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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Tales from the Void

April 17, 2015 | by

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A drawing by Le Gun to commemorate “Tales from the Void.” Click to enlarge; see below for a list of references.

The art collective Le Gun (Steph von Reiswitz, Neal Fox, Chris Bianchi, and Robert Greene) has mounted “Tales from the Void,” a stealthy takeover of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, that Parisian mainstay. Their installation comprises hand-drawn “sculptural books”—many with fake but disarmingly plausible titles like Encyclopedia of Beatnikism and The Minotaur of Montmartre—hidden among the shop’s shelves. You’ll find some favorites below.

They’ve also completed the large-scale drawing above, a sprawling tribute to the history and culture of the bookshop that depicts various writer personages, including—count them all—George Whitman, Michael Smith, Ezra Pound, Gregory Corso, Olympia,
 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Joyce, Paul Auster, Frank Sinatra, Colette the Dog, Martin Amis, Henry Miller, Aaron Budnik, Richard Wright, Sylvia Whitman, Lawrence Durrell, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Ray Bradbury, William Burroughs, Dionysus, James Jones, Zadie Smith, the “generic spirit of Beatnikism,” Anaïs Nin, and Kitty, the shop’s resident cat. Read More »

Snows of Paper, and Other News

April 17, 2015 | by

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From Paul Cocksedge’s Bourrasque. Via My Modern Met

  • Though thousands of tweeting bibliophiles would have you believe there’s no such thing as too many books, there may be, in fact, a book surfeit: “It’s hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction. Just when we were already overwhelmed with paper books, often setting them aside after only a few pages in anxious search of something more satisfying, along came the Internet and the e-book … The idea is hardly new. In the Dunciad, 1742, responding to what he already saw as a deafening chorus of incompetent poets, Alexander Pope spoke of ‘snows of paper’ providing space for the ever more widespread publication of the ‘uncreating word.’ ”
  • Elizabeth Bishop and Thom Gunn were fast friends—“I’ve met some of the poets—and the only one I still really like is Thom Gunn,” she wrote in a letter to Robert Lowell—but their first meeting was inauspicious. “I answered the phone one day and there was a very nice man I didn’t know … who asked me to come and have drinks with him and Elizabeth Bishop,” Gunn wrote. “Elizabeth had just moved to San Francisco. So I went over and … Elizabeth was drunk out of her mind. We made polite conversation all evening while Elizabeth occasionally grunted out a monosyllable.”
  • On “the syntax and scansion of insanity” in King Lear: “This horrible, tragic figure is built up from a series of syllables set on the page … his rage and sorrow change dramatically from the first act to the last. The character is the language, and what we see over the course of the play is the utter destruction of that character.”
  • On the poet Nathaniel Mackey’s pursuit of “the long song,” an antidote to the age of brevity: “Mackey seeks moments that defy ordinary time. He admires jazz improvisers who stretch a song’s boundaries as they perform … He happily remembers a John Coltrane show that consisted of one long song … ‘The long song, whether in music or in poetry, increasingly appeals to me … it creates what I call fugitive time—time that really is a flight away from the ordinary, from quotidian time, profane time.’ ”
  • Ariana Reines talks to a beautiful old woman. Ariana Reines goes through a Charles Bowden phase. Ariana Reines is afraid: “For a week I’ve been wondering, how will I write for The Poetry Foundation, I said I would write for The Poetry Foundation, & with all that I do write the thought of putting anything on the internet ever again still fills my mouth with ash.  I’ve lost all desire to publish & even more, all desire to perform.”

Man in Hole II: Man in Deeper Hole

March 19, 2015 | by

Assigning emotional values to words.

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Last month I wrote about Matthew Jockers’s research on the shapes of stories, which has since met with a welter of reactions within and without academe. His critics ask two questions, essentially: Is it really possible to assign every word a reliable emotional valence? And even if the answer is yes, can we really claim that all the plots in the history of literature take so few basic forms?

A rough primer: Jockers uses a tool called “sentiment analysis” to gauge “the relationship between sentiment and plot shape in fiction”; algorithms assign every word in a novel a positive or negative emotional value, and in compiling these values he’s able to graph the shifts in a story’s narrative. A lot of negative words mean something bad is happening, a lot of positive words mean something good is happening. Ultimately, he derived six archetypal plot shapes. (To his credit and my chagrin, he’s refrained from giving them catchy names.) Here’s an example: Read More »

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Your Book’s Central Nervous System, and Other News

March 13, 2015 | by

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Barbara Wildenboer. Image via This Is Colossal

