The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Scarry’

What We’re Loving: NASCAR, Nukes, Nobility

February 21, 2014 | by


From the cover of Elaine Scarry’s Thermonuclear Monarchy.

When I discovered the work of Elaine Scarry in college, I remember thinking that her name was somehow bound up in her field of study—one had informed the other. She has a new book out, and the connection has never seemed more apt. Thermonuclear Monarchy is a badass title and a frightening one. The book is 640 pages, so I haven’t read it—it could be a while before I have that much time—but I have been reading about it. Nathan Schneider’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education is the best read. Scarry is a broad thinker, pulling from unusual corners of politics, history, and culture (including, Schneider notes, “the town where [Thomas] Hobbes grew up, a mistranslation of the Iliad, marriage, CPR, the Swiss nuclear-shelter system”). Thermonuclear Monarchy, then, is “less an argument that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, or how, than an entire worldview in which they have no rightful place.” —Nicole Rudick

We all know him as The Paris Review’s trusty third baseman (“Wisdom” and “Chaos Mode” are but two of his on-the-field nicknames), but it turns out that Ben Wizner occasionally gets around to other things, too—such as serving as the legal advisor to, um, Edward Snowden. (Yeah, NBD.) Listen here as he and Daniel Ellsberg argue in favor of the motion “Edward Snowden Was Justified” in a debate against Andrew C. McCarthy and R. James Woolsey. (Really, listen—it’s riveting.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Our forthcoming Art of Nonfiction interview with the British psychoanalyst and author Adam Phillips is full of literary reminiscences and references to books that have meant something to Phillips over the course of his life. One in particular has stuck with me over the past few weeks, a Randall Jarrell quote from “A Girl in a Library”: “The ways we miss our lives are life.” Happily, it has reminded me to return to Jarrell’s The Animal Family, which I started a few months ago and put down for no good reason. (I don’t even have the excuse of length—it’s a children’s chapter book). Through the simple story of a woodsman who gathers together members of various species—real and imagined—to form an unconventional family, Randall touches on death, love, the pain of being alone, the strangeness of taste, the joys of language, and the terrifying calm of the wilderness. It is a lesson in what plain words thoughtfully said can evoke, perhaps the best such lesson I’ve ever read in prose. My edition, and I think most others, includes beautiful Maurice Sendak illustrations that are, for Sendak, unusually pastoral—not a figural representation in the lot—and add much to Jarrell’s story. —Clare Fentress

NASCAR was incorporated on this day in 1948—exactly one hundred years after the first publication of The Communist Manifesto. (Would that their similarities didn’t end there.) On such a storied anniversary, an educated citizen has two duties. First, reread your Marx and Engels—now’s as good a time as any to hone your critique of capitalism. Second, visit—or revisit—the thrilling world of NASCAR romance novels. Bonus points if you’re somehow able to combine these pursuits, e.g., by writing a book that’s both a critique of capitalism and a NASCAR romance. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »


Staff Picks: Sleepless in a Sleeper, Murdered Beavers

October 1, 2010 | by

I have been reading Richard Holmes’s Footsteps. If you're ever sleepless on a sleeper train at two o’clock in the morning crossing southern Illinois (or shunning breakfast conversation in the diner six hours later), I recommend it. —Lorin Stein

George Saunders’s masterful short story “Commcomm” in The New Yorker. An acidic workplace satire that somehow free-falls into a Christian redemption myth. Plus, it features one of fiction’s most memorable headlines: MURDERED BEAVERS SPEAK OF AIR FORCE CRUELTY. —Kate Waldman

I reread Mrs. Dalloway last Sunday. Kept coming back to parts of it all week, underlying here, circling there. This line sticks out to me today: “For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house ...” —Thessaly La Force

After seeing a selection of Stones, the late-fifties lithographic collaboration between Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara, in a sneak preview of MoMA’s new “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition, I’ve been perusing my much-thumbed copy of O’Hara’s Collected Poems and the wonderful In Memory of My Feelings, a collection of poem-paintings (originally created in 1967) that pairs O’Hara’s verse with works of art by more than two dozen of his contemporaries. O’Hara worked as a staff member and curator at the Museum of Modern Art during much of the fifties and early sixties, when many of the works in this show were being created. It’s perfect that his art is there among them. —Nicole Rudick

In lower moments, I have also been relishing David Rakoff’s essay collection Half Empty. Tough, suave, dry, and very funny. —L. S.

This week, two articles have been helping me think through the dreary and troubling sameness at the core of today’s “diverse,” “multicultural” literary community: Tim Parks’s cogent piece in The New York Review of Books and Evert Cilliers’s flawed but stimulating polemic at 3quarksdaily. —Mark de Silva

I revisited Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, which explores the repercussions of pain's inexpressibility. It dredged up memories of emergency-room visits past, when the doctor entreats you to describe your pain on a scale of one to ten. “A three?” I would say, unconvincingly. As Scarry points out, pain (sadly) can only be expressed by its agents— the hammer, the burning flame, the wrenching wrench. —Alexandra Zukerman

My friend gave me When You Reach Me because the main character and I have the same first name, but that's by no means the only reason to read this excellent novel. Sure, it's a children’s book, but its themes—the fumbling processes by which we attempt to assert independence; the challenges of expressing affection; that moment when you begin to understand how things work—remain resonant. Bonus: It's also about time travel, and the chapters are very short—perfect for brief subway rides and five-minute waits. —Miranda Popkey

Hurry! The Naipauls are coming to dinner. —David Wallace-Wells