The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Bring Home a Little Piece of Obscenity, and Other News

October 2, 2015 | by

Detail from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait, 1983.

  • If you’ve got an extra $250k–$350k lying around, you could own a part of obscenity history—a print of Robert Mapplethorpe’s electrifying photograph Man in Polyester Suit is up for auction. That’s the one, you’ll recall, that features “a tightly cropped picture of the torso of a black man wearing a three-piece suit, with his large penis hanging out, like a Montgomery Ward catalog hacked by Tom of Finland, with an assist from Duchamp and Groucho Marx.” Twenty-five years ago, Mapplethorpe’s photography unleashed a righteous fury; Jesse Helms and other congressional fuddy-duddies called it obscene and wrote a bunch of angry letters to people. To own Man in Polyester Suit is to give the middle finger to such types, always and forever. I’m sorry I can’t afford it myself. But if someone were to wish to buy it for me as a gift …
  • Elizabeth Bishop met Clarice Lispector in 1962, and immediately set about trying to help the Brazilian writer to break out in America. But there was some kind of a hiccup, and things between them cooled: “It is notably odd that Lispector was not more interested in Bishop’s offer to foster relationships with American publishers; she had struggled to get the elite presses of Brazil to take on her books and would struggle to make money after separating from her husband … Bishop personally negotiated the relationships and letters of interests with these editors, but it seems that she never realized or acknowledged that the power she wielded, often with an air of superiority, was precisely what was offensive … The last time Bishop writes about Lispector to Lowell, she says, ‘She’s hopeless, really.’ ”
  • Whither e-reading? A few years ago, e-books were poised to take over the world—but reading on a screen has failed to live up to its promise, and e-books are just … kind of boring, especially on the much-vaunted Kindle. “Amazon has built seamless, efficient plumbing for digital books. But after a book has made its way through the plumbing and onto the devices, the once-fresh experience now feels neglected … I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library—for inspiration or reference—than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.”
  • If Nietzsche gave a commencement speech—I know, thank God he’s dead, and won’t—he might draw from a part of his Untimely Meditations, devoted to Schopenhauer as an educator, but littered with weird nuggets of quasi-self-help: “There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever … No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!”
  • In John Keene’s collection Counternarratives, “every available form of literary irony—every possible way of forcing stubborn words to mean more than they pretend—­seems to be working at once.” Keene (“black, gay, raised in St. Louis, enamored with language, tormented by it”) is intent on using silence and absence in his fiction; his stories are full of missing texts. “This time, they are the reader’s assumptions and expectations, the dominant narratives—historical and political as well as strictly literary—with which we conjure the world and reproduce it, exclusions and erasures intact.”

Plug Up the Spiritual Emptiness, and Other News

August 19, 2015 | by

Aghast at modernity: R.S. Thomas.

