The Paris Review is such a great magazine, edited with such discrimination that likes and dislikes inevitably come down to matters of personal taste. The pieces that I most enjoyed in this issue were two essays—Lydia Davis's "Some Notes on Translation and on Madame Bovary," and Geoff Dyer's "Into the Zone"—and a poem by Sharon Olds, "The Haircut."
Davis's essay perhaps drew me in because I've tried to do some translating, but even if I hadn't, its combination of knowledge, craft and modesty would have won me over. It leaves the strong impression that the translator, as well as the task of translating, are works in progress. Davis ends with a summary, from years ago, of criteria for good translation, although noting that she no longer agrees with all points. The list includes enjoyment of the work and the task, patience, "readiness to work a problem," thorough knowledge of the original; writing skill, and "courage to make your own piece." Everyone who reads literature in translation will find pleasure and edification here.
What attracts me most to Dyer's essay is how initially unprepared I was to like it after realizing what it was—a moment by moment analysis of a movie I have never seen and that isn't even named until the fourth page—Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 Stalker. But Dyer's writing is so fluid, concrete and tonally perfect that I found it impossible to put this rather long essay down, even for a minute. Of Tarkovsky’s ability to sustain interest over extremely long scenes, Dyer writes, "Soon people will not be able to watch films like Stalker or read Henry James because they will not have the concentration to get from one interminable scene or sentence to the next."
In "The Haircut," Olds looks back on the memory of cutting a former husband's hair on a day he'd been ill, and finds in that unlikely situation an intimation of lasting love. The poem has that rare quality of seeming to unfold its insights and understandings in the very act of composition: "Don't be sick, / I said, Okay, he said, and love / seemed to rest, on us, in a place / where, for that hour, it felt death could not / reach."
The magazine also includes fiction by Kerry Howley and Roberto Bolaño (part three of a serialized novel); interviews with Nicholson Baker and Dennis Cooper; poetry by Brenda Shaughnessy, Constantine P. Cavafy (translated by David Ferry), Paul Muldoon, Jeff Dolven, Meghan O'Rourke and Forrest Gander; and a portfolio of anonymous photographs of children collected by Terry Castle. All of it is fine work.