Wednesday, December 29, 2004

more on Susan

"We live in a culture in which intelligence is denied relevance altogether, in a search for radical innocence, or is defended as an instrument of authority and repression. In my view, the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying." quoted by Steve Wasserman in his obituary.

Quotes, interviews and excerpts are available at wood s lot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"be serious, be passionate, wake up!"

Susan Sontag - novelist, critic, public intellectual and watchdog for the oppressed - passed this morning, after a long, second bout with cancer.

In the summer of 2000, I had an opportunity to meet and spend some time in the orbit of Sontag, as I was cataloguing for the company performing an appraisal of her personal archive and library, (which was eventually purchased by UCLA). For nearly six weeks, I spent my days in Sontag's office or home, quietly cataloguing, while around me her life whirled. Alfred Brendel would like to have dinner; Chinese writer Gao Xingjian was arriving from Boston on the Chinatown bus; new books piled up by the dozens (many were immediately donated to her assistants or others); Nadine Gordimer was on the phone... And all this time she was sick with cancer. She was a gracious host, inviting me to join her for lunch which she often shared with them in the kitchen. She was also disarmingly human for someone I had come to think of as an intellectual superhero (especially given that most of the other superheros seemed to be missing). My life at the time was not an easy one. I was entering the divorce process at the time, and I remember Susan giving me a grandmotherly hug the day she found out why I was uncharacteristically sullen.

My time spent with her archive and library, which documented her intellectual pursuits from a very young age, and the living example she lived in front of me was enough for me to recommit to the life of the mind, even as a simple bookseller.
sidewalk Socrates

The NYTimes Magazine includes Sidney Morgenbesser in it round up of year-end obits.

"Not since Socrates has a philosopher gained such a reputation for greatness while publishing so little of note. Certainly no one else shaped so many seminal thinkers while leaving behind almost nothing in the way of major doctrines or ideas. ''Moses published one book,'' Morgenbesser pleaded in his own defense. ''What did he do after that?'' "

shredded reputation, worst sex, scrupulous blurb...

Thanks to Jessa at Bookslut for the link to the John Dugdale's Literary Awards of the Year at the London Times. Anthony Powell wins the "Most shredded reputation" award:

Most thoroughly shredded reputation"As a novelist, Anthony Powell had to contend with obvious disadvantages. He had no ideas. He was incapable of conveying deep feeling. He knew about only a tiny upper stratum of English society. He was Waugh minus the wit, the poison, the torment and the genius . . . Powell was a colossal snob and not very bright. The fact that his snobbishness was a cry for help did not make its manifestations any more winning." John Carey reviews Michael Barber's Anthony Powell: A Life, The Sunday Times

Sunday, December 19, 2004

a thank you

It's about time I thanked some of the bloggers out there who have been sources of information, and more often, inspiration to keep on doing this. My first expereince with a blog was The Morning News - I know, not technically a blog, but it provided a portal to many of the those which became my daily reading. My daily reading consists, on and off, of The Elegant Variation, Blog of a Bookslut, Language Hat, and Pepys Diary. Other frequent dips were made into The Millions, Anthem Book Blog, Eternal Recurrence,

My favorite gardening blog is Horticultural, where you can find a link to the timely Mistletoe Blog. My vote for food blog must go to my wife Samantha's Slouching Toward Ganache which records her travails as a career changer entering the world of pastry. I'm also partial to SauteWednesday, Megnut, Chocolate & Zuchini and The Daily Olive.

a home universal library

In today's NYTimes' Week in Review, Alberto Manguel places new efforts of Google in the context of the quest for 'universal knowledge'. People who know me through my bookselling, think of the avant-gardes as the core of my collecting (or selling) interests, but a few friends know my own library, which lives in an apartment carved out of an old post-and-beam barn in Maine, is really my humble attempt to establish a Library of Alexandria for myself. It's the antithesis of my avant-garde inventory; scholarly editions of the works of thinkers from cave painting to modern Portuguese poetry, with major sections of classical philosophy, medieval history, early technology and odd books on small facets of human activity like bee keeping, automatons, or monks and viniculture. For years this library has grown in fits and starts, usually dependent upon my proximity to a great general shop. Powell's in Chicago (Hyde Park), The Brattle in Boston and the Strand have contributed to it greatly at various times. I have yet to assemble the whole library in one location, and look forward to doing so one day, perhaps after we move to the Hudson Valley this coming year. The library remains beyond my ability to read in the time remaining on my life clock, and there are numerous books in languages I have no plan to learn, so why have it at all?

There's been an awful lot of handwringing going on at the booksellers' newsgroups lately about Google's plans to place online books from the collections of major research libraries. Some think this is the last straw for reading culture as we know it, and expect their trade to dry up as well, which is ridiculous. Art is not what it used to be, and yet the trade in art from previous centuries is more brisk than ever. And as we saw the daily use of low-brow booze and tobacco products wane in the last two decades, the demand for quality wine, liquor and cigars has grown exponentially.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Mann's Magic Mountain shuts its doors

The Valbella clinic is closing its doors, the last of the once numerous clinics in the Swiss Alpine resort town of Davos, built to treat the victims of Tuberculosis. Thomas Mann's Hans Castorp found refuge here, deciding to stay although he had only come as a visitor.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Jackson Mac Low dies at 82

Fluxus founder, poet, performance artist and composer Jackson MacLow has passed at 82. With LaMonte Young, MacLow was the editor of the wonderful Fluxus Anthology (1963).

AS Byatt discusses Goethe in the Guardian. The bit that really got me was this one:

"The Wanderjahre, or (literally) journeyman years, follow the fate of Wilhelm, who in Goethe's earlier narratives, Wilhelm Meister's Theatrical Mission and the revised Wilhelm Meister's Apprentice Years, was concerned with self-discovery through the theatre, and also with the theatre as a means of moral and social cultivation. The theatre, in the world of the young hero, is the place where the bourgeois, who is normally only concerned with getting and spending, can acquire the aristocratic possibilities of "being" and "appearing". "

Do we have a mechanism today which serves that same purpose? Which can at least momentarily raise the bourgeois above the concerns of "getting" and "spending"? What could that be?

Byatt also draws the connection between Goethe and Sebald's masterwork, The Emigrants.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

French winemakers protest

French wine consumption is less than half of what it was in the 1960's, and coupled with falling exports levels, competition from Latin America and Australia, and high levels of production, the situation is dire. Protesters are blaming the government (a French pastime), and targeting the national anti-drinking and driving campaign.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

a year-end miscellany

I'm currently offering a catalogue of year-end miscellany. The list includes art, literature, ideas and photography. Over 150 items, offered at 25% off the price listed. Download the entire catalogue here. Thanks for looking.