- Just when you think the book is making a comeback—just when you think reading might actually be cool again, with indie bookstores finding their footing and e-book sales plateauing—you hear that McDonald’s is putting books in their Happy Meals, and your heart sinks. As USA Today reports, “the fast food chain will offer children’s books instead of typical prizes through February 15,” thus ensuring that young customers react with disappointment and outrage at the sight of a book where a toy should rightfully be, beginning, in these malleable minds, an inexorable and probably lifelong association between books and frustration.
- Michelle Dean looks at Robert Lowell’s tempestuous marriage to Elizabeth Hardwick, characterized by an unlikely fusion of abuse and respect: “Though they were married for twenty-three years, their union was worn down by Lowell’s nearly annual hospitalizations for manic depression, his endless philandering, and his alcoholism. At the end of it, almost on a whim, he left her for the writer and ‘muse’—always a loaded term, that—Lady Caroline Blackwood. Then he took Hardwick’s alternately furious and anguished letters to him and folded them, without her consent, into a full-length book of poetry, The Dolphin. This artifact of her humiliation won a Pulitzer … Lowell nonetheless believed that women were his intellectual and artistic equals. He spent most of his life behaving accordingly even as he treated his wives and mistresses so terribly, in romantic terms, that it was almost operatic.”
- Rebecca Mead rereads Sexual Politics, Kate Millett’s seminal 1970 feminist text: “While Millett was publicly cast in the polarizing role of polemicist, there is often in her tone the cool, controlled archness of the literary essayist, a role she might easily have inhabited had the times not called upon her to do otherwise. The book is suffused with a strain of very dark, angry humor, an aspect of Millett’s writing that seems to have been barely noticed—or was perhaps invisible—upon publication. Take, for example, the way she dispatches Freud’s injunction that appropriate sexual development calls for an evolution from clitoral to vaginal orgasm. She calls this ‘a difficult passage in which Freud foresaw that many women might go astray. Even among the successful the project has consumed so much of their productive youth that their minds stagnate.’ If Sexual Politics has endured, it is not just because so much of the political work it recommends remains undone, but also because it is an astringent pleasure to be in the company of Millett on the page.”
- In August 1915, a Jewish businessman was lynched in Marietta, Georgia. He’d been convicted of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl who worked at his National Pencil Company factory, and as Christopher King writes, his story attracted a firestorm of media attention, coming to symbolize the politics of the era: “In truth, he was killed neither by a man nor by the force of men. He died in the raging flames of hatred and the resulting smoke which obscured the impartial vision of justice. A murder, a botched and terribly obfuscated trial, and a tinder box of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and ‘white rights’ in post-Reconstruction Atlanta had resulted in yet another murder, the creation of the Anti-Defamation League, and the first strong resurgence of a then-dormant Ku Klux Klan since the group had disbanded in 1869. In this time, frame-ups, coercion, forced confessions, bribery, and political corruption came into sharp focus for the ‘grift-ridden’ people of Atlanta. And it was all set to music.”
- “Office Space” is a new exhibition—yes, it’s named after the movie—at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that takes on all the fun new forms of alienation to have arisen in office life this century: “To believe that there is an omnipresent workplace hierarchy to critique or within which to succumb often gives more credit to management strategies than they might deserve, as these strategies can have comparatively shorter life spans than pre-existing structures of affective labor … The soft power of the workplace is constantly inculcated by exterior power structures, as much as these power structures are—and already have been, in turn—informed by the dispersal of capital. But honestly, who is really still capable of leaving their work at work?”
My favorite chapter in Valeria Luiselli’s wonderful, unusual new novel, The Story of My Teeth, is “The Parabolics,” in which the book’s protagonist, Highway, wakes to discover that all his teeth are missing and that he is in the midst of the supremely creepy Ugo Rondinone video installation Where Do We Go from Here; that is, he finds himself confronted on four sides by a quartet of lethargic, staring, “sinister” clowns, “a hell worse than the one that had installed itself inside my mouth.” A disembodied, rather unkind voice relates a series of parables to Highway throughout the chapter, so it seemed safe to assume that the chapter title referred to these. But Highway doesn’t understand any of the stories, and in fact his thoughts seem to circle around the idea expressed by Rondinone’s title. “Where am I supposed to go?” he queries the voice. “Parabolics” might also refer to “parabolas,” a series of curves—or perhaps (attempted) leaps over “the schism between the perception you have yourself and the perception other people have of you.” Maybe I’m taking a leap myself. But: “I’ve always thought that hell is the people you could one day become,” Highway thinks. “And there I was, toothless, lying on a bench in front of videotaped projections of enormous buffoons, dozing … being mistaking for one of them.” —Nicole Rudick
A recent piece in the Times on Walton Ford made me remember: I really enjoy the work of Walton Ford. His paintings, which I first saw at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006, depict ferocious animals doing ferocious things, ferociously; they’re set in a welter of copulation and violence at the edge of human society, and in a lot of them, nineteenth-century aristocrats are on hunting trips gone seriously awry. I’m envious of anyone in Paris who gets to see his fifteen new works at the Musée de la Chasse, a museum dedicated to hunters and animals that “essentially documents our historical fear of being eaten alive,” as Matthew Rose puts it in the Times, and thus a perfect venue for Ford’s work. In one new painting, Representation Véritable, a massive black creature based on the Beast of Gévaudan has a wolf by the jugular; in the background, two women are at rest (maybe forever?) in an idyllic meadow. Ford’s paintings are musky, unsparing allegories for colonialism, industrialism, and a host of other noxious -isms, and no one should discount their formal ingenuity—but none of it would matter if they weren’t, at their most literal level, so terrifying. —Dan Piepenbring Read More
10:00 A.M. Having just quit my job (well, not just quit, but still) to dedicate myself to “my own projects,” I have the great luxury of being able to sleep until ten every morning. It’s disgraceful. I eat bread and butter and drink a cup of tea while I watch last night’s NBA highlights.
