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Posts Tagged ‘Don DeLillo’

When David Foster Wallace Taught Paul Thomas Anderson

January 6, 2015 | by

Paul Thomas Anderson and Dainel Day-Lewis

Anderson in 2007. Photo: Jürgen Fauth, via Wikimedia Commons

In the fall of 1990, years before he published Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace came on as an adjunct professor at Emerson College, in Boston. As D. T. Max writes in his biography, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, this wasn’t such a hot time for Wallace. He was mentally unstable in those years, and actively ashamed of his latest collection of stories, Girl with Curious Hair; when the Emerson English department posted an advertisement for it, he tore it down. And teaching offered no reprieve from the problems he had with his writing and the culture at large. In a letter to Jonathan Franzen, he called his students “infants”: “you almost have to cradle their heads to help their necks support the skull’s weight.” Were the youth simply too enamored of TV’s easy charms? Max writes,

The students he was teaching made him feel the problem was worse than he had known. They were the Letterman generation he had imagined in [his short story] “My Appearance,” proud of their knowingness. “They’re all ‘television’ majors, whatever that means,” he complained to [David] Markson, adding that he’d had his wrist slapped by his department for “ ‘frustrating’ the students” with a DeLillo novel (he does not say which) by which he meant to wake them up … Wallace knew he did not want to stay at Emerson long.

Still, because he was fluent in TV, Wallace found himself popular with the students. And at least one of them came away emboldened by that “frustrating” experience with DeLillo: Paul Thomas Anderson, whose latest film, Inherent Vice, is in wide release this week. Read More »

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American Grotesque, and Other News

December 1, 2014 | by

William Mortensen’s L’Amour (1932) doubles as the cover of a new book about him, American Grotesque.

  • Don DeLillo rereads his own opus, Underworld, seventeen years after its publication. (“Great fucking line,” he’s written next to “The subway seals you durably in the stone of the moment.”)
  • In the thirties, William Mortensen was one of the most celebrated photographers in the nation—his pictures were “unabashedly theatrical, bizarre, and often louche.” What sank his reputation: a critical tiff with Ansel Adams.
  • The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has moved to ban wordplay “on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public—especially children.” (An example of the now forbidden fruit: “replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned ‘brook no delay’ into ‘coughing must not linger’ for a medicine ad.”)
  • While we’re on censorship: In the quest for G-rated moon landings, NASA used to go to great lengths to scrub astronauts’ profanity from its transcripts. In the case of one particularly salty spaceman, they went further—they had him hypnotized. “A psychiatrist put the idea in his head that he would rather hum when his mind wandered.”
  • On the history of fairy tales: “In the coded language of symbol and metaphor they chart the journey from childhood to adulthood. The Russian commentator Eleaser Meletinksji wrote, ‘It is even possible to say that the fairy tale begins with the break-up of one family and ends with the creation of a new one.’”

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Staff Picks: Pirates, Policemen, Purple Skies

October 17, 2014 | by

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Jane Wilson, Hurricane Watch, 1990, oil on canvas, 35" x 40". Image via DC Moore Gallery.

In 1965, Jane Wilson made a print for The Paris Review. Hers was included in the first group offered by the magazine through its new print series; Wilson was joined in that inaugural endeavor by, among others, Helen Frankenthaler and Jane Freilicher, all of whom were cohorts in midfifties New York. Other than the print, I’ve only ever seen one of Wilson’s works, at a friend’s house—it’s a sizable painting of a landscape—but that’s been enough to make me covet her artwork. DC Moore Gallery has nearly a dozen of these landscapes on view right now, and they’re stunning. At almost six feet square, the paintings are large, and their size is amplified by terrific expanses of sky that take up most of the picture space. And what skies: a full range of purples, golds, blues, and greens—they appear as visions, as though you can see through time while only looking at the clouds.  —Nicole Rudick

