Tom Stoppard’s Bookshelf

“Stoppard is a maniacal reader who collects first editions of writers he admires. Asked on the BBC radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 1984 to choose the one book he’d bring to a desert island, he replied: Dante’s Inferno in a dual Italian/English version, so he could learn a language while reading a favorite. His idea of a good death, he’s said, would be to have a bookshelf fall on him, killing him instantly, while reading.”   –Dwight Garner, “‘Tom Stoppard’ Tells of an Enormous Life Spent in Constant Motion,” New York Times review of Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life (February 15, 2021)

Contributed by Guy Raffa (University of Texas, Austin)

Carolyn Wolfenzon, Nuevos fantasmas recorren México (2020)

“In eight chapters, Wolfenzon focuses on different ghosts that haunt the pages of each of the novels. In her essay about Sada’s Porque parece mentira la verdad nunca se sabe (Because it Seems Like a Lie, The Truth is Never Known), for example, his ‘ghost is someone like you and me who works in a maquiladora,’ Wolfenzon said, referring to the factories prevalent along the US–Mexico border.

“‘The characters are only doing one thing in the entire novel,’ she continued. ‘They are like the dead but they are alive, in this setting, this space that doesn’t belong to anybody. It is the border between Mexico and the US, and it has the atmosphere of a new kind of hell.’

“Indeed, Wolfenzon was struck by how often the authors she examined describe new kinds of horrifying hells. She saw correlations with the Inferno, and in 2016, audited Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Arielle Saiber’s class on Dante.

“‘I felt it was important to carefully revisit the Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy),’ Wolfenzon said. ‘Arielle’s class was very inspirational to me, even though it was in Italian!'”   –Rebecca Goldfine, “Carolyn Wolfenzon’s New Book Illuminates a Ghoulish Theme in Modern Mexican Literature,” Bowdoin News, December 14, 2020

“REVIEW: Taco Bell Diablo Sauce”

“Taco Bell has opened a gate to hell. Proof: “Bell” rhymes with “hell.” Convenient. Seven layer burrito? Nine circles of hell. And there are actually nine layers if you count the tortilla and the Pepto Bismol that is actually essential. And latest of all, they’ve introduced Diablo sauce. Diablo, for the Latin-impaired, is Spanish for the mother-bleeping Devil. Maybe some of you know Diablo as “Stop playing that computer game and come to bed,” but for non-nerds they aren’t even trying to hide it. It’s called Devil sauce. Taco Bell has conjured El Diablo and is feeding us its hot fluids.

“Other hell ties: The Devil is, like, half goat and Taco Bell does NOT serve goat because then we would be eating the Devil’s relatives; “run for the (south) border” can be simplified to “run south” and south (down) is where hell is; and somehow they consider cinnamon Cheetos a dessert. Unholy.”   –Kevin, The Impulsive Buy, 2015

Read the full review here.

Reviewed: Thomas Adès’ “Inferno” (2019)

mark-swed-review-wayne-mcgregor-inferno-touch-2019“Thomas Adès’ ‘Inferno,’ the first half of what will eventually be a full-length Dante ballet, makes an uproarious heaven of hell. An equal-opportunity score, it offers wry reasons for celebrating our vices — be we among the selfish, gluttonous, suicidal, deviant, papally pretentious; be we illicit lovers, pollsters (the fortune-tellers), hypocrites, thieves, lost souls of one sort or another, satanic majesties or, yes (thanks for thinking of us, Tom), critics.

“It proved the most ambitious and electrifying of more than five-dozen commissions celebrating the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s just-completed centennial season and a bonanza for choreographer Wayne McGregor. In an exceptional collaboration among the Royal Ballet, the L.A. Phil and the Music Center, the staged “Inferno” had its premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion over the weekend in a production for which celebrated British artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean created the design. The composer conducted with the L.A. Phil in the pit.” [. . .]    –Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2019.

 

Vision Magazine’s, “Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy

vision-magazine-on-dante“The Comedy demonstrates the significant influence of Greek philosophy. Dante didn’t read Greek; it seems his philosophical grounding came from religious convent schools founded by Dominican or Franciscan monks. Scholars suggest that the Dominicans would have instilled in their pupil the methodology of Thomas Aquinas’s magnum opus, Summa Theologica. They would likewise have grounded him in the writings of Aristotle and the church Fathers. The logic of Aristotle, which had been out of vogue for centuries, regained popularity in the decades preceding Dante’s birth, giving rise to Christian rationalism. Thus, even though the Bible is by far the most dominant source for the Comedy, in Dante’s hands Scripture became materia poetica, reshaped through an Aristotelian moral system.

“In terms of the idea of the human soul, for example, Dante ‘follows the dominant Western tradition,’ namely ‘that each human soul is created by God, destined for union with a particular human body, and infused by God into the embryo before birth’ (The Cambridge Companion to Dante. This Western tradition owes much not only to Aristotle’s ideas but to his mentor Plato’s concept of the eternal soul, denying only its preexistence. Yet Dante was not a dualist in the Cartesian or Neoplatonic sense. According to Dante scholar Robin Kirkpatrick, ‘his very conception of a human soul denies that he could be. For Dante—as for Aristotle—the soul, or (in Italian) anima, is neither more nor less than the animating form of the body.'” [. . .]    –Daniel Tompsett and Donald Winchester, Vision Magazine, 2013.

