The week’s best arts and culture reads – including the metamorphosis of a great novella, the rise of detective fiction and Alexander McCall Smith in praise of WH Auden.

Dancing Kafka’s Metamorphosis
Laura Marsh | New York Review of Books | 21 September 2013
“Watson evokes the nightmarish experience Kafka describes — of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect — through the vocabulary of ballet. Here you can see his leg turned out at the hip and his foot arched. But what he is doing with his toes makes the whole posture hideous. They wriggle like a millipede’s legs, as though beyond his control, and Watson looks at them in horror”.

Knausgaard: In Proust’s footsteps
Adam Kirsch | City Journal | 21 September 2013
“Knausgaard isn’t interested in postmodern playfulness about the boundaries between fiction and reality. He is writing a kind of confession, a spiritual accounting in the severe Protestant tradition… One can think of My Struggle as an experiment to discover whether a bildungsroman on the scale of In Search of Lost Time remains possible in a time and place stripped of Proust’s literary advantages.”

Unholy mystery
Jason Webster | Aeon | 20 September 2013
On the rise of detective fiction, which produced its first masterpiece, The Moonstone, in 1860s Britain. Why then? Because Darwinism was shaking faith in traditional religion, and the detective offered a new, secular version of the priestly class, answering the riddles of existence. Just look at the names assigned by authors to their heroes: Dr Priestley, George Gideon, Adrian Monk, John Luther, Aurelio Zen, Alex Cross Simon Templar.

Against aesthetics
William Logan | New Criterion | 20 September 2013
On the duty of the critic, and the reader, with particular respect to poetry. “A perfect critic looks at every poem on its own terms, but not all terms are equal. The perfect critic would probably like everything, or loathe everything – and be almost always wrong, or almost always right. God loves all and the Devil hates all, but a critic must sleep nearer the Devil. For God you must look to publicity departments.”

In Praise of WH Auden
Alexander McCall Smith | New Statesman | 19 September 2013
Forty years after his death, his poetry still speaks to us directly. “He comes across as a man of great sympathy, kindness and understanding. He is forgiving; he knows that we are rather weak, frightened creatures, afraid of the dark, but we need not be frightened, he says, because we can create for ourselves the just city for which we yearn”. Bonus: a lovely cameo of Auden giving a public reading with his flies open.

Half snake, half panther
James Davidson | London Review of Books | 18 September 2013
Review of Nijinsky, a biography by Lucy Moore. “I still don’t know what to think about Nijinsky, his violence and stupidity, his vanity and sublimity. But then I remember that he was only 29 when he publicly lost his marbles in the Suvretta House Hotel, only 24 when he premiered Jeux and The Rite of Spring in the same season, only 23 when he performed as the faun, and only 20 when he was first hailed as the god of the dance in Paris”.

Looking for Hemingway
Gay Talese | Esquire | 1 July 1963
Reprint of 1963 piece about George Plimpton and the founders of the Paris Review. “They were the witty, irreverent sons of a conquering nation and, though they came mostly from wealthy parents and had been graduated from Harvard or Yale, they seemed endlessly delighted in posing as paupers and dodging the bill collectors, possibly because it distinguished them from American tourists, whom they despised”.

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