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, Thea Hawlin wrote about the photojournalist Gerda Taro for AnOther, illustrating how Taro formed “one half of the alias ‘Robert Capa'”:
Taro was born Gerda Pohorylle to a Jewish family in Germany in 1910. When she was 23 years old she was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda, and fled to Paris. It was here that she met fellow refugee Endre Friedmann, the handsome dark-haired Hungarian who would go on to be heralded as one of the greatest war photographers of all time; in Paris they discovered they could make more money selling their photos under the guise of a fictitious American photographer, and so the name Robert Capa was born. The pair worked seamlessly as one, and soon became lovers.
And Xenobe Purvis, who recently reviewed Clare Fisher’s How the Light Gets In for Splice, popped up on Review31 with a review of Whitney Chadwick’s The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism:
The wives and lovers of surrealist men were often dismissed to the domestic sphere, habitually excluded from the movement’s essential conversations. While André Breton and Leon Trotsky talked art and politics (discussions intended for publication), the women in their circle – Jacqueline Lamba, Breton’s wife, and Frida Kahlo – were ‘left to their own devices’, Chadwick notes. Through this exclusion, Lamba and Kahlo ‘created a rich and nurturing environment that sustained their growing friendship’, writes Chadwick, cultivating a shared visual language and an interest in self-representation and identity. The friendship invested both women with the confidence to embark on the world of surrealism as artists in their own right, a confidence on Lamba’s part so often denied her by her husband.
Also this week at Review31, Liam Harrison offered a belated but valuable assessment of Ann Quin’s The Unmapped Country, edited by Jennifer Hodgson, with an emphasis on the context in which Quin was writing her “fragments” as well as her literary legacy:
The formal and specifically grammatical experimentation of Quin is notable across The Unmapped Country. Quin uses suspended blank spaces between words to denote a rupture more seismic than the polite trailing off of ellipsis — a formal technique which is popular with contemporary novels pushing the limits of language such as Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. These breaks between words speak to the static breaches of modern communication, as lines break up, connections fail, and meanings are misconstrued. Yet for all the linguistic fallout there is a sharp line of humour running through The Unmapped Country — from the acute ear Quin has for quotidian speech patterns (‘it’s good to eat often and little does he still eat with his knife’), to the tragicomic elements of having a breakdown, anticipating darkly comic texts of isolation such as Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond in 2015). Jennifer Hodgson traces the genealogy of Quin’s work in her introduction, underlying her roots in Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen, the familiar sense of destructive playfulness in Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus, and her ‘joy in confronting the subterranean aspects of human experience’ resonating with contemporary writers like McBride, Bennett, and Deborah Levy.
And, at the Glasgow Review of Books, Isabel Adey took a broad look at the track record of Edinburgh-based Charco Press, which has recently made waves with its translations of Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love, Luis Sagasti’s Fireflies, and Margarita García Robayo’s Fish Soup:
Charco Press is dedicated to publishing an eclectic mix of titles, all of which have been written by critically acclaimed, award-winning writers with a challenging, thought-provoking perspective that sparks debate. Charco Press call these authors the “shining lights” of contemporary literature, and the publishing venture is out to challenge the commonly held belief that readers are less than fond of short stories and translated fiction. With the slender yet intellectually weighty books in the Charco Press catalogue, English-speaking readers can now finally decide for themselves.
Meanwhile, at Public Books, Claire Jarvis articulated some thoughts on the recent literature of motherhood, focusing on Sheila Heti’s Motherhood and Meaghan O’Connell’s And Now We Have Everything:
Weirdly, although Motherhood doesn’t detail, well, motherhood, it is strangely close to the phenomenon of birth, in part because the central embodiment in Heti’s novel is the mind in all its disorganized dislocation and not the body at all. The topic of Heti’s novel is the mind’s inability to fully absorb the body’s part in the world, especially the threat of the body’s recalcitrance. The social necessity of reproduction makes child-rearing feel like a foregone conclusion, that even people who have chosen not to have children are trapped in a swamp of expectation—that they will change their minds, that they don’t know their minds, or their bodies.
And finally, at the Sydney Review of Books, Mirelle Juchau re-read Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White (pictured above), championing the novel with spectacular energy but not dismissive of its difficulties and flaws:
Just as I’m unable to separate my attachment to Riders from how its setting evokes my childhoood, I can’t account for my development as a writer without acknowledging the impact of White’s dynamic, exhilarating style. I’m especially drawn to his ability to evoke complex undercurrents of unspoken emotion. This is partly achieved through his use of free indirect style, which allows us to access several levels of meaning and interiority; to encounter each character with varying degrees of psychic distance. In a scene where Himmelfarb seeks work from Harry Rosetree, White continually shifts the point of view so that we inhabit each of their consciousnesses at different moments. … This technique allows White to show us his characters in all their creaturely vulnerability, to inhabit their point of view and then imperceptibly shift so that we seem to encounter the world as experienced through the core of their being. Such an approach reinforces one of the novel’s interests—in how identity is assembled from many internal and external sources.
And that’s all for this week! See you back here on Monday…