December 31, 2014
Mr. Farebrother was aware that Lydgate was a proud man, but having very little corresponding fibre in himself, and perhaps too little care about personal dignity, except the dignity of not being mean or foolish, he could hardly allow enough for the way in which Lydgate shrank, as from a burn, from the utterance of any word about his private affairs. And soon after that conversation at Mr. Toller's, the vicar learned something which made him watch the more eagerly for an opportunity of indirectly letting Lydgate know that if he wanted to open himself about any difficulty there was a friendly ear ready.
The opportunity came at Mr. Vincy's, where, on New Year's Day, there was a party, to which Mr. Farebrother was irresistibly invited, on the plea that he must not forsake his old friends on the first new year of his being a greater man, and rector as well as vicar. And this party was thoroughly friendly: all the ladies of the Farebrother family were present; the Vincy children all dined at the table, and Fred had persuaded his mother that if she did not invite Mary Garth, the Farebrothers would regard it as a slight to themselve, Mary being their particular friend. Mary came, and Fred was in high spirits, though his enjoyment was of a checkered kind—triumph that his mother should see Mary's importance with the chief personages in the party being much streaked with jealousy when Mr. Farebrother sat down by her. Fred used to be much more easy about his own accomplishments in the days when he had not begun to dread being "bowled out by Farebrother," and this terror was still before him. VMrs. Vincy, in her fullest matronly bloom, looked at Mary's little figure, rough wavy hair, and visage quite without lilies and rose, and wondered; trying unsuccessfully to fancy herself caring about Mary's appearance in wedding clothes, or feeling complacency in grandchildren who would "feature" the Garths. However, the party was a merry one, and Mary was particularly bright; being glad, for Fred's sake, that his friends were getting kinder to her, and being also quite willing that they should see how much she was valued by others whom they must admit to be judges.
Mr. Farebrother noticed that Lydgate seemed bored, and that Mr. Vincy spoke as little as possible to his son-in-law. Rosamond was perfectly graceful and calm, and only a subtle observation such as the vicar had not been roused to bestow on her would have perceived the total absence of that interest in her husband's presence which a loving wife is sure to betray, even if etiquette keeps her aloof from him. When Lydgate was taking part in the conversation, she never looked toward him any more than if she had been a sculptured Psyche modeled to look another way: and when, after being called out for an hour or two, he re-entered the room, she seemed unconscious of the fact, which eighteen months before would have had the effect of a numeral before ciphers. In reality, however, she was intensely aware of Lydgate's voice and movements; and her pretty good-tempered air of unconsciousness was a studied negation by which she satisfied her inward opposition to him without compromise of propriety.
--The Middlemarch gang wishes you a New Year in which you never have to compromise your propriety in efforts to satisfy your inward oppositions.
December 30, 2014
Image: "L'Indifferent" (1717) by Jean-Antoine Watteau.
I have been struggling to envision my end-of-year CONTENT STRATEGY because of the pressure to holiday theme; I am (I think, though it's hard to tell because SUBJECTIVITY IS A BOBBING RAFT ON THE RIVER OF TIME) even more anxious than usual about WHAT TO BLOG ABOUT because I feel whatever I blog about must be related somehow to the season, which is thank-God-ending on the day after tomorrow so that we may all get back to hating normal things about our lives instead of hating abnormal ones. There are two ways one can go with the New Year's content, forwards or backwards, and neither is appealing, the light up ahead shining a little painfully brightly, the darkness behind being such because my life notes are sporadic and indecipherable and interspersed with elaborate code words for passwords to websites I can't remember, at best. A friend asked me if I "did" resolutions or "believed" in them, and I said I neither disbelieved in them nor did them because the New Year is arbitrary and besides I lived my life always resolving to "be great," "make enough money," "not embarrass myself in front of professional contacts," "never, if I achieve any of these things, espouse that insecure self-satisfaction that leads people to detail their weekly bulk preparation of semi-liquid foodstuffs to promote health and cost consciousness, 'First, I get a can of chickpeas, and then I drain them but keep the juice in a separate—'" etc. This is a strategy that allows me to disappoint myself more than if I actually said I was going to, I don't know, read 1.5-2 books a week or write not-blog stuff for at least one hour per day (obviously) or reply to emails at time of receipt instead of 18 days later. (The implication being that these are all things I would like to do and would resolve to do if I were more convinced of my cold, candy-eating winter self's ability to do anything but complain and eat candy.) (Emily Gould's here is also something I've thought about.) Anyway, the point is I don't want to go either way, backwards or forwards, thinking-wise, but I also don't want to stay here. Luckily, SUBJECTIVITY IS A BOBBING RAFT ON THE RIVER OF TIME, and we are very close to January, whose theme I designated last year as FEMALE SEXUAL AWAKENING MONTH, and the content for that can go in just so many more DIRECTIONS.
Anyway, in sum: YOU HAVE A BIT MORE THAN 24 HOURS TO SUBMIT TO THE SPOLIA NEMESIS ISSUE. And Jessa is actually talking about books over at the Spolia blog, too.
