February 26, 2010
I am hating a book I was sure that I would love, and I'm trying to avoid dealing with it by distracting myself with London Review of Books archives. Unfortunately for me, the column about the book is due, uh, today.
Totally not helping with the column, but helping in every other sense, is a truly great mail day. The postman heaped packages into my arms, cracking a joke about how I better get busy. And yes, I better, because inside were:
Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (from the woman who wrote two of my favorite books of nonfiction in the last ten years)
Martin Preib's The Wagon and Other Stories from the City (simultaneously one of my favorite Chicago writers, and a friend of mine)
Dmitry Bykov's Living Souls
Hans Magnus Enzenberger's The Silences of Hammerstein (which is just so beautiful, even to look at)
Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics (good enough at first glance to make me forget my irrational hatred for the word "poetics")
Oliver Lubrich's Travels in the Reich: Foreign Authors Report from Germany
I am going to need to barricade my door, or hide on the s-bahn loop, riding a train in circles for hours, to read as much as I would like.
From Elif Batuman's essay "On Complaining," this startling movie-that-never-was:
Another way of looking at it would be to say that Huston, following the great American biopic tradition, wanted to make a movie about how Freud became Freud. But in either case Sartre, the pre-eminent and ultra-European philosopher of becoming, was an ideal choice. He completed a 95-page screen treatment in 1958. The protagonist of Sartre’s script was Freud the young neurologist, who had reached a ‘desperate impasse’ in his treatment of Anna O. and in his theory of the sexual etiology of hysterical neurosis. For the part of Anna O., incidentally, Sartre had his eye on Marilyn Monroe, who was discouraged from taking the role by Anna Freud and by Monroe’s own psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris, whose father had been Freud’s tarot partner.
The Huston-Sartre collaboration fell apart in 1959, when Sartre travelled to Huston’s home in Ireland to work on the script. The two didn’t work well together. ‘There was no such thing as a conversation with him,’ Huston later recalled. ‘He talked incessantly, and there was no interrupting him. You’d wait for him to catch his breath, but he wouldn’t.’ Meanwhile Sartre, in his letters to Simone de Beauvoir, described Huston as ‘perfectly vacant, literally incapable of speaking to those whom he has invited’. Evidently he didn’t realise that Huston was waiting for him to catch his breath. The philosopher went on to compare Huston’s ‘inner landscape’ to ‘heaps of ruins, abandoned houses, plots of wasteland, swamps’: ‘He is empty,’ Sartre concluded, ‘except in his moments of infantile vanity, when he dons a red tuxedo, or goes horseback riding (not very well).’ (Huston, of the infantile red tuxedo, was equally bemused by Sartre’s wardrobe, its stark invariance: ‘I never knew if he owned one grey suit or several identical grey suits.’)
February 25, 2010
The New Zealand-based poet Sam Sampson's Everything Talks is a remarkably smart and engaging first book, in its engagement of the European poetic tradition with an antipodal frame of reference. This new interview with Sampson, by Zach Savich, makes this clear: This spatial sense of "Coast," of water, and, more specifically, West Coast seascapes is omnipresent in my work and there is certainly ocean, with a capital "O" (literal and guttural) at the initial compositional stage. While this regional presence may surface in different ways, the imaginary sea is also at play in the work.
Mark Doty is interviewed over two days at Seattlest: One poem leads to another; a current develops, a poem builds upon or complicates another. I love that feeling, when a sequence of poems begins to generate itself. But I find if I get too architectonically minded, my imagination rebels. I don't think I could ever write a whole book of, say, poems based on Moby Dick. I'd get bored out of my mind, and something entirely different would have to happen.
Have you ever wondered what Sappho would sound like when set to the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin?
If it seems like everyone you know has published a chapbook, it's only because it's true. David Alpaugh calculates "The New Math of Poetry": Fifty years ago, the Yale Younger Poets was the only poetry-book contest in America. If this year's 330-plus contests continue to grow at the rate of just a half-dozen new ones per year, more than 50,000 prize-winning volumes will have been published by the end of this century. Add the hundreds of non-prize-winning chapbooks and collections with similar growth rates, and poetry books will easily top 100,000 by 2100.
The MFA poem, as a genre, probably has nothing whatever to do with compounding that problem.
Do you remember the part of Notting Hill when Hugh Grant pretends to write for Horse & Hound? Yeah, me neither. But according to the real Horse & Hound, British singer Leona Lewis has a poem about horses tattooed on her back.
Finally, Harold Bloom reciting Wallace Stevens, on YouTube.
Don't tell Jessa, but I'm totally going rogue and posting on the blog the way I rebroadcast NFL games: without express written consent, because that's how I roll. This is a public service announcement for all you Portlanders, Austinites, and people wherever who like to read things that are good.
If you haven't yet read Stephanie Saldana's memoir, The Bread of Angels, you need to hurry up and do so. It's been getting great reviews from the likes of Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Oregonian, and The San Antonio Express-News. You can get a taste of Stephanie's insanely great writing at The New York Times, which published her "Modern Love" column this weekend.
Stephanie will be reading from her memoir at Powell's City of Books on Burnside, here in Portland, at 7:30 pm tomorrow, Feb. 26. She'll also be reading at Book People in Austin at 7:00 pm on March 4. If you are in those cities, please go! You will thank me, and will probably send me like a Honeybaked Ham gift certificate as a token of your gratitude.
This is special for me because Stephanie and I have been close friends for over twenty years. We survived the San Antonio Catholic school system together, and once, as high school sophomores, made a bet about which one of us would publish a book first. Steph, looks like I owe you a Temple of the Dog cassette! (That was the highest possible stakes in the early '90s, if I recall correctly.) Anyway, she is a brilliant writer and a great friend, and you should all go see her.
And now back to your regularly scheduled Jessa.
This may sound odd, but I have found Ulysses to be my easiest translation thus far! The most demanding and yet the easiest. The only way I can explain this is to say that, unlike all other translation works, every sentence of Ulysses has “something to translate”. The usual case is quite different: usually most of any given text seems to say: “convey only my meaning”. Only at times it asks to “convey how I am”. This makes translating difficult, since conveying meaning as such is not possible, as it would require exact correspondence and assume a single correct translation. Conveying the how, on the other hand, is always possible and in a myriad of ways – not one of them is correct, but one can be better than the other. What follows is that the more strictly I try to repeat what Joyce has done, the more freedom I have. Translating Ulysses became for me the point in which the constantly ambivalent borderline between writing and translating vanished entirely. I would no-longer consider this work secondary to my “own original” writing.
Big Think interviews Rebecca Newberger Goldstein about her new novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, and why a philosopher would use the fiction to explore the line between science and faith. (Her biography Betraying Spinoza is also very good.)
