July 29, 2011
Nelson understands that what makes violence so absorbing, as subject and spectacle, is the impossibility of separating what’s “out there” from what’s “in here,” and her distinction-blurring trains of association model the problem. Most of us, as she points out, have “wily reserves of malice, power-mongering, self-centeredness, fear, sadism or simple meanness of spirit.” We do occasionally feel the urge to injure and destroy.
There's also a short (micro-) conversation with Kipnis about her affinity with the work, and her own artistic background. There's also a review at Bookforum, which articulates my main problem with the book -- as soon as you feel like you're digging into a topic, it jumps to the next; as soon as you feel Nelson's enthusiasm growing, she pulls away.
This is a lovely thing to find today: the great critic and writer Vivian Gornick (you might want to take a look at her book of literary criticism The Men in My Life) in a leisurely conversation about the life, politics, murder, and afterlife of revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. It's a new podcast at Tablet, and it's apparently fueled by wine. Also, the line "If you give up sex and art while you're making the revolution, you'll make a revolution more harsh than the conditions you were trying to bring to an end" is uttered.
Dear Internet: More of this, please.
July 28, 2011
Deborah Blum reviews Howard Markel, MD's new book Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine for the Wall Street Journal, and it reminds her of the time that William James tried nitrous oxide.
I know. Everything reminds me of William James, too. The Jamesians are sick people who would stop in the middle of sex to say, "You know, the way you just bent me over reminded me of the funniest thing William wrote to Henry about his bad back..." There's a "William James Center" in Potsdam, a 40 minute train ride from my house. It, unfortunately, does not provide recovery services to make me suitable for the outside world again.
David Carkeet writes about the crap that floats around in our head, pulling associations from random words we hear, bringing up particular memories, and how that kind of thing is so much worse if you're a linguist.
I desperately wanted this particular college to hire me. The letter I received from the department chair began, “This is one of those good-news, bad-news letters.” The good news, he said, was that I had come in second. The bad news was that they were offering the job to someone else, a person who I figured would accept the offer, so the good news was the bad news, and the department chair had completely misused the expression. Now, whenever I hear “good-news, bad-news,” I think of that day, that letter, that doofus. It happens about once a week.
Masha Tupitsyn (the subject of our lead feature this month) has a essay of curated videos about the idea of difference in 1980s TV and movies, as seen in Miami Vice, Ferris Bueller, and Pretty in Pink.
This story is so far completely unsatisfactory, but hopefully there will be follow-ups. Lynn Barber, who became hot stuff with her memoir An Education, gave a quite negative review to Seven Days in the Art World, and the author Sarah Thornton sued for libel. Because not only did Barber pan it,
Ms Barber alleged in her review that Dr Thornton had claimed falsely to have interviewed her for the book, and also alleged that Dr Thornton gave “copy approval” to those she had interviewed. (from the Telegraph's response to the lawsuit)
The implication being that Thornton lied about her research and her methods in this nonfiction study. The Telegraph issued a very formal apology (and apparently removed the offending review from their archive) in 2009, but the courts ruled with Thornton and ordered the Telegraph to pay £65,000.
The remaining questions would be, why in the world would Lynn Barber lie about such a ridiculous thing in her review? If she participated in the interview for the research of the book, and she knew she was lying (which apparently the court decided she did), what in the world would make her trash this book in public with such an easily checked lie? Spite? Ugh. The official Telegraph response implies there were negative opinions about Barber (former judge of the Turner Prize) in the book, which may have been her motivation. Darling, then you ask your friends to kill the book for you, you don't go off and do it yourself. See? Unsatisfying.
July 27, 2011
Oh right, I forgot to mention: We're giving away copies of Appignanesi's All About Love on Facebook.
July 26, 2011
On its 20th anniversary, The Forward Prize for Poetry shortlist has been announced. Keen eyes will note that it's rather short on X chromosomes. Former judge Sarah Crown crunches the numbers at the Guardian:
I've just been back to check, and out of the 19 winners of the Best Collection award since the Forwards launched in 1992, only three have been women – Kathleen Jamie, Jo Shapcott and Carol Ann Duffy. Three out of 19 – and we know, of course, that this year, that count is about to rise to three out of 20.
It's Booker Prize Longlist day! This is the NFL Draft day for Anglophile literature fans, and I'll guess I'll quit the sports analogy right there as I have no idea what I'm talking about.
There are 'some surprises' according to the Grauniad, which means four debut novelists and more small presses (hurrah!).
