The first is a link to Felicia Lee's profile of Nigerian-British novelist Helen Oyeyemi in today's New York Times. Titled "Conjuring an Imaginary Friend in the Search for an Authentic Self," it touches upon Oyeyemi's new and highly praised first novel, The Icarus Girl, and its relation to her personal life story, the racism of British "multicultural" education, and the author's other projects, including a novel-in-progress that sounds fascinating. Lee, to whose articles I've previously linked, cannot help herself in terms of the hype surrounding Oyeyemi's youth, but this is hardly surprising, as it's been one of the media's and publishing industry's guiding memes for some time.
She does, however, manage to convince you that The Icarus Girl is one of the books to read this year (I'm definitely going to get it ASAP), and that the author, Oyeyemi, is a grounded, charming and prolific writer to follow.
In a recent (June 6, 2005) issue of The Nation, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes about an author for whom there is no contemporary hype, the Victorian Utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), whose name, I would imagine, is recognized by very few people these days, and is certainly less well known than either of his two major predecessors, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) or John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). In her spirited and persuasive yet fairly brief review, entitled "The Epistemology of the Closet" (playing obviously off Eve Sedgwick's landmark literary and cultural study) of Bart Schulz's just-published, mammoth biography of Sidgwick, Nussbaum suggests that Schulz has succeeded in portraying the tremendous complexity of an essential philosopher whose life work was to figure out how human beings could be happy and simultaneously pursue fairness. Among his intellectual descendents are some of the greatest thinkers of recent years, including Bernard Williams, John Rawls, and Amartya Sen. One of my favorite sections is when she quotes a section of Sidgwick's private notations to show his struggle, captured in an offhanded poetic voice and style that remind me of Whitman, Wittgenstein and others, with the normative ethos of his time:
1. These are my friends--beautiful, plain-featured, tender-hearted, hard-headed.
2. Pure, spiritual, sympathetic, debauched, worldly, violent in conflict.
3. Their virtue and vice are mine and not mine: they were made my friends before they were made virtuous and vicious.
4. Because I know them, the Universe knows them and you shall know them: they exist and will exist, because I love them.
5. This one is great and forgets me: I weep, but I care not, because I love him.
6. This one is afar off, and his life lies a ruin: I weep but I care not because I love him.
7. We meet, and their eyes sparkle and then are calm.
8. Their eyes are calm and they smile: their hands are quick and their fingers tremble.
9. The light of heaven enwraps them: their faces and their forms become harmonious to me with the harmony of the Universe.
10. The air of heaven is spread around them; their houses and books, their pictures and carpets make music to me as all things make music to God....
13. Some are women to me, and to some I am a woman.
14. Each day anew we are born, we meet and love, we embrace and are united for ever: with passion that wakes no longing, with fruition that brings no satiety.
I doubt I'll have much time to read this Sidgwick biography soon, even one that sounds so appealing, but when I break through my backlog, I'll keep this one in mind.