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The Next Best Thing

From Shining Pearl to Shining Sea

- By Xu Xi

A Transnational View of Hong Kong

Before I introduce our speaker this evening, I have a lot of thanks to give to those who supported and made this event possible. Thanks to Hampshire College Eqbal Ahmad Endowed Lecture Fund, the Ethics and Common Good Project, and the Creative Writing Program. Thanks to Smith College Office of Equity & Inclusion and the Lewis Global Studies Center. Thanks to the UMass MFA for Poets & Writers Program, Five Colleges, Inc., and The Massachusetts Review. Finally, thanks to my student, Judy Ha, for making the beautiful poster for this event and distributing it to all five campuses!

I’m very excited to welcome writer Xu Xi to Hampshire College and to welcome her back to the Five...

The Next Best Thing

Even a Number

- By Erri De Luca

Danilo De Marco is a photographer who still works with film, in black and white, and then goes into the darkroom to develop and print, under the glow of a red light bulb. He says digitalization erases the texture of his images.

One of his recent exhibitions in Udine displayed a collection of the oversized-format faces of aging partisans. Those that reached the age to become grandparents carry history carved into the map of their expressions.

Danilo has me read a letter he got in response to this exhibition, written by a young woman, thirty years old. Her grandfather had been a partisan, but she didn’t manage in time to get the stories directly from him.

Amid the oversized faces in the exhibition hall, she writes, she felt she was among family—a niece who...

The Next Best Thing

The No Nobel

- By Michael Thurston

For many of us with literary interests, the end of October’s first week coincides not only with the beginning of baseball playoffs but also with the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The weeks preceding the announcement see statements of preference and prediction, and the oddsmakers at Ladbroke’s even handicap the prize. Cognoscenti gather (really) to compare notes: Atwood’s up over last year, Murakami’s looking good, and Adonis’s stock seems to have dropped for some reason. Once the winner has been named, the fun takes a different form, with arguments over the writer’s quality (“Jelinek? Really?”) or qualification (“Dylan?!”), or the pleasure of discovering the work of someone you’d not heard of (Mo Yan,...

The Next Best Thing

Pinsky at the Poetry Center

- By Michael Thurston

Some unfortunates among you might know Robert Pinsky from one of two contexts. Perhaps you caught the Simpsons episode in which Lisa masquerades as a precocious college student, an episode in which Robert Pinsky, as “Robert Pinsky,” makes a memorable appearance. Where Jasper Johns, in his guest shot on the show, gets only the word “Yoink!” and where Thomas Pynchon gets only a brief self-referential line, Pinsky gets an enthusiastic introduction as “the Tony Danza of the AB stanza,” gets to read part of “Impossible to Tell,” gets cheered on by shirtless students with Basho’s name spelled out on their chests, and gets to ask, as his final line, whether Lisa has put in for the pizza.

More likely, because this is a...

The Next Best Thing

Listening to Mary

- By Jim Hicks

Early on, in the 1985 film that arguably inaugurated Jean-Luc Godard's late-period work, we watch, for much longer than we expect to, a single person on a crowded sidewalk. Our view, or that of the camera, is from a nearby rooftop—surveillance in an etymological sense. At a certain point as I recall, the voiceover comments: “If you look at anyone closely enough, or long enough, you'll be more or less certain that the person under observation is insane.” (When I first saw this film, I myself was living in Paris, and remember thinking, “Anyone? Or do they have to be French?”) In a documentary film by Wim Wenders a few years earlier—a sequence of monologues by various famous directors at...

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