The full list:
Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending
Sebastian Barry: On Canaan's Side
Carol Birch: Jamrach's Menagerie
Patrick deWitt: The Sisters Brothers
Esi Edugyan: Half Blood Blues
Yvvette Edwards: A Cupboard Full of Coats
Alan Hollinghurst: The Stranger's Child
Stephen Kelman: Pigeon English
Patrick McGuinness: The Last Hundred Days
A.D. Miller: Snowdrops
Alison Pick: Far to Go
Jane Rogers: The Testament of Jessie Lamb
D.J. Taylor: Derby Day
Deborah Levy (whose Pillow Talk in Europe and Other Places I have a mad love for) wrote a BBC radio program about "Princess Alexandra Amelie of Bavaria, 1826-1875 who at the age of 23 was observed awkwardly walking sideways down the corridors of her family palace. When questioned by her worried royal parents, she announced that she had swallowed a grand glass piano.” The show has expired from the BBC website, but Mind Hacks, thank god, has a link to an MP3 archive.
I am just now getting around to reading Murakami's acceptance speech for the International Catalunya Prize, regarding Japanese culture and the response to the tsunami and earthquake. There's an English translation here, in case you have been forgetting to read it for a month, too.
As time has gone by, I’ve watched them and come to believe that, for better or worse, [Tao] Lin is only the beginning of a controversial trend. Expect boatloads of more realist, self-deprecating, lazily provocative writing on the way.
Presented without comment, an essay on on Tao Lin and his cabal at his publishing project muumuu house.
We're complicated, messy species who live within culture and in societies, and we like to find meaning in our days. Everything in our environment from a parent's touch to the kind of music or stories we hear impacts on our hardwiring, as do our acts and our emotions. So little is static. How we experience passion, the stories we tell ourselves about it, the meaning we find in the extremes and everyday aspects of love—very little of this is found in evolutionary psychology or neurological explanations.
July 25, 2011
"Just leave us alone to write terribly. We like it that way." On Geoff Dyer's new New York Times column, academic writing, and the humanities.
It's late July. Most of the Bookslut office is out traveling or still recovering from jet lag. Maybe just go look at this slideshow of bats hugging and rodents picking flowers, taken from The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure.
It's maybe understandable that Irmgard Keun went out of print for a while. She doesn't really fit in with the literature between the wars. She certainly doesn't write like what we think German writers write like. (From Artificial Silk Girl:
If a young woman from money married an old man because of money and nothing else and makes love to him for hours and has this pious look on her face, she’s called a German mother and a decent woman. If a young woman without money sleeps with a man with no money because he has smooth skin and she likes him, she’s a whore and a bitch.)
Emily St. John Mandel re-introduces Keun to English speaking audiences, with her overview of her three novels recently translated and reissued.
Schoepenhauer, of all people, has the best line in this article about online communities, anonymous commenting, and pack mentalities. (And for the very regular emails I get asking why there are no comments on Bookslut -- this article should answer it for you pretty thoroughly.)
Arthur Schoepenhauer wrote well on the subject 160 years ago: "Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and journalistic rascality," he suggested. "It is a practice which must be completely stopped. Every article, even in a newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of its author; and the editor should be made strictly responsible for the accuracy of the signature. The freedom of the press should be thus far restricted; so that when a man publicly proclaims through the far-sounding trumpet of the newspaper, he should be answerable for it, at any rate with his honour, if he has any; and if he has none, let his name neutralise the effect of his words. And since even the most insignificant person is known in his own circle, the result of such a measure would be to put an end to two-thirds of the newspaper lies, and to restrain the audacity of many a poisonous tongue."
July 22, 2011
Professors presume, though they don’t say this out loud, that their knowledge and brilliance are so great that slovenliness and drab clothes do not matter.
Robert Watts has a piece on the horrible clothing choices of humanities professors. Which I do not understand. I recently was offered the opportunity to teach a literature course at Drexel University (winter term), and as soon as the possibility of this job was introduced to me, before I even got it, I started shopping for professor clothing. (And it's a good thing I did eventually get the job, as what in the world would I do with so many wool jackets and sweater dresses and boots?)
Which is my way of saying that I'll be teaching a literature course at Drexel during the winter term. In cute jackets.
I test limits by publishing controversial material and paying people who are willing to step forward and expose political hypocrisy. Murdoch’s minions, on the other hand, pushed limits by allegedly engaging in unethical or criminal activity: phone hacking, bribery, coercing criminal behavior and betraying the trust of their readership.
Remember when you used to be able to shock and outrage large groups of people through books? (I mean other than the easily outrageable group of people known as 'parents who don't actually read the books their children bring home from the library.') Large groups of real readers.
