EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The Girl From Krakow is Rita Feuerstahl, a Jew who speaks both Polish and German. She is twenty, tall, blond, and blue-eyed — “almost beautiful,” in our author’s words — and very smart. She wraps herself in a trench coat. Because she is Jewish and there are quotas for Jews, she audits some classes offered by the law faculty, but she finds she prefers hanging out in the philosophy library, making her a girl after my own heart. In one of her law classes she meets a young doctor named Urs Guildenstern and marries him. He is cautious and methodical, perhaps because caution and routine allay his anxiety. Rita is not in love with him, but is pleased to acquire some creature comforts from the marriage.
More… “The Girl From Krakow”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The great Austrian novelist Robert Musil, born like Mencken in 1880, placed these prophetic words in the mouth of his protagonist Ulrich, in The Man without Qualities: “One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself.” It’s a warning H. L. Mencken may never have read, or have held up to him as a caution by a friend or an enemy, but it suits his case as well as anything he wrote or had written about him. He was a cultural and political malcontent who hurled anathemas left and right and aligned himself with no one. His favorite boast was that resistance to the status quo was in his bloodstream. “How did I get my slant on life?” he replied in an interview in 1926. “My ancestors for 300 years back were all bad citizens… They were always against what the rest were for… I was prejudiced… More…

Hitler loved art. His taste tended toward classicism. The Greek ideal of beauty was his general standard in aesthetics. He once wrote the following memorandum about how he guaranteed that he would get “good” art for the Munich Museum. “I have inexorably adhered to the following principle,” Hitler wrote.

If some self-styled artist submits trash for the Munich exhibition, then he is a swindler, in which case he should be put in prison; or he is a madman, in which case he should be in an asylum; or he is a degenerate, in which case he must be sent to a concentration camp to be “reeducated” and taught the dignity of honest labor. In this way I have ensured that the Munich exhibition… More…

Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (originally published in French in 2006 as Les Bienveillantes) features Nazis, incest, and tons of human excrement — literally, tons. It is a novel thus difficult to ignore. Also, it is huge. When you plop it down on a bar in the East Village, for instance, people stop and take notice. Everything about it says serious novel, important novel. People have stopped me on the subway just to ask what I’m reading. It is a novel that calls out for attention. Sometimes I carry it around for that purpose alone. It is heavy, potentially dangerous, and dripping in European (particularly French) sensibility.

That is also why Americans have, so far, largely ignored it. The ultimate arbiter of American, educated middlebrow taste, The New Yorker could only bring itself to mention the book in its “Books Briefly Noted” section. They dispatch it in a terse paragraph:

More…