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David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Month: December 2020

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2020

In this chaotic, surreal, and trying year, books as always provided a source of steadiness and continuity, when there was enough time and space to give them full attention.

My two books of the year are both superior anthologies suffused with the editor/translators’ love and reverence for their authors–inspiring feats in themselves. The third volume of Musil translated by Genese Grill and published by Contra Mundum is a massive and masterful anthology of Musil’s plays and theater writings, the most substantial new Musil volume in years, expertly rendered and annotated. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll collectively perform an even greater feat in drawing together Blumenberg’s essays across the breadth of his career and finally producing an approachable entry point to his work in English. The introductions to both volumes are superb. The works are old, but Grill, Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll are their animating spirits today.

The same goes for Steve G. Lofts’s new translation of Ernst Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, a massive undertaking of an underappreciated work by an underappreciated philosopher, the third Davos participant who saw more widely than Carnap and more humanely than Heidegger. A more affordable edition is warranted. And the long-awaited reissue of Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl’s Saturn and Melancholy, done with immense care and comprehensiveness, is a model example of cultural history at a level of depth and intimacy that has always been rare, and is perhaps becoming rarer.

Fantagraphics’s reissues of Alberto Breccia’s stunning work also deserve more attention. I read part of Perramus when Fantagraphics issued it 30 years ago and was blown away by Breccia’s singular style; its’ good to have the whole thing finally. His version of The Eternaut is also remarkable.

I hesitate to mention too many other books for fear of neglecting the others, but I will say that of the science and technology books, several deal with subjects that are currently inundated with popularizations. In my eye, those below are notably superior to the rest of their crowd, though the marketplace of ideas has apparently and frustratingly failed to raise these books above their brethren. To a lesser extent, the same applies to history and politics.

Jacob Burckhardt said that the 20th century would be the age of oversimplification. The 21st has so far been the age of increasingly desperate and defensive oversimplification, across all domains of knowledge. Here’s to the fight against it.

(Final note: for an anthology of short plague-related stories, please check out my little project The Enneadecameron, featuring worthy tales by John Crowley, Irina Dumitrescu, Genese Grill, Alta Ifland, and many more.)

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama
Musil, Robert (Author), Grill, Genese (Translator), Grill, Genese (Introduction)
Contra Mundum Press


History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader (signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation)
Blumenberg, Hans (Author), Bajohr, Hannes (Translator), Fuchs, Florian (Translator), Kroll, Joe Paul (Translator)
Cornell University Press

LITERATURE

Eros, Unbroken
Kim, Annie (Author)
Word Works


The Long White Cloud of Unknowing
Samuels, Lisa (Author)
Chax Press


The Bern Book: A Record of a Voyage of the Mind (American Literature)
Carter, Vincent O. (Author), McCarthy, Jesse (Introduction)
Dalkey Archive Press


Peach Blossom Paradise (New York Review Books Classics)
Fei, Ge (Author), Morse, Canaan (Translator)
NYRB Classics


Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov (New York Review Books Classics)
Leskov, Nikolai (Author), Chandler, Robert (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Translator), Edgerton, William (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Introduction)
NYRB Classics


Alexandria: A Novel
Kingsnorth, Paul (Author)
Graywolf Press


Impostures (Library of Arabic Literature, 65)
al-Ḥarīrī (Author), Cooperson, Michael (Translator), Kilito, Abdelfattah (Foreword)
NYU Press


Rogomelec (The Envelope-silence)
Fini, Leonor (Author), Skwersky, Serena Shanken (Translator), Kulik, William T. (Translator), Eburne, Jonathan P. (Introduction)
Wakefield Press


Meaning a Life: an Autobiography
Oppen, Mary (Author), Yang, Jeffrey (Introduction)
New Directions


The Lost Writings
Kafka, Franz (Author), Stach, Reiner (Editor), Hofmann, Michael (Translator)
New Directions


Collected Stories
Hazzard, Shirley (Author), Olubas, Brigitta (Editor), Heller, Zoë (Foreword)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Surviving: Stories, Essays, Interviews (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Yorke, Matthew (Editor), Updike, John (Introduction), Yorke, Sebastian (Afterword)
NYRB Classics



Lame Fate | Ugly Swans (Rediscovered Classics)
Strugatsky, Arkady (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Vinokour, Maya (Author)
Chicago Review Press