Mavis Gallant’s short stories are peopled so frequently by the dispossessed – those in want of a natural home-place, a family, a partner, money, and sometimes all of these – that it can come to seem like the defining feature that overwhelms all else. We take for granted the solitary individual, someone who is alone even and perhaps especially when in company, conscious of a past that has either fallen to bits or been conjured into a sort of founding myth, and we come to know the constraints that beset them and their daily struggles. It is tempting to see their dislocation as necessary – both to their character and to Gallant's fictional project – and to regard it as the subject to which she feels irresistibly drawn above any other.
A new study published in France's Biology Letters has released new information on the honeybee crisis, Colony Collapse Disorder. The problems range from the deadly combination of pesticides and viruses to our monoculture crops. It turns out that bees that are forced to live on the pollen of only one type of plant have weaker immune systems.
I freak out about the honeybee thing, I don't really want to live in Soylent Green World. I am going to go donate more money to the Honeybee Research Fund. And it means I can play around on the ridiculously soothing Haagen Dazs bee website.
February 24, 2010
A Guardian critic took to his blog to declare that the world needs critics more than ever, and think of his motivations what you will. The discussion that follows in the comments section is equal parts amusing and terrifying. "You smug bastard" is one of the nicer comments.
Michael Schaub swears he said nice things about me in this interview with Willamette Week, they just all got cut. Whatever, Michael. You're not allowed to speak to the press again until you finish reading the entire oeuvre of Joyce Carol Oates as punishment. It might be worth forgiving him, though, as he participated in the most fucked up game of word association ever.
Stephenie Meyer: hot teenagers in trees • Jonathan Safran Foer: veal piccata • Amazon Kindle: very expensive • Ayn Rand: stoner libertarians • Nobel Prize for Literature: it’s like soccer—only Europeans get it • Booker Prize: better than the Nobel • National Book Critics Circle Award: that still exists? • Dan Brown: Knights Templar • Oprah’s Book Club: increasingly irrelevant • John Updike: Episcopalians having anal sex • Toni Morrison: smoker. I read that she smokes cigarettes • Roberto Bolaño: I don’t get it • Bookslut: meal ticket. No—whiskey ticket • Pat Conroy: incest and cornbread
Sometimes when an author comes up with a really great idea, and with it creates a monster of disappointment and despair, destroying every good thing that could have been, I wish it was okay for another author to do a cover version. Like all those Leonard Cohen songs with the weird women's backing vocals, which are always so much better when someone else sings them. Poor, poor book idea, you just presented yourself to the wrong damn writer.
Jenny Diski on insomnia. Amen.
All of which may be the reason the phrase ‘fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow’ is as strange to me as cuneiform. The drifting ritual, and the early training (which is why the light in the hall is on, and the door open, wider) of listening for catastrophe in the night, means that I have always taken an age to get to sleep. Sometimes this tips over into insomnia. Not a chance of drifting. Just the mind growing increasingly frantic with thoughts lining up round the block to get their moment in the sun of night-time fretfulness. This is more like my Methedrine phase. I enjoyed hyperconsciousness then (until, as with the ether, the thoughts turned bad). These days I’m much more on the side of oblivion. It goes in phases, and if I had a scientific interest in it, I’d be fascinated by the transformation of the world in the early hours to the place of uncertainty and woe that it actually is. The veil of coping shreds as the hours go by and all the disasters and horrid failures that can undoubtedly occur, and indeed are crowded, stage left, simply waiting for their moment, make themselves known to you. People have always asked which is the reality, sleep or wakefulness, but no one ever dares suggest that the horrors of half-past three in the morning are indeed as likely to happen as not, and are at least as possible as they are impossible.
February 23, 2010
Bankers are nice until they bring out their pocket calculators and strangle you. My father used to say: "The bankers loan you an umbrella but take it back when it starts to rain." At La Labrique, we have a policy of non-growth. We work in a tiny space, but we don't owe anyone money. Growth is an intoxication [un vertige]. We are very sought-after at the moment, and we could publish more, then move [into a bigger space], but that would be the beginning of an infernal cycle. We prefer to limit ourselves to about thirteen titles per year. (via SFJ)
Sherwin Nuland gave a speech on the history and current renaissance of electroconvulsive therapy, and the video is up on TED. He tells his own story of depression and ECT treatment as well. It's moving, his story includes a near-miss in being treated with a frontal lobotomy and being written off by his doctors until this treatment worked for him, and the power of the words "Ah, fuck it" in fighting depression. (It is, of course, wildly controversial.)
Book I'm very much looking forward to reading: Lorraine Adams's The Room and the Chair. The Wall Street Journal is running an excerpt, and the LA Times is particularly gushy. "Lorraine Adams is a singular and important American writer."
A copy of Johann Georg Herwart von Hohenburg's Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum, one of the oldest and rarest books of Egyptology, has been unearthed and is heading to auction. Seattle PI profiles the book and the man it influenced, polymath Athanasius Kircher. Who was the subject of Paula Findlen's biography The Last Man Who Knew Everything. Whew, I know, it's a bit tangled, but it's a worthwhile piece. (Link via Stan Carey.)
February 22, 2010
The Second Virtue
Despite its rather repellent cover (which looks like a tacky notebook from Paperchase) Jenny Diski’s The Sixties is an engaging read, the author leading me some way out of my apathetic malaise with a wry and incisive exploration of that colourful decade. This was of course the decade in which an exuberant and politicised youth culture pitted itself against the old order as the vanguard of the new -- hoping, in Tariq Ali’s words, "to transform Western civilisation because we regarded it as politically, morally and culturally bankrupt."
After a lot of sex, drugs and protests, with apparently little effect beyond enraging the parents, the tail end of the '60s in England saw bombs exploding across London and elsewhere: detonated among other places, on the threshold of Biba, at the homes of various politicians, and in 1970, under a BBC outside broadcast van covering the Miss World competition. Anarchy in the UK came earlier than 1977. Some of the bombs were followed up with messages announcing retribution by armed working-class revolutionaries and some carried the signature of "The Angry Brigade."
Eight students were eventually arrested, four of them quite hilariously on the dubious evidence of a 1950s John Bull Printing Outfit for children found with the words "Angry Brigade"
set up in the type-holder. The bombs kept falling while the defendants were in custody, making it clear that "The Angry Brigade" was a tag of disaffection adopted more freely than simply a name for the specific group of eight imprisoned. Despite not being convicted of causing explosions, and on the basis of scant forensics, four of the students were sentenced to ten years. Parents and press rejoiced.