  • In which James Wood discusses “smarty-pants tone,” his revised opinion on David Foster Wallace, and erasing the distinction between pleasure and analysis: “At exactly the moment that I wanted really to write, and started writing poems and then trying to write bad fiction, I was reading with a view to learning stuff. I was reading poetry. How did Auden do his stanza forms? And I was trying to copy those. What’s a successful poem, what’s an unsuccessful poem? … What’s a good sentence? I don’t think I’ve changed. I am as sincerely interested in novels that fail as I am in novels that succeed. I just want to work them out. It’s a pleasure for me actually.”
  • Who doesn’t love a good moral panic? In today’s advanced society, hardly a decade can pass without the populace whipping itself into a righteous lather over something or other—the eighties’ day-care abuse scandals stand as an especially potent reminder of our ability to delude ourselves, and the consequences of this delusion. Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children remembers the madness: “Jennifer went to regular one-on-one meetings with a therapist named Miriam, who also saw other children who had been allegedly abused at the day care. Miriam used dolls to demonstrate sex acts and then asked Jennifer to affirm that these things had happened to her. ‘I remember getting massive headaches,’ Jennifer said. ‘And I remember Miriam saying, “Say this happened to you, it did, it did”—repeatedly—“it did, didn’t it?”’ Over and over again.”
  • The Japanese poet Sagawa Chika died, in 1936, before she’d even turned twenty-five—and before a long period of cultural upheaval in which her work quickly fell out of favor. “But over the past decade, her work has enjoyed a revival among contemporary Japanese poets, and it has begun to appear in English … Sagawa used free verse to explore her interiority through imagery: rather than relying on traditional forms, she expressed an individual relationship with the world and with nature … the body frequently becomes alien, distant, and threatening.”
  • The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, on the other hand, fled modernity in all its guises, embracing instead a thorough, religious misanthropy: “He despised modern consumer culture—talking of ‘the machine’ with its ‘cold brain,’ the yearning for the latest white goods to plug up the spiritual emptiness … He did not want to see an unspoilt spot carpeted in caravan parks and hated that the road to the saints on Bardsey had become ‘a thoroughfare for ice-cream vendors.’ He was enraged to bump into a ‘creature in a bikini’ on a birding trip.”
  • Why did Jeff Bezos choose the name Amazon, anyway, all those years ago? “Bezos’s Amazon was not, it turns out, named for a woman warrior, but for the mighty river … Apparently Bezos didn’t take his research that far, or even so far as to consider some relationship between the greatest river in the world and a mythical tribe of female fighters. He began, rather, with the name Cadabra … When his lawyer misheard the word as Cadaver, Bezos was prompted to change the name. He went for the river because of the implication of large scale and because website listings at the time were mostly alphabetical. The A and Z in Amazon didn’t hurt, since it allowed the logo designer to join them with a little yellow arrow, suggesting a place that sells everything from A to Z and also leaves its customers smiling.”

Fraud, Fraud, More Fraud, and Other News

March 19, 2015 | by


An illustration by A. Burnham Shute for Melville’s Typee, 1892.

  • Melville’s first book, Typee, is, like most literary memoirs, a fraud: though he certainly ventured to Polynesia, many of the events in the book are clearly created out of whole cloth—and they suggest how little we really know about the events of Melville’s life. “There is no reason to believe that Melville didn’t witness clothmaking and woodcarving. However, the scene in which his friend Kory-Kory rubs a six-foot pole between his hands, as his back arches and muscles tense, until it bursts into flame, is most likely a metaphoric rendering of a different act (no record exists attesting to whether Thoreau tried this method at Walden).”
  • While we’re talking fraud, Arthur Conan Doyle was set up—by the Staffordshire fuzz, no less. “Newly discovered documents show that the Staffordshire police fabricated evidence to try to discredit Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the curious case of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor accused of maiming horses and sending poison-pen letters at the turn of the twentieth century.”
  • Amazon’s Kindle Scout program— a “reader-powered” publishing platform in which authors submit their work and readers vote on it—is perpetrating a kind of fraud, too. It’s become “a murderously deft purveyor of books seemingly designed only to be inhaled like so many bibliographic nachos.” Is it the new center of reading as a camp experience? Or is it just shit? “The bigger problem with so-bad-they’re-good novels is that sometimes they’re just so bad they’re … bad. For every camp triumph on Kindle Scout, every daft splendor of weaponized pit bulls, you’ll find three corresponding duds.”
  • Everyone loves a good art heist. The trick isn’t so much stealing a painting, though, as managing to sell it again when it’s known to have been stolen. “The misappropriation of masterpieces continues to have a distinctive hold on the public imagination, even as it becomes a type of criminal activity that’s both misunderstood and increasingly hard to pull off.”
  • Among the fake self-help books hidden on shelves in an LA Bookstore: The Beginner’s Guide to Human Sacrifice, Learn to … Dress Yourself!, and So Your Son Is a Centaur: Coping with Your Child’s Confusing Life Choices.

It’s Already Right Behind You, and Other News

November 10, 2014 | by


The Phantom Omni can make you feel as if someone (or something) is right behind you. User discretion advised.

