January 31, 2013
In the years since, however, as court records have been examined and witnesses reinterviewed, some facts of both the coverage and the book have been challenged on many fronts, including the element at the center of the indictment: 38 silent witnesses. Yet none of the weighty counter-evidence was acknowledged when Mr. Rosenthal’s book was reissued in digital form by Melville — raising questions of what, if any, obligation a publisher has to account for updated versions of events featured in nonfiction titles. Dennis Johnson, the publisher of Melville House, said he knew about the controversy but decided to stand behind Mr. Rosenthal’s account. “There are, notably, works of fraud where revising or withdrawing the book is possible or even recommended, but this is not one of those cases,” he said. “This is a matter of historical record. This is a reprint of reporting done for The New York Times by one the great journalists of the 20th century. We understand there are people taking issue with it, but this is not something we think needs to be corrected.”
* I really liked the Kitty Genovese chapter of Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century. You can read a section from that chapter here. And, of course, when Opening Skinner's Box was released, it was controversial for claims that it was really, really enhanced with lively falsehoods.
Let's just make today Controversy Day.
When Balthus died in 2001, he was mostly headlined as a "controversial" painter. He painted a lot of adolescent girls, in provocative poses. Their underwear showing or their bodies thrown backwards. Then he painted The Guitar Lesson, which he tried to distance himself from later, but of course it was everyone's favorite.
Balthus wrote about the exhibition that included The Guitar Lesson:
This exhibition, much to my surprise in these times so indifferent to intellectual pursuits, has caused a great sensation and produced many discussions. All people of any importance are either shocked, excited, deeply moved or enthusiastic, and, according to general opinion, it is the most important exhibition of the last ten years. So this is now the rise of my star. Of course, I dislike such loud enthusiasm ... ; however, I am pleased that I have been able to move some true and great people.... Thus I have not fought and endured privations in vain. There are some who understand when one has something important to say.... It was a moral victory, because money was not the object.... I had only planned to strike the gong violently in order to somehow shake people up and make them more aware. I think I succeeded.... My financial situation is tragic, and I ask myself if under these circumstances I shall now be able to express all that I have to say."
By the time he walked into the room I think I was primed to believe almost anything he said to me. And I did. I was, in my way, seduced by his blend of personal power, magnetism, and intelligence, the authority with which he spoke and the earnestness. My God, if you believe what you're reading in a face, then you believed him. It took my having some distance and doing an awful lot of research to realize that the man was lying outright. I mean fabricating.
In 2011, we had that big freakout about a publisher's decision to clean up the language of Huck Finn. Now the same debate is happening in Germany, centered around Die Kleine Hexe and Pippi in Taka Tuka Land. The same discussion about censorship and racial sensitivity has come up, although it's not exactly the same. Huck Finn had social relevance. Pippi Longstocking, bless her deviant heart, just kind of runs around with scary racial stereotypes.
Germany is not totally great at figuring out when it is being insensitive. For an entire year, there was an ad in the subway for Deutsche Oper's production of Otello, and they chose to use a woman in blackface, to depict Otello. (They also hired a white dude and put him in blackface to sing the part, something you can see weirdo pictures of online. A commentator recently went on television to argue against censorship... in blackface. And was totally surprised people were upset about that.
So the argument in Germany has to be different -- they don't have the history that America has with racism, but naivete is not an excuse. But perhaps this is worth a listen. The best commentary on the subject of the censorship of Huck Finn is this interview with Louis CK:
January 30, 2013
A guest post from Filmi Girl:
Ever since his assassination in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln has loomed large over American cultural memory. Every generation builds a Lincoln to suit their needs -- a Habeas Corpus suspending villain, an emancipator, the perfect upper middle class husband/father/executive, a rapping robot, and a vampire hunter. Guess which one Spielberg’s Lincoln uses?
As a somebody with an intense interest in the colorful personalities and wild rhetoric of the mid-19th century Congress, I’ve been more than a little annoyed at the fawning coverage of Spielberg’s middling, sentimental Lincoln and of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s executive lecture tour circuit book, Team of Rivals. In their quest to put Lincoln in the corner office somewhere on Wall Street, the real drama and humanity of the time has been lost. We forget the many men who were broken by the balancing act between slave and free states -- the poisonous compromises, the folly, and the great intellect of men like Daniel Webster and Stephen Douglas, all forgotten. And if the white men can’t stand up against the power of Executive in Charge of Marketing Lincoln, what chance do African Americans like Frederick Douglass or the long forgotten Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce have?
The halls of Congress are packed full of battling egos, and Congressional battles rarely have a clear winner and loser. For every moment of greatness -- Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivering a smackdown to Joe McCarthy -- there are ten moments of selfish short-sightedness. But Congress remains a fascinating microcosm of humanity and we let it get trumped by the Lincoln narrative of Great Man Presidential Greatness at our own peril.
So, it was with great relief that I read Thomas Frank’s biting essay on Goodwin’s book.
Goodwin’s hypothesis, if she can be said to have one, is that the successes of the Lincoln Administration were not a one-man accomplishment. No, the president had help, and he knew how to motivate people. It was Lincoln plus Secretary of State William Seward; Lincoln plus Attorney General Edward Bates; Lincoln plus Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (you know, the man on the $10,000 bill). Do you get it, reader? The Civil War was a team effort, in which men who didn’t really like each other — political rivals, even — held important government jobs.
And then move on to Richard Hofstader’s delightful 1948 essay Abraham Lincoln and the Self Made Myth and, if you can find a copy, Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the Civil War, a book Slate called one of the most “confounding books ever written about the Civil War."
January 29, 2013
A medal sounds so much better than a 'prize', right? Like the Booker is a weird squished black square and the Costa could be a rubber ducky, for all we know, but a medal looks the business. The John Newbery Medal and the Randolph Caldecott Medal were presented at the recent American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, and the 2012 Newbery winner is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. The Caldecott medal went to This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Roth wishes he had ever come up with titles that good.
Jeet Thayil's 'nightmarish' (his own description) debut novel Narcopolis has won the DSC Prize for South Asian literature. Thayil survived a twenty-year drug addiction before writing the book, which is about, well, drugs. Buy books instead, kids. Better for the complexion.
I am a week late posting about this because every time I thought about it I got so excited I passed out. (Zodiac is the best. Every movie that is not Zodiac wishes it could be Zodiac.)
Speaking of gender, and when we talk about it and when we don't, Rebecca Solnit has a piece about violence against women, and all of the ways commentators try to find economic factors, external motivations, rather than just saying: this is a man murdering a woman, and it is gender motivated.
If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.
Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides -- at the rate of about 12 a week -- because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants -- and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.
When this gets to be too much, you should just pop on over to this. Every time you think, goddamn women bitching about women what is the point of any of this, you can just be "GOAT!" and all of that tension disappears. Luckily, that photo works for repeated viewings, because the piece is long.
Here's the thing. I understand Rachel Shteir's frustration with books about the state of women. I am too! But she seems completely misguided about what the alternative would be. Let's all just admit that the books she references are trash. Naomi Wolf's Vagina (the gift that keeps on giving when you need cheap comic relief in your essay), The End of Men, How to Be a Woman. They are corn syrup-filled, preservative inflated nonsense, and at least the first two have been roundly taken apart by every critic with a little sense in their head that came near the books. They are not paradigm-defining works, they are built for controversy, because that is how you sell a book. And that was the goal: to sell books, not to do anything meaningful.
