Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’
August 23, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Is Kanye’s McDonald’s poem a parable of class struggle?
When I wrote in May about the seriocomic implications of a Burger King Spa opening in Helsinki, I thought I’d pegged the most extraordinary fast-food story of the year. Reader, I blew it. In the past month alone, McDonald’s has opened a “McDonald’s of the Future” in Saint Joseph, Missouri, luring customers to their purportedly healthier, Chipotlified restaurant by promising all-you-can-eat fries; BK has debuted the “Whopperito,” a burger-burrito hybrid that fits in your cup holder; and KFC has sold two thousand bottles of fried-chicken-scented SPF 30 sunscreen. For any writer hoping to capture the texture of our greasy-fingered moment, the ineffable Sturm und Drang of life in a world where Denny’s believes the ideal male body is a stack of flapjacks, the outlook is grim. As Philip Roth wrote, American reality “stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.” And he said that before Chicken Fries were a thing.
But Philip Roth is no Kanye West, and Kanye West won’t just sit there while actuality outdoes his talents—heaven forfend. Instead, Kanye West has published a poem about Mickey D’s in Boys Don’t Cry, a one-off zine from Frank Ocean. It goes like this: Read More »
July 20, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Christian Lorentzen is at the Republican National Convention, scoping out the merch downtown, where the spirit of small-time entrepreneurialism is something like that of the parking lot outside a Phish show: “In the afternoon I walked through downtown Cleveland’s festival of reaction, past hawkers of Trumpian kitsch: T-shirts with Trump on a Harley, Trump as Captain America, golden silhouettes of his hair, and Hillary for Prison; Trump Flakes cereal; Trump condoms ‘to keep you safe like the wall.’ I missed out on the early pro and anti-Trump rallies, but I did see a man walking another man on a leash, his ‘Trump dog’, their message not entirely clear. I bought a sandwich and sat on a bench beside an elderly African American man with a few Trump T-shirts to sell but making little effort to do so. A young African American man passed by and started yelling at him: ‘I can’t believe your black ass is selling a motherfucking Trump shirt. You’re blacker than me, you stupid motherfucker.’ The man beside me was unfazed.”
- Across the ocean, meanwhile—but not unrelatedly—Zadie Smith is grappling with Brexit: “The painful truth is that fences are being raised everywhere in London. Around school districts, around neighborhoods, around lives. One useful consequence of Brexit is to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in British society that has been thirty years in the making. The gaps between north and south, between the social classes, between Londoners and everyone else, between rich Londoners and poor Londoners, and between white and brown and black are real and need to be confronted by all of us, not only those who voted Leave.”
- Let us turn now, for the sake of our sanity, to less pressing matters. But you can lose sleep over these, too. I was up last night wondering what fate will befall the World’s Largest Picnic Basket, which served, until recently, as Claire Voon writes, as the offices of the Longaberger Company in Newark, Ohio: “Completed in 1997, the 182,000-square-foot building was headquarters for 500 workers when it opened; about a dozen remained when it shut its doors last week after months of gradual migrations, according to the Dispatch—the last people able to claim that day after day, they went to work inside a larger-than-life basket. The design was Dave Longaberger’s own: the businessman, who founded the company in 1973, had demanded that architects model a building specifically on his company’s trademarked Medium Market Basket, and that’s exactly what he received. The finished result, 160 times the size of the hardwood maple best seller, came courtesy of Korda Nemeth Engineering and architecture firm NBBJ, whose senior manager at the time described it as ‘a piece of pop art.’ ”
- Today in wild new frontiers for the humanities: in a new book, the German sociologist Jens Beckert uses literary theory to explain economics. “Rarely do scholars explore the role of imagination in economic life systematically,” Brooke Harrington explains. “In a realm dominated by economic and financial scholarship that aspires to be ‘scientific,’ fantasy and creativity in envisioning the future are often ignored; they don’t fit well into a model of research whose aim is to reduce unknowns and to eliminate surprises as much as possible … Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, makes a thorough, exhaustively documented argument in support of what many have suspected about capitalism: It’s a castle in the air, built on fantasy shading into fraud. He makes a compelling case that no corner of the market is untouched by the process of generating imagined futures. The novelty of his work lies in offering a way to understand that process as a social system in which everyone, from individuals to institutions, is implicated.”
