Category Archives: Essay

One Final Dante Post: A List of Helpful Resources

For my last post on the Divine Comedy I thought I would share of list of various resources—-translations, essays, books, etc.—that I found helpful and a joy to read along the way.

Translations:

The Divine Comedy, translated by Robin Kirkpatrick, Penguin: I started out with this translation, but I found it tedious and at times downright inaccessible.  But I still list it because the notes that go along with the text are excellent.

The Divine Comedy, translated by Allen Mandelbaum, Everyman’s Library: I have always loved Mandelbaum’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses so I switched from Kirkpatrick to this translation and found it much more accessible.  I’ve read that it is also very close to the Italian—he doesn’t take much poetic license, which is the exact reason why I like his Ovid so much.

The Divine Comedy, translated by John D. Sinclair: This was recommended by a fellow reader on Twitter and I am so glad I bought the complete set.  I will use this prose translation the next time I do a complete reread of Dante.  It also comes with the Italian text.

Dante in English, Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds, eds., Penguin: This book is a nice way to sample different translations of Dante.  It also includes selections from different poems that have been inspired by the Divine Comedy

Vita Nuova, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:  This is Dante’s poem about Beatrice and I actually read it before the Divine Comedy.  It greatly enhanced my reading of Paradise in particular.  This has been reissued recently by NYRB.

Dante: De Vulgari Eloquentia (Cambridge Medieval Classics), translated by Steven Botterill:  This is an essay, written in Latin by Dante, on literary theory.  It contains the Latin text as well as an English translation.  A crazy rabbit hole I followed because I was curious about Dante’s Latin text.

Books:

Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw:  A very informative book in which each chapter is a discussion of a different theme or thread in Dante—Friendship, Power, Life, Love, Time, Numbers and Words.

Reading Dante (The Open Yale Courses Series) by Giuseppe Mazzotta: This was one of my favorite resources, especially for understanding Paradise.  It is more like an extended commentary and helps to unpack the historical and theological ideas of Dante.  I also bought a copy that was signed and inscribed by the author that said, “May you continue on your own journey” which I thought was a very nice find.

Dante A Very Short Introduction by Peter Hainsworth:  Exactly what the title says, a very brief introduction at 115 pages.  I especially like his emphasis on how Dante is still relevant in the modern age.

Dante A Brief History by Peter S. Hawkins:  An excellent overview of Dante’s life and work.  This one has some very good black and white illustrations.  I especially appreciated Hawkins’s chapter on Beatrice.

Dante: Poet of the Secular World by Eric Auerbach:  An excellent discussion of the overall structure of Dante’s works that argues he was the first great realist writer.  This has been reissued by NYRB.

Introductory Papers on Dante: The Poet Alive in his Writings by Dorothy Sayers:  This, with the two books listed below, is a three volume collection of lectures given by Sayers on Dante.  And excellent, helpful introduction to Dante.

Further Papers on Dante: His Heirs and His Ancestors by Dorothy Sayers:  This volume contains essays that compare Dante to other authors who explore similar themes in their writing.

The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement: On Dante and Other Writers by Dorothy Sayers:  This one comes with a fabulous bonus essay describing Sayers’s learning Latin from the age of six and why she thinks learning Latin is so valuable.  All of her points about learning Latin are still relevant today, I will be sharing this with my own students.

Essays:

The Cambridge Companion to Dante, Rachel Jacoff, ed.: As with other books in the series, this Cambridge Companion contains essays on a wide variety of topics covering the Divine Comedy, the Vita Nuova, Dante’s Theology, Dante and Florence, Dante and the classical poets, etc.

“Conversation with Dante” by Osip Mandelstam: a beautiful moving essay about the Divine Comedy.  The essay is included as part of Mandelstam’s Selected Poems published by NYRB.

“Dante Now: The Gossip of Eternity” by George Steiner: I actually found the Mandelstam essay because Steiner references it in his essay.  This essay is included in his book On Difficulty.

Dante: A Collection of Critical Essays, John Freccero, ed.: A nice collection of some of the most famous essays written about Dante in the 20th century.  It includes a copy of Mandelstam’s essay.

The Poets’ Dante: Twentieth Century Responses, Peter S. Hawkins, ed.:  A collection of essays by some of the most important 20th century poets including Pound, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, and Heaney among many others. (I did a previous post with a couple of quotes from this book.)