December 29, 2014
I've made a variation of this joke before, but 'tis the season for revisiting: if I make t-shirts that read KEEP IT IN YOUR JOURNAL, PAL, would anyone buy them?
December 23, 2014
Smart Peter has sent me a tangential email about yesterday's already tangential post about paying writers. I agree with him; this is not really what I was talking about, so I agree even more:
yes, all of these debates are tiring. because we never get anywhere. still: the point is not that anyone deserves to get paid for what they enjoy doing, but that society relies on a bunch of people pursuing things that aren't the profit motive and exploits them. and that is wrong and destructive. because it feeds into the myth that capitalism is, like, A–OK because it's generating all of this wonderful stuff and people can make meaningful lives in it. no! no! no! no! people are making more money than ever on writing. facebook and google and twitter are all essentially publishers. the value is only very marginally in the platform–it's in the content. but the people who own the platform get rich while the people who own the content do not. like, increasingly, i don't give a shit if literature as we know it continues to exist. it's rotten to the core, anyway. but that fuckwad venture capitalists not get to think that they're "job creators" because they are taking ways people create meaning in life and using them to get obscenely wealthy? that i care about.
December 22, 2014
I am sitting on a Bolt Bus to Washington DC thinking about the situation of our delicate publishing industry and eating "nature's perfect snack," i.e., beet chips. People keep talking to me about the travesty of the non-payment of writers, assuming, I assume, that I will climb to the top of my platform and lament louder than but nevertheless still ultimately with them, and let's be real: I wouldn't be on this Bolt Bus to Washington DC, from which point I will embark on a subsequent six-hour car journey, if I and my family weren't totally unable to shell out $400+ for me to fly to West Virginia to see them. The Bolt Bus isn't so bad, no, but planes are so much better, even the Bolt Bus-esque ones that rattle into Charleston's Yeager Airport; also, I just broke my nice headphones by standing up to stretch and yanking the cord connecting them to my lifeblood/computer, such that the whatever-is-the-word-for-the-opposite-of-the-headphone-jack bent sharply, cutting off all future sound to my right or left ear, depending. Nevertheless, despite being in this want of money, I'm very tired of talking about how writers deserve to be paid, especially because I feel that much of this discussion is off, somehow, self-righteous and weird. Not only does it make me/writers out to be victims when we have made conscious choices—usually fraught choices, but conscious ones—to be poor. But also: what is "deserving"? Do people "deserve" to be able to do what they love and make money for, usually, being not that great at it? It doesn't help that many of the complainers seem to me particularly undeserving, if that concept is valid at all. They also don't seem to realize that sometimes you have to copyedit some bullshit, or that you don't have to just take any opportunity to publish something for the sake of publishing something, especially if you're only getting paid $50 for it, from an outlet that is done many favors by the frequent conflation of "popular" and "good."
Anyway, here is something either tangentially or not even at all related: last night I got my Shklovsky back, and in it is a beautiful passage that may or may not have some parallels to certain aspects of the "content" situation, as well as very effectively convey the way I have stopped caring about a lot of things because the forces of annoyance within them are absurd or petty:
When I was not yet thirty and did not yet know loneliness and did not know that the Spree is narrower than the Neva and did not sit in the Pension Marzahn, whose landlady did not permit me to sing at night while I worked, and did not tremble at the sound of a telephone—when life had not yet slammed the door to Russia shut on my fingers, when I thought that I could break history on my knee, when I loved to run after streetcars . . .
"When a poem was best of all
Better even than a well-aimed ball"—
(something like that)
. . . I disliked Grzhebin immensely. [...] I thought Grzhebin cruel for having gulped down so much Russian literature.
Now, when I know that the Spree is thirty times narrower than the Neva, when I too am thirty, when I wait for the telephone to ring—though I've been told not to expect a call—when life has slammed the door on my fingers and history is too busy to even write letters, when I ride on streetcars without wanting to capsize them, when my feet lack the unseeing boots they once wore and I no longer know how to launch an offensive . . .
. . . now I know that Grzhebin is a valuable product. [...]
But, Alya, don't you know who Grzhebin is? Grzhebin's a publisher; he published the almanac Sweetbriar, he published Pantheon and now he seems to have the most important publishing house in Berlin.
In Russia, between 1918 and 1920, Grzhebin was buying manuscripts hysterically. It was a disease—like nymphomania.
He was not publishing books then. And I frequently called on him in my unseeing boots and I shouted in a voice thirty times louder than any other voice in Berlin. And in the evening I drank tea at his place. [...]
I hereby give the following testimony: Grzhebin is no businessman.
Grzhebin is a Soviet-type bourgeois, complete with delirium and frenzy.
Now he publishes, publishes, publishes! The books come running, one after another; they want to run away to Russia, but are denied entry.
They all bear the trademark: Zinovy Grzhebin.
Two hundred, three hundred, four hundred–soon there may be a thousand titles. The books pile on top of each other; pyramids are created and torrents, but they flow into Russia drop by drop.
Yet here in the middle of nowhere, in Berlin, this Soviet bourgeois raves on an international scale and continues to publish new books.
