The Daily

Correspondence

A Compound of Knave and Blockhead

September 26, 2016 | by

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Happy 128th, T. S. Eliot. Here’s a letter he wrote to the poet Stephen Spender in June 1932. Eliot had argued, in his religious essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” that young people needed to be taught “chastity, humility, austerity, and discipline.” Spender wrote him to dispute that notion; the below is Eliot’s rebuttal. This excerpt comes from The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6, edited by John Haffenden.

I can’t agree that religion provides such an effective escape as you seem to think. The great majority of people find their escape in easier ways; there are a great many unimaginative, selfish and lazy people who profess to be religious, but a vastly greater number who are not … All of the middle classes want to be gentlemen, and being a gentleman is incompatible with holding any strong religious convictions; with the latter, one must at least be prepared sooner or later to commit some ungentlemanly act. And for one person who escapes through religion into a “sentimental dreamland,” there are thousands who escape by reading novels, by looking at films, or best of all, by driving very fast on land or in air, which makes even dreams unnecessary. Read More »

At Work

The Story in the Shadows: An Interview with Sjón

September 26, 2016 | by

Sjón. Photo: Gabriel Kuchta.

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta.

Moonstone, Sjón’s latest novel, has been called “the gayest book in Iceland.” It follows the sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn, a queer hustler and cinephile whose life becomes upended by the Spanish flu of 1918 when the pestilence ravages Reykjavik. With the country fearful of any bodily contact, Máni can no longer pick up “gentlemen,” and the cinema houses are shut down. Máni finds solace in a new friendship with Sóla G, a beautiful feminist who rides a motorcycle and dresses all in black. When Máni gets tangled up in a sodomy scandal that threatens to humiliate the homophobic country, Sóla is perhaps the only person who can help him.

As with Sjón’s previous books—The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox, and From the Mouth of the Whale—the magic of Moonstone lies in language. Máni Steinn doesn’t just love movies but “lives in the movies. When not spooling them into himself through his eyes he is replaying them in his mind.” Máni is illiterate, and as he struggles to read, “the letters of the alphabet disguise themselves before his eyes, glide between lines, switch roles in the middle of a word, and might as well be a red cipher to which he does not have the key.” Sjón’s easy way with words goes back to the Icelandic sagas he devoured as a child. He has internalized the lyrical language of epics, myths, folktales, and religion—“the old great narratives,” as he calls them.

Moonstone has been praised all around, with David Mitchell calling it “Sjón’s simmering masterpiece,” and it has won nearly all of Iceland’s literary prizes, including the country’s most prestigious: the Icelandic Literary Award. Sjón and I met once in New York in 2013, to discuss his earlier works; this month he was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him about Moonstone over e-mail. Read More »

Really Difficult Puzzles

Netanyahu’s Ready for More Puzzling?

September 26, 2016 | by

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Every month, the Daily features a puzzle by Dylan Hicks. The first list of correct answers wins a year’s subscription to The Paris Review. (In the event that no one can get every answer, the list with the most correct responses will win.) Send an e-mail with your answers to contests@theparisreview.org. The deadline is Thursday, September 29, when we’ll post the answers. Good luck!  

Early last year, the novelist, editor, and wordplay master Ed Park energized and distracted his Facebook circle with the post “Hall and Joyce Carol Oates,” which as of this writing has prodded 5,853 comments. The responses imagined other incongruous supergroups and amalgams—Umberto Eco and the Bunnymen, Howlin’ Virginia Woolf—and ventured into kindred puns and portmanteaus such as the answers to this month’s puzzle. Aside from recycling or reformulating a few of my own contributions, I haven’t knowingly plagiarized from Park’s thread, but neither have I reviewed more than a fraction of its comments, so quite likely there’s some overlap. (Great minds and so on.) Though there are several musical-literary pairings here, I’ve rarely mingled writers with musical acts on Park’s precise model. Most frequently, the title of a movie, book, album, song, TV show, or poem has been joined with a celebrated figure from any field, but you might run into a tagline or some other familiar phrase instead of a title, or the answer might blend two titles. Homophones are welcome. The clues try to provide some context, often anachronistic or absurd, for the pun. A few examples:

  1. Popeye Doyle chases Irish suspense novelist.
  2. Kiss Me Kate, staged as will and representation, kicks off with a twist.

