Posts Tagged ‘Ambrose Bierce’
June 23, 2015 | by Jason Novak
See more of Jason’s work in our new Summer issue.
When I was a kid, I came across Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary and found it to be a revelation of cynicism—even somehow liberating in its bleak honesty.
Bierce’s writing has fallen out of fashion over the past century. His specialty was the dispensation of devastating aphoristic truths. If I had to name a single literary antecedent, it might be Blaise Pascal. While Pascal was content to note the pain and weakness of humankind, though, Bierce injected his epigrams with a dose of fanciful weirdness. Take this one, for example, which almost reads like stage directions for a vaudeville routine:
Meeting Merit on a street-crossing, Success stood still. Merit stepped off into the mud and went round him, bowing his apologies, which Success had the grace to accept.
Most of Bierce’s works are so direct and evocative that illustrations might only cloud their effect. But these unusual exchanges between virtues personified—many of which are collected in A Cynic Looks at Life (1912)—cried out to me as mini-comics. I hope this form brings out their idiosyncrasies. Read More »
December 5, 2014 | by The Paris Review
Our Summer issue this year included Garth Greenwell’s story “Gospodar.” Though I didn’t then know that Greenwell is also a poet, it now seems obvious: his language in the story is economical and precise and yet so fluid. Two and a half years ago, Greenwell’s friend, Max Freeman, a filmmaker and photographer, filmed him reading three of his poems. Greenwell is a superb reader, and I was transfixed by the movement of his face on camera—“enthralled like a bird before a snake,” as he says in the first poem. (Actually, I had to watch the video a couple times because I forgot to pay attention to the words the first time.) The oddly touching “Faculty Meeting with Fly” is the second poem, in which a fly provides interest and pleasure during an otherwise dull moment: “No one before has traced precisely that path / along the thinner vein of my wrist, yet you take / such delight there / … while / beneath you subterraneously my blood must roar / and thrum you like a lyre.” But it’s the last poem, “An Evening Out”—wistful, gorgeous, and sad—that makes the video, and Greenwell’s face, so compelling. —Nicole Rudick
I haven’t read many novels as spooky and sublime and psychologically acute as Forrest Gander’s The Trace. It’s the portrait of a couple in crisis and their misguided road trip through the Chihuahua desert, on the tracks of the writer Ambrose Bierce. Gander’s landscapes are lyrical and precise (“raw gashed mountains, gnarly buttes of andesite”), and his study of a marriage on the rocks is as empathetic as it is unsparing. —Robyn Creswell
Sarah Lazarovic sat down with her brushes and did not stop painting until she’d revealed her entire messy, colorful, and witty journey from a teenaged “fashion-maybe” to a bona fide adult shopping ambassador. In her charmingly illustrated new book, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, Lazarovic explains how a mall-lovin’ middle-schooler’s early obsession with scrunchy socks later ballooned into a full-blown consumer obsession with clothes of every possible description. Lazarovic’s story will especially resonate for the late Gen Xer who may have similarly cycled through the Gap Girl to Thrift Girl to Goth Girl to I-just-can’t-have-enough-little-rayon-dresses-for-under-twenty-bucks Girl, who along the way also made good use of the venerable scrunchie and the ubiquitous safety pin when the outfit or occasion called for it. Lazarovic meditates on the “ill-defined distinction between fashion and shopping,” stating that “in childhood we create fashion with very little shopping (except you, Suri Cruise).” Her adult self craves a minimal wardrobe and a spare closet. She writes, “What I love best is how time often reveals a solution to what I need that doesn’t involve buying.” She closes her diary with expert tips on how to fill your own closet with quality over mass quantity. —Charlotte Strick
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October 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
In a not-so-glamorous Las Vegas, Kerry Howley watches as a UFC fighter starves himself before weighing in, visiting all-you-can-eat buffets just to see everything he’s missing:
In the twenty-four hours between weigh-ins and the fight, Erik would gain twenty pounds, and he took great pleasure in imagining of what those pounds would consist. The Rio Buffet, he informed me, offered three hundred distinct dishes, seventy varieties of pie, an array of “bars,” including a sushi bar, a taco bar, and a stir-fry bar. He knew its small army of friendly spoon-holding servers, its fifty yards of curving black countertop, its unaccountable progression from sausage pizza to cocktail shrimp to scrambled eggs to lentil soup to crab legs to fried fish to sushi to green salad to gravy-slathered pork chops to honeyed ham to flank steak to barbecue ribs to burritos to tacos to waffles to spring rolls to dumplings to sweet-and-sour pork to eggs Benedict to bacon to one giant vat of ketchup to croissants to cubed mango to green-bean salad to seven kinds of lettuce to the gelato-and-pastries bar whose delights are too many to enumerate but which Erik would attempt to enumerate if given the chance.
