Freedom, for Americans, is an expectation, a way of life and for many its exclusive meaning. In a word, Jonathan Franzen has dedicated his new acclaimed novel to Freedom itself. As critic Lev Grossman explains: "Freedom isn't about a subculture; it's about the culture. It's not a microcosm; it's a cosm." So, having acquired the basic comforts with the added benefit of living in a free country, why is freedom such a problem?
In his first novel since his successful debut with The Corrections, Franzen traces this question through the history of the Berglund family. Patty was the author's first inspiration, who he described as "this discontented suburban mom who had a certain kind of laugh, and a certain kind of sarcasm, and a certain kind of rage". Though some critics have dismissed Franzen's obsession with "unsatisfied suburbanites", this was also the theme of one of last year's best movies, Revolutionary Road, as well as the successful TV show Mad Men, whose main character notes: "We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."
(with apologies to Peter Maurin)
I'm for the liberated liberal arts not the monetized
and politicized liberal arts,
the virginal liberal arts, not the pandering liberal arts.
The humanities after all, belong to the humans and the humane.
Why should the university be the gatekeeper of the human?
In the university, students do not learn to connect
the particular to the whole, but instead
to regard each subject as the master of all the others
during class... and as an abstraction immediately afterward.
A bachelor of arts is a certified human;
a master of arts is a certified teacher;
a doctor of arts is a certified teacher of teachers;
but certification is not essential to the human.
What’s essential to the human person is
connection to the whole, establishing ties,
that is, religion.
Without religion, says Peter Maurin,
so-called education is:
“plenty of facts
but no understanding.”
universities are no longer the wardens of merit, but
the gatekeepers of mammon and power.
In their book Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith advocate
gatejumping for the sake of the human.
A gatejumper builds credibility
man to man — without the approval of gatekeepers.
Gatejumpers are not automatically worthy of trust
but at least they don’t rely on credentials
purchased with borrowed funds.
Is it just for students to complain
that the liberal arts are too pricey when they borrow
with the expectation of earning many times the amount?
Is it just for the university to train adjunct professors at costs
beyond what can be recovered?
If you want to be human,
learn the liberal arts at personal cost.
Read The Quiet Light as background to The
Divine Comedy. Read Christopher Dawson
for a non-sanitized history. Fr. Giussani gave books
to his friend, Enzo Piccinini.
These books became Books of the Christian Spirit.
And Spirito Gentil is a classical music series
with notes from Fr. Giussani.
So on vacation, on lunch break, in the evenings,
and weekends, get together with friends to
learn appreciation for music and drama;
learn politics and philosophy and economics and
For Christ’s sake,
for humanity’s sake,
for yourself and your children,
and their children.
Reviews are out for the new English edition of Giacomo Leopardi's Canti, translated and annotated by Jonathan Galassi. When it comes to translating Leopardi, I recall that translator J.G. Nichols cited a warning from Leopardi himself: "Those foolish poets who, seeing that descriptions are pleasing in poetry, have reduced poetry to continual descriptions, have taken away the pleasure, and substituted boredom for it." Nichols noted that in English poetry is highly descriptive, so that's what readers expect and translators tend to deliver.
What do I want in a translation? Accuracy above all, but also an enrichment of English poetics. Having read Nichols's translations of Petrarch and Leopardi, I'm interested in the learning more about the relationship between the two Italian poets...
The poet Peter Campion reviews the new translation in the New York Times, acclaiming Galassi's balance between poetry and scholarship. Campion highlights Galassi's ability to communicate the beauty and originality of the original:
"The 41 poems in Leopardi’s collected 'Canti' are distinct, and beautiful, for dwelling on a threshold between feeling and thought, between the sensuous world and the mind, between presence and absence. [...] What makes Jonathan Galassi’s translation of Leopardi’s poetry so superb is that he understands, and renders, that delicate movement of thought and feeling."
The Washington Post's Michael Dirda calls Galassi's translation moving, summarizes the life and significance of Leopardi, and gives a helpful overview of the contents as an example of great publishing:
"Galassi's own rich edition of the 'Canti,' prefaced by a long introduction, Italian originals and his English translations on facing pages, an annotated timeline of Leopardi's life and a hundred pages of often-detailed textual commentary. The last is particularly valuable for its citations from Italian scholarship"
I'm especially intrigued that "Galassi underscores that Leopardi confronted and eventually transcended the overwhelming influence of Petrarch."
Helen Vendler, editor at The New Republic , highlights the pessimism of Leopardi and expresses disappointment at the plainness of the translation. Article is behind a subscriber wall, so you may find a copy at your local library (date is Dec 2, 2010).
The Wall Street Journal review finds that pessimism is not the complete story for Leopardi. Alluding to classicist D.S. Carne-Ross, Eric Ormsby finds that Leopardi goes beyond pessimism toward a tragic vision: "[Leopardi's] 'Canti' bow to the inevitable even as they sing out against it."
Like other reviews, perhaps setting the tone, the New Yorker focuses mainly on Leopardi's background and biography. An abstract of the review is online.
As many of the reviews note, a new translation of Leopardi into English is a major event, and an invitation to read this great poet. Another opportunity to deepen our appreciation for Leopardi will happen at the New York Encounter on Monday, January 17th. 10:30 am:
A homage to the Italian poet on the occasion of the publication of his poems in the U.S. with speakers Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Davide Rondoni, Author and Poet; and Joseph Weiler, University Professor at NYU School of Law.
At Farrar, Straus and Giroux, "Jonathan Galassi on Translating Giacomo Leopardi":
As this glimpse at the proofs of my versions of Leopardi’s Canti suggests, a translation, like an original poem, is never finished, only abandoned. And that remains true even after the book is published—I’ve already started collected “improvements” for a future printing.
On the page linked, the poem "To His Lady" is the left most proof page on the bottom row.
The complex perspective of the relationship between victim and victimizer is perhaps more easily addressed now, sixty-five years after the end of World War II. At this time, Germany is holding its first "Hitler Exhibit" in Berlin which explores the relationship of Germans with their Führer through photographs and mementos. The author describes an identification, at least on the victim's part, which acknowledges the bond of common humanity and the historical web that connects them. Circumstances prevent their meeting, while in reality the adversary holds the victim's fate in his hands, and a psychological fiction is developed by the narrator in the place of any defensive action. A certain determinism assigns little or no weight to freedom as the various characters play their parts according to temperament and environment. There are villains, perhaps, puppets of destiny, but no heroes.