1. Mark Bauerlein has posted his own introduction to the Theory's Empire anthology at Butterflies and Wheels. His contention is that Literary Theory has declined as it has become institutionalized, but most recent theory anthologies don't register that any change has occurred. But if theory has declined, why a collection of essays called Theory's Empire?
2. It's not often that Michiko Kakutani writes reviews of works of literary criticism, but here's her favorable Sunday review of Adam Kirsh's The Wounded Surgeon: Confession and Transformation in Six American Poets. The six poets Kirsh writes about are Randall Jarrell, Delmore Schwartz, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath. The key sentence in the review, which looks like it might be Kirsh's thesis, is as follows:
In fact it is one of Mr. Kirsch's central arguments that the "discipline, seriousness and technical sophistication" that these poets acquired during their Modernist apprenticeships enabled them to produce poems about newly intimate subjects that possessed the rigor and shapeliness of lasting art - poems that stand in sharp contrast to the outpourings of earnest but flabby "confessional" verse produced from the 1960's on, in the wake of Robert Lowell's epochal book "Life Studies."
Unfortunately, poets today do not have anything as strong as high modernism to bounce off of.
3. On Monday night I went with my friend Julian to see short films by William Kentridge at the Bandshell in Central Park. I didn't love the films, which were overly psychoanalytic and symbolic for my tastes, but I thought the technique was interesting. In contrast to normal stop-motion animation, where each frame gets a separate drawing, what Kentridge does is use the same basic drawing, erasing parts where movement is occurring. The result is a unique visual effect (you see erasure marks) produced using a very simple, even primitive, method. Here is a link.
4. The Net Art movement (whose center is Rhizome.org), has a show up at the New Museum in New York, with a pretty favorable review in the Times. I may try and go at some point; I had some friends in graduate school who were involved with the Rhizome community, and it seems like it's grown by leaps and bounds since then.
5. Robert Alter reviews Umberto Eco's new novel at Slate. It seems to be a novel about the tension between one's 'personal' childhood memory and what might be called one's 'cultural' memory. The novel seems to have a bit of a Ulysses connection:
This notion that a vast jumble of texts, high and low, might be constitutive of the self owes a good deal to a novel that has meant much to Eco—Joyce's Ulysses. Yambo's discoveries in the boxes in the attic are reminiscent of the wonderful catalogue of miscellaneous objects in Leopold Bloom's drawer in the Ithaca section of Joyce's novel. The mind as a patchwork of disparate texts is very much evident both in Stephen (high culture) and in Bloom (popular culture). Yambo, like Bloom/Ulysses, is a man trying to get back home, and the last section of the novel is appropriately entitled, in Greek, The Nostos, the term for Odysseus' return to Ithaca. In the literally hallucinatory concluding pages of the book, Eco actually borrows Joyce's term "psychopomp."
My "jumble of texts" would include my dad's LPs (from Talat Mahmood to Captain and Tenille), my toys, (especially the Transformers), innumerable Sci-fi children's novels, and breakdancing (not doing it -- watching other kids).
6. It's been ten years since the Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was excecuted by the old Nigerian government for his activism on behalf of the Ogoni people, against Shell Oil's exploitation of their land. Here is an article about how the decennial of his death is being celebrated in Nigeria (via the Literary Saloon).
I've read Saro-Wiwa's novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English ('Sozaboy' means soldier-boy), and I would recommend it to people interested in the chaotic experience of contemporary Nigerian life.
7. Reviews of Orhan Pamuk's memoir of Istanbul at The Comnplete Review (they argue that the book is trying to do too much), and Jabberwock, who finds the writing less than gripping at times.
I've been reading Istanbul too; I might have my own review at some point.