Prufrock: A History of Germany, the Enlightened Middle Ages, and Joyce’s Dublin

Reviews and News:

The reality of Joyce’s Ulysses: “If Dublin were to disappear, it could be reconstructed from Ulysses.”

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“Orchestras stop for nothing. Once I saw a youth orchestra performance continue at Carnegie Hall despite a man apparently having a heart attack in one of the front rows. Paramedics rushed in while the players, swiveled away from their music to gawk, kept their wayward bows on the string.” But Jennifer Gersten remembers when the New York Philharmonic stopped in the middle of a performance of Mahler’s Ninth. (HT: Laura Swaim)

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Why do Americans smile so much? “Our Swedish forefathers wanted to befriend their Italian neighbors, but they couldn’t figure out how to pronounce buongiorno.”

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What a classic Dutch novel by a Roman Catholic convert says to us today: “Gerard Reve’s 1947 debut novel, a Dutch classic that is only now being published in English translation, carries a blurb in which Herman Koch, author of the 2009 bestseller The Dinner, calls it the ‘funniest, most exhilarating novel about boredom ever written’…Frits has moments of boredom. The Evenings‘ first chapter recounts in detail a single day in his life—a day off from work, when he rises early, determined to make something meaningful out of it, only to see it unfold like any other, epic in its banality. As the seconds, minutes, and hours tick by, he deplores the waste of time. But the point isn’t really that he’s bored; it’s that he’s anxious… As the novel proceeds, moreover, his anxiety takes on added depth and dimension. Increasingly, he makes references to God, morality, and mortality that at first come off as jocular, but gradually feel more serious: ‘God sees all things…God is the beginning and the end of all things.'”

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Why are 400 Roman-era columns lying abandoned on Beirut’s waterfront?

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A short history of Germany: “An absence of natural borders has always been Germany’s biggest headache, especially in the east. German knights and merchants founded Riga, Tallinn and Danzig, and so these Hanseatic ports became Germanic, while the lands around them remained Slavic (even stripped of their German populations, these cities still feel intensely Teutonic). For 1,000 years, since Charlemagne, Germany was a concept rather than a country, a group of people defined by a common language and often not much else. Throw in the trauma of the Thirty Years War (in which a third of the population perished) and defeat in two world wars, and you can understand why most Germans regard the EU as the solution to their problems —and why most Britons don’t.”

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An enlightened history of the Middle Ages: “When chronicling Charlemagne’s rule, Fried pays particular attention to his interest in founding libraries and other centres of learning, some of which evolved into universities that are still around today. Alfred the Great is also singled out for praise in this regard, and Fried notes that when Europe was being plagued by Vikings, Alfred was apparently the only ruler who bothered to find out what made these marauders tick.”

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Jay Parini on the life and work of Fitzgerald—”a deeply gifted writer with an excited if not overwrought imagination who looked into the sad American abyss of his time and saw, however imperfectly, its future.”

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Essay of the Day:

In GQ, Paul Kix tells the story of a Vietnamese cab driver in California who became an unwitting getaway driver for three escaped convicts:

“They wore no coats. They just shivered there, in the crisp night air. And to the cabdriver who slowed to study the three men who’d called for a ride, this seemed strange. It was January, after all, and the temperature in Santa Ana, California, had dipped into the 50s. Yet these men had on only collared shirts. As they piled into Long Ma’s warm car, the driver filed that detail away.

“‘Take us to Walmart,’ said the man who settled into the passenger seat—and this was the second signal to Ma that something was off. Ma recognized from the man’s voice that he was the one who’d called for the cab, telling Ma that he and his friends had needed a ride home.

“His name was Bac Duong, and he spoke to Ma in Vietnamese—their shared native language—and wore on his thin and weary face a salt-and-pepper goatee. It was 9:30 at night, and now they wanted to go shopping? Ma thought. What happened to going home?

“In the rearview mirror, Ma could see Duong’s friends, quiet in the backseat: Jonathan Tieu, a pimply 20-year-old, and Hossein Nayeri, an athletic Persian with an air of insouciance.”

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“Mug shots filled the screen. A massive manhunt, Ma now learned, was under way for the three guys he was watching sit up in bed. They were riveted as the broadcasters ran through the litany of alleged crimes that had put them in jail—murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and torture. They hooted and marveled at their own images on TV, their instant fame.

“The scheme that had won them their freedom had clicked into motion a day earlier, in the last moments before dawn. That was when Duong—sprawled on a bunk in the open-floor dormitory of the Orange County Jail’s Module F—had watched the guard finish his 5 a.m. head count. In the months that the three men had been formulating a plan to escape, a series of factors inside the jail had been tilting the odds of success in their favor. According to a lawsuit later filed on behalf of jail guards, the facility had grown overburdened and insufficiently staffed. Duong had allegedly exploited this, tapping criminal contacts on the outside to help him acquire contraband tools that could be useful in an escape.”

Read the rest.

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Photos: People in cars in LA in the 1970s

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Poem: Arthur Mortensen, “UFO”

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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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