The latest issue of the Quarterly Conversation came out recently. As usual it has some great material in it, including a review of Daniel Sada’s Casi Nunca which was published a couple of months ago. It is a good review in terms of thinking about Sada’s language and grounding him in Mexican letters. It isn’t so good in giving you a sense of what the book is about. That’s ok I guess. You can’t have every thing. The book has been on my shelf for years. I’m going to get around to read it one of these days.
Other features of note:
By Daniel Evans Pritchard
Douglas Glover believes that there is a major failure in literary culture, and his new volume of essays, Attack of the Copula Spiders, attempts to re-teach the skills of reading and writing. Attack of the Copula Spiders, however, definitely is not an exercise in remedial education. Glover is a literary technocrat with a cranky, professorial temperament. He studies the percentages of load-bearing words within sentences and paragraphs, offering dictums in terms that would be familiar to central bankers. But are his remedies right for our literary problems?
By Matt Rowe
A highly educated man proposes that the government create a publicly funded system of healthcare. His opponents question the scientific basis of his ideas while clinging to religion. Some wonder where the money will come from; others worry about who will decide who receives care. As ordinary citizens see more and more of their friends and family fall victim to a corrupt system, they unite in a protest that is intended to be non-violent but turns bloody when challenged by government militia. But, rather than the people’s triumph, the seizure of power only marks the moment when hypocrisy, under the banner of “compromise,” becomes pervasive. That’s what happens in Machado de Assis’ 1882 novella The Alienist , the opening chapters of which are excerpted in this issue of The Quarterly Conversation. The Alienist takes place not in the United States of 2012 but in the Brazilian colonial outpost of Itaguaí, sometime around the year 1800.
Interview by Ágnes Dömötör
You know, the problem is that anything that’s the least bit serious gets bad PR. Kafka got bad PR, and so does the Bible. The Old Testament is a pretty hard text to read; anyone who finds my writing difficult must have trouble with the Bible, too. Our consumer culture aims at putting your mind to sleep, and you’re not even aware of it. It costs a lot of money to keep this singular procedure going, and there’s an insane global operation in place for that very purpose.
Translated by Matt Rowe
The chronicles of Itaguaí tell that long ago there lived in town a certain Doctor Simeon Blunderbuss, a man of noble birth and the greatest doctor in Brazil, Portugal, and both Old and New Spains. He had studied at Coimbra and at Padua before returning to Brazil at the age of thirty-four. The King could not manage to convince him to stay on in Coimbra as regent of the university, nor in Lisbon directing royal affairs.
Translated by Thomas Bunstead
I thought it strange the baby not crying. I wanted to get up and check that it was all right, but I was worried I’d hurt myself, plus I was in a bit of a daze—it was as though my eyelids weighed more than usual. I asked myself: what dreams would I have had while I was under? I couldn’t remember a thing. Strange, because I always dream, and I always remember my dreams. I’d had a recurring nightmare over the previous nine months, over and over: in agony, I’d be giving birth to a baby that made a sound like a cat.
Review by George Messo
It’s Ibn Fadlan’s account of his remarkable journey that takes up the larger part of Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone’s newly translated anthology Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North. In 922 Ibn Fadlan set off from Baghdad as the envoy of caliph Muqtadir, bound for the upper Volga River and the Turkic-speaking court of Almish ibn Yiltawar at Bulghar. His mission was simple: to instruct the newly converted Almish and his people in the Islamic faith, to oversee the building of a congregational mosque, and to assist in the construction of a defensive fortress. Because of their richness, Ibn Fadlan’s detailed observations retain an authentic power to shock. He maintains a coolly dispassionate sense of importance and breadth, documenting a dizzying range of anthropological gems, from Turkish marriage customs to hospitality, from hygiene and the Ghuzz taboo on washing to horse sacrifices.
And so many others of note.