Wittkop, whose first novel this was (published when she was 52, in 1972; never before translated into English, amazingly) certainly seems, from the little I know about her, to be the kind of writer who enjoyed freaking out her audience. I can imagine her, in an idle moment, wondering how to shock the petit bourgeoisie, thinking "Ah! Necrophilia!" and chuckling.
July 20, 2011
As our nation goes into meltdown, philosopher Martha Nussbaum defines the model democratic citizen in an interview with the Australian:
These citizens are independent and critical. They do not defer to peer pressure, tradition and authority but examine things for themselves. They know how to distinguish a good argument from a bad one. They also know how to imagine the point of view of other groups in their society who are affected by policies that are being debated and to imagine the lives of people abroad whom their consumer choices and political efforts affect.
This means they are not only empathetic; they are also knowledgeable about world history, world religions and the problems and achievements of different racial, gender and sexual groups. This knowledge needn't be extensive but enough that these citizens also know what they don't know, and how to inquire further.
As our conversation dies down, Marcus says he’s going to wait until his father dies so he can write about it without worrying, as he puts it, about “feeding into any bullshit martyrdom complexes.”
Daniel Nester's essay on memoir writing, "The Writer is Present."
Also, there's a 2007 interview with Geier from Die Welt, which was translated into English at Sign and Sight.
July 19, 2011
Would you like to see someone completely freak the fuck out about something innocuous? Yes? It's fun, sometimes, isn't it? A Swedish school decided to ban a few fairy tales because they are “full of traditional gender stereotypes.” The hysterical article did not, of course, say which versions of the fairy tales -- like, was it Disney movies? Or no mention of Snow White ever ever ever? Not even the gorier, more fun ones?
Then the article devolves into accusations of totalitarian behavior and a world where political correctness has gone mad. Which means we have an excuse to follow up the article with watching this.
"I now know all the people worth knowing in America," she writes in her memoirs, "and I find no intellect comparable to my own."
The incomparable Margaret Fuller drowned on this day in 1850. Kevin Frazier wrote about her life in a recent Star-Crossed column, and how she inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, and Christina Nehring's section on Fuller in A Vindication of Love is one of the better appreciations of her I've read, short of those massive multi-volume biographies.
July 18, 2011
Iain Sinclair's newest book, Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project is a furious argument against the London Olympics. (I was so relieved when Chicago lost its bid to host the Olympics, but even friends of mine were actually upset. Sinclair's writing on why the Olympics are not great civic projects has been consistently smart and, yes, angry.)
This article with interviews of the Stanford Prison Experiment participants reminded me of the existence of Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century. Slater takes a more personal approach, but she also updates some of the experiments we hear about, like Skinner's "black boxes" or the Milgram shock tests, to talk to participants, talk with those who disagreed with the findings, and explain the impact the studies had on culture.
Her chapter on the Milgram experiments (wherein people were asked to inflict electrical shocks to another "participant" -- really an actor -- to the point of inflicting pain or even death, and seeing how many people resisted, refused or just simply went along with it) is particularly good, I think. A man who continued to inflict electrical shocks simply because he was told to at the very least gives a more satisfying interview than the guard in the Stanford prison experiment. The guard says he was just acting when he was inflicting pain and humiliation, that he's really a sweet guy, honest. Whereas the man who believed he was killing another human being was completely honest and coherent about the implications of what he'd done.
"Afterwards," said Jacob, "when I was debriefed afterwards, explained what had happened, I was horrified. Really, really horrified. They kept saying, 'You didn't hurt anyone, don't worry, you didn't hurt anyone,' but it's too late for that. You can never," says Jacob, "really debrief a subject after an experiment like that. You've given shocks. You thought you were really giving shocks, and nothing can take away from you the knowledge of how you acted There's no turning back...
"The experiments," he continues, "caused me to reevaluate my life. They caused me to confront my own compliance and really struggle with it. I began to see closeted homosexuality, which is just another form of compliance, as a moral issue. I came out. I saw how essential it was to develop a strong moral center. I felt my own moral weakness and I was appalled, so I went to the ethical gym, if you see what I mean."
Fascinating, if flawed book. Recommended nonetheless.
When, for example, you speak of sunsets, there will always be those who criticize you for being anti-sunrise.
You are going to want to read Adonis's essay about difficult poetry and ambiguity.
This is kind of hilarious. A year ago, the German politician Thilo Sarrazin wrote an alarmingly racist book about the Turks. He said they not only do not integrate into German society -- which is eh, but not so much a racist statement -- but that they are not as intelligent as Germans, and since intelligence is hereditary, they are dumbing down German society by their inability to stop having children. It caused a fuss.
