The Daily

On the Shelf

Ignorance Studies, and Other News

August 27, 2015 | by

An illustration of ignorance personified from an 1890 edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.

  • Literary fame has been a thorny thing more or less forever—according to Suetonius, Virgil sometimes ducked into buildings to flee his fans and the adulating masses. But what accounts for this celebrity, and what stokes its flames once a writer has died? Being struck down in your prime helps: that’s why we read Keats, who died at twenty-five, and not Barry Cornwall, who lived to eighty-six. All told, “an appetite for literary immortality, like the desire to read one’s obituary, poses sufficient challenge that a writer should concentrate on other goals.”
  • Today in etymology and the patriarchy: misogyny is a very old word, and sexism a fairly new one—in 1933, the Oxford English Dictionary defined it as “a sequence of six cards”—but despite their nuances, the two are coming to be used interchangeably: “Imputing hatred, which is what misogynist does, is an unnecessary step in a different direction … Misogyny isn’t merely a strong version of sexism. Some men go past stereotyping to contempt. Those calling out ‘misogyny’ everywhere do so with the aim of helping women, but overuse of a word weakens it. If speakers keep misogyny to its original and more powerful meaning, it will pack a greater punch, hopefully to land all the harder on the misogynists of the world.”
  • If we want to dispel ignorance, there’s one tactic we haven’t really tried yet: teaching it. Ignorance Studies could impart valuable lessons about human folly, in its many guises. “The study of ignorance—or agnotology, a term popularized by Robert N. Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford—is in its infancy … But giving due emphasis to unknowns, highlighting case studies that illustrate the fertile interplay between questions and answers, and exploring the psychology of ambiguity are essential. Educators should also devote time to the relationship between ignorance and creativity and the strategic manufacturing of uncertainty.”
  • Since The Corrections, published fourteen years ago, Franzen has assumed a role as our preeminent public moralist, following in the footsteps of Roth and Mailer where once he admired more fringe figures like DeLillo and Gaddis. “His new phase is marked by his conviction that novels be animated by causes … Franzen has always conceived of writing as a competition, with all writers everywhere, living or dead, aligned either with him or against him, or both at once. His critical writings often read like peace treaties or declarations of war, or like the posturings of a permanent undergraduate at pains to take a side. They frequently contain eccentric statements about what it means to read a novel.”
  • Charles Simic has been reading Charles Reznikoff’s long poem Testimony: The United States (1885–1915): Recitative, culled from thousands of pages of court records spanning three decades around the turn of the twentieth century: “I know of nothing like it in literature … what we have here is the first found epic poem. It certainly reads like one, with its huge cast of evildoers and victims, vast setting, and profusion of breathtaking stories. Murder, treachery, injustice, greed, foolishness, jealousy, rape, anger, revenge, marital squabbles, cruelty to children and animals, bad luck, and many other miseries human beings bring upon themselves and on their fellow men are all here to behold … It should not be surprising that Testimony is rarely assigned at our colleges and universities these days; it causes too much discomfort to those who prefer to know nothing about what goes on in the world. This may be precisely what Reznikoff intended with a book like this. Let whoever reads it be upset.”

Correspondence

A New Kind of Refinement

August 26, 2015 | by

Guillaume Apollinaire and Madeleine Pagès in December 1915.

A letter from Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, dated October 11, 1915. Apollinaire had met Pagès, who taught literature, on a train in January of that year; by August they were engaged and Apollinaire was stationed in the trenches of Champagne, fighting the Great War. His prolific correspondence with Pagès from this period is remarkable not just in its erotic candor but in its portrayal of life in the trenches, down to the finest details: “mud, what mud, you cannot imagine the mud you have to have seen it here, sometimes the consistency of putty, sometimes like whipped cream or even wax and extraordinarily slippery.” At times he rebuked his lover for not writing often or well enough, though the beginning of this letter finds him pleased with her efforts. The following year, he was wounded by shrapnel; the injury so disturbed him that he refused to receive his fiancée during his convalescence, and soon the letters, along with their engagement, dried up.

My love, I had two letters from you today. I am very happy with them … especially out here, where your precious sensuality is a consolation to me, the sole remedy for all my troubles. Please do mark this well, my love. You said yourself that we should strengthen the secret between us, so do strengthen it, and fear for nothing. Be naked before me—as far away as I am … Your meaningful look in Marseilles is admirably clear to me in memory, charged with all the voluptuousness that is part of you. You are very beautiful. I kiss your mouth through your hat veil, tearing it like a Veil of Isis and grasping the whole of that little traveller who is now my own beloved little wife and clasping her madly to me …

I take your whole mouth and kiss it, and then your breasts, so sensitive, whose tips harden at my kiss and strain towards me like your desire itself. I wrap my arms about you and hold you fight forever against my heart. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

The Play’s the Thing

August 26, 2015 | by

From a 1939 Work Projects Administration Poster.

Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.

Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.) Read More »

Contests

Only Five Days Left to #ReadEverywhere

August 26, 2015 | by

Criticism in the corn.

Our joint subscription deal is in its final days: you only have five days left to get The Paris Review and the London Review of Books for just $70 U.S. (If you’re already a Paris Review subscriber, we’ll extend your subscription to The Paris Review for another year, and your LRB subscription will still begin immediately.)

By now, you’ve gotten the gist of our contest, too: through August 31, post a photo of yourself reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, and use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. Our favorite photographer will win an Astrohaus Freewrite, the hotly anticipated smart typewriter that lets you write virtually anywhere. Need some inspiration? Pinterest users can get a glimpse of the competition here.

Subscribe today!

parisreviewbunny 

On the Shelf

A Brief History of Seagull Hatred, and Other News

August 26, 2015 | by

Winslow Homer, Rocky Coast and Gulls (detail), 1869.

  • Claudia Rankine on Serena Williams, black excellence, and the strange status conferred by corporate largesse: “The London School of Marketing (L.S.M.) released its list of the most marketable sports stars, which included only two women in its Top 20: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. They were ranked 12th and 20th. Despite decisively trailing Serena on the tennis court (Serena leads in their head-to-head matchups 18–2, and has 21 majors and 247 weeks at No. 1 to Sharapova’s five majors and 21 weeks at number 1), Sharapova has a financial advantage off the court … There is another, perhaps more important, discussion to be had about what it means to be chosen by global corporations. It has to do with who is worthy, who is desirable, who is associated with the good life. As long as the white imagination markets itself by equating whiteness and blondness with aspirational living, stereotypes will remain fixed in place.”
  • Kingsley Amis, says Rachel Cusk, approached the short story as a kind of journeyman, self-consciously avoiding any rhetoric about the form’s high modernist possibilities: “His own stories, he said, were mere ‘chips from a novelist’s work-bench’ … With his talk of product and workbenches, Amis is trying to create the image of the writer as an ordinary worker, to dispel art’s associations with foppishness and pretentiousness and self-aggrandizement … It is as though, in the modernist possibilities of the short story, he perceived a threat both to his masculine and his writerly identity; yet for a generation of American male writers emerging contemporaneously with Amis, the short story was a sort of ‘working man’s’—indeed almost a macho—form.”
  • Reader, I implore you to take a moment out of your day to consider the seagull—it is, now as ever, among our most maligned birds, and the root of our hatred for them is deep and etymological: “The word ‘gull’ doesn’t appear in English until the late medieval period, and its origins are unclear. It’s probably a loan-word from the Cornish guilan or Welsh gŵylan. But in the early modern period, the seagull suffered from its homonyms, particular the verb meaning ‘to deceive’.”
  • At last, the year’s most essential, most probing listicle: a complete ranking of literary magazines funded by or affiliated with the CIA. The New Leader is there, and The Kenyon Review, and Mundo Nuevo, and—oh, what’s this? “Of all the publications on this list, The Paris Review may be the one with the weakest connection to the CIA … But the record clearly shows that The Paris Review benefited financially from selling article reprints to CCF magazines. This was far from the CCF’s direct participation in management of Der Monat or Encounter, but The Paris Review did derive some benefit from the CIA, and there is circumstantial evidence that this affected the choices of authors for its interview series. In a way, the Paris Review case shows how difficult it was for ‘apolitical’ highbrow literary periodicals to get through that period of the Cold War without some form of interaction with the CIA.”
  • Garth Greenwell has spent many hours with Lidia Yuknavitch’s sex scenes, and has emerged a wiser, richer person for it: “Yuknavitch forces us to see the body in all its physicality, its flesh and fluids and excretions, and she depicts scenes of sex, including fetishistic and sadomasochistic sex, that are brutally visceral. Yuknavitch’s sex scenes are remarkable among current American novelists, not just for their explicitness but for the way she uses them to pursue questions of agency, selfhood, and the ethical implications of making art.”

Our Daily Correspondent

Justification

August 25, 2015 | by

Mensur_-_Dorpat_1820er_Jahre_edit

German students fencing in the 1820s.

The other day, I stopped to give myself a talking-to. I’m worried about you, I said sternly. Your constant outrage is not healthy, and all these self-righteous interventions with strangers are completely out of control. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but you’re turning into your mother. 

I was appropriately horrified. I knew what angel-me was talking about: the time my mom slammed on the brakes to leap out of the car and accost the neighborhood kids whose snowball had sailed into the street. Or the time she yelled at a preteen for smoking on the sidewalk in front of the rec center. Or the time she lectured a car full of my classmates about their grammar. Read More »