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“Grammatico-political Monstrosities,” and Other News

March 31, 2015 | by

Survival_of_the_Fittest

From Puck Magazine, 1900.

  • In which Tom McCarthy, Rachel Kushner, Paul Muldoon, and other writers are photographed in their offices: “Helicopters, the L.A.P.D.’s crazy hobby, thunder overhead, chasing some guy who stole a Honda Element,” Kushner writes of her home office in LA. “The whoop-whoop of sirens comes next. I sit at my desk, less than a mile from the criminal courts and the jail, structures of human sacrifice, where people’s lives get wrecked.”
  • “I talked about the times he had slapped me and the times he had locked me in the cellar, and the point of these stories was always the same: his fury was always triggered by some petty detail, some utter triviality, and as such was actually comical. At any rate we laughed when we told the stories. Once I had left a pair of gloves on the bus and he slapped me in the face when he found out. I had leaned against the wobbly table in the hall and sent it flying and he came over and hit me. It was absolutely absurd!” A new excerpt from the long-awaited fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
  • A strain of occultism runs through Yeats’s poetry—“do-it-yourself religion,” as Seamus Heaney called it—and sure enough, “as a young man, according to the scholar Kathleen Raine, Yeats had a pack of Tarot cards among his ‘few and treasured possessions.’ In London, in 1887, he was initiated into the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, one of those secret societies that tend, as Raine remarks, ‘to relate everything with everything—letters with numbers, with cycles of months, years, and the signs of the zodiac, with parts of the body, celestial and infernal hierarchies of angels, with minerals, metals, plants, and animals.’ ”
  • On Obadiah Slope, the “calculating curate” at the center of Trollope’s Barchester Towers: “Isn’t Slope just a man seeking a better job and, into the bargain, a wife with a comfortable income? What exactly does he do, and why is he so disturbing? Ruthlessly fawning, constantly trying to wriggle his way into favor with the rich and powerful, and in the process tread on the heads of others, Slope is a particularly poisonous example of the kind of creep that haunts almost any organization or social group.”
  • Reports by the World Bank are torturing the English language like never before—these “grammatico-political monstrosities” amount to a new form of expression, “Bankspeak.” “In the world of ‘management’, people have goals and agendas; faced with opportunities, challenges and critical situations, they elaborate strategies. To appreciate the novelty, let’s recall that, in the 1950s–60s, issues were studied by experts who surveyed and conducted missions, published reports, assisted, advised and suggested programs.”

Dickens’s Desk Is the People’s Desk, and Other News

March 30, 2015 | by

Samuel_Luke_Fildes_-_The_Empty_Chair_(The_Graphic,_1870)

Dickens’s desk. Samuel Luke Fildes, The Empty Chair, 1870.

  • What accounts for Jane Austen’s unprecedented posthumous success? “Tolstoy, Dickens and Proust are all remembered, and still read, but they do not have countless fans throughout the world who reread their books each year, who eagerly await the latest television or movie adaptation, who attend conventions in period costume, and who no doubt dream about the heroes and heroines of their novels.”
  • Today, in the furniture of the greats: Charles Dickens’s desk (and chair) have been preserved for posterity. Having been “hidden away” for a hundred and fifty years, during which many people who were not Charles Dickens had the audacity to use them, they’ll soon assume their rightful place at London’s Dickens Museum, where they’ve been “secured for the benefit of all our visitors.”
  • The many faces of Terrance Hayes: “When college students read Hayes, they talk about the underlying seriousness of poems about lynchings, fistfights or rape. But when poets talk about Hayes, they tend to address his invented forms: poems based on anagrams, on the Japanese slide shows called pechakucha and on puzzles.”
  • Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a 1951 mystery novel, renewed interest in Richard III, that most maligned of monarchs: “The novel was immediately popular when it first appeared … Tey’s dissection of received history prompted readers to question … everything they had been taught. This could feel like an awakening.”
  • Robert Moses is the subject of a new graphic biography—from France. “No New Yorker would mistake the book for a native product. There are editing glitches. Randalls Island becomes ‘Randall Island,’ Staten Island is rendered ‘State Island’ … Lines of dialogue like ‘You’ll stay for the dinner I’ve organized with some people from the municipality’ were probably not uttered quite like that.”

