Recent links of note:

“Why I Won’t Be Writing a Coronavirus Novel”
D. J. Taylor, Literary Review

In early February, around the time the World Health Organization bestowed upon the novel coronavirus its rather unliterary name, COVID-19, bookish types were already speculating about the masterworks of fiction it would spawn. How they knew before having lived through the pandemic that it would be a fit subject for a novel, I’m not sure. But the stories they had in mind were probably no more imaginative, or descriptive, than the name of the virus itself. Writing for the Literary Review, D. J. Taylor explains why we aren’t likely to see the great coronavirus novel anytime soon. “Fiction is no good in a crisis,” he says, “resists being written to order, dislikes having to confront world events head-on and prefers operating by stealth.” It can take years, even decades, before these sorts of events disclose their significance, their inner order. Best to stick with nonfiction reports from the frontlines for now. “There are novels to be written about coronavirus,” Taylor concludes, “but they probably shouldn’t be written yet.”

“Bitten by a Snake”
Michael Wood, London Review of Books

In our April issue, we published Paul Valéry’s “The cemetery by the sea” in a new translation by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody. The translation can also be found in Rudavsky-Brody’s latest publication, The Idea of Perfection: The Poetry and Prose of Paul Valéry; A Bilingual Edition, here under review by Michael Wood for the London Review of Books. Recently, Valéry has not been so beloved by academics and journalists as contemporary poets like Rilke and Eliot have, though both of these admired his work greatly. Indeed, “the poetry can seem old-fashioned,” writes Wood, “if you’re not looking and listening very hard.” Closer inspection reveals highly modern preoccupations: an operatic sense of persona and scope, for instance, and linguistic manipulation that has an effect between effrontery and self-effacement. Given that Valéry’s poetry is just the tip of the iceberg—his prose output spans dozens of volumes—it may be difficult for the uninitiated to know where to begin, but this essay is as good a place as any.

“Anti-pasta movement—on the Futurist Cookbook”
Thomas Marks, Apollo

“The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper,” Mao Zedong once claimed, “and he who cannot endure red peppers is also unable to fight.” This gastronomic puffery has an analogue in the Italian Futurist project, best seen in the 1932 publication by Fillìa and F. T. Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook. Pasta is accorded a central place—how could it not be?—but where the Chairman extolled traditional cuisine, they prohibited it: “The defenders of pasta are shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.” In a delightful piece for Apollo, Thomas Marks explains what they found so objectionable about the starchy dish—how it “made men sluggish and ‘anti-virile’” and “predisposed [its consumers] to lethargy as they dined on it, abstaining from chewing and thereby casting their digestive organs ever further into lassitude.” Such admonitions are hard to take seriously, of course, when they’re printed alongside recipes for sardines with pineapple or sandwiches with mustard, banana, and anchovies. But then again, there’s something about the whole Cookbook—“a collage of manifesto, reportage, recipe, glossary, narrative and fantasy”—that seems more calculated to delight the palate than nourish the soul.


“Lockdown listening: volume I”
James Penrose offers a few finds for the classical aficionado.

“Order, order! Part III”
Jay Nordlinger on how singers enter, exit, bow, etc.