The amateurism enshrined in the John Bull Printing Outfit, and in the do-it-yourself adoption of the "Angry Brigade" tag, was the hallmark of dissent in the new media of the '60s. For readers and producers of the radical underground press and music fanzines of the decade, amateurism stood for uncensored authenticity, a conscious rejection of commercial capital and slick professionalism. A characteristic style emerged from the way in which zines and radical papers were produced: often consisting of typewritten or hand scrawled text, Letraset stencils or rub-down lettering, collage imagery and hand drawn illustrations. The '60s mantra, "The Personal is Political" was embodied in the paper projects of self-publishers, the independent creation of cultural experience.
Underground publishing was perhaps the only approximation of seizing the means of production achieved by the would-be revolutionaries of the 1960s. But here, amateurism and perhaps a drug-addled lack of concentration is indicative of what Diski identifies as her own generation’s "careless thinking" that enabled the conflation of liberalism and libertarianism, carving out a "rhetorical foothold" for the radical individualism of the Thatcher government. While the underground press, including Oz and Ink, gave space to the theorists of the Left, Diski remembers the distractions of a "wild variety of overprinted colours and optically challenging patterns, which made it very hard to read if you weren’t actually tripping. They imposed psychedelia over the assumed dullness of Marxist-Leninist theory, giving readers something pretty to look at without having to struggle through the prose."
Amidst these seductions it was not difficult for "our intellects to slip away without examining the words very carefully." For the '60s preoccupation with personal liberation, "the self at the centre," was all too easily twisted into Thatcher’s "there is no such thing as society," and the rapacious greed of the 1980s: free love gave way to "We Are All Prostitutes" alarmingly quickly.
Kay Redfield Jamison, whose books An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide are some of the most humane books about mental illness available, has now written a book about the death of her husband and the grief that followed, Nothing Was the Same. She is on ABC radio talking about her memoir and the difference between grief and depression.
TED has a video lecture by Robert Sapolsky (A Primate's Memoir) on the uniqueness of humans, why giraffes would be horrified by our sexual activity, and how our uniqueness can often cause stress-related and psychiatric disorders.
Listening to a radio interview with yourself first thing Monday morning before you've even had your tea is probably not the best way to start your week. The only thing I could think: Dear Jessa, please learn to speak in fucking sentences.
But while I was in Australia, I had fun talking to Sarah for the series "How to Write," and my topic was how to write a litblog. The result is now on ABC's The Book Show and their website.
February 19, 2010
Michael Schaub and I are slowly taking over NPR.org. I just had my Baba Yaga review, and now he has a review of Don DeLillo's Point Omega for NPR. I was going to make a joke about "tag teaming," but remembered we no longer live in innocent days when that phrase only referred to professional wrestling duos like Bret "the Hit Man" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, which yes, I grew up watching because I am from Kansas. I am Bret in this metaphor, which shouldn't be a metaphor, given the contemporary pornographic connotations.
What was my point? Right. Michael Schaub wrote an excellent review, and NPR is also running an excerpt from Point Omega.
Germany has joined France in starting their own book digitization project. They've thrown their weight around with the Google Books settlement, and now the German Digital Library is pledging that they'll scan millions of books and cultural artifacts. Why the German digitization project is better than Google: Germany is using robots that make cute sounds. (Oh, and they are not steamrolling the rights of authors. That too.)
There should be a manual: how to read and write about Hitler without kind of wanting to die. Because at some point it's going to start to eat away at you, especially if, say, you now live in Germany. But I improvised. I bought a ton of tulips and put them all over the room I was doing the writing in. I blared Charlotte Hatherley for most of the revision day. And yet when I read about Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler having sex on a couch... OH MY GOD, THE MENTAL IMAGE IS BURNING MY BRAIN, FUCK FUCK FUCK
This is because Foreign Policy emailed to ask what was going on with this crazy new Eva Braun biography. I wrote an article about the changing mythology of Braun, why there's so much we don't know about her, and, well, you know.
But in this vast sea of information, there has been one uncharted region: the life of Hitler's mistress, the woman who died at his side, Eva Braun. Biographer and historian Heike Görtemaker hopes to remedy this with her new book, Eva Braun: Leben mit Hitler (Life with Hitler). Der Spiegel is praising it as the first biography to take a "a strictly academic approach" to Braun, and the first book to look past the legend and "[take] the character at the center of [the] book seriously." While Eva Braun is getting high-profile reviews in Germany, however, its value as an "academic" look at Nazi Germany's first mistress is pretty dubious. Some full disclosure leads to insight into past atrocities. With Eva Braun, however, you get to hear about her squabbles with Adolf over his vegetarian diet and the fact that they once had sex on a couch.
That image is never going to get out of there.
February 18, 2010
Lucille Clifton died on Saturday. Ta-Nehisi Coates's memorial is great: There are politics and blackness all through her work. She's roughly contemporary with a lot of the BAM poets. But I deeply suspect, with a few exceptions, that her work will endure in ways that much of the BAM stuff just won't.The lesson to me, as a young black dude, even then as a quasi-nationalist, was that you had to learn to write. Railing against the white man's aesthetics is useful to a point. Still, there comes a time when you're faced with a pen and blank page. What a terrifying moment. But you have to go there. Like, constantly. I saw Clifton read at Georgia Tech in 2002--three clips from that event are on YouTube (one, two, three).
Oxford gives it the old college try once more, re-opening the search for a Poetry professor.
Jane Campion talks about Bright Star: And finally her really liking the guy and thinking 'Now what are you doing? What is it that you guys do? What do you mean by sly rhymes?' I hope to, in a way the audience could have the opportunity of being introduced to poetry in a more seductive way than they are at school, by somebody like Keats who is so vibrant and passionate about it.
Remembering Paul Laurence Dunbar's time in Denver, along with three newly recovered poems about the city.
I wrote things. That are not about Hitler.
Okay, there's what is basically my favorite book of the year, I don't foresee anything surpassing the thing, Dubravka Ugresic's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, and my review at NPR, which also has an excerpt from the book.
Also, my column about urban life and why Richard Florida and his Creative Class theory are causing riots in Hamburg, Germany, is up at the Smart Set.
Because sometimes life really is like a 3 Stooges sketch: A novel about the German resistance to the Nazi regime was originally smuggled out of the country by being baked inside a cake. The author then dressed in skiing gear and told the SS officers he was going on a ski holiday. With a giant cake. The book is about to republished by Faber & Faber.
The English version of Martin Page's The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection has an interesting website. Tom Roberge (Page's American editor) submitted a few questions to Page about his influences, and the conversation grew into an interesting discourse on the blindness of relationships, Philip K Dick, Hitchcock, and the real version of Paris. (Read Michael Schaub's review of The Discreet Pleasures here.) Link from Moby Lives.
