Looking back, I realize that I was hungry too. But like Pilate, I wasn’t yet willing to face the hunger on its own terms. To be fed by a silence and a truth that won’t fit into my billfold, nor make a clever aphorism.
I’m after accomplished poets who can’t stay away from those classic Catholic themes – suffering, death, sex, the pattern of sin and redemption – and habits – self-examination, ritual, memory, the honoring of community over self. Above all, there’s the centrality of the body as contested locus of power and punishment, pleasure and pain.
I haven’t seen these notions of truth—both the old ideal of the “objective” one and the more current, perspectival one—mixed in a more arresting manner than in Susan Choi’s 2019, National Book Award-winning novel, Trust Exercise.
There was the burgundy glove: a tiny knit handprint, one of those Dollar Store gloves made to stretch and cinch like a cartoon spring. It roamed the house, appearing on the coffee table or the living room floor, or sometimes on Daniel’s hand.
I keep a few small stones—a couple from Israel, a couple from Whidbey Island, Washington—near my meditation bench in my study. Some days, when anxiety zig-zags around my nervous system, I pick up one of the stones, hoping that its weight in my palm will ground me, as in bring me to solid ground. A body doesn’t fret about work, family, friends, God. With the stone in my palm, whom should I fear?
What is the “fullness of the moment”? Robert Cording’s essays in Finding the World’s Fullness and Claude Wilkinson’s poems in World Without End engage the question.
Chardin has always been one of my favorite painters. Now that so many of us are sequestered in our homes because of the coronavirus, his paintings seem particularly appropriate. Why?—because their subject matter is so often the stuff that surrounds us. Look at his painting “Still Life with Teapot, Grapes, Chestnuts, and a Pear” and the viewer finds exactly what its title says will be found: a teapot, grapes, chestnuts, and a pear.
You could say that Modernity has a masturbation problem. Not that masturbation itself is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation as a physical practice. The problem arises when masturbation becomes a metaphysics, the only means by which the self can relate to itself, as it were.]
The fever was on us—if we can be honest with ourselves—long before the pandemic hit. It’s a self-fueling hatred, more firestorm than virus. Something in our hearts is the propellent. We all know it, and many of us have our scapegoats.
When it comes to close reading, people are my subject. Literature comes second, then paintings and conceptual films like the brief encounters of Cyprien Gaillard , Anna Mendieta , and Kimsooja I take beauty in doses, in and around human tasks.
For the past few months, I have made a practice of reading a portion of the Psalms daily. My goal has been to read—out loud if I can—one of the twenty kathisma, or traditional divisions of the Psalter that are observed in Eastern Orthodox monasticism.
A bee settled
on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too,
is something little.
Let’s memorize this poem. I’ll give you three minutes.
As we “shelter at home” during this pandemic, you might be wondering what to do with your involuntary down time besides binge-watching on Netflix. If you’re looking for what sense others have made of plagues and pestilence, I have a few bookish ideas.
Each Lent, my wife and I read Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgement, by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. This brilliant book is a close reading of the scenes in each of the four Gospels where Jesus is on trial before the authorities, as well as a close-reading of readers’ own hearts.
Close reading is a way of engaging a text with special attention to its language, tone, techniques. It has gone out of favor lately, as ideological readings have taken over. We’ve named this blog “Close Reading” because we want to model and encourage an engagement with texts themselves: those we write and those we read.
Slant’s Publisher & Editor on why humanism remains a vital tradition–indeed, more urgently needed than ever in a time when politicization and ideology are reducing art to propaganda and groupthink–and how a book publisher committed to humanism and literary craft can help us learn how to “sound together.”
This is not how we envisioned the debut of Close Reading, the new blog sponsored by Slant Books. Nor is this the post we intended to serve as the virtual champagne bottle that we would smash on the prow of our spanking new literary vessel. We took for granted that the launch would take place under “normal” circumstances.