Guest Post, Denton McCabe: Data-Saturation in Cross-Disciplinary Art

Denton McCabe Bio PhotoData-saturation as an aesthetic practice emerged from the late 20th-century media practice of working with partitions, fragments, multi-samples, and frames, (exemplified by the commercial advertisement, the audio loop, the film montage, the remix, and so forth). Current advances in editing software have enabled the fragmentation of any digital file to occur down at the levels of the tiniest pixel, frame, or multisample. For Deleuze, the montage was a means of releasing the appearance of linear and sequential time from the movement-image, that is to say that editing imbued film with the illusion of a linear timeline. In terms of audio applications, Karlheinz Stockhausen generated entire soundscapes from singular patterns of electronic pulsations; utilizing these cyclic pulse-patterns as material that could be subsequently transposed to other frequencies of any duration; this action resulted in the creation of singular timbres within his compositions Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. Today, in our cultural wasteland, which is littered with moving images and audio, a wasteland literally saturated with infinite variegations of data and their technological transformations; this state has enabled the artist to rupture with past forms, conceptions, and materials in the creation of an artwork.

Traditionally, the creator of a work of art has implemented a top-down design; the creator defined the whole shape of a work of art beforehand, then began partitioning the work off into smaller sequences, movements, or edits. The privilege with which technology has gifted the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is the ability to work from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This is not to say that the artist is only just now blessed with the ability to work with the conception of an isolated fragment of a larger image (for example, a flower petal that would ultimately belong to a field of flowers) or an analogous fragment in any other discipline (a word, or a harmonic interval, a close-up, etc.); with the aid of modern developments in software, the artist can now begin working with not only the frame or partition as a generative material, but this is the initial detail that will eventually reveal the form of the whole working. Beginning with a kernel of some type (a series of pulsations, a shot, a number sequence, or any other raw data) the artist can implement a bottom-up design paradigm; which means creating the micro-details of a work of art firsthand. After individual components are built from scratch, so to speak, these can be unified under the umbrella of a larger creative conception; with multiple creations being unified further into a specific body of work.

This would inevitably lead to, and in some disciplines it already has lead to the development and normalization of a type of aesthetic hebephrenia. This hebephrenic state is beyond the abstractions of modernism and the integration of pop culture in postmodernism (both of which have concerned themselves with beginning from a preconceived whole and then working down to the last finished detail of a work). Working from raw data will almost always lead to chance, or at least unintentional juxtapositions of imagery, sounds, and symbols; all organized with the aid of computing technology. What we are currently witnessing as a culture is that inevitable decline of the artist as an exponent of a singular and clear-cut style of expression in one particular medium; and the inevitable reassignment of the role of the artist to that of a producer of cross-disciplinary statements and non-statements, each with their own singularity of form and content. The traditional approach of working within the framework of the preconceived formulation of a definitive narrative structure, or within the limitations of a hierarchy of elements, has now passed into obsolescence. What needs to be explored is the emergence of a singularity within the actual creator, who can now serve cross-disciplinary roles within herself (author, composer, visual artist, computer programmer, and so on). In fact, the trend towards collaborative effort is not the signifier of the emergence of a new art futurism; this collective effort is an indication of the saturation point of obsolete modes of production cross-pollinating between creative disciplines. The banal progression typical of outmoded production, from concept and form down to partitioning and sequencing; and the final procession towards the arrangement of objects within those prefabricated partitions and sequences (the forms of which, in a sense, already exist and are often immediately recognizable to the spectator or consumer) has become obsolete in the sense that contemporary art has become another matter of flirtation and seduction occurring within the limiting confines of socio-economic and socio-political trends, concerning itself only with the conveyance of a message to consumers, rather than a matter concerned with the exploration of aesthetics and forms. The arts (writing, music, theater, film, and visual art) have become the desperate moral expression of a society of consumers suffocating in the climate of their own decline. Working with data-saturation allows art to return to a purity of aesthetics, unfettered by the sociopolitical issues of our day while still retaining social integrity.

In terms of aesthetics and form, there is a lesson to be learned from Stockhausen’s concept of the morphology of time. Stockhausen’s utilization of microcosmic time-structures that reflect the macrocosmic whole of a work is something that needs to be revisited in a cross-disciplinary aesthetic environment. One revolutionary capability of computing technology is that of data bending; a radically inclusive utopia of interchange and manipulation of file formats that occurs between audio, visual, and text editing software. The results of the data bend are often unpredictable and serendipitous; however, the process of data bending reveals the nature of code and computing technology, which is that the machines are functioning in a universe of pure abstraction, which is an alien reality of form and concept for humankind, and it is humanity that has superimposed the sensate inventions of text, image, audio, video and the accompanying social rules of those playing fields over the raw data of the indifferent machines. Stockhausen recognized the potential for working from kernels, with formulas and their variables; the next step in aesthetic evolution would involve crossing the streams between artistic disciplines at both the microcellular and macrocosmic levels, allowing a fragment of data to become an image file, an audio file, a video, and so forth.

This type of work goes beyond the mere mixture of media or the act of transferring the structure of one medium to another; what needs to be explored in addition to the crossing of disciplines is the mixing of forms. The contemporary mixing of forms would involve the mixture of individual approaches to aesthetic criteria and formulations of aesthetic criteria; which would extend beyond the mere radical juxtaposition of genre that was seen in postmodernist music, such as ‘hip-hop’ with microtonal serialism. A mixed-form work of cross-disciplinary art could include a composition generated from serialist theory and aleatoric operations applied to a series of miniatures for typical hip-hop instrumentation of turntable and digital sampler; this composition would serve as the score to a stop-motion animated film made from sequentially applied glitches and edits of stills generated from original 2D and 3D art as source material. One could then take the score a step further by re-editing the material for digital sampler with sound material culled from the procedure of data bending the images into waveforms. The resultant narrative would be of no importance due to its inevitable nonexistence and irrelevance; what would be significant would be the mixture of audio processing and mathematical forms with chance forms; juxtaposed with the electronic forms of stop-motion animation and glitch; and the forms of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and sculpture; all of which could be further integrated into a larger whole, designed with the utilization of a bottom-up paradigm.