For the last couple days I have been reading almost nonstop about Hitler, Eva Braun, and crazy Unity Mitford. (Did you know Unity's middle name is fucking Valkyrie? True story.) Why I am doing this on horrible grey days in February, I have no idea. As I try to come up with words to describe Adolf Hitler other than "genocidal fuckhead" (seriously, you try to write about that fucker, see how far you get with describing him in plain language), I have been laughing at @unitymitford and @Der_Fuehrer on Twitter. Which I feel I might go to hell for, but at least it's getting me through.
February 17, 2010
Sam Anderson on the new books by the "supremely lovable dorks," Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings) and Elif Batuman (The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them).
The exciting thing about the personal-academic essay is its range: It wants to include everything—high theory and pop culture, analysis and confession, arguments and jokes. Batuman invokes Derrida as an authority in one breath and gently mocks him the next. (“Planet Derrida—that land where all seemingly secondary phenomena are actually primary, and anything you can think of doing is an act of violence, practically by virtue of your having thought about it using some words that were also known to Aristotle.”)
While Helene Hegemann is declaring she did nothing wrong when she ripped off large sections of work by other writers without attribution in her bestselling book Axolotl Roadkill, Der Spiegel asks the man she ripped off, the pseudonomynous blogger Airen, whether he feels the same way.
"'Axolotl' is full of interesting sections," he says. "There was really no need for her to copy me. But she borrowed entire passages of dialogue. I feel like my copyright has been infringed."
February 16, 2010
In his latest post, he writes about the revelation that the primary communication between the two hemispheres of your brain is negative, one essentially telling the other one "Fuck off, I've got this."
They have abilities which have little to do with what we call culture, but which could be studied by Levi Strauss, who died this year. He was wonderful at describing how we are unintentionally intelligent. Every one of us has this dowry and it is the only thing we have that could save us from collapsing under the innovations of the 21st century. We did not emerge victorious from our various revolutions - not in 1789, not in 1917. We have a string of defeats behind us. When Rosa Luxemburg puts her head out of line, she is murdered, just like Gracchus in Rome. Anyone who sticks their neck out to fight tyranny or for emancipation is risking their lives. That's one side of the story. In the meantime the world of things has triumphed. Like the weather, things circulate the world with all their chains of coincidence and probabilities in the form of pension funds, machinery and data. This is the second global weather. The second nature of global weather. This is superhuman. But to the dowry that I mentioned earlier I will add this warning: Don't let the power of others make you stupid and don't let your own powerlessness make you stupid.
Read this today: interview with Cinema Stories author Alexander Kluge.
Brian Eno on his Roxy Music years: "I wanted to look sensational. And most of the science of looking sensational had been pursued by women, not by men."
I forget that people actually use the word "spinster" without using a sarcastic voice or air quotes. Emily Dickinson: spinster. According to this review of a new biography, Lyndall Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds. I am really hoping that after my death, my Wikipedia page will be updated to read "Noted spinster Jessa Crispin..."
February 15, 2010
The Second Virtue
A slight detour this week, into the subject of library design, and possibly further diversions thereon -- which is only fitting when the library in question is that of the oddball architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837). During his lifetime, the library was the social centrepiece of Soane’s home and museum at numbers 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Each of these properties was bought, demolished, rebuilt and reconfigured by the architect from 1792 almost up to his death in 1837, to house both his family and his diverse and ever-expanding collection of art and artefacts. Angered in old age by his ingrate sons, leaving both house and museum in trust to the state, Sir John Soane’s Museum is the masterpiece of a romantic imagination: a cavernous warren of interconnecting rooms, narrow passageways and shadowy underground vaults, domes and skylights with coloured glass panels, mirrors reflecting structural details, and every surface swathed in a tide of oddments and oddities, architectural fragments, sculpture and art.
Occupying the finest and largest room of the house, used also for dining, Soane’s library was an impressive showpiece, its glass-fronted bookcases shoring-up and sustaining the greatness of the architect. Guests were entertained by candlelight, reflected in all manner of mirrors, casting shadows over a miscellany of objects, and multiplying row upon row of glinting spines. Soane was skilled in the use of mirrors and lighting to manipulate spatial experience: creating movement, engaging the senses, and stimulating the imagination. Books, for Soane, were similar tools in invoking the muse, and the mirrored panels recessed above and between his bookcases only magnified their awesome power to stir.
While Soane appears to have kept almost every book, pamphlet or scrap of printed material that came into his possession, bolstering his status as a man-of-letters, an early publication of his own suffered a rather different fate. In 1776 Soane gained the Royal Academy gold medal, earning him a travelling studentship, which he spent chiefly in Italy, studying the ruins of antiquity. In 1778, during Soane’s absence on this architectural grand tour, his first publication, Designs in Architecture, appeared in England. However, after three years absorbing the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome (and plundering the remains for his collection), Soane was so mortified by the lack of merit in his own offering that on his return to England he tracked down, bought up, and burned all copies that could be found.
This concern for his legacy and reputation -- enshrined in the library at Lincoln’s Inn during life and in the museum after death -- gained strength as Soane became older, angrier and, apparently, odder. His anger grew mainly from the lack of interest shown by his sons in taking up the Soane mantle in the architectural profession. Having bought Pitzhanger Manor as a country retreat in 1800, with an eye to using its restoration as a model project for the architectural and artistic education of his offspring, Soane sold it again ten years later, when the prospect of either son carrying on his practice began to fade. In September 1815, George Soane, the youngest son, published two anonymous articles reviling his father’s architecture, an action the architect was to describe as the "death-blow" to his much-loved wife, who died in the November. After selling Pitzhanger and deeply affected by the death of his wife, Soane devoted himself entirely to the house and museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, augmenting his collections and reconfiguring the interiors.
Fascinated by the literary gothic and the black arts, one of Soane’s restructuring projects during this period was the creation in 1824 of what he called the Parloir of Padre Giovanni, an architectural embodiment of the gothic genre. This monastic suite contained the Monk’s Cell, the Parlour itself, and outside in the courtyard, the sham ruins of a cloister and tomb (in which Fanny, the dog, was interred). In these rooms, immersed in the medieval trappings of a religion he held in contempt, Soane became the Padre, moping about in studious gloom. He fantasised about being completely engulfed by his own creation, entombed in the Monk’s Cell, and of a future excavation at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in which no clue to his true identity would be discovered amidst the ruins of his house and possessions.