Books as such. Books for their own sake. Books to assert the name of his publishing house.
This is a passion for property, a passion for collecting around his name the greatest possible quantity of things. This incredible Soviet bourgeois responds to Soviet ration cards and numbers by throwing all his energy into the creation of a multitude of things that bear his name.
"Let them deny my books entry into Russia," says he—like a rejected suitor who ruins himself buying flowers to turn the room of his unresponsive beloved into a flower shop and who admires this absurdity.
An absurdity quite beautiful and persuasive. So Grzhebin, spurned by his beloved Russia and feeling that he has a right to live, keeps publishing, publishing, publishing [...]
When you sell Grzhebin manuscripts, he drives a hard bargain, but more out of propriety than greed.
He wants to demonstrate to himself that he and his business are real.
December 19, 2014
Weekend Recommended Reading
I haven't read this (about, what else, realism vs. reality in, where else, the LRB) yet, but I'm going to, later. I have left another book in a drinking establishment; this time it was ZOO, or Letters Not About Love by Viktor Shklovsky, which I didn't pick up because of this Year in Reading column but was pleasantly surprised to see there, though I wouldn't say it "may be the perfect book." It has some really beautiful parts, and I think I would appreciate it more if I knew really anything about Russian futurism, but we could say that of so many things in this life, couldn't we?
-At Vice, I interviewed Erin Gee, an artist and composer who just finished a years-long project orchestrating robots that respond to human emotion. She is incredibly smart, a quality she graciously lent to my questions about the robot takeover. I wanted to call it "Feels on Wheels" (!), but oh well:
Some people will see this as utopic, others terrifying—I think if technological work is too comfortable, it becomes a technocratic pat on the back for a smug audience that wants to feel good about a comfortable, naturalized future where everything is the same except that it is Plexiglas and backlit and more convenient. I am not sure that I succeed in making this work creepy enough, actually. I hope to make it creepier in the future.
-Here's a great essay at the Verso Books blog about "Xmas" and the fallacy of hating it because it represents excessive consumption. Also, paganism, childhood, etc.; I would like to quote the whole thing, but I won't:
That the critique of Xmas as 'consumerism' is a pseudo-critique is easily seen. What is supposedly wrong is the 'excessive' consumption of Xmas. This lets supposedly normal consumption off the hook. Genuine critique would of course start from the reverse premise: Only excessive consumption is of any interest because it is outside the realm of calculation. So-called 'normal' consumption is what calls for critique. The purely excessive, aesthetic consumption, the gift from nowhere, is the only defensible form, and not only of consumption, but also of the gift.
-And do you know what? I read this review of The Dog by Joseph O'Neill (at The Nation) and thought I found it unremarkable, but actually I'm still thinking about it, so here we are:
Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog is a study in paralysis and its close cousin, inertia. The novel’s narrator, who we know only by his first initial, X., is a lawyer: highly employable, well paid and free to roam through the world as he pleases. Yet he feels himself imprisoned by his own mental habits and obsessions. Two of these are intertwined: the fear of doing something wrong, and the belief that unimpeachably correct decisions are impossible. Because he can’t know what effect his actions will have—“one always goes forward in error”—X. tries to keep his decisions as inconsequential as possible. Even the private act of thinking is suspect because, as X. sees it, “to interpret is to misinterpret.” Gossip, the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of others behind their backs, disgusts him. “One should not entertain rumors about others,” he tells us, “not even for the purpose of dismissing them, because to do otherwise is silently to accept the premise of the rumors, which is that people have a right to call balls and strikes about how other people lead their private lives.” Gradually, however, it becomes clear that the person X. is most concerned with protecting is X., and his altruistic theories are, at least in part, the elaborate expression of a guilty conscience.
December 18, 2014
Image: Aleister Crowley in your next Halloween costume.
In the November issue of Bookslut, Coco Papy interviews Peter Bebergal, whose new book Season Of The Witch delves into the darker side of rock'n'roll – its flirtation with the occult. Peter Bebergal: "rebelling spiritually by way of devilish imagery and occult symbols is a perfect complement to music that is attempting to push up against the mainstream, to carve out something new, and to quickly inform your fans and the media that you are dangerous, or in on something secret." The occult contributed to the creation of a richer mythology around groups like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and others but it did more than that: it permeated the entire culture of the decades that gave us these musicians. For more on the influence of the occult on music and pop culture, I suggest we take a look at the writings of Gary Lachman – the musician (a founding member of Blondie) turned prolific writer on all things occult.
One of his earliest books relevant to this context is Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, in which Lachman traces the origins of the occult revival in the '60s and charts its influence on literature and music. One of the key moments in the occult revival, according to Lachman, was the publication of The Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, which was soon followed by their magazine Planète.