Review of Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013)

review-murakami-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage-2020“But it’s classical music – another Murakami love – that gives Murakami the title of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The title comes from Franz Liszt’s three-suite work Anneés de pèlerinage, which translates as ‘Years of Pilgrimage.’

“The eighth part of the first suite – ‘Le mal du pays’ (translation: ‘Homesickness’) – bonds the five main characters (they all play and/or listen to the piece throughout the novel) as they voyage through the “years of pilgrimage” of their mid-30s.

“Murakami’s literary antecedent in writing about one’s mid-30s as a time of a despondent and confusing quest for meaning is, of course, Dante and his Divine Comedy. And the quest of Dante’s protagonist ends happily, as does the quest of Murakami’s protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki.” [. . .]    –Paul Gleason, Stereo Embers

Humanities Magazine’s “What’s the Best Way to Read the Divine Comedy If You Don’t Know Italian?”

humanities-magazine-tour-of-translation-2020-wikimedia“In comparing these two translations, the Sayers version seems to win out in two ways—it matches Dante in form and, to a degree, in content. By starting with ‘Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,’ she remains faithful to the starting point, ‘nel mezzo,’ while Mandelbaum pushes this to the middle of the first line. Sayers adds ‘bound upon’ (not, strictly speaking, in the original), which allows her to make the rhyme in the third line with ‘gone.’ But Mandelbaum is more faithful to the directness of the original, not stretching the meaning or introducing words to make the rhyme. His metered language often seems more natural than Sayers’ and more in keeping with the diction of Dante, which favored solid vocabulary and straight-forward syntax. Mandelbaum, will, in fact, interject rhyme if it’s not forced (as he does with way and stray). In spite of first impressions favoring Sayers, most readers who choose to make the entire journey from inferno to purgatory and finally paradise ultimately find the Mandelbaum translation more satisfying.” [. . .]    –Steve Moyer, Humanities: The Magazine Of The National Endowment For The Humanities, 2017

 

Will Brewbaker on Shane McCrae’s “Sometimes I Never Suffered”

sometimes-i-never-suffered-2020

“This act of holding together both heaven and earth pervades Shane McCrae’s Sometimes I Never Suffered, the prolific poet’s latest collection. Racial injustice, economic inequality, simple human cruelty — McCrae addresses all of these subjects, these facts of the world, head-on — while, like Dante, transposing the literal into the otherworldly.  [. . .]

“The final two poems in Sometimes I Never Suffered return explicitly to Dantean territory. Famously, the last word in each section of Dante’s Comedy is the Italian word ‘stelle,’ meaning ‘stars.’ In a sly parallel, McCrae makes this Limber’s last word, too. After describing meeting one of those souls who were ‘babies when they died […] [who] walk around in sailor hats with blank / Looks on their faces’ — another ingenious creation — Limber says:

… when I tried to talk to
Him it was like I wasn’t there
So    I peeked    in his mouth

and in his mouth was the whole sky and stars

“Not only does this final line offer a remarkably coherent cosmic scope, but it also serves as a segue into the book’s last movement — a multipage poem that returns to the hastily assembled angel’s story and finds the angel first building, then climbing the ladder to heaven.” [. . .]    —Will Brewbaker, Los Angeles Review of Books, October 13, 2020.

Read more of Brewbaker’s reviews here.

WaPo Review of Murakami, Killing Commendatore

“The middle of life is a second adolescence, with no one left to admire our suffering. All of Dante’s work is a beautiful, unconvincing riposte to the sense of anguish this age can bring: ‘Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered from the straight path,’ he writes. Eventually he makes it to Paradise; but nobody reads that part.

“The great Japanese author Haruki Murakami grew famous writing about the tender melancholy of youth. (Norwegian Wood made him so recognizable in Japan that he left.) Reading books from that period, you feel sad without knowing why — and yet, within that sadness glows a small ember of happiness, because to feel sad is at least to feel honestly.

“Now, in his 60s, he has begun to consider middle age more carefully, as if he sees himself most clearly across a 20-year lag. It’s the subject of his underrated Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and also of his immersive, repetitive, big-hearted new novel, Killing Commendatore.”   –Charles Finch, “Haruki Murakami turns his gaze toward middle age,” Washington Post, October 8, 2018

Another review, posted on the blog Happy Antipodean on December 1, 2018, also likens Murakami’s novel to Dante’s poem.

The Eyelid (2020) Review

The Eyelid spins a rich and rewarding political fantasy out of this anxiety over the colonization of dreams and the subconscious by corporate power. As it begins the narrator is introduced to the dreamland of Onirica by an erudite and romantic ambassador named Chevauchet who plays the role of Virgil to the narrator’s Dante, leading him through ‘the dark wood of nocturnal imaginings’ while explaining the meaning and revolutionary role that dreams play in the global economy.”    –Alex Good, The Star, April 9, 2020

Check out The Eyelid on Amazon.