Dante Comparisons (Publications of the Foundation for Italian Studies, University College Dublin), Eric Haywood, ed.:  I know this is sort of an odd and obscure book to have searched for, but it promised an essay about Dante, Catullus and Propertius! In two previous posts I noted some of the similarities between sections of the Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy and Catullus’s poetry so I was thrilled to find this unique collection of essays that covers this very topic.

Ancient Resources:

The Aeneid, Vergil: As I mentioned in my first post on Dante, an appreciation for the Aeneid will greatly enhance any reading of Dante.  I honestly don’t know how anyone could read The Divine Comedy and not be compelled to read Vergil as well.  My favorite translations are Robert Fagles, David Ferry and Robert Fitzgerald.

The Metamorphoses, Ovid: Dante actually makes more references to Ovid than to Vergil.  The two commentaries I used were very thorough with explaining Dante’s references to Ovid.  But reading Ovid’s epic poem will also greatly enhance one’s understanding of many parts of the Divine Comedy.  My favorite translation, as noted above, is Mandelbaum.

Achilleid, Statius translated by Stanley Lombardo:  I fell down a long, winding rabbit hole by reading and translating Statius, an author whose work I have not picked up in 20 years.  The Achilleid is a beautiful, unfinished epic that describes Achilles as a boy before he goes off to fight in Troy.  It is really not necessary to read any Statius to understand his role in the Divine Comedy even though this Roman poet guides Dante at the end of Purgatory and into Paradise.

Thebaid, Statius, translated by Jane Wilson Joyce:  This poem, about the destruction and havoc that Oedipus’s sons cause one another while battling over who will rule  Thebes, is long, lugubrious and dense.  Statius likes to go into great detail about obscure mythological names and references.  When I first translated this 20 years ago in a Silver Age Epic course in graduate school, I did not have the patience for it.  This time around I did find some stunning passages that I truly enjoyed.  But there is still a lot of very dense material that, at times, can be incomprehensible.

Pharsalia, Lucan:  I also translated this in my Silver Age Epic course and really fell in love with Lucan’s underappreciated work.  Since Dante mentions Lucan as being among the ancient poets in limbo I decided to revisit a few of my favorite passages—his description of Pompey and the witch scene.  The Loeb translation of this epic is very good.

Websites:

A series of lectures by Yale Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta.  If you don’t want to read his book I cited above, you can watch his series of lectures: http://www.openculture.com/2017/01/a-free-course-on-dantes-divine-comedy-from-yale-university.html

Digital Dante from Columbia University.  This was a great resource for looking at the Italian text and commentaries for the Divine Comedy.  This site includes illustrations of the Divine Comedy and readings of it  as well as a good historical timeline of Dante’s life: https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/

Finis.

Please let me know in the comments if there are other resources that I should add to my list.

I was feeling lost for several days when I finished Dante.  But I have decided on a new reading project that I am very excited about: Kafka!

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A Colossal Drama: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

Set design for The Brothers Karamazov for Jacques Copeau’s Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier by Louis Jouvet.

I found it a bit baffling at first that my reading experiences with  The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace have been equally sublime and edifying even though they are written in such different styles.  I couldn’t quite grasp the difference between these novelists until I read George Steiner’s essay Tolstoy or Dostoevsky in which he compares the narrative of Tolstoy’s novels to epic and Homer and Dostoevsky’s to tragedy and drama.  For my mind these are the perfect analogies to describe the uniqueness of these Russian greats:

…More, perhaps, than those of any novelist of comparable dimension, Dostoevsky’s sensibility, his modes of imagination, and his linguistic strategies were saturated by drama.  Dostoevsky’s relationship to the drama is analogous, in centrality and ramification, to Tolstoy’s relationship to the epic.  It characterized his particular genius as strongly as it contrasted it with Tolstoy’s.  Dostoevsky’s habit of miming his characters as he wrote—like Dickens’s—was the outward gesture of a dramatist’s temper.  His mastery of the tragic mood, his “tragic philosophy,” were the specific expressions of a sensibility which experience and transmuted its material dramatically.  This was true of Dostoevsky’s whole life, from adolescence and the theatrical performance recount in The House of the Dead to his deliberate and detailed use of Hamlet and Schiller’s Räuber to control the dynamics of The Brothers Karamazov.  Thomas Mann said of Dostoevsky’s novels that they are “colossal dramas, scenic in nearly their whole structure; in them an action which dislocates the depth of the human soul and which is often packed into a few days, is represented in surrealistic and feverish dialogue…” It was recognized early that these “colossal dramas” could be adapted to actual performance; the first dramatization of Crime and Punishment was produced in London in 1910.  And referring to the Karamazovs, Gide remarked that “of all imaginative creations and of all protagonists in history none had been claims to being presented on a stage.”

