- Anyone who maintains that writers play a pivotal role in advancing and transforming our language is dead wrong—the real engines for linguistic change are teenage girls, who have served as “disruptors” since the fifteenth century, if not earlier. Linguists who have studied six thousand letters from 1417 to 1681 “found that female letter-writers changed the way they wrote faster than male letter-writers, spearheading the adoption of new words and discarding words like doth and maketh.”
- Next year will see the release of a new Cormac McCarthy novel called The Passenger, the first since 2006’s The Road. (There’s a joke to be made here about how The Road and The Passenger together sound like a spin-off of Car and Driver, but … ah, forget it.) The new book, scuttlebutt suggests, is “set in New Orleans around 1980. It has to do with a brother and sister. When the book opens she’s already committed suicide, and it’s about how he deals with it. She’s an interesting girl.” As for McCarthy, he spends most of his time “at a science and mathematics think tank in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), where he is a trustee.”
- Reminder: Ottessa Moshfegh doesn’t need your praise or acceptance. “I don’t care about being a literary personality—that doesn’t appeal to me, especially because the literary world doesn’t appeal to me. I actually don’t feel like I even belong in it … If this was high school, I would be sitting with the goths, looking at everyone, being like, Whatever.”
- In the early twentieth century, with the nineteenth amendment finally ratified, the writers of camping guides realized at last that women can enjoy camping, too—thus ensued a slew of new camping and hunting books for women. “Somehow, out of the neglect, arose the impression that woods’ joys were for men alone,” Woodcraft for Women begins. “Gradually a few women discovered that the lazy drifting down a pine and rock-bound stream calms feminine as well as masculine nerves and that the dimly blazed trail into an unknown country arouses the pioneering instinct in them as truly as it does a man.”
- Looking back at Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques: “If the voice of this French anthropologist conveys to you nothing more than academic curmudgeonliness, let’s leave it there. But isn’t it a kind of fastidiousness that seems to belong to a vanished intellectual world? It seems a promise that he feels his discoveries too important not to be told, and perhaps they are.”
For the first time in its eighty-year history, the Whitney Biennial gives substantial space—an entire floor of the museum, in fact—to dance and performance. The catalogue, typically a by-the-book affair (no pun intended), has matched the show’s experiential adventure, allotting each of the roughy fifty artists six pages for original contributions that extend, rather than merely reflect, the work in the museum. Among others entries, I love Vincent Fecteau’s use of a quote from Dennis Cooper to accompany his sculptures, while Cooper’s Last Spring project appears a few pages back; and Nick Mauss’s description of room he built in a dream: “just like that Claus Oldenburg installation with the plush and the zebra, except that the bed is covered in a grid of baguettes standing en point beneath a poster of the cover of Triste Tropiques.” —Nicole Rudick
It feels redundant to recommend something as canonical as Shoah, but until this past weekend, when I devoted a day to it at BAM, I’d never actually seen Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary all the way through. I must admit, I entered into the nine-hour experience with something of a sense of obligation. But it’s okay. Entertaining is the wrong word—wholly engrossing. I’ll leave it to others to discuss its cinematic and historical import; all I know is that it stays with you. —Sadie Stein
This week New Orleans held its annual Tennessee Williams Festival, featuring copious mint juleps and a Stella shouting contest. I celebrated the occasion with Sweet Bird of Youth, the 1962 film adaptation of Williams’s play. When tweaking and fame-hungry Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) returns to his Florida hometown to win back his sweetheart with big Hollywood promises, as always with dear Tennessee, heartbreak and histrionics ensue. Geraldine Page as Alexandra del Lago, a boozy, washed-up film star, steals the show. —Allison Bulger
Gothic thrillers are my guilty pleasure, but it’s hard to find a really good one. John Harwood’s The Séance is one of the best I’ve come across lately, a creepy page-turner that manager to capture the flavor of nineteenth-century horror conventions without feeling mannered. —S.S.
William K. Everson was the head of the Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society, which put on weekly retrospective film series in New York City from the fifties into the eighties. These screenings were attended by such luminaries as Stanley Kubrick and Susan Sontag. Everson wrote extensive notes for each show, and these legendary writings—idiosyncratic as they are erudite—are now available online through NYU. —Josh Anderson
Cultural narratives often contain the most distilled and revealing identifiers of a people and their imagination. The Met exhibition “Storytelling in Japanese Art” is a beautiful instance of narrative revelation, a window into the world of Japanese storytelling from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. This collection of various media—hand scrolls, folding screens, playing cards, textiles—pairs narrative text and intricate illustration to showcase the rich and fascinating history of Japanese people, their spirt and their stories. —Elizabeth Nelson
DAY ONE, KIND OF
The first thing that occurs to me at the beginning of my cultural week is a question about criteria. What qualifies? If you read—or, as I did, listen to—Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, the whole of culture is going to hell in a handbasket, as mash-ups and the digital entrepôt rid us of professional reportage, musicianship, originality, and notions of humanity itself. He cites Facebook as an example of the degrading of our standards: What is a “friend” from now on? Punters of my generation—and probably most readers of The Paris Review will find this a curious thing to say, but my three-year-old son will likely see it as a word for the tally of standardized connections amassed through the mediation of a Web site.
DAY ONE, REALLY
Monday begins, technically, at 12:00 A.M. “Sunday night,” with an Alan Watts lecture on the subject of “Play and Sincerity.” I have long used Watts to put me to sleep, which implies that he is soporific. Not so; it’s that I find his voice comforting.
I also indulged in Zombieland, the unfeasibly entertaining comedy directed by Ruben Fleischer. Of the two ruling monster metaphors currently infecting the public mind (the other being vampirism, to which I have to confess I have contributed), I favor the flesh-eating variety, though that may simply be an indication that I have a Y chromosome.
While we are at it, I am afraid that I rate Justin Cronin’s vampire epic The Passage a “sell.” The word is that Ridley Scott is to direct the movie version, and this may be one case of a book that benefits from boiling down. I hope that Sir Ridley is in his best science-fiction mode and can bring some of the quotidian genius that he brought to Alien and Blade Runner.
My dad, who served in the Office of Strategic Services at the end of World War II, always said that the New York Times was the greatest intelligence resource in the world. When I got old enough to have developed a taste for a newspaper without (as he called it) funny papers, we had two subscriptions for the house, so that there would be no scuffling over favorite sections. (We also received the Post, for shits and giggles.) Read More