Short Takes: Against, or Despite, Autobiography

Andrew David King
October 4, 2012
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Harold Bloom on the reason why Walt Whitman was excluded from the ten “literary giants” selected by the US Postal Service for their set of 45-cent First-Class Mail Forever stamps featuring poets.

Mary Biddinger talks with LitBridge about the conflation of writing personas with autobiography that seems to happen frequently with poets: “I think that the anxiety over family response is especially profound for poets. If my son were to publish a detective novel, for example, nobody would presume that the protagonist is the author himself, and ask me how Raymond learned to scale flying buttresses in pouring rain, or to track criminals in the woods like a half-wolf. However, if Raymond were to publish a volume of poetry about a man who develops a paralyzing fear of insects in his childhood, our friends and family might wonder how he managed to keep his terror at bay when catching lightning bugs, or walking through the butterfly atrium at the zoo. For some reason we presume poetry is autobiographical, and let fiction slide.”

Goya and Rembrandt lovers take note: two new electronic databases dedicated to each painter are now online.

Langston Hughes is the fifth person from the right in the top row in this picture of the 1942 artists-in-residence at Yaddo (via dianecordell; Flickr/Creative Commons)

To celebrate Poetry Magazine’s 100th anniversary in Chicago, poems are “slathered across banners, planter signs, L entrances, featuring work by Modernist poets like Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot as well as work by previous Poets Laureate Kay Ryan and Robert Hass,” not to mention the poetry of local authors Li-Young Lee and Reginald Gibbons.

Because we’ve all had the experience of reading (if not writing) an incredibly cathartic review on Amazon.com, it seems ubiquitous enough to be parodied.

There’s a new edition of A Farewell to Arms available, and it contains a lot of possible farewells: 39, to be exact, the number of alternate endings to the novel that Hemingway entertained.

Materials related to the construction of David Foster Wallace’s posthumously-published novel, The Pale Kingare now available for access at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin. And you can see—online, for free—the series of drafts originally titled the “Author’s Foreword,” which ended up as the ninth chapter in the edition edited by Michael Pietsch.

Draft pages from David Foster Wallace’s notebook for The Pale King; now available in the archives at UT Austin.

Neurobiological research at Stanford is suggesting that brain scans of English doctoral candidates taken while they were reading Jane Austen “reveal a dramatic and unexpected increase in blood flow to regions of the brain beyond those responsible for ‘executive function,’ areas which would normally be associated with paying close attention to a task, such as reading…” In other words: reading’s good for you.

A shout-out to Nat. Brut.—a recently-founded online compilation of new art, writing (including work by the inimitable D.A. Powell), interviews, and even short films and mixtapes. Take a look.

And congratulations to Junot Díaz and the rest of the 2012 class of MacArthur Fellows.

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