The Third Walpurgis Night: The Complete Text (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Kraus, Karl (Author), Bridgham, Fred (Translator), Timms, Edward (Translator), Perloff, Marjorie (Foreword)
Yale University Press


Death in Her Hands: A Novel
Moshfegh, Ottessa (Author)
Penguin Press


I Live in the Slums: Stories (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Can Xue (Author), Gernant, Karen (Translator), Chen, Zeping (Translator)
Yale University Press


Other Moons: Vietnamese Short Stories of the American War and Its Aftermath
Ha, Quan Manh (Translator), Babcock, Joseph (Translator)
Columbia University Press


Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (Russian Library)
Radishchev, Alexander (Author), Reyfman, Irina (Translator), Kahn, Andrew (Translator)
Columbia University Press


A Lover's Discourse
Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author)
Grove Press


The Selected Poems of Tu Fu: Expanded and Newly Translated by David Hinton
Fu, Tu (Author), Hinton, David (Translator)
New Directions


Instantiation
Egan, Greg (Author)
Greg Egan


The Evidence
Priest, Christopher (Author)
Orion


Piranesi
Clarke, Susanna (Author)
Bloomsbury Publishing


Dispersion
Greg Egan (Author)
Subterranean


Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas: A Novel
de Assis, Joaquim Maria Machado (Author), Costa, Margaret Jull (Translator), Patterson, Robin (Translator)
Liveright

HUMANITIES

Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art
Klibansky, Raymond (Author), Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Saxl, Fritz (Author), Despoix, Philippe (Editor), Leroux, Georges (Editor)
McGill-Queen's University Press


Michelangelo’s Design Principles, Particularly in Relation to Those of Raphael
Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Editor), Spooner, Joseph (Translator), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Introduction)
Princeton University Press


The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 1: Language
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)
Routledge


The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 2: Mythical Thinking
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)
Routledge


The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 3: Phenomenology of Cognition
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)
Routledge


Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe
Grafton, Anthony (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press



A Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Music (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)
Lynch, Tosca A. C. (Editor), Rocconi, Eleonora (Editor)
Wiley-Blackwell


Wisdom as a Way of Life: Theravāda Buddhism Reimagined
Collins, Steven (Author), McDaniel, Justin (Editor), Hallisey, Charles (Introduction)
Columbia University Press


Time in Ancient Stories of Origin
Walter, Anke (Author)
OUP Oxford


Anger: The Conflicted History of an Emotion (Vices and Virtues)
Rosenwein, Barbara H. (Author)
Yale University Press


Who Needs a World View?
Geuss, Raymond (Author)
Harvard University Press




Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age
Damrosch, David (Author)
Princeton University Press


Classical Indian Philosophy: A history of philosophy without any gaps, Volume 5
Adamson, Peter (Author), Ganeri, Jonardon (Author)
Oxford University Press




Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers
Misak, Cheryl (Author)
Oxford University Press


Early Modern German Philosophy (1690-1750)
Dyck, Corey W. (Author)
Oxford University Press


Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture
Harvey, Eleanor Jones (Author), Sues, Hans-Dieter (Preface)
Princeton University Press




SCIENCE & TECH

The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science
Falk, Seb (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company


Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing
Brayne, Sarah (Author)
Oxford University Press


How the Brain Makes Decisions
Boraud, Thomas (Author)
Oxford University Press



The Phantom Pattern Problem: The Mirage of Big Data
Smith, Gary (Author), Cordes, Jay (Author)
Oxford University Press


Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Darwin's Psychology: The Theatre of Agency
Bradley, Ben (Author)
OUP Oxford


The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn
Richard W. Hamming (Author), Bret Victor (Foreword)
Stripe Press

HISTORY


Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy
Hankins, James (Author)
Harvard University Press


The Invention of China
Hayton, Bill (Author)
Yale University Press


China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism
Mitter, Rana (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press


Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe
Herrin, Judith (Author)
Princeton University Press




Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World
Schuman, Michael (Author)
PublicAffairs


Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West
Kepel, Gilles (Author)
Columbia University Press



Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades
Bailyn, Bernard (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company



Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy
Mahbubani, Kishore (Author)
PublicAffairs


The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History
Mikaberidze, Alexander (Author)
Oxford University Press

SOCIAL SCIENCES

France before 1789: The Unraveling of an Absolutist Regime
Elster, Jon (Author)
Princeton University Press


The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason About Human Nature
Berent, Iris (Author)
Oxford University Press


What’s Wrong with Economics?: A Primer for the Perplexed
Skidelsky, Robert (Author)
Yale University Press

COMICS AND ART

The Eternaut 1969 (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Oesterheld, Héctor Germán (Author), Breccia, Alberto (Author)
Fantagraphics


Perramus: The City and Oblivion (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Breccia, Alberto (Author), Sasturain, Juan (Author), Mena, Erica (Translator)
Fantagraphics


The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud
Tsurita, Kuniko (Author), Holmberg, Ryan (Translator)
Drawn and Quarterly


Nymph
Marzocchi, Leila (Author), Richards, Jaime (Translator)
Fantagraphics


Stay
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Chevillard, Hubert (Artist)
Magnetic Press


Infinity 8 Vol.7: All for Nothing
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Boulet (Author), Kennedy, Mike (Editor), Boulet (Artist)
Magnetic Press


Infinity 8 vol.8: Until the End
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Killoffer (Artist)
Magnetic Press


Barnaby Volume Four
Johnson, Crockett (Author), Nel, Philip (Author), Robbins, Trina (Introduction)
Fantagraphics



Winter Warrior: A Vietnam Vet's Anti-War Odyssey
Gilbert, Eve (Author), Camil, Scott (Author)
Fantagraphics


The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921 (Krazy & Ignatz)
Herriman, George (Author), Blackbeard, Bill (Introduction)
Fantagraphics



The Daughters of Ys
Anderson, M. T. (Author), Rioux, Jo (Illustrator)
First Second


Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting
Storr, Robert (Author)
Laurence King Publishing


Philip Guston Now
Cooper, Harry (Author), Godfrey, Mark (Author), Greene, Alison de Lima (Author), Nesin, Kate (Author), Guston, Philip (Artist), Fischli, Peter (Contributor), Hancock, Trenton Doyle (Contributor), Kentridge, William (Contributor), Dean, Tacita (Contributor), Ligon, Glenn (Contributor), Roberts, Jennifer (Contributor)
D.A.P./National Gallery of Art


Year of the Rabbit
Veasna, Tian (Author)
Drawn and Quarterly


The Phantom Twin
Brown, Lisa (Author)
First Second


Solutions and Other Problems
Brosh, Allie (Author)
Gallery Books


Stuck Rubber Baby 25th Anniversary Edition
Cruse, Howard (Author), Bechdel, Alison (Introduction)
First Second


Paying the Land
Sacco, Joe (Author)
Metropolitan Books


Albrecht Dürer
Metzger, Christof (Editor)
Prestel


Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës
Greenberg, Isabel (Author)
Harry N. Abrams


Anselm Kiefer in Conversation with Klaus Dermutz (The German List)
Kiefer, Anselm (Author), Dermutz, Klaus (Author), Lewis, Tess (Translator)
Seagull Books


Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual – Revised and Expanded Edition
Gamwell, Lynn (Author), Tyson, Neil deGrasse (Foreword)
Princeton University Press

Uragami Gyokudo

I am too lazy and obstinate to paint small scenes;
I can wet the black ink and grind the red, but ideas are difficult.
Why busy myself to death with my small talents?
Better to discard the brush and face the true mountains.

Uragami Gyokudo (tr. Stephen Addiss)

Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820) was a musician, poet, calligrapher, and painter affiliated with the Nanga “literati” school of Japanese painting, which drew influence from the earlier Southern School of Chinese literati painting. Known more for his music and poetry during his life, he resigned from his post at age 50 to become an itinerant artist.

The titles below are taken, where possible, from the catalogue of the Chiba City Museum of Art exhibition, Life as Bunjin – The Art World of Urakami Gyokudo and His Sons, Shunkin and Shukin, unfortunately difficult to obtain.

Eastern Clouds, Sifted Snow (~1812)
Rain Cloaks the Mountains
Scholar’s Pavilion by a Stream
Reading the Book of Changes by a Mountain Stream
Mountains Dyed Scarlet
Playing the Koto in the Mountains
Half the Sky is Misty Rain (1813)
Pine Groves on a Cold Peak
Strange Peaks, Autumn Colors
Crossing a Bridge in the Deep Mountains (1818)

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