Posts Tagged ‘culture’
July 9, 2015 | by Jeffery Gleaves
- Admire the tenacity of lit mags yet question their utility? The poet Stephen Burt argues that a new journal simply needs a raison d’être: it should seek to fill a “gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement, a constellation of authors for whom the future demand for work exceeds present supply, a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes.”
- What can the Greek tragedies tell us about the current Mediterranean refugee crises? Aeschylus’s 470 B.C. play, The Suppliants, concerns the fifty daughters of the Egyptian king Danaus, who flee Africa and seek asylum in Greece. Fitting then that a new production of the play is being reimagined in modern-day Sicily, where “African refugees beg at traffic lights,” and is being staged in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse, in Sicily.
- What can the inmates at a Missouri prison tell us about the evolution of language? In compiling a lexicon of facility-specific slang, they found that a viking is a “prisoner with poor hygiene,” a kite is “an informal message sent by a prisoner,” and a pumpkin is, you guessed it, “a term used for new arrivals” (but not for the reason you might expect). After all, “a dictionary is not a book of rules but a description of language as it is used in real life at a particular moment in time,” says English professor Paul Lynch, who volunteers at the prison.
- Jerry Seinfeld thinks that political correctness is killing comedy; he doesn’t perform at college campuses because “they’re so PC.” it wasn’t always that way: American college humor is historically steeped in offensiveness. Take National Lampoon, an offshoot of the The Harvard Lampoon and precursor to Saturday Night Live, for example, where “getting a rise out of people was precisely the goal, and the magazine was steadfast in its dedication to what it saw as a decidedly non-partisan approach to humor.”
- This week in the perils of the modern age: the Russian government released a public-awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of taking a selfie. With a little help from Google Translate, we learn that “when a person is trying to take a picture of himself—he scattered attention, he lost his balance, he does not look around and did not feel in danger.” Have fun this summer. Practice safe selfies.
July 8, 2015 | by Jeffery Gleaves
- The owner of the most famous wheelbarrow in literature finally gets his due. Williams Carlos Williams was inspired in 1938 by the image of Thaddeus Marshall’s humble gardening implement left out in the rain, next to a flock of white chickens, and wrote the sixteen-word poem “Red Wheelbarrow.”
- Wikipedia? It’s been done. Diderot spent more than twenty years writing and editing his Encyclopédie, a French translation of one of the first English-language encyclopedias. Diderot, however, transformed the original by conceiving of his “as a fully interactive text,” complete with footnotes and appendices that serve the era’s “version of hyperlinks, cross-listings, which take the reader to other ‘sites’ in the encyclopedia.”
- Experimental composer Conlon Nancarrow utilized the player piano for his musical studies because “he was drawn to the technical possibilities of the machine, which can play faster and with greater precision than the most virtuosic pianist.” He applied congruent ratios to separate tempos and hand-punched cards while creating his unplayable, weirdly enjoyable tunes.
- Robert Louis Stevenson may have been an egomaniac and brilliant fantasist, but he was also quite ill throughout his life. While visiting him in Samoa, where he would be buried at forty-four, historian Henry Adams said of Stevenson, “Imagine a man so thin and emaciated that he looked like a bundle of sticks in a bag, with a head and eyes morbidly intelligent and restless.”
- All hail the Devil’s Bible, a thirteeth-century, wood-bound anomaly that is more than three feet long and comprises 620 pages. Officially named the Codex Gigas, it’s fabled to have been written by a banished monk, who resolved “to write the world’s biggest book in one night. To do so, he naturally required the help of the Devil.” Their deal? “All the monk had to do was paint a full-page portrait of Beelzebub in the Codex and hand over his mortal soul.”
July 7, 2015 | by Jeffery Gleaves
- Joan Didion is twice the man you’ll ever be, so suggests a recent article in The Millions. Her masculine superiority lies in the “glacial emotional distance” of her prose, which is better than yours. Her coolness astounds: in her essay, “On Self-Respect,” she writes that people who have it, “are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.”
- Ottessa Moshfegh, winner of the 2013 Plimpton Prize, talks with Sarah Gerard about keeping a notebook: “When I’m writing to myself, I’m really trying to process something, and it usually has to do with writing out my delusion and then trying to interpret what that delusion might be in service of, and then trying to comfort myself about the anxiety that the delusion was helping me cope with.”