Because you can't really do paradigm-defining anymore, not like the second wave feminists used to. The answer is not going back to Betty Friedan, god forbid. The answer is not more stridency, it's not more speaking for everyone. The reason writing about women got more memoir-y is, in part, because at some point we realized that the state of things for CEOs of companies is not the same as single mothers working three jobs. And the second wave was taken apart by critics for being racist and homophobic and upper middle class, as it should have been.
"GOAT!" (I needed that.)
So let's have less writing about how super special women are altogether. Let's stop looking at everything through a gendered-lens when perhaps socio-economic or regional would be more appropriate. Even though -- I know, Atlantic -- it sells a lot of magazines. Let's stop thinking of women as this single, easily definable, homogeneous demographic, maybe? No more Betty Friedan. No more talking for "all women." Not until you're ready to notice how diverse and interesting that half of the human species actually is.
January 28, 2013
Apart from this he has a tremendous convex belly divided into segments and a hard rounded back suggestive of wing cases. In beetles these cases conceal flimsy little wings that can be expanded and then may carry the beetle for miles and miles in a blundering flight. Curiously enough, Gregor the beetle never found out that he had wings under the hard covering of his back. (This is a very nice observation on my part to be treasured all your lives. Some Gregors, some Joes and Janes, do not know that they have wings.)
This year we have two anniversaries of things that people take very seriously and have very strong opinions about: Jane Austen's publication of Pride & Prejudice and Sylvia Plath's suicide.
Today is the 200th anniversary of P&P, and in the next year we can expect a dozen scholarly books and several different television shows all "updating" Jane Austen. (As if we need new updates. Once you've achieved perfection, it's time to just walk away.) There are also dozens of opinion pieces of "Oh, I love Jane Austen" and "Oh, I hate Jane Austen" and there are hundreds of angry comments at the bottom of each one, saying furious things and hurling insults, because as we all know, when someone disagrees with your taste on something, they are telling you the way you choose to live your life has no value.
And in February it'll be 50 years since Sylvia Plath killed herself, and we have two new biographies -- to join the huge library-worth of previous but obviously totally inadequate biographies: American Isis and Mad Girl's Love Song. Emma Garman is on it, telling the sad story of why everyone feels like they need to take sides in a marriage they were not a part of.
OK, so who wrote this short story:
For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn
You were going to say Ernest Hemingway, weren't you? Quote Investigator, also known as Killjoy Know It All (I say with love) tells us that is wrong. There is no proof Hemingway wrote that story.
January 25, 2013
Bookslut is looking for an intern. Chicago-based would be nice, but as we are never in one place, we do not necessarily expect you to be either. The job comes with the glamour of a non-stop onslaught of review books, us buying you drinks, and having to mumble to your parents when you tell them where you'll be working. Think of it! Email us your enthusiastic responses.
In a discussion about James Meek's The Heart Broke In, I realized how much I liked his novels' titles. The Heart Broke In. The People's Act of Love. They're so drippingly emotional, none of that evasive, fashionable cynicism. Yes, we're going to talk about matters of the heart and the soul, and squirm all you want it is still going to happen.
When I was trying to figure out why I didn't like Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home, I finally realized it was full of that evasive, fashionable cynicism. A shrug of the shoulders, a roll of the eyes. Dealing with a tricky subject -- asking what your parents did during the Pinochet dictatorship -- while dealing with it as little as possible. And then I interviewed Zambra, about his novel I didn't really like, and we argued about it, and the result is here.
I asked Zambra how autobiographical the book is, and he evaded. “How autobiographical the novel is, well, many things are ‘true,’ or maybe ‘verifiable,’ but they are not ‘true’ anymore once mingled with other things, I guess,” he wrote. “Naturally, the distinction is irrelevant. No character here is developed as ‘unique’ or ‘one of a kind,’ exceptional or heroic, even less the first person.” And he did not like being questioned about the real-life situation–the dictatorship and the international influence on that dictatorship–that provides the backdrop to the story. “It is not an essay nor a feature-report nor a ‘Wikileak,’ but a novel,” he wrote, when I tried to question him about the repetitive mention of American corporations in Ways of Going Home.
A friend and I are both battling seasonal affective disorder at the moment. I'm perhaps responding badly, reading books about how humanity is totally fucked. (I have the depressive's temperament of "don't lie to me!" right now; if someone gave me an optimistic platitude about how things will get better eventually I would bite their nose off.) She is being more sensible, going to pilates, investing in a goLITE. It's the goLITE that I am interested in. Is it just a really expensive placebo? Is it a more effective placebo than my Bach flower essences?
There are a lot of books that will tell you placebos work better than SSRIs. But there are not many books that will tell you why placebos work. If you are interested in Chinese medicine at all, or, more specifically, why so-called "Eastern" medicine attracts people and seems to work for them, even if the only thing that happens when you get acupuncture is you start vibrating madly and then pass out when you try to stand up (not that I am speaking from personal experience or anything), then Ted Kaptchuk's The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine is a good place to start. But even more interesting is his studies on placebos and why they work for depression and how, something that has remained pretty mysterious. His work is encapsulated in this Harvard Magazine article, and I hope he is turning that into a book.
January 24, 2013
I remember well the first time I read Waiting For Godot. I felt, when I finished, that I had read a very great love story, maybe the greatest love story I had yet read. At that time I hadn’t ever been in love, I was a teenager, but I felt all the hilarity and desperation in Vladimir and Estragon’s predicament pointed to something profound between the men — a noisy and inexpressible disastrously inextricable love. Among all the crying and the fighting, all the vaudevillian rearranging of hats, the one thing Vladimir and Estragon cannot stop doing is loving. Even when they stop doing, they are still loving.
It's always good to see a new essay by Stefany Ann Goldberg.
A writer's book advance was seized by the government, because the title of his book is the same as a terrorist organization.
I am in the mood for a good horror movie spree. It is probably the fact that Berlin has not seen sun for three fucking weeks. Just as likely: I've been watching this documentary about street harassment and reading women's accounts of being sexually harassed and catcalled at bars and walking down the streets. And if you complain or yell back, you are told to learn how to take a fucking compliment, or get a sense of humor, obviously you are in no real danger. And yet the paranoia that comes from the male/female dynamic of predator/prey builds.
In over fifty stalker films made between 1974 and 1992, this camera-marked shifting between the paranoid vision of the Final Girl and the predatory vision of the Stalker is significant because it confirms the paranoia.
And I needed my paranoia confirmed. As did women, of course. Violence against women was epidemic in the 1980s. Halberstam says of female paranoia, "It is precisely the fear of being watched, the consciousness that we may be being watched, that saves the woman and allows her to look back" (126-127). Shifting between gazes proves she is justified, and this shifting is crucial to a feminist reading of horror, of Stalker films most of all given the relentless degree to which the I-cam shot — the look that stalks — figures into the story. As a sissy in an intolerant small town in the 1980s, the aggressively straight masculinity patrolling my every move was certainly distinct from that which preyed on young women. And yet I quickly came to read Stalker films as survival lessons. I identified with the Final Girl as a fellow target of male violence, whatever motivates it.