This fantasy of anonymity was an escape from the tyranny of his legacy. For Soane wanted to be known, but to be known on his own terms, carefully marshalling the material of reputation. In 1812, he had published Crude Hints towards a history of my house, an attempt at setting down the story in his own hand. Far more bizarrely, in the year before he died, leaving detailed inscriptions with the dates on which each should be opened, Soane sealed up a number of cupboards, drawers and other repositories, including a bath, containing a wasteland of miscellaneous objects, papers and personal correspondence. It is unsurprising, then, that Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another brilliant but spectacularly odd man-of-letters, also oppressed by his reputation, was a personal hero of Soane’s. The architect made a pilgrimage to the philosopher’s tomb, and returned again and again to Rousseau’s Confessions, possibly the best, most bizarre and tangibly paranoid autobiography ever written.
Lowering the tone to Dickens, I can’t help thinking of Soane as a fantastic hybrid of Wemmick, with his cottage-castle, and Miss Havisham, closed up in mournful solitude, in that other tale of legacies, Great Expectations. Still, I’m not sure the sardonic architect would have relished this comparison. The fate of Tony Last in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust -- imprisonment by a deranged Dickens enthusiast with a penchant for reading aloud -- would have been romantic agony for the learned Padre.
I had to read a bunch of Richard Florida for a column, and now I feel a little sick to my stomach. (Well, it's either that or the bag of cheddar cheese and red onion potato chips I had for dinner last night.) It all just kind of reminds me of obnoxious expats* I've met here, who used to live in Prague and are now all leaving Berlin for either Istanbul or Shanghai, because those are the new It Cities to live in. They're bitchy at new Berlin arrivals, "You really should have been here ten years ago, back then this city really meant something. Now it's too clean." I would tell them that I prefer having an apartment I don't have to heat with coal, and that whole running water every single day thing, but they would just look at me with that whole "How adorably bourgeois of you" look, and I won't get invited to the vegan potluck at the squat next week. That's fine! I don't like textured vegetable protein anyway.
* Don't worry: I count myself as an obnoxious expat, too.
To counter the Richard Florida: Berlin: The Twenties, American Moderns, and John E. Bowlt's beautiful Moscow and St. Petersburg: 1900 to 1920. And an upcoming interview with Bowlt in the March issue. As for the potato chips, I might need some sort of master cleanse to counter those...
I often need to remind myself that I need to hear failure out, because by failing at doing an easy thing, a groupthink thing, a thing one has been taught to do for one's career, one might be encouraged to make or do or be something more original and true. Because failing as an artist is a necessary thing, a thing I wish I could more easily accept.
Elle Magazine launches its own lit blog and describes it thusly:
"If Sea of Shoes had a blog baby with Book Slut, you might get a close cousin of Lit Life."
I would totally have Sea of Shoes's baby, Elle Magazine. We should work something out.
February 12, 2010
Edith Grossman, translator of Cervantes, Marquez, Molina and others, and author of the new book Why Translation Matters, spoke at Idlewild Books a while ago about the translation process. You can watch the talk on YouTube.
"A sweet disorder in the dress/Kindles in the clothes a wantonness"
Today's lesson: German overachievers are just as annoying as American overachievers. Teenage German author Helene Hegemann was caught plagiarizing in her acclaimed debut novel Axolotl Roadkill. She defends herself by saying that she's part of a generation raised on sampling and mixing texts, so it's just that big of a deal. She just forgot to mention who she was lifting entire pages of text from. "There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity." Life lessons from teenagers, hooray. Maybe next she can tell us how we can be authentic by ripping off other people's original ideas and words.
Is there anything more adorably awkward than a white academic writing about black culture? In Sharon Zukin's section on Brooklyn rappers in Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, she puts "authenticity," "represented," "the ghetto," "real," "the hood," and "notorious B.I.G." in quotation marks in the span of two short paragraphs, as if apologizing for using the words in the first place. Oddly, not in quotation marks, in her section on Williamsburg: the hipster core. It really, really should be.
February 11, 2010
Someone in the US needs to mirror the Valentine Voices service, set up by The Poetry Archive and the Times: Poems read by Jude Law, Simon Callow, Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren and more, sent straight to your partner's cell phone. If, that is, you live in the UK. (What husband *wouldn't* want to get Helen Mirren reading "To My Dear & Loving Husband" into his cellphone? [Just me, then? Hrm.] Not sure James Earl Jones was the right choice to read Christina Rossetti, though.)
Tao Lin explains when to read love poems: Out of the poems in this essay I think I would most be interested in a psychology experiment--of which I would also like to be a participant--where one hundred people who have just been "dumped" to emotionally devastating results in the past hour are forced to read this poem then interviewed about their experience, with accompanying brain-scans.
Meanwhile, Sandra Beasley can't write about love: To be precise, I’ve been cursing the blank page where my love poems should be. I’m in love, damn it. Where are the poems? When I’m sad, I can write about sadness. When I took a cable car up Mount Pilatus, I could describe the view from 7,000 feet.
There isn't enough snow in Vancouver anyway, but the local Olympics committee has apparently decided to bully local artists: The muzzle clause, which VANOC says is standard procedure despite the fact nothing like it was included in the Torino or Salt Lake City games, came at a time when our provincial government announced its plans to cut arts funding by as much as 90%. This has put many cultural organizations in jeopardy and created tension in the arts community between those who are now prevented from speaking their mind because of their contracts and those who feel it is the right time to speak up.
Anna Clark interviews Russian poet Vera Pavlova: Of course, the Russians’ attitude toward poetry is very special: in no other country (do) people get together and recite by heart, one by one, their favorite poems. Life in Russia is highly unstable, with no firmly established and observed rules, with a lot of blatant hypocrisy, and poetry serves as something constant and permanent, an island of terra firma, something always reliable.
Bookslut columnist Dale Smith interviews his wall, in a surprisingly lively give-and-take.
A new biography of Eva Braun argues that she wasn't an idiot after all. Excellent. She was shrewd, intelligent, and she loved Hitler. (Which brings to mind poor Unity Mitford, another one of Hitler's lovers who ended up killing themselves, and the letters the other Mitford sisters sent to one another around that time, usually including the words "Poor dear Hitler, he's having such a rough time.")
Albert Speer, who was a good friend of Eva Braun and often kept her company during her long hours of confinement as she waited for Hitler to call, once said that, “For all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment.”
Tao Lin judges love poems over at the Poetry Foundation.
It seems “wise” to keep this poem far away from a relationship—doesn’t seem like it would have positive effects on a romantic relationship, for some reason, for either person to read it or know about it.
Kathryn Davis (love) has contributed a story to Significant Objects. Read the story "Yellow Bear" and then bid on the story's muse, a slightly crazed looking yellow plastic bear. The proceeds go to 826 National.