Working with the saturation of data would enable the artist to treat all elements as an infinite series  placed inside a vacuum, subject to endless mangling and manipulation and distortion and abstraction; resulting in a complete aesthetic promiscuity; radical in its inclination towards the negation and obliteration of conventional narrative and rational forms of social discourse; leading towards the eventual implementation of a simulation that could blur the hypothetical boundaries between hyperreality, mythologies and traditional and iconoclastic forms. The beauty of data saturation is its relative freedom and accessibility, which makes a contradiction of rendering everything and nothing as its own instrument, its own frame, its own image, its own sound, its own emotion, its own experience, its own obscenity, its own intrusion, and its own grotesqueness; with the requirement that it is first reduced to code, reduced to a pure state of abstract nullity or abstract validity, rendered completely void of the social.

Guest Post: Annette Oxindine, Saying Yes: Wool, Feather, Chintz; House, Bridge, River

“In dreams begin responsibility.” Yeats’s epigraph to Responsibilities had been pinned to the bulletin board above my desk for so many years that it lost any meaningful connection to his actual 1914 volume of poems and, eventually, just lost meaning.  It had become a workaday adage at best, the kind you might find in a day planner designed to keep you beholden to your to-do list.  At worst, it conjured up one of those motivational posters of late capitalism—the kind you might find in a brokerage firm or university president’s office—in which a tanned, forty-something white male model dressed in a cable-knit sweater and a captain’s cap, unsoiled by sea salt or human sweat, looks intently at the horizon from the helm of a sailboat. In short, for me, Yeats’s words about dreams and responsibility had lost their soul.

Bee sitting on a flower

The epigraph In dreams begin responsibility got its soul back and began to fortify my own as a result of my engagement with the unflinchingly responsible work of living dreaming poets. This is a kind of thank-you letter to them. While the writers whose work sustains me are many, I want to focus on three who, in a very real way, made themselves responsible to the work their dreaming selves demanded of them. Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (2012), Patti Smith’s memoir M Train (2015), and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2016), especially its title poem, have individually and collectively returned to me the transformative possibilities of the word “dream,” for I had stopped considering how an unbidden message from the deepest part of the self, rather than a willed “dream” (translation: a goal, one of the least inspiring words in the English language), could call one into being, and, in turn, make one profoundly responsible to one’s own being—and own writing.

“I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to say, yet I know that before long I will sound as if I’m on a crusade.”  So begins Mary Ruefle’s brilliant shape-shifting title lecture from Madness, Rack, and Honey. “The phrase madness, rack, and honey came to me in a dream,” she explains.  What I find remarkable is that Ruefle’s dream seemingly contains no container for her words. They arrive disembodied: her dream, she tells us, “consisted solely of these three words.” It is these words—madness, rack, and honey—she wants to inscribe over the phrase “fine poetry” as it appears in an advertisement for Coach leather goods. In the ad, Albert Einstein’s grandson Paul, an “accomplished violinist,” serves as the well-pedigreed “clichéd portrait of a poetry-lover” who enjoys said “fine poetry” along with no-adjectives-needed “literature and philosophy” and, by implication, Coach’s luxury accessories.  Ruefle un-refines and un-accessorizes the phrase “fine poetry.” In so doing, she returns poetry to its flesh.  Taking her dream’s three words in reverse order, Ruefle analyzes the meaning of “honey” by reflecting on a centuries-old Persian poem she loves, although she cannot trace its author: “ ‘I shall not finish my poem. / What I have written is so sweet / The flies are beginning to torment me.’ ” Ruefle focuses on how the poem’s “ ‘figurative’ sweetness,” its honey, causes “ ‘ literal’ flies to swarm on the page or in or around the author’s head.” She proclaims, “This is truly the Word made flesh.” Ruefle believes that metaphor “is an event,” “an exchange of energy between two things”; metaphor “unites the world by its very premise—that things connect and exchange energy.” Such an assertion should make us realize that Ruefle’s dream phrase really is, after all, embodied: it is embodied in the physical matter that is her brain. In a later lecture, she explains, “When you hold a book in your hands you are holding a piece of cerebrum.”  Such vigorous attention to the material nature of being and writing is crucial to Madness, Rack, and Honey. As Ruefle moves from rack—“those flies are beginning to torment the poet”—to madness—poetry “creates sweetness, so that the flies might come and eat till it is gone”—she comes to apprehend that poetry is “inexplicably and exactly” defined in this line from a poem by Paul Celan: “To endlessly make an end of things.” It is the requiem that making makes that brings such haunting beauty and palpable sorrow to Ruefle’s book. But what animates it are its many secrets, its wonder, her unabashed delight in wondering rather than knowing: “I would rather wonder than know.”

“It’s not so easy writing about nothing,” says the mostly reticent cowboy in Patti Smith’s dream, providing her with the first words of M Train. We insist on persisting, her “cowpoke” tells her, as he points out the futility of “fostering all kinds of crazy hopes,” such as “redeem[ing] the lost” or recovering “some sliver of personal revelation.” Realizing she has been inside this dream before, Smith tells her cowboy, “Hey, I said, I’m not the dead, not a shade passing. I’m flesh and blood here.” He ignores her. To add to this insult, he denies that it’s even her dream; he claims it as his own. After Smith is fully awake, drinking black coffee in a favorite café, she can’t let go of the dream; the dream won’t let go of her. She writes the cowboy’s phrase on her napkin: It’s not so easy writing about nothing. She feels “a need to contradict him.” He has goaded her into writing. She muses, “I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.” But Smith has everything to say. Her book is a long, beautiful meditation on what it means to stay present, even, and sometimes especially, in the presence of ghosts: “We seek to stay present, even as ghosts attempt to draw us away.” What keeps Smith from being drawn away, it seems, is her understanding that to write about everything is to invite the nothing in. M Train ends with Smith, in a dream, uniting the everything and the nothing in an intimate gesture of expansiveness that is at the heart of the book’s many internal and external pilgrimages: “I love you, I whispered, to all, to none.” Her “philosophic” cowboy replies, “Love not lightly”—although I can think of few writers who are less likely to need that advice.  Staying inside this dream, Smith concludes her book: “I am going to remember everything and then I am going to write it all down. An aria to a coat. A requiem for a café.” It is the book she has written, the book she has just given us, the book we hold in our hands.  It has heft. It is not a ghost—not yet. The last image in the book is of Smith “looking down at [her] hands,” the hands of the dreamer, the one who writes.

