Posts Tagged ‘Robert Pogue Harrison’

A night for W.H. Hudson and Green Mansions: his love for animals was deep and his opinions were fierce

Thursday, November 15th, 2018
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About 150 devoted book fans braved the campus-wide construction at Stanford to attend our Another Look fall event on William Henry Hudson’s Green Mansions on Tuesday, October 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Bechtel Conference Center of Encina Hall. The event launched Another Look’s seventh season.

First published in 1904, Green Mansions seamlessly blends nineteenth-century romanticism with the ecological imperatives that would come to the forefront in the twentieth century. Discussants included Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison, director of Another Look, Prof. Laura Wittman, and the Dean of Continuing Studies, Charles Junkerman.

Harrison at the podium.

The book had more fame back then than it does now – despite a 1959 film with Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins. Said novelist Ford Madox Ford of the novel: “There was no one – no writer – who did not acknowledge without question that Hudson was the greatest living writer of English … I have never heard a writer speak of him with anything but reverence that was given to no other human being. For as a writer he was a magician.” According to Joseph Conrad, “Hudson’s writing is like grass that the good God made to grow, and when it is there you cannot tell how it came.”

The plot: Abel Guevez de Argensola, flees to the Venezuelan interior after launching a failed coup in Caracas with his friends. In the remote jungles and savannas, he lives among the native people, learning their language and their ways. While exploring the terrain, he hears strange bird-like singing and discovers a young woman with a mysterious story. His love for her desolates and transfigures his life.

Hudson was better known as a naturalist and ornithologist, and his opinions were fierce, particularly about cruelty to animals. On his grave is written: “He loved birds and green places, and the wind on the hearth, and saw the brightness of the skirts of God.”

But his opinion of his fellow man could be harsh. In 1915, he wrote to a friend, “You think it is a ‘cursed’ war. I think it is a blessed war. And it is quite time we had our purification from the degeneration, the rottenness that comes with everlasting peace. The blood that is being spilled will purge us of many hateful qualities – of our caste feeling, or our detestable partisanship, our gross selfishness and a hundred more. Let us thank the gods for a Wilhelm and a whole nation insane with hatred of England to restore us to health.”

Photos of the event, as always, by Another Look aficionado David Schwartz. And the podcast for the event is here.

Dante’s greatest challenge: “This is something one cannot speak about. And he is going to speak about it.”

Saturday, October 20th, 2018
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.“This is something that one cannot speak about. And Dante is going to speak about it.” 

“All the people who end up loving The Paradiso understand the great daring poetic achievement of the poem,” says Dante scholar Rachel Jacoff of Wellesley. Entitled Opinions host Robert Harrison, a Dante scholar himself, joins his colleague and former mentor for a final discussion of The Divine Comedy — more specifically, of The Purgatorio and The Paradiso. It’s up at the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

Harrison notes that “Dante’s Paradiso is the last full-bodied vision of paradise in Western literature. It’s all been Hell or Paradise Lost since then.” They explore the role of the Roman poet Statius in Purgatory, the disappearance of Virgil, the “tough love” of Beatrice, the nature of time in heaven, and Dante’s elusive attempt to express the inexpressible.

He’s gone at the end.

Jacoff compared Dante’s dilemma to Fra Angelico’s painting of “The Blessed Entering Paradise.” The souls dancing in a circle seem to represent paradise, but at the upper left is a white gate with light shining through it. “That’s the real thing out there, and he can’t paint it.”

When Harrison asked the Jewish Dante scholar whether the Christian theology of Dante’s masterwork created a barrier for her love of the poem, Jacoff replied:

Many great readers of Dante are not Christians. I think everyone has to answer this question for himself or herself. I find that it is one of the great works of art that I return to and it’s helped me understand all kinds of things. Clearly, much in it is alien to me, and always will be — but no more than Handel’s “Messiah” or Bach’s “Mass in B Minor.” These are foundational in my aesthetic experience — and it can’t only be just aesthetic. There has to be some way the spirituality of these works can be available to anyone.

This is the final interview of the three-part series with Rachel Jacoff on Dante. Parts 1 and 2 are here and here.¨

“Virgil is the tragedy within the comedy. Virgil’s fate is the thing that haunts the comedy.” 

“People who end up loving The Paradiso understand the great daring achievement of the poem… It’s the greatest challenge that the poet takes on.” 

