Archive for August 20th, 2020

Rachel Hadas: “Poets and novelists have been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century.”

Thursday, August 20th, 2020
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Rachel Hadas (Photo: Cynthia Haven)

There should be a word for it: a word for a passage or page of literature that anticipates, that seems to be written to address, a time that hasn’t happened yet. According to  of the New Yorker, “But good art is always prescient, because good artists are tuned into the currency and the momentum of their time.”

Poet Rachel Hadas gives a few examples over in The Conversation:

“Dipping a bit further back, into Henry James’ “The Spoils of Poynton” from 1897, I was struck by a sentence I hadn’t remembered, or had failed to notice, when I first read that novella decades ago: “She couldn’t leave her own house without peril of exposure.” James uses infection as a metaphor; but what happens to a metaphor when we’re living in a world where we literally can’t leave our houses without peril of exposure?

She continues:

In Anthony Powell’s novel “Temporary Kings,” set in the 1950s, the narrator muses about what it is that attracts people to reunions with old comrades-in-arms from the war. But the idea behind the question “How was your war?” extends beyond shared military experience: “When something momentous like a war has taken place, all existence turned upside down, personal life discarded, every relationship reorganized, there is a temptation, after all is over, to return to what remains … pick about among the bent and rusting composite parts, assess merits and defects.”

The pandemic is still taking place. It’s too early to “return to what remains.” But we can’t help wanting to think about exactly that. Literature helps us to look – as Hamlet said – before and after.

Read the whole thing here. It can be hard on deadline finding a photo that isn’t copyrighted. It was easy finding one this time over at Ablemuse. This photo was taken twenty years ago, when I met and interviewed the poet in NYC.