Posts Tagged ‘Ben Lerner’
February 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
In the halcyon days of September 2015, when the weather was mild and Trump’s candidacy was moderately less terrifying, we published interviews with Eileen Myles and Jane Smiley. Our print subscribers have long since read, digested, and discussed them, and would no doubt greet any mention of them with “That is so two quarters ago”—but now, five long months later, the interviews are freely available to everyone. Read More »
February 16, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
“My First Time” is a video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
This installment stars Ben Lerner, poet and novelist. While an undergraduate at Brown—and later as an M.F.A. student—Lerner wrote the cycle of fifty-two sonnets that would become 2004’s The Lichtenberg Figures. At the time, he and roommate Cyrus Console were, says Lerner, “always writing under the sign of crisis ... now when I look back, we had a kind of really intense practice.” He discusses the process of imposing form, his thematic inspirations, and the challenges of taking one’s place in the creative universe. “With the first book, you don’t really know if you can do it. You have a kind of constant anxiety about whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation. And that anxiety—it can ruin your life, but it’s also really generative. Like, it’s a kind of discipline.”
This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them. Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:
- Katori Hall, on Hoodoo Love, her first play
- Donald Antrim on Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, his first novel
- Sheila Heti on The Middle Stories, her first collection
- Tao Lin on Bed, his first collection
- Christine Schutt on Nightwork, her first collection
- Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on his play Neighbors
- Gabrielle Bell on The Book of ... series, her early cartoons
- J. Robert Lennon on his debut novel, The Light of Falling Stars
January 15, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ben Lerner remembers C. D. Wright: “She was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization. I think of the messy genius of James Agee and Mary Austin as two possible antecedents for her genre-bending, lyrically charged, often outraged and outrageous American English … She had no illusions about what poetry could do in the face of ‘the factory model, the corporate model, the penitentiary model, which by my lights are one and the same.’ But she had no patience for disillusion, for those who would surrender their wonder before the world.”
- Bernard Williams attempted a rare thing for a philosopher: clarity. Exasperated by the discipline’s obscurantism and by Continental philosophy’s aversion to plain speaking, he wrote his books, emphatically, to be read. As Nakul Krishna writes, “The hardest thing in philosophy, Williams wrote in the preface to Morality … was finding the right style, ‘in the deepest sense of style in which to discover the right style is to discover what you are really trying to do’ … Could a piece of philosophical writing combine abstract argument with concrete detail? Could its inevitably schematic descriptions of complex situations ever represent enough of their reality? Could philosophy, in other words, have room in it for a real human voice?”
- Ted Hughes once wrote of sitting with Sylvia Plath at a pub in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, where he was born: “A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels, / The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution / That had flown.” What’s in Hebden Bridge today? The remains of an awful flood, as Tom Overton writes. “Up on the moors on Boxing Day last year, the level of rainfall gave normally modest streams a resonant fullness. In ‘Four March Watercolours’, from River, Hughes calls it ‘baroque superabundance’; ‘the pour / Of melted chocolate.’ Turning into something more like the apocalyptic flood at the beginning of Tales from Ovid, it poured into the boutiques and cafes on Hebden’s Market Street, and washed a small bus along with it. The independent bookshop lost its entire stock. The canal and river burst their banks and met in the pub between them, the Stubbing Wharf.”
- At last, the days of digitized pop-up books are upon us. You can now peruse a translation of Johann Remmelin’s 1613 work Captoptrum Microcosmicum, a medical text with 120 flaps—proof that that pop-up was once the province of adult pedagogy, not children’s entertainment. “Astronomy, geometry, theology and technology have all been the subject of early pop-up books … They were once called mechanical books, for the moving flaps and revolving parts they featured … Mechanical books were almost exclusively used in scholarly works until the 18th century, though that delay may be because few of these early tomes were aimed at children. The first examples of moveable books for children were Paper Doll Books produced beginning in 1810 and William Grimaldi’s lift-the-flap The Toilet.”
- “How is it that this novel could be sexy, entertaining, experimental, politically radical, and wildly popular all at once? Its success was no sure thing,” Paul Elie writes of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its creation, to say nothing of its arrival on the international stage, was a complicated affair. Mario Vargas Llosa said, “This was the book that enlarged the Spanish-language reading public to include intellectuals and also ordinary readers because of its clear and transparent style. At the same time, it was a very representative book: Latin America’s civil wars, Latin America’s inequalities, Latin America’s imagination, Latin America’s love of music, its color—all this was in a novel in which realism and fantasy were mixed in a perfect way.’”
January 8, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Over the course of the “Little Ice Age” that befell Europe some centuries back, the River Thames froze twenty-three times—such an unlikely occurrence that people had no choice but to party on the ice. These “frost fairs” often lasted for days; people set up tents and printers commemorated the occasion by selling letterpressed sheets of souvenir paper. “The men who dragged their presses onto the ice and produced these keepsakes were a competitive lot, each trying to offer the most enticing product … Promiscuity and sexual license were constitutive elements of the frost fair … Some of the tents set up on the ice were brothels.”
- Five booksellers and publishers have gone missing in Hong Kong, and their disappearance may be linked to a contentious manuscript about China’s president. “The book’s title was being debated by the publisher before the abductions … The two choices were: The Lovers of Xi Jinping or Xi Jinping and His Six Women … It is unclear whether the book alleges Xi had an extramarital affair. As part of his crackdown on corruption since he took office in 2012, Xi has led an anti-corruption campaign that made adultery grounds for banishment from the Communist Party.”
- Cognitive behavioral therapy long ago overtook psychoanalysis as the dominant form of therapy—and it had results to back up this dominance. In more recent studies, though, the talking cure has proven increasingly effective. Is it time to bring Freud back into the fold? “In contrast to the meandering conversations of psychoanalysis, a typical CBT exercise might involve filling out a flowchart to identify the self-critical ‘automatic thoughts’ that occur whenever you face a setback … Yet rumblings of dissent from the vanquished psychoanalytic old guard have never quite gone away. At their core is a fundamental disagreement about human nature—about why we suffer, and how, if ever, we can hope to find peace of mind … CBT doesn’t exactly claim that happiness is easy, but it does imply that it’s relatively simple: your distress is caused by your irrational beliefs, and it’s within your power to seize hold of those beliefs and change them. Psychoanalysts contend that things are much more complicated. For one thing, psychological pain needs first not to be eliminated, but understood. From this perspective, depression is less like a tumor and more like a stabbing pain in your abdomen: it’s telling you something, and you need to find out what.”
- Many of us enjoy a good walk. I myself embarked on a walk this very morning, and plan to walk more throughout the day. But I’ll probably never walk as much, or as far, as Werner Herzog, whose book Of Walking in Ice tells of his journey on foot from Munich to Paris in 1974. “‘Walking on foot brings you down to the very stark, naked core of existence,’ Herzog told a Film Comment interviewer in 1979, a year after Of Walking in Ice was first published in Germany. ‘We travel too much in airplanes and cars. It’s an existential quality that we are losing. It’s almost like a credo of religion that we should walk.’ Over the course of many years, and in countless different interviews, Herzog has spoken of his filmmaking—and of walking—in vaguely spiritual, even divine terms (‘It’s like a grace, like a gift of God that has fallen into my lap’).”
- In which Ben Lerner pays a visit to the new Whitney’s conservation department: “For many modern and contemporary artists, ephemerality is part of the point. Dieter Roth, to take just one example, didn’t cover his canvases with yogurt for the sake of durability; they were built to biodegrade. Picasso and Braque told friends that they would rather let their canvases deteriorate than have them varnished … In the absence of explicit and complete instructions—that is, most of the time—conservation is fundamentally an interpretive act … The work of a conservator can re-sacralize the original art object … Conservation can help produce—not just protect—the aura of the original.”
December 9, 2015 | by Ben Lerner
Last night, Pioneer Works, an artists’ space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, hosted a celebration of John Ashbery, who turned eighty-eight this year. The poets Geoffery G. O’Brien, Mónica de la Torre, and John Yau read some of their work and their favorite poems by Ashbery. Before Ashbery came to the stage, Ben Lerner made the following remarks. —D. P.
November 9, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Our Spring issue featured “Sample Trees,” a portfolio by Thomas Demand and Ben Lerner. Demand constructed and photographed paper flowers based on a detail from a news photo of Katherine Russell, the widow of the Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev; Lerner wrote a series of poems to accompany the photos.
“Sample Trees” is part of a larger cycle, Blossom, available now from Mack Books in a lavish Japanese-bound hardcover. Tomorrow, November 10, the pair will be at the MoMA Design and Book Store (11 West Fifty-third Street) to celebrate and sign copies of the book. The signing begins at seven P.M. We hope to see you there.