  • Can a writer’s original inspiration survive success? Imagine you are Karl Ove Knausgaard at this point in his career … Why not enjoy success? Why not accept that you are a genius, if people insistently tell you that you are? One way or another, from this point on it will be hard to achieve the same concentration, the same innocence, when you return to the empty page and the next stage in a life story that is now radically transformed.”
  • Today in dubious superlatives: Was 1925 really “the greatest year” in the history of literature? The BBC has declared it so. They searched “for a cluster of landmark books” and then asked if said books “continue to enthrall readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways”; 1925, with its Hemingway and its Fitzgerald and its Dos Passos and its Dreiser, came away the victor. But make no mistake: seeking the greatest year in literature is a fool’s errand, just as searching for the greatest minute in history would be.
  • Sam Simon, who died this month, is responsible for much of the greatness of golden-age Simpsons episodes, though his collaborations with Matt Groening weren’t always smooth: “It was Simon’s insight that animation allowed The Simpsons to sprawl across a vast canvas, illustrating new locations and inventing characters through the multifold voice talents of the cast. The Springfield the Simpsons inhabit is a mini-world on to itself, with its own rich mythology and history.”
  • The science behind “wordnesia,” a “common brain glitch” in which you can’t spell the simplest words and common language has a sheen of unfamiliarity to it: “Russell Epstein, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania … posits that these experiences may be linked to concepts described by psychologist William James … [who] contended that our conscious experiences are made up of components he referred to as the nucleus and the fringe.”
  • On the criticism of Bernard Williams: “Williams says that philosophers have typically been motivated by two things: curiosity, and the desire to be helpful.  He unhesitatingly gives priority to the former motive … Above all, philosophy offers reflective analysis of our concepts, and, through these and a study of their history, insight into who ‘we’ are.  If philosophy is to contribute anything distinctive, however, all this must be carried out with clarity and rigor, and the aim of ‘getting it right’ must ‘be in place.’ ”
  • Barbara Wildenboer’s sculptures meld the sprawl of a nervous system to the spines of books.

This Tuesday: Paul Beatty and Lorin Stein in Conversation

March 9, 2015 | by

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New Yorkers: join us tomorrow at McNally Jackson, where our editor Lorin Stein will appear in conversation with Paul Beatty. Paul’s new novel, The Sellout, is out now; the Guardian calls it “a galvanizing satire of post-racial America,” and Sam Lipsyte noted its “spectacular explosion of comic daring, cultural provocation, brilliant, hilarious prose, and genuine heart.”

The event begins at seven P.M. See you there!

Staff Picks: No Conscience, No Hope, No October

March 6, 2015 | by

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Ilf and Petrov.

In the latest London Review of Books, Adam Phillips conducts a restless interrogation of conscience, that most eminent and most frustrating of moral constructs. We take it as a given, Phillips points out, that self-criticism has some purgative or ameliorative influence, that it moves us to better ourselves. But it’s more often an exercise in a kind of self-slavery: “We seem to relish the way it makes us suffer.” Why do we put such stock in our superego, who is, after all, mainly a reproachful asshole? “Were we to meet this figure socially, this accusatory character, this internal critic, this unrelenting fault-finder, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him, that he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout, of some catastrophe. And we would be right.” There follows a fascinating Freudian reading of Hamlet, a meditation on cowardice, and a careful deconstruction of the superego, from whose ridiculousness Phillips draws an inspired conclusion. “Just as the overprotected child believes that the world must be very dangerous,” he writes, “so we have been terrorized by all this censorship and judgment into believing that we are radically dangerous to ourselves and others.” —Dan Piepenbring

When I saw the first installment of Knausgaard’s travelogue for the New York Times Magazine, I thought of Ilf and Petrov’s American Roadtrip, their account of driving around the U.S. for ten weeks in 1935. But in truth, the two chronicles have little in common. Where Knausgaard is expansive and self-seeking, Ilf and Petrov are witty and concisely observant. “And on a chilly November morning we left New York for America,” they write, later finding the archetype of the American landscape at “an intersection of two roads and a gasoline station against a ground of wires and advertising signs.” Both Ilf and Petrov had experience in journalism—they met while working for the proletariat magazine Gudok—but I hadn’t read this early work until this week, when I saw Steven Volynets’s translation in Asymptote of a 1923 feuilleton by Ilf called “A Country That Didn’t Have October.” It’s an atmospheric recitation of the waves of occupation and retreat in Odessa during the civil war and World War I. Volynets calls it an “atomization” of the city’s fervor, and I was frequently reminded of Mayakovsky’s brash, agitated poems. Of 1917, Mayakovsky writes, “The drum of war thunders and thunders. / It calls: thrust iron into the living,” to which Ilf adds a description of the “worker provinces … where the factory smokestacks and horns ominously billowed and tooted. The [revolutionaries’] gaze fell upon the black depot, on the flurried seaport, on the rumbling, ringing, groaning railroad shops.” —Nicole Rudick

If you liked Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering, try Steven Church’s latest collection, Ultrasonica group of essays brought together by the theme of sound. Church at times seems to say, I make noise, therefore I am. He dissects the nature of sound waves in a racquetball court, counts the seconds between lightning and thunder, and listens for signs of life from trapped Chilean miners—and his digressions invariably come back around to sucker punch you. Church uses sound to explore notions of masculinity and fatherhood, love and death. He elaborates on his methods and inspirations in an interview with Jacket Copy: “I did a Google search for ‘blue noise’ … I read a sentence that said, ‘Blue noise makes a good dither,’ and, though I had no idea what it meant, I loved how it sounded. The sentence became a puzzle that I wanted to solve and, before I knew it, something like a book project began to take shape as individual essays, each focused on sound in some way.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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