Innokenty Annensky
Konstantin Nikolaevich Batyushkov
Sven Birkerts
S. B. Easwaran
Peter France
Alexandra Fraser
Mikhail Lermontov
Hernán Neira
Tanyo Ravicz
Peter Robertson

Issue 17 Guest Artist:
Susana Wald

President: Peter Robertson
Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
Vice-President: Elena Poniatowska
Deputy Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Deputy Editor: Geraldine Maxwell
Advisory Consultant: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Deputy General Editor: Jeff Barry

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boullossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Marcelo Cohen
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Assistant Editor: Sara Besserman
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Conor Bracken
Assistant Editor: Eugenio Conchez
Assistant Editor: Patricia Delmar
Assistant Editor: Lucila Gallino
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Krista Oehlke
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Assistant Editor: Naomi Schub
Assistant Editor: Stephanie Smith
Assistant Editor: Robert Toperter
Assistant Editor: Laurence Webb
Art Consultant: Verónica Barbatano
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. La Lanterna by Sven Birkerts


All through our short visit to New York I was finding pennies on the street, which has not been happening much around these parts of late, raising the question—if the finding of pennies is indeed, as I have all my life believed, cliché be damned, a luck signifier—whether one’s small scale prospects might not shift depending on physical location. Luck being a quicksilver modification of the already fickle play of circumstance, however, there is no way of telling. But my sense is that different locales represent adjustments of the playing field—each has its own densely unique play of forces-- and the way you interact with those forces, at even the humblest levels, determines to some subtle, but vital, degree the disposition of the day. Living in a place means accepting those local laws—how things happen, how people act in given situations--and internalizing them to the point where we are not aware that they’re not universals. To travel, then, is to remember. Which I did, though it took finding pennies in unlikely places to jostle me, make me feel that the play of things around me was, however slightly, different from how it is here, at home. This is not to say that all is unvarying here—of course certain days are strongly marked one way, and another—but in a new place the change is felt as over and above. Does it seem a stretch now to shift to the club, La Lanterna, where we ended up our first night in the city? The thread, so it seems as I write, is jazz, what was being played with such focused intensity just a few feet away. The music, maybe more than anything else around, and more than any other kind of music would have, was drawing directly on the time and the place, the immediacy, drawing on it and taking its impression, and at the same time giving it amplification, form. Of course the tune is the tune, its structure the same whether it is being played by these same instruments—guitar, bass, drums—in Buenos Aires, or in a club on McDougal Street. But that structure, that sameness, is in a sense just a frame around the defining activity, which is the impulsive making of unique music from the available premises. On the premises, as it were. The specific excitement of jazz—and for me the inducement to sit as close to the musicians as possible—is in that moment’s making. How it comes about, how a mood gets created, how that mood then passes as a signal between the players, influencing each of their specific choices, whether to inflect a note this way or that, extend a phrasing, echo a certain note, or counter it with another, whether to come down hard on a string, to pull toward or away from the melody. I am not a musician, not savvy in jazz, so I am guessing based on what I see; but I do believe that if these three could verbalize the specifics of what they are doing, as they are doing it, in the middle of the thing, if the drummer, say, could offer the voice-over explanation to make clear why he changed pattern with his brushes just then, or tapped the rim with his stick like that, or hushed his high-hat at the very moment the guitarist eased up, much would be revealed, not just about how music builds outward from the hyper-intense listening and body-sensing of all involved, but also about how these artists—and their bretheren—pay attention. This, just possibly, is where music and that loosely construed notion of luck, luck as somehow pegged to shifts in the direction and momentum of any moment’s energies, come together. The best music feels like an enactment of, or, better, a creation, of luck. It draws on what is around in a thousand ways, and then it confers shape, expressive integrity: it intercedes, calls back to the moment unfolding, gives to those in vicinity the gift of the moment’s elements transformed. Which is why I like to get as close as possible—to not just hear, but also through my other senses take this action in, possess it. So many nights, over the years, I would walk out after a night of music and feel myself at least for the moment changed, and always I thought it was just the pleasure of the melody and the impact of seeing a thing done well. But I’ve been occupied in the last while with the odd notion that artistic making is—in just the way I have suggested—an intervention; that it has the potential, at times, to influentially alter the composition of a moment, effect a change. In the context I’ve taken here, jazz improvisation, the transformation has a perceptible, if limited, public effect—the redirecting of energies in the listeners. But I’ve also wondered if there is not a more immediate personal effect, one I can relate to writing. At my very best moments—there have not been that many--it has seemed so. I have come to the desk in one state, one relation to everything that is around me, and I have worked and felt something start to take me over. Not in the sense of possession—nothing occult—but as a distinct increase. And I have also felt, stepping away later, that more happened in that time than just an ordering of thoughts and impressions. It’s as if I had in that period, that hour or two, moved myself to a different position--changed floors, as it were—thrown my influence more directly into the mix, and that because of that, at least for a short time, all that happens to me happens a bit differently than it would have otherwise. Could I be any more obscure? I can’t begin to say how this happens, and I certainly can’t say why, but it feels like there has been a surprise scatter of luck in my life.