What We Are Reading Today: Reading Old Books by Peter Mack

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Updated 26 May 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Reading Old Books by Peter Mack

In literary and cultural studies, “tradition” is a word everyone uses but few address critically. In Reading Old Books, Peter Mack offers a wide-ranging exploration of the creative power of literary tradition, from the middle ages to the 21st century, revealing in new ways how it helps writers and readers make new works and meanings.

Reading Old Books argues that the best way to understand tradition is by examining the moments when a writer takes up an old text and writes something new out of a dialogue with that text and the promptings of the present situation. 

The book examines Petrarch as a user, instigator, and victim of tradition. It shows how Chaucer became the first great English writer by translating and adapting a minor poem by Boccaccio. 

It investigates how Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser made new epic meanings by playing with assumptions, episodes, and phrases translated from their predecessors. It analyzes how the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell drew on tradition to address the new problem of urban deprivation in Mary Barton. 

And, finally, it looks at how the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in his 2004 novel Wizard of the Crow, reflects on biblical, English literary, and African traditions.

Drawing on key theorists, critics, historians, and sociologists, and stressing the international character of literary tradition, Reading Old Books illuminates the not entirely free choices readers and writers make to create meaning in collaboration and competition with their models.


What We Are Reading Today: Lateness

Updated 09 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Lateness

Edited by Peter Eisenman and Elisa Iturbe

Conceptions of modernity in architecture are often expressed in the idea of the zeitgeist, or “spirit of the age,” an attitude toward architectural form that is embedded in a belief in progressive time. Lateness explores how architecture can work against these linear currents in startling and compelling ways. In this incisive book, internationally renowned architect Peter Eisenman, with Elisa Iturbe, proposes a different perspective on form and time in architecture, one that circumvents the temporal constraints on style that require it to be “of the times”—lateness. 

He focuses on three twentieth-century architects who exhibited the qualities of lateness in their designs:
Adolf Loos, Aldo Rossi, and John Hejduk. Drawing on the critical theory of Theodor Adorno and his study of Beethoven’s final works, Eisenman shows how the architecture of these canonical figures was temporally out of sync with conventions and expectations, and how lateness can serve as a form of release from the restraints of the moment.

Bringing together architecture, music, and philosophy, and drawing on illuminating examples from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Lateness demonstrates how today’s architecture can use the concept of lateness to break free of stylistic limitations, expand architecture’s critical capacity, and provide a new mode of analysis.