When we read Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, we are not just experiencing the events of a day in the life of this father, son, husband and king; but we are witnessing all of the character traits of the House of Atreus, good and bad, that have seeped into his blood and his soul.  We are also given a hint as to the nature of his son’s soul which has equally been affected by these familial ties.  Similarly, in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky immediately launches us into a detailed account of the father, Fyodor, and his history of drunken and sexual debauchery.  And anytime one of his sons drinks excessively, seduces a woman, or is quick to anger Dostoevsky reminds us that this is a characteristic of a Karamazov.  I am not quite half way through the book yet, but I suspect that the inability of one or more of his sons to break from the father’s soul-destroying patterns will result in tragedy.

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Musaeus Dulcis Mel: A Handbook of Disappointed Fate by Anne Boyer

Cesare Maccari. Cicero Denounces Catiline. 1888.

The essays in Anne Boyer’s collection are fierce, poetic, erudite, engrossing and melodic. The first piece of writing is simply and strongly entitled “No.” “History is full of people who just didn’t,” she begins. A common theme throughout the essays is the multitude of ways that people and animals refuse. Her discussion about silence as resistance, however, resonated with me the most:

Saying nothing is a preliminary method of no. To practice unspeaking is to practice being unbending, more so in a crowd. Cicero wrote cum tacent, clamant—‘in silence they clamor”—and he was right: never mistake silence for agreement. Silence is as often conspiracy as it is consent. A room of otherwise lively people saying nothing, staring at a figure of authority, is silence as the inchoate of a now-initiated we won’t.

The Latin that Boyer cites is from Cicero’s Speech against Catiline who has been accused of plotting to overthrow the Roman government in an open meeting of the Senate. Cicero is attempting to persuade Catiline that, instead of being convicted of his crimes and put to death, it would be better for him to leave the city and take his band of thieves with him. When Catiline walks into the Senate to face Cicero and hear the changes against him, Cicero points out the deafening silence with which the alleged criminal is met. The two verbs in Cicero’s Latin can be translated even more strongly to reflect better the contrast that Cicero is attempting to make in his speech. “When they (The Senate) are silent, they are shouting.” Cesare Maccari, in his painting “Cicero Denounces Catiline” depicts the dejected, lonely Catiline who has been the target of this silence. Nothing is more hurtful to me than when I am ignored, stood up, ghosted; I would rather be yelled at by someone than given the silent treatment.

I detected another type of silence-as-resistance in her essays entitled Erotology.  Boyer hints at unsuccessful love affairs and unrequited love in other essays, but in Erotology the longing one experiences for another person is shrouded in the lonely silence of the night:

Night performs a difference operation: you want what you want which isn’t what you want at all, but a desire formed by processes, by having had, then having no more.  It is as if in matters of heartbreak the night world and the day work take on different planets with different axes or in different courts with different testimonies, different warrants, different judges, different sentences, different prisons, different laws.  The night contests the day, then the day contests the night.  The clarity and ordinary pace of the day is suspicious to the heartbroken person in the night: what if what the day says about the longing at night is slander?

Who among us hasn’t spend a long, solitary night contemplating an unrequited love, a lost love, an impossible love?

Many of her other essays are also a struggle, her own and others, a resistance, against all of the harsh ugliness that we are forced to endure in this strange world. The way that Boyer engages with and makes connections among different texts is engrossing. Her essay, entitled “Kansas City,” for instance, includes a reflection on that Midwestern city by drawing on the music of Fats Domino and a quote from Socrates:

When Fats Domino sings his version of the song ‘Kansas City,’ he is like Socrates who says of his ideal city: ‘Let me feast my mind with the dream as day dreamers are in the habit of feasting themselves when they are walking alone; for before they have discovered any means of effecting their wishes…they proceed with their plan, and delight in detailing what they mean to do when their wish has come true.’

