Weekendnotes, July 14-15

On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?


In home news this week, Splice masthead contributor Thea Hawlin took to AnOther with a lighthearted look at fashion in Peter Weir’s film adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock, based on the novel by Joan Lindsay:

“How could she lower herself to be spirited away?” Mrs Appleyard wonders of her missing colleague. At the heart of the film is the frustration that comes with disappearance. Weir’s ambiguous ending ensures we stay, like all the other characters in the film, in the dark as to what exactly transpires at Hanging Rock. What we do know for sure, is that disappearing without a trace earns you no friends.


Elsewhere, and writing in an entirely different register, Jacob Rubin contributed to Slate with an article on a recent experience of grief following the death of a friend. His was a grief in no way alleviated by literature, and especially not by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, until he came across the essays of Mary Gaitskill (pictured above):

Gaitskill is frequently misunderstood, even by excellent critics. There is a received view of her as a bad-ass punk rocker, a dismissive and cold appraiser of the sordid human condition. In a brilliant and widely circulated article published on the personal essay last year, the writer Merve Emre praised Gaitskill’s work as a way forward for the form, and yet did so while arguing that Gaitskill joins a Didionian tradition of prose “served cold.” But, as the writer Leslie Jamison has argued, Gaitskill is only cold by reputation: in truth, she admits emotions of all kinds, the wilds of grief as much as any.


At LitHub, two masters of the realist short story, Ron Rash and Tim Winton, corresponded to discuss the pleasures and pains of the form:

Ron Rash: You’re an excellent short story writer as well as novelist. Can you talk a bit about the challenges of each form. I’ve always felt short stories are closer to poems than to novels. Do you agree?

Tim Winton: I think stories are harder, so much less forgiving. And yes, closer to poems than to novels. This sharp, concentrated burst of energy that so often doesn’t take form on the page with anything like the momentum and focus with which they’re read and experienced. All that flapping and flailing and jury-rigging beneath the surface — it’s hilarious, the difference in how they’re wrought and how they appear on the page. Not a smudge or a bloodstain in sight!

There’s something about the austerity of the short story that appeals to me. The submission to limits, I guess. I can remember reading Juan Rulfo’s The Burning Plainwhen I was still in my teens. And maybe it was just the way the book was set, surely also the gaps and silences within the stories, but I remember that being an early landmark for me. The sense of a lot going on, a lot not being said, and all these potent silences and spaces on the page. Thinking “this really shouldn’t work.” That’s what I love about a good short story, the very unlikeliness of it, the fact of it being so much more than the sum of its few parts.


Meanwhile, at Asymptote, Isabel Fargo Cole spoke to Josefina Massot about her recent experience of translating Wolfgang Hilbig’s Tidings of the Trees, making some remarks that nicely supplement her conversation with Joseph Schrieber for Splice:

There’s an element of cold analysis [to translating Hilbig] — is he using short or long words, terse or convoluted syntax, alliteration, assonance, similarities or contrasts in sound and structure? But often it comes down to an intuitive sense of where the key emphasis in a sentence or passage lies, and how to produce an equivalent in English. I try to preserve Hilbig’s sentence structure as far as possible in English, because that’s what creates much of the music and rhythm. His sentences can be fragmented or elliptical, or unfold into a whole cascade of clauses; the shifting syntax produces shifting rhythms, but also crucially reflects the narrator’s mental state. So the “music” isn’t a distinct element that can be separated out. In general, I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast distinction between the letter and the spirit of a text. It’s a matter of making judgement calls in each particular instance and deciding where the emphasis lies or what motivates the use of a certain word. If I sense that he’s using a word mainly for its sound value and less for its literal meaning, I might feel free to change it. But sometimes the sound value resonates with the meaning, so ideally the English word has to convey the same synthesis.


And at 3:AM Magazine, Carrie Cooperider described her experience of proofreading the work of Gordon Lish, specifically his recent book White Plains, after having been Lish’s student:

Proofreading White Plains meant that I read the book seven or so times; shouldn’t I therefore know it better than most anyone, and wouldn’t that — combined with my credentials as Gordon’s student and close reader — give me license to speak with him about it? I thought so, though I have to admit that there remained — that there remain — in accordance with “Muphry’s Law,” a few mistakes in the published book. Yes, “Muphry’s Law,” spelled (or ‘spelt,’ as Lish would sometimes have it in White Plains) THAT way, m-u-p-h-r-y — which dictates that whenever a proofreader is thanked by the author of a book in its credits, there are bound to be mistakes. The challenge, in White Plains, was that Lish aimed his aspirations to astonishing heights of shenanigannery in orthography, syntax, and voice.


Finally, at Review31, Genevieve Sartor makes some incisive remarks on Alex Pheby’s Lucia, and the relationship between its stylistic manoeuvres and the ethics of writing about the sufferings of a person like Lucia Joyce:

Pheby describes scenarios of this register and many more in uniquely visceral, decisively rendered and unforgiving prose. Importantly he refrains from indulging in the popular reading that portrays Lucia as a free-spirited, dancing muse for her father; he instead highlights the disconcerting levels of trauma involved in the not-so-distant history of medical psychiatry that Lucia, along with countless others — particularly women — would have endured. But why has Pheby chosen to depict Lucia as one who lived out her life as a series of bodily violations — from brute incest to forced acts of medically sanctioned violence so gratuitously? A chapter that begins with the question “Under what circumstances may James Joyce beat his wife? … Under what circumstances may James Joyce beat his daughter?” implies a self-referentially telling, thinly disguised aim of its own. The thematic quality of Lucia suggests that Pheby seeks to violate forms of censorship or imposed sanctity, however indirectly, by blaspheming the once impenetrable environs of Joycean biography.


And that’s all for this week! See you back here on Monday…