Emily LaBarge

  • culture May 21, 2020

    Words of Light

    “A disappointed woman should try to construct happiness out of a set of materials within her reach,” William Godwin counseled Mary Wollstonecraft after she tried to kill herself by jumping from a bridge. Virginia Woolf liked to read “with pen & notebook,” a generative relationship to the page. Roland Barthes had a hierarchical system with Latinate designations: “notula was the single word or two quickly recorded in a slim notebook; nota, the later and fuller transcription of this thought onto an index card.” Walter Benjamin urged the keeping of a notebook “as strictly as the authorities keep

  • culture January 22, 2019

    Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt

    The apartment is a steal, but it has idiosyncrasies: it’s on the top floor of a four-story office building located on a traffic island; the rooms shake and the windows rattle as buses, trains, and trucks trundle past. It is 1970s Tokyo, and the unnamed narrator of Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light, a woman, newly separated from her husband, a single mother—the three in conjunction, she is now routinely reminded, define her particular status—no longer possesses an “ordinary” life. This home may be unusual, but it’s hers, and, on the plus side, there are windows on all sides and a red floor that

  • culture April 11, 2018

    A Poet of the Archives: On Susan Howe

    Howe has long been interested in distilling signs and symbols, whether “art objects” or words themselves, into something more revelatory. Considering riddles, lost languages, doubled surfaces, spells, magical thinking, and other elusive forms of expression, Howe sounds the depths.

    “Only art works are capable of transmitting chthonic echo-signals,” writes Susan Howe in the foreword to her new collection, Debths, inspired in part by the Whitney’s 2011 retrospective of American artist Paul Thek.

    I have always been interested in folktales, magic, lost languages, riddles, coincidence, and missed connections. What struck me most was the way [Thek’s] later works, often painted swatches of color spread across sheets of newspaper with single words, phrases, or letters scribbled over the already doubled surface, transformed these so-called “art

  • culture April 10, 2017

    Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg; translated by Jenny McPhee

    Dribbledrams! Doodledums! Nitwitteries! Fools! Thugs! Jackass! Moron! Buffoons! Cowards! Delinquent! Old biddies, the mulligrubs, to motturize. These are among the words and phrases—a litany of family sayings coined, inherited, and appropriated—that are repeated throughout Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon. They accrue as the book goes on, evoking a vivid and particular linguistic world: A Barbison, most eminent Signor Lipmann, white lady cutlet, don’t say it’s the teeth, that girl’s going to marry the gasman, I cannot go on painting, sulfuric acid stinks of fart, you too have your little