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You’re Going to See Real Madness

May 22, 2015 | by

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MK III, 1964.

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Drawing for MK III.

 

From “The Designs for Motion,” a portfolio and interview with the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely from our Spring-Summer 1965 issue. “Today we can no longer believe in permanent laws, defined religions, durable architecture or eternal kingdoms,” Tinguely said in the fifties. “Immutability does not exist. All is movement. All is static.” He speaks here to Laura Mathews; this was her first published work.

If you were in my place, what questions would you ask?

… I would ask first of all: why do things move in your work? It’s the most simple, and also the most complicated, question. And I answer: things move because if they didn’t move, they might move; that is, in trying to make static things I have tried what everyone tries, and I’ve found that one petrifies situations, the phenomena that one is trying to seize. And finally one finds that as you try to seize these things, the things tell you something. In our time, things race and revolve automatically; industry and automation dominate us and impose a rhythm on us. Faced with that kind of thing, my work must move to remain vital, to avoid obsolescence … one doesn’t admit it, but one knows very well that in moving machines one is faced with life against death. Movement is so natural and so forceful that it is a fundamental dynamism. And anyway, one wants machines to move … Read More »

Size Matters, and Other News

May 22, 2015 | by

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A large, presumably very trendy book from the fourteenth century.

  • Today in “Let’s Pretend There’s a Trend”: Are long novels enjoying a day in the sun? There are, after all, many of them being published this year. “People seem to be seeking wholly immersive experiences,” says one publicist. “They’re binge-watching, they’re cooking from scratch, going on ecotours. And there’s no more immersive experience than reading a good long book.” (Publicists for cocaine, LSD, and MDMA could not be reached for comment.)
  • Fantasy authors, on the other hand, are advised to stop writing so many long novels. “A deluge of multi-volume epics has been published over recent years, each one in turn hailed as the next Game of Thrones, only to disappear within a few months as disappointed readers found reality didn’t match the hype … Most were by debut novelists, often interesting writers with some good short stories under their belt, pushed far beyond their technical abilities by an industry hungry for instant commercial success.”
  • But if there are too many big books, there are also too many big literary festivals—in fact, the festivals are getting too big for their books, even for the big books. “What is the point of book festivals? To see your favorite authors on stage, hear them read from their books and in conversation? Or meet them, queue up to get their signatures in your first editions, and ask them questions?”
  • While we’re at it, our data sets are growing too fast, too; this is your periodic reminder that the digital humanities are divisive and arguably counterproductive. The scholars who built Google Ngram “gave a presentation about how the specific year in which a book is set started getting mentioned much more frequently after the French Revolution, and hypothesized that this had something to do with a new sense of time in the modern nation-state. In fact, as a senior professor attending the presentation immediately pointed out, these were just the years when copyrights, including dates of publication, started appearing in the fronts of books.”
  • There is, amid this outsize circus of excess, one man who isn’t big enough: the man who shot the artist Chris Burden with a .22-caliber rifle back in 1971. In the name of the humanities, this fellow was “willing to accept the risk that if he missed his target by inches, art could morph into homicide.” He’s an accountant now.

Introducing Our New Video Series, “My First Time”

May 21, 2015 | by

The Paris Review is known for its interviews. Our first issue, from Spring 1953, featured a conversation with E. M. Forster on the art of fiction, inaugurating a series that’s grown to include hundreds of poets, novelists, playwrights, translators, cartoonists, and screenwriters. These Writers at Work interviews have created a genre and canon of their own.

In the spirit of that tradition, we’re proud to present “My First Time,” a new video series where writers discuss the trials of writing and publishing that first novel, that first play, that first book of poems. This is a chance to see how successful authors got their start, in their own words—it’s the portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Next week, starting on Tuesday, we’ll launch the first four videos in the series, featuring Christine Schutt, J. Robert Lennon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Gabrielle Bell. You can see a preview above, including writers from future installments of the series such as Donald Antrim, Akhil Sharma, Tao Lin, Ben Lerner, and Sheila Heti. And stay tuned—we’ll announce more writers in the months to come.

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.

This Kid’s Got the Touch, and Other News

May 21, 2015 | by

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Anima dannata (Damned Soul), ca. 1619.

