Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TLS February 8 2008

from Richard Sieburth's review of Paul Claudel's Knowing the East, and Victor Segalen's Steles:

The sixty-four steles displayed in Victor Segalen's imaginary museum, each poem-tablet lineated into short prose paragraphs and framed by a rectangular rule, are thematically divided according to the spatial coordinates of traditional Chinese cosmography. The initial "Steles Facing South", spoken in the persona of an emperor of the fictional Kingdom of the Self, mock the various foreign religions that had implanted themselves in China--Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Buddhism--in world-weary tones that recall the ironic fatalism of Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians". The subsequent section, "Steles Facing North", explores the opaque relation between Self and Other on a more personal level--the vagaries of male friendship, unrequited desires. "Oriented Steles", perhaps the weakest section of the book, in turn moves into lyrical poems of praise of the beloved, with fragments lifted from the Confucian Books of Odes and Li Po, here recomposed into the sensual, anaphoric cadences of the Song of Songs. In "Occidental Steles", the devotion the poet feels for his Sovereign Lady is translated into the loyalty the soldier shows to his Prince even in the face of death: the fundamental conflict between Subject and Object is here dramatized in epic fashion as the battle between Warrior and Foe. The following "Steles by the Wayside", many of which are spoken by the stone tablets themselves, apostrophizes various passers-by in celebration of spirits of the place, while the final section, "Steles of the Middle", leaves two-dimensional space altogether in order to delve into the netherworld of the innermost (and most ineffable) Empire of the Self--the domain of the Hidden Name, a secret realm beyond all representation and . . . inaccessible to all forms of knowledge.

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Writing to his mentor Jules de Gaultier in 1913, he observed:

The Chinese stone steles contain the most tiresome of literature: the praise of official virtues, a Buddhist ex-voto, the pronouncement of a decree, an exhortation to good conduct. It is therefore neither the spirit nor the letter, but simply the "Stele"-form itself that I have borrowed. I deliberately seek in China, not ideas, not subjects, but forms. I thought the "Stele"-form might lend itself to a new literary genre, which I've tried to establish with a few examples: a short text, bordered by a kind of rectangular frame in the mind and presenting itself to the reader in frontal fashion.

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from Robert Irwin's review of Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature, edited by Gaetan Brulotte and John Phillips:

The (very interesting) article on furniture concludes as follows: "In the fin-de-siecle, eros crosses over into sickness, and the furniture is caught up in the epidemic: the chaise lounge [sic] itself is sick with desire and pleasure. As the dominant notions of pleasure changed over time, so did the furniture."

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Zakani's definition of a "virgin" as "a noun with no referent".

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from Sophie Ratcliffe's review of James Wood's How Fiction Works:

Any distinctive textual voice, as Geoffrey Hill has pointed out, is a product of the way in which one writer registers the voices of others. The creation of an individual tone involves both admitting and excluding other tones.

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