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More potent quotes:

“It’s always magical to me: we have known since the beginning of the Inferno that Virgil is not going the whole journey. … yet at the moment Virgil actually disappears, it’s always a shock. It takes one’s breath away.

“Paradox is so built into everything in the Paradiso, because it’s so central to Christian theology.”

“I think the difficulty people have with the Paradiso isn’t the theology – there is much more made of it than is really there. The theology is not overwhelming – however, the continual carrying on about how terrible things are on earth might be the thing that overwhelms people. Sometimes it overwhelms me.”

“I think the Paradiso is informed by a profound historical pessimism. Dante was living in a great crisis of authority.”

“The only time I ever quote Heidegger is with that great line, ‘Only a god can save us.’ I think that’s where Dante is at the end, in terms of history. There’s nothing that he imagines that we can do. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen by divine intervention.”

W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions on October 30. Be there!

Friday, October 12th, 2018
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Most valuable writer? Galsworthy thought so.

Join us for the Tuesday, October 30, Another Look book club discussion of W.H. Hudson‘s Green Mansions. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Bechtel Conference Center of Encina Hall.

First published in 1904, Green Mansions seamlessly blends nineteenth-century romanticism with the ecological imperatives that would come to the forefront in the twentieth century. Discussants will include Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison, director of Another Look, Prof. Laura Wittman, and the Dean of Continuing Studies, Charles Junkerman.

The plot: Abel Guevez de Argensola, flees to the Venezuelan interior after launching a failed coup in Caracas with his friends. In the remote jungles and savannas, he lives among the native people, learning their language and their ways. While exploring the terrain, he hears strange bird-like singing and discovers a young woman with a mysterious story. His love for her desolates and transfigures his life.

According to novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, writing a decade after the publication of Green Mansions, “All Hudson’s books breathe this spirit of revolt against our new enslavement by towns and machinery, and are true oases in an age so dreadfully resigned to the ‘pale mechanician.” … A very great writer; and – to my thinking – the most valuable our age possesses.”

Hippies, cyberculture, fascism – and the point where it all comes together

Monday, September 3rd, 2018
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He started in journalism. (Photo: Kathleen Hinkel)

A journey that began in Vietnam. (Photo: Kathleen Hinkel)

“I THOUGHT THE COLD WAR WAS A BLACK-AND-WHITE WORLD AND TAKEN EVERYTHING TURNED INTO TECHNICOLOR HIPPIES. THAT TURNED OUT NOT TO BE TRUE.” -FRED TURNER

Fred Turner had just finished a Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory when he moved to San Diego in 1996. He had seen technology used as a tool of war, and he thought that “hippies were against technology — computers especially.” Then he saw a copy of Wired.

“It was all psychedelic colors, a big picture of ‘Whole Earth’ on the front and daisies. All this iconography I recognized from the counterculture in the 1960s.” In fact, he learned that countercultural dreams of shared consciousness had found a natural home in the computer world, where cyberspace was seen as a new electronic frontier. Former “communalists” had found new hope in “virtual communities.” He discusses his revelation in an Entitled Opinions conversation with Robert Pogue Harrison in a podcast over at the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

“I thought the Cold War was a black-and-white world and then everything turned into technicolor hippies. That turned out not to be true,” said Turner, a former journalist and now an intellectual historian at an important moment in our history.

“I started reading my way into the 1940s and 1950s. I began to see a much more radical period than I ever knew about. I began to see a very direct protest against mass media and mass culture.” The result was The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties.

With the rise of fascism in the 1930s, people worried about how mass thinking and mass media worked together, focusing our attention on a single media point and a single magnetic leader – thus feeding our longings for control, leadership, and submission. The antidote? “The notion that has run through 30, 40, 50 years of media theory, is that you have to decentralize ownership, decentralize media technologies, give everybody a microphone, and suddenly we will all be in a free space. That turns out not to be the case.”

Our multi-sourced multimedia “surround” has been mass marketed for us in a dispersed and globalized media environment, infiltrating even our attempts to create such “free” spaces. “I’ve done a lot of work at Burning Man, and that’s a very Dionysian place, in which the ecstatic impulse to dance naked in the desert and build giant bonfires meshes very nicely with high ticket prices, the transportation system, and the politics of personal display that also animate Facebook.”

