W.H. Auden has some thoughts on the subject.
So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:
1) introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
2) Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
3) Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
4) Give a 'reading' of a work which increases my understanding of it.
5) Throw light upon the process of artistic 'Making.'
6) Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.
from The Dyer's Hand (1963), 8-9
Well that's sorted then.
One of my favorite Bowen anecdotes:
"Her short sight was partially responsible for the 'impressionistic' quality of her writings. What she saw and responded to was the general effect of light, color and form; and she fully focused only on nearby detail, which thus acquired a disproportionate significance. She preferred not to wear her glasses, whatever the inconvenience. In middle life, walking in the garden at dusk at Angus Wilson's house in Suffolk, she walked straight into a hedge, talking hard, and unconcernedly backed out, 'like a bus' (according to Stuart Hampshire), still talking hard" (in Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1977, 35).
(If you really want to freak yourself out, have a listen to Bowen herself speaking on the BBC)
I was thrilled to get to review Peter Ackroyd's latest book on Venice for the Barnes & Noble Review:
Venice: Pure City presents a thickly mythologized city of metaphors, reading the city as a vast semiotic network of mirrors, waters, stones, lions, bells, boats, and masks. At times this method succeeds, as when Ackroyd points out that the famous stones of Venice are made of limestone quarried in Istria, which "comes from the action of the sea, made up by the unimaginable compound of billions of marine creatures." This gives the reader a fresh take on the relationship between the city and its watery environment. He is sensitive to the city's protean qualities, as when he puts his finger on the special beauty of the pigeons infesting the Piazza San Marco: "The birds are part of the spirit of the place. They are the grey stone come alive and rendered soft to the touch." But Ackroyd elaborates these themes in language that is sometimes too overblown to take seriously: "A thousand cities of Venice comprised the city, just as a thousand flames may make up one fire." Groan.
Read the full review here.
Those of you who read French will get to read my book on Venice when it's published next spring (Editions Héloïse d'Ormesson). Those of you who don't… will have to wait a bit longer.
This place could use some sprucing, it's true. You might be interested to learn that one of my chapters unexpectedly gave birth to another chapter (mazel tov!), and so instead of one 40 page chapter I'm now writing two chapters of about 30 pages, due the 7th and the 12th of November respectively. Between that, teaching, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, there's just no time for extra-academic endeavors.
My NYU flâneur blog is awesome though.