California Literary Review

Profile of Jascha Kessler


Jascha Kessler is a Professor of English and Modern Literature at UCLA. He has published seven books of his poetry and fiction as well as six volumes of translations of poetry and fiction from Hungarian, Persian, Serbian and Bulgarian.

Email Address:

jkessler (AT) ucla (DOT) edu

Web Site:

Articles written for the California Literary Review:

  • Book Review: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by Professor X
    Posted on 04 Apr 2011 in Education, Non-Fiction Reviews

    X’s short 21 chapters of informal prose mix the personal-poignant and social-pathetic. They illuminate the pathology of a multi-billion-dollar purely-American enterprise: the community college network snaking through 50 States. Bloated with the goodwill of the ingrained national optimism, it expresses our mania for pieces of paper guaranteeing employable skills supposedly learned from hundreds of pages of sociopsychological babble, the ink-tracks of text in thick books laying out techniques of “administration” by the numbers.

  • Book Review: Myths from Mesopotamia by Stephanie Dalley
    Posted on 16 Jun 2010 in Anthropology, Archeology, History, Mythology, Non-Fiction Reviews, Religion

    I asked them why they, unannounced, wished to meet with the director and they told me that they had just discovered Noah’s ark in Turkey. As I had met a few others along the way conning people with this ark stuff I asked to see the proof. He immediately pulled out a black and white photo showing what looked like a rock cliff and asked, ‘What do you see?’ I looked at it closely and replied, ‘All I can see is that someone took a ballpoint pen and drew a photo of a ship on the rock face’. They replied, in that charming Tennessee accent, ‘Well, it’s a bit hard to see so we’all took a ball point pen and highlighted it for ‘y’all.’

  • The Second Book of the Tao
    Posted on 20 Jul 2009 in Non-Fiction Reviews, Philosophy, Religion

    The principle idea at the core of Existentialism was the denial of Descartes’ I think, therefore I am. Instead it was, I act, therefore I am. As for fishing, Thoreau never tells us what sort of fish there are, or were in his stream; nor if he ever caught anything. It was the fishing that was his active thought, and that sky full of pebbled stars was where his thought was actively cast. That is poetry, and it is untranslatable as paraphrase or a set of maxims. Whereas the sort of profundities Stephen Mitchell sets down in this book — neatly-designed and printed withal — are for this reader rebarbative.

  • The Travels of Marco Polo Translated by W. Marsden
    Posted on 14 Jul 2009 in Biography, China, History, Non-Fiction Reviews

    It seems that world is more fantastic than our own travel brochures today can suggest for comfortable tourists. There has never been such an extensive realm, nor one with such an incredible structure of rapid communication over thousands of miles. Commerce thrived from Persia to Java, and one reason that may account for it, was order — and a flat tax of 10%. The law was strict and strictly administered everywhere, which was a marvel to Polo, in comparison with fractious Europe.

  • Whatever — Whatever?
    Posted on 30 Jun 2009 in Non-Fiction Reviews

    One wades through an awful lot of pretentious chatter published when a new production of a work like “Waiting for Godot” is mounted. But what work is ever like Samuel Beckett’s excruciating 2-Act masterpiece? An English friend of mine, a literary scholar and sharp theater critic who has passed most of his life in Cambridge, detests that writer’s work. Although recently widowed and cast into the slough of desolation, he quotes from Godot in an e-mail when it is a matter of trying to describe his state of mind in his mid-Seventies since he was left waiting for …?

  • Who is Rita, What Was She?
    Posted on 22 Apr 2009 in Movies, Movies & TV, Politics

    Rita murmured in that, silky, sultry voice from so very long ago, “Enough crap, big boy. Let’s get out of here!” She slid off her stool and thrust her arm under mine. I heard whispered words somewhere inside my head, O, heart, be still! The best I could manage was a stammer, “Miss Hayworth, I came with my wife. That’s her there, with Margo and Eddie.”

  • Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
    Posted on 07 Oct 2008 in Death, Disability, Fiction Reviews

    Reflecting on DEAF SENTENCE, the reader can hear the echoes of awful laughter — that silent cacchination encountered everywhere in Beckett’s writing — which characterizes our present lot, with its extended, often forcibly prolonged, old age. Lodge’s transparent prose plays out in a sophisticated informal, everyday voice; his is artful writing that succeeds in that most difficult literary genre, Comedy.