The Rise of Slackness, and Other News

March 27, 2015 | by

General-echo

General Echo‘s 12" of Pleasure LP.

  • Luc Sante on listening to reggae in the late seventies: “General Echo, whose real name was Errol Robinson, was prominent in the rise of ‘slackness,’ the sexually explicit reggae style that began to eclipse the Rastafarian ‘cultural’ style … his songs include ‘Bathroom Sex’ and ‘I Love to Set Young Crutches on Fire’ (‘crotches,’ that is), as well as ‘Drunken Master’ and ‘International Year of the Child.’ ”
  • The Cannes Film Festival saw a lot more action in the fifties: “Of all the grueling daily rituals … perhaps the most frivolous are the combination beach party/publicity functions, where paparazzi scramble to get shots of the ‘traditional striptease by the starlet of the year standing on the rocks.’ This particular custom was spawned in part by Brigitte Bardot’s inaugural, bikinied appearance at Cannes in 1953. But disrobing actresses arguably didn’t become a fixture of the festival until the following year, when Simone Silva got banned for posing topless next to Robert Mitchum—a spectacle that caused a pile-up of frantic, injured photographers.”
  • How the Danish writer Dorthe Nors found her way to the short story: “The Swedes have that big, fearless, existential approach to literature. The Danes have an elastic, playful, anarchistic and ironic way of using language. And here was this dude telling me—the closet Swede—that I should make use of the strengths of my own language … ”
  • What does Taylor Swift have in common with Austen, Auden, Thackeray, and Shakespeare? And don’t say, She’s a storyteller of legendary talents—the answer is more mundane. She’s an adopter of they as a singular pronoun.
  • When John Updike tried to write a Jewish character—Henry Bech, who went on to star in four of Updike’s novels—Cynthia Ozick took him to task: “Updike comes and goes as anthropologist, transmitting nothing … Being a Jew is something more than being an alienated marginalized sensibility with kinky hair.”

Not Without My Piglet, and Other News

March 26, 2015 | by

          From Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art

From Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art

  • This spring, Zachary Leader’s new life of Saul Bellow arrives—“transparently meant as a corrective to the authorized biography published by James Atlas in 2000, which presented Bellow as a racist and a woman-hater, among other things, and accelerated Bellow’s fall from literary grace. You can feel the lines being drawn and the gloves going up … ”
  • “Characters having hallucinations and apparitions; super-strength robots throwing cars on a destructive rampage; jealous gorillas who are furious they didn’t end up with the girl; a thieving woman stealing a piglet under the cover of nighttime; circus murder mysteries … ” You’ll find all these and more on the pulpy covers of Mexican paperbacks.
  • A nineteenth-century guide to oratory tells you everything you need to know about giving a good speech; it will generously expand your gestural vocabulary, if nothing else. (The key to public speaking is to flail around like you’re an out-of-water synchronized swimmer, apparently.)
  • You might also make liberal use of litotes—the art of ironic understatement “in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary”—a not unsubtle addition to any rhetorician’s arsenal. “Litotes is best appreciated as a kind of rhetorical magician or illusionist. It can draw our attention to something—its badness, its difficulty, etc.—while, simultaneously, emphasizing its opposite. The quickness of the rhetorical hand deceives the mind’s eye—now you see what’s being meant, now you don’t.”
  • And steer clear of zombie nouns, while you’re at it: “Judith Butler, in the essay that won the 1997 Bad Writing Contest, uses account, relations, ways, hegemony, relations, repetition, convergence, rearticulation, question, temporality, thinking, structure, shift, theory, totalities, objects, insights, possibility, structure, conception, hegemony, sites, strategies, rearticulation and power—all in a single sentence. It is not much clearer with the other words added.”

