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Saturday, April 26, 2008

NYT Book reviews

This book collects nearly all the poems Aram Saroyan wrote in the 1960s, when he was in his early 20s and, as he put it, “the only person available at a typewriter who didn’t have some predetermined use in mind for it.” The resulting pages, tapped in Aram Saroyan by his typewriter, were succinct. Saroyan was the master of the one-word poem. But his works were as musical and meaningful as more conventional poetry, too, and a lot more amusing. The minimal poems were eye openers, ear openers and mind openers, and no one else was doing anything much like them at the time, and no one has since. Saroyan was known as a “concrete poet” — that is, he was writing poems meant to be looked at as much as read. His poems aimed to be things as well as words, and they used all the resources of the alphanumeric page (or slab of stone, as Ian Hamilton Finlay did, or poster or other medium) rather than being merely linguistic expression of pre-existing ideas or perceptions. All interesting poems do this to a degree, poetry being a recognition that consciousness is made of language, but concrete poems are an extreme example, which accounts for a substantial part of their poetic pedigree (and high-class license). Lighght Verse - Richard Hell

In “The Second Plane,” his collection of noisy, knowing writings about theocracy and terror, Martin Amis goes out on a limb. He denounces both. Really, he does. He hates Islamism and he hates Islamist murder. And so he should: if certain forms of evil are not hated, then they have not been fully understood. Amis enjoys the moral element in contempt, and he is splendidly unperturbed by the prospect of giving offense. But he appears to believe that an insult is an analysis. He wants us to remember, about the Islamists in Britain, “their six-liter plastic tubs of hairdressing bleach and nail-polish remover, their crystalline triacetone triperoxide and chapatti flour.” He knows for a fact that Islamists “habitually” jump red lights, so as “to show contempt for the law of the land (and contempt for reason).” Iranians, he teaches, are “mystical, volatile and masochistic.” Amis seems to regard his little curses as almost military contributions to the struggle. He has a hot, heroic view of himself. He writes as if he, with his wrinkled copies of Bernard Lewis and Philip Larkin, is what stands between us and the restoration of the caliphate. He is not only outraged by Sept. 11, he is also excited by it. “If Sept. 11 had to happen, then I am not at all sorry that it happened in my lifetime.” Don’t you see? It no longer matters that we missed the Spanish Civil War. ¡No pasarán! The Catastrophist - Leon Wieseltier

In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.” In short, everyone has a story — and everyone wants to tell it. Fewer people may be reading, but everywhere you turn, Americans are sounding their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world, as good old Walt Whitman, himself a self-published author, once put it. You’re an Author? Me Too! - Rachel Donadio

There’s never been anyone like Ahmad Chalabi in American history, never a foreigner without official status so crucially involved in a decision by the United States to go to war. Of course, Winston Churchill helped engineer America’s entry into World War II, but he was, after all, prime minister of the United Kingdom. And Chalabi — a University of Chicago Ph.D. in mathematics, wealthy banker forever going bankrupt, and creator and sole proprietor of a Potemkin Iraqi freedom front financed entirely by United States taxpayers — is no Winston Churchill. Neoconner - Leslie Gelb

At one point in John Edgar Wideman’s new novel, the narrator imagines a question posed by his brother about the book (this very book) the narrator is trying to write: “Why Fanon.” The narrator continues: “I’m disappointed when my brother asks the question. The answer’s obvious, isn’t it. Given the facts of Fanon’s life, my brother’s life, my life, the decades in prison, the besieged lives of the people we love and who love us, the lives and deaths shared with them, why wouldn’t my brother, of all people, understand my need to write about Fanon.” But for Frantz Fanon (1925-61) — a psychiatrist and revolutionary, whose book “The Wretched of the Earth” is a classic meditation on force, the psychology of colonizer and colonized, and the effects of torture — explicit violence was the only way to defeat murderous injustice. In other words, sometimes violence works, though we seem to have wholly lost sympathy for the idea that any entity — or group — aside from a mighty state in pursuit of deranged fanatics is justified in using it. No Way Out - Lee Siegel


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