  • The Cape May Stories by Robert C.S. Downs
    Posted on 04 Jun 2008 in Books, Fiction Reviews, Short Stories

    Rare in our time, the writing in THE CAPE MAY STORIES is superb, even magical in its clear-sighted modesty of style, one that implicitly offers in plenitude, examples of decency. A surprising, and exhilarating, visit to Cape May awaits readers.

  • What the Gospels Meant by Garry Wills
    Posted on 15 Apr 2008 in Non-Fiction Reviews, Religion

    And if Wills reads as persuasive, it is to himself, if not quite to this reader. Taking his stand before the time of St. Ireænus seems somewhat risky to me, if not downright reckless. I did, however, reflect that there yet remains powerful in this late hour of the West’s history a persistent if unacknowledged ambition of theologians per se to legislate for that cowran, tim’rous beastie, mankind. Granted, in our tradition we have Moses to thank for their vocation.

  • Comrade J by Pete Earley
    Posted on 24 Jan 2008 in Biography, Espionage, History, Non-Fiction Reviews, Politics, Russia

    It was the goings-on, the kleptocracy that emerged, the sheer blatant thuggery of Putin’s entourage, the vandalism and looting that commenced after 1989, related by Tretyakov, that finally discouraged him, a professional through and through and a Russian patriot. The principles that led to his flight into the cloaking arms of the CIA and FBI are suggestive: leaving behind all his property and possessions, amounting to about two million dollars, was worth it because in his view Russia was ruined and things had gone beyond any hope of redemption in his lifetime. He wanted his daughter to grow up a free woman.

  • Crossing Styx
    Posted on 30 Oct 2007 in Non-Fiction Reviews, Philosophy, Psychology

    What happens to children is that they usually pass from believing that everything presented by television is real to a later conviction that “nothing is real.” In other words, the world has become crowded, permeated and possessed by the fictive.

  • Plucked from Perdition: One Who Lived To Tell Her Tale
    Posted on 05 Sep 2007 in Great Britain, History, Non-Fiction Reviews

    I was told in Prague at midday that I had to be at the Wilson Station at 5 pm that afternoon, to take only one small suitcase and nothing which could identify me, not even newspaper as wrapping. At the station, the lady explained through an interpreter (another refugee living in the same house as my mother), I would see people I knew, but I should on no account appear to know them.

  • Terrors on Terra
    Posted on 21 Aug 2007 in Non-Fiction Reviews

    How grotesque it must have sounded to a child, and how frightening. Outdoors, the sun of Southern California sparkles on the watered green lawn; within, the house is tranquil. And here in this pleasant kitchen sit two grownups, his grandparents, filling the day’s bright first hour with descriptions of disasters around the globe, massacres marching on to catastrophes and death by the thousands. And then these same grownups fold their papers, rise smiling and replete from the table to drive off to work as usual.

  • Is There a Doctor in the House?
    Posted on 07 Aug 2007 in Biography, Movies, Movies & TV

    She smoked a lot, but she laughed a lot too. I could easily support her, I was at thirteen, a good two heads taller — she even looked like Betty Boop! And when her lady partner went ahead or loitered poking through the rough in search of another lost ball, Miss Rothschild would walk on with me, linking my elbow gaily, helping me along. “My poor caddie has to carry my clubs!” she’d wail. And there, at 11 in the morning under that bright, glancing sunlight, facing into the brisk mountain breeze, I’d get a whiff of lipstick and whiskey-tainted breath, mingled with her flossy perfume, her laughter enveloping me in a mist of genial, confusing sensuality. She liked to tease: she set anyone and everyone up, her friends male and female alike; she even set me up. Pixyish, it seemed that was the word for it … yet that “it” always eluded me.

  • Once Upon A Time
    Posted on 13 Jun 2007 in Children's Literature, Linguistics, Non-Fiction Reviews

    Suppose one’s made a viable, literate translation that succeeds in conveying the narrative or expository sense of an original. What if it turns out that one’s own culture resists it, and refuses to receive it?

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