Whereas Patti Smith enters “the frame” of M Train’s opening dream and leaves it by boarding a train that returns her to bed, Ross Gay’s dream-messenger comes to him more urgently, by way of a “branch that grew into [his] window.” More interactive and less cryptic in its demands than Smith’s cowboy or Ruefle’s three-word phrase, Gay’s robin with “shabby wings” and “breast aflare” comes to tell him “in no uncertain terms” to“ ‘Bellow forth” his “whole rusty brass band of gratitude.” And so he does. In the poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” among the seemingly too-many-to-name things for which the speaker expresses gratitude are friends, strangers, ancestors, “the tiny bee’s shadow,” the woman he loves, the reader (many times), the “baggie of dreadlocks” he finds in the drawer of a murdered friend, a woman who sings Erykah Badu to herself on a bus, so very many things that grow in the soil, his own “knuckleheaded heart,” and the dream that brings his dead father back to him to play him like “a bass fiddle’s strings” until he wakes up “singing.”  Yet for all the Whitmanesque abundance and exuberance that pulse through the twelve-page poem, a retreating pulse seems to work like a constant undertow—beyond even the inevitable departure of the dead who are briefly returned to the speaker.  This undertow adds even more urgency to the poet’s song of thanks. When Gay announces to his listener that his poem is finally coming to a close—“Soon it will be over”—the word “it” morphs to encompass so much more. The speaker then recalls that “the child in [his] dream” said “precisely the same thing,” “pointing at the roiling sea and the sky / hurtling our way like so many buffalo,” stressing that “it’s much worse than we think, / and sooner.” But this prophetic child isn’t telling the speaker anything he doesn’t already know. He replies,

no duh child in my dreams, what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.

Reading contemporary poetry in the Anthropocene can sometimes feel like one long goodbye. The dream-child’s seeming awareness of planetary loss—the “roiling” sea and sky headed for us—can make us nostalgic for a more personal mortality, the kind that makes young Margaret weep in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall.”

In my own loving-what-every-second-goes-away dream, cherry blossoms are falling to the ground in a park near a stage on which an aria is left unfinished. I don’t remember if the singer leaves the stage or if she just stops singing. Her song is taken up by the weak but joyful voices of an older man and woman who are heading into the distance, away from the stage and the fallen blossoms. Even before waking, I understand the couple to be my mother and father, although they do not look like them. I understand that they are leaving me and also letting me know I have to stay in the park: to listen. It is then that unbidden words come to me, words I understand I must use, can only use, in a poem.

The first book about loss that I read is a novel that isn’t really a novel. It was described by its author as a “play-poem,” and it affected me deeply. One of its passages to which I often return seems like a lullaby to forlornness itself:

What is the phrase for the moon? And the phrase for love? By what name are we to call death? I do not know. I need a little language such as lovers use, words of one syllable such as children speak when they come into the room and find their mother sewing and pick up some scrap of bright wool, a feather, or a shred of chintz. I need a howl; a cry.

The passage is from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a book Mary Ruefle designates as “not one of [her] favorite books” even though her “memory of reading it” at the age of twenty-two on a “plotless day” with the ocean in the distance is one of her favorite memories.  I was nineteen the summer I pulled The Waves off a shelf in my public library, doing so with very little forethought: Woolf’s name was vaguely familiar, and I love the sea. That was enough. It was, I admit, not easy going at first. But by the time I was about a fourth of the way through that book, I knew I would never again feel alone in the world in the same way. I would feel alone a new way, connected to the aloneness of others, and that has made all the difference. In her lecture “Someone Reading a Book,” Ruefle describes in an even more positive way what a good book can bring to light: “We are all one question, and the best answer seems to be love—a connection between things.” I find it touching that Patti Smith’s connection to Virginia Woolf came rather late in her life, and that Woolf’s walking stick, the penultimate Polaroid printed in M Train, prompts her to muse whether, if she continues to outlive everyone, the New York Public Library might entrust her with Woolf’s walking stick, which she would “cherish for her.” (If there’s ever a petition in support of Smith doing just that, I’ll sign it.)

I eventually wrote a dissertation about Woolf, published academic essays about her novels, and have been fortunate to have a career that allows me to teach literature. While I do not, as does Ruefle, tire “of having to talk about literature,” like her, “I didn’t begin writing because I wanted to sit in a room and talk about the construction of subjectivity” in the work of writers I admired—although I can be pretty good at that kind of talk on most days, and I do enjoy it most often, even sometimes enjoy writing about it.

But in dreams begin responsibility.  Was it a lullaby? Was it a requiem? What were the old man and old woman singing in the park?  I will keep listening. I will sing back. I will pay close attention to unbidden words. “I began writing because I had made friends with the dead: they had written to me, in their books, about life on earth,” explains Mary Ruefle, “and I wanted to write back and say yes, house, bridge, river, hair, no, maybe, never, forever.”  And so did I. And so I have, and so I will.

Guest Post, Vytautas Malesh: Face Your Critics, Face Your Fears, Face Yourself.

Vytautas Malesh Bio PhotoSooner or later, we all have to deal with critics. The old chestnut goes something along the lines of “but my mom says I’m brilliant,” and so we’ll have to forego any maternal input on our literary efforts in favor of words less warm, but probably more honest. Whether we’re talking about a submission editor’s hasty notes, a mentor’s line-by-line markup, or an Iowa-style “dead author” workshop session, the writer’s job in the face of criticism is to learn from that criticism. It’s a herculean task, but one which you the writer must master since, well, go back and read the first sentence.

While it is tempting to rest assured of your own brilliance, know that you dismiss any piece of criticism at your own peril. You’ll get the occasional ill-informed vagary along the lines of “I dunno, I just didn’t like it” or something else equally unhelpful. You’ll often find this sort of criticism in low-level undergraduate writing workshops around midterm and finals weeks, or following a weekend of epic tailgating. No need to really pay that too much attention if you are not so inclined.

But I digress.

