Tag: the new yorker


A couple of years ago I bought a used copy of Masaoka Shiki’s selected poems from Amazon and found a dedication on the front page in pen to a previous owner. In pen. At first I was annoyed because, according to Amazon’s standards, the book was in ‘very good’ condition but I think what really irked me was that the book didn’t feel like my own any more even though I bought it used. As long as there are no traces of their passage I can ignore that other people have owned the book, but once I spot something I can’t erase (like an asterisk in pen) I feel it spoils the book, though not necessarily the knowledge within.

I can’t bring myself to scribble or doodle in a book (even lightly with a pencil) and I guess that’s because the perfection of the book is somehow more important to me than my potential learning. I remember I once owned a hardback copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations by Loeb Classical Library. It was a beautiful book. One day I got a smudge on one of the pages and, to this day, it still bothers me. Yet I also own What Do You Say After You Say Hello? by the late psychiatrist Eric Berne and that copy is dog-eared, underlined and falling apart. But I’m not bothered, and I think that’s because it’s a mass market paperback. Ew.

My argument for not writing in books is that I could change my mind and, if I do, then I’ve got to rub it all out. But do I have to rub them out? In Brain Pickings Maria Popova quotes Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book and he says, “Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it -which comes to the same thing- is to write in it.” I also love Sam Anderson’s quote that marginalia was a way to “fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with the author on some primary textual plane.”

In ‘The Marginal Obsession with Marginalia’ Robert McCrum asks “What happens to marginalia in the age of the Kindle?” There are trade-offs for sure. My problem vanishes but for some the essence of marginalia is lost. McCrum says it “feels all wrong: something about having to call up a menu and type a note on the keypad, with its stud-like plastic buttons, makes the whole process seems forced and contrived. Marginalia are supposed to be spontaneous and fluent.” Me, I’m not so fussy.

Fresh Astonishments

Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974
By Stephen Shore

Photography to me is like haiku. They both draw their power from what they evoke or imply because a photo can only show so much and three lines can only say so much. I don’t feel their forms are impoverished because they could say or show more. Photography doesn’t need to be film and haiku doesn’t need to be a novel. All forms have their merits.

In an article in The New Yorker (where this post gets its name) Peter Schjeldahl says Stephen Shore’s photography is subliminal, understated and, quoting Walt Whitman, artless. Whitman recommended poets adopt “a perfectly transparent, plate-glassy style, artless” and this reminded me of Cor van den Heuvel’s introduction to The Haiku Anthology when he said:

Haiku, for the reader, is wordless because those few words are invisible. We as readers look right through them. There is nothing between us and the moment.

Artless. Wordless.

I’ve been a fan of Shore’s photography since I discovered him years ago because his work reminded me of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. The father and son in that story journey through midwest America to reunite their family and the towns they stop off at along the way are just like those in Shore’s work. (They may be the very same places.) When I see those photos I feel the melancholy of Paris, Texas and like haiku those photos always stay fresh because they’re incomplete and I, who completes the poem by reading it or the photo by viewing it, am a different person each time.