The answers would be (1) The Tana French Connection (though I’m sure French is as law-abiding as her books are addictive); and (2) Another Op’nin’, Another Schopenhauer (which would present singers with phrasing hurdles). As must be clear, answers lean heavily on given names and surnames that are also everyday English words (Moscow on the Hudson Yang) and names that include meaningful syllables (as in our groaner headline, or The Danny McBride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even).

Okay, that should be enough explanation; I’ll let you John Kerry on. Read More »

On the Shelf

Getting High in the Führerbunker, and Other News

September 26, 2016 | by

The official amphetamine of the Third Reich.

  • Let’s start the day by insulting some dead writers, one of the finer pastimes at our disposal. The famed editor Robert Gottlieb’s new memoir, Avid Reader, is chockablock with gossip about deceased luminaries, Alexandra Alter writes: “A highlight reel of Mr. Gottlieb’s juiciest revelations includes swipes at the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul (a narcissist and ‘a snob’), the historian Barbara Tuchman (‘her sense of entitlement was sometimes hard to deal with’), William Gaddis (‘unrelentingly disgruntled’), John Updike (‘I was disturbed that he wouldn’t accept advances’) and Roald Dahl (an ‘erratic and churlish’ author who made ‘immoderate and provocative financial demands’ and anti-Semitic remarks).”
  • While we’re at it, I’m always looking for new and novel ways to denigrate the Nazis. Norman Ohler, a German writer, has hit the mother lode—he discovered that they were all hopped up on amphetamines during the war. His book Blitzed tells a deliriously druggy tale of the Third Reich: “The Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers … At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr. Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug—and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers … It even made its way into confectionery. ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,’ went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all.” 

Read More »

First Person

My First Dirty Joke

September 23, 2016 | by

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Photo: Michael Philip Manheim.

Revisiting is what I do. I am a pathological revisitor, I think—my ex-wife ventured to suggest a time or two when, late returning from some errand, I’d admit to having taken an excursion into one of my old neighborhoods. I’m always driving back through my old neighborhoods, the places I have lived within the city from the time I was four until my early teens. The five great ages of my youth, as I conceive them—each as sweeping and portentous, as distinctly toned and lit as Thomas Cole’s five stages of Empire in that famous series of paintings. When I drive through—pretty slowly with the radio off and the windows open—I’ll get into this tour guide state of mind. I’ll fall into this line of patter, actually talking to myself as if into a little microphone. I don’t intend to speak out loud. But here I go. Read More »

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Border Towns, Brylcreem, Backstairs Intrigue

September 23, 2016 | by

Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 1978. © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos, via Aperture.

I’ve long felt that the best recommendations for photographic work come from other photographers. From Aaron Stern and Jordan Sullivan I learned about the work of Alex Webb, who, as luck would have it, has a show of photographs at Aperture right now. On view are Webb’s photographs from Mexico taken between 1975, when Webb was twenty-three, and 2007. He shot the images on the streets, in border towns, but it doesn’t feel right to call this street photography: there’s a theatricality to some of the photographs, but subdued, without the performative pomp of much American street work. One depicts a scene of mourning in which three anguished women are momentarily frozen in classical poses as they lament over a man’s body. Another shows a deserted boulevard of buildings under construction shot from an elevated perspective; the rocky terrain and buildings are mainly white, but in the foreground is a cardboard box from which an array of colorful women’s shoes bloom like a desert flower. There’s a sense of precariousness in many of these photographs, but it’s frequently offset by Webb’s brilliant use of color—acid green, sky blue, dusty rose—which light up each moment like a small celebration. —Nicole Rudick

I recently dove into C. K. Williams’s final collection of poetry, Falling Ill (which will publish posthumously early next year), and I’m in awe of it. As the title implies, it’s an unflinching chronicle of what it’s like to die, from terminal diagnosis—for Williams, the “alliterated appellation” multiple myeloma—to the difficulty of waking, to the things one says to oneself as the illness takes over, things like, Am I still hereCatch your breathAre you ready. Williams writes carefully, matter-of-factly, of death’s crippling seizure: the pops and farts and groans his body makes in defiance of him, the fear that has “outwitted me again / changed its costume sharpened its knives.” The book is slender, with fifty-two poems: one per page, each five stanzas of three lines apiece. Williams voids every poem of commas and periods as if to weave his unself-conscious urgency and unease into the very fibers of the collection. The last poem, “Farewell,” leaves us with these indelible, inconsolable words: “there must be // a way to cry goodbye aloud to leave you / these inadequate thanks without resorting / to rending farewell oh dear heart farewell” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »