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Posts Tagged ‘Elena Ferrante’

Demolishing the Literary Gynaeceum, and Other News

September 3, 2015 | by

From the cover of The Story of the Lost Child.

  • Elena Ferrante would like to remind you, now that her novel The Story of the Lost Child is out, that she is not a man, and that if you think she might be a man, you’re part of the problem: “Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, ‘It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women?’ Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for it is betrayed immediately by its ‘weakness’ … even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum … we’re dealing with a new tradition of women writers who are becoming more competent, more effective, are growing tired of the literary gynaeceum and are on furlough from gender stereotypes.”
  • We often praise fiction for its ambiguity, which is counterintuitive—normally we admire good writing for its clarity, and more confusingly still it seems that the best fiction is at once clear and ambiguous: so what do we mean when we celebrate ambiguous fiction? “Ambiguity, uncertainty, multiplicity are positive in literature in so far as they act as a corrective against a dominant and potentially harmful manipulative hubris … the novelist has to be truly open to the world he describes; it is the multiplicity he then inevitably lets into the text that overwhelms the petty habit of knowing better… Nothing is less attractive, in a poem or novel, than the feeling that ‘ambiguity’ has simply been constructed or contrived.”
  • There’s a rich ambiguity about the nose, at least insofar as it figures in literature. Gogol’s story “The Nose” “was but one part of a larger body of literature improbably concerned with, of all things, the human nose … The history of the written nose is rich, varied, and wildly unpredictable, marshaled for a host of potential uses and meanings from slapstick gag to moral emblem to racial signifier.”
  • Stephen King recently wrote an Op-Ed defending novelists who publish (very) regularly, including himself and Joyce Carol Oates. But it’s time to take a stand against prolificacy: “King concludes his op-ed by saying that he’s glad Ms. Oates continues to write new books ‘because,’ he says, ‘I want to read them.’ I wonder if he really has. If anyone has read them all. Or truly does anxiously await the next one’s arrival … When considering huge bodies of work, there’s still the uncertainty about where to enter and where to go next once you’ve found a way in.”
  • The tremendous resurgence of so-called “nature writing” reveals the inadequacy of the term: “ ‘Nature writing’ has become a cant phrase, branded and bandied out of any useful existence, and I would be glad to see its deletion from the current discourse … The best of the recent writing is ethically alert, theoretically literate and wary of the seductions and corruptions of the pastoral. It is sensitive to the dark histories of landscapes and to the structures of ownership and capital that organize—though do not wholly produce—our relations with the natural world … Some of this writing is kick-up-the-arse furious, some is elegiac, some is about disease and dispossession, some is about dignity and the deepening of knowledge. Across its range, moral engagement and hope are consistently in evidence.”

The Bard Blazed, and Other News

August 11, 2015 | by


Our greatest dramatist, debilitated by the effects of cannabis at some kind of “reefer party.”

  • Shakespeare scholars are reeling from a discovery so major, so irrefutably epochal, that it sets the entire field on its head: four clay pipes found in his Stratford-upon-Avon garden contain cannabis residue. Historians may never know for certain if Shakespeare composed his masterworks among purple plumes of the dankest kush, but for the sake of sensationalism, we of the media have no choice but to assume he did. T-shirts featuring the Bard ripping tubes, smoking bowls, and otherwise enjoying a good old-fashioned toke will be available in novelty shops near you by C.O.B. today. I had nothing to do with them.
  • A 1991 letter from Elena Ferrante to her Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola, lays out her approach to promotion with the utmost candor: “I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad … I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.”
  • In which Avies Platt, “an art mistress at Wellingborough County High School for Girls in Northamptonshire,” has a stirring encounter with an aging W. B. Yeats: “she met the seventy-two-year-old Yeats at an open meeting of the Sex Education Society, a group headed by controversial sexologist Norman Haire … As the evening progressed it became obvious that the elderly poet’s interest in Platt went further than conversation—she mentions him sitting outside the Athenaeum club in Pall Mall and expressing his regrets at ‘the stupid rule that we may not take ladies in after midnight.’ ”
  • Let’s talk about trolling, and while we’re at it, let’s throw some existentialism in there, too: “If the Internet was predicated on everyone co-existing on a level playing field, able to distribute and share knowledge without the previous gatekeepers of status or affiliation to slow things down (perhaps one of the main benefits of having user names rather than real names), trolling takes that utopian possibility and throws it by the wayside … trolling is a destructive way of addressing the ambivalent state of being that is life online, that is, being connected to millions and even billions of people simultaneously, but being incredibly isolated, separated from the nuance of subtle body language, body odor, touch, taste, et cetera.”
  • Today in new applications for 3-D printing: haute couture. At Paris Fashion Week, Chanel presented a version of its classic two-piece suit: “Using selective laser sintering—a high powered laser fusing together tiny particles—much of the suit vest was sculpted, appearing boxlike, with no sewing necessary … With endless possibilities in shape, texture and transparency, the experimentation of 3-D printing techniques and materials has a worthy place on the cutting edge of couture. But fashion designers must learn how to generate computer files and complex computer-aided drafting techniques for the printing process to work.”

Staff Picks: A Mongoose Civique and a Maestro of the Rant

June 26, 2015 | by

Love Wins: Stephen Andrew Hiltner, our senior editor, designed this collage in honor of today’s Supreme Court decision.

heaven“Writing religious poetry in the twentieth century is very difficult.” So says Czeslaw Milosz in his 1994 interview with The Paris Review. This, he noted, could be one of the greatest challenges facing the poets of our time: “the incapacity of contemporary man to think in religious terms.” Twenty years later, Rowan Ricardo Phillips published a poem in our summer 2014 issue that begins “Not knowing the difference between Heaven / And Paradise, he called them both Heaven.” That poem appears again in Phillips’ new collection, Heaven. In contemporary poetry, there are few book-length meditations on heaven. It’s strange. What’s more, it’s strange how strange it is: Phillips constantly reminds us that the territory is well charted. His poems pinpoint and stitch together small, disparate nodes of heavenly wisdom scattered through our largely earthbound canon. (Ovid, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, to name a few of the patron saints.) The flow of astronomical allusions, like the subject itself, feels mundane at a glance and somewhat trite to mention. But as Phillips brings them close with the tight scope of his scholarship and lyric observation, they become unfamiliar, and heaven becomes something new, “this star-seized evening that’s / Unreeling and unreals.” —Jake Orbison

I managed to get my hands on a copy of Elena Ferrante’s fourth Neapolitan Novel, The Story of a Lost Child (out in September), and have been able to focus on little else all week. In this final installment of the story of Elena and Lila, Ferrante delivers some seismic-level surprises that somehow don’t feel contrived, that instead unearth a new internal symmetry beneath the dynamics established in the earlier books. As Ferrante shapes and reshapes her narrative, she watches generations of Italian intellectuals do the same for that of their country, continuously redefining the acceptable terms for political and social engagement. When they’re not fixating on Ferrante’s anonymity, reviewers like to talk about “the inner lives of women” and “female friendship” in these novels, as if Ferrante is venturing into entirely uncharted territory—as if women’s interiority hasn’t dominated a good part of the past several hundred years’ fictional output. Maybe Ferrante’s femaleness gets emphasized because we don’t have the vocabulary to describe what is indisputably different about her books, to explain why they read like a revelation to so many readers—this one included. —Rebecca Panovka
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Breaking the Spell of the Centaur, and Other News

June 23, 2015 | by


Ernst Albert Fischer-Cörlin, Nixen und Kentauren beim Bade, ca. 1932.

  • Our Summer issue features an interview with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, “the quiet rebels of Russian translation”—now Literary Hub has the longest excerpt of it you’ll see online. Among its many revelations, you’ll learn of Pevear’s long-hidden talents as a jingle writer: “Who’s that knocking at my door? / His badge is stamped with number four. / His shoulder bag is big and fat. / His coat is blue, so is his hat.”
  • Claudia Rankine on black lives and mourning: “In 1955, when Emmett Till’s mutilated and bloated body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River and placed for burial in a nailed-shut pine box, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, demanded his body be transported from Mississippi, where Till had been visiting relatives, to his home in Chicago. Once the Chicago funeral home received the body, she made a decision that would create a new pathway for how to think about a lynched body. She requested an open coffin and allowed photographs to be taken and published of her dead son’s disfigured body.”
  • Tired of all your friends talking about the Enlightenment as if it were the very realization of paradise on earth? So is Vincenzo Ferrone, a historian aiming to puncture the era’s inflated reputation—and to kill a few centaurs along the way: “Every attempt to define an epoch—the age of steam, say, or the age of empire, or the age of the internet—involves making a link between two different registers: on the one hand a specific kind of activity, and on the other a stretch of historical time. As far as Ferrone is concerned, however, the idea of the Enlightenment is unique because it yokes a period not with something real but with a set of ideals: philosophical notions of truth, virtue and knowledge … the Enlightenment is another of [philosophers’] high-flown fictions, and when the historians took it over they had no inkling of the trouble they were getting into. It would prove to be a philosophical Trojan horse, or poisoned chalice, and Ferrone repeatedly denounces it as an ircocervo—a monstrous hybrid of goat and stag, or, as his translator would have it, a ‘centaur.’ He then sets out to ‘break the spell of the centaur’ by documenting the damage it has done.”
  • “Maybe Oxford is just full of dull old farts who only vote for the obvious. I don’t think they have anything to be proud of here.” Simon Armitage has been voted Oxford’s new Professor of Poetry, and not everyone is happy about it. (Spoiler alert: some people are actively unhappy about it.) The post dates to the nineteenth century; professors emeritus include W. H. Auden, Robert Graves, and Cecil Day-Lewis.
  • Meanwhile, in Italy: no one has yet unmasked Elena Ferrante. She’s a finalist for the Strega Prize, which will be awarded in July—so people really, really, really want to learn who she is.

Now Online: Our Interviews with Elena Ferrante, Hilary Mantel, and Lydia Davis

June 3, 2015 | by

Before we commence with the dog and pony show for our brand spanking new Summer issue, you should know that the three interviews from our Spring issue are now available in full online.

ferrante ms

A page from the first draft of The Story of the Lost Child.

These include the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, who discusses her Neopolitan Novels, her reticence as a public figure, and her approach to her readership:

I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.

Hilary Mantel cr Alwan Ezzidin copy copy

Photo: Alwan Ezzidin

And Mona Simpson’s interview with Hilary Mantel, who talks about her Cromwell books, the difference between historians and novelists, and the difference between the early and contemporary stages of her career:

When I began writing I had a perfect belief that, although I might not know how to do many things, I did know how to write a novel. Other ­people might have disputed that, looking at my efforts, and no one was in a hurry to endorse my confidence, but I did know within myself that I could write a novel. The reason was I’d read so many that the pattern was internalized. I’ve always been an intensely ambitious individual and whatever I was going to do, I was not going to let go until I got where I thought I ought to be. It’s a question of, What will you sacrifice? What other things will you let go, to clear the space for your book? What develops later is something rather different, as you proceed from book to book, every book throwing up different demands, needing different techniques.


Davis in Paris, 1972.

Plus, in the Art of Fiction No. 227, Lydia Davis explores her approach to the short story, and to translations, and reflects on the influence her family life had on her process:

We also left each other notes when there was a family conflict. I guess it was my mother’s idea that we should put it in writing, or that we should ­articulate it, because I can see our different handwriting going back and ­forth over this problem, whatever it was. I thought it was kind of a terrible thing that we did that in my family. Because it made writing ... oh, the text became full of emotion. I still have some of the notes that my mother left for me. In fact, we did a little dialogue … I suppose that was part of the family training—Let’s try to figure this out. Here’s how I feel, you tell me how you feel. It is a way to work out some emotional situations, and certainly that went on in our house. It’s just that when I come across those long messages from my mother it fills me with sadness. 

For the latest in our Writers at Work series, subscribe to The Paris Review now—and be sure to check out what’s coming next in our Summer issue, which includes interviews on the Art of Translation with Peter Cole plus Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Now in Bloom: Our Spring Issue

March 2, 2015 | by

212The cherry blossoms on the cover of our new Spring issue augur the end of winter—even if they’re made of paper. They’re part of a portfolio by Thomas Demand, accompanied by poems from Ben Lerner.

We also have the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, on the art of fiction:

As a girl—twelve, thirteen years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me … At fifteen I began to write stories about brave girls who were in serious trouble. But the idea remained—indeed, it grew stronger—that the greatest narrators were men and that one had to learn to narrate like them … Even when I wrote stories about girls, I wanted to give the heroine a wealth of experiences, a freedom, a determination that I tried to imitate from the great novels written by men.

And Lydia Davis, on her approach to the short story, to translation, and to naming:

I’ve always felt that naming was artificial. I’ve done it. I wrote about one woman and called her Mrs. Orlando, because the woman I based her on lived in Florida. Recently I wrote a story called “The Two Davises and the Rug” because I have a neighbor named Davis and he and I were trying to decide which one should end up with a certain rug, and I was very fond of using that name, even though it wouldn’t make much difference to anybody if I called it “The Two Harrises and the Rug.”

Plus, Hilary Mantel discusses her Cromwell books and the difference between historians and novelists:

Nobody seems to share my approach to historical fiction. I suppose if I have a maxim, it is that there isn’t any necessary conflict between good history and good drama. I know that history is not shapely, and I know the truth is often inconvenient and incoherent. It contains all sorts of superfluities. You could cut a much better shape if you were God, but as it is, I think the whole fascination and the skill is in working with those incoherencies.

There’s new fiction by Angela Flournoy, Ken Kalfus, and Mark Leyner, the winner of this year’s Terry Southern Prize; a novella by James Lasdun; and poems from Charles Simic, Peter Gizzi, Major Jackson, Stephen Dunn, Susan Stewart, Shuzo Takiguchi, Craig Morgan Teicher, and Sarah Trudgeon.

Mel Bochner, who designed a cover for the magazine back in 1973, is back with a portfolio of thesaurus paintings. And last, there’s “Letter from the Primal Horde,” an essay by J. D. Daniels about a fateful experience at a group-relations conference.

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