- Apple reversed its decision to ban historical video games that depict the battle flag of the Confederate States of America. Copies of Gone with the Wind and The Red Badge of Courage weren’t being pulped during the recent public outcry against flying the Confederate flag at certain state capitols, nor were Cold Mountain or Glory taken off the iTunes store. This reminds gamers, yet again, “that games are seen not as a scholarly pursuit, that they do not merit serious consideration alongside films and books on their subject matter.”
- While we’re talking about America, it seems our literary canon isn’t fit for television. Consider the numerous Jane Austen adaptations, the massive success of Downton Abbey, and the lack of a critically acclaimed film version of any Faulkner novel. Are American novels too dark for TV, or has Hollywood locked up the rights for most major American titles? As Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece, says, “The reasons that we haven’t are twofold … One is money, the second is money. And the third is money.”
- Which reminds me: culture isn’t free, but our post-Napster, digitalized-content world still operates as if it were. The trouble is, “if individual artists cannot make a living from their creative work, they will eventually throw in the towel,” and it’s important that “large corporations do not monopolize the cultural sphere.” Wrest control of culture from the ruling class. Buy a book.
July 6, 2015 | by Jeffery Gleaves
- George Plimpton, our founding editor, held the unofficial title of fireworks commissioner of New York City for some thirty years, but he hosted the hottest fireworks parties at his place in the Hamptons. When he died, in 2003, “his son, Taylor, following his father’s wishes, packed his ashes into a firework with the help of Phil Grucci and launched him into the sky.”
- What’s wrong with loving love songs? Nothing. Studying them for “subversive” moments may be disingenuous though, like “scanning a nursery for ugly babies. The interesting question about babies is what makes them so cute.” There’s nothing wrong with sentiment. Enjoy it.
- This week in stereotypes: in effort to attract a more divers readership, comic-book publishers are incorporating more gay characters and story lines—like Kevin, the gay character introduced into the Archie series in 2010. DC Comics, though, has a new gay superhero named Midnighter, who “likes to fight and is promiscuous.”
- Some things never change, which is to say art is still irrelevant. Looking at the fiscal health of the fine arts can buoy your spirits, but challenge anyone on the street to “identify the architect of the Freedom Tower or name a single winner of the Tate Prize,” and you may be disappointed. Even your last trip to the museum was probably “for the sake of sensation and spectacle.”
- Dune looks good at fifty, maybe better than it ever has: the science fiction’s concerns—human potential, environmental anxiety, revolution, and altered states of consciousness—have more geopolitical echoes than they did in 1965. “If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war,” then, “Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius.”
March 6, 2015 | by The Paris Review
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, Ultrasonic, a 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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December 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Paul Muldoon on Beckett’s collected letters: “The letters collected here come in the wake of the success, in 1955, of the English version of Waiting for Godot, the play in which, according to the critic Vivian Mercier, ‘nothing happens, twice.’ One of the few things that do happen is that the tree that’s barren in Act I develops some foliage in Act II. But, as the high priest of lessness writes to the director Jerzy Kreczmar of the 1957 Warsaw production—‘The tree is perfect (perhaps a few leaves too many in the second act!)’—even that mustn’t be overstated.”
- Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is … culture. “When you put it next to another word it means something very different,” their editor at large said.
- The science of mondegreens: Why do we mishear lyrics? (“You’re much more likely to mishear ‘Cry Me a River’ as ‘Crimean River’ if you’ve recently been discussing the situation in Ukraine.”)
- “How can a writer make goodness interesting? George Eliot tried to do so by examining redemption in Silas Marner. The only problem is that the narrative jumps ahead, giving us the miserly misanthrope before and the radiant saint after he adopts a lost child … But where are the unheroic, sane, consistent, quiet goodnesses? As literature thrives on conflict, the idea of a sequestered, sanguine goodness might seem impossible.”
- The language of food: a new book crunches the data on the descriptions of 650,000 dishes from 6,500 menus. “Satisfied customers can be remarkably price-sensitive, if unconsciously so. The pleasures of expensive food are equated with sex; foie gras is seared ‘seductively’ and apple tart is ‘orgasmic.’ Cheap food, by contrast, is compared to drugs. Reviewers demand a ‘fix’ of fried chicken and liken cupcakes to crack.”