- At The Paris Review, we pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about the art of the interview. But I’m willing to admit when we’re licked. And Robin Leach—of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fame—may well have licked us. He told a classroom recently, “The one piece of advice I would give you students about the art of interviewing is to listen. There is a joke about a television newscaster who asked all of her questions from a blue card that was prepared by or for her. So instead of listening to the answer to the question she asked, she would busy looking at the next question in order to ask it. I never go into an interview with questions on cards. It is a conversation, designed to elicit information, and you get information only by listening. The follow-up question is more important than the original question. And there is nothing better than eliciting a response by remaining silent.”
July 11, 2016 | by Lee Lockwood
Late in 1959, the photojournalist Lee Lockwood flew to Cuba to witness the end of Batista’s regime. After a long search, he found Fidel Castro, who had only just seized power. The two had an immediate rapport, and in successive trips over the next decade, Lockwood found that Castro granted him unprecedented access to the island; in 1965, he sat for a marathon seven-day interview. First published in 1967, Lockwood’s portrait of Castro stands as arguably the most penetrating document that exists of the man. Lockwood died in 2010; this month, in light of the new course in U.S. relations with Cuba and the paucity of historical context, Taschen is reissuing his interviews in Castro’s Cuba: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba 1959–1969, including hundreds of photographs, many of them previously unpublished. The excerpt below covers Castro’s opinions on literature, arts, and culture in Cuba.
Is there any attempt to exert control over the production of art in Cuba? For example, in literature?
All manifestations of art have different characteristics. For example, movies are different from painting. Movies are a modern industry requiring a lot of resources. It is not the same thing to make a film as it is to paint a picture or write a book. But if you ask whether there is control—no. Read More »
June 30, 2016 | by Michael Clune
What do we want from poetry? To read a poem is, on some level, to loathe it—both poem and poet aspire to fulfill a set of impossible expectations from the culture. In his new book, The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner argues that a disdain for poetry is inextricable from the art form itself. Earlier this month, Michael Clune spoke to Lerner at Greenlight Books, in Brooklyn. The exchange below is an edited version of that conversation. —Ed.
One of the most striking things you do in The Hatred of Poetry is to reorient our sense of value. Your canon is “the terrible poets, the great poets, and the silent poets,” as opposed to the merely good or the mediocre. You write about the worst poet in history, McGonagall, and his horrific masterpiece, or antimasterpiece, “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:
Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remembered for a very long
Wikipedia says that he’s widely considered the worst poet ever. Read More »
June 6, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- We’re closer than ever to electing a woman president—a political outcome that seemed fantastical even in 1992, when Donna Karan made an almost farcically outlandish ad campaign called “In Women We Trust” depicting a woman in high office: “Karan’s ads make the presidency look like it was art-directed by Lana Del Rey—all slo-mo and high contrast, shallow focus and delicate, practiced ennui. In Madame President’s ticker-tape parade, her crisp oxford blows open to reveal a presidential décolletage supported by what looks like a black lace bustier. She juggles childcare duties with required reading in a tube top. Our suspiciously youthful commander-in-chief commands the respect of her old, male associates in double-breasted pinstripes and a skirt slit up to there, hair always blown back, nary a part nor pore in sight. It’s a dream within a dream: A woman makes it to the top of the political food chain with her composure, mood lighting, and sensual wardrobe intact.”
- Say it’s 1661 and the Catholic Church has just locked you away because you’re Jewish. There’s a good chance you’ll be burned at the stake. You could mope about it. Or you could do what Francis von Helmont did: “he took his imprisonment in stride, and between trips to the torture chamber he conceived his theory of language. Usually referred to as the Alphabet of Nature, the small book outlines Francis’s concept of Hebrew and his scheme for teaching deaf-mutes to speak it. The frontispiece to the book shows Francis sitting at a table in his cell in Rome; facing a mirror, he is scientifically measuring his lips with a pair of calipers … Given Francis’ belief that all true knowledge is latent in our microcosmic bodies—accessible through divine revelation—it is not surprising that his model of language imagines the Hebrew characters as being almost engraved inside us, physically wedded to our mouths.”
- You probably read the Boxcar Children as a kid—many generations have—not realizing that those children were capitalist shills, seducing you with images of an illusory meritocracy: “There remains something mildly and even pleasurably heretical about the way the Boxcar Children locate the outer limits of amusement in decorous productivity—the way that, for them, there’s no better use of total independence than perfectly mimicking the most respectable behaviors of adults. They earn money, do chores when no one’s watching (‘The children could hardly wait to put the shining dishes on the shelf’), and engage in none of the mischief that other literary children take to when left to their own devices … Hard work, here, is presented as at once deviant and rewarding, and kids respond to this—I know I did—with their rarely united desires to be both unsupervised and good.”