Assuming that the critic has indeed read your work, considered it, and wants to offer constructive and helpful notes, it’s important to humble yourself and to listen. Criticism can sting, badly. That’s not quite doing it justice:  criticism can make you want to curl up into a ball and never write again. But that’s what happens when you let your ego get in the way of your craft, and if you’re going to write – and, as a consequence, deal with critics – you must let go of your ego.

Some critics are relatively easy to endure – pedants checking your spelling and grammar, for example. Others are easy to dismiss if they are trying too hard to inject their own style matter into your work – the minimalist who insists you could chop your complex character drama down to about the length of a sonnet.

But other criticism cuts deeper. When you’ve had a gaping and irreconcilable plot hole revealed, or if someone should point out that your story so strongly echoes something else already in the world that no publisher would ever show it the light of day. Or that your characterization reveals you to be, or perhaps suggests that you are, sexist, or racist, or misogynistic, or homophobic, or otherwise holding a deep character flaw that perhaps you didn’t even know you had.

When faced with such criticism, it’s important to remember your service to the words – if you’ve been called out over questionable or even hurtful politics, take the time to think about what you’re doing and where you’re coming from. This is the sort of criticism that must not be ignored for both your own sake and, in a very real way, for the sake of the societies and cultures in which we find ourselves. If your work has struck a nerve and offended*, then observe the awesome power that words have in the world, and strive to use that power responsibly.

And of course, sometimes we just have to torch a piece. Perhaps the plot isn’t salvageable, or we realize we have plagiarized something we’ve never read (or at least that’s what our critics say). Cheer up – burn the failure and use the ashes like fertilizer to nourish the next piece. If the worst thing that happens after an encounter with hard criticism is more writing, then consider yourself lucky and get back to work.

*Disclaimer:  “You shouldn’t be offended,” “I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” and “explain it to me – how is that offensive?” are not appropriate in this circumstance. If you have offended someone, you listen to what they have to say. Similarly, “I’m being offensive on purpose” is debatable at best, and you’re probably not being as witty as you think you are – people’s failure to “get it” is more likely your failure to deliver it.

Guest Post, William J Cobb: Tolstoy v. John Gardner on Describing Emotions in Fiction

Bio photo of Bill CobbAnna Karenina Is a Junkie, and She’s Weeping.

Years ago John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction (1984) was a mainstay in creative writing classrooms, and was one of the first “writer’s craft” books I read. I remember arguing (via that little voice in my head) with much of it, but nonetheless inculcating many of his principles into my own rolodex of techniques, including the idea of fiction as a continuous dream, the need (and expectation) that literary writers follow a tradition, and most problematically, Gardner’s stance that emotions should not be described directly—a somewhat-more-rigid (and specific) take on the old adage of “show, don’t tell.” Even talking (or thinking) about this book makes me feel as if my very memories, undulating in wavy lines, are being superimposed upon Gardner’s (simple, elegant) book jacket.

Ah, the Eighties. When Raymond Carver was all the rage, and Stephen King was trapping us in a car besieged by a rabid Saint Bernard. We lived in ratty apartments where the toilet would never stop running, and were headed for divorce, rehab, and bankruptcy, or all of the above. Carver was the dean of what now seems the musty school of Minimalism or Dirty Realism, both terms that he rejected. It’s hard not to mention Carver when dragging Gardner’s skeleton out of the closet, since Carver was famously a student of Gardner’s, which Carver wrote about with great admiration in his essay “Fires.”

I’ll confess to being in thrall with Carver’s (and King’s) stories, and of starting my writing career by imitating both shamelessly—though only, in my defense, for a brief time. I was too young and innocent (then, at least) for Carver’s fictional demographics, and really just loved the rhythm of his prose, the bleakness, that whole American downer scene. Working-class writers of the world, unite! He made drinking problems cool, and was a bit like a cleaned-up version of Charles Bukowski—whose Ham on Rye (1982) is a masterpiece of gritty lit. (Even Stephen King’s greatest hero, Jack Torrance, suffers an Achilles’ heel of alcoholism in The Shining.) Carver not only learned from and admired John Gardner, he exemplifies Gardner’s emotion-describing reserve. There are many feelings seething in Carver’s wrenching moments, such as in “Are These Actual Miles?” (from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? published in 1976), when a first-person narrator describes teetering on bankruptcy, letting his wife go out to sell a used car, an errand from which she returns with hints that she bedded the used car dealer dude to get a good price, or in “So Much Water So Close to Home,” when weekend fishermen discover a drowned girl in the water, and just go on fishing and drinking. But Carver doesn’t directly announce those emotions; he doesn’t tell us.

Tolstoy, on the other hand, not only tells us the emotions his characters are feeling, he goes to great lengths to do so, and describes them with play-by-play fervency, as if trying to be the Pat Summerall of calling the National Emotion League: “What are you thinking? What do you think of me? Don’t despise me. I’m not worthy of being despised. I’m just unhappy. If anyone is unhappy, I am,’ she said and, turning away, she wept.” (On another things-change-and-stay-the-same note, in Anna Karenina Tolstoy also complains about how the nobility drinks too much: “We go around saying that the people drink; I don’t know who drinks more, the people or our own class.”)

As for describing emotions directly or suggesting them, who is right and who is wrong? Hard to say. As far as wrong is concerned, neither is the easy answer, but they definitely produce different effects. For instance, Carver is famous for his understated alcoholic stories, such as “Where I’m Calling From,” in which a booze-hound’s girlfriend liberates him from rehab, and they end the story drinking champagne and eating fried chicken, with all the guilt, remorse, and shame implied, not specified. Tolstoy also wrote of addiction: In Anna Karenina (1878), after Anna leaves her chilly husband, Alexei Alexandrovich, for the dashing Vronsky, she becomes isolated and outcast, shunned by high-society, castigated by strangers at an opera, and takes morphine to ease the pain. (She’s also a writer, by the way: In a late chapter Tolstoy reveals that Anna is writing a children’s book, which sounds like a YA title, and an editor is exhorting her to finish it.) While discussing the possibility of divorce with her sister-in-law, Dolly, Anna says, “There isn’t a day or an hour that I don’t think of it and don’t reproach myself for that thinking … because the thought of it could drive me mad. Drive me mad,’ she repeated. ‘When I think of it, I can’t fall asleep without morphine.” Not long after that scene, Tolstoy describes Anna getting high to calm herself: “Anna meanwhile, on returning to her boudoir, took a glass and into it put a few drops of medicine, of which morphine made up a significant part, and after drinking it and sitting motionless for a time, grown quiet, she went to the bedroom in calm and cheerful spirits.”

