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Outside Stories

Eliot Weinberger

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To purchase Outside Stories

Title: Outside Stories
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1992)
Length: 177 pages
Availability: Outside Stories - US
Outside Stories - UK
Outside Stories - Canada
Outside Stories - India
  • Written 1987-1991
  • These essays originally appeared in a number of periodicals and elsewhere; Weinberger states that "all of these essays have been rewritten since these first appearances."
  • Weinberger revised and expanded part of the piece Paz in India from this collection for his collection Written Reaction (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting literary pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Village Voice A 7/5/1996 Eli Gottlieb
World Lit. Today B Winter/1994 Feroza Jussawalla

  From the Reviews:
  • "Polemics there are in abundance but one receives the unmistakable impression reading his sentences that he has no brief other than for the quality and literary implications of the work or issue under discussion. (...) Of his two previously published essay collections, the second, Outside Stories, is probably the more florid and satisfying. The pieces are more confident, the leaps and swoops and recombinations of the essay form more daring and successfully achieved." - Eli Gottlieb, The Village Voice

  • "I can't tell whether the choppiness of the style is just a hangover from the fashionably impressionistic, in-between-modernism-and post-modernism, journalistic style of the British, whether it is a deliberate attempt to create bricolage, or whether Weinberger simply needs a freshman English class. (...) This is the value of Outside Stories: the sweep of cultures coming together, the contextualizing or the lack of difference. (...) An odd book, on an odd assortment of topics." - Feroza Jussawalla, World Literature Today

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:

       Outside Stories collects fifteen pieces Eliot Weinberger wrote between 1987 and 1991, including some of the longest contained in any of his now four volumes of essays: the pieces Paz in Asia, The Month of Rushdies, and The Camera People are each about thirty pages long. None of the pieces in either Written Reaction (see our review) -- not even the revised Paz in Asia (re)printed there -- or Works on Paper (see our review) approach that length, only two do in Karmic Traces (see our review). There is not quite as much reactive vigour here as in the pieces collected in Written Reaction, but this is also a worthwhile collection.
       Weinberger divides his Outside Stories into two sections: Rivers of Poetries and World Beat. The topics covered do not surprise: there's poetry (though there is little emphasis on the modern American stuff), India, Latin America, politics (cultural and global).
       Vicente Huidobro's Altazor is introduced; the piece was originally written for Weinberger's translation of Huidobro's poem. There is a long piece on Paz in Asia, a worthwhile introduction from the man who has extensively translated the Mexican Nobel laureate's work (and has considerable familiarity with Asia himself).
       There are a number of pieces on unusual aspects of poetry. A portrait of James Jesus Angleton tells an unusual and too-little known story about an unusual and too-little known man. "There is a book to be written on poetry and espionage", Weinberger suggests, and this piece certainly offers some rich material.
       One of the 3 Notes on Poetry considers Translating -- clever little thoughts on the subject, though in fact they are somewhere between being too clever and not clever enough. Example:

Translation theory, however beautiful, is useless for translating. There are laws of thermodynamics, and there is cooking.
       Note the feint: "however beautiful" ? Come on ! Who has ever considered any translation theory beautiful ? Then the witty statement -- so clever ! But surely no one believes that the laws (or principles) of thermodynamics have much of anything to do with cooking, do they ? Equally significantly: note the semantic difference "translation theory" and "laws of thermodynamics" -- translation theory is only theory (and bad, bad theory, generally), while thermodynamics can be relied upon. The big question is whether one will be able to cook -- pardon: translate -- once the laws of translation have been figured out. (Okay, there are lots of small questions there, too: do such laws exist ? can they ever be figured out ? can they ever be applied ? But Weinberger prefers to go for what looks like pithy truth rather than even consider the real issues.)
       So: are these witty aphorisms ? Empty aphorisms ? Persuasive thoughts ? There are some clever ideas here -- and some cleverly expressed ones (two very different things which are too often confused). Some do ring true (or at least not entirely hollow) but we prefer a bit more foundation to bold statements. (Note: we admit a particular bias against -- and deep and lasting suspicion of -- translation. But then Weinberger, a professional translator, can, of course, hardly claim much objectivity either -- all the more reason for him to prove his points.)
       The second section of Outside Stories looks at the world at large -- though this generally means the world at the time Weinberger was writing these pieces. The Present covers January to June, 1989, a familiar listing of unsettling facts and events. Well-done, it has still become something of a distant period piece.
       A Month of Rushdies gives a day-by-day account of the period when the furor over Salman Rushdie's "blasphemous" book The Satanic Verses first began: "the sprawling metafiction that is being engendered by that sprawling metafiction", as Weinberger says. Postscripts added to the original piece take events up to 1992; it all makes for a decent survey of the bizarre saga, too much of which is already forgotten.
       The Tiananmen Square massacre and the Persian Gulf troubles (man, 1989-90 was a happening time) also get discussed -- useful takes.
       Travels in the Federated Cantons of Poetry offers the obligatory tour through the depths of modern American poetry. The Camera People is a longer piece on ethnographers.
       They are interesting places, where Weinberger takes his readers. Fact-loaded, making unexpected connexions and leaps, written straightforwardly (though on occasion briefly spiraling and looping away from his points) the pieces are always enjoyable to read. Outside Stories is somewhat uneven, but there is a wealth of material here. Worthwhile, and recommended.

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Outside Stories: 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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