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Hy-Brasil Is Wherever You Want It to Be, and Other News

September 22, 2016 | by

Hy-Brasil in Petrus Plancius’s “Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus,” Amsterdam, 1594. Image via Mapping Boston Foundation and Hyperallergic

  • Today in cartographical howlers: a new exhibition in Boston, “Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island,” chronicles the exciting centuries when no one really knew where anything was and mapmakers had carte blanche to draw whole islands anywhere they damn well pleased: “O Brazil, or Hy-Brasil as it was frequently labeled, had haunted maps since the fourteenth century, first as a mistake, then as a mythological tribute. Its size and shape often morphed, its location wandered from Ireland to North America, and its name varied, but for five centuries it endured in Western cartography … There are all sorts of legends attached to Hy-Brasil, including giant black rabbits that lived with a sorcerer, gods hidden by the mists, lost civilizations, and, more recently, UFOs. However, its greatest connection is to Irish folklore, particularly the belief in the ‘Otherworld’ and its Elysium, a ‘Land of Youth.’ When it first was illustrated on a 1325 map, Hy-Brasil was considered to only be visible once every seven years due to the heavy mists, its land housing an immortal race of people.”
  • Planning your next family vacation? Why not force your loved ones to embark on a literary pilgrimage of Russia? You can tour the places where Dostoyevsky suffered, and where Tolstoy suffered, and then you can bicker among yourselves about which one of them suffered more productively. Jacqueline Carey did it, and she makes it sound more appealing: “We had the chance to visit the place where [The Brothers Karamazov] was written—Dostoyevsky’s last apartment, now a museum … Tea was always kept hot in the samovar, and he thought only he could make it right. When he drank tea made by his wife, he would say, ‘Oh, how wretched I am.’ He died on the couch, gazing at the Bible … In the Tolstoys’ sixteen-room winter house were many objects: books, a chess set, a piano, a tiger skin, a closet of clothes. On the landing an upright stuffed bear held a plate for visiting cards. Tolstoy was a man of obsessive enthusiasms. At the back of the house was a workroom with his cobbler tools, which he used to make shoes, including a pair for his oldest daughter Tatyana’s future husband.” 

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The Literate Pigeons, and Other News

September 21, 2016 | by

He thinks he’s people!

  • I used to take such pride in my literacy. “Look at me!” I would shout, running down the street in my I’M LITERATE T-shirt. “I can read!” But now the pep is out of my step, because apparently even pigeons can learn to read: “Through gradual training, the birds moved from learning to eat from a food hopper, to recognizing shapes, to learning words … After narrowing down to the four brightest birds out eighteen, over eight months of training, the advanced-class pigeons were taught to distinguish four-letter words from nonwords. They were even able to tell the difference between correctly spelled words and those with transposed characters, like ‘very’ and ‘vrey,’ or words with different letters included to make them completely misspelled.”
  • And that means it’s only a matter of time until the pigeons will be texting, too, because that’s what everyone does now. What do you think the pigeons are gonna do, use the telephone? The phone call is dead. Don’t even bother making a friendly call, unless you’re a needy loser. Timothy Noah tells us, “The phone call died, according to Nielsen, in the autumn of 2007. During the final three months of that year the average monthly number of texts sent on mobile phones (218) exceeded, for the first time in recorded history, the average monthly number of phone calls (213). A frontier had been crossed. The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech … Calling somebody on the phone used to be a perfectly ordinary thing to do. You called people you knew well, not so well, or not at all, and never gave it a second thought. But after the Great Texting Shift of 2007, a phone call became a claim of intimacy. Today if I want to phone someone just to chat, I first have to consider whether the call will be viewed as intrusive. My method is to ask myself, ‘Have I ever seen this person in the nude?’ ” 

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The Internet Keeps Regurgitating You, and Other News

September 20, 2016 | by

Just another day online!

  • On a similar note, Francine Prose responds with aplomb to what I can only describe as Shrivergate (or Literary Sombrerogate?): “It’s not the responsibility of art to make us better people, but some works of art can (if only temporarily) increase our compassion, sympathy, and tolerance … Even if we acknowledge (as Shriver does not) that we live in a society in serious need of repair, it’s still possible to ask whether the protest against cultural appropriation constitutes the most useful and effective form of political activism, whether it addresses our most critical and pressing problems. We could insure that not a single rock star or runway model ever again wears corn rows or dreadlocks—and not remotely change the fact that a black person with the same hairstyle might have trouble finding a job … We could prohibit writers from inventing characters whose backgrounds differ from their own without preventing even one young black man from being shot by the police.” 

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I Would Like to Be Paid to Write, and Other News

September 19, 2016 | by

This could be you, writer!