Our politics, too, have been turned upside down by media dispersal – especially by Donald Trump. “He becomes the embodied voice of grievance, and that’s what Adolf Hitler was. He speaks that grievance into Twitter, which is a hyper-personalized medium. It then gets amplified by a whole series of other media, which interact in the ecosystem that is decentralized and yet, ironically, because it is decentralized, tends to be an ever larger megaphone for the very charismatic forces that decentralization was meant to combat.”

Listen to the whole podcast here.

“OUR DEMOCRATIC SURROUND IS SO SATURATED WITH IMAGES AND VOICES – EVEN MORE WITH TWITTER. AND ALL THE CHATTER IS ONE OF THE UNINTENDED WARS ON THINKING.” -ROBERT HARRISON

Potent quotes:

Fred Turner:

“Apple has always been the single most secretive non-military company … You don’t crack Apple.”

On California: “It’s been the object of migration forever and ever… there’s a high density of scientists, a low density of non-adventurous folks, and everybody is packed up together.”

“Consumer choice is beginning to become the expression of politics.”

“Ideas flow through communities … Lives of earlier groups shape the possibilities of our own.”

Robert Harrison:

“Ideas are the incubators of history – not always, but often.”

“The deliberate invasion of solitude – everyday solitude, being left alone – and having something reverberating inside your head so that you can’t do the prosaic business of putting thoughts together – this is what totalitarian propaganda amounts to.”

“Our democratic surround is so saturated with images and voices – even more with Twitter. And all the chatter is one of the unintended wars on thinking.”

“Even My Revolts Were Brilliant with Sunshine”: The Solar Humanism of Albert Camus

Saturday, July 28th, 2018
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“THE SUN THAT REIGNED OVER MY CHILDHOOD FREED ME FROM ALL RESENTMENT.”

“If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.”

Those words marked a turning point for French-Algerian author Albert Camus. The context was the Algerian war for independence, which Camus ultimately opposed. He made the statement after revolutionaries began planting bombs on tramways in Algiers, where his mother still lived.

Camus was all for “l’instant.”

Jean-Marie Apostolidès, playwright, psychologist, and French professor at Stanford, and Entitled Opinions host Robert Harrison trace Camus’s long intellectual and spiritual journey, from his impoverished Algerian childhood to the car crash that killed him at the age of 46. It’s the latest podcast up at the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

In particular, they discuss his complex relationship with fellow traveller Jean-Paul Sartre, who was the greater philosopher and the more rigorous thinker of the two, while Camus was the greater writer and perhaps the greater soul. Their conflict fascinates intellectuals in France and around the world to this day.

“Camus’s strong bond with his mother is beyond and sometimes against words,” says Apostolidès. Yet Camus’s own mother never read a word of his many books. She was illiterate, half-deaf, and a speech impediment made it difficult for her to hold a conversation.

Apostolidès notes it would be a mistake to think of Camus’s adult life as serene and happy: he had several alcoholic crises, and his family life was undermined by his promiscuity. Yet his psyche was shaped by his sun-drenched childhood in Algeria, so strongly at odds with the bourgeois French upbringing of Sartre, who attended Paris’s premier École Normale. The Nobel Prizewinning Camus held to “the wisdom of a different tradition,” says Harrison, describing the sensibility of the Mediterranean basin and African that was a world away from the Nietzschean northern temperament of Europe. As a result, Sartre was interested in the arc of history; Camus was interested in l’instant of plays, journalism, theater.

Jean-Marie: “Nature has no lessons.”

“This was the main idealogical divide between the solar humanism of Albert Camus and the militant Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre,” says Harrison. “For Sartre, history was everything, and those who allied with it had to change the world, at all costs. For Sartre, there’s nothing redemptive in the sun and sea.” Sartre kept his “eyes fixed on the Medusa head of reality.

“That is finally the decisive difference between Sartre and Camus, and the reason why the dustbin of history awaits the one, and not the other.”

“I WAS POISED MIDWAY BETWEEN POVERTY AND SUNSHINE. POVERTY PREVENTED ME FROM THINKING THAT ALL WAS WELL IN THE WORLD AND IN HISTORY; THE SUN TAUGHT ME THAT HISTORY IS NOT EVERYTHING.”

