I’ve been reading a fair number of books and print publications (I know, unprecedented) for the last ten days. While I finish up here and get my bearings, do run out and pick up the latest issue of Harper’s. In it, Terry Eagleton, perhaps best known for his book on literary theory, considers the “contradictions of V.S. Naipaul.”
Naipaul hailed from a lower middle-class family in Trinidad but throughout his career has made hugely controversial “oracular pronouncements”–among them the contentions:
that nothing was ever created in the West Indies; that the West Indians never seriously doubted the virtue of the imperialist culture to which they aspired; and that the ethnic situation of African Americans cannot be the subject of serious literature…
In the same issue, David Anderson is unimpressed with the latest iteration of what was The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.
Now The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, the collection according to Anderson “has lost its original focus: its younger poets offer little to help us comprehend the legacy of modernism.” Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Lewis Carroll are among the poets ousted from the current edition. And evidently the presence of Wilbur, Hecht, and Nemerov is diminished.
While I am unpleasantly surprised to see these poets removed from the volume, I take issue with Anderson’s resistance to the inclusion of both the more contemporary voices and writers with varying cultural, ethnic, and sexual sensibilities. Perhaps a solution is to give contemporary poets their own anthology, instead of lumping them in with the moderns?
Finally, Joan Didion’s latest novel, Where I Was From, is reviewed. John Leonard says the book reveals Didion’s newfound belief that “selling their future to the highest bidder was … a habit among the earliest Californians, including her own family.” Didion’s family has lived in California since the mid-1800’s, and Didion’s first novel “blamed outsiders and newcomers for paving her childhod paradise.”