  • “An editor whose taste is unique to himself is a bad editor. The only person who discovers a writer is the writer himself.” An interview with our editor, Lorin Stein.
  • Aldous Huxley doing calisthenics; Borges beneath a ponderous storm cloud; James Ellroy behind a lamp with no shade on it … and other portraits that give the lie to this idea that writers don’t photograph well.
  • Partying on the dime of New York’s most controversial literary publisher: Amazon. “Outside, a war was raging; inside there were friends, food, and funding—for now. Passed hors d’oeuvres were loudly heralded … ‘I saw the sliders coming around and it just suddenly crossed my mind. I guess all this is being paid for by Amazon!’ ”
  • A pair of new films offer two very different theories about creative life: In Whiplash, an aspiring drummer faces “an abusive professor who is convinced that relentless torture is the only way to coax his students to the peak of their abilities … the crazy guy is right: The only way to be any good at something is to not bother trying to be good at anything else.” Meanwhile, Adult Beginners suggests “that if you forego grandiose notions of achievement and settle for surrounding yourself with people who love you and provide you with emotional support, your definition of fulfillment will become more manageable.”
  • Today in our science-fictional reality: What if there were a robot that could produce the skin-crawling feeling that someone is right behind you? There is. We’re fucked. (Actually, the robot may help us understand schizophrenia—but still.)


Smack Talk, and Other News

September 10, 2014 | by


The wry, D.I.Y. branding of heroin. Photo: Graham Macindoe, via Wired

  • In celebration of its many contributions to arts and letters, Boston has approved a plan to turn a section of the city into the first-ever Literary Culture District. “Plenty of respected (if banal) institutions supported the effort to turn downtown Boston into a literary district … What’s baffling, though, is the metrics by which we’ve decided to judge their progress—more plaques, more street fairs, and more statues, not more writers, more affordable apartments, and more books.”
  • Among the many anti-Amazon domain names owned by Amazon: and Your dissent will not be tolerated, peon.
  • Elif Batuman on awkwardness, America’s latest bugbear: “We have a hand signal for awkwardness, and we frame many thoughts and observations with ‘that awkward moment when … ’ When did awkwardness become so important to us? … ‘Awkward’ implies both solidarity and implication. Nobody is exempt.”
  • Apocalypse fiction as immigrant metaphor: “The same way X-Men comics are sometimes considered as representations of the American civil rights movement, the apocalypse genre represented my shifting understanding of ‘home’ … For immigrants, solitude and the trap of memory are central conditions. The appeal of [apocalypse fiction] is that it renders this so finely.”
  • The art of drug branding: the haunting, grimly comic logos on baggies of heroin. “References in the names reflected the addict’s illusions of grandeur (So Amazing, Rolex, High Life) but also the insidious destructive nature of drugs and the ultimate endgame (Flatliner, Dead Medicine, Killa).”


Witchcraft Then and Now, and Other News

July 24, 2014 | by


Detail from Francisco José de Goya’s Linda maestra, 1797.

  • Profiling William T. Vollmann: “Although Vollmann these days sports the punctilious mustache of a maître d’, he still resembles the baby-faced boy wonder readers first encountered in his shocking late ’80s author photo, in which he affectlessly held a pistol to his own head … Along with the Internet and e-mail, Vollmann also foregoes cell phones, credit-card use, checking accounts, and driving.”
  • On David Mitchell’s Twitter story, “The Right Sort”: “The effect of reading was not feelings of disjunction and separation but rather one of surprising connection, a sense of disappearing into the scroll and the vortex of the story.”
  • From the Guardian, July 24, 1844: “a most lamentable difference exists between the witchcraft of modern romance and the witchcraft of ancient superstition.”
  • “Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? … As of a few days ago UK sales of all three volumes of Knausgaard work in hardback and paperback had barely topped 22,000 copies … In the US, which has a much larger market, that figure— total sales of all three volumes (minus e-books)—stood at about 32,000.”
  • “As Amazon gains market share, we can no longer abide its self-proclaimed conceit that unfettered growth is invariably in the consumers’ interest … Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.”