May 2021 Reading & Writing

Best of what I've been reading, from essays to short stories to interviews.


Reouverture week in Paris, finalement. Cafe terraces open for reading and museums open for contemplative walks, it takes a certain willpower to resist the constant temptation to leave home. After visits to a couple of art exhibitions, a film on Françoise Sagan + interviews with her proved to be a good pastime during a slow Saturday.

William Eggleston, Untitled,  (Glass on Plane)
William Eggleston, Untitled, (Glass on Plane)

#literature #essay | Know Thyself by Meghan O’Gieblyn via The Paris Review

An essay on how we perceive ourselves and search to know our true identity.

“‘Our identity “is implicit in everything we say and do,” writes Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, but we cannot see it ourselves. “On the contrary, it is more than likely that the ‘who,’ which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.'”

“Everyone believes they are the foremost authority on their own soul. For millennia, philosophers have argued otherwise. Plotinus was the first to point out that self-knowledge entails a weird self-doubling. If we are able to know ourselves, who is doing the knowing? And what is it, exactly, that is known? Schopenhauer called this predicament Weltknoten, the “world knot,” a paradox that many modern philosophers have solved by eliminating, wholesale, the interior view. The self is a bourgeois construct, a grammatical mistake, a software program designed to model potential actions and assess their survival payoffs.”

“Marshall McLuhan once pointed out that the myth of Narcissus is frequently misinterpreted. It is not love that causes the youth to stare at his image, but profound alienation. The point of the myth is that ‘men at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than themselves.’ Stare too long at the objectivized self and you will become the dead matter you behold.”

#literature #review | Lost, at Sea, at Odds, Sigrid Nunez reviewing Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel Whereabouts, via the New York Review of Books

#literature #review #biography | Russian Metamorphoses, Rachel Polonsky on the early 20th-century Russian literary star Teffi, via The New York Review of Books

#cinema #literature #interview | The Paris Review interview with Françoise Sagan

+ a Guardian article on Sagan’s life and work

+ a biographical film on her life filled with charming people, lucky chances and destructive addictions


Immersed in and enchanted by John Cage’s mushroom book, was reading little else. Also, just as captivated by some essays by Hélène Cixous, collected in her book titled Stigmata. The former demands for a review of its own, sharing some passages (pas sages – Cixous) from Stigmata.

#Book | Stigmata by Hélène Cixous

Link to the entire book in PDF format.

I read the essays in English, yet the wordplay (worldplay) in their original language – French – is part of Cixous’ writing magic. Quoting: “Only words in love sow [Seul les mots qui s’aiment sèment]. Clandestine semantics.”

#Essay | Without End no State of Drawingness no, rather: The Executioner’s Taking off

“I want the beforehand of a book.”

“I want the forest before the book, the abundance of leaves before the pages, I love the creation as much as the created no, more.”

“I advance error by error, with erring steps, by the force of error. It’s suffering, but it’s joy.

“I seek the truth, I encounter error. How do I recognize error? It is obvious, like truth. Who tells me? My body. Truth gives us pleasure. It makes us burst out laughing, trembling. Blushing. It’s hot. It’s like this: I grope. I try the word ‘hesitation.’ I taste it. No pleasure. No taste. I cross it out. I try: ‘correction.’ I taste. No. I taste ten words. Finally I fall for the word ‘essay.’ Before even trying I sense a pretaste… I taste. And, that’s it! Its taste is strong and fine and rich in memories of pleasure.”

“Truth strikes us. Opens our heart. Our lips. Error makes us sense the absence of taste. Drops us like a dead person, apathetic tongue, dry eyes. Error really can’t fool us.”

“The instant is a drama without a stage.”

“We live more quickly than ourselves, the pen doesn’t follow. To paint the present which is passing us by, we stop the present.
One cannot after all write a book with only one stroke, of only one page, and yet we should.
But we are born for lateness.”

#Essay | Love of the Wolf

“For us, eating and being eaten belong to the terrible secret of love. We love only the person we can eat. The person we hate we ‘can’t swallow.’ That one makes us vomit. Even our friends are inedible.”

“Loving is wanting and being able to eat up and yet to stop at the boundary. And there, at the tiniest beat between springing and stopping, in rushes fear.”

“Now the wolf can no longer break away from the lamb, for the lamb retains, for better or worse, traces of the gift. That which is given in love can never be taken back. It is me my entire self that I give with the gift of love. This is why the wolf can’t stop loving the lamb, the chosen one. Repository of the wolf. All of the wolf. That’s how love can ruin the lover.”

#Essay | Writing Blind

“Between night and day there is a long vivacious but fragile region where one can sleep even while baing awake, where even standing on two legs one is still a phantom, where the doors do not yet exist in us between the two kindgoms, where what will be past survives, lingers, stays.”

“Millions of signs rain down and in their flood they stick to one another, they kiss.”


The best reviews and critiques are universal while subjective. The author should consider (or hint at his ability to consider) every possible angle before reaching their personal verdict. One thing that often bothers me when reading argumentative essays is their author’s nonobjectivity, the entitlement of belonging to a certain social group, obliviousness of their blindness towards the broader vista. One such occasion was reading Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry this week. While the author’s exploration into the poetry’s ideal holds an interesting course, the fact that “universal” for him only concerns the US casts a shadow of ignorance too obvious to ignore. An interesting discussion regretfully limited by American self-importance.

