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Wyatt Mason is iced-in in New England, without power or Internet access, and transmits this week’s Weekend Read by telephone.
“I propose an essay on Roger Shattuck written by Jed Perl and published in the November 5 The New Republic. Shattuck was a great critic, the author of The Banquet Years (Vintage), about the birth of modern art in France; it has not gone out of print in 50 years. Shattuck passed away in 2005. Today I find myself thinking of him because he was a hardy New Englander who spent much of his life in Vermont:
He was a reticent man, and I imagine that he counted on his reticence to carry him through many a bumpy time. Shattuck had been an army pilot during World War II, and there was about him a physical aplomb that many will associate with the aviator’s skills, a connection between the craft of flying and certain personal qualities that he himself acknowledged in an essay about the Wright Brothers that he published in The New York Review of Books toward the end of his life…. With his elegantly etched features and trim athletic physique, he had the aura of a cool customer, and nobody without that kind of inner confidence could have kept his head after the success of The Banquet Years, a book which in the decade after its publication came to be associated with the yeasty, unpredictable, improvisational, anti-formalist side of the modern movement. The Banquet Years fit right in with a new mood that was overtaking American campuses and theaters and museums in the 1960s, and was reflected in the fast-growing enthusiasm for Duchamp, in the performances of the Living Theater, and in the essays collected in Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation. The art-collecting protagonist of B.H. Friedman’s novel Whispers, published in 1972, picks up a copy of the paperback edition of The Banquet Years at LaGuardia Airport and reflects that the 1960s are the Banquet Years all over again, only new and improved.
“Perl, the author of the excellent Antoine’s Alphabet (Knopf), is one of our finest critics. His essay reminds us of what we lost when Shattuck died. It puts forth all the qualities that readers should miss in Shattuck–but, also, that they have today in Perl (both men, by the way, contributors to Harper’s).
“Thus, iced-in in New England, I suggest Jed Perl’s ‘Half Tame’ as your Weekend Read.”
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
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 naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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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.”