Best of what I’ve been reading, from essays to short stories to interviews.

WEEK 14

Spent the weekday evenings immersed in Saul Bellow’s modernist novel More Die of Heartbreak nostalgic for a humanist utopia. Then, on the weekend, leafed with marvel through the quinti-lingual literary journal from mid-20th century names Botteghe Oscure, published and edited in Rome by Marguerite Caetani (Princess di Bassiano) from 1948 to 1960. And watched Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls (1970) by the Hungarian director Márta Mészáros, a film bordering on a Beat musical, a long-form music video, and a love-triangle drama.

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#essay #literature #psychology | Riding in Cars with Jacques Lacan by Jamieson Webster via The New York Review of Books

Without a clue how I came upon this essay on Jacques Lacan and his startling relationship with cars, I learned that Lacan was a ferocious driver, running through red lights, refusing to submit himself to the rules. Even when Lacan was merely a passenger, if you refused to run a red light, he would get out of the car, walk through the crossing, and have you pick him up on the other side.

Relevant sidenote: In Paris, no pedestrian lets themselves be stopped by the irrationality of a red traffic light.

#book | More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow

“The novel alone,” Milan Kundera wrote, “could reveal the immense, mysterious power of the pointless,” in opposition to the “pre-interpretation” of reality. Above being a genre, a novel is a knife cutting through the hidebound lies regarding human nature and collective fallacies. That is an appropriate definition of Saul Bellow’s novels abounding with critique disguised as wit – remarks by characters, Bellow’s own, melanged with quotings of 20th century intellectuals. 

Another aspect Kundera perceived about writers of novel is that they keep spiraling back to the theme of their first book. In Bellow’s case, it is analysis of the American upper class zeitgeist of 20th century’s second half, a world unto itself with its unwritten etiquette and feverish climbing to unfathomable heights by means of power achieved through intricate weaving of one’s societal standing and material riches. As one of Bellow’s characters remarks: “Say what you want about America, but no countries have welcomed originality more warmly and never before has it been a mass phenomenon.” 

The premise of Bellow’s novel is inherently simple. As a reviewer in The New York Times notes, we’re dealing with “people diligently struggling to rearrange one another’s lives in their efforts to rescue or simply to define their own, the human comedy.” The marital struggle storyline of Benn Creader, a world-famous botanist specializing in lichens, is equalled in importance with the humanist psychoanalysis of the modern American society. Every Bellow book I read, I leave full of horizontal sideline markups, feeling intellectually elated and, until it lasts, shifted from the role of accomplice to that of perceiver.

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WEEK 13

Starting the weekend trip to the west coast of France with Borghes’ short stories verging on the borderline of philosophic and magical lent the entire weekend a lingering surrealist ambiance. During the week, my reading habits hit closer to reality – I finished reading Annie Ernaux’ contemplations on writing and being a writer, received a course of sentimental education in architecture via Purple Magazine interviews, and started reading Saul Bellow’s More Die of Heartbreak.

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#interview #architecture | Interview with Ricardo Bofill by Olivier Zahm via Purple Magazine

I visited Bofill’s surreal residential project Espaces d’Abraxas in Paris suburbs last January. The imposing industrial colonnades representing an undercurrent of utopian ideals lend Bofill’s architecture a mysterious allure, immersing the viewer in his dream world, to be torn away back into the quotidian reality a moment later. Cautious be the dreamers as one may have a corner of visceral memory invaded and paralyzed forever. See more of Bofill’s projects here.

“The ideal city is impossible to create, just as the ideal island is impossible to build. The ideal is forever in flux; it must always be evolving. From there, I thought, “Since total utopia is not possible, since total change leads to disaster, we’re going to divvy up utopia by theme and ensure that every architectural exercise is the development of one of those themes.” So, I changed strategies and tried to focus on concrete subjects to conduct partial experiments. I think each of the multiple projects I’ve done constitutes a part of a total city that has not been — and can never be — built. Each of my projects is a part of a possible city.”

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#interview #architecture | Isamu Noguchi Playscapes by Olivier Zahm via Purple Magazine

On the functionalist open-ended playgrounds designed by Isamu Noguchi, each progressive piece telling its individual story while belonging to an intimate social universe.

“The swings there — the original concept was based on having five different lengths of swing. What Noguchi was trying to do was to essentially teach pendulum motion physically. By having the opportunity to swing on both very short swings and very long swings, you learn a lot about gravity and your own weight, and how it all works, and about speed versus the length of swing.”

isamu noguchi playgrounds

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#interview #art #architecture | Le grand chalet – an interview by Olivier Zahm and Katerina Jebb with the artist Setsuko Klossowska de Rola via Purple Magazine

On an 18th-century chalet in Alps that was discover and made into his residence by Balthus and his wife, the artist Setsuko Klossowska de Rola.

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#book | L’écriture comme un couteau by Annie Ernaux

You either like the tradition of memoirist writing or you’re intolerant to it, but there is no denying that the French literary canon is teeming with representatives of the style: Proust, de Beauvoir, Sagan, Van Reeth… The list could go on. Annie Ernaux is a revered member of the pack.


L’écriture comme un couteau is a book about Ernaux’s take on her work and style, formulated as her answers to an avid interviewers’ questions posed over a couple of years. Having read Ernaux’s The Years and Se Perdre, following her contemplations on memory, style, and the duality of a writer’s persona felt like a blissful reconnaissance. Writing not as a mirror but a search for truth outside of oneself. Writing her love affairs and living her writing. Writing as a necessity to save one’s own existence and the memory of how things were on a broader social plane from the amnesiac oblivion of history.