Recently Sarrazin tried to go to Kreuzberg, the uh Turkish neighborhood, for dinner, and was shocked that he was heckled on the street and that the Turkish restaurant refused to serve him because, as the manager later commented, he didn't want anyone to think Sarrazin actually ate there. Sarrazin's comments on the whole matter are predictably oblivious and laughable.
The "tendency of representatives of Muslim immigrants to take offence to uncomfortable truths" is part of the "oriental mentality and deeply anchored in Islamic belief."
Or! Maybe you're just an asshole, and some people wanted to let you know about that.
July 15, 2011
Gender-fucking with novelist Lynne Tillman, in a great interview at Guernica:
In the novel I’m currently working on, the narrator is interested in his identity as a man. And one of the things he does as a cultural anthropologist is interview other men his age about what it is to be a man now. I’m very interested in that, and sort of playing off Henry James’s idea of “The New Woman.” I’m interested in the new man. So I’m trying to figure out ways to write a novel about that.
Whenever I go home, I see my potential future, and I begin to purge. My parents are both collectors. My father occasionally collects hazardous material, the kind of stuff that will require a Hazmat crew if the house ever catches fire, and so lord please, let the place stay standing. I have the tendency myself, that gentler version of the hoarder, the pack rat. And so every time I return from Kansas, I start making stacks of things that I need to get out the door. Now. (Anyone want some free books? Please come over and take some books.)
Sally Feldman reviews two new books about collecting, Jaqueline Yallop's Magpies, Squirrels and Thieves: How the Victorians Collected the World and Simon Reynolds's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past.
Such characteristics would be recognised by Freud as a neurosis deriving from the inability to develop beyond the infantile “anal” stage, which may result in the adult becoming anally retentive – hoarding, collecting, fearing letting go. But it’s unlikely that Freud would have categorised himself in this way, despite the fact that he was a passionate collector, amassing nearly 2,000 objects from antiquity, mainly from Greece, Egypt and his particular first love, Rome. He confessed that his passion for collecting was second in intensity only to his addiction to cigars. And just as he famously remarked that “a cigar is sometimes just a cigar,” he probably felt similarly about his collection.
Bookslut loves Irmgard Keun. (See here. Also here. And here.) I also happen to love Maria Tatar, and her book Lustmord. (See here.) So I am forced to point out that the Other Press has geniusly combined the two, and has put up on Scribd both Tatar's introduction to Keun's Artificial Silk Girl, and an excerpt from the novel.
Obsessive that I am, I have a Google news alert for "William James." Can I just say, as an aside, that a whole lot of people with first name William middle name James commit crimes? Every morning my inbox is full of "William James X Arrested for Stolen Property" or what have you.
July 14, 2011
Errol Morris, whose new documentary about tabloid culture is awfully well-timed, talks about tabloid journalism, the Murdoch scandal, and the allure of the National Enquirer.
And while we're on the subject of Rupert Murdoch, John Lanchester's essay about him from 2004 in the London Review of Books is also worth revisiting.
And in case you don't follow me on Twitter, you may have missed this final interview with Singing Detective writer Dennis Potter, wherein he takes one last swing at Murdoch and all he has wrought. Although if you follow our columnist Jenny McPhee, you would be covered, because that is who I stole the link from.
It’s surprising that Mary Shelley would make her horrible Monster a vegetarian... It shouldn't be surprising that Frankenstein’s monster is a vegetarian, because we've always known that vegetarians are monsters.
Just how bad is an intellectual examination of the artist Thomas Kinkade, he who paints with light? According to Jed Perl, Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall is so very bad.
I know that many intellectuals believe we overlook middlebrow tastes at our own risk. But there is a large dose of reverse snobbery threaded through this collection. More than a generation after Pop Art became holy writ, it is rather tiresome to be announcing yet again that we live in a democracy where one person’s treasure is another person’s trailer trash, and that their masterworks are not necessarily inferior to the Picasso’s and Matisse’s in our museums. Many of the contributors to Boylan’s anthology want to devour every last bite of their middlebrow cake, but only after each tasty morsel has been skewered on a highbrow fork. The problem is not that they respect Kincade anthropologically, it is that they respect him as an artist.
What happens to a country's literature when a book needs to sell only around 2,000 copies to become a bestseller? Norbert Mappes-Niediek looks at the book market of the nations that make up the former Yugoslavia, and how having such a small ecosystem affects its best writers. (Hint: it's probably actually good for your career if you're politically forced into exile.)
