At the time of his death, Italo Calvino was at work on six lectures setting forth the qualities in writing he most valued, and which he believed would define literature in the century to come. The following is from his essay on “Quickness.” It is translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock.
I’ll start by telling you an old legend.
Late in life the emperor Charlemagne fell in love with a German girl. The court barons were dismayed to see that their sovereign, overcome by ardent desire and forgetful of royal dignity, was neglecting imperial affairs. When the girl suddenly died, the dignitaries sighed with relief — but only briefly, for Charlemagne’s love did not die with the girl. The emperor had the embalmed body brought to his chamber and refused to leave its side. Archbishop Turpin, alarmed by this morbid passion and suspecting some enchantment, decided to examine the corpse. Hidden beneath the dead tongue he found a gemstone ring. As soon as he took possession of it, Charlemagne hastened to have the corpse buried and directed his love toward the person of the archbishop. To extricate himself from that awkward situation, Turpin threw the ring into Lake Constance. Charlemagne fell in love with the lake and refused to leave its shores.
Theodore Wheeler’s debut collection of fiction Bad Faith is a lesson in perfidy, deception, and duplicity—a contemplative exploration of the vagaries of the double-minded human heart. There are eight stories in the collection. Or are there fifteen? Alternating with eight fuller, more traditionally rendered stories are seven vignettes, whose narrative purpose becomes clear in the final, culminating story, “Bad Faith.”
In Bad Faith, Wheeler gives us drifters, truckers, handymen, squatters, runaways, and farmers. They are from Lincoln or Omaha, the big cities in Nebraska, or they live in the shadows of those looming cities. They don’t work the jobs they say they do; they don’t come from where they say they do. They are not entirely sure who they are. They hop freight trains; they drift; they join the army; they murder; they kill. Presenting themselves as better people than they really are, they also end up deceiving themselves into believing their own hype. No one is as simple as they seem and everyone wants more than they can have.
That’s right. The American Conservative. And not because I think liberals (like me) benefit from well-reasoned counter arguments in this algorithm filtered, echo-chamber, partisan media world — though I do think that. It’s because we need to see each other. And this article — “Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People” — is far less of a political counterpoint than it is an appeal to see real people.
The Trump headline is mostly there to get the attention of the internet. Continue reading
I had a train dinner: paprika chips, a pear, a cucumber, and a beer. The sunset was magnificent as we withdrew from Sükhbaatar through another massive green river valley. Mongolians on horseback and motorbike gathered herds toward yurts that parked like UFOs on the hillsides. Where Russians had overstuffed backyard gardens, Mongolian village houses had paddocks of half an acre or more, marked out with split-rail fences. Where old Russian train stations pumped crackling, martial music through the arrival-platform PAs, as we stepped off the train in Ulaanbaatar, disoriented in the early morning after days on the train, the speaker blasted Namjilyn Norovbanzad, the diva of Mongolian long song (urtiin duu).* The otherwordly vibrato cemented the hallucinatory feeling that we’d stepped out of this metal tube into somewhere quite foreign indeed.
There’s so much I could say about this track. It’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, it’s my go-to whenever I need to feel good in a hurry, and it always makes me want to dust off whatever instrument is closest and start playing. The entire album–A Town Called Earth–is worth a few listens, but this track gets me every time. I’ve been listening to it for almost 20 years. (Dear god, is that right?)
“Quantico Va” is a rowdy boogaloo shuffle. By about 30 seconds in, you can tell it’s about to kick your ass. Like a bunch of comedians trying to get each other to laugh, it seems like this track is about amazing players trying to make each other go “ohhhhhhh shit!” over and over again, starting with the ridiculous piano player (see ~6:20 when the drummer just starts growling as he hits). For the entire 10-minute track, every musician gives it everything they’ve got. Respect.
Humility and steeliness. Love. Hope. Optimism. Vigor and strength. This is what our politics should be. America this is quite serious. Listen:
Read more in our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”