  • Among the titles on Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf: Bloodlines of the Illuminati, Secrets of the Federal Reserve, an Adobe Acrobat manual, Noam Chomsky.
  • Archivists at the University of Michigan have found fragments of Orson Welles’s unfinished autobiography; the working title was Confessions of a One-Man Band. This is a watershed moment not just historians of cinema, but for historians of amateur illusionism: “The unfinished memoir … was interspersed with other ‘weird stuff’ … including scripted patter for magic acts that Welles performed.”
  • Further proof that your ambitions are too modest and you’ll never amount to anything: “In 1619, at the ripe age of twenty, Gian Lorenzo Bernini set himself the seemingly impossible challenge of carving the human soul in marble … Bernini was precocious, authoritative, and versatile: he had the touch no matter what he put his hand to. He could make limp swags of drapery swirl and throb as if some sort of lifeblood ran through them.”
  • You know who else had the touch? Bob Seger, when he wrote “Night Moves,” which took him six months: “We drove over to the Palm restaurant, where Bruce Wendell [Seger’s label’s head of promotions] was having lunch with Paul Drew, who programmed all the RKO Top 40 radio stations in the country … He came out to the car and we played it for him. Two and a half minutes into it, he said, ‘That’s a smash.’ ”
  • Tired of visualizing history with the same old boring timelines? Of course you are! Sebastian C. Adams’s Synchronological Chart of Universal History will shift your paradigm. It “outlines the evolution of mankind from Adam and Eve to 1871, the year of its first edition. The original timeline … stretched to twenty-three feet in length and was designed for schoolhouses as a one-stop shop for all of history.”

When Nacre Was Lucre, and Other News

May 20, 2015 | by

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An undated book from the mother-of-pearl craze.

  • On the cover of a 1598 book, The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, a historian claims to have found “the only demonstrably authentic portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime”; the editor of Country Life magazine is calling this “the literary discovery of the century.” The century, thankfully, is young.
  • Pause to remember the garish bookbinding trends of yesteryear: “For a few years in the nineteenth century … papier-mâché books adorned with mother-of-pearl were part of a gift book fad, wherein a decorative tome of sentimental or religious poetry was bestowed upon a loved one, often around the winter holidays. The text was usually secondary to the gaudy cover, which was decorated to the extreme.”
  • Is photography merely a matter of chance? “By the end of the nineteenth century, after Kodak has arrived … much of the role of chance migrates from the processing phase to the moment of exposure. That moment was always prone to chance—in the long exposures of early photography, a dog might wander in a street scene, or a young portrait subject might sneeze and blur the image. But with fast shutters and films, the so-called instantaneous photograph arrives, and chance takes on a new prominence in composition—to the point that even the word composition seems questionable.”
  • Everett Fox is translating the Hebrew Bible—a tricky effort, given that the original is rooted in a deeply aural tradition. “I heard it, too. Short vowels twinkled and long vowels streamed by with showy tails. Consonants held crisp and true. The overall effect was of a simultaneously dense and sprawling thing, layered and alive and capable of surprising you. Fox has dedicated his life to giving the Anglophone ear a hint of that Hebrew drama … [He] uses every poetic means at his disposal: phrase length, line break, puns.”
  • The glam SAHMs (stay-at-home moms, if you’re new to this) of the Upper East Side await wife bonuses from their husbands: “A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance—how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school—the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks.”

The Secret of Light

May 19, 2015 | by

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Walter Russell (May 19, 1871–May 19, 1963) was the progenitor of a “new world-thought” centered on light; in books such as The Electrifying Power of Man-Woman Balance, The Book of Early Whisperings, and The Dawn of a New Day in Human Relations, he foresaw “a marriage between religion and science” in which the laws of physics would be rewritten. He believed that weight “should be measured dually as temperature is,” with “an above and below zero,” and that “the sunlight we feel upon our bodies is not actual light from the sun.” (Russell’s Wikipedia entry notes gingerly that his ideology “has not been accepted by mainstream scientists.”)

In what’s ostensibly his seminal text, The Secret of Light, he outlines a philosophy rife with capitalized Nouns and portentous pseudo erudition:

Man lives in a bewildering complex world of EFFECT of which he knows not the CAUSE. Because of its seemingly infinite multiplicity and complexity, he fails to vision the simple underlying principle of Balance in all things. He, therefore, complexes Truth until its many angles, sides and facets have lost balance with each other and with him.

Truth is simple. Balance is simple. Rhythmic balanced interchange between all pairs of opposite expressions in Natural phenomena, and in human relations, is the consummate art of God's universe of Light. It is also the Law. In this one fundamental Universal Law lies the balanced continuity of all creative expression in God’s electric wave universe of two conditioned lights in THE ETERNAL QUESTION seeming motion which record God’s One Whole Idea of Creation into countless seemingly separate parts of that Whole Idea.

He mastered the casual authority of the simple declarative sentence. A personal favorite: “Two-way sex-conditioned spirals are the consummate individuals of all Creation.”

To illustrate these hypotheses, Russell relied on diagrams that are as visually compelling as they are inscrutable. “All matter is created by dividing gravity into pairs,” he wrote in one. Another charts the location of every element along a “nine-octave cycle.”

You can see more of his diagrams here. Read More »