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Show Your Affection with Vintage Issues of The Paris Review

January 23, 2015 | by

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Photo: Stephen Andrew Hiltner

It’s not easy to describe matters of the heart. Even Shakespeare sometimes got it wrong: “Love is a smoke,” he wrote in Romeo and Juliet, as if we’re all human cigarettes, burning ourselves down with romance.

But Valentine’s Day is mere weeks away, and if we want to make a good impression, it behooves us to use our words—our best words. Fortunately, The Paris Review’s archive is full of writers, more than sixty years’ worth, who know all the right things to say.

That’s why we’re offering a special Valentine’s Day box set: choose any three issues from our archive, and at no extra charge, we’ll package them in the lovely gift box you see above, including a card featuring William Pène du Bois’s 1953 sketch of the Place de la Concorde. (You may have seen it on the title page of the quarterly, or in the footer of our Web site.) Then they go straight to the home of your significant other.

You’ll find all the details here—orders begin shipping next week, and delivery before Valentine’s Day is guaranteed if you order by February 10.

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How Not to Preserve Ancient Scrolls, and Other News

January 23, 2015 | by

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A replica demonstrates how a scroll might have looked when it was new. Photo: Giovanni Dall'Orto, 2014

  • Resolve your literary feud the media-friendly way: (1) do it at a public event, (2) make sure there’s not a dry eye in the house, and (3) invoke the memory of Charles Dickens, just for the sport of it. More than fifteen years ago, V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux “fell out in a spectacularly-bitter war of words, after Naipaul sold some of Theroux’s gifts at auction. The anger seethed for almost two decades. But on Wednesday the hatchet was resoundingly buried, with eighty-two-year-old Naipaul breaking down in tears after Theroux praised one of his most famous books at a literary festival in India, and compared the author to Charles Dickens.”
  • Centuries ago, an excavation in Italy revealed a collection of some two thousand ancient Roman scrolls, most of them treatises on Epicurean philosophy. Unfortunately, the scrolls have a tendency to crumble in your hands, which makes it fairly difficult to read or even preserve them. People have tried taking knives to them (didn’t work), applying a gelatin-based adhesive (didn’t work), or just throwing them away (didn’t work). The latest solution: X-rays.
  • The architect who bought Ray Bradbury’s Los Angeles house demolished it earlier this month, thus unleashing a furor from Bradbury fans. “It’s really been a bummer,” the architect said, adding in his defense that the home was exceptionally bland. “I could make no connection between the extraordinary nature of the writer and the incredible un-extraordinariness of the house.” Yesterday he hatched a new plan to honor the space: a wall.
  • On Quvenzhané Wallis’s black Annie: “the fact that a black Annie has arrived on the scene at this particular cultural moment seems to me cruelly ironic … When it comes to persuading Americans about the virtue of selfishness, Ayn Rand has nothing on Annie … By making innocence seem invulnerable, Annie and other Teflon kids in fiction and film have helped to enable the widespread apathy about social inequalities that allows Americans to claim that our society is child-centered even though the percentage of children living in poverty in this country continues to grow.”
  • Has technology accelerated life to the point of meaninglessness? On Judy Wajcman’s Pressed for Time: “Wajcman recalls seeing, at a nursing home, a daughter with one arm slung around her elderly mother, the other tapping on her smartphone. Though Wajcman acknowledges an initial negative judgment of this scene, she quickly reconsidered. The elderly mother was clearly not very aware of her surroundings and was likely comforted by her daughter’s presence. The daughter was able to provide this solace while engaging in other activities. (She could also have been reading a book or magazine.) Is this really to be condemned?”

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Crunchy Systems

January 22, 2015 | by

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Borna Sammak, Untitled, 2015, heat applied T-shirt graphics and embroidery on canvas, 40" x 30". Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and JTT, New York © Borna Sammack

Long before crunchy found a thrilling new life as a pejorative for hippies, the journalist Nico Colchester used it to describe a set of economic conditions: “Crunchy systems,” he wrote, “are those in which small changes have big effects leaving those affected by them in no doubt whether they are up or down, rich or broke, winning or losing, dead or alive … sogginess is comfortable uncertainty.”

Crunchy,” a new group show at Marianne Boesky Gallery, takes its inspiration from Colchester’s definition, though it owes just as much to the word’s new, granola-centric connotation. Organized by Clayton Press and Gregory Linn, it collects essentially tactile paintings—the hard, the crisp, the agreeably sharp. “It is about the materiality of material,” they say, which sounds tautological until you look at the paintings, all of which induce various forms of synesthesia. You’ll want to bite some of them. Don’t—don‘t make the same mistake I did. There are no flavors there.