Fats Domino might take a plane to the ideal city, he might take a train, but even if he has to walk there, he will get to it the same.

Kansas City becomes, for Boyer, one of the first places that she associates with resistance. The city resists or defies real description or categorization; depending on who one asks, it is a utopia—like the Kansas City of Fats Domino, it is the façade of a city that was erected for the set of the Robert Altman film, or it is the difference between freedom or slavery for black people in the 1850’s. Boyer herself moves to Kansas City in 1996 and lives there for four years and the city becomes a source of personal resistance:

What I knew when I got to Kansas City was I couldn’t be a poet—that I refused to be one—and I was soon inside whatever was not a poem, working in the shelters and community centers of Kansas City and thinking the only possible life was a life of politics, and the only possible politics was a politics for women and children and the poor. When I think of telling you what was in Kansas City the year the facades of Kansas City were built, my thoughts turn red and what I see is a field of feeling: sorrow, rage.

Her work with the poor women and children of Kansas City is one of many passionate and poignant reflections of the real struggle it is to be female in this world.  In “The Dead Woman,” she writes, “But women become dead women every minute and always have, so I’m more surprised the whole world is not on fire every minute, that the winds are not roaring, that the earth hasn’t shaken open, that everyone hasn’t felt like they could die.  There’s a line in Alice Notley’s epic poem Alma that I can’t find now but remember and need: something like ‘women are born dead.'”  In “Shotgun Willie” she describes barely making ends meet as a single parent when her daughter was young, living in a small apartment and only listening to the A-side of a Willie Nelsen album which she bought at the Goodwill for a dime:  “I didn’t like whiskey, but wanted, like Willie Nelson, for a river to take my mind, to take my memory, not from the torture of unattainable, unrequited love, but my failures, how I’d basically just let myself be nothing at all, and for years then, and treated poorly, and barely rebelling against my own poor treatment.”

One of my favorite essays (although it’s really difficult to choose) is entitled “My Life” in which she writes about three strong, talented, and resilient women who resist the struggles they face as women—the singer Mary J. Blige, the poet Lyn Hejinian and Anne Boyer herself.  She begins the essay with a powerful statement that reminded me of the line about women from Notley’s epic poem cited above: “This is about calling what isn’t a life a life and calling what isn’t one’s own life one’s own, about the embellishment of any ‘my’ on a life that isn’t and can’t be or isn’t quite living, at least not all the time.” Similar to the Kansas City essay, she reads, interprets, quotes the singer and the poet and creates her own poetry through her reactions:

Mary J. Blige at the opening for the Mary J. Blige Center for Women…Blige removed her sunglasses to wipe away her tears. ‘When I was 5 years old there was a lot that happened to me …that I carry…all my life…  And when…I was growing up after that, I saw so many women beaten to death, almost to their death, by men.’  LH: ‘As for we who love to be astonished, we close our eyes to remain for a little while longer within the realm of the imaginary, the mind, so as to avoid having to recognize our utter separateness from each other.’  Mary J: ‘I still love you/You know I’ll never live without you/ I wish you’d change your ways soon enough/ So we an be together.’ Mary J. Blige made a perfume.  It is called My Life.  The thing about My Life is almost anyone can wear it.  Though a perfume is not an album and an album is not a life and a life is not a book of poetry and a book of poetry is not an essay written for a journal of music and experimental politics, one might mistake one for the other when My Life is, for so many of us, so difficult to find.

There is a struggle throughout the essays with her writing, her craft.  In “Clickbait Thanatos,” Boyer laments the surfeit of poetry available online which drains the entire body of 21st century verse of its uniqueness.  (In the next essay she has several humorous and, sometimes disgusting, ways of making poetry more difficult to publish.) It is full of “TMI and OMG—just like anyone’s Facebook feed.”  Boyer’s thoughts about her art remind her of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, which Epicurean, Roman, epic poem, written during the last years of the Republic,  ends with a horrifying description of the plague.  The meter of the poem, no doubt, has helped it last for centuries, but the poem’s baffling and gruesome ending probably also has something to do with its preservation: “…what is also in the work of Lucretius is that everything, and nothing, lasts forever.”