POTENT QUOTES:

Jean-Marie Apostolidès:
“At the end of the line of history, there is death.”
“Nature has no direct lesson to teach us. Therefore our values are relative. Nevertheless, we have to create them.”
“Camus did not want a revolution, but at the same time he did not want to accept the passivity of the bourgeois attitude towards life. So he coined this median way between revolution and acceptance. He called it rebellion.”
On Meursault in The Stranger: “He refuses all the different figures of the father – the priest and the judge. By choosing death and blood, he tries to tries to find something equivalent to the sun.”

Robert Harrison:
“Absurdity is a weapon that you have in your heart, in your mind. Keep it present to remember always the constant of the human condition.”
“It’s very easy to be on the side of justice when nothing is at stake.”
If ever history, with its rage, death, and endless suffering, were to become everything, human beings would succumb to madness. History is reality.”
“For Sartre, there is nothing redemptive in the sun and sea. We must keep our eyes fixed on the Medusa head of reality.”
“The difference between a northern and southern sensibility is the difference between acceptance of life and an assault on life.”

Albert Camus:
“Even my revolts were brilliant with sunshine.”
“I was poised midway between poverty and sunshine. Poverty prevented me from judging that all was well in the world and in history, the sun taught me that history is not everything.”
“Poverty, first of all, was never a misfortune for me; it was radiant with sunlight. I owe it to my family, first of all, who lacked everything and who envied practically nothing.”
“The sun that reigned over my childhood freed me from all resentment.”

“A Metaphysics of Negativity”: Brothers Robert and Thomas Harrison discuss Expressionism and the Year 1910

Thursday, June 21st, 2018
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“THE BEAST WE HAVE WITHIN US WILL STICK ITS HEAD UP THE MINUTE HE CAN GET AWAY WITH IT.”

Thomas Harrison

When Halley’s Comet passed over the world in 1910, newspapers prophesied doom. The era was already overshadowed by social, spiritual, and political unease. That year, Sigmund Freud published Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis and formulated his first sketch of the Oedipal complex. Rainer Maria Rilke published his only novel, Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Writer and philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter completed his thesis and shot himself, one of the era’s many suicides. Meanwhile, Arnold Schoenberg was emancipating dissonance with his Theory of Harmony, which was written in the summer of 1910. The following year, Oswald Spengler would begin his landmark Decline of the West.

“The nihilism of the First World War was presaged, summarized, and mourned in the music, poetry, and thought which a great many artists and thinkers produced in the year 1910,” said Entitled Opinions host Robert Harrison. “It seemed to play out all the worst nightmares that had obsessed the Expressionists.”

Just warming up with Oedipus

This episode of Entitled Opinions at the Los Angeles Review of Books is a family affair. Said Robert Harrison, “Brothers punctuate cultural history. We have the Brothers Grimm, the Marx Brothers, the Schlegel brothers, the Goncourt brothers. It so happens I have a brother, too, who like me, is a professor of literature who has written a few books.”

In the introduction to his 1910: The Emancipation of Dissonance (University of California Press, 1996), UCLA professor Thomas Harrison wrote, “Nineteen ten is the spiritual prefiguration of an unspeakably tragic fatality, heard in the tones of the audacious and the anguished, the deviant and the desperate, in the art of a youth grown precociously old, awaiting a war it had long suffered in spirit.”

First and only novel

In this fraternal conversation, Thomas and Robert Harrison discuss leading figures in the umbrella movement called “Expressionism,” including poet Georg Trakl, painter Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Filippo Marinetti, as well as Rilke, Spendler, Schoenberg, and others.

What do the Expressionists say to us today? “Of course, the darkness of their vision didn’t turn a lot of people on,” explains Thomas Harrison. “During the reconstruction of Europe after World War I, we had to forcibly leave that stuff behind. But don’t forget that every time you leave something behind it comes back. So it came back in World War II. Human nature does not change, although we think we’re getting better and more rational. The depths of the soul that they probed are the same depths that people try to keep hidden and secret, over and over and over. While it may not be not much fun to listen to Schoenberg’s atonal music, it’s a reminder that the beast we have within us will stick its head up the minute he can get away with it.”

Listen to the podcast of this fascinating Harrison-on-Harrison discussion here.

“HUMAN NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE, ALTHOUGH WE THINK WE’RE GETTING BETTER AND MORE RATIONAL.”

