september 1–15, 2023


  • Colin Dickey, Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy
  • Matthew Zapruder, Why Poetry
  • Safia Jama, Crowded House
  • William Shakespeare, Othello
  • Charles Portis, Masters of Atlantis
  • Djuna, Counterweight, translated by Anton Hur
  • William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

I re-read Charles Portia’s Masters of Atlantis to see if there was anything new there in the light of Colin Dickey’s exploration of the American perception of secret societies – and, it’s true, because it’s comfort reading. MOA is an exploration of the secret society in comic form; but it’s also a novel about profound stasis, not dissimilar to Oblomov. The secret knowledge at the center of the Gnomon society manifestly fails to change anything in the world, or changes things infinitesimally slowly; seeking it lets the characters ultimately do nothing.

The plot threatening in the background – a thwarted novice turned FBI agent comes to wreak revenge – ends in a slow motion fizzle: arriving late to provide evidence in a hearing, Pharris White tells his story to a clerk on leave from a Christmas party; he gives her the evidence he’s spent the book collecting, and she throws it away. Everything eventually dissolves; the same has happened to the Gnomons’ abandoned temple. Does it matter? The characters have accomplished nothing, really, but they are happy, or as happy as they can be, at the end. It’s perhaps Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” played as a comedy.

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