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Taking a Break

I’ll get right to it: After nearly eight years, I will be taking a break from Prufrock. The reason is simple: I have two books I need to work on, and it’s difficult to make much progress on either with a daily email/blog, full-time teaching, and part-time editing. I am also stepping down as literary editor at The American Conservative.

I would like to thank the folks at The American Conservative for sponsoring Prufrock on two separate occasions over the years. Special thanks to Johnny Burtka, Emile Doak, Jeremy Beer, Jim Antle, Dan McCarthy, the late Wick Allison, Maisie Allison, Gracy Olmstead, and Jonathan Coppage. Helen and Jordan are wonderful, and I will miss working with them and the others in the office. Rod was an early champion of Prufrock and one of the reasons for first joining TAC. May God bless his work.

I’ve given about 8,000 hours of my life to this endeavor and read somewhere around 50,000 reviews and essays. Criticism and literary culture have changed a lot over that time. What was a persistent but controlled preoccupation with politics in cultural matters has become an obsession. I started Prufrock because there was good work that was going largely unnoticed since it didn’t play up the political angle. There is still good work, and there are still a few good publications. But I wonder how much longer that will be the case.

I like to think that Prufrock played a small role in encouraging writers and salvaging something useful or beautiful from our increasingly ruinous literary culture. I hope, at least, it saved you some time and made your mornings marginally better. Thanks for reading.

In other news: After the pandemic, will theater still be streamed? Terry Teachout thinks so: “It goes without saying that some plays work better than others online—one- and two-person plays are easiest to tape—but the range of shows that have given me pleasure is quite remarkable indeed. As a result of my experiences with online theatrical productions, I now believe that even after herd immunity is attained and the pandemic comes to an end, webcasting will become a permanent part of the ecology of regional theater.”

Ruth Dickey named Executive Director of the National Book Foundation.

Richard Rex revisits the middle ages through the lens of a 100-year-old classic: “Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, as it was once known, is a hundred years old and has just been awarded the accolade of a magnificent centenary edition in a superb, fresh English translation. This lavishly illustrated volume marvelously enhances the reader’s encounter with a historical classic by presenting alongside the text a mass of the ­visual evidence the author discusses. Not many history books of the modern era have seen so many editions in so many different languages, and fewer still have enjoyed so long a run. How often, after all, does a book by a professional historian get a centenary edition, let alone such a luxurious one? The appearance of this latest version is a justly deserved tribute to a great work of history that is also a great work of literature.”

Playing an 18,000-year-old conch shell: “Some 18,000 years ago, in a cave in what we now call France, a human being left behind something precious: a conch shell. It was not just any conch shell. Its tip had been lopped off—unlikely by accident, given that this is the strongest part of the shell—allowing a person to blow air into it. The shell’s jagged outer lip was trimmed smooth, perhaps to assist in gripping, and it also bore red, smudgy fingerprints that matched the pigment from a cave painting just feet away from where the object was found in 1931.”

On John le Carré and George Blake: “Last December, while most of us were watching the presidential election lumber toward its disastrous conclusion, two aged ­representatives of a very different political era died. One of the deceased was David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, the pen name he used while writing novels set in the demimonde of spies, ideological enthusiasts, shadowy politicians, and outright gangsters that flourished during the Cold War. As a young man, le Carré was an informant and officer for Britain’s domestic security agency, and later served in its Secret Intelligence Service. For the most part, though, “the secret world” of his books was a product of his imagination. The other, less familiar figure was the real thing. George Blake was a Rotterdam-born, Cairo-educated hereditary subject of the United Kingdom. A member of the Dutch Resistance and fluent in five languages as a teenager, Blake was recruited by the British SIS during World War II. He went on to study Russian at Cambridge before being posted to occupied Germany, where he established extensive networks of informants.”

Poem: A. M. Juster, “Revelation Hymn”

Photo: Château-d’Oex

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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