Anne Boyer’s collection of writing also ends with her own description of a plague, of sorts; the last several essays have heartbreaking descriptions of her long struggle with cancer.  I like to think that Lucretius ends his epic with a description of disease in order to test his readers; he has spent hundreds of lines of poetry convincing us that since life is short,  we must avoid pain and do things in this life that bring us pleasure.  He also believes, unlike the Stoics, that there is no afterlife, so once we are dead then that’s the end of it—no more worries, no more pain, no more resistance.  Lucretius explains in Book 4 that his poetry is the equivalent of putting honey on the rim of a cup of medicine so that a child will be tricked into taking something that is good for her.  If De Rerum Natura has successfully served as a type of didactic honey with which to trick people into learning his Epicurean lesson, then no one will be upset by a silly plague, will they?  Although Boyer’s last few essays are especially tough to read, they, too, are a test to see if we are paying attention to her poetry, her writing on resistance, her resilient spirit.  A Handbook of Disappointed Fate,  is what Lucretius would call musaeus dulcis mel (the sweet honey of the muses.)

I’ve made a playlist on Spotify of the music that Boyer writes about in her essays.  I found that listening to the music and rereading some of the essays as I listened made them even more meaningful:

As the week comes to a close, I’ve been basking in the afterglow of my reading experience with these essays and listening to the playlist. Please do give Boyer’s essay a try and also look at Ugly Duckling Presse for other brave, smart, riveting literature.

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Arcs of Compressed Voltage: George Steiner on Heraclitus

Polymath George Steiner in his text entitled The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan, ambitiously seeks to explore the tension between philosophy and language that has occupied western thinkers for millennia.  The author begins his essay with his thoughts on Heraclitus, the Presocratic philosopher whose fragmentary writing is notoriously enigmatic.  The Presocratics, and Heraclitus in particular, fascinated me so much as a graduate student that I chose them as the topic for one of my specialized exams for my Master’s degree.  After reading Steiner’s first chapter I immediately, and enthusiastically, dug up my old Heraclitus texts which I am chagrined to say I have not looked at for many years.  I offer a translation here of a few of my favorite fragments:

Fragment 2:
τοῦ λόγου δὲ ἐόντος ξυνοῦ ζώουσιν οἱ πολλοὶ ὡς ἰδίαν ἔχοντες φρόνησιν.

With the logos being common, many men live having their own personal purpose.

Fragment 7:
εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν.

If all things would become smoke, then noses would discern them.

Fragment 12:
ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.

Different things step into the same waters and different waters are flowing upon the surface.

Fragment 17:
οὐ γὰρ φρονέουσι τοιαῦτα πολλοί ὁκοίοις ἐγκυ­ρεῦσιν, οὐδὲ μαθόντες γινώσκουσιν, ἑωυτοῖσι δὲ δοκέουσι.

Many men do not think about the things, nor do they know the things they learn. But they think they do.

Fragment 31:
πυρὸς τροπαὶ πρῶτον θάλασσα, θαλάσσης δὲ τὸ μὲν ἥμισυ γῆ, τὸ δὲ ἥμισυ πρηστήρ.

The transformations of fire are first the sea, half of the sea is earth, half of the sea is a hurricane.

Fragment 43:
ὕϐριν χρὴ σϐεννύναι μᾶλλον ἢ πυρκαϊήν.

It is necessary to extinguish hubris more than a fire.

Fragment 64:
τὰ δὲ πὰντα οἰακίζει κεραυνός.

The thunderbolt steers all things.

George Steiner’s discussion of Heraclitus is equally as poetic and philosophical as that of the Presocratic whose work he is attempting to analyze. In Poetry of Thought he says about Heraclitus’s prominent place in the history of philosophy and language:

Together with Pindar, rules Heidegger, Heraclitus commands an idiom which exhibits the matchless ‘nobility of the beginning.’ Meaning at dawn.

Philologists, philosophers, historians of archaic Hellas, have labored to define, to circumscribe this auroral force. Heraclitus’s dicta are arcs of compressed voltage setting alight the space between words and things. His metaphoric concision suggests immediacies of existential encounter, primacies of experience largely unrecapturable to rationalities and sequential logic after Aristotle.

