Issue 160 | January/February 2016
There was a time recently when I had come to dread hearing the name of one of my oldest friends. And I heard it with disquieting frequency. Or read it in print, in one prestigious publication or another, some of which are delivered directly to my door. I heard her name, or saw it in print, in email messages from the Public Theater, or on NPR, or even, once, on the little TV in the elevator of the building where I teach. That was the time she was awarded a MacArthur "Genius Grant."
Sarah Van Arsdale
"It's important to remember because you could otherwise fall into thinking that the way of life prescribed by modern marketing culture is the only possible way of life, or that the past was a set of failed experiments leading up to the great triumph that is this moment, or that we cannot learn anything from the past and especially not from its less celebrated inhabitants. We need to remember that we are not Stakhanovite beasts laboring on behalf of the eventuality of some chimera called progress, that the past was only 'simpler' in quantitative and not qualitative terms, that above all people want to live, and over the centuries many have tried to do just that and a few have succeeded, if only temporarily. Immersion in the past is no escape from the present, but it supplies a constant corrective to the narrative spit out daily by media, advertising, politics, and all those other forces that attempt to mold our thinking like jelly in a pan."
The reality is that digital development has multiplied the methods by which we absorb content. Even the awkward phrase "by which we absorb content" is a sad bastardization of what used to be known simply as "reading." Acknowledging this state of affairs, Calasso says, "The world is experiencing a sort of infatuation with information technology that has now reached fever pitch. Its main article of faith is immediate access to everything."
"I also think that the Paris Commune can serve as an example for us today. Not that the workers of New York are going to follow the Parisians and rise up and seize power, but as an alternative form of radical left, what the French philosopher Michel Onfray calls la gauche communarde, the Communard left. A left that doesn't follow behind infallible leaders, that has no canonic texts, and that preserves democracy. It's about time the Commune was restored to its true place in history."
"I'm often asked how much of myself I put into my novels, and the answer is: a lot and yet very little. I'm not Dorte, and I've never had an aunt who did catering. But in the 1980s I was indeed enrolled as a student of literature at the university for quite some time without actually turning up for lectures very often. My family thought I was a conscientious student, while in fact I was wandering about the streets of Copenhagen wanting to be a writer and spending all my money on clothes."
Yesterday I ate oranges and drank wine and re-read Brecht Evenss graphic novel The Wrong Place. My copy is seven years old, purchased from Chicago Comics with money I made writing about music. Id paid rent and groceries and had enough left over for a book and a bowl of cholent down the street. I include these details because Im proud of a life that makes rooms for finding books and reading them, then reading them again seven years later. Is this a luxury? Maybe. It is also a plan.
"The crisis also has to do with the personality because in Spain 15 or 10 years ago we thought we were very, very rich. It was a kind of lie promoted from the government. They told us, "OK, we are rich, buy houses, build houses," and everyone did. It was strange because our culture was not of a rich country, but people believed we were rich. Then suddenly there was this crisis, and you felt again you were poor, and you recognized yourself as a poor country. That allowed us to discover ourselves again. This crisis is awful, especially for the young people. Unemployment is up to 50 percent for young people. I have an 18-year-old daughter, and she has studied, and probably she will not have this problem, but when I see young people, I think what an awful world we have given to them."
Sze: "Instead of reading practical guides while I was pregnant, I was reading essays and books like Shannon Cowan's Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood, Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work, and Louise Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance. So I knew in theory that it would be tough to write with a newborn. I still wasn't prepared for how difficult finding time would be."
"What I think is that it's really fraught to be called a memoirist, particularly when you see yourself as a literary writer. This isn't because there aren't amazing, complex literary memoirs being written all the time, but because you have to fight against peoples' preconceptions of what the word 'memoir' even means. The genre is too easily written off as existing solely for the purpose of revealing and then resolving struggles, which leads to some readers flocking to memoir looking specifically for that cathartic experience and other readers turning up their noses altogether at the genre because that's all they think it provides. So I get a little defensive, and I don't think I'm the only writer that feels that way."