Tag Archives: Lit

Post-partum à Istanbul

Y aurait-il des romans pour hommes et d’autres pour femmes ?

J’y repensais l’autre jour en lisant Lait noir (Siyah Süt, traduit du turc par Valérie Gay-Aksoy, 339 pages, 22 euros, Phébus). La stambouliote Elif Shafak y fait la chronique de la société dans laquelle elle vit à travers les cas de conscience de ces femmes qui se veulent à la fois mères et artistes. George Steiner a écrit à ce sujet quelques pages dans Réelles présences. Les arts du sens qui firent scandale en 1991. Il y soutenait que le monopole masculin dans les arts, la littérature et surtout la composition musicale n’était pas le résultat de l’asservissement domestique, de l’oppression phallocratique ou des conditions socio-historiques mais bien d’autre chose :”La capacité biologique de procréer, d’engendrer la vie qui est le propre de la femme, n’est-elle pas de quelque façon, à un niveau absolument essentiel à l’être de la femme, tellement créatrice, tellement épanouissante, qu’en comparaison, la création de personnes fictives qui est la matière même du drame et des arts plastiques, en pâlisse ?” On s’en doute, ce n’est du tout le discours que tient Elif Shafak : son Lait noir oscille plutôt entre Le Deuxième sexe, Une Chambre à soi et Doris Lessing.



Another country


In 1955, the injustice of the black experience was no longer news, and if Baldwin’s warning drew attention it was overshadowed by the gentler yet more startling statements that made his work unique. In this newly politicized context, there was a larger lesson to be drawn from the hard-won wisdom, offered from his father’s grave, that hatred “never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.” Addressing a predominantly white audience—many of these essays were originally published in white liberal magazines—he sounds a tone very much like sympathy. Living abroad, he explained, had made him realize how irrevocably he was an American; he confessed that he felt a closer kinship with the white Americans he saw in Paris than with the African blacks, whose culture and experiences he had never shared. The races’ mutual obsession, in America, and their long if hidden history of physical commingling had finally made them something like a family. For these reasons, Baldwin revoked the threat of violence with an astonishingly broad reassurance: American Negroes, he claimed, have no desire for vengeance. The relationship of blacks and whites is, after all, “a blood relationship, perhaps the most profound reality of the American experience,” and cannot be understood until we recognize how much it contains of “the force and anguish and terror of love.”

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus, in December, 1955, Baldwin was absorbed with the publication of his second novel, “Giovanni’s Room”; he watched from Paris as the civil-rights movement got under way, that spring. His new book had a Paris setting, no black characters, and not a word about race. Even more boldly, it was about homosexual love—or, rather, about the inability of a privileged young American man to come to terms with his sexuality and ultimately to feel any love at all. Brief and intense, the novel is brilliant in its exploration of emotional cowardice but marred by a portentous tone that at times feels cheaply secondhand—more “Bonjour Tristesse” than Gide or Genet. Although Baldwin had been cautioned about the prospects of a book with such a controversial subject, it received good reviews and went into a second printing in six weeks. As a writer, he had won the freedom he desired, and the decision to live abroad seemed fully vindicated. By late 1956, however, the atmosphere in Paris was changing. The Algerian war had made it difficult to ignore France’s own racial problems, and newspaper headlines in the kiosks outside the cafés made it even harder to forget the troubles back home. And so the following summer Baldwin embarked on his most adventurous trip, to the land that some in Harlem still called the Old Country: the American South.

He was genuinely afraid.


Skeptic’s Take on the Life and Argued Works of Shakespeare

For centuries, Shakespeare skeptics have doubted the authorship of the Stratfordian Bard’s literary corpus, proffering no fewer than 50 alternative candidates, including Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe and the leading contender among the “anti-Stratfordians,” Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. And for nearly as long, the Shakespeare skeptics have toiled in relative obscurity, holding conferences in tiny gatherings and dreaming of the day their campaign would make front-page news. On April 18, 2009, the Wall Street Journal granted their wish with a feature story on how U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens came to believe (and throw his judicial weight behind) the skeptics.

Stevens’s argument retreads a well-worn syllogism: Shakespeare’s plays are so culturally rich that they could only have been written by a noble or scholar of great learning. The historical William Shakespeare was a commoner with no more than a grammar school education. Ergo, Shakespeare could not have written Shakespeare. For example, Stevens asks, “Where are the books? You can’t be a scholar of that depth and not have any books in your home. He never had any correspondence with his contemporaries, he never was shown to be present at any major event—the coronation of James or any of that stuff. I think the evidence that he was not the author is beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But reasonable doubt should not cost an author his claim, at least not if we treat history as a science instead of as a legal debate. In science, a reigning theory is presumed provisionally true and continues to hold sway unless and until a challenging theory explains the current data as well and also accounts for anomalies that the prevailing one cannot.