- If you’ve always wished that “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” was a photo essay, your prayers have been answered: for his series “End of Crisis,” William Minke embarked on not one but two cruises, photographing the diversions on ships that aren’t exactly state of the art. “I’ve always been fascinated by heterotopias and coexisting worlds,” he says: “After reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace I decided to go on a journey of cruise ships because his description of on-board life sounded very bizarre … As a traveller one can leave behind everyday life on thirteen decks of roulette tables, bingo and shopping malls twenty-four hours a day.”
- Indonesia is enormous, beautiful, heterogeneous, populous … but no one is bringing its literature into English, Louise Doughty writes: “There are some countries so vast and diverse that any attempt to summarize them feels insulting: such is Indonesia. With a population of 258 million, it is the world’s fourth most populous nation and the largest formed by an archipelago. When it was guest of honor at the Frankfurt book fair last year, it appeared under the banner ‘17,000 islands of imagination,’ a phrase describing its geography but also encapsulating the complexities of representation … As yet, little of its literature has been translated into English … According to Goenawan Mohamad, Indonesia’s most well-known public intellectual and founder of Tempo magazine, which was banned for a while under the Suharto regime, ‘Asian writing is noticeable only when it comes from the site of calamity. Normally, a prolonged war, preferably one involving the U.S., or a genocide, or a tsunami, brings it to the focus of the world media, and the literary market comes next.’ ”
October 26, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ask your standard-issue grammarian about further versus farther and he’ll trot out the conventional wisdom: farther should be used to refer to literal distances and further to metaphorical ones. But what if everything we’ve been taught is a lie? Caleb Crain investigates: “Further didn’t originally mean ‘more distant’ but something like ‘more ahead,’ or, as the contemporary O.E.D. puts it, ‘more forward, more onward’ … farther refers to a greater distance, literal or metaphorical, from a shared measuring point. Further refers to a greater progress in a shared direction.”
- What did the literary world look like before the free market enveloped and swallowed it? Memories of that time are getting murkier every day: “It is almost impossible now to remember … that poetry was the literary genre to which the greatest prestige accrued until the mideighties; that one might have spent an afternoon talking with an acquaintance about the rhythm of a writer’s sentences … that we didn’t think of success in writing mainly in relation to the market, and in relation to a particular genre, the novel, and to a specific incarnation of that genre, the first novel, possibly until 1993, when A Suitable Boy was published, or maybe a year earlier, when Donna Tartt’s The Secret History appeared. It is now difficult to understand these examples as watershed occurrences in an emerging order, and difficult to experience again the moral implications of living … in an order that was superseded.”
- NPR personalities used to position themselves as the genuine, warts-and-all alternative to the downy baritones on offer from traditional radio broadcasters—but today even the NPR voices have come to sound manufactured, their hesitant cadences and informality built into the script. “In addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection … A result is the suggestion of spontaneous speech and unadulterated emotion. The irony is that such presentations are highly rehearsed, with each caesura calculated and every syllable stressed in advance … the preplanned responses of NPR personalities sound somewhat counterfeit when stacked against the largely, if not completely, unscripted monologues that open rawer podcasts … an even more forceful catalyst for speech patterns has been the modern Internet, the most powerful linguistic relaxant outside of alcohol.”
- E. H. Shepard is best remembered as the illustrator behind the original Winnie-the-Pooh, but before that, during World War I, he ran a soldiers’ magazine from the trenches: “For months, his life, like all those on the front, was surrounded by slaughter. His sketchbook was full of pictures of crammed dugouts and rough shelters. He drew the chaotic rubble of no-man’s land, the plight of the wounded, and the tall roadside crucifix used as a lookout post by the Germans … But there’s still plenty of humor in Venti Quatro, the soldiers’ magazine he edited, satirizing the gung-ho coverage of the British press, so far from the bitter reality. His wit is not verbal, but visual—a quality hard to define—seen here in affectionate caricatures of fellow officers and in the wonderful, rhythmic dance of beak-nosed, moustachioed officers in swirling tutus.”
- More and more literary magazines are charging a reading fee—is this blatant money-grabbing or the latest in a series of efforts to stanch the flow of submissions? “The major reason literary journals charge fees has less to do with money, and more to do with the enormous number of submissions they receive. Around the country, MFA programs are graduating people who want to be writers, so they submit creative writing to literary journals. The journals, with small staffs and minuscule budgets, are overwhelmed with submissions and take a long time—sometimes six months to a year—to reply. Most writers can’t wait that long for a single response, so they send their work to more journals. The whole thing snowballs … In some sense, then, writers are to blame for blanketing journals they haven’t even read with their work.”