More potent quotes from Thomas Harrison:

“These artists were perhaps the most ethically and philosophically committed generation of artists since the Romantics.”

“They developed a metaphysics of negativity. Being itself was considered a rotten set-up.”

“We no longer share this negative metaphysics today. We do everything we do to ignore it and forget about it and put it under the rug – to repress it again.”

“I Am Not a Man, I Am Dynamite” : Peter Sloterdijk on Nietzsche

Thursday, May 17th, 2018
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He saw a deep connection between moral philosophy and public relations.

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“IT’S VERY HARD TO CONCEIVE OF A SANE GOD.”

Peter Sloterdijk is one of the most controversial thinkers in the world. In many ways, he is the heir of Friedrich Nietzsche, who is sometimes said to have inaugurated the 20th century. On Entitled Opinions, host Robert Harrison opens his discussion with Sloterdijk with the sound of an explosion, and Nietzsche’s words, “I am not a man, I am dynamite.” The podcast is up today at the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

Sloterdijk says the words had helvetic echoes, since Switzerland was the first to blast a passageway through the Alps to tunnel new passages to Greece: “That is the metaphysical question for all these northern peoples. How can we win back an easier access to the Mediterranean truth, the really big dream-essence?”

The enfant terrible of philosophy (Photo: Rainer Lück)

Yet Nietzsche had his own access to the Greeks — and had the dynamite within him. In particular, he was the first to ask what meaning Dionysius might have for us. Nietzsche’s whole life work was an effort to uncover the meaning of the non-Olympic god who is “something to come, and something already present.” Nietzsche sought to discover how “the dismembering of Dionysus and his suffering recreates the world and makes a new form of social synthesis possible,” according to Sloterdijk (who was bravely battling a cold during the conversation).

“Nietzsche was right, to certain extent, when says ‘my soul should have been a singer rather than a writer.’ What he did in his later days was exactly that. That’s why Nietzsche later became, especially in Zarathustra, ‘the singer of a metaphysics of high noon.’” Sloterdijk calls that passage a European answer to the enlightenment of Buddha under the bodhi tree: “He describes the messenger as a person sleeping in the grass under tree and tied to life only with a very thin thread. You must not move. Dionysus is there. Don’t even breathe. The world has become perfect. He’s looking for the moments when he was even able to bear the burden of his divine predicament.”

“Nietzsche was among the very rare thinkers who had a feeling that there is a deep connection moral philosophy and public relations. This can be shown in the subtitle of Zarathustra — a book for all and nobody. Ein buch für alle und keinen.” It’s a mark of Nietzsche’s genius. He was acting as a kind of “action teacher,” and discovered a higher morality in writing a book for everyone and no one, a path between animal and the superman. Nietzsche likens it to a rope-walker.

More than a party guy.

“He sees the ropewalker, he has fallen down. He says, out of danger you made your profession. There is nothing despisable in that. And for that reason I am going to bury you with my own hands. It’s not success that decides everything, it is the will to remain within the movement and to walk on the rope.”

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Philosopher and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk has been called a “celebrity philosopher,” and is one of Germany’s foremost thinkers. From 2001 to 2015, he was the rector of the State Academy of Design at Karlsruhe, where he has been a professor of philosophy and media theory since 1992. From 1989 to 2008 he was director of the Institute for Cultural Philosophy at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He co-hosted the German television show Im Glashaus: Das Philosophische Quartettfrom 2002 to 2012.

His books include: Critique of Cynical Reason (1983), Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism (1986), The Spheres Trilogy (1998, 1999, 2004), Rage and Time (2010), Nietzsche Apostle (2013), You Must Change Your Life (2013), and Not Saved: Essays after Heidegger (2016).

In 2016, he taught a four week seminar at Stanford University on the philosophical implications of cynicism, with particular focus on his book Critique of Cynical Reason, a thousand-page book that sold more copies than any other postwar book on German philosophy.

“THERE IS A DEEP HILARITY IN WISDOM.”

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More potent quotes:

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“Modernity is all about disillusionment.”

“We rarely meet a person who such a high opinion of himself.”

“We live in the dust of deconstruction of metaphysical traditions.”

“In my ordinary voice I’m a baritone, but in my writing I’m a tenor. That is absolutely the case with Nietzsche.”

