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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



Karmic Traces

by
Eliot Weinberger


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Karmic Traces



Title: Karmic Traces
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2000)
Length: 198 pages
Availability: Karmic Traces - US
Karmic Traces - UK
Karmic Traces - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : entertaining collection of varied essays

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS A- 26/7/2002 Mark Hutchinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) characteristically mixed bag (.....) Every style has a price to pay, and given the scope of some of his essays, there are sentences that will grate with some readers. (...) (T)he most fitting compliment I can pay his work is to extend to it what a diplomatic attaché in Iceland once said of Auden's poetry -- that it makes you sit up in your seat." - Mark Hutchinson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Many people have wide-ranging interests, but few seem to pursue them as far and as closely as Eliot Weinberger does. Weinberger is not interested in absolutely everything, but those areas he has turned his attention to he delves into and wallows in with abandon. There is poetry -- a constant preoccupation -- and literature more generally. Politics -- cultural and otherwise. And the world at large.
       Weinberger's essays are full of the exotic and obscure. Locales and literature dominate: Weinberger has both travelled and read far and wide. It is a nice combination. In a rare personal note he writes (in a piece on Omar Cáceres):

At sixteen, for no particular reason, I was hitchhiking and jumping freight trains in the Atacama desert in the north of Chile, staying at mining camps where the workers, astonished and amused by this sudden apparition of a gringo naif, would feed me and let me sleep in the barracks.
       Weinberger never entirely gave up the aimless rambling in exotic locales -- geographic or literary -- and his collections of essays allow readers to enjoy these as well.
       Karmic Traces ranges from odd Iceland (with four variations on the subject making up the first section of the book) to ever-popular India to the zócalo in Oaxaca. There are pieces on the incredibly prolific Hugh MacDiarmid and on Omar Cáceres, only fifteen of whose poems (and one brief statement) survive. Weinberger refers to The Ocean Made of Streams of Story ("the 11th-century Kashmiri precursor to The Thousand and One Nights"), quotes Lu Chi's Wen Fu ("an extraordinary ars poetica written in the 3rd century"), Plotinus, and the Chin P'ing Mei (the 17th century Chinese erotic classic, famously translated into English by Clement Egerton with all the fun parts rendered into Latin), among many others. He strays far and wide, each essay interweaving facts and thoughts (often from far afield) into a compressed piece of connexions.
       Weinberger's fact-filled essays -- most fairly short (though bursting with information) -- are entertaining. It is neat to see where he goes with an idea (or where he comes from). And he has an agreeable style, the juxtaposition of facts generally working to good effect (as, for example, in the opening piece, Paradice (which can be found online, along with two other pieces from the first section, in Ísland)).
       Several of the pieces were written as introductions to books: that on MacDiarmid, as well as On 'Hindoo Holiday' (by J.R.Ackerley). These are among the more complete essays, though his other portraits of individuals -- On Omar Cáceres, and a tribute to James Laughlin (founder of New Directions) -- are also excellent. There are also broader swipes -- a fun critique of a poetry anthology (in What was Formalism ?) or MTV (in Vomit), for example.
       Fakes and forgeries are of interest to Weinberger: he writes about the Araki Yasusada affair, as well as about Genuine Fakes (but note that there is an unfortunate error in that piece: see the article Facts and Fakes at the complete review Quarterly for a closer examination).
       Small pieces consider Naked Mole Rats (more than you wanted to know, but oddly fascinating), the cults of yesteryear, the teeth of his pet rabbit, and Similes of Beauty.
       There are also more ambitious pieces, notably Renga and the interesting title piece. The long concluding piece, The Falls, traces racism from the 12th century B.C.E to modern Rwanda. Weinberger's approach -- historic and literary citation, the presentation of facts without explicit commentary (though lots of implicit commentary) -- is very effective here, making for a very strong piece.

       Weinberger is certainly among the most interesting essayists writing in the United States today (note that many of the pieces in this collection were, however, first published in Australia, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Hungary, and elsewhere). This far-ranging collection is both thoughtful and almost always entertaining. Weinberger's take on things is invariably an interesting one, and more significantly he takes on subjects (and writers and works of literature) that are too often overlooked or ignored or forgotten. Certainly recommended

       Note that a number of these piece (most of those in the third section) also appeared in Weinberger's previous collection, Written Reaction (see our review). But they are just as good a second time round.

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Links:

Karmic Traces: Reviews: Eliot Weinberger: Other books by Eliot Weinberger under review: Other books translated and/or edited by Weinberger under review:

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About the Author:

       American essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger has published several collections of non-fiction and translated the works of numerous (mainly Latin American) authors -- notably those of Octavio Paz.

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