Happy Birthday, Louise Erdrich

Read the full article here | The Paris Review

…. So he was able at last to remove the child from its wrappings and bathe it, a girl, and to hold her. He’d never done such a thing before.

First he tried to feed her a tiny piece of the rabbit. She was too young to manage. He dripped water into her mouth, made sure it trickled down, but was perplexed at what to feed her, then alarmed when, after a night of deprivation, her tiny face crumpled in need. She peered at him in expectation and, at last, violently squalled. Her cries filled a vastness that nothing else could. They resounded, took over everything, and brought his heart clean to the surface. Scranton Roy cradled the baby, sang lewd camp tunes, then stalwart hymns, and at last remembered his own mother’s lullabies. Nothing helped.

It seemed, when he held her close upon his heart as women did, that the child grew angry with longing and desperately clung, rooted with its mouth, roared in frustration, until at last, moved to near insanity, Roy opened his shirt and put her to his nipple.

She seized him. Inhaled him. Her suck was fierce. His whole body was astonished, most of all the inoffensive nipple he’d never noticed or appreciated until, in spite of the pain, it served to gain him peace. As he sat there, the child holding part of him in its mouth, he looked around just in case there should be any witness to this act which seemed to him strange as anything that had happened in this skyfilled land. Of course, there was only the dog. Contented, freed, it lolled appreciatively near. So the evening passed and then the night.

Scranton Roy was obliged to change nipples, the first one hurt so, and he fell asleep with the baby tucked beside him on his useless teat.

She was still there in the morning, stuck, though he pulled her off to slingshot a partridge, roasted that too, and smeared its grease on his two sore spots. That made her wild for him….

— excerpt from The Antelope Wife


[I figured I was all washed-up when I learned I was going to have another baby at forty-six. I thought, Oh, the hell with it. I’m never going to get out of this. But before she was born, I had all of this pent-up desperation and I wrote The Master Butchers Singing Club.

I’d always wanted to write that book….]


The Sanctity of the First Amendment

[A rather uneventful college commencement season full of the usual platitudes and bromides was shaken up by British novelist Ian McEwan’s refreshingly challenging the zeitgeist of trigger warnings, free-speech zones, and campus censorship at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania this week. McEwan did not shy away from addressing the current temper on campus, choosing to focus on the creeping group-think in faculty lounges and discussion sections instead of the all too easy targets of Russian crackdowns on free speech or the “industrial scale” state-sponsored censorship in China. McEwan directly confronted the problem of a country rooted in the tradition of free expression under the First Amendment meekly submitting to what he called “bi-polar thinking” — the eagerness of some to “not side with Charlie Hebdo because it might seem as if  we’re endorsing George Bush’s War on Terror.”

Read more here | The National Review

New York Will Have its Own Tennessee Williams Festival this Fall

[New York will have a mini-Tennessee Williams festival of its own this fall, as playwrights adapt six of his short stories for an off-Broadway theater organization, The New York Times reported Tuesday (April 28).

Among those writers who will be concentrating their talents on Williams’ works for 59E59 Theaters are Beth Henley, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her play “Crimes of the Heart,” andJohn Guare, who wrote the screenplay for “Atlantic City” and such plays as “Six Degrees of Separation” and “The House of Blue Leaves,” The Times said.

The adaptations will be staged from Sept. 1 through Oct. 11 under the umbrella title “Desire.”]

Read the full story | NOLA


Jacques Derrida | The Excluded Favorite

[“Deconstruction was becoming not only an act, an activity, a praxis, but it was becoming practicable, and, as they say in French, practical, in the sense of easy, convenient, and even salable as a commodity…. The paradox of this situation…is that what we were then trying to appropriate by making it possible, that is, functional and productive, was in any case that which had already shown itself explicitly as impossible.”

No doubt, some American uses of deconstruction were crudely literal. (One typical late-1980s feminist avowal: “The philosophical work of getting to the bottom of unjust power relations involves the desire to think outside the structures of thought and consciousness we have inherited. But because outside these structures there is no thought and signifying language, the very thinking that deconstructs them must also inevitably reconstruct them.”) But by the turn of the millennium, as the culture warriors disarmed and deconstruction retreated to a more modest position in literary studies, becoming just one of many reading strategies at the disposal of scholars, the excesses in its name had by and large disappeared.

Still, the underlying intuition—that in Derrida’s abstractions was a powerful story about the experience of being shut out and unheard—may have been sound. He laced his work with elliptical allusions to his life, and composed at least one explicitly autobiographical work, “Circumfession,” (1993). (In it, he mentions his brother Paul, who died before he was born and whom Derrida replaced as youngest son: “from this I always got the feeling of being an excluded favorite, of both father and mother…excluded and favorite at two juxtaposed moments…and it is still going on.”) He also referred to philosophers’ lives in his own work, citing at length in Glas (1974), for example, in a discussion of Hegel’s view of the family, letters Hegel wrote to his sister and fiancée.]  Read the full article | The New York Review of Books


The History of “Loving” to Read

[In rhetorical culture, the most important writing was au courant, and the “best” readers made use of it to enhance their own eloquence. But in an appreciative, literary age, the most important books are the ones that have outlasted their eras, and the “best” readers are people who are especially susceptible to emanations from other times and places. Being a reader becomes an identity unto itself.]

[… Then there’s the case of the English professor. Judging by Lynch’s history, professors are doubly trapped. Their deep love of books isn’t just unrequited; it’s inexpressible. Even when they talk about the writers they love, professors have to keep it professional—which, of course, only reinforces the idea that there’s a divide between loving literature and thinking about it. Lynch’s book shows that loving literature is a performance, the acting-out of a centuries-old metaphor. If that’s true, then its opposite—cool, detached, academic cerebrality—is also a performance. It’s a tough spot. Unable to embrace the cheese and camp of being a book lover, professors find themselves in a camp all their own.]  Read the full article | The New Yorker

Violence & the Poetic Subject | Dr. Brad Evans | Lecture at GCAS

[Contemporary liberal societies are saturated by images and representations of violence. From twenty-four hour news coverage, the extreme torture of Hollywood blockbusters, to increasingly brutal gaming formats, the realities of violence have arguably never been so embedded in our cultural, economic and social fabric. Some might even argue that violence has become so normalized today that it is reaching the point of the banal, as its entertainment value supersedes any considered political and ethical questioning.]

Read the full lecture here | GCAS – The BLOG | Global Center for Advanced Studies

[Countering this requires more than a rigorous discussion on the ethical subject of violence. It demands an entirely new concept of the political. This brings me to a an important quote from Jacques Rancière’s recent book Figures of History, which resurrects what is an all too familiar (if unresolved) debate – to quote:

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.27.16 AMSo we have to revise Adorno’s famous phrase, according to which art is impossible after Auschwitz. The reverse is true: after Auschwitz, to show Auschwitz, art is the only thing possible, because art always entails the presence of an absence; because it is the very job of art to reveal something that is invisible, through the controlled power of words and images, connected or unconnected; art alone makes the human perceptible, felt.[i]]

Habermas is a Philosopher Speaking to All of Us

[For Jürgen Habermas, modern society is characterized by a bureaucratic democracy in which compromises are brokered without transparency. In response, the German philosopher has appealed for greater political participation in civil society. His work describes a “liberal public” and recalls a time when citizens used to meet in coffee houses to discuss how to influence their society.

His astute social diagnoses, such as in his book “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,” his public positions on controversial issues, and his contributions to analytical and political philosophy have made Habermas one of the most renowned contemporary intellectuals in the world.]

Habermas: A Philosopher for the Public | DW