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Posts Tagged ‘blurbs’

How to Win the Nobel Prize

October 9, 2014 | by

A close reading of the Swedish Academy’s citations.

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Reading the news about Patrick Modiano today, I was struck by the insipidness of the Nobel Foundation’s citation: “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.” It bears all the hallmarks of an overblown blurb, one of those in which a bold, gimlet-eyed novelist is elucidating the now, or a limpid, singular poet is saying the unsayable. (Very few poets are saying the sayable these days, if our blurbs are to be believed.)

Let’s unpack this citation, beginning with this business about “the art of memory,” which doesn’t seem like much of an art to me. (To conceive of it as such invites a corny geriatric punch line: “Just wait till you start forgetting so much!”) Granting that it is art, is it really the art through which Modiano “evokes”? That would have to be his writing. If he’d simply sat at his desk lost in memories, he wouldn’t evoke much more than his own sighs. For that matter—can one really “evoke” a destiny, and, having been evoked, is that destiny still “ungraspable,” let alone the most ungraspable? Who’s to say that one destiny can be grasped more easily than another? (“He was destined to be a pediatric podiatrist—he saw it plain as day.”) Then there’s this murky concept of the “life-world,” which sounds like something out of Heidegger—wouldn’t one word or the other have sufficed? To speak of a life-world implies its negative, the death-world, which, despite our best efforts, has never been uncovered.

Drafting these citations must be painstaking, fairly joyless work. This one, at least, reads like an act of circumlocution by committee; the choice to append “the most” to “ungraspable” may have occasioned hours of debate. And for what? The final result could apply to anyone; in the broadest terms, not just every writer but every person in history has practiced the art of memory, evoking destinies and uncovering life-worlds. Read More »

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Ovid (or You) in Ossining, and Other News

July 31, 2014 | by

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Photo: Jason O'Neal, via Newsweek

  • Want to buy John Cheever’s old house in Ossining? Have at it. (A mailbox bearing the Cheever name is still there.)
  • On the late Thomas Berger’s Arthur Rex, a 1978 retelling of Arthurian legend: “Berger adopts the distinct voice of the medieval-epic narrator, slipping easily into the rhythm and pattern of courtly speech, with its ‘And’s and ‘Now’s and ‘Whilst’s, its frequent and self-serious references to the glory of God and the sin of doubt. He uses the old style of speech to tell what has always been a surprisingly modern story: that of a kingdom in which every socioeconomic problem is brilliantly resolved and its people turn to a pure and destructive religious idealism.”
  • The actress Lisa Dwan is taking her production of three one-woman Beckett playsNot I, Rockaby, and Footfalls—on a world tour.
  • Advice for reading blurbs: Don’t. “Cover blurbs aren’t reviews. They’re advertisements. No space for balanced, nuanced positivity. Nothing can be interesting; it must be fascinating. Good isn’t good enough; it must be great.”
  • Rock stars are not gods but rather human beings whose emotions happen to resonate with millions—emotions that are inspired by other human beings, some of whom have written memoirs. These books are often disregarded as attempts to cash in, but while the books are sometimes bitter, they’re rarely cynical. Taken together, they comprise a shadow history of classic rock, an account from within the aura and from the margins of the rock star’s hero journey.”

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Helpmeets, Field Guides, Burning Questions

July 26, 2012 | by

  • “Few couples have had as complicated and even posthumous a relationship as Friderike Burger and Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish writer who was and continues to be one of the most widely translated German-language authors in the world.”
  • The eternal question, really: What would happen if fonts were superheroes?
  • The other eternal question: What would happen if great authors were Olympics commentators?
  • Vote for the best YA novel ever written.
  • A field guide to the American blurb. An endangered species?
  • The Man Booker long list is announced.
  • Oh no! Citing rising operating costs, the Bowery Poetry Club joins the list of closing literary landmarks.
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    #JonathanFranzenHates, Nabokoving, and Other News

    March 7, 2012 | by

    Nabokoving.

    A cultural news roundup.

  • “Once again, it’s that time of year when otherwise mature adults paint their faces in the palettes of their favorite book jacket designers, and all across Facebook college kids post pictures of themselves Nabokoving. Yes, we’re talking about book awards season.”
  • Happy birthday, John Updike!
  • Happy birthday, Douglas Adams!
  • Geoff Dyer on “bunking off.”
  • With friends like these, Saul Bellow didn’t need enemies.
  • Elizabeth Bowen and Jean Rhys get the “blue plaque treatment” in London.
  • Stephen King: “The idea that a writer can bring his core audience into the tent with a blurb ... you might as well try herding cats.”
  • The fact that Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s here is a selling point. The fact that it has eighteen rooms doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Footnotes upon footnotes in Footnote.
  • “Eggers named his journal after McSweeney before he knew anything about the man, and didn't discover his identity until after McSweeney died in January 2010 at age sixty-seven.”
  • The famously combative Ben Jonson.
  • Jonathan Franzen: “Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose … it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”
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