As Mircea Eliade, historian of religion, said of this 'dawn of magic', 'what was new and exhilarating... was the optimistic and holistic outlook... in which human life again became meaningful and promised an endless perfectibility'. Man was called to 'conquer his physical universe and to unravel the other, enigmatic universes revealed by occultists and gnostics'. He was also called on to create a new world, a better civilization, free of the prejudices and superstitions of the past. As Eliade recalls, the book made a reader feel that the most exciting moment in history was happening right then, and that he or she was part of it. Pauwels and Bergier brought together the future and the past, science and mysticism, philosophy and the occult, with a powerful, inspiring optimism and a new vision of human society - just about everything the sixties were about. When, in 1969, the first man set foot on the moon, and half a million love children 'set their souls free' at the tribal gathering at Woodstock – the two events happened within weeks of each other – the occult decade came to an end as it had started, with Pauwels and Bergier's vision of futuristic science and ancient wisdom.
-Gary Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius
In the 60s the occult was merely fashion
People like Jagger might have temporarily had an interest in the occult but he's much like Bowie in the sense that he picked up on lots of different things; he was a real tactician and he had a sense that by the end of the 60s it was heading to some kind of bang-up thing. Kenneth Anger was one of the most influential because he came over from San Fransisco in Haight Ashbury. He came at the right time because there was a magazine called The International Times and they had done a spread on Crowley and Anger was deep into Crowley's works. He got close to the Stones and I think Jagger picked up on it. A lot of it was fashion and fun and naive in an innocent way. Now I think you would find people who are much more acutely aware and correct about occult references in rock albums. It's not the same as in the late 60s/early 70s where it was this strange thing that just came in. There was Black Sabbath once and now there's 25 different Black Sabbath types of bands all with their own iconography. It all becomes these subcultures and they're no doubt arguing with each other.-David Moats, "Magick and Me: Blondie’s Gary 'Valentine' Lachman on the Occult | The Quietus
In the same Quietus feature, Gary Lachman talks about Aleister Crowley not being the best way to introduce people to the occult despite his undeniable role in the revival of the occult. Aleister Crowley is the subject of one of Lachman’s latest books, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World.
Gary Lachman in dialogue with Tobias Churton, the author of another book on Crowley, Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic:
My favourite bit of Crowley is his early “Scientific Illuminism” phase, when he was much more focused on consciousness – my own central interest – and less so on magick. Much of him from this time can be read with great profit; he writes clearly, vigorously, and more times than not to the point. But all the rebel stuff can be learned from other writers and thinkers, without all the collateral damage that accompanies Crowley. Anything on that point that we can learn from Crowley I believe we can learn from, say, Blake – who, as you know, said “do what thou wilt” a century or so earlier. But Blake, as all good self-transformers do, knew his limits: “You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough,” and more apt “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”-Gary Lachman and Tobias Churton, "The Lore and Lure of Aleister Crowley: A Dialog" | Reality Sandwich
Since we’re already at Reality Sandwich, let’s go back to Season of the Witch:
Page’s willingness to discuss his fascination with Crowley and magick ebbed and flowed. But over many years of interviewing Page, Guitar World editor Brad Tolinski was able to gain confidence with the reticent guitarist, and in their conversations a clearer picture emerged. With Tolinski, Page admits that his esoteric inquisitiveness was not limited to Crowley, but took in the whole spectrum of “Eastern and Western traditions of magick and tantra.” But the media found Crowley an easy mark for referencing a sinister figure par excellence, and he made for more interesting interview questions than, say, an obscure grimoire. Nevertheless, Crowley did represent for Page the very best example of “personal liberation.” As a young man with unlimited money and access to drugs, Page took it literally: “By the time we hit New York in 1973 for the filming of The Song Remains the Same, I didn’t sleep for five days!”
But the cultural truth is much more important than even how Page talks about the occult at different stages in his life. Culture is where the story of the occult and rock is created, not in coy interviews with musicians. Along the trajectory of a band’s life, the facts are akin to mythology, a grand narrative that as is as much about how the myth gets transmitted as it is about the how the myth gets made. But for Led Zeppelin, their mystique was grounded in something intentional, something that was as much a part of what they conceived and gave birth to as it was the frenzied media and fan speculation. Page tells Tolinski, “I was living it. That’s all there is to it. It was my life—that fusion of music and magick.”
-Peter Bebergal, "Led Zeppelin’s Dance with the Occult" | Reality Sandwich
December 16, 2014
Some notes on our call for submissions to the Nemesis issue of Spolia:
1) You should submit to the Nemesis issue of Spolia.
2) Spolia is our sister literary magazine published as a PDF at some interval; they take fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork. The last issue featured a new story from Eimear McBride. This is the manifesto denouncing "self-expression" and other misguided motivations in the current literary climate.
3) Spolia pays contributors, which I did not know until Friday.
4) Word limit: 5,000.
5) THAT'S 5,000 WORDS MAXIMUM.
6) Submissions go to CORINNA: corinnapichl [at] googlemail.com
7) AS A .DOC FILE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No PDFS!!!! Corinna is like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest except that instead of wire hangers she does not want PDFS!!!!
8) On that .DOC FILE!!!!!!!!!!!!: include your name. Ideally, also put your name in the file name. "LaurenOyler_WroteThisGreatStory.doc" is what it should look like.