The complex array of her feelings is delineated in great detail, and Tolstoy rightly gets credit for being one of the earliest practitioners of the “stream-of-consciousness” technique, when he describes her thoughts, feelings, and vision of the world shown through her inner dialogue, most famously in the passage leading up to her suicide, and in earlier moments, such as when she meets Vronsky on the snowy train station. Carver generally avoids descriptions of what the characters are thinking or feeling, and instead relies on situations from which the reader must parse out the feelings—a technique akin to T.S. Eliot’s famous “objective correlative.”

Carver was writing exactly one century after Tolstoy, though the trend toward closed-mouth portrayal of emotion began much earlier. Blame Ernest Hemingway, if you must, master of understatement and sangfroid. At times it’s portrayed as a male American-writer trait, but Flannery O’Connor rarely describes her characters’ emotions directly, and there are many other examples of female American writers as well. One of the finest practitioners of emotional don’t-tell is the great Cormac McCarthy, who effects a tremendous emotional tug in his novel Suttree when the alcoholic Suttree visits his ex-wife to attend the funeral of his son, and she physically attacks him for showing up. Tolstoy’s direct descriptions of emotions make sense in light of his seminal essay “What Is Art?” There he offers one definition of art as being simply “a communication of emotion.” But in that long (and long-winded) essay, he essentially expands or adapts the “show, don’t tell” cliché to the more expansive “show and tell,” emphasizing it’s the artists (especially those writing narrative fiction) task to recreate the experience provoking the emotion, and not simply to tell the reader that the character experienced it.

At this point you might ask: Why should writers care about this in the 21st century? Rereading Anna Karenina recently, I was struck at how easy-going and straightforward much of the story is. Tolstoy is, if anything, un-coy. His fiction seems more expansive than Carver’s. As much as I admire Raymond Carver, I rarely return to reading his work for fun—I know, a loaded term. Tolstoy produces a greater literary joy, perhaps in part due to his expansive, multifaceted approach. I suspect he would consider a reluctance to describe a character’s happiness, remorse, or anguish as being too reserved, a literary stylistic trait similar to the emotional frigidity of Anna Karenina’s husband Alexei. It’s never completely clear in the novel, but one suspects Anna had been taking those drops of morphine well before she met Vronsky, and her husband’s coldness plus her addiction may be the reason she ended up in another’s man’s arms. That might work for readers as well: If you’re too reluctant (or dogmatic) to describe your characters’ emotions directly, you might find your readers being seduced by a more laid-back, dashing approach, such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), which is not the most literary novel in the last few years, yet is certainly grisly fun. But the book I’m most looking forward to reading is Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger (now rumored to appear in December 2017 or 2018), and he combines the best of Hemingway’s emotional understatement with Tolstoy’s expansive view of the world.—William J. Cobb

Excerpt From: Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. Anna Karenina, p. 1264, 1266, 1381.

Guest Post: Vanessa Blakeslee, Why I Read Translations

Less than one-percent of international literature is translated into English every year, an abysmally low number by any account. Occasionally, a translated author breaks through with a bestselling hit, such as Elena Ferrante’s trilogy of Neapolitan novels. But those successes largely depend on media coverage: glowing reviews in the New York Times and Boston Globe, features in commercial magazines, Vogue and O. What about the many authors who might be fortunate to have their works translated into English, but who remain relatively unnoticed by the reading public—even by devotees of literary fiction? Even authors who write in English but reside out the United States struggle to obtain mainstream readership and name-recognition stateside as compared to within their home country.

I’m not sure when I decided to devote more of my reading time to discovering international authors. A few years ago I started to review books for literary magazines, and sometimes editors suggested titles or ARCs that had arrived in the office of say, the Kenyon Review, and offered them for assignment. Not only did I delight in discovering stunning masters of fiction—Kevin Barry is one, author of City of Bohane, set in a dystopian future Ireland—but I relished the distance reviewing books by authors abroad gave me. Like it or not, in the U.S., many fiction writers and reviewers belong to the same circle. Knowing that I had less of a chance of running into Barry at a reading or conference made writing an honest critique of his work a more liberating and enlivening endeavor.

Other international titles came to me by way of friends, such as the satirical novel Lovestar by Icelandic writer Andre Magnason; my ex-boyfriend met the author briefly and passed along a copy to me. The more I reviewed and met others who did, the more I received recommendations of international fiction writers to actively seek out. Critic John Domini’s reviews led me to read Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, but more importantly, two novels by German author Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days and Visitation. Much acclaimed on the international literary scene, Erpenbeck is lesser known to the mainstream American reading public, certainly less so than the oft-spotlit Ferrante.

Delving into international literature inevitably leads you as a reader to become familiar with the presses bringing such stellar work to an English-speaking audience. Europa, New Directions, New American Press, Dalky Archive, and Restless Press all publish fiction in translation—presses I’ve come to keep my eye on, whose catalogues I eagerly devour as soon as they drop through my mail slot.

Such presses and their translators do a great service by taking risks and bringing much-deserved talent to a North American audience. Some authors, such as Kevin Barry, whose City of Bohane was first published in the U.S. by Graywolf, eventually make the leap to a major publisher and distribution (Barry’s recent Beatlebone was released by Doubleday), and hopefully, a wider audience. But most importantly, these presses, authors, and translators deserve your attention and support whether or not their authors ever get picked up by a Big 5 publisher. By exploring foreign authors you probably haven’t heard of, your literary landscape will grow more colorful and rewarding, treading imaginative terrain you’d never expect.

Guest Post, Tyler Sage: Some Thoughts on the Detective Novel, Form, and Politics

For the purposes of argument, let’s assume that we can distinguish between form and content in writing. The latter – content – could be taken broadly to include things like what happens in a book, who is involved in the action, and the way characters are depicted. The former – form – could be taken to include the manifold ways the story is told and shaped, along with the matters of “craft” the author brings to bear.

