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Showing posts from November 5, 2023

Mere anecdotes, the historian said, and ordered another port

  Of Borges’ 1935 book, The Universal History of Infamy, the best things are: a, the title, and b., the preface, a glorious meditation on the baroque which has had many repercussions in Latin American lit and historiography. The stories themselves, though, are a bit thin. Still, it is a title to dream about. Infamy has filled our eyes and ears so often, since it was written, that we are all becoming a bit nearsighted and deaf. In a sense, these fictions – inspired, I think, by a French tradition going from Nerval to Marcel Schwab, of which the English equivalent is Pater’s Imaginary portraits – have also inspired, or at least communicated secretly (secret communications are the plumbing of culture, vases communicants indeed) with the vein of microhistory that revived the discipline in the 70s and 80s. One dreams of, say, a Universal history of survivors, a Universal history of double agents, etc. And yet, the universal here is pointillist – it is a matter of extending the anecdote.

The curious monster Albert Speer

  Among the more curious phenomena of the Cold War liberal era, nothing is curioser than the elevation of Albert Speer. I was looking through the archive of the NYRB and came upon a review of one of Speer’s minor screeds by Norman Stone in 1982 that was mindboggling in its, shall we say, charity. Of course, the Paperclip current in the Western alliance always p.r.-ed the Nazis that it appropriated. Werner Von Braun went from the S.S. commander of one of the worst of the concentration camps, at Peenemuende, to a figure close to Walt Disney’s tickerbell – a magical fun figure who impressarioed our trip to the moon! But Albert Speer was actually tried at Nuremberg. Of course, he made an impression because he was not a gross, fat hog, but a neat, trim techno figure who said he was guilty – although as a codicil he added that he was guilty, but not of anything that he'd done. After he got out of prison, his autobiographies became best sellers on the NYT list. And he became a celebrity.

On The Wasteland: a biography of a poem by Matthew Hollis

  I walked into the Blackwood bookstore in Cambridge with A. and Adam. Adam was looking for a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon – at age eleven, he has decided to expand his cinephilia by reading the books that provide sources for movies he has seen. Hence, Adam trudging around with a biography of Oppenheimer that weighs as much as he does. I was pleased to see, in the stacks on the table of recommended books, Matthew Hollis’s The Waste Land: a biography of a poem. I’ve been reading it in a spirit somewhat like Adam reading Killers of the Flower Moon – this is a book about the source of one of the great delights of my life. Eliot’s poems ran into me when I was in high school, and I even memorized them, or at least some of them. The Waste Land is a poem and a banner – at Oxford in the Twenties, I’ve read, the crowd Evelyn Waugh ran with would recite the poem through a loudspeaker as they drove in some car through the town – such pranks! I would recite bits of it to my tennis playing