I am tired of interviewers asking elder statesmen-like writers their opinions on new technology. So of course the 78-year-old Penelope Lively said she distrusts ebooks, and says they're only for "bloodless nerds" (okay, that's kind of funny). And bored journalists use this to try to stir up controversy, like they did when Philip Roth announced he no longer read fiction. It's a non-moment, a non-statement.
Dear Kindle and iPad and Nook readers and whatever that other one is called: Penelope Lively does not hate you, not really. But really, what were you thinking when you got that tattoo? And look at the way you're dressed. You know in my day...
July 13, 2011
But we are both laughing as she tells the story of a humiliating recent restaurant dinner with her friend, Nell Dunn, who wrote Up the Junction and Poor Cow. Over dinner, the Italian waiter told Dunn, who has fine cheekbones and wispy blonde hair, that she looked like a writer. “My friend is a writer too,” said Dunn, gesturing towards Drabble, with her severe, practical haircut. “She looks like a housewife,” replied the waiter.
The Frank O'Connor Prize shortlist is with us, along with a generous serving of judge Alannah Hopkin's opinions. Edna O'Brien is "a superb writer of stories – she always has been, they're better than her novels by far" and on reading Yiyun Li she says "I felt she could explain Chinese inscrutability", and of their candidates as a whole: "There is a certain type of short story which gets into the New Yorker, which follows conventions – none of these do".
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien
Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca
The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
Marry or Burn by Valerie Trueblood
Elaine Sciolino explores the house of French writer Pierre Loti, who despite not being very well known as a writer these days, deserves at least to be known as an eccentric. Sciolino reports that the house is filled with pictures of himself either in costume or nearly naked, and collections of odd things like sperm whale teeth. He also designed his own coat of arms -- it "combines the grape vine motif of his wife’s family emblem with the head-gear of a deep-sea diver." One wishes for more photographs.
(One also wishes, simply from reading that short article, that his biography was still in print.)
July 12, 2011
Dissident and author of The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up, has fled China and settled into exile in Germany. He talks to the New York Times about why he left, but China so far is staying silent about the news.
If you want your book to get noticed in an overcrowded marketplace, you need a really hot angle, something that news outlets can grab ahold of.
Yes. Like that. (via)
I have become an opera dork. This is not quite at the level of the opera fanatic, mind you. I don't have a favorite diva, I still have a hard time listening to opera without some sort of visual component, and I don't memorize recordings, conductors' names, or who played what where. I take a little comfort in the fact that I have not become the type of person to respond to "Great performance, wasn't it?" with "Yes, except for the second oboe during the third movement was flat -- completely took me out of it."
Not that this makes me any less intolerable when I start in on opera. I have a lot of random information in my head about Wagner, Stravinsky, Boito, Strauss... and I get a little overexcited until I completely miss the glazed look in the listeners' eyes. So reading The Opera Fanatic: Ethnography of an Obsession by Claudio E. Benzecry and The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire by Wayne Koestenbaum was an exercise in "oh thank god I'm not like that," swiftly followed by "oh shit, I do that, too." I write about these two books at the Smart Set, and what they say about fan culture in general, whether that be in support of opera, science fiction, rock stars, or comic books.
Playwright Howard Brenton discusses the argument that inspired his play Anne Boleyn.
The butcher would have none of this. Everything in the Bible was true: the Red Sea literally parted, Lazarus rose from the dead, the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus ascend into heaven. The Bible is the word of God, end of argument. A realisation began to dawn on my father, and he said something like "but it is only a translation, from Hebrew and Greek". The butcher exploded. Translation? No! He believed Jesus and the disciples actually spoke the words of the King James Bible. The language of biblical Palestine was Jacobean English.
Happy birthday, Pablo Neruda. The Day Book tells the story of when he was forced to flee the country:
He fled by packhorse over the Andes to Argentina, over a smuggler's trail marked by cataracts, rockslides, and gravesites. Biographer Adam Feinstein (Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life, 2004) says that the trip nearly killed the underprepared poet, who had not been on a horse since childhood and who packed little more for the trip than a bottle of whiskey, his typewriter, and a camouflaged copy of his book-in-progress, Canto General.
Throw in a selection of cheeses, and that sounds like the kind of packing I would do for nation-fleeing.
For this week's Kirkus Q&A, I talked to Gabriela Avigur-Rotem about her new novel Heatwave & Crazy Birds, what it's like to finally get a book translated into English after a distinguished career in Hebrew, birds who look like Czech presidents, and how she wove her passion for history into a novel set in modern Israel.