It seems that thinking about this distinction might be worthwhile, because in many contemporary debates about writing the focus is so squarely on matters of content. A great deal of potential controversy adheres to the questions of what race, gender and class our characters are; how they act, and whether these actions promote offensive stereotypes; how the other characters refer to them, etc. Because of these pressures, ours has become a world in which authors hire sensitivity readers to double-check the level of potential offensiveness of their work, and a world in which the ability of a person of one race to legitimately write a character of another race is regularly questioned. My point is not to argue the rightness or wrongness of these practices; it’s simply to point out that they posit the main point of importance in political or ideological struggles as being what happens in a story, rather than the way a story is constructed.

Often, this approach is taken a step further and it’s argued that talking about or teaching writing in formal terms is itself problematic, that formal discussion itself is somehow anti-political, a hindrance to the expression of oppressed groups, or to social critique. The MFA program workshop model, and in particular the flagship/Great Satan of that model, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has become something of a focal point for this line of thought. In focusing on matters of “craft” (read: formal techniques in fiction), the argument goes, this model neglects matters of history and politics. Further, arising as it did in the context of the Cold-War, the workshop model approach to fiction carries the necessary stain of American Imperialism and an ideological fixation with radical individualism and Modernist technique that is antithetical to minority experience and revolutionary (or any other) politics. It’s not simply that the slogan of “show don’t tell,” for example, is bound inextricably to white male privilege; any focus on the formal aspects of writing distracts from our ability to write politically, because it pulls us away from personal, historical, and identity-based expression.

Again, it’s not my purpose to take sides in the debate over the worth of MFA programs, to stake a position on the enormous problems faced by women and people of color in the writing and publishing world, or to argue for one notion of revolution over another. My purpose is to defend the notion that the political resides at least as deeply in form as it does in content, using the American hardboiled crime novel as an example.

Raymond Chandler rightly stands at the center of this tradition, and his novels are as good a starting place as any. In them a detective, Philip Marlow, is asked to solve a crime. He begins on this task; soon after, he discovers at least one other seemingly unrelated mysterious circumstance that will in the end prove not to be unrelated at all; he proceeds forward, following clues, getting beaten up, shot at, and lied to, until he closes in on his criminal; in the end, the identity of the killer is revealed, and the machinations of everything that has happened are made clear to us.

The general political critique of Chandler is easy to outline. These are stories that feature a white male protagonist, invested in violence, who solves other people’s problems; in the final pages it is nearly always a woman who is revealed as the scheming betrayer behind the crimes, and it is this woman who needs to be repudiated, if not killed, for justice to be done; minorities are either not present or presented in generally stereotypical and outmoded (and indeed often outright racist) ways. However, this critique rests nearly entirely on questions of content: who is involved, how they act, and how they’re portrayed by the author/narrator.

My question is whether there’s not another – formal – approach we could take to all of this, that would allow us additional insight and, more importantly, additional force in our own writing. One place to start might be with the question of whether, or in what ways, Chandler’s work (and the work of similar writers) could be seen as political. Often presented as a kind of knight-errant questing forward on the shoulders of his hero-detective, the truth is that Chandler was bracingly cynical. He ends his much quoted essay on the detective story, “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950) with a passage extolling knight-errantry on the part of protagonists in detective novels; he begins it, on the other hand, by noting that popular best-sellers are

“promotional jobs based on a sort of indirect snob-appeal, carefully escorted by the trained seals of the critical fraternity, and lovingly tended and watered by certain much too powerful pressure groups whose business is selling books, although they would like you to think they are fostering culture. Just get a little behind in your payments and you will find out how idealistic they are.”

This certainly sounds like someone who’s invested in the idea that the apparatchiks of capitalist culture might be putting their grubby little thumbs on the scale when it comes time to determine which books get published and which don’t. But Chandler’s argument in the essay is not that he’s writing anti-capitalist literature, of course; it’s a formal one. His goal is to distinguish a particularly American style of “realist” mystery writing – in contrast to what he sees as a more class-encumbered English one – and to point out that what his forbearers in that style, Dashiell Hammett in particular, did was to use it as a way of pointing out power relations in the world. “The realist in murder,” he argues,

“writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations…a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket…where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.”

To my ear, at least, there is a breathtakingly strange political mixture in this passage: an absolute condemnation of corrupt political power exerted against the common person goes hand in hand with a sardonic disdain for that common person and a Charlton Heston-esque support for good old law and order.

Confused? Perhaps. But one cannot charge it with not staking out political or ideological claims about our culture. And in a sense, its confusion is exactly the point. Language in writing – and especially the American language, the complexities of which Chandler was trying to tease out, a language that goes back through Dickenson, Mellville, Douglass, and the rest of them, and forward from Chandler through everyone who’s written since – is necessarily political in its form. The words that are chosen, the structures of the sentences, the level of diction: all of it is the ideological ground that lies beneath the content of those words and sentences.

For Chandler, the attempt of Hammett and the rest to re-tether the detective novel to the diction of “the street” was an attempt at a some sort of realist social politics. They believed that the literature of their time had obscured the assaultive horrors of much everyday life, and that these issues could be addressed at least in part through language. Do we agree that they were successful? Perhaps we do, perhaps we don’t; for the purposes of this essay, it’s enough to note that it may very well be the case that for a writer to neglect the formal aspects of the American language is for a writer to inhibit their own ability to write politically.

But the argument doesn’t stop at prose. To write and structure any novel one must think more or less formally; I think the emphasis on plotting in a mystery story makes it an easy place to tease out the connections between the formal moves of the writer’s technique and the political content of their work. Thinking through (or trying to write) a densely plotted crime novel leads one immediately to a realization of the importance of the kinds of things taught in writing workshops: handling of POV in terms of distance and person, showing versus telling, the structuring of scenes, the timing of reveals, etc.

In his famous interview with François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock makes a distinction between “surprise” and “suspense.” He explains that if two people in a story are having a conversation and are suddenly blown up by a bomb, it’s surprising. If we see someone plant the bomb, and then the characters enter, sit at the table, and begin their conversation, it’s suspenseful. What Hitchcock is getting at, in our terms, is the technical question of the effect on the audience created by the manipulation of the formal aspects of storytelling: how much information does the reader have, and when do they get it? How much do the characters have, and how much does the narrator have? At first, this may seem to be simply a matter of using storytelling mechanics to entertain the audience; if we pause for a moment, however, it becomes clear that it’s a formal element that lies at the heart of some of the most political writing we know. By thinking through and controlling POV and the rest, we’re creating a world that feels a certain way, either surprising or suspenseful, and in shaping the world in this way we are in fact making an assertion about the nature of that world.

