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Week 4/19/21

PUBLISHED: April 25, 2021

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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So yes, I like the idea of the poem as a house governed by a sort of feng shui (Chinese, “wind-water”) poetics. We enter rooms but don’t always consider the influence of spaces around and between the rooms: the basement, where the unkempt Id and intuition live—or the attic, where big ideas and philosophies float. If a house is a poem, I’d describe my poetic tastes as something like a yard with a fence I cannot see. If I leave my porch and walk over a few hills and meadows, cross a few rivers, I suspect I will find my fence: the border at which I will say what’s inside is a poem, what’s outside is not. I want to test that border; I want to straddle it; I want to remake it. “Make,” from the Greek word poiētēs, meaning “maker, author, poet.”

Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight by Terrance Hayes


At first I was excited about Against Nature, because Gary said it was about a man who decided to live according to aesthetic rather than moral principles, and that was something Svetlana had recently said about me: that I lived by aesthetic principles, whereas she, who had been raised on Western philosophy, was doomed to live boringly by ethical principles. It had never occurred to me to think of aesthetics and ethics as opposites. I thought ethics were aesthetic. “Ethics” meant the golden rule, which was basically an aesthetic rule. That’s why it was called “golden,” like the golden ratio.

“Isn’t that why you don’t cheat or steal—because it’s ugly?” I said.

Svetlana said she had never met anyone with such a strong aesthetic sensibility.

I thought maybe Against Nature would be a book about someone who viewed things the way I did—someone trying to live a life unmarred by laziness, cowardice, and conformity. I was wrong; it was more a book about interior decoration. In his free moments from plumbing the subrational depths of upholstery, the main character devoted himself to the preparation of all-black meals, to hanging out with a jewel-encrusted tortoise, and thinking thoughts like, “All is syphilis.” How was that an aesthetic life?

Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from The Idiot by Elif Batuman


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