’s words – in the 21th century.

The brief essays cover topics ranging from anthropology to philosophy to poetry; the new considerations about the novel and the concept of “literature,” contemporary writing and its prospects. The essays I enjoyed the most were by Dodie Bellamy, Tom Bishop, and Tristan Garcia.

Tristan Garcia’s essay What Becomes of the Novel When the Gods Are Coming Back explored the secularization of literature and looked for hints of religion and spirituality in the modern literary tradition. He quotes George Lukács’ observation 1915 essay Theory of the Novel: “The novel is the epic of a world abandoned by God.”

Tom Bishop puts under his poetic magnifying glass the nature of avant-garde in theater and arts, telling an anecdote of Sergey Diaghilev, crossing the Place de la Concorde during World War I with a friend, being pestered by young Jean Cocteau. To get rid of him, Diaghilev said: “Etonne moi,” “Astonish me.” Exploring the avant-gardist predilection for revolting against the status quo, Garcia quotes Eugene Ionesco:

“While most writers, artists, and thinkers believe they belong to their time, the revolutionary playwright feels he is running counter to his time. As a matter of fact, thinkers, artists, and so on, after a certain time only make use of ossified forms; they feel they are becoming more and more firmly established in some ideological, artistic, or social order which to them seems up to date but which in fact is already tottering and yawning with unsuspected cracks.

An avant-garde man is like an enemy inside a city he is bent on destroying against which he rebels; for like any system of government, an established form of expression is also a form of oppression. The avant-garde man is the opponent of the existing system, He is a critic of, and not an apologist for, what exists now.

It is easy to criticize the past particularly when the prevailing regime is tolerant and encourages you to do it; but this is only to sanctify ossification and kowtow to tyranny and convention.”

#art #painting | The nature mortes of Antoine Berjon

Discovery from the Les origines du monde exhibition at Orsay: the seashell paintings by Antoine Berjon. Wikipedia wisdom: Antoine Berjon was a French painter and designer, among the most important flower painters of 19th-century France.

Antoine Berjon seashells
Still lives with seashells by Antoine Berjon