If you call Pirate Joe’s in Vancouver during off hours, you’ll be greeted by the store’s owner, Michael Hallatt, on the recording. “We do not sell Trader Joe’s products,” he says. “You might have heard we do; we don’t. That would be unfair to Trader Joe’s, to go down there and buy groceries from them. Say you bought like maybe a million dollars worth of groceries from them over three years, that would be grossly unfair.” But that’s exactly what Hallatt has done. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a Canadian presence, so loopholes in a gray market allow Hallatt to resell Joe’s groceries. Priceonomics has the full story, from Hallatt’s early stock runs to Bellingham, Washington, and his subsequent ban from Trader Joe’s locations to his ongoing lawsuit with the grocery chain. At the end of the day, this is a love story between a man and a store. “Hallatt’s ultimate goal with Pirate Joe’s is to ‘bring’ Trader Joe’s to Canada—before he had the store he would call them and just petition them, and he has always promised to close up shop if they ever expand north. In many ways, Hallatt would count this as the ultimate victory.” —Justin Alvarez

The Melville House blog introduced me to The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed, a—novella? discourse? medium-length prose work?—composed in the early eighties by an artificial intelligence called Racter (short for raconteur). Racter likely had some editorial assistance from good old-fashioned human beings, but even so, its work is affecting. There are moments when it has an eerily sophisticated grasp of these things we call “emotions,” all the complex longings that come with personhood: love, envy, hunger. And then there are moments when it sounds utterly robotic, almost autistic. A representative sample: “A sturdy dove flies over a starving beaver. The dove watches the beaver and fantasizes that the beaver will chew some steak and lamb and lettuce. The beaver spies the dove and dreams of enrapturing and enthralling pleasures, of hedge-adorned avenues studded with immense pink cottages, of streets decorated with bushes and shrubs. The beaver is insane.” —Dan Piepenbring

I was reluctant to read Don DeLillo’s Falling Man because I don’t remember how I felt on 9/11; I was barely ten. My mom, an EMT, pulled me out of school and dropped me home with my dad before rushing to the train station where first-responders were meeting. I was in McDonald’s eating a Big Mac when the South Tower fell. Eventually my brother and I got tired of watching my dad watch CNN; we went upstairs and watched Dumb & Dumber on a nine-inch television instead. DeLillo shows incredible tact and poise in his navigation of such a delicate subject. The novel is bookended by short scenes that take place during the attacks. The imagery is vivid, horrifying, and pea-soupy with detail. But DeLillo’s voice is strongest in his enigmatic mastery of the domestic. He doesn’t attempt to evaluate fallout and fear on a national level. Instead, he shadows a single survivor who returns to his estranged wife and child. The brilliance of Falling Man isn’t in shoving the reader back through the ashes of American flags but in exploring how the tragedy affected our understanding of memory, faith, and fear. —Alex Celia

In The Guardian’s “The Long Read” this week, Pankaj Mishra critiques The Fourth Revolution, a new book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge (both editors at the Economist). It’s beyond me how Mishra isn’t completely exhausted from his tireless defense against that most damaging and useless binary, “East/West.” “The twentieth century was blighted by the same pathologies that today make the western model seem unworkable, and render its fervent advocates a bit lost,” Mishra observes. Among the “advocates” he takes to task are “such Panglosses of globalization as Thomas Friedman” and Francis Fukuyama, whose pernicious “inverted Hegelianiam” must stop being consumed by the masses. Deftly showing how ISIS is “the latest incarnation” of “the blood-splatted French revolutionary tradition” and arguing that we must look to “historical specificity and detail” rather than support totalizing ideologies, Mishra provides a much-needed, sober reading of the state of the world today. —Charles Shafaieh

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Where Are They Now? Part Two

August 26, 2014 | by

The second in a week-long series of illustrations by Jason Novak, captioned by Eric Jarosinski.

image_19image_1 Read More »

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How Your Gender Affects Your Vocabulary, and Other News

June 24, 2014 | by

Hans_Thoma,_Adam_and_Eve,_1897,_Hermitage_Museum

Hans Thoma, Adam and Eve, 1897.

