Friday, September 27, 2013

Love and Squalor

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,” said Oscar Wilde, “and that is not being talked about.” It would be an unusual writer who didn’t find that paradox amusingly true. J. D. Salinger, who was an unusual man all round, wouldn’t have found it funny at all. For him, nothing was worse than being talked about. After the success of The Catcher in the Rye, his first and only novel, Salinger turned himself into the most famous recluse in the world. Holed up in his cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire, he issued a trickle of increasingly sterile short stories. Finally he fell silent altogether. When he died in 2010, at the age of 91, he hadn’t published a word in forty-five years. 

As long as he remained alive, Salinger made things notoriously hard for would-be biographers. Since his death, the floodgates have opened ... [read more]

Monday, September 2, 2013

Clive James's Dante

The Divine Comedy
by Dante Alighieri, translated by Clive James

Those of us who can’t read Dante in the original know, or ought to know, that we are missing one of literature’s main events. The calibre of Dante’s fans, and the extravagance of their admiration, put the matter beyond doubt. Edmund Wilson called him the greatest poet of all time. T.S. Eliot put him up there with Shakespeare. Michelangelo put him next to God.

There has never been a definitive English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and it seems safe to say there never will be. The translation that excels on some levels is bound to fall short on others; so much goes on in Dante’s Italian that the English language simply isn’t up to catching all of it at once. You don’t even need to speak Italian to grasp this. You only need to know how the language sounds. Listen to this line, which clinches the fifth canto of the Inferno ... [read more]