The Daily

Look

A Cybernetic Meadow

July 27, 2015 | by

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Brenna Murphy, SunriseSequence, 2015, archival pigment print mounted on Dibond, 35" x 30", Courtesy American Medium

In 1967, while he was a poet in residence at the California Institute of Technology, Richard Brautigan wrote “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” a gamboling techno-utopian vision that reads, nearly fifty years later, as farcically, hauntingly naïve:

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

And that’s just the first stanza. Brautigan goes on to imagine “a cybernetic forest / filled with pines and electronics”; “it has to be!” he writes of “a cybernetic ecology.” One imagines he was not too gung ho on Blade Runner. Read More »

On Poetry

Masks

July 27, 2015 | by

Confessional poetry and The Twilight Zone.

A still from “The Masks.”

Who wants to be a confessional poet?

Those we’ve saddled with the label—Lowell, Berryman, Snodgrass, Sexton, et cetera—usually react to it with frustration, if not outright hatred. That should come as no surprise. Most poetic movements are met by some degree of disapproval, or at least discomfort. Writers are practically obliged to deny this critical tendency: how dare we readers, critics, English students, reduce entire books, careers, or generations to a singular term. Maybe writers resent words like confessional, imagist, or even Romantic because they inevitably blur a poet’s individual edges into something bland, familiar, and more easily shared. Or maybe the anxiety stems from the fact that labels like this often hover over living writers like tombstones, as critics prepare to title their chapter in literary history.

For whatever reason, confessional poets really hate being called confessional poets. Several of them have unleashed their outrage in the pages of The Paris Review. For example, Berryman: Read More »

Contests

#ReadEverywhere, Even on Your Wedding Day

July 27, 2015 | by

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Our editor, Lorin Stein, and our contributing editor, Sadie Stein, reading and wedding, wedding and reading.

This summer we’re offering a joint subscription to The Paris Review and the London Review of Books for just $70 U.S. Already a Paris Review subscriber? Not a problem: we’ll extend your subscription to The Paris Review for another year, and your LRB subscription will still begin immediately.

You may have noticed our magazines in conspicuous places lately: on the steps of the courthouse, for instance, in the eager hands of newlyweds. This isn’t a paean to the institution of marriage—it’s a contest. From now through August 31, post a photo of yourself reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, and use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. The grand prize is an Astrohaus Freewrite, the hotly anticipated smart typewriter that lets you write virtually anywhere. Need some inspiration? Pinterest users can get a glimpse of the competition here.

Subscribe today. And get hitched, if the spirit moves you.

On the Shelf

Signed, Sealed, O’Connored, and Other News

July 27, 2015 | by

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Charlotte Strick’s concept for Flannery O’Connor postage stamps. Image via Work in Progress

  • The USPS, in its infinite wisdom, has finally put Flannery O’Connor on a postage stamp, but it’s kind of an ugly one. (Peacock feathers have never more resembled dune grasses.) Our art editor, Charlotte Strick, took a stab at a redesign: “I thought about the puzzle offered up by a six-stamp grid. Using selections of the cover art from our newly rereleased O’Connor editions, I found it great fun to wrap the elements around one another in new ways—aiming for each individual stamp to be a mini-artwork of its own.”
  • On Max Beerbohm, whose writing, with its “high masquerading style,” is the subject of a new anthology, The Prince of Minor Writers: “No one is more emphatic about the necessity of making a style out of the sound of spoken English … He understood that the sound of spoken English might be anything but blunt—that spoken English tends to be more circuitous, touched by asides, than the self-consciously simplified kind. There are two kinds of extended sentences: one depends on expanding an idea, the other tries to detail a consciousness. The first is argumentative, the second exquisite.”
  • Johannes Kepler is remembered for his contributions to astronomy, but his 1608 book, Somnium, in which a demon describes life on the moon, testifies to his talents as a science-fiction author. Jason Novak has illustrated a few passages: “The dark side of the moon is urban, with landscaped gardens and commerce. The face of the moon is wilderness, with forests, fields, and deserts.”
  • In which the printing press meets its perfect shadow, the scanner: “As I pushed down on the lever and the shutters fired, it struck me that this was a kind of reverse press, of the most ancient Gutenberg kind. Instead of a block of ink-stained type being pressed on to a page, the book itself is pressed towards the light and its contents are released into the digital ether, to be republished, retransmitted once again.”
  • If autofiction and the “memoir-novel” are the order of the day, then why does Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life succeed on such fiercely imaginative terms? “However much this story of failed love between a wounded veteran and an illegal immigrant smacks of authenticity, its author seems to have done precisely what has been cast as no longer possible, creating an immersive world that is fundamentally a fabrication. The success of this novel beckons a closer look at the most consistent sentiment voiced by its reviewers—that it just feels so different.”