Anat is a Phoenician Goddess, full of sound and fury. One of the many ways to cope with the Jewish helplessness and the atrocities of the Shoa was to declare that those who live in Israel are totally different from those who "went to the slaughter like sheep." The Israelites are descendants of the Canaanites and are connected to the regional mythology of the Phoenician heroes, Gods and Goddesses like Anat [Anat is still a very popular name for a girl in modern Israel] and even the brave Hannibal, who had threatened Rome, was one of our glorious ancestors. In my novel this is the way Davidi deals with his past. As a secular educated man who had fought the Nazis as a partisan I felt that such an attitude suits him.
And we'll be giving away five copies of Heatwave & Crazy Birds over on our Facebook page throughout the week.
Naomi Wolf wrote a long article for CNN, decrying the effects of pornography on the male brain. Oh I'm sorry, that is downplaying it a bit. The title of the article is actually "Is pornography driving men crazy?"
Also, related, is this interview with Annie Sprinkle, who explains why she moved her career away from pornography into sex-related art: "Art paid better."
July 11, 2011
Via the Smart Set, a slideshow of the history of evolution controversies.
Everyone comes to Berlin. They soak up the influence, they are forced into transformation, and then they leave. William James, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Samuel Beckett... Bono, I suppose. The Samuel Beckett one was not a huge part of his mythology, but it might be, as his Berlin diaries are finally going to be published in a three volume set. The Irish Times gives an overview of Beckett's time spent here -- he showed up as all of the intellectuals and writers were fleeing, what with Hitler and the Nazis and all that all over the city -- but felt a big draw to the city despite this. (Via)
I've been reading Kafka's Letters to Milena, and I was strangely touched by the one in which he tries to comfort her about her health ailments by telling her about the time he started coughing up a tremendous amount of blood. "These negotiations between brain and lung, which went on without my knowledge, may well have been quite terrifying."
My friend Michael Schaub has been raving about Vanessa Veselka's Zazen for months now, and I finally got around to agreeing with him. She's interviewed at the Faster Times about working with such a difficult character:
Della’s internal because she is a mental exile. Whose fault that is, I don’t know. She’s pretty misanthropic at times. Most exiles like that are self-imposed and hers is probably no different. I don’t remember it being so much a choice to write her one way or another as much as a choice as to write her at all. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have her in my head for four years. Would you? My first response was more like—Back, beast of madness! You are not welcome. After a while I gave up and just decorated her room. People like Rilke and Hamsun were masters of interior narrative of course, but I don’t see them in my work. I think my tendencies are a little more garish than that.
July 8, 2011
Bookslut contributor JC Hallman reviews Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secret Religion for Bookforum.
Also in Bookforum: Jenny Davidson has a very smart take on Alain de Botton's Proust Can Change Your Life, William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education, and Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: Or, a Life of Montaigne, and why we turn great writers into self-help gurus and paragons of "grown-up moral standards and good values."
In the latest "books are ruining your life," we have, romance novels will kill you.
Mills & Boon's romance novels should come with a health warning, according to a report published in an academic journal.
Blaming romance novels for unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, unrealistic sexual expectations and relationship breakdowns, author and psychologist Susan Quilliam says that "what we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association", advising readers of the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care that "sometimes the kindest and wisest thing we can do for our clients is to encourage them to put down the books – and pick up reality".
If you want to counteract this with writing instead of reading, you should know that writing is also really bad for you.
Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning is really good, and then not, suddenly, and then great and startling, and then repetitive. I'll have more on the book later, but perhaps my favorite part is her discussion of the ad campaigns for Captivity. There were billboards of star Elisha Cuthbert being abducted, billboards of Cuthbert being tortured, and then one of her dead body splayed out. When controversy erupted, the film studio tried to claim the ads and movie were actually all about female empowerment.
Nelson's disgust about these ads is obvious, but complaining about the ads puts her in the same category as what Reuters referred to as "angry parents and offended women" who succeeded in getting the ads pulled. The sudden realization that the controversy over the ads was not leading to a discussion about the portrayal of women in the media, but instead was increasing buzz for the film, didn't help. She writes:
You call to complain, disliking the sound of your Tipper-Gore-esque voice. You hang up and start worrying about the free-speech implications of your protest, so you turn to Noam Chomsky and ponder hard questions about manufactured consent and the meaning of free speech in an everything-is-owned-or-for-sale world, then to Juergen Habermas, to ponder the meaning of public space in an everything-is-owned-or-for-sale world. "The world fashioned by the mass media is a public sphere in appearance only," writes Habermas, and so it is. And (to paraphrase Theodor Adorno) it is crucial to remember that while this world may appear to emanate from society as a whole, it is, in fact, directed at society as a whole.