#art #review #essay | Light in the Palazzo, Ingrid D. Rowland on the Torlonia collection via The New York Review of Books

On the world’s greatest private collection of ancient sculptures hidden from public view for centuries, now finally on display in Rome. Via The New York Review of Books

“Decked out in neoclassical splendor, the Torlonia Museum opened in 1876, but only to visitors inscribed in the Golden Book of Italian Nobility, a manuscript in the Central State Archive in Rome that provided the definitive list of Italian peerage.”

“In October 2020, after years of negotiation, ninety-one Torlonia Marbles (and the bronze), newly restored and carefully analyzed, emerged from their decades of captivity to inaugurate a newly refurbished wing of Rome’s Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Caffarelli, built over the site of the colossal ancient temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces,” an exhibition curated by two eminent classicists, Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri, and designed by the English architect David Chipperfield, opened several months late because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

#literature #review | The Self Unmoored, Leslie Jamison on Susan Taubes’ novel Divorcing, via The New York Review of Books

Susan Taubes, daughter of a renowned Hungarian psychoanalyst, granddaughter of the Grand Rabbi of Budapest, close friend of Susan Sontag, mother, woman, writer. Author of the novel Divorcing, a story about a woman’s quest to find her I and find her peace.

Leslie Jamison does a remarkable job reviewing Divorcing, the essay amounting to a literary ode while interrogating her own psyche.

“If only she could make up her mind about being in so many worlds. But she was of many minds. One mind said: I like to stay where I am. Where I am is the right place. Another mind liked to travel. It loved to be surprised; to lie down in one bed and wake up in another, in another country, another person…. Her third mind said you have to be careful.”

#art #review | The artworks of Paula Rego, reviewed by Adrian Searle of a 2019 show at the Milton Keynes gallery in London, via the Guardian

I’m unsure how the Portuguese artist Paula Rego’s name reached my ears, but I’m glad that it did. Since, I have googled it several times, browsing her fantastical yet somewhat threatening artworks.

#literature #essay | Picture Books as Doors to Other Worlds, by Elissa Washuta via The Paris Review

On her childhood quest to unearth and conjure hidden doorways into a parallel world of magic and wonder.

“In Anne Lindbergh’s Travel Far, Pay No Fare, two children use a magic bookmark to go into the worlds of books. Inside one, a woman says, “Houses aren’t the only things with windows. Time and space may well have them too.” I collected library bookmarks and tried every one, hoping to travel across the threshold of the page. I even made my own, carefully lettered with the words from the book: Travel far, / Pay no fare, / Let a story / Take you there!”

“I couldn’t get it to work, so I reread the book periodically, looking for a missed step in the instructions. I found my answer in A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. The journey between worlds was a tesseract, travel in the fifth dimension, possible only by the thoroughly initiated, which I was not. “Playing with time and space is a dangerous game,” says the protagonist’s father. “It’s a frightening as well as an exciting thing to discover that matter and energy are the same thing, that size is an illusion, and that time is a material substance. We can know this, but it’s far more than we can understand with our puny little brains.””

“All these books illuminated small pieces of the same set of principles. There were too many connections for the magic not to be real. The books never taught me to travel to other worlds, so I began to wonder whether I could manipulate this one.”

#art #essay | Women Artists and the Looking Glass, Jennifer Higgie via Frieze

On how the mirror’s mass production changed the course of art history – and liberated female artists.

“Mirrors, as we know them, are a relatively modern invention; until the mid-19th century they were a luxury item. The earliest ones, which were discovered in Çatal Hüyük, in modern-day Turkey, date from around 6,200 BCE and are made from highly polished obsidian: looking into one is like gazing into black water. (This is apt: still, dark water, as the myth of Narcissus looking at his own reflection in a pool attests, could be considered the first mirror.)”

“The oldest copper mirrors are from Iran and date from around 4,000 BCE; not long after, the Ancient Egyptians began making them, too; the Romans crafted mirrors from blown glass with lead backing. By 1,000 BCE, mirrors – in various shapes, from different materials and for different ends – were made throughout the world: by the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Romans, in Siberia, China and Japan. In Central and South America, the Aztec, Inca, Maya and Olmec civilizations all used them, for both personal and spiritual aims; in many cultures, mirrors were believed to be magical objects that granted access to supernatural knowledge.”

“During Britain’s Iron Age – from about 800 BCE to the Roman invasion of 49 CE – mirrors were made from bronze and iron. When glass-blowing was invented in the 14th century, hand-held convex mirrors became popular. In 1438, Johannes Gutenberg opened a mirror-making business in Strasbourg; six years later, he invented the printing press. There’s a symbolic connection between the two: both allow access to other dimensions, reflect the world back on itself and stimulate the expansion of knowledge.”

#literature #review | Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Irina Dumitrescu reviewing Eula Biss’s essay collection Having and Being Had via The New York Review of Books.

On the moral dilemmas of ownership and privilege. Also, wrote my own brief review here. The verdict? – recommend.