Gained in Translation

The process of translating from one language to another is often called an art. The late Italian medievalist and novelist Umberto Eco, aware of translation’s inherent difficulties, called it, “the art of failure.” Every attempt is inexact and partial, getting some things spot on, whiffing at others. Translators are continually forced to compromise, choosing the least flawed option while rendering the original in the target language and—devotees of the King James version aside—no one translation proves definitive, once and for all.

Philosophy of the Gut: Q&A with Morgan Meis

With the publication of The Fate of the Animals, your “Three Paintings Trilogy” is beginning to take shape. So the question arises: what could possibly link paintings as different as Rubens’s Baroque The Drunken Silenus (covered in the first volume) and Franz Marc’s modernist The Fate of the Animals? Is it all subjective—or are there truly things in common here?

Losing as a Weird Kind of Winning

In the year 1990 the German artist Martin Kippenberger made a sculpture, of sorts, that he called Zuerst die Füße, or Feet First. Actually he made five versions of the sculpture, each with slight variations. I’ll concentrate on the green one, since that’s the version I first encountered. I say ‘the green one’ because in different versions of the sculpture, Kippenberger made the frog in different colors: green, blue, silver, purple and brown.

From Pulitzer Prize to Islamic Horizons

It’s the last place I’d have expected to find my Uncle Karl. That’s Karl Shapiro: my mother’s brother, 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning poet who was celebrated in his time, appointed Poet Laureate in 1946-7, editor of Poetry 1959-56, awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1968. But Karl is practically unknown today.

A Somewhere for Those We Love: Q&A with Robert Cording

When our son died, I was struck by a phrase my wife repeated both shortly after his death and in the nearly five years since: “Where are you, Daniel?” We need to imagine a somewhere for those we love. I think, in part, that need is connected to our greatest fear—that those we love simply disappear without a trace as time passes.

Whatever We Imagine Is Home

Once I lived in Jerusalem. Two years in the late 1970s. I went to the Kotel, the Western Wall, many times to pray. Face of flesh to face of stone, I felt heart. I felt soul. My heart, my soul, my my: too small, too confined to one human body set apart to characterize what I experienced there in prayer.

Harmonia Mundi

Music was easily the most enjoyable aspect of writing my novel Absolute Music. I mean the sheer amount of contemplative time spent listening to the great range of music mentioned in the novel, all of which I’ve assembled in a Spotify playlist. Not included in that playlist is nearly an album’s worth of Bob Dylan songs which are only alluded to in the text, not mentioned outright.

Love and Reason

If there are a thousand ways that we allow what we think are tensions between love and reason to destroy the one or the other, what a miracle it is that the poet has a vision of what is possible when a love and a reason hold together, and remain faithful. The poet says, “This is how transparency was constructed.”

Velazquez, "Christ Crucified"

Murray Bodo’s Canticle

In previous books, both prose and poetry, Bodo has returned to his childhood in Gallup, New Mexico and his going off to seminary in Cincinnati at the age of fourteen. Now, at eighty-five, he wonderfully conflates his youth with his present life. Take the long poem “To Go to Assisi.”

Cormac McCarthy: Words and Meaning

Cormac McCarthy’s early novels are set in Appalachia—books populated by poverty-stricken characters who can’t comprehend the forces at work in their lives. McCarthy brings a rural culture to life through an examination of morality, personal beliefs, and the darker side of humanity. The author’s language viscerally draws readers into the themes that seem to pulse and breathe on the page.

Here—and After: In Gratitude to Bridge Projects

We are not living in an age of synthesis—let alone humility—in public dialogue, whether about art, literature, or religion, Rather, the dominant pose (and take note of how I framed that) is one of the endless, exhausting refinement of distinctions, the chopping up of this not that. If you’ve ever been the target of a long Twitter pile-on, you know what I mean.

Germany

My cat died in Germany once. In Cologne. I remember the city being very ugly and the famous cathedral being so black, completely covered in soot. I’m not against ugly cities and truth be told I rather enjoy them. Cities should be ugly. Of course, that’s an absurd thing to say. There’s nothing more lovely than a lovely city. I was reminded of this recently when I traveled from Berlin to Paris. Berlin is so ugly and Paris is so beautiful.

Body, Spirit, Soul

For Plato, the fleeting, sensible things of this world (Doxa in Greek, from dokein, “to appear” or “to seem”) are no more than poor copies of their permanent, ideal forms (eidos in Greek) above, a sharp distinction called “Platonic dualism.” Saint Paul, however, gets a bad rap as a radical dualist, having for so long been viewed through a distorting Platonic—and later, a Cartesian—lens.

The Problem of (Fictional) Pain

A couple of months ago I re-read some of the work of an anonymous fourteenth-century figure known as the Pearl Poet or the Gawain Poet. There is little poetry in the English language that affects me so profoundly as that of the Pearl Poet. His two chief works after which he is called, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, form the bedrock of my understanding not just of fantasy literature, but of fiction generally.

Oh My God

I look up from Cherry Hill. Between the rhododendrons and camellias on the steep hill that drops from the road down to my yard, I catch a glimpse of a woman walking by my house. A neighbor? I can’t see clearly enough to know. Is she walking with someone else? I can’t see. Is she wearing earbuds, talking on the phone? I want to know: what sparked her emphatic oh my god?

Penelope Fitzgerald, Novalis, and The Blue Flower

My favorite Fitzgerald novel is The Blue Flower (1995). It’s a historical novel, focused on the life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801). Hardenberg—or Fritz, as he’s called by family and friends—became famous when he began publishing under the name of Novalis, the` major German Romantic poet.

Photo by Lisa Mancuso Horn Photography

Absolute Music: Q&A with Jonathan Geltner

The earth is dying in a way that it was not (or we did not know it fully) when I was a boy, a way that is different from what is meant when we acknowledge that this world is always, as the Bible puts it, “passing away.” And this fact changes everything. Yet the earth is beautiful and will remain so. How can I show my children this goodness despite what threatens it?

The Grammar of Grief

When, exactly, did this grammar of grief emerge? In my lifetime, it would seem to be the daily pages of biographies of 9/11 dead published in The New York Times’s landmark project, A Nation Challenged. And the homemade posters of the missing that flocked the walls and telephones of the city.

The Country on the Far Side of Fiction

By exploring the consciousness of a narrator—which, as I say, is depicted as a landscape and its human families, a consciousness which he calls the invisible world or the mind, not limited to the individual perspective of an octogenarian Australian—novelist Gerald Murnane discovers that reality is much larger than the one described by the disenchanted materialism of contemporary culture.