It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of the New York Sun “Arts+” section and most of the reviewers who write for it. (Especially Ben Lytal, who, in my opinion, has the sweetest gig in all book reviewing.) Since the Sun has yet to penetrate the Rochester market, we usually resort to reading this online. As I was leaving my hotel yesterday, a businessman left behind his copy, giving me a chance to experience in print just how fantastic this section is.
The lead review yesterday was Adam Kirsch’s piece on Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy. I’m a huge fan of McCarthy’s Remainder and have been interested in reading this new book for a while.
(Besides, since the source text for this book—The Adventures of Tintin—is a translation, I love it unequivocally, not because it’s good or interesting, but solely because it came from another culture and therefore will prevent war.)
One of the things that appeals to me about this review is how intelligent and unapologetic it is discussing McCarthy’s section on Barthes, basing the whole review on Guy Debord’s notion of “detournement,” and, most importantly, not proclaiming this book to be either good or bad, but something more complicated.
The word belongs in quotation marks because these are not the kind of interpretive claims that can be judged true or false. Nor, however, are they the kind of licensed speculation that enriches our experience of a text, even while remaining undecidable — as, for instance, with Edmund Wilson’s claim that the ghosts in James’s “The Turn of the Screw” are just projections of the nurse’s repressed sexuality. Mr. McCarthy’s analyses are, rather, arabesques, sketched over the surface of Hergé’s cartoon — or, if you like, graffiti meant to obscure and deface it.
I am not entirely sure that Mr. McCarthy himself does not want us to see them in the second sense. After all, as he writes, Hergé’s work “betrays in its massive self-reflexiveness a desire to be taken seriously, to be seen to be considering the highly conceptual issues in contemporary art with which its author is clearly au fait, alongside a desire to mock the highness of the establishment that never accepted him as highbrow, to expose its pretentiousness, its fraudulence.” If Mr. McCarthy is out to vindicate Hergé, then Tintin and the Secret of Literature might best be read in this double spirit, as a brilliant and audacious hoax.
But what’s really interesting is that right beneath this review is a piece by translator Anthea Bell (a translator! writing a review!) on Asterix.
In French, Tintin easily predates Asterix; in English by only about 10 years, the time it took for an English-language publisher to venture on a translation of the first pun-packed, wisecracking adventure of the proto-French Gauls as they defy Julius Caesar and his conquering legions, maintaining a provincial but proud Gallic outpost in what is now northwest France. The series was thought just too French to be transplanted. But quintessentially French as it is, the appeal of Asterixian humor has turned out to be pan-European.
There’s no current Asterix book to tie this to, and aside from having translated Asterix a few years ago, no necessary reason that Anthea Bell would be writing about it in the daily newspaper. And in my opinion, that’s fantastic.
And beyond the book reviews, the “sports section”—which is also part of “Arts+”—is less gossipy and more thoughtful than most. (In particular, the breakdown of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is very well-done.)
I have my doubts about the rest of the paper, but there are only a handful of arts sections in the world that can compete with this one.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .