The Daily

On the Shelf

Poets Saving Parks, and Other News

June 24, 2016 | by

From a WPA poster for Yosemite.

  • When I think of the Beats, I think of drugs, of brooding nights in dens of iniquity, of casual misogyny. But it’s time to revamp their public image: they were also, as Timothy Egan writes, eloquent proponents of our national parks. “They were known as literary subversives, rebel voices in the era of Silent Generation conformity. But among their other contributions to American life are words that some of the Beats marshaled on behalf of wild places. Kerouac, inspired by Snyder’s rapture about a summer spent in the clouds, followed him as a lookout to an area that eventually became North Cascades National Park in Washington State … In this year when the Park Service is celebrating its centennial with all sorts of hand-wringing about the future, it’s instructive to remember how language can save landscape. Powerful prose has been put to good use in the cause of America’s Best Idea.”
  • Cynthia Ozick, at eighty-eight, is still a force of midcentury belletristic intellectualism—even her regular cabdriver in New Rochelle is quick to say that “the old lady” still has “all her marbles.” Giles Harvey paid her a visit: “Like her characters, a sorry gaggle of pallid shut-ins and thwarted fantasists, Ozick doesn’t get out much. She has spoken of her aversion to stages and of her impatience with what Henry James, her lifelong inspirator, called ‘the twaddle of mere graciousness.’ She writes at night, for years at the Sears, Roebuck desk she has owned since childhood, measuring her existence ‘in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail.’ When I first wrote to her to propose this article, she responded with a detailed message about her unsuitability. As far as she could tell, her life was altogether devoid of public action, public interest. ‘I once wrote that I’d flown cross-country, solo, from the Westchester County airport to the Rocky Mountains in a single-engine 180-horsepower Piper Cherokee,’ she added promisingly. ‘But that was a lie.’ ”
  • In which Emma Cline offers a glimpse into her past as a child actor: “For that week of filming, it was like I had a new team of parents … I thought the blessing would never end. And my mother must have felt it, too: she had met people who would chat with her during downtime, crew members who brought her bottles of water, other parents of kid actors who would commiserate over work permits and Screen Actors Guild dues. She belonged and so did I, marked by rare luck, sanctioned by all the busyness and effort that surrounded us. And who wouldn’t want to believe that the world took notice of you, made a space for you, fussed over your presence and wished for your success?”
  • True-crime stories are more popular than ever—and so, too, by extension, are white dudes with martyr complexes hoping to solve cold cases. James Renner’s new book True Crime Addict tells a familiar tale: “Cold cases have long attracted hangers-on like Renner, who work for years on ‘solving’ the crime but never do. In cases that broke before the advent of Internet sleuthing, they often called themselves ‘private investigators,’ which represented a shockingly diverse category. Now many of these people gather on the Internet, posting on sites like Renner’s. The result is a complicated morass of uncontrolled speculation. It certainly isn’t justice … I’m frankly surprised that a major publishing house decided to release Renner’s book.”

Our Correspondents

An Emotional Performance

June 23, 2016 | by

How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »

From the Archive

The Day Antonioni Came to the Asylum (Rhapsody)

June 23, 2016 | by

ww2hospital_c1940

Anne Carson’s poem “The Day Antonioni Came to the Asylum (Rhapsody)” appeared in our Fall 2004 issue. Carson was born sixty-six years ago this week, on June 21. Read More »

First Person

One Night Only!

June 23, 2016 | by

The implosion of the Riviera’s Monaco Tower

Casino-implosion

All photos by Gene Blevins © 2016 Los Angeles Daily News.

“Used to be I could get a free pack of Marlboros at the blackjack table when I was nineteen,” said a deep voice behind me, on the bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. “Now you can’t even get a hot dog.”

“You heading to town for the Riviera implosion tonight? Should be a good fireworks show, a good blast. Careful of that dust, though. Lot of asbestos. Yeah, they don’t give a shit in Vegas.” Read More »

On the Shelf

Art for Art, Blast Furnaces for Truth, and Other News

June 23, 2016 | by

640px-Red_onion_rings_closeup

A wonderful thing.

  • “Art! Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.” That’s one view, anyway, one that gained currency in Europe in the nineteenth century. But where does the defense of l’art pour l’art stand today? “Since art categorizable as ‘art for art’s sake’ is usually produced tangentially to hopes of making money, of reaching a large audience or of being immediately useful, it tends to be the darling of the many-degreed. And because art takes time to make, its makers are often those with a luxury of time—usually the wealthy, occasionally the poor. But there is a way in which art for art’s sake is the art most open to all comers, and the most (potentially) ethical.”
  • If you’re moved by the notion that art need serve no master other than itself, then you will all but certainly cheer the news that UNESCO has designated the Exeter Book as “the foundation volume of English literature, one of the world’s principal cultural artefacts.” The book, a tenth-century anthology of Old English verse, include poems such as “The Seafarer,” “The Wanderer,” and “Christ I,” which gave J. R. R. Tolkien the name for Middle Earth. But it also includes riddles, including this lusty tribute to, well, not what you’re thinking: “I’m a wonderful thing, a joy to women, / to neighbors useful. I injure no one / who lives in a village save only my slayer. / I stand up high and steep over the bed; / underneath I’m shaggy. Sometimes ventures / a young and handsome peasant’s daughter, / a maiden proud, to lay hold on me. / She seizes me, red, plunders my head, / fixes on me fast, feels straightway / what meeting me means when she thus approaches, / a curly-haired woman. Wet is that eye.”
  • It’s easy enough to blame economics and technology for the death of the weirdo local record stores of yore. But what if the real culprit is philosophical? “Genre itself—or, more specifically, genre affiliation as a means of self-identification—feels like another End hovering in the atmosphere this week. No one is asked to choose one affiliation at the expense of another. Instead, it is perfectly normal, even expected, that a person might have a little bit of everything stacked up in her digital library. The idea of ‘Other Music’ as it was conceived in 1995 is unknowable now.”
  • Speaking of philosophy, if there’s one thing I’ve always appreciated about blast furnaces, it’s their unyielding passion for truth. I was glad to learn that the photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher agree: “In 2008, Hilla was asked, ‘But why furnaces and conveyor belts?’ She replied: ‘Because they are honest. They are functional, and they reflect what they do—that is what we liked. A person always is what s/he wants to be, never what s/he is. Even an animal usually plays a role in front of the camera ... We studied this anonymous architecture, object after object, until we understood the enormous variety of the subject ... We learned how blast furnaces worked, how they were constructed, what parts they had ... And then it was easier to find out whether there was a front and back. At some stage we asked ourselves: Does a blast furnace have a face?’ ”

First Person

Habitat for Humility

June 22, 2016 | by

Voluntourism in Lesotho, Africa.

Via Pixabay.

Lesotho landscape. Image via Pixabay.

Lesotho is a tiny country surrounded completely by South Africa, and that’s about all I knew about it when I arrived in the summer—their winter—of 2005. I was a college sophomore, and I’d come with fifteen or so classmates for five weeks of volunteer work and research, or what passes for research among college sophomores. I was minoring in Africana studies in those days, originally as an excuse to read more James Baldwin, but the prospect of actually traveling to Africa enthralled me—it didn’t matter where. The paper I produced at the end of the trip, with feminist intent but offensive result, was titled, “No Bras to Burn: A Time of Change for Basotho Textile Workers.” Read More »