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Quarterly II–Winter 2023
- On Births and Prophecies
- Descartes, Thoreau, and The Brass Tacks, Louis Gallo
- Some Notes on Modernism and Creative Writing, Michael Nath
- An Ordinary Mind on an Ordinary Day, D. W. White
Quarterly I–Fall 2022
Next month is the one-year anniversary of L’Esprit, conceived (of) in a Parisian bar hard up against the Seine (I think it was Pub Saint-Michel) in November and born online, as so much is these days, in February. It’s been an incredible year, and when we overuse excited here and on social media, it’s for good reason. To go from a third-beer idea in the Paris rain to a real living journal, one with contributors and readers and all that stuff of life, has been a wild, extraordinary thing.
As I entertained these two aforementioned thoughts this morning, which have stuck with me since my undergraduate days and which I had always found unrelatable, it occurred to me that Thoreau and Descartes had after all pursued the same, identical target—getting down to the brass tacks. That cliché does not quite encapsulate the urge to excise excrescences in order to mine essences, but it will do. Some would call it reductionism—in a pejorative sense—while others would welcome the exploration of ultimates. Quantum physicists have always pursued such ultimates by first identifying atoms, then the constituents of atoms such as electrons and protons—and ultimately, so far, down to the varied quarks. This is reductionism par excellence, but no one would dismiss it as negativity.
So as a teacher of both modernism and creative writing, I would like to consider the following: 1) the practical training that the creative-writing student may acquire from experience of the modernist novel; 2) the modification, or refutation, of what may have become creative-writing doctrine by examples drawn from modernism; 3) some ways in which creative-writing practice and study may refresh our understanding of modernism. In part, my concern is the manner in which institutionalized creative writing has, in fact, been yielding for some time to the pressure to accommodate theory, as its ‘pedagogy’ (a symptomatically inflated term in itself) is rationalized.
As one would expect for a book regularly placed atop the “greatest of all time” lists, there are nearly as many avenues to traipse down in discussing Ulysses’ importance, accomplishments, and legacy as there are people who’ve (actually) read it. In fact, the number of versions of the very opening sentence of this very essay, acknowledging just how many studies have come before, is itself surely an outrageously high figure. But preeminent reason for the continued importance of Joyce’s masterpiece (apologies to friends of Finnegan) is its place as the foundation stone of the revolution of the mind in fiction.
Today marks Armistice Day, 104 years since the cessation of fighting on the Western Front. The First World War, among the most cataclysmic and shocking events in human history, left profound scars on the society it left behind.
In her preface to Grief Lessons, Anne Carson’s translation of four plays by Euripides, Carson asks, “Why does tragedy exist?” She answers (of course; if Carson knows anything, she knows that if you ask a question, you must answer it. Akin, I suppose, to Chekov’s gun). “Because you are full of rage,” she writes, “Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately.