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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



Works on Paper

by
Eliot Weinberger


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

To purchase Works on Paper



Title: Works on Paper
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1986)
Length: 175 pages
Availability: Works on Paper - US
Works on Paper - UK
Works on Paper - Canada
  • Written 1980-1986
  • These essays originally appeared in a number of periodicals; Weinberger states that "most of these essays have been rewritten since these first appearances."
  • A Spook in the House of Poetry, a piece from the collection

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting, varied pieces, focussing on Asia and poetry

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Village Voice A- 7/5/1996 Eli Gottlieb


  From the Reviews:
  • "From modernist poetry he has learned, as an essayist, about collage and the need for concision and exactitude. He has taken to heart poetics' fluid conflictions between the public and the personal, its conflation of the contemporary and the archaic, and its taste for the encyclopedic. (...) Many of the essays from the first two books, Works on Paper and Outside Stories, are not essays as we know them, but rather dismantlements and explorations of the essay form." - Eli Gottlieb, The Village Voice

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:

       Works on Paper, the first of now four collections of Eliot Weinberger's essays, is divided into two parts: Inventions of Asia and Extensions of Poetry. Here are two of Weinberger's favourite areas of interest, and he presents a variety of pieces dealing with them with the usual aplomb.
       Weinberger can and does write fairly straightforward essays, but he often also tries to do more. The first piece in the collection is just one example of how he approaches a subject: the piece is titled The Dream of India [c. 1492], and it consists of descriptions of India, many only a single line in length, a few slightly longer. Only at the end of the piece is it revealed that "all of the imagery and some of the language are derived from works written in the five hundred years prior to 1492" -- a surprisingly effective device and one that, due to its air of authenticity, lends the piece considerable resonance.
       Other essays are more traditional in form and content, but Weinberger always likes to pile on the facts and let them speak for themselves. (As he carefully selects the facts there is, of course, no objectivity to these accounts, despite their apparently neutral appearance. The facts are not speaking for themselves, they are speaking for Weinberger. This is the one aspect of his essays that is somewhat unsettling, especially given a readership that tends to be uncritical and ignorant (at least of the facts that Weinberger works with )).
       In the section on Asia Weinberger also offers a portrait of Matteo Ricci, a worrisome look at Chogyam Trungpa and the Naropa Institute in Colorado, a neat piece on Paper Tigers (considering tigers from a variety of perspectives), some pieces on Chinese poetry, and a brief look to Kampuchea/Cambodia. There is also consideration of a book of photographs by Mary Ellen Mark of Bombay's (Mumbai's) notorious red light district, Falkland Road, with Weinberger considering "the chasm between Falkland Road and Falkland Road", i.e. reality and its photographic representation.
       The section on poetry focusses mainly on modern American poetry. There are pieces on George Oppen, Langston Hughes, Kenneth Rexroth (beginning with Weinberger recounting the travails of simply getting an obituary of the man published), and Clayton Eshleman. There is a short portrait of Octavio Paz, much of whose work Weinberger has translated (and who he devotes longer pieces to in some of the other collections he has published). There is a short piece on the weird life of Whittaker Chambers (the piece, A Spook in the House of Poetry, can be found online here).
       The political also has its place in this collection. Weinberger discusses Carolyn Forché's The Country between Us which deals, in part, with El Salvador, and was acclaimed as important political poetry (and achieved considerable popular success). Weinberger will have none of that, fortunately, opining that the poems "belong, rather, to the genre of revolutionary tourism."
       Peace on Earth and The Bomb examine how modern poetry addresses (or fails to address) war and the nuclear threat. The longer last piece also looks at modern American poetry, and how one experiences "both exhilaration and dread" when one considers the works and the lives of the poets -- none more than Pound, "who, above all, embodies both the flower and the venom",

       Anyone with an interest in Asia and/or modern American poetry should enjoy this collection (or, if they disagree with Weinberger's politics or poetical judgements, be invigoratingly upset by it). Others might find some of what he writes about of lesser interest -- though Weinberger almost always strays enjoyably far afield in his pieces, and tells good stories throughout the collection.
       Works on Paper is certainly recommended.

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Links:

Works on Paper: 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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