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Posts Tagged ‘David Foster Wallace’

Floating Capital

October 21, 2015 | by

Fear him.

The eeriest and most gravid of today’s new emoji is this guy: the so-called Man in Business Suit Levitating. In Apple’s rendition, he cuts an imposing figure, like a rich kid who’s just aced his LSATs—a simpering, dubiously pompadoured fella in polarized glasses and a natty suit. His tapered silhouette hangs above a blip of a shadow. He’s a superhuman exclamation point. He’s the floating face of capitalism. And if literature has taught us anything, it’s that he brings nothing but bad news wherever he roams.

I’m prepared to advance an entirely unfounded argument based on an hour of Googling: that this levitating businessman is the latest, most accessible form of a character who has haunted literature for more than a century. Sometimes wily, sometimes unscrupulous, and sometimes merely misguided, he’s held aloft by Adam Smith’s invisible hand only to be flung earthward again. Join me, won’t you, on an impromptu whistle-stop tour of THE LEVITATING BUSINESSMAN IN LITERATURE.Read More »

Women in Crime: An Interview with Sarah Weinman

October 19, 2015 | by

From the first-edition cover of Mischief.

Sarah Weinman’s two-volume Women Crime Writers challenges and redefines our notions of American crime fiction. Broken into two decades, the 1940s and the 1950s, her collection comprises eight novels—with Vera Caspary’s Laura, Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man, Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall in the first volume, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, and Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold in the second. Together, these books reveal an unjustly forgotten feminist tradition by writers who were, in their day, respected as the best in their field.

Diverging from the pulp action tradition embodied by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler—and from the cozier school of British whodunits by Agatha Christie—these authors pioneered a new trend in mystery fiction: psychological suspense. The stereotypical mysteries of the day featured hard-boiled masculine heroes battling femme fatales. These works, by contrast, presented a variety of innovative plots and perceptive commentary on the gender and class issues of their time. The women in these novels—the titular, savvy careerist in Laura; the psychotic babysitter in Mischief; the struggling mother who covers up the murder of a blackmailer in The Blank Wall—consistently defy what were then conventional notions of womanhood. As the mother in The Blank Wall acknowledges, “[Her husband and children] would give her love, protection, even a sort of homage, but in return for that she must be what they wanted and needed her to be”; ultimately, hers is a quest not only to protect the family name but also to exercise personal agency.

Sometimes the hero (In a Lonely Place), the villain (The Blunderer and Beast in View), or a more ambiguous but still integral role (The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold), they’re all refreshingly realistic, relatable, and archetype-breaking female charactersRead More »

The Art of Weathered Lithuanian Garage Doors, and Other News

September 16, 2015 | by

Photo: Agne Gintalaite, via Slate

  • Hey, kid—wanna get into print? Take some advice from a guy who’s been around the block: during the submissions process, it’s always better to lie and/or cheat. (The jury’s still out on stealing.) “I was a junior editor at an established magazine, and I decided to use this to my advantage. I typed up a cover letter on my employer’s very fine letterhead, slipped it and the story into an envelope embossed with our well-known logo … A few months later, an editor emailed me at work—stick it, SASE!—to say he would like to buy the story … What I’m counseling is cheating: You don’t have to be an asshole. The submission process is a rigged casino game, though, and all is fair in love and literary magazines.”
  • The trope of the writer as a habitué of cafés—always bowing his head over a cappuccino or espresso, always pausing to scrawl something brilliant and hard-won in a coffee-stained Moleskine notebook—is irritating, both to the idea of writers and the idea of cafés. The history of the coffeehouse is a strange thing: it was long regarded not as a site for productivity but for procrastination, especially among men. “Coffee itself was often thought to be disgusting—a few of the names used by detractors were ‘syrup of soot,’ ‘a foreign fart,’ ‘a sister of the common sewer,’ ‘resembling the river Styx,’ ‘Pluto’s diet-drink,’ ‘horsepond liquor’ … While the early coffeehouses sometimes hosted what were called ‘improving activities,’ including scientific lectures—the scientist Robert Hooke, a member of the Royal Society, was a prominent coffeehouse lecturer, and in one particularly bizarre case, a porpoise was brought to a coffeehouse and dissected in front of an audience, in the name of natural philosophy—the culture of ‘improvement’ did little to assuage the sense that these places were black holes for the productive days of men in their best working years.”
  • Imagine befriending various writers. Did you know? Most of them will be awful companions, including Joyce, Dickens, Hardy, and even Lawrence: “Later, when he takes the dog out he invites you to join him. He is looking for a man to form a blutsbrüdershaft, he says, a friendship so strong that you can both say exactly what you think of each other without putting the relationship at risk. As he says this, he places a hand on your wrist. He’s so seductive that you feel afraid.”
  • In which Mary Karr sets the record straight on a thing or two, as is her wont: “David Foster Wallace wanted celebrity as much or more than any writer I’ve ever known … I had to talk David out of doing a Gap commercial at one point because I said, ‘Would Cormac McCarthy do it? Would Toni Morrison do it?’”
  • Today in aged Lithuanian garage doors: “Lithuanian photographer Agne Gintalaite has documented a series of some 200 Lithuanian garage doors painted and weathered by the elements and time on the outskirts of Vilnius that look like Mark Rothko paintings left out in the rain, each its own stunning work of abstract art.”

Staff Picks: Signage, Segel, Cerebral Kisses

August 28, 2015 | by

Ed Ruscha, Standard, Amarillo, Texas (detail), 1962, black-and-white photograph.

