I cannot resist a news headline that refers to a mystery illness and there is no shortage to keep me interested. “Mystery of 18 twitching teenagers in New York”; “Mysterious sleeping sickness spreads in Kazakhstani village”; “200 Colombian girls fall ill with a mysterious illness”; “The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome”. One medical disorder seems to attract this description more than any other: psychosomatic illness. That the body is the mouthpiece of the mind is evident in our posture, in the smiles on our faces, in the tremor of our nervous hands. But, still, when the body speaks too explicitly, when the power of the mind leads to physical disability, it can be hard to understand why. This perplexity is most apparent when psychosomatic disorders affect groups, spreading from person to person like a social virus, in a phenomenon often referred to as mass hysteria.
For all his eminence, grise or otherwise, Fuller’s poetry has maintained an ordered gleefulness, with his storytelling, voice-throwing urge sharing something with Browning. This narrative, characterful element is just as important to his work as its often more eye-catching formality, Auden being another of his pole stars as well as a particular focus in his critical prose. When reading Fuller, one is never far from a sense of poetry as intelligent play as well as music, of the poem as argument, love song, and lullaby.
Amid the book reviews in the LRB by critics determined to sound sober and certain, as if they were museum docents, her reviews and essays admitted doubt. They were marvelously shrewd but approachable and witty. Diski’s articles made the sound of someone chewing her fingernails very intelligently. She made stuffy waiting rooms a little brighter.
Diski (1947-2016) contributed more than 200 pieces to the LRB over 25 years, beginning in 1992. A new book, “Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?” — it’s the kind of title you can’t remember even while you are typing it — collects a few dozen of the best.
Because, in a wounded universe, the tufts
of grass still glisten, the first daffodil
shoots up through ice-melt, and a red-tailed hawk