The Daily

On the Shelf

Some Ghoulish Stained Glass for You, and Other News

October 14, 2016 | by

Harry Clarke, Our Lady of the Sorrows (detail), 1917. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

  • I know you have plenty to worry about, but Sam Kriss is here to warn you about the fabulously rich tech bros who really, honestly, actually believe that we may be living in a simulated reality generated by some hyperadvanced species of the future: “Ignore for a moment any objections you might have to the simulation hypothesis, and everything impractical about the idea that we could somehow break out of reality, and think about what these people are trying to do. The two billionaires … are convinced that they’ll emerge out of this drab illusion into a more shining reality, lit by a brighter and more beautiful star. But for the rest of us the experience would be very different—you lose your home, you lose your family, you lose your life and your body and everything around you. Simulation or not, everything would disappear. It would be the end of the world. Comic-book movies, in their own sprawling simulated narrative universes, have been raising the stakes to this level for years: every summer we watch dozens of villains plotting to blow up the entire universe, but the motivations are always hazy. Why, exactly, does the baddie want to destroy everything again? Now we know.”
  • It’s never a bad time to think about Dada. (Please don’t put that on a T-shirt. I call dibs. I need the money.) In the wake of six new Dadaist exhibitions around the world, Alfred Brendel reconsiders the slipperiest movement of the modern era: “Dada relished contradictions. A famous Dada saying claimed that whoever is a Dadaist is against Dada. In his Dada manifesto of 1918, Tzara informs us that, as the editor, he wants to emphasize that he feels unable to endorse any of the opinions being published since he was against manifestoes in principle. But also against principles. Theo van Doesburg called Dada the ‘art form on account of which its producer doesn’t take a stand for anything. This relative art form is accompanied by laughter’ … Traditionalists see Dadaists as silly people. To a degree, they are right. Silliness was liberating from the constraints of reason. Silliness has the potential to be funny, to provoke laughter, and make people realize that laughter is liberating. Raoul Hausmann mentioned the sanctity of nonsense and ‘the jubilation of orphic absurdity.’ To Dadaists, Charlie Chaplin was the greatest artist in the world.” 

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Writers, It’s Time to Learn the Guitar, and Other News

October 13, 2016 | by

Throw everything else away. These are your tools now.

  • Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, prompting a massive spike in acoustic guitar and harmonica sales at Sam Ash Music stores around the world as writers rush to recast themselves as musicians, tearing their elbow patches off and discarding their tweed sport coats, smashing their typewriters and casting whole drawers of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils into the street, as it finally dawns on them that they’re working in an outmoded medium facing dwindling interest from the culture at large, with not even the promise of prestige or elite status to sustain them. Don DeLillo is seeking a twelve-album contract with Columbia Records. Haruki Murakami is tripling the line breaks in all his novels and reissuing them as “Collected Lyrics.” Philip Roth sits cross-legged in silk pajamas, trying to play a major scale on the harmonica for about five minutes—he gives up, masturbates. Milan Kundera promises to go electric at next year’s Newport Folk Festival. 

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In the Kitchen with Salvador Dalí, and Other News