“Crunchy” is up through February 21. Read More »

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John Bayley on British Wit

January 22, 2015 | by

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John Bayley with Iris Murdoch, 1980.

The New York Times has reported that John Bayley died last week at eighty-nine. A literary critic and Oxford don, Bayley was best known for his vivid, searching memoir, Elegy for Iris, about his married life with Iris Murdoch, who in the late nineties had fallen deep into Alzheimer’s disease. “To feel oneself held and cherished and accompanied, and yet to be alone,” he wrote. “To be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude’s friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself.”

But Bayley was a keen critic, too. Remembering him in the Guardian, Richard Eyre writes,

John was a brilliantly readable reviewer, often witty and sometimes waspish, but invariably bearing the authority of a man who could speak knowledgeably of all European cultures. He believed that the point of literature was to make sense of the world, and, although shy and unassertive, he was a blazingly confident guide to how and where to discover those truths. If I were looking for an epitaph for him it would be from Tolstoy: “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

In our Spring 1998 issue, The Paris Review asked thirteen British writers to answer questions about the state of the nation’s literature. Bayley was one of them—here, to remember him, are the two questions he answered.Read More »

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People Are Still Liars, Leading Thinkers Say, and Other News

January 22, 2015 | by

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Franz von Stuck, Adam and Eve, ca. 1920.

  • John Berger goes for a swim: “I have my favourite municipal swimming pools, where I go to swim up and down at my own pace, crossing other swimmers whom I don’t know, although we exchange glances and sometimes smiles … As swimmers we share a kind of egalitarian anonymity. No shoes, no marks of rank, just our swimming costumes. If you accidentally touch another swimmer while passing him or her, you offer an apology. The limitless cruelty towards others like ourselves, the cruelty of which we are capable when we are regimented and indoctrinated, is difficult to imagine here.”
  • Do you have $300,000? Give it to James Patterson. (He needs it, right?) These are the things he’ll give you in return: “a first-class flight to an undisclosed location, two nights stay in a luxury hotel, fourteen-carat gold binoculars, a five-course dinner with the author, and a copy of Private Vegas that will ‘self-destruct’ twenty-four hours after the purchaser begins reading it. The precise nature of the explosion has not been revealed, but it is believed to involve a bomb squad and an exotic location.”
  • Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has broken box-office records largely by attracting white men from Middle America—not typically a movie-going lot—and so finds itself at the center of the culture wars. Is the movie mere war propaganda, as its critics avow, or are its fans just intent on reducing it to jingoism? “Go ahead and attack Eastwood for making a movie that’s totally uninterested in the underlying politics of the Iraq conflict, and that depicts its Arab characters in cursory and stereotypical terms. That’s entirely legitimate, and indeed I think those America-centric aspects partly undermine the film’s aims. But to assign Eastwood some Bush-Cheney war-booster agenda because he supported Mitt Romney in 2012, or even because some unknown proportion of moviegoers have seized on it that way, simply isn’t fair.”
  • On the problem of lying, which still gets people riled up and has been linked since at least the earliest days of the Christian church to “the problem of human existence itself”: “We all do it, and we all damn it. In many traditions, both Western and Eastern, it is considered among the most blameworthy of acts … I have friends who could laugh off being called an adulterer but would storm out of the room if I said, ‘You’re a liar.’ ”
  • Not unrelatedly, it turns out that “the truly unique trait of Sapiens is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.”

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The First American Novel

January 21, 2015 | by

The Power of Sympathy turns 226.

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The first-edition title page of The Power of Sympathy.

William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature was published 226 years ago today, in 1789. It’s generally considered the first American novel, though you won’t find it on many (any?) short lists for the Great American Novel. To speak with the kind of prudence it so sternly advocates: the passing centuries have hidden its charms.

An epistolary novel in the style of Samuel Richardson’s PamelaThe Power of Sympathy tells the story of Thomas Harrington, a New Englander who has fallen, against his father’s wishes, for a woman named Harriot. He dearly yearns for Harriot as his mistress: “Shall we not,” he asks her, “obey the dictates of nature, rather than confine ourselves to the forced, unnatural rules of—and—and shall the halcyon days of youth slip through our fingers unenjoyed?” (Actually, Harrington says all of this with “the language of the eyes.” Early Americans excelled, you see, at conducting complicated conversations using only their peepers.) Read More »

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