- Whither the singularity? In a review of Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Enlightenment, Adam Kirsch asks whether—in our era of perpetual “disruptions”—we’ve outgrown the questions posed by the radical philosophies of yesteryear. In short: we are not as modern as we think! Or, at least, we’re about as modern as we’ve been for a few hundred years: “But the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were one of those rare periods when a lot of people cared, because their sense of the world was decomposing so dramatically … If everything you thought you knew was wrong, how could you ever be confident that your knowledge was correct? Where does knowledge come from? What is matter made of? Is there a God, and, if so, what kind of being is he?”
- The Four Seasons, that venerable glass cube for hungry rich people, is closing. You could mourn the unseemly ritual of the three-martini power lunch, the potent varieties of affectation and entitlement on display among the clientele, or the astronomical sums exchanged in pursuit of ever-tackier varieties of conspicuous consumption. But better just to remember the modernist feats of the place itself: “The Four Seasons opened in 1959 at the base of the Seagram Building, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s city-reshaping black skyscraper on Park Avenue—a building that the late critic Herbert Muschamp, with slight but understandable hyperbole, once called the greatest work of architecture of the past thousand years. The architect Philip Johnson was tasked with designing the space, which he paneled in rich burled walnut; delicate window coverings made of aluminum beads made the light appear to dance. Diners sat in nimble, cantilevered chairs of Mies’s design; Eero Saarinen kitted out the women’s powder room with his well-known tulip chairs; and Ada Louise Huxtable, not yet the doyenne of New York architecture critics, had a hand in everything from the champagne flutes to the bread baskets. For the writer Paul Goldberger, Johnson’s design of the Four Seasons substantiated a modernism that was more than mere functionalism—and proved ‘the notion that modernism could, in fact, deal in emotion.’ ”
- Today in longstanding debates about deceased painters’ body parts: Van Gogh scholars continue to argue about the fate of his left ear. Nina Siegal speaks to those on both sides: “Did he simply slice off a little chunk of his ear, or did he lop off the entire ear? … A note written by Félix Rey, a doctor who treated Van Gogh at the Arles hospital, contains a drawing of the mangled ear showing that the artist indeed cut off the whole thing … [Biographers Stephen] Naifeh and [Gregory] White argue that witnesses who saw Van Gogh after Dr. Rey, including his brother Theo’s wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the artist Paul Signac and Van Gogh’s doctor in Auvers-sur-Oise, Dr. Paul Gachet, said that the entire ear was not missing. They all ‘saw a portion of the mutilated ear remaining—so much, in fact, that, when Vincent was seen from face-on, the damage could go unnoticed,’ they wrote.”
- Why did Google delete Dennis Cooper’s blog? Tobias Carroll investigates—but this is Google we’re talking about, so there is no such thing as “knowledge”: “Over the years, Dennis Cooper’s blog has become a go-to spot for those who appreciate challenging, bold, experimental literature. Cooper has frequently championed books on indie presses and literary work in small journals, using his own influence to point readers in the direction of other work that they might enjoy. (Many writers I know have been thrilled to have been included in lists of highlights from Cooper’s recent reading.) Over time, the site has gradually become a place where devotees of avant-garde fiction can learn more about what’s new in that particular corner of literature … There remains no indication of whether Cooper’s account has been entirely deleted or whether some form of recovery is possible—or, for that matter, of why Google felt the need to delete Cooper’s e-mail account and blog to begin with.”
- Now that Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai is back in print, it gets another shot at a much-deserved wider readership. Christian Lorentzen talked to DeWitt about it, and about her grievances with the publishing industry: “At the core of The Last Samurai is the notion that most people don’t meet their potential because the culture teaches them to assume there are things they just can’t do. The central example is Ludo reading Homer in the original Greek. ‘The Greek alphabet looks more daunting than it really is,’ DeWitt said. ‘I could get anybody reading the Greek script in an hour. I thought that this could be something that I could reveal in the book. People might read the novel and think, Gosh, if somebody had introduced this to me I could have done it. And so now I can have a grievance against our education system, just like the author of this book.’ ”
- As massively multiplayer video games attract a wide audience of spectators, the medium seems less like an extension of entertainment and more an extension of sport, as Willie Osterweil writes: “There is a deep-rooted tendency to associate sports with moments of courageous overcoming, with displays of physical strength, grace, and beauty. E-sports contain literally none of these, which means they are particularly well positioned to reveal all the other things that actually make up sport: the reification of competition, victory, and glory; patriarchal nationalism; and the formation of hierarchal social groups anchored in the protocols of spectatorship. With neither the physical drama that marks most spectator sports nor formal official recognition by Olympic bodies or other sports authorities, e-sports serves a new demand for a different kind of spectatorship: they provide a consolation specially attuned to the new subjects of digitally dominated postnational perma-crisis capitalism—subjects like me, who were raised playing, watching, and loving video games.”
Garth Greenwell’s “Gospodar,” which appeared in our Summer 2014 issue, is a slow-simmering story of unease, humiliation, and eroticism—it concerns a man’s experience with sadomasochistic sex in Sofia, Bulgaria. Greenwell, also a poet, is exacting in the language he uses to describe the encounter; the result is an intimate and intense intermingling of desire and trepidation.
Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, out today, dilates those same concerns: over three sections, the book’s unnamed narrator plumbs the feelings of exploitation, loneliness, and overwhelming desire that are produced by his complicated, compulsive affair with a bewitching male prostitute named Mitko. The first section is a revised version of a novella, Mitko, which won the Miami University Press Novella Prize in 2011 and marked Greenwell’s first foray into fiction. It follows the young American teacher, new to Bulgaria, as he engages Mitko for sex in the bathrooms under Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. The second section comprises a single unbroken paragraph that reflects back to the narrator’s childhood, and the third returns to his troubled relationship with Mitko.
I met with Greenwell last November after eagerly reading an early copy of the novel. He spoke easily and at length about growing up gay in Kentucky, erotic freedom, and the many faces of desire.
I thought we would start by talking about sex.
Great. That’s my favorite thing.
The novel is concerned with sex and desire, and often we think of those two things as being intertwined, but they’re largely kept separate in this story. Sex and desire are sometimes linked, but they’re also independent entities.
Maybe that’s tied up with the experience of growing up queer in the eighties and early nineties in Kentucky. I remember very clearly thinking about sex all the time when I was twelve or thirteen and feeling an intense desire that I was pretty sure I would never be able to act on. I remember asking myself, Will I ever be able to do any of these things? Will I ever find anyone with whom to do these things? It really did seem possible that the world would never accommodate my desires. And so in that way, desire was separated from sex. And then when I did finally have sex, I found that the world accommodated those desires in these weird marginal spaces, where sex wasn’t exactly analogous with desire—places like cruising bathrooms and parks—and where there can be a circulation of bodies that, if it’s about desire, it’s about a kind of desire that can be detached from specific people. Read More
Fact: nearly every one of the 214 back issues in our archive, going all the back to 1953, is available for purchase—and they make great last-minute gifts. We’re recommending few of our favorites: the undisputed classics, the oddities, the sleeper hits.
A Writers at Work interview with Rebecca West (Q: “Are there any advantages at all in being a woman and a writer?” A: “None whatsoever.”); fiction by Faulker and Gass; an epistolary squabble between Laura (Riding) Jackson, Martha Gellhorn, Stephen Spender, and the ghost of Yeats; work by thirty-eight poets, including Brainard, Sexton, Creeley, Schuyler, Baraka, and Swenson, and much more—there’s nothing not to love in the double-size twenty-fifth-anniversary issue from Spring 1981. And, perhaps best of all (which is saying a lot), issue 79 contains “The Paris Review Sketchbook,” a hundred-plus-page, mischievous oral history of the Review’s first quarter century: “Literary magazine people never work. They spend hours on end playing pinball machines in cafés.” —Nicole Rudick Read More
- Today in strange testing procedures involving nonsense words: Oxford applicants in classics and oriental studies, among other fields, are asked to translate phrases from invented languages with names such as Dobla and Kalaamfaadi—and the sample texts are full of charmingly, aggravatingly old-world stock phrases. “The scullery-maid loves the footman.” (Pante sirar tomut.) “Does the dowager rebuke the earl?” (Clarut tikehar mage.) For their seeming silliness, though, the tests are a strong indicator of your aptitude with languages. “It’s entirely possible that the kind of intellectual agility such languages call for is a hidden strength in many students who don’t know they have it. The thing that looks most intimidating might be the thing that should inspire confidence.”
- Fifty years after they were first published on seven-inch vinyl, rare and excellent readings from James Baldwin, John Updike, William Styron, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and James Jones have been rediscovered and reissued by Calliope Author Readings. They date to a time when (a) recording technology was still gloriously analog and (b) giving readings was still a novelty, rather than self-promotional essential: “Calliope began in the 1960s as a pioneering venture in the early days of literary recordings. With little more at their disposal than a passion for books, optimism and sheer nerve, three young entrepreneurs in Boston persuaded some of the most original twentieth century American authors to read from their works.”
- Toward the end of his life, Francis Bacon had ascended into art-world renown; he spent most of his time drinking and seething. A new memoir from Michael Peppiatt, who became the artist’s “scribe, drinking partner, estate agent, confidante, gatekeeper and admirer, and the recipient of lavish dinners, drinks, flats, paintings and acquaintances,” captures Bacon in decline: “Dazzled by the endless procession of big-name wines in similar bars, Peppiatt seems not to notice that Bacon repeats the same maxims again and again, almost word for word—stock phrases on painting about ‘immediacy’ and the ‘nervous system’ and a rehearsed bit on the nothingness that stretches before and after life—as if prepping his initiate to write about him. Impressive once, cumulatively they are undermining, especially when heard sober.”
- Italo Calvino loved to go to the movies. And he put forth a convincing case for arriving late, too—an argument I plan to use the next time I’m dragging my friends to a movie fifteen minutes after it started. “Italian spectators barbarously made entering after the film already started a widespread habit, and it still applies today. We can say that back then we already anticipated the most sophisticated of modern narrative techniques, interrupting the temporal thread of the story and transforming it into a puzzle to put back together piece by piece or to accept in the form of a fragmentary body. To console us further, I’ll say that attending the beginning of the film after knowing the ending provided additional satisfaction: discovering not the unraveling of mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and a vague sense of foresight with respect to the characters.”
- Like many of us, Dennis Cooper loves GIFs; unlike many of us, he’s written a novel in GIFs called Zac’s Haunted House, and has finished another. “Cooper finds the GIF work ‘weirdly very emotional.’ And with GIFs, he contends, ‘fictional emotional displays and “real” displays are made indistinguishable … There is also, for Cooper—and, it would, seem, much of the Internet-using public—something inherently comic about GIFs. The comedy, he says, is of a particularly physical kind. He has noted before that GIFs in which real-life people fall off bunk beds or have other accidents are often edited so that we don’t see the painful consequences. And yet, as the action is repeated indefinitely, with a ‘kind of heartlessness,’ the implications of the violence seep out nonetheless.”
Matteo Pericoli is a famous drawer of cities. He is known for his witty, loving, obsessively detailed renditions of the Manhattan coastline (Manhattan Unfurled), the perimeter of Central Park (Manhattan Within), and the banks of the River Thames (London Unfurled).
Several years ago, Matteo began to draw New York from a new vantage point—from its windows. He asked artists, writers, politicians, editors, and others involved with the cultural life of the city to let him draw whatever they saw when they looked outside. These were collected in the book The City Out My Window (and the view from 62 White Street appeared on the cover of The Paris Review).
In 2010, the project grew. Matteo was commissioned by The New York Times op-ed page to draw the window views of writers around the world, and the writers were asked to describe them. Starting today, that series—Windows on the World—will continue in The Paris Review Daily.
Stay tuned for a new window each month. —Lorin Stein
This is the only window in the room where I live. It looks over the former grounds of the former monastery turned artists residency in the 10th arrondissement of Paris where I reside. I only look through it when I’m smoking. —Dennis Cooper