October 12, 2016 | by

Photo: Taschen, via the Guardian

  • This holiday season, the gourmand in your life will accept one gift and one gift only: Salvador Dalí’s cookbook, with its recipes for frog pasties and thousand-year-old eggs. Any kitchen without it is disappointingly ordinary and should be destroyed immediately. “Dalí’s lavish and erotic cookbook Les Diners de Gala was first published in 1973, featuring 136 recipes compiled by the painter and his wife Gala. Divided into twelve chapters with titles such as ‘Prime Lilliputian malaises’ (meat) and ‘Deoxyribonucleic Atavism’ (vegetables), the book also features sumptuous Dalí illustrations and photographs of the painter posing alongside tables loaded with a banquet’s worth of food. Chapter 10, entitled ‘The “I Eat GALA”,’ is devoted to aphrodisiacs. In one illustration, a disembodied head with biscuits for hair and a fringe made of a jar of jam sits on a platter alongside a large cube of blue cheese, the sides of which show a crowd in front of a mountain. Another shows a desert scene in which a telephone receiver is suspended on a twig over a melting plate holding two fried eggs and a razor blade.”
  • I hadn’t known the comic novel was under attack—unless, maybe, its enemies have taken a page from Donald Trump’s book and refused to telegraph their strategies in advance—but here, nevertheless, is Howard Jacobson rising to its defense, and reaching deep back into the canon in search of its ancestry: “The novel is never more itself—certainly it never has more fun being itself—than when its heroes fall drastically short of that heroism whose function is to right wrongs, settle scores and put the fractured times back together again … Call this narrative the atheism of the real. It is the great achievement of the novel in prose. I mean no disrespect to those whose imaginations take them to fantasy in any of its forms. The novel can and should do anything. Yet there can be a bias among those of us who love novels nearly as much as we love life (and sometimes even more) in favor of the flight-of-fancy novel, the introspectively other-worldly, let us call it, as against this worldliness, except when what is of this world is to airy thinness beat, as luminescent as angels’ wings, so exquisite in its quiet dailiness that we can see right through it.” 

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Bringing Back Brutalism, and Other News

October 11, 2016 | by

Photo: (c) Roberto Conte,

  • Henry Green’s novels are being reissued, and you should read them as soon as you can. Don’t even finish reading this post. Just get up and go buy them and read them. I’ll be here. If you’re not inclined to do what I tell you just because I told you to do it, Leo Robson can convince you more elegantly: “Green believed that well-groomed, well-behaved English was an obstacle to expression. But his style wasn’t a merely negative exercise, a winnowing or clearing out: he delivered a gorgeous, full-bodied alternative. The Henry Green novel—typically portraying failures of love and understanding, and noisy with the vernacular of industrialists and Cockneys, landowners and servants—was terse, intimate, full of accident and unnerving comedy, exquisite though still exuberant, sensual and whimsical, reflexively figurative yet always surprising, preoccupied with social nuance, generational discord, and sensory phenomena while maintaining an air of abstraction, as reflected in those flighty gerund titles.” 

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Someone’s Sending Feces to Philosophers, and Other News

October 10, 2016 | by


Full of shit.

  • There are plenty of people in this world who deserve to find an envelope full of human feces in the mail. Philosophers, in my experience, are not among these people; the life of the mind does not often cry out for comeuppance. But someone thinks otherwise. Sally Haslanger, a professor at MIT, was among four philosophers to receive shit in the mail last summer: “Haslanger wasn’t as confounded as one might expect a well-respected philosopher to be when faced with a mysterious package of poop. That’s because three other philosophers also received shit in the mail last summer … All four philosophy professors were embroiled in a 2014 academic brawl over what they perceived as an abuse of power within their field. Now they say someone is sending them shit in an attempt to shut them up. The question is, who? And why now?”

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Stephen King Says the Clowns Are Nice, and Other News

October 7, 2016 | by

This clown? Totally fine.

  • Today in clowns: you may have heard about the rash of nefarious clown sightings we’ve faced here in the contiguous United States. It’s hard to keep one’s cool with clowns on the national prowl. But Stephen King, who knows from psychotic clowns, has offered a public-service announcement: do not fear the clowns, America. “King’s clown creation, Pennywise, has terrified readers since he appeared in his novel It in 1986. ‘There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing,’ writes King … But despite his own contribution to coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—King has urged his millions of followers on Twitter not to worry about the rash of sightings across the U.S. ‘Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,’ he wrote.”
  • Publishers: it’s time to stop pretending that your short-story collections are novels just so you get better sales. The Goon Squad–ization of the story collection is a complete and utter sham, Michael Deagler writes: “When reviewing a linked collection, a reviewer will sometimes (bafflingly) simulate confusion as to whether the book is a collection or a novel or something in between … It is far easier to publish a novel these days than a collection of short stories, so much so that many pragmatic writers have essentially abandoned the form. Fantastic short-story writers end up spending their careers producing middling novels, and our literature is poorer for it. So in those rare cases when a short-story collection does manage to be published (and reviewed and sold and read by a large number of people), to deny that collection its genre—to call it a novel, as though the world really needs another novel—is to rob the medium of short fiction of a hard-earned victory.” 

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