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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


Written Reaction

Eliot Weinberger

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To purchase Written Reaction

Title: Written Reaction
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1996)
Length: 239 pages
Availability: Written Reaction - US
Written Reaction - UK
Written Reaction - Canada
  • Poetics Politics Polemics (1979-1995)
  • Several pieces in this collection can also be found in Karmic Traces (see our review)
  • The piece Paz in India is a revised and expanded version of part of Weinberger's piece (with the same title) originally published in Outside Stories (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : strong stuff, entertaining pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

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

  From the Reviews:
  • "Written Reaction (...) is composed of the disjecta membra of a writing life -- catalogue essays, reviews, notes, and some extended articles. The pieces are more topical, "occasional," and often crackle with polemical fire. As in any book composed of occasional writings, there are times when one wishes he went a little further (.....) Written Reaction is a worthy companion to the first two books and, with its articles on East Berlin and contemporary Chinese poets, and important pieces on translation and multiculturalism, rounds out our understanding of the range of Weinberger's interests and affections." - 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:

       In between three collections of essays published by New Directions Weinberger slips in this volume of "poetics politics polemics" (published by Marsilio), collecting pieces written between 1979-1995. There is some overlap with the other volumes -- a fresh look at part of Paz in India (originally published in Outside Stories (see our review)) as well as pieces on MacDiarmid, the zócalo in Oaxaca, Genuine Fakes, Naked Mole Rats, and his pet rabbit's dental troubles (all eventually republished in Karmic Traces (see our review)) -- but Written Reaction is all vintage Weinberger, and well worth perusing.
       The biggest difference between this volume and the New Directions collections are the "Notes for Sulfur" included here, pieces generally "written for the back pages of Sulfur". These twenty-five pieces are literally just notes, some only a single paragraph, the longest only a few pages. In them Weinberger addresses single issues, weighing in with his two cents. "Best first book I've read recently ...", notes on various editions of various works by various poets (Lorca, Zukofsky), bits about the NEA, the new poet laureate (in 1992), a tribute to Mircea Eliade, and similar matters. Quick, caustic, often spot-on, they make for fun reading -- though those unfamiliar with modern American poetry may not find all the notes too fascinating.
       There is a sharp and often critical tone to many of these pieces -- the Sulfur notes especially, but also others. Hell, the collection begins with a review of a book of poetry by Robert Bly, which Weinberger begins: "Robert Bly is a windbag, a sentimentalist, a slob in language." In an introductory note, Weinberger acknowledges:

Nearly all the essay in this book are reactive: indignation, investigation, celebration, written in response to topics that were suggested by editors or merely happened to surface.
       So the contemplative calm of many of his more carefully conceived pieces (as are found in the New Directions collections) is not always present. But there is also a vibrancy to these pieces -- as well as the sheer fun of his attacks and analyses.
       There are a number of book reviews here, in most of which Weinberger doesn't focus as much on the books under consideration as the subject matter: in a review of Mary Emma Harris' The Arts at Black Mountain College, for example, he focusses on Black Mountain College far more than the book. In a review of The Poetry Anthology he neatly skewers Poetry magazine editor Daryl Hine, both for the anthology and for his stewardship of the magazine generally. ("The Hine section is swiftly read, for only those in solitary confinement with only this book could get past most of the first lines.")
       Written Reaction is not all an all-out attack, however. There are a number of more leisurely pieces: a conversation about drugs, a piece on translation (of particular interest, since Weinberger is best known (and most likely first encountered by most readers) as a translator), two pieces on Paz (much of whose work Weinberger has translated). There are political pieces: on the invasion of Panama ordered by George Bush ("an act of personal vendetta"), on the situation in (ex-)Yugoslavia (in 1994). There is a speech given in 1994 -- The Revolution at St. Mark's Church -- which apparently caused a considerable furor.
       The pieces Weinberger chose to also include in Karmic Traces (see our review) are all solid, the MacDiarmid-profile particularly interesting. Weinberger's consideration of forgery and plagiarism, Genuine Fakes, is also of interest, but note that it contains an unfortunate error. (See Facts and Fakes at the complete review Quarterly for a fuller discussion of this piece.)

       Parts of Written Reaction are dated (referring to specific events that might no longer be remembered) or obscure (modern American poetry is much discussed in these pages -- what could be obscurer ?), but Weinberger's pieces are almost all entertaining. Perhaps a bit too reactive in places, it is still a fun and worthwhile collection. Recommended.

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Written Reaction:
  • See the piece Facts and Fakes: Considering Eliot Weinberger's Genuine Fakes, at the complete review Quarterly
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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