Axel’s Castle, an essay by Edmund Wilson on the living literature of its time (the book was published in 1931 and never out of print) is a thrilling read. The subject has everything we can imagine to bore us today: we know, or think we know, what the good modern writing of the first decades of the 20th Century was; the literary essay is no longer a genre with great sex-appeal; the authors under scrutiny are literary monuments that frighten us (Yeats, Valéry, Eliot, Proust, Joyce, and Stein) and what to think of a book that aims to construct a canon, something of which we are now afraid?
Despite all the talk on the end of modernism, our basic cultural regime is still that of the new: what is new is good, the newer is always better and the best is yet to come. The craving for novelty and innovation is definitely worthwhile (after all, it is not easy to find something really new: an original idea is as difficult to find as a good man).
BUS SPOTTING + A STORY, a collaborative work by Paula Roush (images) and Mireille Ribière (text) is a work to fall in love with. It is also the perfect example of what Borges called a book of sand – that is, a work that is apparently simple but actually infinite, since each time one reopens the book, it proves to have lost the pages one already knew while surprising the reader with new pages that she had never seen before
Judith Schlanger, a French writer and philosopher and professor emeritus at the University of Jerusalem, is best known for her research on the notion of “invention” (what does it mean to produce “new” knowledge, how can we recognize it, what is the relationship between the new and the old that does not necessarily disappear, etc.). But her work also encompasses a vital rhetorical strand, where she addresses similar questions in a more literary context.
When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi and published in January 2016. Educated in English literature, human biology, philosophy and medicine, specializing in neurosurgery, Kalanithi writes that he was always interested in learning about the “life of the mind” and particularly, what makes for a meaningful life – he rejected the personal pursuit of one’s own happiness as this end.
This book, this truly great book, should be read without further delay by all those who feel concerned by the idea –past, present and future– of Europe. At first sight, it is only a book on a rather overlooked form of Modernism; that is, the Austrian Modernism of the post-World War I period (Modernism, as we know, is more commonly studied in other linguistic and geographical areas, and Austrian Modernism remains strongly associated with pre-World War I culture).
Contrary to film or sports, for instance, literature is a part of culture in which there are still heated debates on what is “good” and what is “bad”.