Not Every Critic’s a Parasite, but . . .

image of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"

(Author’s note: I was about to post an illustration today of why I loathe Pauline Kael–I find that returning to her movie reviews is like picking at a scab–when I realized I’d posted a more temperate, less ad Kaelinam, piece last November.  So here’s that piece again.  It should, I hope, set up the newer and nastier one–which I’ll post here on Wednesday–rather nicely.)

When Ras praised Pauline Kael, a couple of our favorite readers here at 317am let us know they’re not big on critics.  Of any kind.  Which reminds me that English professors are critics and that I was almost one myself.  I can pinpoint the moment when I knew the job description wouldn’t fit me.

Some 40 years ago, my mentor in graduate school at the University of North Carolina was Dr. Wise (or so I’ll call him).  In dress and grooming he was like an old portrait, brought to life, of a courtly Presbyterian elder, in his mid-fifties then, with thick eyeglasses and plump dark pouches beneath his eyes that we knew he’d earned under shaded lamps late at night.  He seemed to have read, and thought about, everything.  Author of Read more »

Donald Antrim and the Case of the Vanishing Epiphany

Photo of author Donald Antrim.

Faithful readers of 317am know I’ve been on an epiphany kick lately. What got me started was reading a story in the New Yorker a month or so back (“Ever Since” by Donald Antrim), a story in which that essential piece of short-story scaffolding, the epiphany, a device generations of readers grew up savoring, seems to have disappeared entirely. Upon rereading Antrim’s story I think I did find the glimmer of an epiphany. More about that in a minute, but what intrigued me is how a vital trope for writers had been invented and developed, how it had flourished and become the standard, and how it had faded down to a subtle nubbin of meaning, all in a bit less than 100 years – the period from James Joyce’s story collection Dubliners (1914) to Antrim. Read more »

“The Dead”: James Joyce on a Roll

photo of James Joyce.

When a meme morphs across intellectual boundaries, the results can be unpredictable and extraordinarily powerful. In my previous post, “How James Joyce Reinvented the Epiphany and Saved the Short Story,” I told how the great Irish modernist borrowed a concept from his religious upbringing and thus recharged the short story. Read more »

Ted the Cat Feels the Sap Rise

image of Ted the Cat

These days I pay a lot of attention to Ted’s appearance—his weight, his coat, his posture—and his behavior . . . his appetite, the weird squeaky noises he makes, his attention to (ahem!) sanitation issues, his interest in playing, his enthusiasm for the world outside the window.  Our boy ain’t gettin’ any younger, that’s for sure.  Yet he surprised me the other day by managing to hop up on the window sill, just like the young athlete he once was, and staring intently out into the yard, just like the old days.  Spring is here.  I listened for awhile with him to the riot of birdsong going on outside.  “The blood’s up, eh, Teddy Bear?” I said.  I could have sworn just then that he gave me a conspiratorial wink.  Later I found this on the monitor upstairs. Read more »

How James Joyce Reinvented the Epiphany and Saved the Short Story

Photo of James Joyce.

I’ve been working up a new course this spring in the contemporary short story. To get a sense of what makes for a good short story, I’ve gone back to ground zero – that is, I’ve been reading various acknowledged masters of the short-story form to see what their tips for writers are. When you try that on James Joyce, you get into deep water fast. Read more »

I Am Waiting

image of Lawrenbce Ferlinghetti in 1959

It was the poet Wordsworth who said that in getting and spending we lay waste our powers.  These days, Lord knows, I still do plenty of spending.  As far as “getting” is concerned, well, I’m still getting up every morning—does that count?

Retirement has involved a particular kind of mental rewiring—the leisurely refocusing of my attention away from worldly concerns (work, politics, pop culture) and toward more timeless pleasures.  I would never have believed it:  sometimes I catch myself relaxing.

It’s a relaxing of a particular kind, too.  A certain openness to sensation.  Less prose, more poetry.  Less noise, more silence.  Fewer thoughts, more feelings—or depth of feeling.  A little less judging, a little more forgiveness.  Don’t ask me why.  I’m just pleased that it’s happening.

Which brings me to a poem that I encountered in my late twenties, by that lovely soul, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  Read more »


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