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Buses, Basements, Boots, Bed-and-Breakfasts

July 24, 2015 | by

Spacesuits

Space suits.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Spacesuits, an illustrated history of the protective clothing worn by space explorers, from the earliest designs in the 1930s to the universally recognizable suits worn during the Apollo missions. The book, with its clinically detailed photographs and methodical descriptions of suits, helmets, gloves, and boots, is surprisingly enthralling; one doesn’t expect vacant clothing to so easily assert its own cultural significance. What’s also surprising are the immense efforts required to preserve these suits—which, it turns out, are among the most fragile items in the Smithsonian’s collection. For some rather timely evidence, look no further than the Kickstarter campaign launched this week by the Smithsonian—with a $500,000 goal—to better document, display, and preserve the space suit worn by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I have copies of most of Dubravka Ugresic’s books, and all of them are heavily dog-eared; flip to any page, and it’s more likely than not that several sentences are underlined. I suspect my various notations are due to the fact that Ugresic pulls no punches, and so reading her work—especially her nonfiction—is like having it all laid out for you. And by “it,” I mean, to borrow from Douglas Adams, “life, the universe and everything.” The editors of Music & Literature have given over a third of their latest issue to Ugresic, and my copy of the magazine is already thoroughly dog-eared and underlined. Ugresic’s writing is radical, accessible, aggressive, pungent, and funny, and she is one of the most unique writers in exile at work today—and one of the best writers, period. In an interview in the issue with Daniel Medin, she explains that “as an outsider I was free to shape my own literary taste, to pick my own literary traditions, to build my own system of literary values.” She is quick to add, however, that “going against the mainstream is not an aesthetic category. Risk is moral category, which shapes our attitude toward our vocation as well as our ideological, political, aesthetical, and ethical choices.” —Nicole Rudick

nextnextlevelHaving just returned from a two-week tour in which my band played for many a small crowd in many a dank basement—see photo below—I approached Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level with some trepidation. It, too, concerns musicians, small crowds, and dank basements: that is, it concerns “the problem of making art in the twenty-first century.” Neyfakh tells the story of his friend Juiceboxxx, a white rapper who’s pursued his craft on the fringes of DIY culture for more than a decade. Juiceboxxx, whose name belies his creative energy, tours constantly, publishes ceaselessly, and self-promotes relentlessly. But what’s the point, really? As he tells an interviewer, “When you fucking kind of have this identity based on this totally absurd premise—like, where do you go if you want to stop doing it, man? Like, where do you go?” As someone who’s poured time and energy into a band called Vulture Shit, I ask myself these questions a lot. Neyfakh’s perceptive, thoughtful book may not make them easier to answer, but it’s a much-needed balm: a funny, broad-minded, enchanting reflection on the intersection of art and commerce. You’ll find no better account of what it’s like to make music outside the mainstream in 2015. —Dan Piepenbring
Read More »

First Person

California Street

July 24, 2015 | by

Learning to surf in the sixties.

Grajagan, Java, 1979. Courtesy of Mark Cordesius

For my eleventh birthday, my father took me to the Dave Sweet Surfboards shop on Olympic Boulevard, in Santa Monica. From the rack of used boards, I chose a solid, sunbrowned 9'0" with blue-green paneled rails and a fin built with at least eight different types of wood. It cost seventy dollars. I was five feet tall, weighed eighty pounds, and could not reach my arm around it. I carried it to the street on my head, feeling self-conscious and scared of dropping the board, but as happy as I had ever been.

It wasn’t an easy winter, trying to learn to surf. Even though the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (“Let’s go surfin’ now / everybody’s learning how”) was on the radio, I was the only kid at my backwater school who had a board. We spent most weekends in Ventura, so I got in the water regularly, but California Street was rocky and the water was painfully cold. I got a wet suit, but it had short legs and no sleeves, and neoprene technology was still in its infancy. At best, the little wet suit took some of the sharpest chill off the afternoon wind. My father liked to tell a story about a day when I got discouraged. From the warmth of the car, he had been watching me flounder—I imagine him smoking his pipe, wearing a big fluffy fisherman’s sweater. I came in, my feet and knees bleeding, stumbling across the rocks, dropping my board, humiliated and exhausted. He told me to go back out and catch three more waves. I refused. He insisted. I could ride them on my knees if necessary, he said. I was furious. But I went back out and caught the waves, and in his version of the story, that was when I became a surfer. If he hadn’t made me go back out that day, I would have quit. He was sure of that. Read More »