Steiner continues his own fiery, mesmerizing language to discuss Heraclitus:

Heraclitus ‘works in original manner with the raw material of human speech, where “original” signifies both the initial and the singular.’ (Clemence Ramnoux one of the most insightful commentators). He quarries language before it weakens into imagery, into eroded abstraction. His abstractions are radically sensory and concrete, but not in the opportunistic mode of allegory. They enact, they perform thought where it is still, as it were, incandescent—the trope of fire is unavoidable. Where it follows on a shock of discovery, of naked confrontation with its own dynamism, at once limitless and bounded. Heraclitus does not narrate. To him things are with an evidence and enigma of total presence like that of lightning (his own simile).

“Auroral,” “voltage,”  “setting alight,”  “incandescent,”  “lightning.”  No one does Heraclitus like Steiner.  Steiner’s discussion of Lucretius in the next section of his text is equally as fascinating. More to come…

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The Tongues of Eros: More Thoughts on George Steiner

There are some intriguing and surprising personal stories and anecdotes that George Steiner weaves into the essays in My Unwritten Books.  In his essay on his political and religious beliefs, for instance, he admits that he has never once in his life voted in any election, local or national.  He is an avid dog lover and the emotion he shows towards his pets, he admits in the essay “On Man and Beasts,”  sometimes runs deeper than that which he feels for his family.  And, perhaps the most intriguing statement in the book, comes in his writing about Eros: “I have been privileged to speak and make love in four languages.  Also in the interstices, sometimes inhibiting, sometimes playful, between them.”

Steiner begins with a general discussion of his thoughts on language and moves on to describe how Eros is a unique language in and of itself that has not been studied in any methodical way.

We have no systematic poetic or rhetoric of eros, of how the making of love is a making of words and syntax.  No Aristotle, no Saussure has taken up this pivotal challenge.  More specifically, we have, so far as I am aware, no study, even summary, of how sex is experienced, of how love is made in different languages and different language-sets (ethnic, economic, social, local).  Per se, the polyglot condition at varying levels of immediacy and proficiency is not all that rare.  It features in numerous communities, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Malaysia.  A multitude of men and women dispose of more than one “native” tongue, from very earliest childhood.  Yet we seem to have no valid account, no introspective or socialized record of what must be their metamorphic erotic lives.  How does lovemaking in Basque or Russian differ from that in Flemish or Korean?  What privileges or inhibitions arise between lovers with different first languages? Is coitus also, perhaps fundamentally, translation?

Steiner describes his sexual experiences with a German, Italian and French woman and gives specific details about how making love in each of these three languages was a unique experience.  Sex with a German woman he calls Ch. is described as an encounter in which the interplay of sex and sadism is prominent.  He concludes, “To make love in German can be taxing.”  It was an Italian woman, named A.M., he says that “instructed me in the litany of seduction.”  And he debunks the myth that the French culture is more amorous than any other.  He learns by having sex with a French woman that French erotic exchanges happen with formal language: “Gloriously astride me, my first teacher in the arts of orgasm, praise God, an older woman burnished by irony and compassion, bade me ‘come, come now and deep.’ But did so using the formal vous.”

I have to admit that I was disappointed that Steiner did not give equal time to describing his sexual experiences in English.  He argues that his own observations would not be able to capture any universal experiences because of the global pervasiveness of the English language: “How can any one person register more than an insignificant fraction of a sexual lexicon and grammar which stretch from the syncopations of Afro-Carribean pidgeons to the delicate love lyrics of Anglo-Bengalis, which comprise the creole of English hybrids in Southeast Asia and the worn passwords of the multinational dealer summoning his escort service to an anonymous hotel room in Istanbul or Valparaiso?” I think that at least some general statements about his lovemaking in English versus his experiences with other languages would have made the essay seem more complete.

Steiner’s concluding remarks in the essay, I suspect, are a better explanation for his omission of English sexual encounters: “Perhaps shared orgasm is an act of simultaneous translation.  I sense that I could have made a contribution, even pioneering.  But the hurt is would have done to that which is most precious and indispensable in my private life (this chapter comports risk) made this impossible.  Indiscretion much have its limits.”  Steiner’s wife, Zara, is the American-born, British historian…

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