:: Essays

Shirin (and Farhad (and, yes, also Khosrow)) published 11/07/2016

Still from Abbas Kiarostami Shirin

The story at hand is a love story, its protagonists Khosrow II, Shirin and Farhad. Though the historical detritus of the first two are scattered across the Kurdish region of Iran in the form of castles, cities and caves, it is unclear whether Farhad was also a historical figure. Khosrow first appears in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the Book of Kings that to this day remains the national epic of Iran, but his love story is only alluded to. It was Nizami Ganjavi who expanded on Khosrow’s story with the 12th century epic poem Khosrow & Shirin, an overplotted mess of staggering lyrical beauty and dubious character motivation that is now widely considered one of the most important texts in all of the Middle East.

Agri Ismaïl on Shirin, Farhad and Khosrow.

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Wittgenstein: On the Fritz published 08/07/2016


In my late teens and early twenties, I had a good friend who liked both Wittgenstein and Housman and would have been equally disappointed by the missed connection. Had he been born ten years later, he might have even posted a Craigslist ad about it. Mostly, though, we just exchanged e-mails about people with names like Scaliger, Winckelmann, and Madvig. Then we spent a few weeks in Vienna together.

D. Byron on Wittgenstein, scholarship, legacy, and toilet habits.

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Farewell to Pnin: The End of the Comp Lit Era published 05/07/2016

Yale Bingham Hall4

The chief aim of explicitly “democratizing” literary scholarship is often just the performance of the scholar’s own democratizing desire. How much good, though, does it do to study the “other” if you only ever talk about their otherness? How much good does it do to assume that our words are a politics when it’s so glaringly evident that they are not?

Jeanne-Marie Jackson explores what literary criticism has lost with the rise of faux-populist scholarship and the recession of “theory” and its alleged elitism.

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Letters Not About Brexit published 03/07/2016


It may seem that writing, especially the writing of fiction, sometimes only indirectly on political subjects, like love, has no role to play in fighting this process of isolation, but the very nature of writing exists in the tension it produces by crossing, in the gaps between one word and the next, in the pull between the words (the writer) and the reader. Writers cross borders at every points where character, description, plot make the personal political and the political personal.

By Joanna Walsh.

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Brexit at 3:AM published 26/06/2016


It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of vast public events, especially if we didn’t support them, as the majority of the UK population (‘remain’ voters + abstainers) did not. My question is one that I’ve been asked several times since Friday: what can writing do in the face of this situation?

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Art Is For Necrophiliacs (If that’s how you spend) published 08/06/2016


Life extension is a big business. Everyone wants to live forever, even if all we do now is live through looking. Google has committed an investment up to six hundred million into the California Life Company to solve death. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, foresees the possibility of reincarnating his dead father into a digital avatar. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has invested in twenty-five biotech companies & the combination of gene therapy, nanotechnology, & artificial intelligence. Mark Zuckerberg & a handful of others have been funding “Breakthrough Prizes” for six scientists a year, three million apiece to prove death is as antiquated as intimacy, or love.

Chris Campanioni on death, social media and art.

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Erkenntnis, Undings and the Grape published 07/06/2016

Erkenntnis, Undings and the Grape

With the testing movement of lips, these words take on unusual forms, all new—taken from another mouth. The idea of their sounds guides my tongue over unfamiliar space, stumbling against small silences. It begins with weiß. Where light is. White is the release of everything that may be contained. It indicates presence, and the permission to look. Everything that appears is a way to write a when around an encounter.

By Lital Khaikin.

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Monuments of Fire published 04/06/2016

Photo c Monia Lippi

As far as I can see, I see plastic bags. It is spectacular. I am mortified, and deeply saddened, and ecstatic with bewilderment. And taking brief refuge in abstraction, I remember Sputnik, the Monolith and the Black Square, and I reconsider: perhaps when all is said and done the plastic bag will stand as the most sweeping and poignant icon of human achievement. But the landscape is heavier than metaphor and the air is leaden, draped in a scrim of inscrutability, something other than sadness, sharper than melancholy, and shallower. As if to see through it reveals only more of itself, and what it already is: the exchange of base things, a potlatch of kipple and murmur on the great chain of unending spasm and digestion.

By Jeff Wood.

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How You Too Can Write Certain of My Books published 30/05/2016


My experimental procedure, wherein I would take a line of text from Roussel’s original French version of Locus Solus (available at Gutenberg.org) and paste it into the online program so that I could then immediately sample the garbled and glitched auto-translation into my own narrative universe was something very much akin to the spirit of the original Rousselian work itself. Roussel had a very specific procedure for writing his books, something he outlined in the posthumously published How I Wrote Certain of My Books. The original title of the Afterword included in my version of Locus Solus was titled How I Rewrote One of His Books.

By Mark Amerika.

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Executing the Authority of Roland Barthes: A Recombinant Theory Manifesto published 27/05/2016


Like Barthes, what I enjoy in reading is not directly a text’s content or even its structure. To be with the one I love and to think of something else: this is how I have my best ideas, how I best invent what is necessary to my work. Every word is a Pandora’s box from which flies out every possibility of signification and perception; recombinant theory continually opens the text, refusing to describe or solve the qualities of discourse.

Joel Katelnikoff on his Inhabitations.

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