When I saw that Chad Kultgen had a new book out, called Men Women & Children, all I felt was revulsion. Not because of the book or him or even any of his writing, which I can't read. And I can't read it because of the ad campaign for his previous book The Average American Male, which had a man telling a woman he'd marry her once she learned to take it up the ass without crying. When I complained about these ads when they were released, I could feel the shrillness of my voice, the what Nelson calls the "obviousness of my complaint." I become one of the offended women, and that's a completely unsexy person to be. Can't you take a joke?
July 7, 2011
The BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for 2011 has been awarded to Frank Dikötter's book Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.
The book outlines what judge Ben Macintyre calls "a brutal manmade calamity" where Mao did his best to out-asshole the likes of Stalin in the 'killing his own citizens' stakes. Jasper Becker's review in the Spectator points out that interpretation of the famine is still a contentious subject:
Prominent famine experts, like Justin Lin Yifu, now the chief economist at the World Bank, have excused Mao, arguing that, unlike Stalin, he wasn’t a monster who did this deliberately or knowingly. Instead, the deaths were the result of mismanagement; peasants should have had the right to leave the communes voluntarily but the plan was basically a great idea. Even the great American sinologist Professor John King Fairbanks considered that Mao’s greatest achievement had been to improve the lot of the Chinese peasantry.
There is a tremendous piece on Virginia Woolf's criticism over at the TLS. The bits from her letters to her editor are particularly nice to read, as she complains about the books they assign her to review. "My mind feels as though a torrent of weak tea has been poured over it."
The TLS also writes about Patrick Leigh Fermor's critical work -- for a while he specialized in books about voodoo and cannibalism for them. (One does wish, though, that they would just put the blasted things online so we can read them ourselves. It's like being introduced to a vacuum.)
I've really been loving Claudio E. Benzecry's The Opera Fanatic: Ethnography of an Obsession. Not only for what it is telling me about my opera addiction, but for what it says about fan culture and the art world in general. The antagonism between opera goer and the critics who are paid to be there plays out in the literary world between readers and book reviewers, too. From Benzecry:
Passionate fans distinguish themselves by engaging in a highly adversarial relationship with the critics... Some sociologists have argued that the difference between high and low culture lies, not only in enacting the proper etiquette for appreciation, but also in the discursive mediation of the former, in which critics act as gatekeepers to the arts world, assuming a negotiation in which what is exchanged for status is the right to a personal opinion... But if that is the case, why does the opera world have such an adversarial relationship to professional music criticism?... Fans distrust critics as they might be friends with the artists, be paid to celebrate mediocre performances, review the minor opera houses according to effort and not quality, or make factual errors.
Andrea lumps the critics into a single group. "All of them are a disaster, an absolute mess. They write without any basis!" Ernesto continues this line of thinking: "Critics in Argentina are too friendly. There isn't any independent reviewing: there is no objective criticism. I'd rather pay more attention to what another guy from the audience tells me. I doubt whatever a reviewer says immediately."... Regardless of the perception of music criticism as a corrupt enterprise, it is still utilized as the yardstick against which to measure one's judgment.
Amazon reviews and comments at the end of book reviews make so much more sense to me now...
If you're going to imply that Andrew Sullivan is an eugenicist, it might be nice to, I don't know, back up that claim with some documentation.
Although I have to admit, "eugenicist" is a much more interesting insult than the usual fascist or Nazi or whatever. But really, best left to the actual eugenicists. Like HG Wells.
Roger Ebert is dismayed at a dumbed down version of The Great Gatsby, which shortens the book and simplifies the prose. When it was pointed out that this book is for English as a Second Language students, he retorts, "If it is, my question would be: Why not have ESL learners begin with Young Adult novels? Why not write books with a simplified vocabulary? Why eviscerate Fitzgerald? Why give a false impression of Jay Gatsby?"
Maybe because the storyline is what's universal, even if the prose is a little over someone's head. I read a ton of comic book adaptations as a kid -- The Scarlet Letter being my favorite, and I was horrified to come across the real prose version by Hawthorne when it was assigned in school. I still prefer the comic. I also read kids' versions of Dickens starting at age 7 or so, Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities, a few others. I don't think either prevented me from reading the real versions once I was ready, nor did it do any brain damage or put me off books. I read them for the story as a kid -- murder and intrigue and violence and revolution -- and then for the prose later on, when it wasn't so off-putting.
So I don't know, maybe calm down. This isn't the same as the cleaning up of Huckleberry Finn, and it's been going on for decades.
July 6, 2011
Nicolas Sarkozy will be starring in a new book, created around the Where's Waldo? model (the original books were called, apparently, Where's Wally? in the UK and Où est Charlie? in France).
