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Oranges & Peanuts for Sale (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – June 23, 2009
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“Constant evidence of astounding and genuine erudition that may well exceed what Ezra Pound yearned for almost 100 years earlier.”
- Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
“Weinberger sent me in search of new writers and books, things I had not heard of till then but wish I had.”
- Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent
About the Author
Eliot Weinberger is an essayist, editor, and translator. He lives in New York City.
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The essays (or at least many of them) are a pleasure to read, both for style and content. Three things stand out about Weinberger: his extraordinary erudition; his phenomenally diverse interests; and his strong opinions. I was introduced for the first time to a handful of noteworthy writers, including George Oppen, Vicente Huidobro, and Victor Segalen. Other subjects include Emily Dickinson, Susan Sontag, the T'ang Dynasty, modern China and Chinese poets (both ancient and modern), American politics, James Laughlin and New Directions Publishing, and the art of translation (Weinberger has translated a quite a few works of Octavio Paz).
As for Weinberger's strong opinions, the dislikes register more memorably than the likes. Among those dislikes are Robert Alter's celebrated translation of The Book of Psalms (Weinberger's review is scathing but, I think, right on the money), university creative writing programs, and "The New Yorker". What rubs Weinberger wrong about the last is, chiefly, its insularity and its house style: "It is permanently fixed in an air of bemused detachment, which it expresses in a style whose sentences are pathologically rewritten by its editors, `polished' (as they call it) until every article, whether a report from Rwanda or a portrait of a professional dog-walker, sounds exactly alike."
But what really gets Weinberger's caustic juices flowing is American politics since Carter. The Clintons, both Bill and Hilary, were bad enough. But Cheney-Bush II (as Weinberger, justifiably I think, refers to the administration that was entrenched in the White House from January 2001 to January 2009) is castigated as "the most radical administration in American history", under which the providential rise of the Internet was our chief protection against an authoritarian state. Weinberger also directs some of his scorn towards the political complacency of the artistic community in the United States, writers as well as visual artists: "[T]he arts in America--all of them--have become largely irrelevant to what is actually happening in the world. Crusading bloggers are the closest we get to a Zola, Brecht, or Ginsberg. They're valiant, but they're not art."
The essay about the 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, written in June 2008, shows that even Weinberger, unromantic and hard-headed as he is, lodged far too much hope in Obama. It would be interesting to read a follow-up, four years later.
No matter who you are, you won't be interested in everything in ORANGES & PEANUTS FOR SALE nor will you agree with everything. But reading it will make you a more knowledgeable citizen of this world and, if you are sufficiently open-minded, you will occasionally be entertained.