11:00 A.M. Yesterday I gave a copy of Train Dreams to my special lady, mostly because I started reading it again and it’s just a perfect-perfect gem of a book. I read more of it on the subway as I make my way to VICE Italy, my old office, where I have to pick up two pallets of new Milan Review books. They are both comics and they will both be presented at BilBOlBul, the independent comics festival in Bologna. One is the Italian translation of Prison Pit, a hilarious and ultra-violent graphic novel by Johnny Ryan, which is like a mixture between violent mangas, wrestling, and a twelve year old’s brain. I decided to title it Il pozzo di sangue, which literally means “the well of blood.” The other is called Rap Violent in the Ghetto Street and it is a collection of dumb, satirical comic strips about rap and new-age philosophy (but filtered through a weird take on Italian popular culture) by Dr. Pira, an Italian artist who specializes in terrible drawings with an amazing sense of humor. It’s very hard to explain to Americans, but Italians seem to get it. Read More
Tonight I went to my first Spanish class at Idlewild on Nineteenth Street. 7:30 to 9 P.M.. When I signed up for this class in November, shortly after I came back from spending a few weeks in Barcelona, I was flush with the joy of recent travel, and intent on injecting some novelty, intellectual and otherwise, into my life. I had an idea that I might try to make it back to Spain at the end of this year, and if that happened, I’d like to be able to do more than buy a few peaches without tripping over my tongue, or wanting to revert to French, the only other foreign language I know. And if that never happened, I would at least be doing something to forestall dementia. But as the intervening weeks, growing colder and darker, put more and more distance between me and that trip—I dreamed that, didn’t I?—I started to wonder why I’d done such a thing. It seemed as unnecessary and out of character as signing up for ten colonics through Groupon. But when, after the fifteen of us had gathered in a circle in the back of the store, and the teacher welcomed us in Spanish, something in me quickened in response to hearing the language. Maybe it was just sound as souvenir, but some sleeping dog in me perked up. Something similar had happened back in Barcelona, while standing in the La Central bookstore, looking at all the books I wanted to read but could not, feeling a strange urgency to get the key that would unlock what lay between those covers, a strange feeling that this was a language I needed to know deeper. Read More
Kate Zambreno’s first book, O Fallen Angel, won Chiasmus Press’s “Undoing the Novel” First Book Contest, and her second book, Green Girl, was a finalist for the Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. So it should come as no surprise that her provocative new work, Heroines, published by Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents imprint next month, challenges easy categorization, this time by poetically swerving in and out of memoir, diary, fiction, literary history, criticism, and theory. With equal parts unabashed pathos and exceptional intelligence, Heroines foregrounds female subjectivity to produce an impressive and original work that examines the suppression of various female modernists in relation to Zambreno’s own complicated position as a writer and a wife. It concludes by bringing the problems of the modernists into conversation with the contemporary by offering a timely consideration of the role of the Internet and blogs in creating a community for women writers.
What was it about the modernist wives that first interested you?
I think I came to the wives through an initial discovery of more neglected modernist women writers—Olive Moore, Anna Kavan, Jane Bowles, maybe I’d add Jean Rhys to that list. I was living in London working in a bookshop and not doing much in terms of trying to write a novel, so I pitched to Chad Post at Dalkey that I write an essay on Kavan. And because I had nothing else to do, I sat in the British Library and read everything by her. And started reading all these other experimental women writers, like Elizabeth Smart—not the Mormon abductee, but the one obsessed with the poet George Barker, an obsession she documents in the amazing By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Not a modernist, I know, but I sat at the British Library and read the communal notebook she kept with Barker and thought about Vivien(ne)’s hand on “The Waste Land” manuscript. I began to be really interested in ideas of literary collaboration.
On April 3, Robert Silvers accepted the Paris Review’s Hadada Prize for a strong and unique contribution to literature. These were his remarks.
When something like this evening happens, you ask how you got here, and I thought back to the autumn of 1954, when I was a soldier at NATO military headquarters—called SHAPE—near Paris. One of the best things about working there was that, by some international understanding, practically everyone had Wednesday afternoon off—you could go to the Louvre, you could go to the Café de Flore. And there, one Wednesday afternoon, at the kiosk in front of the Flore, I bought a copy of The Paris Review and took it back to our international barracks at Rocquencourt and read it in my bunk. I thought I should know more about it.