I’m throwing you a rope, you don’t have to explain it to the monster in you, just tell the monster it can do whatever it wants, but not that. Later we’ll get rid of the monster, for now just hang on to the rope. I know that this means a struggle from one second to the next, let alone one day at a time. Know that the rest of us know that among the faces we have met there are some right now who can barely take another minute of the pain and uncertainty. And we are in the room with you, going from one moment to the next, in whatever condition you manage to do it. Sobbing and useless is great! Sobbing and useless is a million times better than dead. A billion times. Thank you for choosing sobbing and useless over dead.
February 10, 2010
Sleeping with this book in my bed has caused many nights of dreaming of birds. For that reason alone, I recommend it.
After Dan Rhodes split with Fourth Estate, apparently there was some ill will between publisher and former writer.
Rhodes's antipathy towards Fourth Estate and the Murdoch empire has softened slightly since we last spoke, when he told me that "most publishers are bastards; they often have an utter lack of regard for their authors." But he still insists with a glint in his eye: "I write for revenge." Link via Maud.
My girlfriend left me, and I started crying in my sleep. My nightly lament became so loud that my neighbors called the police. The press found out, and people came to stand outside my house to hear me call her name and moan. Television crews arrived, and soon a search was on to find the object of my misery. They tracked her to her new boyfriend's house. I watched the coverage. People were saying they had expected her to be much more beautiful than she was, and that I should pull myself together and stop crying over such an ordinary girl.
February 9, 2010
The Second Virtue
"The hostess should think out a pleasant scheme of decoration, in harmony with the prevailing colour of the dining-room, the flowers in season, the vases and bowls at her disposal, the dress she is to wear, and even the food she will offer."
I don’t know how this book appeared on my shelves and on picking it up in curiosity, wondering if it would be suitable to sell, the cover didn’t look very promising for a series, however loosely, hooked on book design. But I was immediately struck by the monochrome prints inside and their comic-book-inspired aesthetic. Depicting all sorts of indoor party games -- including "Lemon Golf" and "Spoon Hockey" -- these quite hilarious but rather stylish illustrations drew me into the book. The Home Entertainer is packed with how-to diagrams and design tips on "the art of successful entertaining" -- from curling celery for garnishing, and cutting "toast shapes for entrée dishes," to constructing an elaborate theatre set in the back garden, complete with footlights.
I love the democratic, Do-It-Yourself ethos of the book, and especially Hedges’s friendly pieces of advice: "Set a high standard of taste and originality, but not of extravagance. Ostentation and extravagance show the worst of taste, but on the other hand, never apologise for, or boast of the cheapness of your party." Another amusing piece of advice, Hedges’ outré suggestions on matching the colour of food, dress, and decorative scheme really encapsulate the design consciousness of the book. The notion of the decorative scheme as a total work of art also reminded me of the controlling tendencies of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who created a whole new wardrobe for one of his clients, so that her clothes would harmonise with the house he had designed.
Above all, the comic-book style images and the emphasis on DIY reminded me of a magazine launched in the 1950s called The Practical Householder. I recently picked up a complete collection of these magazines, a series responding to the growing popularity of the Do-It-Yourself philosophy and, indeed, to the coining of that phrase. The covers are fabulous, brightly coloured depictions of contemporary 1950s interiors, following the same couple as they embark, often with a cigarette or pipe artfully balanced, on a different exploit in home improvement each month. On the cover of a 1957 issue, which I’m now regretting having sold, the living room is festooned with garlands and balloons, the couple standing triumphant in matching party frock and tux, in front of a gleaming cocktail bar. I can only hope that they celebrated this tasteful addition to the room with a festive game of Lemon Golf.
Brazilian writer and translator Fabio Fernandes writes about the dangers of translation lag, and how not having access to innovative literature written in other languages can cause a nation's own literature to stall and get stagnant.
Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.
Scenarios like that are what irritate me about professors who still bleat on about "the life of mind." They absolve themselves of responsibility for what happens to graduate students by saying, distantly, "there are no guarantees." But that phrase suggests there's only a chance you won't get a tenure-track job, not an overwhelming improbability that you will.
I wrote a not very nice column about Jeff VanderMeer's book BookLife, although it was less about the book and more about fatigue. Anyway, Jeff asked if he could interview me about my response to his book, about the writing world, and other things as well, and the result is here.
When do you think a writer crosses the line between helping a publisher sell their book and entering into a cycle destructive to their creativity?
We’ve seen writers become really unhinged last year, responding to their critics in these really embarrassing ways. Alain de Botton, Alice Hoffman, whoever else. A writer wrote one of my reviewers who had been critical of him and called her a “cunt.” That’s destructive to his creativity, because if I ever run into him, I am going to tear out his throat with my teeth.
So what do you do when you're heartbroken? I mean, besides refuse to get out of bed and dunk oreos into whiskey and all sorts of other unhealthy things. This is why god gave us Daphne du Maurier. And thank god for Daphne du Maurier. Because not only did she write the saucy Jamaica Inn, she was rather saucy herself, rolling her eyes at that attempt to make a feminist retelling of Rebecca, where Rebecca was kind and good, it was her philandering husband that drove her to act out.
On one occasion, she was slightly annoyed to read some comments by Antonia Fraser in a newspaper. The gist of these comments was that everyone had misunderstood the novel Rebecca. In Ms Fraser’s opinion, Rebecca was really good whereas Max was a rotter and his second wife was no good either...
“Have you read Antonia’s novel, Quiet as a Nun?” Daphne asked. When I shook my head, she continued. “Read it, and let me know what you think. I think she ought to stick to writing biographies.”
February 8, 2010
For the first time since World War II, Mein Kampf will be published in Germany in 2015.
February 5, 2010
I have absolutely no idea why I'll be reading a scary-sounding neurological experiment and suddenly think, "I wonder if I can volunteer for that." All the stories in The Master and His Emissary of people having one hemisphere knocked out, or the corpus collum shut down, or parts of the brain numbed or lit up only made me want to become a lab rat.
This article by Hannah Devlin about having sections of her brain turned off is not helping! I'm thinking, "Hm, I wonder how I can track down her doctor. And will my insurance cover it?"
First thought: "Huh, I wonder why I removed DoubleX from my bookmarks, it's not like everything on that site was a freak show, sometimes they had okay content."
Read: "Sex addiction is a feminist victory."
Second thought: "Is there any way I can block this site from my browser, so that I never, ever go there again?"
Sir David Attenborough talks to Nature in these videos about Darwin, birds, Genesis, continental drift, and the optimism of evolution.
More American Moderns, and oh my god Emma Goldman wrote some dirty letters. "Darling lover, champion f, just 4 more days and then and then and then. Every nerve is tense, my t is hot and burning with the desire to run it up and down w. My m scream in delight and my brain is on fire." Good lord, I would not have guessed she had it in her.