There is Sarko with the Roma, depicting the row that erupted a year ago when the government sent riot police into camps to forcibly evict their occupants. Sarko in the Banlieue, tackles the weeks of rioting across France in 2005 after he threatening to clear out "the rabble" with water cannon.
In one of those weird things you don't think to think about, the Hollywood Reporter decided to find out what the new movie based on the Captain America comic books might be called in countries that don't like the idea of America as Avenger so very much.
Two pieces on Cy Twombly you might want to read today, if you are as sad about his death as I am:
- Paul Myerscough explains at the London Review of Books why art critics have such a hard time with Twombly. (Art critics aren't the only ones. The reactions to his Louvre ceiling were pretty funny. "We don't know what this is" was a pretty common refrain.)
July 5, 2011
Not to say (see below) that all education is bullshit, of course.
(Another sub-narrative that I wish we could all abandon is the whole “the music I wrote in school was too real for school; the teachers O. Pressed Me, etc. That is, fortunately, a fight that our elders have fought for us, and we can all relax about it. Besides, Light Oppression of one’s Teenage Style Goals is a really useful thing to be encouraged; you have to slice that shit against the grain to see what it’s made of).
That's from a charming diatribe about education versus creativity, snobbery, anti-intellectualism, and scholarship. It's directly related to the music world, but applies easily to literature.
The dazzled reader of the list, the parent or student, says to himself, “This must be a terribly distinguished crowd,– their titles shine like the stars in the firmament; Ph.D.’s, S.D.’s, and Litt.D.’s bespangle the page as if they were sprinkled over it from a pepper caster.”
This funny and warm -- need it even be said? this is William James we're talking about after all -- essay about the glamor and aura of the Harvard Ph.D. could have been written last week. His argument is that one does not necessarily need a Ph.D. to teach literature, except that the university will require it. But oh, really, it could be swapped out for "MFA"s and "writing," or any other blasted thing.
Did you notice we have a brand new issue of Bookslut? We do! We do! With an interview with the divine Masha Tupitsyn (you should follow her on Twitter), a new essay by Elizabeth Bachner, an appreciation of the ecstatic 20th century travel writers, a take on the much delayed Slutwalk in India (from our newest columnist, The Mystic Mynah), an appreciation of Irmgard Keun, and so much more. Best to start at one end and just work your way through.
It's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.
So we have enough Jane Austen books as it is. Not her own books, of course, but books about her, her life, her eating habits, her fame, that time she got eaten by a sea monster. I'm a little sick of these books, and I kind of snapped at a publicist who was trying to tell me about yet another book about Jane Austen's glory days. He asked, "Would you like to see a copy?" and I snapped something about rather dying with a railroad spike through my head or something. He was just trying to do his job. Sorry!
But what do these books do to Jane Austen? She's obviously sturdy enough to take it, but what happens when a smart enough critic tries to turn Austen into a self-help writer? Open Letters has a smart take on A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. The first thing that goes, of course, is nuance. But also, he's opened the door to a thousand new books about Jane Austen, as writers wonder why *they* didn't think of the Jane Austen Diet or the Jane Austen Alcohol Recovery Program first.
Now where did I put that railroad spike?
I remember Kingsley [Amis] fantasising that he employed a gang of East End vigilantes who would go round to the door of pretentious writers and confront them with their literary crimes: “Don’t do it,” they would say menacingly, “The King don’t like it.”
July 1, 2011
"(I) watched the foliage whisked into wild shapes by the wind and smelled the drenched cool grasses and let the thunder claps terrify me and the lightning cut me blind and when I went out I didn't see how to go about anything I have to do and wished lazily the lightning might settle the whole shebang for me."
Gioia Diliberto on Hemingway's first wife Hadley, who had her own emotional issues, and who remained close to her ex-husband until his death.
Post-traumatic stress isn't new. In fact, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, aristocrat Samuel Pepys wrote about his experiences afterward. One researcher examined the writing and diagnosed him with PTSD.
That definitely seems like something people are always doing. Not getting PTSD throughout time, but diagnosing a dead person through their diary or a sentence in a letter or just fucking making something up. Remember how many times we've read what exactly killed Mozart? And remember how no one ever chimed in after with, "Oh yes, that's definitely it"? No, they came back with a totally different random diagnosis based on a text message a chimney sweep who bumped into a man who may or may not have been Mozart but was definitely wearing a powdered wig on the street sent to his mother.
Or, you can look at it like, Oh my god, Homer had PTSD! And was maybe a lady. At the same time.