9) In case you are lazy and do not want to look at the original call for submissions, know that if you are a man, you have to submit with a woman; we only got submissions from dudes last time we had an open call, so we are trying to fix that this time by requiring all males to bring a female-created work (babies don't count) with theirs.
December 15, 2014
Man-on-the-NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House Interview
LO: What are you doing right now?
MFA student 1: Me? What am I doing right now?
LO: Yes, you. I need something to blog about.
MFA1: I'm doing an erasure project of Dracula.
Distinguished visiting poet: You're erasing Dracula?
MFA1: Yes, I'm erasing all of it.
DVP: That's fantastic! That's exactly what the book is about! Sucking the blood out of it!
MFA1: If you wanna blog about me, that would be kinda awesome.
MFA student 2: Alright, I should go to class now.
Epilogue: turns out distinguished visiting poet used to "smoke dope" with MFA student 1's uncle.
December 13, 2014
Weekend Recommended Reading
Sorry it's Saturday! I am very tired and everyone around me is talking about real estate. It's funny that people care so much about this, about massive two-bedrooms at prices unheard of around here, because nothing matters! And you would think that humans of such discernment would know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, but whatever. Whatever, I say! I'm pissed off.
-I just read that very long New York Magazine interview with a man who "date[s]" horses. "I feel like my sexual development was bang on." I quote a pun because most of the piece is VERY uncomfortable.
-Also in New York Magazine, an extremely tired personal essay in which the writer is unsettled by her ex-boyfriend's novel because it has a character based on her in it. Read 10:04; it is about fictionalizing and illustrates why this is a sentiment unworthy of a lackluster personal essay. "Perhaps, I thought, if I had had more affairs, I would have more inspiration"—yes, this is almost certainly true. There is, however, a hilarious comment:
Dearest Chloe your writing conveys to me you do not fully accept yourself--likely because you've never taken steps to understand who you really are. Let me express a secret that will amaze most NY'ers. Let this sink deep into your consciousnesses! your not your creation..your the creating. You can call it zen or mindfulness titles are irrelevant what is relevant though is dropping self delusions and surrendering to the creative process. You've given into a fickle ego in constant concern with societal appearances always judging "this looks good" or "oo this is ugly". It is beneficial in your current position that you've found a mate that you feel creatively superior over--you obviously saw the author as competition(and still do) this stance makes all unions hell. If you've ever been with child and suckled them you'll have a deep root in creative energy. Draw on this. The breasts are the positive poles of the female body and the creative centers that nourish life. A simple and very powerful technique well over 5,000+ years old--bring your awareness to both nips simultaneously(if this is difficult you can visualize them as two small blue spheres) that's it! very unappealing to the mind because it so simple. Soon with little effort you will see vivid geometrical patterns being created akin to a kaleidoscope. The same tantra can be done by males by focusing on the groin(root of penis). Likely your too prideful to play with this but maybe someone will :)
-My friend Peter, the smart one I'm often talking about, published a blog post about how reading about what other people have read online is like watching porn online. But worse! (Hi, Peter.)
-Smart Peter also showed me Five Books, which is a website with tons of interviews with smart people about five books—get it—they recommend on topics of their expertise. It's kind of like In Our Time but actually interesting. I'm reading, under "How to be good," about lying right now. Up next is either "Chick Lit" or "Espionage," depending on how my run goes.
December 11, 2014
Top 10 Things I Wanted to Read in 2014 but Didn't
1. Anna Karenina
2. Literally anything the New Yorker unlocked during its summer-long redesign celebration
3. Something about science
4. A third Ben Lerner novel
5. A fourth Ben Lerner novel
7. New Tab by Guillaume Morissette
8. Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
9. A satisfying description of who Amanda Palmer is
10. Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns by David Margolick
December 10, 2014
Hello from Drunk Town! Since Susan Sontag is even more trendy than usual this week—the documentary Regarding Susan Sontag came out on the 8th—I'm going to remind you that I did a long interview with Daniel Schreiber, who wrote Susan Sontag: A Biography. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here.
LO: So you think there’s no room for intellectuals anymore?
DS: Not in the sense that Sontag managed to do it. By that I mean she really was at the tail end of a cultural movement where culture valued smart people and gave them the opportunity to actually be listened to and be read. Someone like Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir would be unimaginable today. There are some French intellectuals, there are smart people in Germany, there smart people in the US, but it’s not the same. They don’t have this...
DS: Glamour—that’s the way Sontag did it. That’s the way Sontag was able to have this position for that long, because she brought a new sensibility to it—staging and creating this person. And that’s why she became this media persona.
LO: Do you think her being that way affected the decline of intellectualism?
DS: No. That’s just a cultural movement, you see it everywhere. In Europe it happened a bit later than in the US. People in general are not interested in smart people anymore.
Also, Emily St. John Mandel's review of the documentary is good.
