The Daily

Books

On Paul Metcalf’s Genoa

July 29, 2015 | by

Metcalf’s “poeticized collage” reckons with his great-grandfather, Herman Melville.

Paul Metcalf

It is extremely rare, these days, to encounter something that feels completely new. That is, most literary artifacts are pretty easy to slot into one format or the other.What a gift then, what a rare, beautiful turn of events when you stumble on a book that seems to come from some spot entirely its own. What a gift, the moment in which you must summon all your readerly resources to grasp the enormity of what you are encountering, to see the pages as they are. I can count these reading experiences on one hand, and in each case I was somehow improved,made better as a reader (Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes; Sanitorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, by Bruno Schulz; The Recognitions, by William Gaddis; The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald; The Beetle Leg, by John Hawkes). Often the reason we read is in the hope of having these experiences of the truly, unmistakably original.

Paul Metcalf is one of these original writers. A writer who had to follow his own path, at significant cost to himself, over many decades, without a large following. A writer who took the forms that were at hand and shook them up, recast them, repurposed them, so that a traditional approach, after beholding his model, seems almost ludicrously simplistic. A writer of the new, the surprising, the arresting. Read More »

On the Shelf

The Original One-percenters, and Other News

July 29, 2015 | by

huntersthompsonblank

A screenshot from PBS’s Blank on Blank, animated by Patrick Smith.

  • “You get a tremendous boot out of what the Angels call ‘screwing it on,’ taking a big bike and just running it flat out as fast as it will go. I used to take it out at night on the Coast Highway, just drunk out of my mind, ride it for twenty and thirty miles in just short pants and a T-shirt. It’s a beautiful feeling. I recognize it as an illusion and a fantasy, but for someone who has nothing else to go back to, this is maybe one of the happiest moments of his life.” In 1967, Hunter S. Thompson spoke to Studs Turkel about the Hells Angels, and fortunately it’s on tape. In fact, now it’s not just on tape—it’s an animated featurette.
  • David Gates talks about taking his time: “I’m just naturally slow. It usually takes me about three or four months to write a story. Then it takes me a while after I finish a story to forget that story and convince myself that my next story is a hot new idea that’s never been done before. Nobody but the writer cares how long it takes to write something.”
  • Bridges: great for driving over. Also great for playing like a harp. “In the middle of the bridge, the woman opened the bag to reveal a cache of objects, including a wireless speaker and a stethoscope, which she draped around her neck. She then approached each of the bridge’s wrought-iron suspension rods. Clanging them with a metal tine, she leaned in to listen, holding up the stethoscope as though each resonating note were a heartbeat: C, F, A, G. When the woman found a rod with a particularly pleasing sound, she set about attaching other equipment to the bridge, lifted from the kit bag: a ‘bridge-bow,’ resembling the spokes of a wheel, which would spin around and strike the suspension rod with rubber balls, and a ‘digi-bow,’ which would capture the resonance digitally and then enable her to manipulate it using a string.”
  • Summer is slow, and in its longueurs you may find that you need a new hobby. Choose mesmerism and impress your friends with centuries of medical-spiritual flimflammery! An 1884 guide called Mental magic: a rationale of thought reading, and its attendant phenomena and their application to the discovery of new medicines, obscure diseases, correct delineations of character, lost persons and property, mines and prings of water, and all hidden and secret things will take you step-by-step through the joys of mesmerizing for fun and profit. If you get bored, just add drugs: “I have found,” the author Thomas Weldon writes, “that those who … have taken Opium, Datura, Indian Hemp, or other powerful Narcotics, are most susceptible to Magnetic Treatment and rapidly cured of disease.”
  • The artist Mary Mattingly added her annotations to a bunch of old Whole Earth Catalogs, revising them to explore “scenarios of ecological collapse.” Living in a geodesic dome has never felt so apocalyptic: “Drop City is a fucked-up mess. Drop City is completely open, completely free; I own it, you own it, because we all know that energy comes from the same place. Ten domes under the skydome, overshadowed by the Rockies; silverdomes, domes that are paintings, multicolored cartopdomes, and one black dome … ”

From the Archive

The Clear Movie-Theater Dark

July 28, 2015 | by

53

From the cover of Issue 53, by Louis Cane.

Happy eighty-eighth to John Ashbery. Many of his poems from the Review are available online, but I wanted to share a meditative passage on film from “The System,” a long prose poem published as fiction in our Spring 1972 issue.

In 1971, Ashbery read from “The System” at St. Mark’s Church, in New York. Someone captured his prefatory remarks on tape, and they’re pretty illuminating in suggesting an approach to the poem:

Oh. I don’t think I have the last page of it with me. Well, it doesn’t really matter, actually. I don’t … I do like the way it ends, but it’s kind of an environmental work, if I may be so bold. If you sort of feel like leaving at any point, it won’t really matter. You will have had the experience. You’re only supposed to get out of it what you actually get out of it. You’re not supposed to really take it all in … you know, think about other things. I am disturbed that it’s incomplete, but maybe that’s good.