I've written before about why I think it's problematic that so much television and popular literature is about the sexy murdering of women. That doesn't mean I don't like a good slasher film. It is good -- good is the wrong word, maybe; satisfying? -- sometimes to have your paranoia confirmed. A. Loudermilk's essay on the Final Girl movies is worth a look.
(Can we pause here for a minute and say a thank you to David Fincher, who is the only director I can think of this second who doesn't make the rape and murder of women in his movies sexy? The body splayed with legs spread, the runny mascara, the skirt hiked up just so... He doesn't play around with that, and I am grateful.)
One of my favorite horror films, The Descent, can be watched in its entirely on YouTube. (That cannot possibly be legal.)
And Daphne Gottlieb's book of poems about stalker films, Final Girl, is incredible. From "Bikini Killer":
at 4, it's already clear
that mimi's going to grow
up to be one of those ladies
her momma calls a "fame fer tall"
one of those cigarette-swilling heartbreakers
who strides in
and gets things going
like a party
or a murder
You can read a selection of poems from that book here.
January 23, 2013
Nova Scotia police say they have recovered hundreds of allegedly stolen items from a Fall River home that include rare first editions of books, one-of-a-kind documents and art taken from multiple collections.
I think it's remarkable that these sort of things happen in clusters, suddenly everyone's finding something in their attic. Like the William Blake engravings found the other day. Quick: everyone go open dusty boxes you think maybe came from your grandmother after she died. There's probably some handwritten Bronte manuscript hiding in there.
I've been reading Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home. I found it rather dissatisfying, and in my attempts to figure out why exactly I started reading some Heinrich Böll again. Both Böll and Zambra are, in a way, engaged in the same act with their books: questioning the generation that came before them, that spit out such madness. With Böll, it was the rule of the Nazis, with Zambra it was the Pinochet regime in Chile. But I think Böll did a much more interesting job, and he essentially built his entire writing career on this act of examining the present by questioning the past.
It's Billiards at Half-Past Nine that I love so much, and that I was so lucky to be able to write the afterword for. The set up is similar to Zambra's -- a family that tried very hard to simply keep on going with their lives during the war is questioned and challenged by one family member, who sees the evil in a refusal to resist. The novel has a remarkable momentum, and it seems like all of German society, in all the ways it either participated or turned their head, is held accountable through this one family.
Böll's The Paris Review interview is remarkable, too.
I spent the last months of the war here in the western part of Germany before I became a prisoner of the Americans, and I observed that houses where a white flag had been put out were often shot at by the Germans. With the advance of the American army, villages and small towns between the fronts waited for the American army, and raised the white flag; that was prohibited, prohibited on penalty of death. Naturally, with the shifting of the fronts, the occupation of some villages changed; those houses with white flags hanging out were fired on by the German army or at least by certain units. Therefore, the white flag had a personal significance for me; possibly—I no longer know exactly what I had in mind at the time—it was the thought of being killed at the last moment that brought me to end the story that way. It happened to a lot of people. Here in the Rhineland there was a whole wave of executions of deserters, about which very little is known even yet. They were hanged from trees; they were shot to death on the spot. There was a kind of arbitrary jurisdiction. I believe there was a mandate by Hitler that anyone could shoot anyone else whom he considered a deserter from the colors. And I was myself, with my brother, a deserter in the last months of the war and lived in the constant fear: “Will we get away with it? Will we get out of this alive, survive it?” Then, in order to escape this peril—it seemed to me the safest way—I went back to the army. During that fortnight or so in the armed forces before I came into American captivity, I often observed what happened to the white flags. And certainly for me—a deserter from the colors who was frightened for his life—that was significant to me.
And reading this interview, I realized I was perhaps being unfair to Zambra. Böll participated. And as a result, his work is much more directly engaged. I prefer engagement. I prefer intensity and large issues, rather than postmodern "what is truth really" investigations and playing around with the text. (Zambra intersperses the story with autobiographical meanderings, interrupting his story to comment on the way the story is going.) But it probably just boils down to a difference in taste, and expectations in what a story is going to do.
The Oxford American writes about Dave Hickey's retirement announcement.
The marketplace wasn’t threatening art, he argued in The Invisible Dragon (1993), it was “this massive civil service of PhDs and MFAs administering a monolithic system of interlocking patronage (which in its constituents resembles nothing so much as France in the early nineteenth century). During which powerful corporate, governmental, and academic constituencies vied ruthlessly for power and tax-free dollars, each with its own self-perpetuating agenda and none with any vested interest in the subversive potential of visual pleasure.”
January 22, 2013
Jean-Michel Basquiat's tribute to the mad and bad world of William Burroughs – including the unfortunate night in Mexico when he shot and killed his wife in a William Tell game – is to be sold in London after 30 years in the same ownership.
January 21, 2013
This essay, "German Philosophy for Immigrants" is breaking my heart right now. Schopenhauer cannot help you at the immigration office.
“But it is also a necessary truth, following from the very nature of its underlying reality, the Will.” Leave it to a dead white German man to prove that misery is fundamental to the structure of the universe. Besides, the automated lady-voice isn’t nasty. And it’s a nice waiting room. The chairs are spread out enough and there’s a carpet and a flatscreen with the flashing number. It bleats every 20 seconds which is just enough time to read a half-depressing sentence and half-process it and then get wholly anxious about the next number because it might be yours.
I just went through a particularly rough visa application process. My pretty standard renewal turned into a nightmare, with a lot of sleepless nights and occasional crying in the streets. Can I just tell the German bureaucrat that he should let me stay because I have nowhere else to go? German bureaucrats do not care about your emotions. At any rate, all is well again, finally, but I am still skittish after so many horrible weeks. So I love this essay.
“Books used to die by being ignored, but now they can be killed — and perhaps unjustly killed,” said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews.
Okay, just focus on that last bit. "A Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews." Doesn't that sound like the saddest job description in the whole world? Doesn't it make you want to send Trevor Pinch a cake in the mail?
The whole piece where Trevor Pinch is quoted is about how people can use Amazon reviews to gang up on a book, get it scuttled the second it's released, or even remove it from sale. It's depressing. It's the kind of thing, up there with the comments section of the Wall Street Journal, that makes you think this whole humanity experiment is just not really working out and I imagine it's going to turn Pinch into Diogenes the Cynic, in a cave with his little lantern, looking for one person of good moral character.
Luckily, though, for Pinch, that is not all he does with his time. He has written a book about the Moog! The Moog is the sound of my childhood, as my father was obsessed. (To me, Christmas music is "Switched on Santa".) If you do not know the Moog, you are about to spend the next five years on YouTube, you haven't got a chance.
Olwyn Hughes may have been unfairly demonized after the death of Sylvia Plath, but then it was just one of those things, where Sylvia was turned into such a twisted version of herself by her readers and by scholars, and everyone that was around her got twisted, too. But that line is from a new interview with Olwyn, sister to Ted, and she thoroughly talks shit about Sylvia Plath in it.
There's a new biography of Plath coming out, Mad Girl's Love Song. I haven't seen it yet, so I can't tell if it's going to be as biased as the others. So many biographers have come to the life of Sylvia Plath with an agenda, a need to turn her into something. It's interesting how invested everyone is in distorting Sylvia Plath's life, to the point that it's difficult to get a look at who she really was. Certain women needed to turn her into a victim of her husband and her father. Certain fans of Ted Hughes needed to turn her into a monster. Everyone has their secret little motives, although, interestingly enough, looking at how they write about Sylvia Plath gives you a pretty good idea about who they are as people. Like a goddamned Rorschach. (Which seems like a mean little fate. Luckily her work still does what it needs to, and you can excise it from the Plath storyline. It just takes more and more work.)
January 18, 2013
As an update to my Satanic Panic reading list yesterday, Jessica Love has a scientific explanation for how you can convince people who do not believe in demons that they once saw a person possessed by demons.
But also, this is not a comfortable place to be a poet. This is not a comfortable place to like translated fiction. This is a very, very conservative culture. And our champions were abandoning it. This is when big publishers are becoming more and more about the bottom line and becoming bigger and bigger conglomerates. We felt like we were doing something very important to not only to the political culture, but to the culture.
I'm reading Ann Cvetkovich's Depression: A Public Feeling, and her idea that depression can come from feeling activist fatigue or feeling like your work doesn't matter or feeling out of touch with the larger culture is really resonating right now. That it's possible to resist the idea that depression is a medical disorder that needs medical attention, and look at the larger forces at work. (This is why I loved Eva Illouz's Why Love Hurts so much, as it shows how you're fighting the wrong thing if you're only fighting yourself. My brilliant friend read it and called it "a sociology of sorrow that eases the sorrow," a description of Depression that would fit as well.
At any rate, having Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians in the culture makes me feel much less out of touch with the culture. They are fighting the good fight.
Today's obsessive reading has been about Cadmus, and who knows why that would be. I wanted to quote the passage about Cadmus and Harmony from Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, but no one on the Internet has ever wanted to quote Roberto Calasso's passage about Cadmus and Harmony before, because I couldn't find it online. I would have referenced my own copy of the book, but I left it in Belgrade. I was in that stage of travel where you just really start to hate your suitcase and everything in it, because you have to drag it to and from places and lift it over your head and pull it down from over your head and you just want to stop all of that. This state comes over where you just want to set fire to all of your belongings and walk into the mountains unburdened by possessions, until you remember you have the survival skills of an infant and would be eaten by wolves in like a day. So I left my copy of Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony where I finished it, because I thought it would make a noticeable difference in the weight of my bag. It, of course, did not.
There's a very smart, if a little impenetrable at times, blog delving into Ovid's Metamorphoses, and his sections on Cadmus are interesting. This is a decent overview of Cadmus's story, if you need a refresher. Calasso's section is worth seeking out, as he's much more beautiful about Cadmus's whole sad tale: his sister carried off and raped by a bull, his poor mad daughter, his other poor Bacchante daughters, and then finally he and his wife and turned into snakes.
It's actually Rebecca West who is the smartest about this story -- answering the question, why would Cadmus be turned into a snake after giving the alphabet to humanity? From Black Lamb and Grey Falcon:
Somewhere up in the mountains on this road is the cave in which Cadmus and his wife suffered their metamorphosis. They were so distressed by the misfortunes of their children, who were persecuted by Hera, that they begged the gods to turn them into snakes. Ovid made a lovely verse of it. When Cadmus had suffered the change:
'He licked his wife's face, and crept into her dear familiar breasts, enfolded her and sought the throat he knew so well. All who were there -- for they had friends with them -- shuddered with horror. But she stroked the sleek neck of the crested reptile, and all at once there were two snakes there with intertwining coils, which after a little while glided away into the woods near by. Now, as when they were human, they neither fear men nor would them and are gentle creatures, who still remember what they were.'
It is an apt symbol of the numbness that comes on the brokenhearted. They become wise; they find comfort in old companionship; but they lose the old human anatomy, the sensations no longer follow the paths of the nerves, the muscles no longer offer their multifold reaction to the behests of the brain, there is no longer a stout fortress of bones, there is nothing but a long, sliding, writhing sorrow. But what happened to Cadmus was perhaps partly contrived by the presiding deity of the coast, for he was the arch-enemy of Pan, since he invented letters. He made humankind eat of the tree of knowledge; he made joy and sorrow dangerous because he furnished the means of commemorating them, that is to say of analysing them, of being appalled by them.
Amelia Bedelia is turning 50 and for some reason this has not been turned into a national holiday, what the fuck.
January 17, 2013
Happy Twentieth Anniversary of the Satanic Panic, everybody! Philip Jenkins is pinning the date of the first case of "Satanists are raping our children and drinking the blood of newborns (hey, where did all of those newborns come from anyway?)" madness to 1984 and the McMartin case. And he has a short piece talking about the West Memphis Three and how we're still recovering from all of that, while collectively deciding not to remember anything about it.
I thought maybe what was needed was a Satanic Panic Reading List, because once you start reading about this stuff, it can get a little obsessive. Books on Satanic Panic:
Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory by Lawrence Wright
So much of this revolved around "recovered memories" of Satanic abuse. Apparently you hypnotise someone, inject them with a little truth serum and all of a sudden they are remembering their fathers slaughtering newborns and bunnies in the basement and letting the neighbors have sex with you. How our unconscious is just vomiting this stuff up, I still can't figure out, but that's what everyone was remembering. In this case, Wright investigates a family where a daughter made these accusations, and the father admitted it, despite obviously never doing any such thing. So it goes beyond how these recovered memories are manufactured into why people give false confessions and, in this particular case, really come to believe they did this horrible thing. Beyond fascinating.
(Also, this Frontline documentary on false confessions is worth watching, if you feel like going on a tangent today.)
My Lie: A True Story of False Memory by Meredith Maran
After I started reading about this phenomenon, I started to wonder what happened to all of these families. You would read about cases where, despite the evidence piling in that none of this stuff happened, and fathers were sitting in jail for these horrible crimes, and women were refusing to believe that their memories were false. What happens next? What happens when you realize that the memories were wrong? Maran's book is not perfect, but it is a rare account of what happens after you accuse your father of molesting you.
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan
The recovered memory movement was heavily tied in with the rise of multiple personality disorder. The idea was that the abuse caused the multiple personalities, as a way of protecting the child from the horror of what was going on. And most of those diagnoses can be traced back to the cultural phenomenon that was Sybil, the book and the movie that spawned horrible daytime television talk shows and self-help books for the split. The only problem was, as Debbie Nathan entertainingly tells us here, was that the case was a lie. The recovered abuse was a lie, the multiple personalities were an act, and no one here was acting like a decent human being. But what is truly amazing is how contagious multiple personality disorder became, a little like the recovered memories themselves. It seems that reading about the disorder (something made up!) could bring it on, and Nathan explores how that happens.
(I wrote about the book here, and interviewed Nathan here. I fucking loved this book, obviously.)
Pan and Syrix by Jean-François de Troy
Life After Death by Damien Echols
There are also the Paradise Lost documentaries, but I find I can't watch them all the way through. They remind me so much of my Kansas hometown, that I have to keep pausing the films to go lie down in the back. But Damien Echols was one of the West Memphis Three, three teenagers who were accused of ritually abusing and murdering young school children, despite almost no physical evidence. This is not about the case. If you want that, you can watch the docs or read The Devil's Knot. This is Echol's account of what it is like to sit on death row for a crime you did not commit.
And finally, you can watch Indictment: The McMartin Trial, which is totally trashy fun. I mean, lives were fucking destroyed, but it's an HBO courtroom drama and it has James Woods, and so it's bordering on the ridiculous. But then that whole era was! It's remarkable that any of this ever happened, and that we have collectively decided not to talk about it, like waking up embarrassed and hung over, that moment you start to be able to remember what happened the night before and just decide not to.
January 16, 2013
Amelia Gray writes disturbing little stories. Like this one.
John Crowley is writing about infinity, the burning of heretics, why there is no death, Giordano Bruno, and his dying friends over at Lapham's Quarterly.
A woman wrote a memoir about her super great relationship with a domineering man. Not at all to cash in on that 50 Shades stuff, by the way. After the memoir's release, the woman than goes online to say, actually, the relationship's over, and the guy was an abusive rapist. Then takes the post down. Then does a lot of interviews about the post and taking it down. And is now hard at work at a follow-up memoir, about her new, totally great relationship.
Does anyone else just have full-on despair? Do we need some Margaret Anderson? We need some Margaret Anderson:
Even today, in an age when beauty mustn't be mentioned, I believe that a longing for such celebrations still exists, somewhere. Surely, somehow, somewhere, it can still be evoked for the undernourished of today's dismal world.
I love yesterday, I deplore today, and I am hopeful of tomorrow because it can't be so bad as today.
Not that I deplore today, because today is the day after my visa interview, so today with my newly extended residency permit can't possibly be as bad as yesterday. And we live in an age of books of great beauty. We all just have to work around the fact that the London Review of Books would rather review All the Sad Young Literary Men or whatever. Work around it!
Much has been made of the fact that How Should a Person Be? passes the Bechdel Test (two named female characters must talk to each other about something other than a man, invented by the graphic novelist Alison Bechdel), but its woman-centredness also hints at feminism’s dirty secret: that feminists might be feminists because they are supremely interested in themselves, even if that interest is in the shape of self-doubt.
Umm, what? I do not know why I am reading another review of Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be?, but there you go. I am. (At first I was going to use the fact that it was in the London Review of Books as an excuse, but can we all acknowledge that when it comes to reviewing fiction LRB becomes something of a nightmare? Can we all collectively remember that fawning, absurd review it gave to Keith Gessen's All the Sad Young Literary Men? Yes, that is the level it is on when it reviews fiction.)
Anyway, I can't imagine what Joanna Biggs is getting at with this statement, that maybe women are feminists because we are just so into being women. There is a strand of narcissism in feminism, sure, just look at Naomi Wolf's Vagina. (Sorry.) But it's a jagged statement in a review that just endlessly reprints sections from Heti's novel without managing to form an opinion on it at any point. I don't know why it irks me, except I read too many reviews of season two of Girls this week, and I still can't figure out, despite all the millions of words printed about that show, why it is supposed to be good or why anyone likes it. All of these opinion pieces without any actual opinion in them.
January 15, 2013
Regular posting will resume tomorrow. There were encounters with German bureaucracy this week, that kind of ate everything else alive.
January 14, 2013
Evan S. Connell, the Kansas City native who did more than any writer to shape the city’s literary image, died Wednesday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 88.
January 11, 2013
Theodore Zeldin has been (or was, I am coming in late to this, so it is maybe over) hosting conversations around the world, to see what happens when one stranger talks to another stranger. It sounds like just being on the bus, doesn't it? He explains it better than I can.
Zeldin's aim is to get people to really understand one another by encouraging them to talk one-on-one for at least two hours about their priorities and the way they believe life should be conducted. "I'm constantly astounded by the way people talk so openly to someone they don't know. They clarify in their own minds what is important to them, discover another person has similar problems, and create trust and even a friendship," he says.
People do find it easier to confide in strangers, he admits. "But the aim is to stop us being strangers. To my mind, the great adventure of this century is to discover who inhabits the world. That means doing what has never been done before, which is taking everybody seriously."
At any rate, Zeldin is the author of An Intimate History of Humanity, a book that should be better know.
For some reason I have had this bookmarked since it came out, and I never really got around to reading it until today. It's an appreciation of Julio Cortázar based around the new (not anymore!) English translation of From the Observatory. (Let's all take a moment and give thanks to the universe for this picture of Julio with a cigarette, yes?)
At any rate, The Diary of Andres Fava is one of my favorites, although Hopscotch is perhaps his masterpiece. ("My love, I do not love you for you or for me or for the two of us together, I do not love you because my blood tells me to love you, I love you because you are not mine because you are from the other side, from there where you invite me to jump and I cannot make the jump because in the deepest moment of possession you are not in me -- how you like to use the verb to love, with what vulgarity, you toss it around among plates and sheets and buses -- I'm tormented by your love because I cannot use it as a bridge because a bridge can't be supported by just one side, Write or Le Corbusier will never make a bridge that is supported by just one side, and don't look at me with those bird's eyes, for you the operation of love is so simple, you'll be cursed before me even if you love me as I do not love you.") (Things could be said for The Winners, too. And when I got the chance to talk to Elias Khoury last year, he lit up when he got to talk about his old friend Cortázar.
He was very generous to me when I came. I was the young writer, and he was the great writer. And he was very generous. He let me come to his apartment, and in his apartment there were these records, almost all jazz music. We talked about music, and I understood for the first time how much a part music was a part of his prose, and how closely literature is related to the musicality of the words and the musicality of the situation. Cortázar continues to be a great influence.
The other peoples of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive?
Wade Davis reviews Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies at the Guardian. (Wade Davis, he the good man of a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0684839296/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=artandlies-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0684839296">The Serpent and the Rainbow.) He neatly sums up the anthropologists' horror at Jared Diamond's other books, and it seems that this new one is not much better. (Here is a good round-up of criticisms of Diamond's working theories.) It's a wonderful piece of writing, explaining the beginnings of ethnography, our changing views of societies different from us, and why it matters that we can't see the value in a different way of being.
January 09, 2013
Oh, and I don't know if you heard, but Barnes & Noble is fucked and closing down stores, and if they go, we are all kind of fucked.
I just noticed someone got around to translating this thing: Christopher Tolkien gave an interview to Le Monde about how he despairs for his father's legacy.
But none of this bothered the family until Peter Jackson's films. It was the release of the first film of the trilogy, in 2001, that changed the nature of things.
He's not going to go on a press tour with Peter Jackson to thank him for bringing his father's books to life, let's just say.
Are you upset about imperialism? I am! Actually, I was just watching Skyfall finally because I was in France when it came out, and I had no desire to see a James Bond film dubbed into French. James Bond does not work as a Frenchman, I am sorry, apologies to Frenchmen everywhere.
Anyway: I spend too much time thinking about stupid movies that are not sturdy enough to stand up to the process, but whatever. I was all excited at first, because isn't this supposed to be a darker, grittier James Bond? Like, based in reality? And then there's the whole thing about dark secrets in M.'s past, from her time in Hong Kong, and then the big reveal (spoiler?) is that she was once mean to this one guy. Probably she had darker secrets than that -- Britain certainly had shenanigans in Asia. And then her replacement (spoiler?) was referred to as having spent some time in Northern Ireland, and I kept waiting for the dirty secrets or the dot dot dot "where he committed atrocities" to be said.
I was reading J.G. Farrell's The Singapore Grip at the time, which was not helping matters. It's one of his trilogy of books dealing with Britain's colonial history, The Troubles, his book about Ireland, and The Siege of Krishnapur, his book about India. In Singapore, a young man who believes in peace and international collaboration inherits his father's rubber company in Singapore, just before the Japanese start to invade. And Matthew spends the entire book freaking out, trying to figure out how to reconcile his ideals and his new role in business. Mostly by talking to everyone around him how insane Britain's involvement in Asia has been. He can't even keep his mouth shut at dinner parties with other Brits:
Matthew was now saying, "Far from doing anything to help our colonies foster their own native industries the Colonial office sees to it that any which begin to develop are promptly scorched!"
"Why should they do that?" scoffed Nigel Langfield, under the approving eye of his elders. "I say, Mr. Blackett, what do you think, sir? Isn't that just the nonsense that the Nationalists are always spouting?"
"Why?" demanded Matthew heatedly. "Because we want to sell our own goods. We don't want competition from the natives: We want to keep them on the estates producing the raw materials we need."
"Absolute poppycock, old boy," chuckled Nigel. "Westminster has done a jolly great deal with grants to build up industry in the colonies."
"Grants, certainly... but what for? So that they could buy British capital equipment for bridges and railways. The only purpose of these grants was to deal with unemployment in Britain. Funds were produced so that the unfortunate colonies could buy equipment which they could ill afford and which was of dubious advantage to them, though it probably was to the advantage of the European businesses established in the colonies!"
So. JG Farrell's colonial trilogy is a good antidote to the intellectual despair of Skyfall. I don't know what to do about that whole last act, though. The luring a person into a trap but forgetting to bring guns bit. Nothing makes that any better.
It sometimes seems in this kind of northern European, northern American, post-Catholic world, you are either religious, in which case you are probably smug about having a moral code that has been given to you by God, by the Bible, or even the Koran, or you’re smug about not believing in that. But there’s a gap there, because if you are one of these nonbelievers, or almost-nonbelievers — agnostics, I suppose — then are you really just going to define yourself as somebody who doesn’t believe?
That’s not enough. I don’t believe myself, but I believe that the believers have a very good point when they say to the nonbelievers: Okay, you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe that Moses went up Mt. Sinai and broke the 10 Commandments, so what do you believe? Or where are you getting your sense of right and wrong from? And it’s never seemed more evident in my country, and I think it’s very much true in America, as well, that it’s as if everything else has fallen away and the real moral constraint now is the 11th commandment, as it’s jokingly called, which is “Don’t get found out.”
James Meek's The Heart Broke In: sneakily becoming my favorite book of 2012, in that I can't stop thinking about it. Because also: when was there last a really good novel about scientists? That really got into the science in a way that wasn't overly simplified nor overly technical? How the fuck did you do that, James Meek? I forgot to ask that when I interviewed him.
Anyway, he's interviewed at the Los Angeles Review of Books. They also forget to ask him.
I liked Blake Butler's essay on the tricky afterlife of David Foster Wallace. He's coming at it as a fan of Wallace's work, as someone who wants to remember him well, and is drowning in all of this ephemera. The unfinished novel "finished" by the editor, the college work, the inspirational speech turned into gift book, and then a quickie biography.
I had been fairly devastated by Kathy Acker's death, and I wonder how it would have been had she suddenly become beatified. Would I have stopped recognizing her in other people's depictions? Would her books be ruined by ecstatic chatter?
January 08, 2013
(C'mon, you guys, I have to get my genitalia and Nazi references quota up or Jessa takes my posting privileges away).
It's the second annual Hatchet Job of the Year award, aka the merriest time of the season. Presented to the writer of "the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months", it gives us a chance to bask again in the warming glow of top-notch takedowns. The website has links to all of the nominated entries, so we can enjoy Ron Charles first degree burn of Martin Amis all over again:
Don’t low-bred people say the darndest things!? I haven’t laughed so hard since my butler got his head stuck in a bucket.
Maybe I am not as tired of reading about Scientology as I thought. Damn it. Journalist Joel Sappell wrote a series of articles about the religion's sins in the 1980s, and then his dog mysteriously died and all sorts of other things started to happen. He looks back on the experience for the Los Angeles Magazine.
Okay, I was trying to bake a pie while blogging, and that did not go very well. We will see if my laptop recovers. But carrying on:
The Rosin line sounds suspiciously like an intellectual coping mechanism for the recession-battered male masses. There are too few jobs. You don’t have a job. Who took your job? Women.
I start reading every Elizabeth Wurtzel essay with optimism, like maybe finally she put her talent to writing about something than herself, and by the end of paragraph three that optimism has fled. So maybe you know Wurtzel has written an essay for New York Magazine? Probably you know, because for whatever reason, Wurtzel provokes a deep need in people to talk about how much they hate Wurtzel. So the comments are hundreds deep, Twitter is ablaze, and here I am, writing this blog post.
And actually, she reminds me of Mary MacLane. She was a 19-year-old girl who wrote a memoir called I Await the Devil's Coming in 1901 and it was an instant success. I wrote the introduction to the upcoming reissue, and there I talk about what a deeply interesting book it was. Not only "for its time," but also it's just kind of visceral and nasty and snarling, yet elegantly written.
I kept thinking about MacLane, after the introduction got handed in and things went off to press. But this time, it wasn't her writing that interested me, it was the way she never wrote anything very interesting ever again. She got stunted, somehow, winning all of that acclaim for being a young, sour thing. And I wondered if it was the fame that stunted her, because she spent the rest of her career spitting out copies of the memoir that made her famous. And it worked, until it didn't. And those newspaper columns and the other memoir she wrote were not good. (Thanks to the amazing work at the Modernist Journals Project, you can read a review of MacLane's follow-up memoir, written by Jane Heap.) So something I wrote about MacLane for the upcoming issue of The Chicagoan I think can be applied to Wurtzel.
Respect was not to be her fate, it was fame. And fame, like everything else, comes hand-and-hand with its detriment. The hot, blinding light lit up MacLane as she wished it would. But it also fixed her there, right in that spot.
It is possible to find fame at the wrong time. The gods get distracted and send their gifts too late or too soon. If fame comes when we still need it too much, that shining light of acceptance every artist dreams of and chases after, then fame can destroy us. If we still believe it is the answer to all of our needs, the proof that we are worthy creatures after all, it can burn us into position. Stunt us. Quickly turn us into plant matter. If we believe the light will give us all the sustenance we need, we shoot out roots into whatever shallow soil we may find ourselves in the moment we first feel its warmth, bending our bodies towards that radiant light. And bending ever further as it starts to find other targets.
I keep hoping Wurtzel finds it in her to uproot herself, but I guess it has not happened yet.
January 07, 2013
My friend Elizabeth Merrick is going on a tirade at Twitter over the New York Times Magazine profile of George Saunders. No one is questioning Saunders's talent. Or his importance. And I hear the new book is fantastic. But when Saunders and the article's author Joel Lovell assess the state of American literature, there are no women in the conversation. No women novelists, no women poets, no women short story writers. And the New York Times's insistence that there are no women writers of importance writing today, this profile being only the latest example, is soul-killing.
So we put up a new issue today. And you should read it, it has good stuff in it. But I'm going to digress for now from the usual explanation of what we spent all of our time on this month.
I chose a Leonor Fini painting to go with Elizabeth C. Bachner's essay this month, as her essay is all about the choices we don't make, or think that we cannot make. The life unlived. I've been learning the history of tarot cards lately, one of those tangents that comes -- I had been reading about Maud Gonne, which made me read about the Golden Dawn, which led me to Salvador Dali's amazingly beautiful deck of tarot cards, which made me want to learn the history of the images. And to me, the Fini painting is the essence of the 7 of cups, the allure of the bounty of choices, even if her painting only has six cups in it.
Then today came Merrick's criticism, and Fini fit again. Her comments about why she left the Surrealist circle -- including Dali, of course -- immediately sprang to mind. From Sphinx: The Life and Art of Leonor Fini, a book I pull from the shelf again and again:
Although she had shown Andre Breton a folder of her drawings, it seems that the very enthusiastic welcome she received from the group owed more to her extraordinary beauty and her habit of wearing pink silk cardinal's stockings under a minimum of outer garments than to any real admiration for her work, a situation similar to her effect on the painters of Milan. Like Meret Oppenheim and the child poet Gisele Prassinos, she was the perfect incarnation of the femme-enfant, or woman-child, the subordinate role to which the surrealists restricted their female associates in the 1930s, preferring to see them as muses rather than as artists. This was a role she steadfastly refused.
It is certainly true that Leonor was offered, and accepted, invitations to exhibit with the surrealists, which is not surprising, as the movement was becoming less homogeneous by the mid-1930s and was welcoming under its banner artists whose work would have been less acceptable according to the strict tenets of surrealism in the 1920s. But it is also true that she expressed strong reservations about being associated with them, as she discussed with the author: "It was very encouraging for me to meet other artists, and they seemed impressed that I was intelligent, well read, and talented. But I disliked the deference with which everyone treated Breton. I hated his anti-homosexual attitudes and also his misogyny. It seemed that the women were expected to keep quiet in cafe discussions, yet I felt that I was just as good as the men. Breton seemed to me to expect devotion, like a pope, and wanted me to become a mouton dans sa troupe [sheep in his gang]. I enjoyed all the attention I received, but I refused to join the group. I never saw the point of being part of one group, and I disliked Breton's habit of holding tribunals, excommunicating wayward surrealists like Dali and Giacometti, publishing lists of books one shouldn't read. I have never been very interested in ideologies, and I refused the label surrealist. I preferred to walk alone."
Here (I am drinking wine, I am sort of raising it in the air) is to not belonging to any one group, and for abandoning leaders who try to establish hierarchies. This calls for a "go fuck yourself" Fini painting.
A girl named after a character in a Halldor Laxness novel has been told by the Icelandic government that her name is invalid, as it does not appear on the approved list of names for female children. (via)
I promise not to link exclusively to Der Spiegel today, but oh Der Spiegel, I love you sometimes. I read several interviews with Hanna Rosin when The End of Men came out, and they all seemed pretty okay with the thesis. The thesis is nonsense, or at least it is when you take a look outside her incredibly narrow sample of examples, but people interviewed her like this was a totally rational, well thought out book. The interview at Der Spiegel does not go the same way.
SPIEGEL: Germany, on the other hand, is seen as a progressive country, but here too, women still have to fight for equal wages and career advancement opportunities. In a country that's still arguing over quotas for women in management positions and government benefits for stay-at-home mothers, positing the "end of men" seems fairly removed from the real world.
I mean, it's cute that you think Rosin might admit for a second that her book is problematic as fuck, but she doesn't.
(A friend relayed the complaints of an author who came to Germany on a book tour and at an event found his book challenged and questioned thoroughly by the event's moderator/interviewer. He thought that was so rude. I thought, at least the moderator actually read and engaged with the work.)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center named a German journalist on their list of the world's worst anti-Semites for... wait for it... criticizing Israel. He's on the list with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, and for good measure the Center decided to call Jakob Augstein a Nazi. Der Spiegel, who publishes Augstein's column, tried to get the Center to participate in a debate over whether criticism of Israel qualifies as anti-Semitism, but the Center refused to participate unless Augstein issued an apology for being an anti-Semite first.
January 04, 2013
Alain de Botton: The Ivy League white man Oprah Winfrey! Yes. Thank you, New Republic. And given Alain de Botton's totally Oprah-esque sense of calm and restraint, particularly after being given a critical review, this is, I'm sure, the last we will hear about this.
The Green Library at Stanford University houses William Saroyan's mustache clippings. Timothy Leary's Nintendo Power Glove has been acquired by the New York Public Library. At the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, Norman Mailer's bar mitzvah speech is preserved in perpetuity.
Dave Hickey is still saying he's quitting art criticism, even though he keeps saying it in a variety of publications. His collection of essays The Invisible Dragon was recently re-released by the University of Chicago, and probably there has been an uptick in sales after his retirement announcement. I am not being cynical about it. I wish Hickey all the success in the world. But he's one of my favorite art critics, so of course I wish all this adulation would bring him back into service. (Although apparently he is finishing up another manuscript at the moment, a book on female artists called Hot Stuff.)
In the Chronicle, Laurie Fendrich writes about Hickey's career, particularly his insistence, in an academic world that champions theory and identity politics and an art market that champions celebrity, that beauty regain its role as the purpose of art.
Perhaps this neglect results from Hickey's coming off to most brokers of big ideas—that is, academics—as not merely an iconoclast but a vulgarian. Scholars find it difficult to accept that he chose to make Las Vegas his home for most of his adult life. They are put off by the fact that he calms himself by gambling and chain-smoking. They are contemptuous of his spending a lot of his early years consumed by rock 'n' roll, hanging out with the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Nick Tosches, and Lester Bangs, and writing articles about (to use Hickey's words) "subjects with the shelf life of milk."
Academics don't understand how a serious intellectual could have spent so many years not doing academic work, instead snorting cocaine and jamming with the Nashville-based singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. (They were "romantically involved," Hickey says, and wrote songs together in the 70s; he also was her tour manager and, when needed, played rhythm guitar.) And academics certainly don't like it that a man who spent so much time on different college faculties would have the gall to bash his academic colleagues and higher education in general.
The Nobel has released some records regarding its controversial choice of John Steinbeck for the 1962 literature award. Steinbeck was chosen above Robert Graves (madman) and Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen.
One could spend all day looking at images of Blixen/Dinesen. Here she is chatting with Stravinsky in the most amazing hat. (I am going to assume that much younger man is her lover.) Here is whatever this is, also with a very good hat. Here she is wearing what looks like a crown of laurel leaves, perhaps the day she decided the Nobel committee could fuck off, she would celebrate herself. And then of course there are the wonderful pictures of her with Marilyn Monroe. She was at that point anorexia-ing herself to death with a diet of white grapes, oysters and champagne only. The diet would later kill her, and had her death come only a little later, she would have remained in the running for that Nobel.
Seven Gothic Tales, her literary debut in the States, deserves more attention than it generally gets. But then once you hit it with something like Out of Africa, your other work tends to be considered "minor" in comparison. (Winter's Tales might also be good to read right about now, with the weather doing what it is doing. And I just noticed that the Danes offer a free ebook, in English, of Dinesen's talk about her childhood home and the role nature has played in her life and writing.) She was a strange old bird -- marrying an aristocrat at 19 who would infect her with syphilis, being wooed by another aristocrat, arguing against marriage and for eugenics, having adventures while wearing magnificent hats, and writing deeply creepy stories while wasting away. Much more worthy of our attention than boring old Steinbeck any day. (Now Graves, that is another matter entirely...)
January 03, 2013
The other night at dinner, a woman who seemed entirely mentally intact started in on a theory about Aleister Crowley, a portal to another dimension that he opened, the sudden appearance of UFOs around that time, and the mysterious deaths of L. Ron Hubbard and his wife. I need to get her email address and invite her over to my dinners, I thought. But it's strange how just saying the word "Scientology" brings out these weird things, like hypnotic trances.
I think the conversation came about because of Lawrence Wright. His new book about Scientology Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief seemed like a deviation for his writing career, as he had previously written The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. But I was the only one at the table that had read his totally bizarro book about recovered memories of ritual sexual abuse, Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory. (If you are at all interested in just how insane America got about fear of Satanists in the '80s and '90s, you have to read this book.)
I don't know if I can read Wright's book, because I don't know how much more I can read about child labor abuses and locking up people who spoke against the Church and that weird shunning thing they do. I read every single Vanity Fair article on the subject for a while, and I burned myself out. But I am planning on reading a lot about the book, it's like reading by osmosis. And on that note: The New York Times profiles Wright and discusses his new book about Scientology. Which talks about child labor abuses and locking up people who spoke against the Church and that weird shunning thing they do.
James Meek continues to be the best thing about the London Review of Books. Maybe the best thing about a lot of things? I pressed his novel The Heart Broke In on a friend the other day. And he was one of my favorite interview subjects for Kirkus. Anyway, his LRB archives are worth trolling through, and this week he writes about Breaking Bad.
It is tempting to stop here and dismiss Shapiro, the author of nine(!) "first-person books" including three(!) memoirs, as a run-of-the-mill narcissist whose unfortunate students are being molded in her own misguided image. (Quoth the professor, "You have to grab the reader by the throat immediately, which is why I launched my second memoir with the line 'In December my husband stopped screwing me.'") But let us more generously interpret Shapiro's attitude as not a cause, but a symptom—her own honest reading of the state of the professional writing market today. In a way, she is not wrong, although she is also part of the problem.
There is much more to delight in with Gawker's "Journalism is Not Narcissism" posting.
The first round of the Costa Awards have been announced, and cor blimey guv, one of them is a 'comic-style graphic memoir' (as The Times delicately puts it, possibly before reaching for the smelling salts). Mary and Bryan Talbot's Dotter of Her Father's Eyes won the biography prize, while the rest of the winners were all women - ladies! fancy! - although the Telegraph reassures us that although 'it feels like a watershed moment sure to get people talking' we can chill, because 'the winners in each category are hardly controversial'
I should also mention that three of the five Costa winners have male protagonists – evidence, if we needed it, that the authors are pursuing the stories that interest them and do not feel in the slightest inhibited their gender. Neither should their readers.
Thank god for that. I know I was worried that 2013 would be the year in which men were wiped from the face of literature altogether.
Best Poetry Prize - The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie
Best First Novel - The Innocents by Francesca Segal
Best Children's Book - Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Best Novel - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
January 02, 2013
Christian Wiman announced today that he will leave Poetry on June 30, 2013, after a decade as the editor of the magazine, to join the faculty of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School. Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world.
I interviewed Wiman a few years back about his role at Poetry and his own writing. You can read that interview here.
However, according to the DSM criteria, it appears if you are too intensely creative, you might very well be suffering from Hypomanic Episodes.
I got a number of emails after my "Talking to the Dead: Channeling William James in Berlin" essay was published at the Awl, asking for a recommended reading list for a James beginner. (HA. I knew I would get you fuckers to read him eventually. I just had to wear your will down to a tiny nub.) So here is my list:
Pragmatism and Other Writings
This collection has two of my favorite essays, "Is Life Worth Living?" and "What Makes a Life Significant."
The Varieties of Religious Experience
It sounds heavier and more god-y than it actually is. It can be read more about faith versus despair, or as a really interesting survey of why people have spiritual needs.
A Stroll with William James by Jacques Barzun
It's a really nice appreciation of the man and a primer on his philosophical and psychological work, so you can see if you're interested in delving into that part of his work. So many biographies of James are bad -- Becoming William James is hopelessly Freudian. But Barzun focuses on James the thinker and doer.
There is also this very charming collection of letters by William James.
I liked this book way more than this critic did, but Radical Philosophy's review of Tiqqun's Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl is still worth a read.
The translator of the text, poet Ariana Reines, has written of the visceral reaction the task engendered. The translation, she writes in the online magazine Triple Canopy, ‘gave me migraines, made me puke; I couldn’t sleep at night, regressed into totally out-of-character sexual behaviour’. It is indeed a book that disturbs in its relentless depiction of the fully weaponized, consumerist body of a world in which ‘[although everyone senses that their existence has become a battleground upon which neuroses, phobias, somatizations, depression, and anxiety each sound a retreat, nobody has yet really grasped what is happening or what is at stake.’ The language of colonization, immunization, meat and fluids seeps through the abstract framework of image-analysis, economic structure and ruminations on modernity: ‘the Young-Girl doesn’t kiss you, she drools over you through her teeth. Materialism of secretion.’ If parts of the text read like a theoretically inflected revenge manual for male nerds, one assumes that this effect is – on one level – intentional.
Since this is the time to make proclamations, I would like to add mine: The finest book I received in 2012 was the Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. It is a thing of serious beauty, and I have been sleeping with at least a couple volumes in my bed. Some of it is just haunting. These "weepers" from Philip the Bold's tomb are particularly so, and I demand these circle my tomb as well. (Way better than all of those flowy, nymphy ladies in the Recoleta cemetery, stone women figures throwing themselves over whichever dead man's gravestone. Yeah, whatever, guy.)
I got to speak with editor Colum Hourihane about the project over at Kirkus, and we discuss why the Medieval age is so misunderstood.
Since time immemorial we have felt a need to categorize and catalogue and unfortunately the Medieval period comes between the Classical and the Renaissance–as such it could never compare in popular appeal to those and had to be unfortunately characterized as dark and unknown. Just look at what was achieved in the Medieval period. It is not simply a precursor to the succeeding periods but represents one of the highpoints in civilization.