What We Are Reading Today: Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures

Updated 22 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures

Why do painters sometimes wish they were poets — and why do poets sometimes wish they were painters? What happens when Rembrandt spells out Hebrew in the sky or Poussin spells out Latin on a tombstone? What happens when Virgil, Ovid, or Shakespeare suspend their plots to describe a fictitious painting? In Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures, Leonard Barkan explores such questions as he examines the deliciously ambiguous history of the relationship between words and pictures, focusing on the period from antiquity to the Renaissance but offering insights that also have much to say about modern art and literature.
The idea that a poem is like a picture has been a commonplace since at least ancient Greece, and writers and artists have frequently discussed poetry by discussing painting, and vice versa, but their efforts raise more questions than they answer. From Plutarch (“painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture“) to Horace (“as a picture, so a poem“), apparent clarity quickly leads to confusion about, for example, what qualities of pictures are being urged upon poets or how pictorial properties can be converted into poetical ones.
The history of comparing and contrasting painting and poetry turns out to be partly a story of attempts to promote one medium at the expense of the other.
At the same time, analogies between word and image have enabled writers and painters to think about and practice their craft. Ultimately, Barkan argues, this dialogue is an expression of desire: the painter longs for the rich signification of language while the poet yearns for the direct sensuousness of painting.


What We Are Reading Today: Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

Updated 20 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

  • Lake Success flies through a lot of topics: Wealth, status, parenthood, lost relationships, autism, America, etc.
  • I think it’s ultimately a book about time, and how it only moves in one direction, forward, says on a reviewer

Lake Success is the story of a clueless hedge fund multi-millionaire who self-destructs his family and hits the road on a Greyhound bus to see America and try to recover his college days. 

Lake Success flies through a lot of topics: Wealth, status, parenthood, lost relationships, autism, America, etc. 

It tracks the mid-life crisis of Barry Cohen, a “struggling” hedge fund manager with a crumbling marriage and a severely autistic three-year-old son. 

“I think it’s ultimately a book about time, and how it only moves in one direction, forward. Once the main characters accept the forward motion of their lives, they are truly able to live,” a reviewer commented in goodreads.com. 

The author, Gary Shteyngart, is an American writer born in Leningrad. Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

Shteyngart’s first three novels — The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002), Absurdistan (2006) and Super Sad True Love Story (2010) — were fundamentally immigrant stories. 

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook received the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award.

Lake Success takes place over the final months of the 2016 campaign, and in the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency.