Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Georgia Review Features a Famous Feminist on Suicide and the Holocaust, a Forgotten German Painter, a Sightless Poet on His Freedoms, and More

The recently released Winter 2008 issue of The Georgia Review, the quarterly journal of arts and letters founded at the University of Georgia in 1947, features a new essay by one of the country's best-known feminist critics, Susan Gubar--coauthor (with Sandra Gilbert) of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination and the three-volume No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century.

"My Franziska, Charlotte Salomon, and the Decision Not to Be: Suicide Before, During, and After the Holocaust" is a wrenching personal and public examination of patterns of European selbstmord (self-killing). Gubar meditates upon several suicides among her ancestors as well as those of well-known figures such as Virginia Woolf and Simone Weil--and she looks most intensely at an overlooked German masterwork of paintings and writings by Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943), sent to Auschwitz and killed there on the day of her arrival.

Salomon's posthumously published Life? or Theatre? A Play with Music is a thick volume comprising more than seven hundred impressionistic gouaches, many of them incorporating or accompanied by written commentary. As a group they tell the story of Salomon's several family suicides and tales of the unfolding war in her native country. Gubar discusses many of these paintings, fourteen of which are reproduced in The Georgia Review.

"Thinking inevitably within the precincts of the shadow that the Holocaust threw on my family," says Gubar, "I believe that the will to die preoccupied Jewish women before as well as during the Shoah not (or at least not simply) as an escape from suffering, and not (or at least not simply) as an expression of hunger, rebellion, and rage. This preoccupation was, more precisely, a means of transmuting suffering, of turning it into a voluntary testimonial to (or witnessing of) grievously betrayed love."

Also featured in this issue is an interview with Stephen Kuusisto, author of one poetry collection (Only Bread, Only Light) and two volumes of nonfiction (Planet of the Blind and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening). Kuusisto, who currently teaches at the University of Iowa in both the creative writing program and the College of Medicine, is intensively questioned by another poet/memoirist, Lia Purpura.

Virtually blind from birth, Kuusisto notes that "not seeing allows me some luck--not necessarily an advantage, but opportunity for luck, because luck is, after all, entirely about opportunity. The opportunity is not seeing the woman, or the tree, or the cathedral, or the cobblestone streets, or the queen's horses. I can't conjure them by enunciating them, and so I'm not trapped in the tyranny of much modern journalistic writing: having to explain," he said.

"All I can do is suggest that I'm an impressionist. There's freedom in impressionism, and with that freedom comes luck, because then, if your language has a kind of compensatory sweetness, musicality, energy, and rightness, literary consciousness unfolds and something larger than the writer occurs. That's where I get lucky."

Gubar, Salomon, Kuusisto, and so much more await Review readers: Paul Zimmer is here with "London and a Friend," an evocative reminiscence about a bygone publishing world--including the time he covertly laid his head "on a cushion that Lord Byron had used for a nap." Veteran short-story writers George Singleton and Jack Driscoll are here, along with newcomer Elea Carey. Veteran poets Coleman Barks, Albert Goldbarth, and Sydney Lea are here, along with newcomer Tyler Caroline Mills. Edward Butscher reviews memoirs by women, Judith Kitchen discusses new poetry collections, Anis Shivani takes on recent books about terrorism and politics, and Gerald Weales examines a lifetime of letters by the inimitable Noel Coward.

All in all, the Winter 2008 Georgia Review offers up the usual unusual riches from what novelist Terry Kay has called "the best literary publication in the country, period."

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