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Today Is the Final Day for Our Joint Subscription Deal

August 31, 2015 | by

Advisory editor Hailey Gates in the streets of Kinshasa, DR Congo.

We understand the urge to procrastinate. Two months ago, when we first announced our joint subscription deal—the one where you get a year of The Paris Review and the London Review of Books for just $70 U.S.—most of the summer was ahead of us. Sixty days of sunlight lay in store. We were in no rush to do anything.

But now the charcoals are extinguished, the clouds have descended, and this deal is about to vanish with the season. Today is your last day to sign up for the joint subscription. (If you’re already a Paris Review subscriber, we’ll extend your subscription for another year, and your LRB subscription will still begin immediately.)

It’s also your last chance to enter our contest: by the end of the day, 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! Because there is, in a sense, no tomorrow.

On the Shelf

The World Doesn’t Care About You, and Other News

August 31, 2015 | by

Bad Brains in 1983. Photo: Malco23

  • Today in reevaluations of problematic twentieth-century philosophers: Heidegger’s predilection for tragedy and poetry informed his yearning for a grand narrative, a story that could encompass all of history. That yearning, in turn, is part of what led him to Nazism. Even so, “Heidegger’s tragic, overblown interpretation of Nazism may have been unique to him, but he was certainly not the only twentieth-century philosopher to think that poetry and tragedy might preserve something integral to human experience that was in danger of being swallowed up by the forces of reason and demystification … Maybe academic philosophy today has conceded too much ground to demystifying argumentation, to judgment and quantification. Maybe we do need more poetry in our lives. Maybe films really do represent a last gasp for tragedy and grand-scale thinking in the modern world.”
  • Jane Smiley, whose Art of Fiction interview will appear in our Fall issue, discusses her cluttered office in Carmel Valley, California: “I have never objected to mess, since mess reminds me that I can choose to write or I can choose to clean, and I have always chosen to write … I have never liked privacy in a writing room; I have always preferred noise and traffic and phone calls and people walking in and out.”
  • Remembering New York City’s hardcore scene, some thirty years later: “The insight boiling up, across all of these records, is: the world doesn’t care about you. There are no merit badges awarded for normalcy and complacency for the likes of us in straight society. It’s a long slog, and some days you are just a piece of living meat unhappily compelled to work and eat and sleep and go through the motions of your relationships, just because it is too much trouble to do otherwise. Hardcore starts from the minimal, almost entirely swallowed-up spark of human life, maybe just the faint, unwanted heartbeat whose persistence means, ‘I have to go to work today.’ The young Marx thought that mankind would attain its ‘species-being’ in the free time obtained for human development after the attainment of communism. Hardcore says: our species-being is a pretty ugly thing, for now, but we have to own it. It—we—can’t wait.”
  • For the past several years, an experimental genre of creative nonfiction has been quietly thriving online: one-star Yelp reviews of national parks. Don’t let the unsophisticated and often ungrammatical prose fool you; these works have taken the pulse of America. Read on as our nation’s treasures and all manners of natural beauty are cast aside as garbage: Death Valley is “the ugliest place I have ever seen,” Yosemite needs more parking lots, and Carlsbad Caverns appeals only if “you find big caves and rocks overwhelmingly fascinating.”
  • Geoff Dyer revisits Raymond Williams: “Borders—how they are constructed and recognized, how they impede and are crossed—are central to his thought … [he] entirely reshaped my sense of life and literature and the way they were related … Before that, in a way that now seems hard to credit, I had no understanding of the social process I’d lived through even though it was, by then, a well-documented one: the working-class boy who keeps passing exams—exams that take him first to grammar school, then to an Oxbridge college—and discovers only in retrospect that there was more to all this than exams, or even education.”

Our Daily Correspondent

Picnic Time

August 28, 2015 | by

Elizabeth Shippen Green, 1906.

In 1932, an Irish popular songwriter named Jimmy Kennedy penned one of the most sinister sets of lyrics ever composed. Kennedy—who had already had Tin Pan Alley success with numbers like “Barmaids Song” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Later, he would go to write “Isle of Capri” and “My Prayer.” But to the contemporary ear, perhaps none of his compositions is as memorable as that terrifying song he set to John Walter Bratton’s 1907 two-step.

I refer, of course, to “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Read More »

Out of Print

Hair Streams

August 28, 2015 | by

hairstreams

There are questions of such vast, cosmic import that most of us never think to ask them. I’ve wondered why there’s something rather than nothing; I have pondered the nature of objectivity; I’ve questioned the existence of free will. But I’ve never asked why some hairs on my body grow in one direction, and other hairs an entirely different direction.

That’s where Walter Aubrey Kidd comes in. He was not like you or me; his was a mind so restive, so thick with a passion for inquiry, that no mystery, however impregnable, was safe from its advances. And so it was that in 1903 he bequeathed to us The Direction of Hair in Animals and Man, taking a fine-tooth comb to a subject most of us had hardly seen fit to tousle. Read More »

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Signage, Segel, Cerebral Kisses

August 28, 2015 | by

Ed Ruscha, Standard, Amarillo, Texas (detail), 1962, black-and-white photograph.

Katherine Silver’s translation of Dinner, by the Argentinian novelist César Aira, found its way to me earlier this week, and I’ve since raced through it. It’s a slender, wacky fun house of a novel—featuring peptide-craving cadavers and intricate wind-up toys, among other oddities—and yet it begins at the most ordinary of places: the dinner table. There our sixty-something-year-old bachelor (who still lives with his mom) sits, having surrendered to an evening of drab gossip with a friend. Soon, and without much warning, Aira tosses us into a zombie-infested town where the dead crawl out of their graves to suck the endorphins from the brains of the living, culminating in what he tenderly calls the “cerebral kiss.” Aira writes with imagination and pith; in an interview with Bomb magazine, he told María Moreno, “In my work everything is invented, and I can go on inventing indefinitely.” I hope he does. —Caitlin Youngquist

Ed Ruscha has always been enigmatic about his photographic work; he has called it a hobby, despite the fact that he has produced a number of photo books (now rare and highly prized), including the famous Twentysix Gasoline StationsVarious Small Fires, and Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Those books have even inspired a book of their own, the recent Various Small Books, which catalogues other artists’ riffs on and homages to Ruscha’s volumes. And now I’ve discovered a photo book about Ruscha’s photographs and photo books—the aptly titled Ed Ruscha, Photographer. Somewhere between wanting to be a cartoonist and a commercial artist and becoming a painter, Ruscha fit in a side interest in photography. The book features not only his hymns to repetition and the midcentury American landscape but also his very early snapshots (taken Europe in 1961) and his more recent photographs, which attest to his abiding interest in highway signage. There is also a smattering of color work—strange, often red-stained still lifes involving liquids and food. Think Marilyn Minter crossed with Takeshi Murata put through an Ed Ruscha filter. —Nicole Rudick
Read More »

On the Shelf

Let Him Buy Groceries in Peace, and Other News

August 28, 2015 | by

Is that the author of The Map and the Territory in there?

  • Today in Houellebecq: the author has inveighed against Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, for publishing a series of unauthorized pieces about him. Calling journalists “parasites” and “cockroaches,” Houellebecq dismissed the articles for their “malicious sneakiness,” noting that he’d refused to meet the reporter and had explicitly instructed his friends not to speak with her. “Knowing which Monoprix I shop in is not a subject of national importance,” he wrote—somewhat mystifyingly, as the Le Monde piece made no mention of said Monoprix. (He’s also recently announced an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris, where he’ll show “photographs, installations and films, along with commissions by other artists such as Iggy Pop and Robert Combas.”)
  • Reading: Why bother? What’s all the fuss about? Four new books aim to show that reading makes us thoughtful and empathetic—“training” for the art of being human. “We might describe it as paideutic criticism, the term taken from the ancient Greek idea of paideia—the original foundation of humanistic study. Paideia meant the pursuit of self-knowledge through examination of the beautiful and the good … By reading and rereading the classics in the company of these genial guides, Virgils to our Dante, we can, in a more modestly modern way, achieve some similar serenity.”
  • We can also find serenity in forgetfulness, which allows us to let go of that ultimate nuisance, personal identity: Going along with Locke’s view of memory as identity is the narrative theory of identity—the idea that one forges and maintains an identity by weaving a coherent narrative out of memories, tying one’s present to one’s past. Memory and the process of remembering are essential to this. Forgetting is an enemy, causing narrative gaps and undermining the sense of having a coherent narrative … Some people court forgetfulness. My students like to quote the old adage that ‘ignorance is bliss’ when we talk about memory and forgetting; from this they think it follows, as night follows day, that ignorance is to be preferred to knowledge when such knowledge undermines happiness. If forgetfulness serves the goal of bliss, who wouldn’t pursue it?”
  • In the wake of the controversy surrounding Duke and three students who refuse to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Sam Stephenson remembers his time teaching at the university’s Center for Documentary Studies: “ ‘There are people teaching at Duke that barely graduated from UNC,’ I’d tell my students on the first day of class. The ones who laughed usually proved to be the more engaged and thoughtful documentarians … The outlying students—the ones frustrated by the emphasis of their fellow students on linear, pre-professional tracks—tended to find their way to our building, on the wrong side of the tracks, literally … These three students who are objecting to Bechdel’s book could use a dose of good documentary engagement. (I doubt they would have thought my introductory class joke was funny.) The words document and doctor come from the same Latin root, docere, which means, variously, to teach, to learn, to pay attention, to care, and, ultimately, to heal.”
  • There’s a highly advanced, deeply treacherous form of storytelling far beyond the realm of mere literature: dating. Specifically, sugar dating, in which courtship between a sugar daddy and a sugar baby is clouded by the exchange of money. “You can tell yourself whatever story you want, and eventually you'll forget you’re telling a story and you’ll find yourself in the parking lot of a Pizzeria Uno getting sucked off by someone who thinks she’s getting the better end of the deal. And the worst part is, you’ll think you’re helping her. And she’ll give you that blow job, all the while wondering how she could get so lucky, how you could be so dumb. Everyone gets what they want. And, sure, what’s so wrong with that?”