Don’t Touch ‘A Moveable Feast’

BOOKSTORES are getting shipments of a significantly changed edition of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, “A Moveable Feast,” first published posthumously by Scribner in 1964. This new edition, also published by Scribner, has been extensively reworked by a grandson who doesn’t like what the original said about his grandmother, Hemingway’s second wife.

The grandson has removed several sections of the book’s final chapter and replaced them with other writing of Hemingway’s that the grandson feels paints his grandma in a more sympathetic light. Ten other chapters that roused the grandson’s displeasure have been relegated to an appendix, thereby, according to the grandson, creating “a truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish.”

It is his claim that Mary Hemingway, Ernest’s fourth wife, cobbled the manuscript together from shards of an unfinished work and that she created the final chapter, “There Is Never Any End to Paris.”

Scribner’s involvement with this bowdlerized version should be examined as it relates to the book’s actual genesis, and to the ethics of publishing.


Vatican embraces Oscar Wilde

In a week in which the Vatican made its peace with that dangerous consorter with witches Harry Potter, the Holy See has also revealed an unexpected soft spot for Oscar Wilde.

Earlier this week the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which had previously described JK Rowling’s books as presenting a “vision of the world and the human being full of deep mistakes and dangerous suggestions”, praised the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for making it clear that good must overcome evil “and that sometimes this requires costs and sacrifice”.

Despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects”, wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano’s The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.



“A well tied tie is the first serious step in life.” –Oscar Wilde


Les sujets britanniques ne sont pas foule à Naples, en ce début de février 1898. Aussi les deux jeunes maîtres d’école attablés devant leurs cafés ne sont-ils pas surpris lorsqu’un inconnu, les ayant entendus bavarder, demande la permission de se joindre à eux. L’immense silhouette un peu molle, les yeux tombants, le sourire mi-ironique mi-amer leur rappellent vaguement quelque chose ; le gentleman a manifestement connu des jours meilleurs, mais il est encore élégant dans son manteau à col de velours, un rien trop ajusté. Parapluie au bras, chapeau melon à la main, il les salue de tout son mètre quatre-vingt-dix, se cale sur une chaise avec aisance et commence à parler.

De quoi ? Peu importe. Ils tombent aussitôt sous le charme de cette voix profonde aux inflexions raffinées, à la diction parfaite, où l’humour le dispute à l’esprit pour faire oublier une érudition sans limites. Pendant une heure, peut-être deux, il parle et cela leur suffit. Oscar Wilde a toujours affirmé que “le premier devoir dans la vie est d’adopter une pose”. Il continue envers et contre tout. Prêt à mourir pour un bon mot. Quelques semaines auparavant, Alfred Douglas, l’homme à qui il a sacrifié sa vie, l’a laissé tomber après avoir mangé sa maigre pension, “l’expérience la plus amère d’une vie amère”, a-t-il dit, en confiant à un ami qu’il avait songé au suicide. “Avez-vous pu imaginer passer à Naples toute votre vie après la vie ?”, a demandé l’ami. “Non, la cuisine est vraiment trop mauvaise !”, a-t-il répondu en riant.

Ce jour de février, il n’a même plus une chemise à se mettre – un domestique a profité de son désarroi pour lui dérober le peu qui lui restait, y compris sa précieuse garde-robe. Mais qui s’en apercevrait ? Il boit, il parle. Les deux jeunes Anglais, éblouis, ne voient pas les consommations qui défilent, la note qui s’alourdit. Elle les fera grimacer tout à l’heure, quand le brillant causeur prendra congé en leur laissant l’addition. Ils ne lui en voudront pas. Au contraire, M. Greene racontera mille fois à son fils Graham sa mésaventure napolitaine : “Songez combien il devait se sentir seul pour consacrer tant de temps et d’esprit à un couple d’instituteurs en vacances !” Après tout, notera Graham Greene, “Wilde payait son verre avec la seule monnaie qu’il eût”. A Naples, il peut encore faire illusion. Pas pour longtemps.

Read Oscar Wilde le déchu (Le Monde, Seul contre tous 10/12)