British Brutalism, the Imaginary Arctic, and in Praise of Antonia White
Penelope Lively goes to the Arctic in her mind with the help of Barry Lopez: “Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams is much more than a travel book; its subtitle is Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, which causes one to raise an eyebrow. Desire? What does the man mean? To be honest I am still not too sure, but by now I am sufficiently beguiled by its author not to care too much. Suffice it that he takes you on a journey to black seas in which float icebergs the size of cathedrals, to the campsites of Inuit who died 1,500 years ago, and to endless plains where snow geese rise like twists of smoke; that he conjures up for you the intimate presence of narwhals, polar bears, seals, whales, muskoxen.”
In praise of Antonia White: “Frost in May, Antonia White’s novel drawing on her own convent education in the years leading up to World War I, layers satire, anguish, and tenderness with exceptional delicacy. The school novel is always a novel of the gap between what’s taught and what’s learned. The faith of the Convent of the Five Wounds is sentimental, it’s cruel, it turns truths into propaganda and breaks children’s spirits in the name of humility. And yet it’s also beautiful.”
Simon Armitage is the UK’s new poet laureate.
Theodore Dalrymple on British Brutalism: “In a recent debate in Prospect magazine on the question of whether modern architecture has ruined British towns and cities, Professor James Stevens Curl, one of Britain’s most distinguished architectural historians, wrote as his opening salvo: ‘Visitors to these islands who have eyes to see will observe that there is hardly a town or city that has not had its streets—and skyline—wrecked by insensitive, crude, post-1945 additions which ignore established geometries, urban grain, scale, materials, and emphases.’ This is so self-evidently true that I find it hard to understand how anyone could deny it, but modern architects and hangers-on such as architectural journalists do deny it, like war criminals who, for obvious reasons, continue to deny their crimes in the face of overwhelming evidence.”
Kids should spend less time online and more time outside, argues Naomi Schaefer Riley in The New Atlantis’s latest issue. But it’s not easy to make this happen: “A Pew survey last year reports that 54 percent of teens say they spend too much time on their cell phone, and 41 percent say they spend too much time on social media. They are even conscious enough of the problem that many have tried to cut back. More than half have said they have tried to reduce their cell phone use, their time on social media, and the hours spent playing video games. We don’t yet fully know how deep the problem goes, but a growing body of research — for example the work of psychologist Jean Twenge — is pointing us toward the conclusion that the rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in teenagers are correlated with the amount of time they spend with their devices. Some perhaps just say there’s a problem because they’re getting guilt-tripped by their parents — but more likely, they realize their parents are right. What children and teens lack, though, is alternatives.”
Essay of the Day:
Richard Lehnert has been the copyeditor for the audio equipment magazine Stereophile for 34 years. In a wonderful, meandering essay, he writes about what he’s learned over the years:
“We like to think, or at least we like to say, that each writer’s voice is unique, but it isn’t. Too often, what a writer most fondly feels is his unique voice is actually a combination of bad habits and received language and tones shared with all too many other not-very-good writers. The inspired copyeditor’s task is to bend an ear finely tuned to hearing the least hint of unique music in a writer’s voice, strip away the accretions of junk language and tone picked up in a life drenched in TV and marketing and promotional copy and political obfuscation and bureaucratese, and then revise, even rewrite the piece in whatever authentic voice remains. The job is to produce a final edited article written in the writer’s own voice, but in language and tone more consistently and authentically the writer’s very own than that writer can produce herself or himself.”
Poem: Charles Southerland, “Fashioning a Walking Stick”
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.