The Daily

Author Archive

Diary of a Sycophant, and Other News

July 2, 2015 | by

Goebbels in an American caricature, ca. 1943.

  • Proverbs are perfect examples of poetry’s seductiveness—and, in many cases, of its emptiness. “The brain craves ideas that can be understood and remembered without effort … But what happens when memorable advice is bad? ‘To thine own self be true’ is terrible counsel for many people, as Shakespeare himself realized. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” applies only to those things you are already good at … ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ can only have been coined by someone who had never stayed up all night.”
  • Robert Frank’s The Americans, “a photographic survey of the inner life of the country,” is sixty, and guess what? It’s still good. “Among the many qualities that enabled Frank to achieve something so ambitious was his profound ambivalence. He was always that way personally, and it was how he could locate the full spectrum of any given feeling in the inscrutable faces of strangers. Critics like W. S. Di Piero believe his genius for expressing emotional complication came from an artistic innocence, the ability to look at the world as a child does—without the intrusions of experience.”
  • Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk, mentioned previously on the Daily, “documents what has turned out to be a fleeting historical moment: when it was possible to bring a recording device to the beach and not expect that everyone else has done the same.” But is its mode of self-exposure too transparent?
  • Self-exposure of a very different sort can be found in Goebbels’s diaries, which reveal a servile creature completely dedicated to Hitler: “The thoroughly repellent figure that emerges from the diaries is not simply Goebbels as he was in fact. It is Goebbels as he wanted to be. He actively embraced barbarism as a way out from the chaos of his time, and in this he was at one with multitudes of educated Europeans. Viewing him as the victim of a personality disorder is a way of denying a more chilling fact that his life reveals—the perilous fragility of civilization.”
  • Summer’s a great time to read the classics you’ve neglected for so many years, the forbidding volumes of Melville and Joyce peering at you from your shelves. You can also take this as a time to trumpet the fact that you’ll never read those classics … either way, good on you!

“Mumbling Like a Maniac”: An Interview with Robert Fagles

July 1, 2015 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. This one features Robert Fagles, who died in 2008—a prolific translator of ancient Greek and Roman texts, he’s remembered especially for his seminal editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Read More »

Metaphor Map (from the Makers of Allegory Atlas), and Other News

July 1, 2015 | by

The University of Glasgow’s Metaphor Map.

  • Our Summer issue features illustrations by Jason Novak for the first installment of Chris Bachelder’s new novel, The Throwback Special. Now you can see them here—including a particularly enchanting representation of an oviraptor ...
  • With his suicide, David Foster Wallace set into motion a saccharine revisionism that has now, with the release of the movie The End of the Tour, reached full power. The film is “high-gloss true-story after-school special”; the writer is gone; a weird kind of self-help saint has taken his place. “A writer who courted contradiction and paradox, who could come on as a curmudgeon and a scold, who emerged from an avant-garde tradition and never retreated into conventional realism, he has been reduced to a wisdom-dispensing sage on the one hand and shorthand for the Writer As Tortured Soul on the other … ”
  • Are you lost on the roadside of figurative language? Fumbling in the dark through the land of the simile? Friend, consult the Metaphor Map, “which contains more than 14,000 metaphorical connections sourced from four million pieces of lexical data, some of which date back to 700 AD.”
  • If you’re feeling down, spend a little time with pro-Confederacy children’s books, and you’ll feel no better at all. In fact, you’ll enjoy only a sense of deep inner turmoil. In Debra West Smith’s Young Heroes of the Confederacy, for instance, “readers are told that the children of a particular plantation-owning family were always taught to respect their slaves; on the next page, the patriarch is horse-whipping a cook … In one of the book’s rare direct mentions of slavery, Smith compares slavery to a foreign diet: ‘Whether we grow up eating snails in France, sushi in Japan, or crawfish in Louisiana, the foods we know are what we consider to be “normal.” ’ True so far as it goes, but Smith never quite gets around to saying directly that slave-owners, ‘known from their diaries and letters to be moral people,’ were doing anything worse than eating something icky.”
  • In which two “unbearably sad” newish novels with life in their titles face off: A Little Life versus Preparation for the Next Life. “In A Little Life, the dirt is on the inside, hiding in a shadowy group of monks and suburban pedophiles, and in the psyche if their victim; in Preparation for the Next Life, it’s on the outside—it’s on our streets and our food and our national conscience.”

“I Will Unveil Myself”: An Interview with Czeslaw Milosz

June 30, 2015 | by

 

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. The first is with the poet Czesław Miłosz—it’s his birthday today, coincidentally—whose translations into Polish include  works by Baudelaire, Eliot, Milton, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Simone Weil. Read More »

We Fucked on a Volcano, and Other News

June 30, 2015 | by

Vulkanausbruch_1827

Emilie Eisenhut, Vulkanausbruch, 1827, gouache on paper.

