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Paris, France: An Afternoon with Mavis Gallant

Iain Bamforth Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

Paris, France

A A  M G

At her suggestion we met up on the terrace of Le Dôme. In several years of living in Paris, I’d never been there. Too much the mythic sanctuary perhaps, too obviously smart-set these days to attract a novice. And climbing up the stairs at métro Vavin just outside the café, it occurred to me that there couldn’t be too many writers left in Paris bold enough to be so obviously literary. It was clearly a refuge for Mavis Gallant; one of her press photographs shows her sitting with a demi-tasse in front of her. The lettering on the cup says it for Le Dôme. And once inside, I could see it was a strategic choice

– a neutral zone just round the corner from her apartment in the sixième with a view down the boulevard Montparnasse, an area of

Paris which serves as setting for several of her stories. Choose a coffee-house and you announce to the world what you think of it:

Le Dôme’s fame started back in the s, when the patron of the nearby La Rotonde refused to serve a young American woman who had the culot to sit hatless and smoke on his terrace. Before the First World War it had been one of Apollinaire’s haunts; the early dômiers were principally German painters, Französlinge, and as he noted in his Paris-Journal, the café’s name to ‘tedescan’ ears has the sonorous boom – der Dom – of an actual cathedral. And wasn’t this the café that had made poor young V.S. Pritchett feel ‘cast down’, having sat there while the Twenties span dizzily about him?

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A Stuttered Essay on the French

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A Stuttered Essay on the French

Nation légère et dure…

Voltaire

There is no such country as France. There is however a Platonic form and true beehive object of knowledge, called the Hexagon, which people refer to as ‘France’.

Having nurtured two of the greatest poets of the modern age,

Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, the French have renounced poetry. Poets are now part-time psychoanalysts, and what is left of poetry is called poetics. (Wholesale rationalism, as

Michael Oakeshott once remarked, is like literary criticism without a literature.)

Only in France is one reminded that psychology is a branch of

Christian theology, the word having been coined in the fifteenth century by theologians who sought to delimit the nature of the soul. Freud (whose name on French lips sounds like a fraud to

English ears) follows in the tradition, extending this ‘soul’ in space while attempting to lay hold of its phantomic body and describe its surface anatomy, digestive system and visceral eructions on the basis of models drawn from electricity, hydraulics and other

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Kafka and America

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Kafka and America

N  L   S

‘The story I am writing, designed, I fear, in such a way that it will never be completed, is called, to give you a rough idea, The Man

Who Disappeared, and takes place entirely in the United States of

America.’ That was Kafka announcing in November  to the woman who would become his fiancée, dearest Fraülein Felice, that he was going to cut down on writing long letters to her during the week, in order ‘to spend every ounce’ of himself on his novel, which, he hastened to add, belonged to her too. Writing novels, he told his diary the same year, was going to be his cure for restlessness.

In January , after repeated attempts to work himself back into the novel, he put it aside. He took it up again the following year, having seen the first, and in some ways least interesting, chapter published by Kurt Wolff in Leipzig as The Stoker and read it to his ‘most reluctantly listening father’, only to leave it – this time for good – in the bottom drawer. The first of his three novels to be written, it was the last published after his death (in , when Kafka’s friend and editor Max Brod gave it the name

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Shelf-Life: Varieties of the Aphorism

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Shelf-Life

V   A

It might be called the literary expression of the bright idea. The tradition of the aphorism is the only literary genre I know whose most exceptional endorsers all read not only as if they sat down in the same coffeehouse but if as they shared the same library.

The tradition was inaugurated as a brief condensed statement of a set of facts. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is one of its earlier exponents: he used aphorisms as succinct definitions of diseases and remedies. ‘Life is short, and Art is long; the occasion fleeting; experience fallacious; and judgement difficult.’ Aphorisms were clearly a string of bitter pills to be swallowed, the adages or sententiae which, for a long time, served as a teaching tool in medicine and philosophy. Other ancient sayings, such as those of

Heraclitus, as handed down by Plutarch, and those of the author of the Book of Job, are closer to gnomons than aphorisms. While

Danton insists that life itself is an epigram, in Georg Büchner’s play, aphorisms can be distinguished from epigrams (literally

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Next Year in Jerusalem: Britain in Palestine

Iain Bamforth Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

Next Year in Jerusalem

At the close of  General Allenby captured Jerusalem from the weakened rump of one of the longest surviving empires in world history: thirty years later, in May , the British left Palestine.

On arrival, they had been welcomed as liberators by , Jews and , Arabs; when they left both peoples accused them of betrayal. The population had increased to , Jews and a million Arabs: shortly thereafter, once ‘God Save the King’ had stopped droning out at the Edison Cinema, as it does in the opening chapter of Amos Oz’s The Hill of Evil Counsel, and the bagpipes, khaki and berets were gone for good, Jews and Arabs were at war. Having already been displaced from their farms and ignored by their urban élite, the Palestinians were defeated; most ended up in Jordan. It was called nakba – the catastrophe. Soon legislation would be passed which confiscated their land retrospectively; then the place names were changed.

Tom Segev, a debunking Israeli journalist who writes a weekly column for the paper Ha’aretz, has set out to correct the notion, now firmly embedded in Israeli collective memory, of the British as ‘devious’ – as enemies of the Jews and friends, in the mould of

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