I’m a sucker for a man who reads Yeats. So I’m bound to like a man who bases his novel on an obscure Yeats play.
“When I was at Yale in graduate school, a friend of mine brought me to see a play that the undergraduates were doing and it was ‘The Only Jealousy of Emer,’” David Duchovny recalls one rainy day over lattes at Tavern on the Green. “It’s a verse play, so it’s kind of unwatchable. But I got the gist of it, which was a very cool wager about love, and it stayed with me forever.”
Naturally, since this is Fox Mulder of “The X-Files,” there’s a supernatural element and a parallel universe. And since this is also Hank Moody of “Californication,” there’s some drinking and womanizing, too.
The use of the idea of wilderness in Where the Wild Things Are is quite a simple one: it provides Max with a psychological salve for what ails him. For all its simplicity, this idea of wilderness nonetheless has some important components: It underscores an element of distance from both ordinary things and from the human community—wilderness can be solitary. It posits the rambunctiousness of diverse wild things and provides a realization that one cannot dwell forever in the wild. In this notion of wilderness, there is a heightened reminder that after our fill of wilderness, one can, or perhaps even should, return, replenished, to the comforts of home.
During my days in middle school in the rural Midwest, I accompanied my friend Beth to several of her father’s Civil War reenactments. Along with them, I learned how to sew my own costumes, frontload a musket, and fire a cannon. Thrilled by all this, I went on to join every reenactment enclave I could weasel my way into. Over the years, I have posed as a 19th-century explorer giving tours of Frenchtown with a terrible accent, taken a turn as a Victorian prostitute dragging tourists through a haunted brothel, and led Boston visitors down the Freedom Trail dressed in full colonial attire. Through it all, I came to learn the joys of what Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M. Glazer have dubbed “superfandom” — a mode of fervent, participatory cultural consumption.
My flair for the corset and the bustle stood me in good stead as I read Ted Scheinman’s new book, Camp Austen, which chronicles the year and a half the author spent participating in, “accidentally” loving, and then leaving what he calls “Austenworld.” Scheinman, a self-professed “lapsed scholar” of British literature, charmingly narrates his dabblings among the “secret society” of Jane Austen fans in this lively debut that blurs the lines between literary criticism, memoir, ode to superfandom, and digestible biography of one of the most beloved authors in history.
The writing of poetry is notoriously mystified, almost occult in its resistance to rules or step-by-step methods. If you’re a poet, the precision, discipline, and tact of painters or photographers seem enviable indeed. The entire process, by being externalized, seems repeatable, unlike the chance encounters of poets with their muses. Xie’s swallowed commands, shorn of their predicates, suggest that the rules of her art cannot be codified. Xie knows the truth of what Wallace Stevens said about the power of poems: supplementing the manifest world with innuendo and nuance, supplying sound to spectacle, they make “the visible / a little hard to see.” What happens at eye level gets its start in the depths.
To Shape a New World is a compelling work of philosophy, all the more so because it treats King seriously without inoculating him from the kind of critique important to both his theory and practice. In one of the best essays in the collection, Shatema Threadcraft and Brandon Terry turn their eye toward King’s conception of manhood and the family, noting his patriarchal tendencies while eschewing well-trodden strategies of wholesale rejection or total defense. Instead, they advocate for a strategy of “thinking with King against King.” Admiration and critique, like theory and practice, don’t preclude each other. Sometimes the latter is a way of doing the former.