Forrest Gander on the mysterious end of Ambrose Bierce, a hundred years ago: “According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico.”
Jeff Simmermon started a band with a guitar, a typewriter, and a pair of chickens who peck at toy pianos. They wanted to tour Japan. Al Sharpton got mixed up in it, and the whole affair provided a strange and invaluable lesson about artistic ambition and closure...
A new Italian novel takes Antony Shugaar back into the Years of Lead, a time of kidnappings and earthquakes and cholera epidemics: “Those who say they want to leave this country, or simply spend their whole lives saying they want to leave, do so because they want to save themselves. Well, I’m staying here. Because I don’t want to be saved.”
Plus, Sadie Stein’s dispatches from Berlin, where the chefs carry around Spinoza’s Ethics and the cabbies are fluent in Patrick Modiano; Terry Southern goes skeet shooting; and all of us get an irrefutable, statistical answer, at last, to that most pressing question: How often do Oscar Wilde’s characters fling themselves onto couches, sofas, and/or divans?
October 17, 2014 | by Forrest Gander
The many deaths of Ambrose Bierce.
Ambrose Bierce’s old house in St. Helena, California, surrounded by the vineyards of Napa Valley, is in good repair. Eight stout sequoia trunks flare outward from a fused base in the front yard. An hour and a half drive to the south, in San Francisco, is a short knife-thrust of an alley in North Beach named Ambrose Bierce. It runs behind the old San Francisco Examiner building, where Bierce worked as a columnist for the young William Randolph Hearst.
This year marks the centennial of the presumed death of Bierce, Civil War soldier, journalist, and author of The Devil’s Dictionary, a wickedly witty book of social commentary disguised as definitions. He’s still best known for his fiction: his fastidiously plotted horror tales and the dark, vivid stories—including the often anthologized “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”—that drew from his early war experiences at Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was wounded. In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, the famous writer saddled up a horse and rode into Mexico, not speaking any Spanish, in order to cover the Mexican Revolutionary War, perhaps to participate in it, perhaps to interview Pancho Villa. As newspaper accounts of his time reported, he disappeared without a trace.
More accurately, there were too many traces to follow and World War I soon broke out, so a thorough search for Bierce was postponed. In his disappearing act—and some thought it was an act meant to cloak his suicide or his removal to a sanitorium—Bierce becomes a bit like one of the ghostly characters in Mexico’s most celebrated novel, Pedro Paramo, which is narrated by a man who doesn’t realize he’s dead. Or like the protagonist in Bierce’s own story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” who stumbles across his own tombstone. According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico. There is even a cenotaph for him in the sleepy mining town of Sierra Mojada, in the Chihuahua Desert. Curiously, although his body doesn’t lie under it, it is the most distinguished marker for any of Bierce’s immediate family. Back in St. Helena, his two sons and his wife are buried in unmarked graves. Read More »
February 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- More of Mavis Gallant’s diaries.
- “That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde, has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck.” No one spews contumely like Ambrose Bierce spews contumely.
- Bret Easton Ellis has written a script for Kanye West. Guess which one said of the other, “I really like him as a person”?
- So many movies, novels, and TV shows are set in prison—but do they depict it accurately?
- Meet the man who designed David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust outfits. “His interest in Central Asian fabrics led to a coat that can cause car accidents.”
- Fuck it—let’s go skiing.
June 24, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
On this day in 1843, the cynic, journalist, and satirist Ambrose Bierce was born in Ohio. It’s his death that’s in question; in 1913 the seventy-one-year-old writer disappeared without a trace (probably) somewhere in Mexico, while (possibly) traveling with Pancho Villa’s army. Nearly everything about Bierce’s final days is subject to speculation, rumor, and debate. While some claim he ended his final letter with “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” others debate the validity of the prophetic pronouncement. Some claim he was killed by firing squad; others, that he committed suicide; and still others, that he disappeared into another dimension. In any event, his continued existence seems unlikely, and his legend assured by the mystery. As he himself put it, “Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.”