Speaking of the Moderns, the Brits, who were way less hot and way more spoiled (as well as being way better writers and painters), but Vivian Gornick has an essay at the Boston Review about one of them. Edward Carpenter is the subject of a new biography, and Gornick hopes it restores Carpenter to a place among the most famous of the moderns, like Goldman and Virginia Woolf.
February 4, 2010
Drunken Boat 11 has gone online, featuring an interview with Kay Ryan (plus a handful of poems), and many other goodies besides. From the interview: You know, my poems have patches of different kinds of rhythm in them. They may have a rhythm and then maybe a counter-rhythm. There's nothing that I could exactly name, but I do have a strong sense of when a line is rhythmically right or wrong, and I will change it to get the rhythm right, but I couldn’t exactly tell you what it was. I like things to clunk sometimes; I like to have a patch that’ll go 'thunk,' and then I'll like something that--I don’t know--might be iambic or have some other foot to it for a bit.
Speaking of rhythm: If turns out to be impossible to make poetic scansion cool, rather than simply necessary, Herbert Tucker's new site, For Better For Verse, won't be to blame. There's an absurd amount of fun in marking up the feet and stresses in the poems selected.
Del Marbrook considers Leadbelly alongside Blake and George Chapman. His conclusion? More Leadbelly! Leadbelly wrote about Franklin Roosevelt, Adolph Hitler, the Scottsboro Boys, Marilyn Monroe and Howard Hughes, racism and poverty. If you had listened to his songs in his lifetime you would have known more about what was really going on than if you had stayed glued to your Philco or the ubiquitous newspapers. He was no talking head. He was doing what poets should be doing, what poets are doing: saying something some of us want desperately to hear and others of us don`t want to hear at all. (via 3am Magazine)
The Rumpus has some lovely illustrations from a 1935 edition of Les Fleurs du mal.
I have a new Smart Set column, on Spinster Fear, and a defense of Elizabeth Gilbert. So there's that.
Spinster fear is a serious stressor. And it's not just Gottlieb. An entire industry of self-help books, sitcoms, romantic comedies, seminars, scientific studies, magazines, and Web sites are designed to pressure you about your marriagability. "Don't waste the pretty!" He's Just Not That Into You said, reminding us that our attractiveness is an asset with an expiration date. "You're more likely to be killed in a terrorist attack than get married after 40!" Newsweek famously declared. "Better have your babies now, while you still can!" yelled 60 Minutes. And in the middle of all that, one woman cried out, "Fuck this." She decided she didn't want the life of so many women — the ones buying the Gottlieb book — want: the marriage, the house in the suburbs, motherhood. She wanted something else, but she had no idea what that something else was. And that led Elizabeth Gilbert to her bathroom floor, depressed and suicidal, sobbing night after night. But I think that's what some depressive episodes are: the soul going on strike, or yelling, "Fuck this." Gilbert finally made it off the floor, got a divorce, and figured out a way to keep herself alive while she restructured her life. Being a writer, she wrote a book about it. And it sold millions and millions of copies and made Elizabeth Gilbert a household name.
Then the backlash began.
I am a little nostalgic for the era of Christine Stansell's American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century, despite not being alive for it. It's a great book, and one longs for the newness of print, of conversation, of the editor of The Masses declaring, "Feminism is going to make it possible for the first time for men to be free," or the editor of The Little Review to write, "For God's sake, why doesn't someone start a revolution?"
Although my favorite part is the writers' response to the Comstock laws. They were originally put in place to prohibit the distribution of information about birth control, but Comstock made it his mission to start banning books. For the sake of decency and all that. The writers organized a protest and showed up at the committee's office to read their material aloud and request immediate feedback as to whether the work is okay to go to print.
It would be nice for some brainy, witty person to come up with a suitable protest for Amazon.
More Intelligent Life on Salinger's "spoiled children," the readers who thought they were entitled to demand new books from the writer.
Their plan was to rent a couple of cars and drive up to Cornish, find his house and deliver their message to him. This visit was to be preceded by a letter to Mr Salinger warning him of their impending visit (but leaving the date of their visit vague so that he would not know when to expect them). I read a version of their letter-an imploring manifesto asking for more of the stories that had already affected their lives so deeply.
I found this trip to be a bad idea, and I told my friend so. I recall having a spiteful little thought: that I would have preferred it if these artists had chosen some other writer, perhaps any other writer, and gone to his house to urge him never to publish anything ever again. That is a manifesto I would have enjoyed.
NPR is running my review of Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe at Home. Another NYRB book. I got the NYRB catalog in the mail, started marking books I would like to read, and realized it would fill the next six months of my life. NYRB, stop publishing these books, I have other things to do, god damn it. Anyway, Wish Her Safe at Home is awesome, you should read it.
The BBC sort of catches you up on the whole Stieg Larsson world: the fighting over his estate, the film adaptations, the controversy over whether he actually wrote those novels, etc.
February 3, 2010
Editing this new issue of Bookslut made both Jessa and me a little punch-drunk. And by "punch-drunk," I mean "drunk on punch." And by "punch," I mean "a bowl of cheap vodka with Crystal Light lemonade powder packets mixed in." Don't judge us. You got your magazine, didn't you?
But yeah: new issue of Bookslut! This month, we're featuring interviews with Iain McGilchrist, Zachary German, Nate Pritts, David Shields, Maryse Condé, and Jason Koo. We've got several must-read features (I'm not kidding; they're legally mandatory): The completely awesome Elizabeth Bachner considers Dubravka Ugresic's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg; the incredibly cool Colleen Mondor dissects the whitewashing of middle grade and young adult book covers; and rock star Barbara J. King (whose brand new book Being with Animals you should be reading right now) looks at the anthropological education of author Peter Rudiak-Gould. And if you're a poet, you'll want to check out the beautiful poetry portfolio by the brilliant Linh Dinh. Do it now! The dude at the counter can wait for his mocha latte.
We've got new columns, of course, from our Bookslut In Training, Comicbookslut, Cookbookslut, Latin Lit Lover, and the always awesomely-named Kissing Dead Girls. And you'll find reviews of the latest books from Adam Haslett, Emma Straub, Douglas Kearney, Marisa Meltzer, Lee Upton, Elizabeth Marie Young, and Martin Page. We're also debuting a new review section called Past Perfect, which will feature our reviewers' takes on backlist titles worth checking out -- in our first entry, Cass Daubenspeck takes a look at a title from Muriel Barbery.
So have fun, and thanks for reading! Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Booksluts? Who dat? Seriously. Who? This is not rhetorical; I am genuinely curious. (Sorry. Still feeling that punch a little bit.)