Your Art Will Last Forever, and Other News

March 25, 2015 | by

cave of altamira

An ancient bison painting in Spain’s Cave of Altamira. Image via Nautilus

  • So you’re making a work of art—congratulations! If you want it to endure physically for eons to come, thus imbuing you with a kind of immortality, you should look to the past: marble, granite, wood, rabbit-skin glue, oil paint, and other biological materials are still the most durable ones around. “Conservators still don’t know how some new art materials—like dibond, used previously in outdoor signage, or acrylic paints—will hold up over decades and centuries, but they seem promising.”
  • Susan Howe and R. H. Quaytman—poet and painter, mother and daughter—are reluctant to foreground their relationship, but they’ve collaborated on a book together and given their first joint interview. “During the afternoon I spent with them, they happily talked over each other: about archives; about Mark von Schlegell, whom they both adore; about television; about Victorian novels; about vitrines.”
  • A thirteenth-century cartographer drew a map of the Mediterranean so accurate that ships today could still navigate with it. “The mystery is how he managed to reconcile all this contradictory, incomplete information into one brilliantly precise chart of the Mediterranean that allowed mariners to visualize, for the first time, the sea on which they’d spent their lives sailing.”
  • “Clive James made his name as a television critic, essayist and wit. But he began as a poet, and four years on from being handed a death sentence (with leukemia, emphysema and kidney failure—‘the lot’), he is ending as a poet.”
  • Charlie Victor Romeo, a film and play, “features six episodes of real-life airline disasters as experienced from the point of view of the crew in the cockpit.” “There’s no romanticism in a crash. There’s regionalism,” one of its writers, Robert Berger, said. “Every other moment is intense technical troubleshooting about ‘mach-speed trim’ … As you watch it, you can see it as an opera in a language you don’t speak. You get love, hate, anger, struggle, and the battle of man and machines, and the energy of those things.”

Patron Saint of Inveighing Against Stuff, and Other News

March 24, 2015 | by

G.K._Chesterton_Low

Pray to G. K. Chesterton.

  • Congratulations to Akhil Sharma, whose novel Family Life has won the Folio Prize. Writing the book, Sharma said, was “like chewing stones”: “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it.”
  • “The traditional complaint about teenagers—that they treat the place like a hotel—has no purchase on me. In fact, I quite like the idea. A hotel is a place where you can come and go autonomously and with dignity; a place where you will not be subjected to criticism, blame or guilt; a place where you can drop your towel on the floor without fear of reprisal, but where, hopefully, over time, you become aware of the person whose job it is to pick it up and instead leave it folded neatly on a chair.” Rachel Cusk on raising teenagers.
  • The Great Gatsby­ was published in 1925 to lukewarm reviews and sluggish sales—how did it become a classic? Salute (or blame) the GIs: “As a part of a revolutionary scheme of donating more than 22 million books to World War II troops abroad, a publisher threw in a random book from its backlist: The Great GatsbyGatsby and others entered the consciousness of millions of men who returned from war with an appreciation for paperback books and reading.”
  • A group of Catholics have proposed G. K. Chesterton for sainthood. “Chesterton, in his jolly way, was a militant. A blaster of the superstitions of modernity, a toppler of the idols of materialism. He inveighed ceaselessly, at great length, and without ever once repeating himself, against ‘the thought-destroying forces of our time’: pessimism and determinism and pragmatism and impressionism.”
  • A brief history of gayness on television: “By the fall of 1974, three years after the first gay cameo on popular American television (the vehicle was the liberal lodestar All in the Family), there were a handful of gay characters on prime time … ‘All were rapists, child molesters, or murderers.’ Activists lobbied networks to stop depicting gays as criminals and, within a few years, moved on to more subtle forms of otherness.”