The Poor Man’s Paris Review
June 21, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
This morning we received a copy of The Paris Magazine, which bills itself as “The Poor Man's Paris Review” and has appeared exactly four times since its founding in 1967. This isn't very often for a quarterly magazine. Like a blazing comet with an extremely irregular orbit, issue four of The Paris Magazine is not to be missed. I commend to your attention—just for example—Todd McEwen on growing up Thoreauvian: “It was Thoreau's slow, almost maddeningly slow, description of leaves, of trees, that drew me in. Right away I recognized in Thoreau a fellow connoisseur of depression ... ” (This called to mind a favorite paragraph from Sam Munson's recent novel The November Criminals1.)
Instead of answering several important e-mails, I also read Rivka Galchen's essay on the DSM, Ferlinghetti's game attempt to translate “Le Pont Mirabeau,” and a rangy essay by Michel Houellebecq on contemporary architecture, including these memorable last lines:
A society which has attained an overheated level doesn't necessarily melt, but it is unable to produce meaning, since all its energy is taken up with the description of its random variations. Every individual is however capable of producing a sort of cold revolution within himself by stepping outside the infomercial flow. It's very easy to do. It has in fact never been simpler than today to adopt an aesthetic position in relation to the world: all you have to do is take a step to the side. And this step in the final instance is itself useless. It is enough to pause; to switch off the radio, unplug the television; not to buy anything else, not to want to buy anything else. It is enough to no longer take part, to no longer know; to temporarily suspend all mental activity. It is enough, literally, to be still for a few seconds.
Which is exactly what I was! Congratulations to the new editor of The Paris Magazine, Fatema Ahmed, and to its publisher, the much-loved Shakespeare and Company. May they too find some momentary stillness—and yet manage to produce their next issue before 2019.
- In which the narrator (a high school pot dealer and budding Latinist) explains why the Aeneid is his favorite book:
Why the Aeneid? It's exciting but also difficult to understand. The stories in it are kind of incomprehensible. Venus raping Anchises. Aeneas returning from the underworld through the Gate of Ivory, the gate through which Virgil says false dreams arrive in the world. And the way it ends: in a single instant, just like a human life. It all appears at first to be nonsensical, but that's because it belongs to a world that no longer exists. In the centuries between us and Virgil, we kind of lost interest in things that are hard to understand. I'm generalizing, yeah, but am I wrong? It's why, maybe, so much biography gets written now, even of people you've never heard of. Which should be the sole test to see if someone deserves a biography: whether a random guy on the street has heard of him. I don't know why this happened. Everyone, though, seems sort of bricked into his own life. At least, everyone I know, including me. Not in “quiet desperation”—the phrase comes from another terrible writer my teachers forced me to read, Henry David Thoreau—but just by the fact of living in the small, boring modern world. And this explains why all my teachers have been so terrible. I mean because they, like Thoreau, see their own selves not as prisons but as subjects of thunderous interest. I don't mean to sound harsh, but holy fuck! No one who admires Thoreau should be permitted anywhere near a school.