One obvious place to explore this (and an obvious comparison to the hardboiled novel) is the work of Kafka. The Trial and The Castle are both set up somewhat along the lines of a “mystery” story. A character navigates through an oppressive, claustrophobic, absurd landscape in search of a McGuffin (to use Hitchcock’s term) he’s destined never to find (the facts behind his trial; the authority in the castle.) On a technical level, at least a part of the impact of Kafka’s work arises from his astounding control over formal elements of the art form. Kafka asserted in a moment of self-denigration in his journals that his success came from little more than his ability to re-create the feeling of being in a dream; reading his work closely, we realize that one way to understand this ability is in terms of maintaining a relationship between the consciousness of his reader and his protagonist such that we experience the absurdity of the world exactly as K. does. In somewhat barbaric, reductionist terms, this ability is a matter of being able to manipulate POV and closely control the information the reader has. And it is this claustrophobia itself, along with the power it gives Kafka of projecting us into an experienced world of absurdity, that at least in part allows him to construct a savage critique of modernity.

The connection of this to the American school of crime narrative, and the reason I’ve taken this detour, is to point out that in the hardboiled novel the feeling of being at the center of a claustrophobic maze is one of the most important elements. In a way not dissimilar to Kafka’s characters, Chandler’s protagonists are stuck in a labyrinth, the end result of which is disillusionment. That is to say, if Kafka uses a deep understanding of POV and interiority to write novels that reflect our sense of modernity as a thing that controls us far beyond our ability to control ourselves, Chandler and his ilk use similar mechanics, along with a control of information and plot along the lines of Hitchcock’s distinction, to create the feeling of being caught in a maze-like mystery, with deception and avarice around every corner. The ideological cynicism of these books and their critique of the America of their time come at least in part directly out of these formal elements.

A final way to approach these issues might be to return again to the ways these novels are politically problematic, and to use this to think through ways that we might respond to them with a literature of our own. The work of Mickey Spillane, whose first novel I, The Jury appeared in 1947, provides a wonderful opportunity to do this. Spillane’s work is interesting because it unabashedly celebrates, indeed valorizes, the aspects of Chandler’s work can be seen as the most politically problematic. In I, The Jury the narrator and protagonist, Mike Hammer, declares that what he likes to do is just go out and murder the criminals that the cops are too soft on; in one scene he beats up an African American man he notes is a good-looking “high yellow” and then checks the man’s wallet to find pictures of all the women the man has seduced, and finds that, yep, one of them was white (the obvious implication being that Hammer has righted a miscegenistic wrong); he falls in love with a super-hot woman psychiatrist, finds out that she’s the criminal mastermind behind everything, and murders her as painfully as possible her at the end. The whole is almost unbelievably fascistic. Not surprisingly, Ayn Rand was defender of his work (and he of hers); perhaps even less surprisingly, he sold over 130 million copies of his books and was for many years one of the most successful writers in America.

How are we to critique a writer like this? It’s all well and good to point out the radical misogyny, racism, and promotion of blood-lust in the content of his work, but to find anything more interesting to say, either as writers or critics, we need to move almost immediately to thinking formally. Like the verbiage of Donald Trump, Spillane’s first-person narration is continually over-insistent about its own toughness, intelligence, dynamo sexuality, and animal attractiveness to women. The plotting of the book means that, contrast to Chandler’s Philip Marlow, Mike Hammer is always the master of the situation: it’s virtually impossible to imagine him being played for a sucker by a friend the way Marlow is at the end of The Long Goodbye. To really understand the politics of this – why Ayn Rand was attracted to it, why it was so popular with post-war audiences, the grounds it lays for ideas and narratives that are still with us today – we must think at least partially in formal terms: how is the language working? how does the plotting go to character? what is shown and not told, or the other way around? etc. What these lines of thought show us are the ways power – racialized, gendered, and class-driven – propagates itself in our entertainments and art, the way it seduces audiences, the way it flatters some and silences others, the way it seeps into the fabrics of our stories themselves.

Perhaps more importantly, how are we as writers to respond? If we believe that we can re-shape these stories simply by changing their content, I think we’re mistaken. If we were to rewrite I, The Jury making only substitutions along the lines of the race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. of the characters, the fascistically violent and power-oriented worldview would remain unchanged. But approaching these narratives on formal terms allows a world of possibility to open up. What would it mean to write a detective story in a language that eschewed the radical tough-guy voice that propels so much hardboiled work? What would it mean to construct a plot which, like Kafka’s, was not solvable and simply led the detective further and further into a maze? What would it mean to adjust our understanding of showing and telling so that we knew everything before the detective did or, conversely, the detective figured everything out but simply didn’t tell us or, conversely again (if that’s possible) the detective found himself unable to read the human gestures that the writer who believes in “showing” to the exclusion of all else depends on so heavily? In addition to an increased attention to the identity and depiction of our characters, might all of this not allow us to write a newly-political detective story? And, in conjunction with changes in content – the identity of the protagonists, the depiction of characters – might it not aid writers in continuing to reshape the literature itself?

I’ll close by noting that I think that, if we step back from the specific example of the crime novel, we see almost immediately that this formal reshaping is exactly what a great deal of American writing has traditionally striven to do. The examples are countless, but we might think through the anti-war constructions of Johnny Get Your Gun, Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse Five, the way race is approached in the work of Langston Hughes, John Edgar Wideman, or Toni Cade Bambara, the way narrative itself is approached in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, the ways politics is investigated in Pynchon’s early work, history is flayed open in Beloved, gender structures pierced by Patricia Highsmith, and our relationship with the natural world is illuminated by Barry Lopez or Terry Tempest Williams. And on and on.

As much as their content, it is the formal awareness of these books that gives them their power. To neglect either – content or form – would be to rob ourselves of the ability to access that same power.