  • Ottessa Moshfegh wrote her novel Eileen with a plan: to get fucking rich. As a fiction writer, she thought, there’s only one way to do that—give the people the formulaic drivel that they want. In a profile for the Guardian, Moshfegh explains that “she didn’t want to ‘keep her head down’ and ‘wait thirty years to be discovered … so I thought I’m going to do something bold. Because there are all these morons making millions of dollars, so why not me? I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined and … talented: did I say that already?,’ she laughs. ‘I said: fuck it. Which was also: fuck them. I was pretty hostile. I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is … So … it started out as a fuck-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous. It was that kind of a gesture.’ ”
  • But let’s not get carried away. Writing doesn’t really make anyone rich. Ask Merritt Tierce, whose debut, Love Me Back, came out two years ago to “wide acclaim”—she was interviewed here on the Daily, even. Now she’s broke, because that’s how this industry works: “I haven’t been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer. I haven’t produced a Second Book … For over a year after Love Me Back came out I woke up every day with this loop in my head: I should write. But I need money. If I write something I can sell it and I'll have money. But I need money now. If I had money now, I could calm down and write something. I don’t have money now, so I’m probably not going to be able to calm down and write something. To have money now, I need a job. I should get a job … Because no matter how you do it, no one is paying you to write. They may pay you for something you wrote, or promise to pay you for something you have promised to write. They may pay your room and board for a month or two at a residency. They may pay you to teach, or to edit something someone else has written. They may pay you to come to a university and talk to people about writing. None of this is the same as being paid to write. I would like to be paid to write.” 

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Don’t Be a Jerk (Unless You Really Can’t Help It), and Other News

September 16, 2016 | by

A still from PBS’s Blank on Blank.

  • Before YouTube, people were convinced that all poets were boring, lifeless people who made little ink marks on pages—very sparingly, at that. Fortunately, there’s online video, and there’s never been a better time to witness poets at their mediagenic best. Austin Allen writes, “However scruffy by academic standards, online video libraries have dredged some remarkable treasures from obscurity. Even as they change the way new poets present their work, they’re reshaping our relationship to the history of the craft. ‘Read at random,’ Randall Jarrell advised, and now poetry lovers can view at random too, free-associating our way through the most precious archival footage. It’s a new mode of research, a conjuring of spirits to our private theaters, where at a moment’s notice we can evaluate—or just savor—records that scholars a generation ago would have killed for … What videos give poetry fans above all are performances: windows onto authors’ conceptions of pieces we’ve carried in our own heads; cadences we never detected on the page; obscure material, curiosities, ‘extras.’ ”
  • Honest question: Are you a jerk? No, silly, not a soda jerk—a jerk jerk! An asswipe! You probably think you’re not—that’s so like you—but maybe, giving you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve never had a reliable, fail-safe way to measure your own jerk quotient. Eric Schwitzgebel is here to help, with science: “The first step to the solution is to nail down more clearly what it means to be a jerk. I submit that jerkitude should be accepted as a category worthy of scientific study in its own right. The word jerk is apt and useful. It captures a very real phenomenon that no other concept in psychology quite does. Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the perspectives of the people around them, treating others as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with, rather than as moral and epistemic peers. To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority. The nugget of folk wisdom in calling certain people jerks is to highlight this particular species of deficiency.” 

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You Won’t Get Anywhere Taking the Stairs, and Other News

September 15, 2016 | by

Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel, in a rendering by Forbes Massie-Heatherwick Studio.

  • The Paris Review’s offices are in Chelsea, where we attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every day. (What, you thought all those people were here for the High Line?) But now there’s a new attraction in town: stairs. Lots and lots of stairs, beautifully arranged, and going nowhere. It’s part of an ambitious new sculpture that some have dubbed “the social climber”: “Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, Vessel, stands fifteen stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, forty-six, an acclaimed and controversial British designer … Mr. Heatherwick said Vessel was partly inspired by Indian stepwells, but he also referred to it as a climbing frame—what Americans would call a jungle gym—as well as ‘a Busby Berkeley musical with a lot of steps.’ ”
  • If you’re not into steps, just visit the city for the pavement. There’s a lot of it—and if you squint a bit or take the right drugs or just give it a good long think, you’ll see how interesting it is. Edwin Heathcote argues that “the pavement is the skin of the city, a membrane that separates the veneer of civilization from the darkness of the earth … The pavement is a paradoxical thing. It begins as a symbol of civilization and liberation but also becomes a kind of final resort, the domain of the homeless, of beggars and of defecating dogs. A city’s attitude to its street surface reveals much about its ideas of civic space, of ownership and generosity … ‘I think that our bodies are in truth naked,’ wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves. ‘We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.’ ” 

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