 

Did the earth shake? Another Look totally rocked Philip Larkin’s 1947 novel, “A Girl in Winter.”

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018
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Liddie Conquest discusses Philip Larkin with Robert Harrison. (All photos by David Schwartz)

Monday, April 30, marked a notable event in the literary world: perhaps the first-ever discussion of poet Philip Larkin‘s 1947 novel, A Girl in Winter at a top-ranking university. If the event does have a precedent, it’s unlikely to have matched the high-caliber expertise assembled at the Bechtel Conference Center that night. Another Look Director Robert Pogue Harrison moderated the discussion. The Stanford professor also hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions, and contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books. He was joined by renowned author and National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff, professor emeritus of English at Stanford.

Literary scholar Elizabeth Conquest, universally known as “Liddie,” completed the trio of panelists. She knew Philip Larkin personally—he was a close friend of her late husband, historian and poet Robert Conquest—and has written about Larkin’s poetry.

Robert Harrison introduces the book.

Some said it was our best event ever – one compared it to a delightful dance for three, to a “delicious effect.” Another said simply that they wished we had four events a year, rather than three.

Robert’s introduction of Larkin’s forgotten early novel riffed on the opening lines of the overlooked classic, originally titled The Kingdom of Winter: “There had been no more snow during the night, but because the frost continued so that the drifts lay where they had fallen, people told each other that there was more to come. And when it grew lighter, it seemed that they were right, for there was no sun, only one vast shell of cloud over the fields and woods…”

The little-known novel takes place in wartime England, where a young refugee from Europe named Katherine Lind tries to recover her life while working in a provincial library. Meanwhile, she recalls a memorable summer with the Fennel family in England before the war, and a near-romance with the son Robin.

The book was the second in a trilogy, and the third was never completed. Larkin turned to poetry instead. Was the early, forgotten book a masterpiece? Toby’s conclusion at the end of the evening was decisive and emphatic. Yes, he said.

The sparks were lively and the balance of personalities was effective and harmonious. Toby’s background as a soldier was helpful in explaining Robin’s emotional state at the end of the book, and he also shared some chilling details of the destruction of Larkin’s hometown, Coventry. Liddie reflected on Larkin’s life and poetry – and she also shared a passage he wrote in a 1977 letter to her husband. The three discussed in detail the signficance of the noisy tick-tock of Katherine’s watch. But I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the end of the book, only part of the penultimate paragraph instead:

“There was the snow, and her watch ticking. So many snowflakes, so many seconds. As time passed they seemed to mingle in their minds, heaping up into a vast shape that might be a burial mound, or the cliff of an iceberg whose summit is out of sight. Into its shadow dreams crowded, full of conceptions and stirrings of cold, as if icefloes were moving down a lightless channel of water…”

From Robert’s opening remarks, to the lively and insightful audience questions and responses – it was a remarkable and memorable evening. David Schwartz outdid himself capturing the evening in photos. Did our panelists have fun? See the photos from the panel below. Or listen to the podcast below, and make your own judgment.

TONIGHT: Philip Larkin’s early novel “A Girl in Winter” at Stanford!

Sunday, April 29th, 2018
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Portrait of the poet as a young man… Philip Larkin

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Robert Harrison

Philip Larkin is one of England’s most eminent postwar poets, but few know of his early forays into fiction. All that changes tonight, Monday, April 30, when Another Look considers Larkin’s little-known 1947 novel that takes place in wartime England, where a young refugee from the Continent attempts to recover her life while working in a provincial library. Meanwhile, she recalls an idyllic summer with an English family before the war. Please join us! The event is free and open to the public. Come early for best seats.

 

Tobias Wolff

When, where, who …

The Larkin event will take place at the Bechtel Conference Center at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 30. Panelists will include Another Look Director Robert Harrison, who will will moderate the discussion. The Stanford professor and author also hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He will be joined by renowned author Tobias Wolffthe founding director of Another Look, and literary scholar Elizabeth Conquest. “Liddie” Conquest knew Philip Larkin—a close friend of her late husband, historian and poet Robert Conquest and has written about Larkin’s poetry.