Guest post, Svetlana Lavochkina: A Tangerine A Year

Bio photo of Svetlana LavochkinaOn a Sunday in late sleety March, 1984 my clan was celebrating Grandmother’s seventieth anniversary. We lived in Zaporozhye, a failed industrial giant in the south-east of Ukraine. There was a deluge of toasts, vodka, champagne, red caviar and homemade poems.

The toasts and the poems were all pompous nonsense, the caviar too salty. My cousin Shurik and I were exiled to the nursery because we had crawled under the dinner table, moving the white linen cloth dangerously while taking off the guests’ shoes. We were ordered to occupy ourselves with quiet games until they called us in for tea and cake. In the nursery, Shurik and I had exhausted both classic Scrabble and table football; then the less Orthodox, self-invented “Beat the Lazy Fool” and “Husband and Wife Are Looking for a Treasure under the Bed.” Still, there was no news of the dessert, and we were getting bored yet again. So I took a sketch book and some felt tips and drew a jagged oval in the middle of the page.

I told Shurik, “This is the Island of Poovia in the Souporific Ocean.”

“Is it mine?” Shurik asked. “Only half of it, but you are President,” I said, generously giving the younger sibling priority and ascribing myself the post of the Chancellor.

While the President was draining the blue felt tip to color the Souporific Ocean, the Chancellor distributed the remaining political power on Poovia among the members of the family. We knew no one else who we could command to fulfill state duties and practice the pronunciation of their new names, far too convoluted even for Ukrainian tongues.

The two remaining hours before the dessert passed unnoticed, and then we were finally gorging ourselves on the delicious Napoleon cake and seeping Krasnodar tea. Our parents, laughing and cursing, were stumbling on the new names that I had printed on paper slips: Myrrn Kyldynysyvj, Minister of Defense; Ryitta Brbukhovva, State Secretary – just to mention the easiest ones. Only for Grandmother, a retired piano teacher, had we made a magnanimous exception. She got an easy, mellow name of Marrám Lalá and the cushy post of the Minister of Culture.

Thus, in 1984, behind the Iron Curtain, we suddenly had a whole island to ourselves, and believe me, it was a most tropical one. Tangerines that we could only eat on the New Year’s Eve in real life, were served to the President first thing every morning. Many a felt tip was spent depicting the President’s palace, beaches, palm groves, and on designing the gorgeous Chancellor’s dresses.

Truth to say, the rest of the government didn’t do anything at all besides asking us, from time to time, “And are you still playing that game, what’s its name… Peevia?”

The only goal of Poovian politics was fostering a huge, harmless and humorous cult of the President’s personality – oh that girl who had had an operation to engrave his name on her ventricle; oh that funny fat man who had stolen the President’s night pot.

For Shurik, the main sense of Poovia was its two football teams sponsored by the competing electronic corporations, the Chancellor’s Melon and the President’s Cucumber. Each of the footballers had his own personality: the Melon goalkeeper, for instance, was so slow that a crow made a nest on his head during the final match. Needless to say, the Cucumber won more often.

For me, the beauty of Poovia was in creating a new language. I compiled a dictionary of Poovarian, about two hundred splendid words – verbs, nouns, adjectives, idioms that existed, I could swear, in no other language (for example, to compliment a beautiful woman, one would have to say, “What bald teeth you have!”) The grammar of Poovarian resembled Russian, with a tinge, as I discovered only not long ago, of French and Turkish. I wrote the National Poovarian Anthem, some songs for pop-stars, and many articles for the quality newspapers and tabloids – all that at the expense of homework.

With the help of a primitive cassette recorder, we broadcast important balls and receptions. We interviewed the President, the Chancellor and, occasionally, the increasingly senile and hence the least microphone-shy Marrám Lalá.

Poovia thrived for three years, five cassettes and fifteen sketch books. Then Shurik and I were blown away from the island, estranged from each other by puberty.

Children’s life in the Soviet Union was not so awful as to need radical distractions. We had our share of fun: music lessons, table tennis, and we both attended a good school with in-depth English instruction. Eating tangerines once a year in no way meant that we starved. Living in communal flats or tower blocks did not make us claustrophobic. For us, tales about Lenin as a little boy did not sound like brainwashing and a children’s military parade at the primary school was as normal as ABC. In 1984, we did not feel trapped in an anti-utopia.

Now I see Poovia as a nursery presentiment of emigration: a dress rehearsal a decade in advance; an intuition, naïve but not entirely wrong, of western life as we perceived it later. For me, it was also a dress rehearsal of writing, in a language not my own.

Shurik and I still remember each other’s birthdays. “Are your teeth still bald?” he always asks me instead of congratulating.

Little did we know then that Shurik would become one of the first high school graduates in the ex-USSR to go to study abroad, first in Switzerland, then in England, and end up working in a renowned London bank. The floor of his living-room is the size of a football field and wears a snow-white carpet.

I was very happy to escape the 1990s chaos and corruption of the post-Soviet Ukraine – nothing would ever change and I didn’t feel responsible for improving things at the cost of my personal goals. I entered the period of a decade-long denial of my motherland, busy building a new life from scratch. Leipzig, Germany became my new home. To my parents, my carpetless living-room seems the size of a tennis court. When they visit me, I tell them that when we go to Cyprus in March, ripe tangerines fall down from the trees, and no one cares to pick them.

It was in 2014 that Ukraine pulled me back into its courageous, fiery orbit of the Maidan and the War of Independence with its terrible toll. I scarcely believed my ears and eyes when the world news uttered the name of Donetsk, my alma mater city in the east, and its adjacent towns, and showed those tranquil, drowsy places in fire and chaos. I could do little about it, apart from feeling acute empathy and shame. The only thing that made up for my denial was translating wonderful, inimitable contemporary Ukrainian poetry into English for publication in American and British literary magazines and anthologies.

Last year, I broke my self-imposed moratorium and flew to Kiev. I met my old college mates who’d had to flee the war-afflicted territories where they had enjoyed well-established lives. The airplane was landing, and I looked down from the window in impatient, torn anticipation. The blue Dnieper River sparkled in the light of the setting sun and in its middle, it wasn’t the ancient capital of Kiev I saw. It was my Island of Poovia that stretched under the plane wings in all its 1984 splendor.