Sketch and Lego floor plan of the Mies van der Rohe Brick Country House
Superlatives are out the window. I have no more. How many times can you say you’re astonished, gobsmacked, and catatonic from the sheer explosive freshness and quality of the writing before it becomes the ordinary?
It has become the ordinary.
I am astonished, gobsmacked, honoured, and not quite catatonic (but close) from the sheer explosive freshness, inventiveness, passion and quality of the writing in this issue. In December, we had a lengthy, comprehensive interview with Gabriel Josipovici, celebrated novelist and author of the book What Ever Happened to Modernism? (we called the interview “The Mind of the Modern”). In the new May issue, we have, mirabile dictu, a mysterious and uncanny excerpt from Josipovici’s work-in-progress My Brother.
How long should I wait? For it sometimes happens that he forgets that we are playing and lies down somewhere and falls asleep. Or opens the fridge and makes himself a sandwich, then sits down with a magazine to eat it. And when I finally come across him and ask him what has happened he looks at me blankly. Don’t you remember? I say. We were playing. You were supposed to find me.
That was yesterday, he says. —Gabriel Josipovici
From Gary Garvin, who has been writing for the magazine since the first issue (you can watch him age in his photographs), we have a uniquely powerful and beautifully eccentric essay on Modernism, architecture, Mies van Der Rohe’s famous Brick Country House and, yes, Lego models (meticulously built by the author himself). Garvin is a true American original, not to be missed.
It’s the sketch of the floor plan that most captured attention. It reflected aesthetic interests of the time—Cubist ideas about space—and acted as a visual manifesto. And it has sustained interest ever since. It appears on the cover of the recent third edition of William Curtis’s Modern Architecture Since 1900, serving as gateway to the subject. The sketch is a work of art in its own right, reminiscent of De Stijl paintings, in fact has been compared to one. The figure has the power of a sign, an ideogram that captures a principle, concise and complex, that represents an essential understanding of the world, or the way we might want to see it. Or it could be taken as a symbol for the creative act, or a model for prose. Or a picture of thought itself, of both a theory and method combined, interrelated. —Gary Garvin
And from our own masthead in the form of author-translator Genese Grill, we have wise and erudite meditation on Modernism and the construction of meaning in which she coins the phrase “the categorical imp” — a mischievous combination of Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Poe’s “imp of the perverse.”
The categorical imp of the perverse is a hybrid of Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”) and Poe’s “imp of the perverse” (a force that will suddenly act in seeming opposition to reason). This strange imp will leap about in the following pages amid all manner of philosophical confusion and try to sew together again the patches of thought that have been ripped apart, but in motley fashion; for she is but a poor sewer for such complicated quilting and, besides, the seams will, in the best of circumstances, burst again and require some new arrangement. —Genese Grill
Tomoé Hill’s essay “Apple and Pear Trees” is one of the best things we have published in the line of personal essays, and maybe that’s not even what it should be called. It’s unique and powerful and never what you would expect. It’s about leaving, moving, arousal, sexual melancholia, and books — just to start with. It drips with sex and sadness; it makes you feel and think.
Myth is steeped in sex: how it transforms us, in both wonder and fear. We pursue and are pursued. How would a lover now come to me? Not in a shower of gold or the guise of a swan, but in those languorous hours where my mind, restless in a sleeping body, imagines the softness of sheets as skin, my heat creating the ghost of past lovers, future ones next to me. —Tomoé Hill
The poet David Wojahn has penned for this issue a lengthy, luminous, and laudatory (and incidentally funny: see his lovely little aside on reading other readers’ annotations in old books) review of his latest discovery, the poetry of Canadian Karen Solie whom he compares to Berryman, Lowell and Vallejo.
When I read Karen Solie, I’m reminded of my first encounters with Berryman’s Dream Songs, Lowell’s Life Studies, or Vallejo’s posthumously published poetry. The books seemed unrelentingly astonishing, had a skewed but insistent sense of moral gravitas, and demanded a response that was as physical as it was intellectual. —David Wojahn
For the first time ever in the magazine, we have poetry from Pakistan, surprising, razor-sharp verse from a young writer, Momina Masood, who will make her mark.
I have been
The virgin you were promised
for good behaviour,
And a sizeable body count.
But I have left Eden (some of us do get out) —Momina Masood
From Budapest, we have Zsófia Bán’s short story “Transit of Venus” translated by the inimitable Erika Mihálycsa.
Well to this you just can’t say no. I have a heart too, even if a bit stony. Come now, here’s this stony, loving, cabby’s heart of mine. Take it. Shred it to pieces. —Zsófia Bán translated by Erika Mihálycsa
For this issue, Carolyn Ogburn has interviewed the composer Nathan Currier. We have sound files and videos, a new music extravaganza.
But since those first flutes were fashioned out of vulture bones several tens of thousands of years ago, all music has intrinsically spoken to our interaction with Nature around us, and our Anthropocene era is defined by a cataclysmic pulse signal being fed into the whole Earth System, caused by us – as stupid and dangerous an experiment as has ever been conducted. —Nathan Currier
The Irish fiction writer Mary Byrne (living in Paris) contributes a sly, witty, disturbing, mordant, comical short story.
It was Bea who said, “But she was far too young to die from the heat!”
“Not the heat,” said the Queen of Hearts. “The loneliness.” —Mary Byrne
From Betsy Sholl, new poems, an alphabetical invention, intricate and sublime.
…as if faith—or fate—
is all detour and surprise, stepping out
to find the way back in. —Betsy Sholl
More poems, too, from Denise Low in Kansas. Homage poems and found poems. To die for is “Labels from the Field Museum,” which aches with life and loss.
9 July 1881
xxxxxBush on this day: collector
xxxxxat Blue Island, Cook Co.
xxxxxone ♀ female buff-
December 11, 1883
xxxxxwithin the specimen drawer
xxxxxone iridescent crimson ♂ male
xxxxxneck twisted to uncertain sight —Denise Low
From Hamilton, an industrial city on the shore of Lake Ontario, Canada’s Rust Belt, Shawn Selway raps out a brilliant What It’s Like Living Here essay.
Looking east from Pier 8, where the tugs are snugged at night, those domes you see are grain storage bins. Beyond, behind the laker, are the mills, half-idled now as U.S. Steel gets on with killing Stelco, the homegrown competitor it bought a few years back. Their latest stunt is to persuade a judge to relieve them of paying certain medical benefits to their pensioners. We inhabit a lampoon of capitalism. Marx would certainly get a laugh out of the view: the mountain of capital left to rust unused, and just beyond, a second mountain, still alive with fire and action and thriving alongside the corpse of its former rival. I sometimes think of writing him, you know, the way Auden wrote to Byron, to give him an update. —Shawn Selway
And after that, there is more: new poems by Ingrid Ruthig, book reviews from Jason DeYoung and Joseph Schreiber, a new NC at the Movies from Rob Gray, a new bit of the green from Gerry Beirne (Uimhir a Cúig)…
I’m impressed. I’m not easily impressed. But this one impresses me.
It may be our best issue yet.