December 9, 2014
I went to the Franklin Park reading series last night. I keep thinking I want to go to readings when what I actually want is to be among a humanity likely to have something to talk to me about, the choice between leaning against the bar looking skeptical and actually plausibly engaging with a stranger. In reality, I spend the majority of readings waiting for the readings to be over, at which point I spend a needlessly long and needlessly stressing several minutes wondering if I should talk to the people who have read, despite having nothing to say to them, just wanting to ingratiate my annoying, attention-seeking self into the sphere of literature in some way. Readings are almost always better for the writers than for the listeners. (Indeed, I like doing readings; I'm in one tonight.) Time flies if you're reading because you have adrenaline and a legitimate task to occupy your existence for 5-15/longer (God) minutes; time drags if you're listening because shitty writing often sounds decent, fuller, when read aloud, but it's still shitty writing so it's not that captivating, and you get the sense that if you were reading this on the page it would seem like the font were too big and the line spacing too wide. And even really good writing read aloud is rarely captivating enough to hold attention, unless the writer is also a good reader, which rarely happens, even when Flavorwire says otherwise. Either way, you always stop paying attention long enough to miss the jokes, the brief releases from having to sit nicely and quietly and respectfully like a nice and quiet and respectful little girl. This is not what I go to bars for!
My nail-in-coffin justification for showing up is that I can write about them for the blog, but what do I have to say? "Rivka Galchen was good; she is a master of conveying interrupted dialogue and generally confidently understated. Her kid cried a few times throughout. The crowd was mainly comprised of stylish glasses and hidden resentments. Everyone wanted to go to the bathroom but felt bad about walking in front of the readers to do so; some did anyway, others waited until the breaks." It already happened, so my recommending it—and it is a good reading series, as far as reading series go!—is relatively meaningless. Books are not indie bands; I think we need to recognize and accept that.
December 8, 2014
WE WANT: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Reviews, True Love Unconstrained by Conventionally Limited Understandings of Intimacy
Now, a word from our Jessa:
The last time we had an open call for submission to Spolia [ed: it's our sister literary magazine], we received work only from men. Don't get us wrong—we love men. I know we publish disproportionately, more women than men, so maybe you have a hard time believing us when we say that, but it's true. Some of my best friends are men. But having 100% men, that's just too many men.
So we are opening up submissions for our next issue of Spolia, "Nemesis." And let's do this like a group sex party. If you are a man and you'd like to submit something, you also have to bring us a submission by a woman. A piece by a woman that you translated, a piece by a woman who is probably better than you but usually unconcerned with publishing her genius, a co-signed email by a woman friend or romantic partner or daughter or lady off the street—all work as double submissions.
Which is to say, also: Women, we would like you to submit work to us. Ladies get in free. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art. Something that relates to the theme of Nemesis. (And I know you women out there know a thing or two about nemeses, so get to it.) By the end of the year.
Email Corinna Pichl (corinnapichl [at] googlemail.com] with your submission; we'd be glad to have you.
And while we're on the subject, Bookslut is also in need of contributors. We have no gender-based rules here. You can be a dude and write us, we're okay with that. But also women are encouraged.
We are especially in need of: an arts columnist and nonfiction reviewers. Those are our primary concerns at the moment. But: if you have a genius idea for a column, we are always open to hearing those. And if you have I don't know, essays! interviews! feature ideas! we are also open to those. Did you write 8000 words on French Freudian Julia Kristeva and you think no one will ever want to see that? We want to see that! Etc.
You will be wanting to email Corinna for these, too. But everyone should always be wanting to email Corinna because she is a light in my otherwise dreary life, she is so good. But probably stick to business for now; let her warm up to you.
December 5, 2014
Weekend Recommended Reading
Everything is shit! But
-2014 was the year of the lame Kafka fanboy essay; Rivka Galchen's review of volumes 2 and 3 of Reiner Stach's Kafka biography (1 having been saved for last in hopes that "the papers in the Max Brod estate—a mysterious suitcase full of documents—would exit the apartment of the septuagenarian daughter of Max Brod’s presumed lover, but the destiny of those papers remains in legal dispute") is not that. Rather, it is brilliant. (It starts slow—persevere. The LRB is not for click monsters.)
What emerges from this pattern of Kafka’s behaviour is a sense not just of a character who can never commit – the comic character who commits ends the series – but also of how powerful he is, and how ambivalent he is about being powerful. With both women and men, Kafka fairly effortlessly elicits their love. ‘You belong to me,’ he writes to Milena Jesenskà after she has inquired about translating his work; though sceptical at first, Jesenskà quickly responds to him, as nearly everyone does. A Hungarian doctor, Robert Klopstock, whom Kafka meets at a sanatorium, is similarly enamoured, and he seems to move to Prague mostly to be nearer to Kafka, who then disappoints him with his reclusiveness. Kafka seems unable to refrain from inciting affection, which he then finds overwhelming and retreats from. In a letter to Else Bergman, who along with her husband had emigrated to Jerusalem, and who is asking Kafka about his plans to move, Kafka writes: ‘That the voyage would have been undertaken with you would have greatly increased the spiritual criminality of the case. No, I could not go that way, even if I had been able – I repeat, and “all berths are taken,” you add.’ Kafka does not come across as a very sexual person in this biography – not at all, really – but he understands the power involved in sexuality. He pursues positions of seeming inferiority, as he tries to both exercise and abdicate his magnetism.
