Night Life – Politics – The List – Looking – Names – Identification, a story – with readings on classical democracy, translation, the mind, and value (The following is a work of satire. The people and events depicted, including those based on real people and events, are all entirely fictional.)
I thought Identification would be a good short story to start with, and might even serve as a key to understanding my theory of fiction, such as it is. Also, more unfortunate timeliness in that last section of Names: I had been reading Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland during the 2008 campaigns (I highly recommend it for providing political insight, if not emotional stability). I wouldn’t have thought you could revive those same old slogans so easily, but there has been a huge Nixon rehabilitation effort these past eight years.
*Either in response to what is often (and with increasing accuracy) referred to as political theater, or perhaps just to the retreat of art from public life, Daniel Mendelsohn explores the relationship between drama and democracy in classical Athens. In her own response to the Brexit, Mary Beard looks at Athenian democracy in terms of practice and civil service. (Her recent history of Rome, SPQR, is also excellent. The first half deals with the Republic and its collapse, and, like Perlstein, feels uncomfortably pertinent.)
*Being interested in the various ways we engage with literature, I’ve always had a special envy for translators. Don Mee Choi writes about translating the poetry of Kim Hyesoon here; Janet Malcolm writes in praise of Constance Garnett here. Perry Link is more concerned with entanglement than engagement—an interesting piece, though I don’t think I would agree with any of his basic assumptions about the nature of mind or language, or about the relationship between the two (i.e. “you are performing a grammatical act, but that grammatical act has no power to change the way the world is”—I’m not exactly sure this is the case).
*After finally getting to see The Big Short, and, later, reading Paul Krugman’s review of The End of Alchemy by Mervyn King, I felt similarly frustrated with our common (and not wholly unrelated) assumptions about the nature of value. For instance: Zoe Heller writes about the new book of essays by Cynthia Ozick here; Melanie McDonagh writes about the new book of essays by Terry Eagleton here; and Caitlin Rosberg writes about self publishing in comics here. All of these pieces are concerned with the survival of art and culture in a postmodern capitalist society (Rosberg’s profile of C. Spike Trotman is particularly encouraging—I hadn’t realized when I read it that she has spent the last year reviewing only works created by people of color). Yet, while I understand it may be necessary, I can’t help but feel that when we start talking about art and literature from a market viability standpoint, we’ve already ceded the fact that we have a lot of freedom in deciding what is important and valuable, and why (ahem).
*If civilization is about to collapse, however, I feel pretty confident that fungirl has at least justified us to posterity. Keiller Roberts’ Powdered Milk is deeply affecting; Patrick Hovarth does one awesome drawing a day (or here on Instagram); and Katie Skelly, Sarah Horrocks, and Jeremy Sorese tackle espionage-thriller and science fiction tropes, among others.
I’ve been trying to get down some long-planned genre stories of my own. If I could do it a fraction as well I’d be thrilled. Once again, next month’s selection from Coherence will be a little shorter than usual, but the short story will be a regular feature from now on.
Next issue: September 6th