Katherine Silver’s translation of Dinner, by the Argentinian novelist César Aira, found its way to me earlier this week, and I’ve since raced through it. It’s a slender, wacky fun house of a novel—featuring peptide-craving cadavers and intricate wind-up toys, among other oddities—and yet it begins at the most ordinary of places: the dinner table. There our sixty-something-year-old bachelor (who still lives with his mom) sits, having surrendered to an evening of drab gossip with a friend. Soon, and without much warning, Aira tosses us into a zombie-infested town where the dead crawl out of their graves to suck the endorphins from the brains of the living, culminating in what he tenderly calls the “cerebral kiss.” Aira writes with imagination and pith; in an interview with Bomb magazine, he told María Moreno, “In my work everything is invented, and I can go on inventing indefinitely.” I hope he does. —Caitlin Youngquist

Ed Ruscha has always been enigmatic about his photographic work; he has called it a hobby, despite the fact that he has produced a number of photo books (now rare and highly prized), including the famous Twentysix Gasoline StationsVarious Small Fires, and Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Those books have even inspired a book of their own, the recent Various Small Books, which catalogues other artists’ riffs on and homages to Ruscha’s volumes. And now I’ve discovered a photo book about Ruscha’s photographs and photo books—the aptly titled Ed Ruscha, Photographer. Somewhere between wanting to be a cartoonist and a commercial artist and becoming a painter, Ruscha fit in a side interest in photography. The book features not only his hymns to repetition and the midcentury American landscape but also his very early snapshots (taken Europe in 1961) and his more recent photographs, which attest to his abiding interest in highway signage. There is also a smattering of color work—strange, often red-stained still lifes involving liquids and food. Think Marilyn Minter crossed with Takeshi Murata put through an Ed Ruscha filter. —Nicole Rudick
Read More »

Design a Cover for the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of Infinite Jest

August 13, 2015 | by

Cover_IJ

There are two routes to literary immortality:

  • Slave for years—if not decades—over a work of fiction so searingly sui generis, so well and truly fused with an authentic zeitgeist, so deeply attuned to life’s vicissitudes and the mysteries of the soul, that establishment and nonestablishment figures alike have no choice but to revere you and send you soaring toward the firmament, never to be forgotten.
  • Hitch your wagon to David Foster Wallace’s star.

For the less ambitious among us, option number two has never been more desirable. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Infinite Jest, Little, Brown is hosting a contest: you can design the cover for the new edition, thus earning one thousand dollars and suturing your memory to Wallace’s own. Read More »

Zero at the Bone, and Other News

August 13, 2015 | by

A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, ca. 1848.

  • Since David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Infinite Jest has undergone a dramatic change in its cultural significance: once merely the mark of a curious reader, it’s become a totem for bros, who see in its massive size and brainy reputation a chance to show off their own massive size and brainy reputations—and who have no intention of really grappling with it. “How did poor David Foster Wallace go from dissecting the pretensions and shortcomings of mid-century men of letters to holding a central place in the pretensions of their heirs? … [Jest’s] irrefutable bigness is a dare … For these men, Wallace stands as a challenge to be confronted, just as the paperback brick of Infinite Jest stands as a challenge to the guy hauling it on the G train.”
  • Alexandra Kleeman, whose debut short story “Fairy Tale” appeared in our Winter 2010 issue, discusses her new novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, and the altogether surreal experience of seeing ads on TV for the first time after a long break from the medium: “They’re these little pockets of weirdness … You get these characters who so fervently believe in the power of a certain product, they’re so fervently wanting to fix this one problem. You have these weird extreme emotions like jealousies and affections for things that no normal person would, so I find them really interesting and almost beautiful in that way, like surrealist films. You can feel how much money goes into commercials by how swiftly they act on your mind. And they’ve got like a hypnotic quality to the way they present their products. I can feel myself taking on a desire for that thing, or at least like feeling the desire they want me to feel, when I see a beautifully done eye, or makeup, or the softness of some cotton fabric bouncing up and down.”
  • And Lydia Davis looks at the life and work of Lucia Berlin, who died in 2004, and whose story “B.F. and Me” appears in our Summer issue: “We have, most of us, known at least some part of what she went through: children in trouble, or early molestation, or a rapturous love affair, struggles with addiction, a difficult illness or disability, an unexpected bond with a sibling, or a tedious job, difficult fellow workers, a demanding boss, or a deceitful friend, not to speak of awe in the presence of the natural world—Hereford cattle knee-deep in Indian paintbrush, a field of bluebonnets, a pink rocket flower growing in the alley behind a hospital. Because we have known some part of it, or something like it, we are right there with her as she takes us through it.”
  • It’s time to make food a permanent part of the cultural canon: “We have traditionally regarded cuisines as pop or folk art at best­—cherished but ephemeral, beginning as peasant food forged from the local landscape and naturally disappearing as people emigrated and landscapes changed … ‘There is a group of us who want to know the deep flavors of what has endured longest. Those ingredients that mattered for so long that they became “the taste” of the time, the points of reference against which all innovations were measured. For me, those ingredients constitute the canon, and the dishes of the time frame them.’ ”
  • Step aside—Joyce Carol Oates is asking the big questions about inspiration and art. “Why do we write? What is the motive for metaphor? … Is inspiration a singular phenomenon, or does it take taxonomical forms? Indeed, is the uninspired life worth living? … ‘Inspiration’ is an elusive term. We all want to be ‘inspired’ if the consequence is something original and worthwhile; we would even consent to be ‘haunted’—‘obsessed’—if the consequence were significant. For all writers dread what Emily Dickinson calls ‘Zero at the Bone’—the dead zone from which inspiration has fled.”