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In 1997, I sent Guy Davenport a cassette of some cool recordings. Most of them he’d already heard. Pound, Eliot, Yeats and others, reading their poetry. One he’d not heard, though. Walt Whitman, descanting.
Of those 39 seconds–perhaps recorded by the agents of Thomas Alva Edison–Davenport, who would write about Whitman for this magazine, wrote:
And then said:
Loans of tapes; students counted on to turn up: gifts like these tend to fall, or not, into our laps. Or, I should think, tended. Now, we don’t have to wait for nobody. We just go on YouTube, where it’s not all kittens these days.
My favorite find of this snowy weekend, not sought so much as stumbled upon, is a mini documentary about the National Book Awards from 1974. Pynchon and Isaac Bashevis Singer shared it, and Pynchon showed up to accept it… sort of. The five-minute documentary, which aired on Arte, the Franco-German PBS channel, features George Plimpton (and a very special guest) explaining what went down. I didn’t know this pocket history, but it’s pretty charming. Hang in there (or skip ahead) through the first 90 seconds of “artistic” overture:
If you’re in the mood for more charm, the weirdest wonderfulest thing I’ve come upon is this choreographed feast of oddity, featuring Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling (and interlocutor Pierre Berton), discussing Lolita. The whole thing plays like Feydeau, Nabokov reading his answers off the cards he shuffles not so discreetly in his lap, the trio rising apropos of nothing but a pre-arranged plan to do so and shifting from table to sofa, where Nabokov wolfs a cup of tea, and awkward banter continues (and leads to a sublime, and not at all awkward, closing minute, when VN goes rogue and stops reading). The whole of it conspires to a little dance of civility that might feel familiar, as you sit around the holiday hearth:
With that multimedia to round out your stocking, I leave you until next Monday.
More from Wyatt Mason:
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”