You can read the whole thing in Issue 53. Read More »

Correspondence

Te-thrum, Te-thrum

July 28, 2015 | by

Malcolm Lowry in the late thirties.

A letter from Malcolm Lowry to Conrad Aiken, sent in the winter of 1929. Lowry, who was born on this day in 1909, was so enamored of Aiken’s novel Blue Voyage that he attempted, with this bumptious letter, to strike up a correspondence; throughout, as if to prove his worth, he quotes liberally from Blue Voyage and Aiken’s poem “Palimpsest: A Deceitful Portrait.” It worked: the letter sparked a complicated, rivalrous mentorship that would last until Lowry’s death. By July of 1929, Lowry had already decamped to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for lessons from Aiken, who was twenty years his senior. Lowry called his first novel Ultramarine in parodic reference to Blue Voyage.

 

5 Woodville Road
Blackheath, London S.E. 3

I have lived only nineteen years and all of them more or less badly. And yet, the other day, when I sat in a teashop (one of those grubby little places which poor Demarest loved, and the grubbier the better, and so do I) I became suddenly and beautifully alive. I read … “I lay in the warm sweet grass on a blue May morning, My chin in a dandelion, my hands in clover, And drowsed there like a bee … Blue days behind me Reached like a chain of deep blue pools of magic, Enchanted, silent, timeless. Days before me Murmured of blue sea mornings, noons of gold, Green evenings streaked with lilac … ”

I sat opposite the Bureau-de-change. The great grey tea urn perspired. But as I read, I became conscious only of a blur of faces: I let the tea that had mysteriously appeared grow clammy and milk-starred, the half veal and ham pie remain in its crinkly paper; vaguely, as though she had been speaking upon another continent, I heard the girl opposite me order some more Dundee cake. My pipe went out. Read More »

First Person

Flower Voyeur: A Comic

July 28, 2015 | by

On the Shelf

The CIA Needed a Better Editor, and Other News

July 28, 2015 | by

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This seemingly ordinary edition of Doctor Zhivago comes to you courtesy of the CIA. Photo via AbeBooks

  • Fact: a minor independent publishing house known as the Central Intelligence Agency published the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago in 1958. It was printed in an edition of 1,160 as part of an effort to undermine the USSR. Boris Pasternak “was irritated and disappointed, because the copy the CIA had published (and also presented to the Nobel Prize committee) was not complete in its editing and was full of errors … The CIA-Mouton editions were bound in nondescript, blue cloth covers, and the CIA surreptitiously distributed copies among Soviet visitors to Expo ’58, the Brussels World’s Fair. The rationale was that not only would the novel’s content cause outrage among Soviet citizens, but that also seeds of doubt would be planted when it came to light that the government had refused to allow publication of a novel by Russia’s most respected and celebrated writer.”
  • The public stage today cries out for figures like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, examples of an extinct class of “celebrity intellectual.” Their 1968 debates qualified as a legitimate TV event, and the medium hasn’t seen anything like it in decades: “Vidal and Buckley were both patrician in manner, glamorous in aura, irregularly handsome, self-besottedly narcissistic, ornate in vocabulary, casually erudite, irrepressibly witty, highly telegenic, and by all accounts great fun to be around … Also, they warmly hated each other … The antipathy was personal at root, perhaps even psychosexual.”
  • Yeah, the Internet’s cool and fast-paced and totally au courant, but at the physical level it’s not terribly different from telegraphy. A map from 1877 shows the locations of copper telegraph cables around the world; it bears more than a passing resemblance to a map of the fiber-optic cables that connect the Internet. “Everybody thinks global technology is wireless … But it’s only wireless to the nearest base station or cell-phone tower. The rest of the way, it’s happening at the physical level. There’s wire and cables that link back to all these massive servers. The Internet is not a cloud … it’s under the ocean.”
  • Claudia Rankine’s poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric doesn’t seem a natural candidate for adaptation to the stage. But Stephen Sachs has adapted it nonetheless, and it opens next month in Los Angeles: “My stage adaptation of Citizen is not a play … Like Claudia Rankine’s book, it’s a collage of colliding events, fragments, vignettes, and streams of consciousness that blend poetry, prose, movement, sound, music, and video images. An ensemble of six actors. Each is both a single citizen, and all citizens, interweaving. No conventional linear story, yet a powerful emotional arc. Fast-moving. Stylized … I hope the play makes our highly educated, professional, and privileged patrons uncomfortable in the best possible way. I hope it gets them thinking, gets them talking, opens their eyes, like the citizen in Claudia’s book who needs to put on her glasses to see what is really there.”
  • The Guggenheim’s Storylines series has writers—among them John Ashbery, Helen DeWitt, Ben Lerner, and Mary Ruefle—respond to works of art. Lerner, for instance, takes on Gabriel Orozco’s 2012 print Astroturf Collection: “The schematic arrangements (grids) of carefully sculpted ritual objects … points to what Anita Singh has called ‘the surrender of science,’ a declining belief in the adequacy of existing regimes of knowledge in the face of planetary upheaval.”