What We Are Reading Today: Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch by Svetlana Alpers

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Updated 30 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch by Svetlana Alpers

Walker Evans (1903–75) was a great American artist photographing people and places in the US in unforgettable ways. He is known for his work for the Farm Security Administration, addressing the Great Depression, but what he actually saw was the diversity of people and the damage of the long Civil War.
In Walker Evans, renowned art historian Svetlana Alpers explores how Evans made his distinctive photographs. Delving into a lavish selection of Evans’s work, Alpers uncovers rich parallels between his creative approach and those of numerous literary and cultural figures, locating Evans within the wide context of a truly international circle.
Alpers demonstrates that Evans’s practice relied on his camera choices and willingness to edit multiple versions of a shot, as well as his keen eye and his distant straight-on view of visual objects. Illustrating the vital role of Evans’s dual love of text and images, Alpers places his writings in conversation with his photographs. She brings his techniques into dialogue with the work of a global cast of important artists—from Flaubert and Baudelaire to Elizabeth Bishop and William Faulkner—underscoring how Evans’s travels abroad in such places as France and Cuba.


What We Are Reading Today: Epic and Empire by David Quint

Updated 13 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Epic and Empire by David Quint

Alexander the Great, according to Plutarch, carried on his campaigns a copy of the Iliad, kept alongside a dagger; on a more pronounced ideological level, ancient Romans looked to the Aeneid as an argument for imperialism. In this major reinterpretation of epic poetry beginning with Virgil, David Quint explores the political context and meanings of key works in Western literature. He divides the history of the genre into two political traditions: The Virgilian epics of conquest and empire that take the victors’ side (the Aeneid itself, Camoes’s Lusíadas, Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata) and the countervailing epic of the defeated and of republican liberty (Lucan’s Pharsalia, Ercilla’s Araucana, and d’Aubigné’s Les tragiques). These traditions produce opposing ideas of historical narrative: a linear, teleological narrative that belongs to the imperial conquerors, and an episodic and open-ended narrative identified with “romance,” the story told of and by the defeated.

Quint situates Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained within these rival traditions. He extends his political analysis to the scholarly revival of medieval epic in the late 18th and 19th centuries and to Sergei Eisenstein’s epic film, Alexander Nevsky. Attending both to the topical contexts of individual poems and to the larger historical development of the epic genre, Epic and Empire provides new models for exploring the relationship between ideology and literary form.