  • George Saunders talks “about his family’s sense of humor, the connection between satire and compassion, his early comedy influences, and how he came to embrace the funny side of his writing.”
  • Some words that men are likelier to know than women: claymore, scimitar, solenoid, dreadnaught. Some words that women are likelier to know than men: taffeta, flouncing, bodice, progesterone. The conclusions are yours to draw.
  • I Was a Digital Best Seller”—the horrifying true story!
  • It sounds like a spinoff of DeLillo’s The Names: a journalist named Rose Eveleth becomes obsessed with a small town that shares her name: Eveleth, Minnesota. She visits it only using Google Street View.
  • Spending time with Prince at a listening party for his new record: “When you arrive at Paisley Park, you switch to Prince time. After nearly an hour’s wait, I was ushered into Studio B [at] about one a.m. … My next two hours at Paisley Park would be filled with funk, frustration, and funny lines—all courtesy of Prince.”

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What We’re Loving: Pop Stars, Rock Stars, The Fault in Our Stars

June 13, 2014 | by

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The Fault in Our Stars—now a major motion picture.

Last week I read a dazzling novel about a starcrossed young couple and a reclusive, grouchy, alcoholic novelist who changes their lives. That was Mao II, by Don DeLillo. But in the middle of reading Mao II—on the very same plane ride—I dipped into a friend’s copy of The Fault in Our Stars. Somehow I had missed all the hype, and didn’t know what to expect. (Said my traveling companion: “You’re already crying? You’re what, two pages in?") I finished the book one sitting later. More accurately, I was lying down, in a hammock, to obviate the need for a hanky. Among its many tear-jerking qualities, the book powerfully evokes the work of David Foster Wallace, the only real-life novelist who could fill the shoes of the fictional Van Houten. As Laura Miller writes in Salon, The Fault in Our Stars is full of Wallace allusions; scenes like the one where a teenager sobs over his girlfriend, while playing a first-person shooter game, read like Wallace come back to life—if he came back and wrote for kids. In a week that saw the passing of the great children’s-book publisher Frances Foster, The Fault in Our Stars filled me with hope for young readers, even as it made me mourn, all over again, for friends we’ve lost. —Lorin Stein

Britney Spears must be some kind of a journalistic muse. In 2008, David Samuels wrote about her in “Shooting Britney,” a perceptive look at the paparazzi and the surrogate intimacy of celebrity culture. Now, in “Miss American Dream,” Taffy Brodesser-Akner—what a name!—pulls back the curtain on Britney’s new residency in Las Vegas. The piece gets inside the lurid pageantry that’s become a prerequisite of “Britneyplex, which is the enormous machine built around Britney Spears.” It’s also an acutely observed study of the longueurs of fame; moments of synapse-frying overstimulation are followed by episodes of surreal blandness. E.g.:She was sitting in a room in the semi-dark, slightly hunched over, a little bored, at the tail end of a daylong junket in which TV journalists asked her questions like ‘What do people not know about you?’ (‘Really that I’m pretty boring.’) and ‘What was the craziest rumor you ever heard about yourself?’ (‘That I died.’)” —Dan Piepenbring

One of these days, U2 is going to release a new album—in the meantime, there’s U Talkin’ U2 to Me?, a bizarrely wonderful podcast I’ve laughed out loud to on the subway. Described by its hosts (Scott Aukerman of Comedy Bang! Bang! and Between Two Ferns, and Adam Scott from Parks & Recreation) as “the comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things U2,” the show talks about U2 pretty sporadically, but it’s worth checking out for the improvisations from the two Scotts, including a hysterical Harold-like game in which they make up fake podcasts within the world of the show, each with its own fictional history and quirks. This week’s episode takes the form of an audio commentary on the podcast itself. It’s even weirder than that sounds. —Chantal McStay

A recent article in the Huffington Post suggests reading Rumi for a more meaningful life—advice I found both unsurprising and unnerving. I come from a Persian household where Rumi’s poetry was always at the literary forefront, but in more recent years, the poet’s words have been reduced to captioning photos of perfectly timed sunsets and vast ocean views. I prefer the darker Rumi, even if a line like “Either give me more wine or leave me alone” isn’t likely to inspire enthusiasm. Rumi’s work is much too varied to be reduced. “Two there are who are never satisfied—the lover of the world and the lover of knowledge,” he wrote. That a poet from the thirteenth century is still so widely read testifies to his intuition and candor. —Yasmin Roshanian

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