  • “One cannot read a book,” Nabokov famously said, “one can only reread it.” That’s pleasant and all—certainly it flatters our sense of elitism, suggesting that “aesthetic appreciation requires exhaustive knowledge only of the best”—but doesn’t it amount to sophistry? “No reader ever really takes complete control of a book—it’s an illusion—and perhaps to expend vast quantities of energy seeking to do so is a form of impoverishment … Is it really wise to renounce all the impressions that a thousand books could bring, all that living, for the wisdom of five or six?”
  • Today in the age of mechanical reproduction: the Smithsonian is 3-D printing prehistoric skulls. They have no intention of trying to pass off the replicas as authentic—they just want to share more of their skulls with the world, and 3-D printing them is the easiest way to do so. “Still, the proliferation of replicas does stand to diminish the value of the real thing. The museums that own the original skulls depend on income from visitors and model making, so the Smithsonian will limit production and keep the skulls’ 3-D ‘blueprints’ to itself.”
  • Great news for poets! Bots have obviated the need for your art. They are, in fact, your art. Condolences. “I was thinking of writing a poem about bots, but that’s already so ten minutes ago, and anyway, some bot has already written that poem. Does it matter? These days people are writing poems about fucking on volcanoes. ‘We fucked on a volcano.’ How does that help? … You can expand the poetic field to include ‘we fucked on a volcano’ or even ‘the whole week we fucked on a volcano,’ and you can expand it to include bots, and so what? It’s bigger now … everything is.”
  • Relatedly: conversations between bots are nearly indistinguishable from Beckett plays. Bots are dramatists, too.
    Z.: Then leave.
    Y.: How did you know?
    Z.: Just leave.
    Y.: You leave.
    Z.: No.
    Y.: Yes.
    Z.: I don’t even know how.
  • New to the Oxford English Dictionary: twerk, intersectionality, staycation, presidentiable, SCOTUS.

Immoral Situations, and Other News

June 29, 2015 | by

Tess harassed by Alec D'Urberville, from the monthly serialization of Tess of the D’Urbervilles in The Graphic, 1891.

  • Ken Kalfus is on his way to the bookstore, and he’s not having a swell time—because how can you, anymore? “Bookstores have become places of regret and shame. We once enjoyed shopping in them or simply looking in their windows, back in the days when they were ordinary retail establishments. They were like stores that sold shoes or hats, but with more appealing merchandise. Now they’ve taken on moral significance. Buying a book and choosing the place to do so involve delicate and complicated considerations. You may fail to do the right thing.”
  • Philip Larkin will soon be honored with a flagstone at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey—a kind of rarefied Walk of Fame where he’ll join such august forebears as Chaucer, Dickens, and Ted Hughes. Asterisk: Larkin regarded his fellow flagstoners, to a one, as hacks. “We do not find any great striving towards artistic greatness,” he said of The Canterbury Tales; Dickens was “hectic, nervy, panic-stricken,” with “queer names, queer characters”; and Hughes he regarded as simply “no good at all.”
  • From the annals of censorship: Thomas Hardy’s original manuscript for Tess of the D’Urbervilles fell afoul of the morality police in strange ways. Macmillan’s Magazine, which rejected the novel for its “immoral situations,” thought Hardy overused the word succulent: “Perhaps I might say that the general impression left on me by reading your story … is one of rather too much succulence.” Another magazine, Graphic, wouldn’t serialize it until Hardy removed “references to characters traveling on a Sunday and to rewrite the scene in which Angel Clare carries Tess and her fellow milkmaids over a stream—one of the novel’s great moments of muted desire—so that he instead pushed her across in a wheelbarrow.”
  • Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs was a strange book when it appeared in 1995—it’s even stranger now. A novel based on a piece he’d reported for Wired, it endorses a kind of techno-utopia in which start-ups can give real meaning to life, but “the possibility that work within a capitalist system, no matter how creative and freeform and unlike what your parents did, might be fundamentally incompatible with self-actualization and spiritual fulfillment is not on the table.” And the Internet is only a glimmer, if not a mirage, on the horizon. “This highway,” one character asks of the Information Superhighway: “Is it a joke? You hear so much about it, but really, what is it … The media has gone berserk with Net-this and Net-that. It’s a bit much. The Net is cool, but not that cool.
  • Nonfiction publishing is full of middlebrow “talking-point books”: essentially swollen magazine pieces that hang shoddy scholarship on some banal marketing hook. “We have a flock of books arguing that the internet is either the answer to all our problems or the cause of them; we have scads of books telling us about the importance of mindfulness, or forgetfulness, or distraction, or stress. We have any number about what one recent press release called the ‘always topical’ debate between science and religion. We have a whole subcategory that concern themselves with ‘what it means to be human.’”