-Also in the LRB, Christian Lorentzen's review of George W. Bush's 41: A Portrait of My Father (and its reviews) is good, by which I mean: very mean. "I confess to a bit of nostalgia for the nihilism that came with being governed by George W. Bush."
-Speaking of Kafka, though: remember when Zadie Smith was working on a Kafka musical? Alternatively: Zadie Smith was working on a Kafka musical!
-At aeon, a couple of weeks ago, Nina Strohminger wrote on the link between identity (yay I am special) and morality (ugh other people are also special). See also: souls (what are they?), memory (probably not inextricably bound to our senses of self, as Locke thought), and Breaking Bad (which I never watched but think I get the gist of):
The danger of befriending psychologists is they will use you as their test subjects: I inquired what kind of change would render her unrecognisable. My friend responded without hesitation: ‘If she stopped being kind. I would leave her immediately.’ He considered the question a few moments more. ‘And I don’t mean, if she’s in a bad mood or going through a rough time. I’m saying if she turned into a permanent bitch with no explanation. Her soul would be different.’
This encounter is instructive for a few reasons (not least of which is the intriguing term ‘permanent bitch’) but let’s start with my friend’s invocation of the soul. He is not religious and, I suspect, does not endorse the existence of a ghost in the machine. But souls are a useful construct, one we can make sense of in fiction and fantasy, and as a shorthand for describing everyday experience. The soul is an indestructible wisp of ether, present from birth and surviving our bodies after death. And each soul is one of a kind and unreplicable: it bestows upon us our unique identity. Souls are, in short, a placeholder notion for the self.
-If nothing else: the Wikipedia entry for "Futurist meals".
December 4, 2014
Image: From the "Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship, & The Order of Things" exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art.
In the November issue of Bookslut, Micah McCrary reviews The Missing Pieces (Les unités perdues) by Henri Lefebvre (the other Henri Lefebvre). The book is an inventory of things forgotten, lost or never materialized. For more lists and inventories in literature, here are a few suggestions:
The Missing Pieces is interesting, though not good—it is frustratingly selective, sometimes objectively inaccurate, and awkwardly variegated in syntax, tense, and curatorial attitude—and it might, at best, be considered grist for the ouroboric corpus of what Spanish pseudo-novelist Enrique Vila-Matas calls "the literature of the No." But Lefebvre's thrall to the muse of inexistence serves a worthy purpose here, for in it we can glimpse the empty spaces in both Levé's hermetic echo chamber and Perec's ceaseless search for wholeness: we see that the once-was and the never-been are unified by the manipulation of what is lost in both space and time, propelled by the search for something beyond the present—both in the sense whose opposite is past or future, and in the sense whose opposite is absence.
-Daniel Levin Becker, "Beaux Absents: On Inventorying What Does Not Exist" | Music & Literature
Recognizing that the list of literary listers could go on and on, Belknap narrows his focus to examples from Emerson, Whitman, Melville, and Thoreau. He finds both stylistic and philosophical reasons for Emerson's uses of lists. Stylistically they echo Biblical passages, and, more importantly, lists allow Emerson to philosophically articulate and enact his trailblazing transcendental philosophies of correspondence and unity in diversity. By itemizing what appear as random units of the natural world in an indiscriminate nominal list—as when in Nature he enumerates a "leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment in time"—Emerson shows that everything is equal, is "related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole." No one item is more significant than the next; each "is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world."
-Tim Kindseth, The List: The Uses and Pleasures of Cataloguing by Robert E. Belknap | Bookslut
In 2009 Elissa Bassist wrote about Roberto Bolaño's 2666 and the list of phobias that challenges readers' expectations about what a novel should look like. Some of the phobias Bassist cites:
The weirder fears:
Clinophobia: "fear of beds" (how to deal with the problem: ?sleeping on the floor and never going into a bedroom?)
Tricophobia: "fear of hair" (where some "cases end in suicide")
Verbophobia: "fear of words" (Verbophobia is more than not speaking "because words are everywhere, even in silence, which is never complete silence." Another name for fear is Logophobia.)
Vestiphobia: "fear of clothes" (which is "more widespread than you'd expect")
Gynophobia: "fear of women" (this "naturally afflicts only men" and is "very widespread in Mexico . . . almost all Mexican men are afraid of women")
-Elissa Bassist, "Verbophobia: About the Phobias in Roberto Bolaño's 2666" | The Rumpus
For even more literary lists, here's a 15-item one from Flavorwire: "15 of the Greatest Lists in Literature".
December 3, 2014
December 2, 2014
Well, it's not like I can talk about the books I'm reading, can I? But I also don't want to talk about my Bad Feminist piece, because I've been talking about that piece for months and because I haven't really read what has been expressed to me, directly and indirectly, through various media, as the "wagon circling," "the brigade," "outrage Twitter," etc. I know that makes me sound like a douchey pointed highground-taker, or it makes me sound like I have a douchey amount of self-control that I swear I have never had before in my life, or it could be misconstrued as me being "uninterested in discourse." But, actually, Twitter just seems stupid! Are there even response pieces? I don't know! I have always frowned in frustrated disbelief when people use the "¯\_(ツ)_/¯" guy in response to concerns that appear powerful in terms of popular opinion or ultimate Truth, but now: I feel liberated from the chains of popular opinion! The original Dolly Parton version of "I Will Always Love You" just came on in this cafe! I spilled a glass of water earlier, but none of it got on my computer! Read the interview with Caren Beilin we published!
December 1, 2014
The December issue of Bookslut is up, and it's particularly great, and I'm not just saying that because I have a huge critique of Bad Feminist in it, though I'm not not saying it because I have a huge critique of Bad Feminist in it, either. You should read that—it's about the fallacy of contemporary feminist discourse as a team effort, artistic accountability, the Internet (per usual), rape, why quality of writing is actually really fucking important you lazy assholes, FEELINGS, etc.
As Gay writes of the anger gaslighting in Hannah Rosin’s book, The End of Men, this is a “clever rhetorical move”; her rejection of “having a consistent position” allows her to deflect any potential criticism with a shield of feelings. This strategy has been construed as empowering, a sort of Fuck you! Feminism means I do what I want!, but it’s empowerment for the sake of empowerment rather than for any kind of progress. I don’t want to suggest that feelings -- which are traditionally relegated to the lesser realm of the female but are actually great -- are insignificant material for thoughtful, incisive, and/or valuable essays. Zadie Smith always writes about emotions in her New York Review of Books column; Kathy Acker is full of feelings; Doris Lessing is always brilliantly, lucidly fraught; it could be argued that Elizabeth Hardwick’s critical career is rooted in conflicts among what she thinks should be and what she experiences and what she feels about both. These feelings, examined critically as evidence or counterevidence of larger psychological or sociological or societal or artistic (which is really the same as the previous three) trends, are something very different from the feelings in Bad Feminist. The feelings in Bad Feminist are a series of sometimes-related statements, tossed into the world with only the author to connect them to it.
The body is running (get it???) through this issue. This month's Forgotten Twentieth Century column by Nicholas Vajifdar—on whom I made a regrettably terrible impression at the Daphne Awards; I love his stuff—is about "Introduction to These Paintings," an "ultra-weird, ultra-charismatic piece of writing" by D.H. Lawrence:
The English, begins Lawrence, are generally much worse at painting than other nations, especially in the last few centuries. (He excludes Blake from this judgment.) And this failure stems from their horror of the human body; they depict flesh as something shameful, and you would hardly guess that we are sexual creatures underneath these petticoats and smoking jackets. But why do the English fear the body? After all, he says, Chaucer is so bawdy and uninhibited. Something must have gone wrong to make the Anglo-Saxons so fearful. And Lawrence has a very tidy answer: syphilis. Think of Queen Elizabeth with her bald eyebrows and rotting teeth and infertility, he says; think of Hamlet with his obsession with female sexuality ("in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed"); after the Columbian exchange, we're a long way from the sexual ease of "The Miller's Tale." Lawrence says that syphilis has poisoned the most fundamental urge in the world with a fear and a horror so unspeakable that the English collective psyche never recovered and, through some mental mechanism, fled into a world of over-intellectual abstraction where our intuitive selves could never thrive. And, as a result, the English couldn't paint people correctly; their attempts were dead on arrival.
Whatever you think of this argument on its face, it's hard to avoid the obvious counterargument. He singles out the English, and later all the "northern races." The next question almost asks itself. Namely, did the English suffer more from syphilis than other nations, more than the French did, or the Italians? Lawrence briefly alludes to this huge potential error and then indicates that he has basically no interest in it. He knows in his marrow that the English are a race of prudes; he likes his syphilis idea; and that's all there is to it. No statistical comparisons of infection rates, please.
You've got a little feelings vs. fact in there, too. Nina Gibb also talked to Viv Albertine (!) about how the human body is a fucking prison. Lena Dunham has said something similar, but I'm going to not quote her, because Viv Albertine is very better.
I hate physicality, really. I am very reluctant to do anything physical, a bit like eating fish and vegetables, I do it because it's good for me or it's a means to an end. I have very little confidence in my physical abilities, that my fingers can do what they need to do to make a chord, that my right hand can keep a steady rhythm to strum, that my legs and my lungs have the capacity -- or my mind has the will -- to propel me around a park. I don't like being in water. Heights, skiing, jumping out of planes, and potholing or deep sea diving feel totally alien to me, I don't think humans were meant to do it (except the pearl fishers). My body is extremely sensitive to speed. Even sex intrigues me intellectually more than physically. On the other hand, I will take massive risks emotionally and creatively, go on stage in front of thousands of people even though I can't play or sing, fall in love with difficult people, keep trying to make relationships work, spend years alone making a small piece of work. Those are the areas in which I push myself, I just do the physical stuff to stay alive or as a conduit to get a thought out there. The effort it took for me to start and continue running or playing guitar was huge and alien to me, but paid off massively.