Liddie Conquest

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Elizabeth Conquest in the Wall Street Journal

As we wrote in the Book Haven last week, “Liddie” Conquest was featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article is available to subscribers here. The article is excerpted on The Book Haven here
 
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Directions
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The Bechtel Conference Center hosts all of Another Look’s events – a map is here. The nearby Knight parking structure, underneath the nearby Graduate School of Business, has plenty of room for free parking (see here for a map). In addition, parking is available on Serra Street and in front of Encina Hall itself.
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In keeping with the Another Look mandate, this book has been pretty much forgotten in 20th century literary history. Help us jump-start a public conversation of this overlooked work. 
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“My weight is my love”: on Augustine, Calvino, and Sepp Gumbrecht

Monday, February 12th, 2018
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One of the weightiest minds at Stanford.

Over the weekend, more than forty speakers from Europe, Latin America, and the United States addressed the state of literary studies after 1967, its methods and moods. The reason for the fête: Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, a.k.a. “Sepp.” At Stanford, he is also known as the “Albert Guérard Professor in Literature in the Departments of Comparative Literature and of French & Italian and by courtesy, he is affiliated with the Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures, the Department of German Studies, and the Program in Modern Thought & Literature.” The reason for the fête: we were celebrating 50 years of his life as a thinker, mentor, and indefatigable writer. It doubled as a splendid retirement party.

Heavy, man.

All that gives you an idea of his weight – but not of his lightness. He is one of the gentlest and pleasantest personalities at the whole university – as well as one of the most brilliant. And he also possesses one of the most memorable and remarkable faces on campus. (See photo.)

One of the most impressive and moving talks was given by Robert Pogue Harrison, who discussed “Pondus Amoris,” taken from Augustine‘s “my weight is my love [pondus meum amor meus].” Robert has often spoken of Italo Calvino‘s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, published in 1986, which identified six literary qualities, or values, that he believed would enable literature to survive into the next millennium – “that is to say, our millennium,” he added. Those qualities are lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. (He died before he finished describing his final one – consistency.) 

But because he often references the Six Memos (and I have come to, as well) I assumed  that Robert was on the side of lightness. Not so. From Robert’s talk:

I admire Calvino greatly, yet here too, as with Augustine, my sensibilities lean in another direction. If I had to choose, I would opt for slowness, heaviness, and vagueness over quickness, lightness and exactitude in literature. Be that as it may, in his lightness memo Calvino claims that we live in a leaden age, an age that would petrify us with its Medusa head:

Petrifying.

“At certain moments I felt that the entire world was turning into stone: a slow petrification, more or less advanced depending on people and places but one that spared no aspect of life. It was as if no one could escape the inexorable stare of Medusa. The only hero able to cut off Medusa’s head is Perseus, who flies with winged sandals…. To cut off Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror.”

I’m sorry to be so contrarian today, but I don’t agree with Calvino on this score. I believe that our age is in fact determined by free-floating bits and bites of information, and by the aerial vectors of telecommunications. The massive mainframe computers that Atlas himself couldn’t lift a few decades ago have become so light and fast that nowadays we carry them around in our shirt pockets. Modernity is an ongoing striving for lightness, and our world today is threatened not so much by the petrifying weight of reality but by the photoelectric pulsations of the virtual. Our Medusa head is the cell phone screen. We need a new kind of shield to protect us against the miniaturization of reality – a heavy, non-reflective Realometer, to borrow a term from Thoreau, to counter the increasing rarefaction of lived experience.

Did Augustine get it right?

In his memo, Calvino exalts Shakespeare’s character Mercutio, from Romeo and Juliet, as a hero of lightness.  … I would also like Mercutio’s dancing gait to come along with us across the threshold of the new millennium.

Calvino quotes only five lines from Mercutio’s long speech in Act One of Romeo and Juliet. It’s the scene when a group of Montague youngsters are heading toward the Capulet’s costume ball, where Romeo and Juliette will meet for the first time. What Calvino doesn’t mention is that Mercutio’s speech is over ninety lines long. By the end of it, the metaphors and conceits are spinning out of control, and his rave comes dangerously close to leaving the earth’s orbit altogether. It takes Romeo to bring Mercutio back down to earth: “Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!” Romeo says as he grabs hold of his friend. “Peace, peace, Mercutio, thou talkst of nothing.”

That’s the trouble with lightness, it can easily wisp away into nothing.

More in the coming days from Stanford’s celebration for one of its most eminent professors.