I very much enjoyed chatting with Iain McGilchrist for the new issue, and wandering around online (trying to avoid a book I'm supposed to be reading), I found a documentary he participated in, "Soul Searching." It examines the scientific search for the soul and consciousness, and that weird turn philosophy took when it decided there was no such thing as "the self." You can watch it online.
(I don't care for Jane Austen, but I know how much work those books do. I can admire her sharpness and comprehensiveness while still being bored. And when people take on Austen, they always seem to focus exclusively on the relationships, while leaving out the social conformity and economics of the writing. But you know. Mr. Darcy looks good in a wet shirt, blah blah blah.)
When Bill Martin, author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, was confused with Bill Martin, author of Ethical Marxism, Brown Bear was banned by the Texas Board of Education. (Oh Amazon, your shitty search function will be the death of us all.) Dad Wagon interviews the godless Marxist. (Link via The Morning News.)
Randi Hutter Epstein talks to Fresh Air about her (such a badly titled) book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, how germ theory saved mothers' lives, and the inconvenience of delivering babies when the male doctor was not allowed to see the woman naked.
(When they start talking about forceps, all I can think about is Dead Ringers. "These are for the mutant women.")
February 2, 2010
Editing the new issue takes away all of my brain power, which is why, I guess, I found the liter of milk I bought today on my window sill and the loaf of bread on my bed. It's a good thing the issue goes up tomorrow, or I'd accidentally eat my shoe.
So go, get ready for Lost (thank God for the internet, I think Germany has yet to start season 5), and we'll have a new issue and blog posting written with full brain capacity. I don't know what that sentence even means.
Did the upper classes have a genetic monopoly on beauty? Or would they sag, much as the careers of writers with a genetic inheritance who found success young and whose only retreat was self-parody?
"This afternoon I remembered very vividly that incident with the taxi-driver in Paris in 1936, and was going to have written something about it in this diary. But now I feel so saddened that I can’t write it. Everything is disintegrating. It makes me writhe to be writing book-reviews etc at such a time, and even angers me that such time-wasting should still be permitted . . . . At present I feel as I felt in 1936 when the Fascists were closing in on Madrid, only far worse. But I will write about the taxi-driver sometime."
February 1, 2010
The new Lost Man Booker award is a kind of fantastically bonkers idea made up by the hard-working, never-sleeping, all-dancing Booker Prize marketing department. The back story is agreeably demented. When the Booker prize rules were fiddled around with in the opening of the Seventies, after PH Newby's storming inaugural victory in '69 with the now out-of-print Something to Answer For, they misplaced the long list for the in-between books.
The award aims to commemorate the works that "fell through the net" in 1970 after changes to the Booker rules. In 1971, two years after the prize was first given, it ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became, as it is now, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication.
It's a cracking list, ranging from a sea shanty to police procedurals to the wankathon of Brian Aldiss. (That's not snark, that's what the book is about.)
The Second Virtue
Sliced up strips of Le Corbusier’s printed works, reproduced in brightly coloured horizontal bands, wrap around the cover of de Smet’s book, evoking the construction of paper chains. Architect of Books traces the construction and reconstruction of Le Corbusier’s identity as an architect, artist and urban planner, represented, rethought and reformulated through the art of book design. De Smet examines Le Corbusier’s creation of an imagined unity, taking place on the printed page -- by means of montage, superimposition, sampling and salvage -- between the diverse fields of the architect’s oeuvre: painting, town planning, building, furniture design, sculpture. Le Corbusier linked typographical art -- questions of layout, format, paper and typeface -- to the art of architecture, and the construction of books and of buildings occurred simultaneously, each impacting on the other, throughout his life’s work.
From his very first publications in the 1920s, Le Corbusier was equally concerned with what Paul Valéry termed the ‘second virtue’ of a book, its "physique," the book’s visual and physical expressiveness as a "volume." However, it was not until after the Second World War that the architect’s understanding of a synthesis of the arts, and of his own practice, could truly come to fruition on the page, when new printing technology allowed for the greater play of text, images and layout. In preparing New World Space (1948), for example, Le Corbusier advocated, "On the same page fragments of painting with fragments of a façade and luscious gouaches with prints and plans of facades." It was during this post war period that Le Corbusier determined to raise the genre of architectural monograph to the level of artist’s book, handling the printed page itself as an artistic medium: handwritten notes might be enlarged and placed next to sketches, and those sketches alongside photographs of finished projects, or flat shapes of colour overlaid on drawings of urban development, treating them as prints. However, this was not to say that the book itself should be considered an art object; Le Corbusier was no bibliophile, considering books first and foremost as a means of dissemination and, equally importantly, as machine-made objects. Hand-cutting pages was anathema in a "machine society," and Le Corbusier condemned his publisher for producing an edition of one his books on handmade paper in limited number: "the lavish paper discredits everything."
Seemingly at odds with this anti-bibliophile position, a very curious decision of Le Corbusier’s to cover a book with fur recalls the architect’s avant-garde use of diverse imagery -- photographs, clippings from sales catalogues, adverts and magazines -- in order to "dazzle the reader’s eyes." These weird juxtapositions, on the same page or facing pages, of apparently unrelated images culled from daily life, a parade of visual surprises, have an affinity to Surrealist shock tactics: revealing previously unseen connections. Overlooked by de Smet, Le Corbusier’s bizarre decision to cover his copy of Don Quixote in the fur of his dead pet dog (‘Pinceau’1933-1945) apparently brings him closer to a Surrealist position, despite the architect’s well-known hostility towards André Breton and Surrealism in general. This affinity between them appears in connection to Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim’s "Breakfast in Fur," a fur covered cup, saucer and spoon produced in 1936. By covering these ubiquitous, standardised objects with fur, Oppenheim defied logical expectations. The cup, saucer and spoon appeared to be made of bristly fur rather than smooth porcelain and polished metal, rebuffing assumptions of rationality and utility in the mass-produced object and instead evoking sexuality and desire. While Le Corbusier vaunted the printed book as a paradigmatic mass-produced, machine-made object, his Don Quixote, covered in the shaggy fur of a dog named "Brush," belies this obsession with standardisation and utility, emerging as a humorously absurd twin to the bristly breakfast cup.
“She was so persistent because she felt she only had power as a journalist, and the authorities had to deal with it if she wrote it. So there were people who didn’t like her writing about it. The Russian special police forces threatened to kill her and sent letters to her and her editor, because she was writing about what they were doing in Chechnya, which was extremely cruel.”
"Richard from Texas" is joining the ranks of People Mentioned in Eat Pray Love that are now writing their own memoirs. EPL should just be its own publishing company and it can churn out a memoir from everyone in the book. What is her hot Italian language tutor doing with his life? Let's find out in his new book!