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Posts Tagged ‘essays’

Is There a Vespa?: An Interview with Michael Hofmann

December 4, 2014 | by

Hofmann, Michael (C) Thomas Andenmatten

Photo © Thomas Andenmatten

Michael Hofmann’s first collection of poems, Nights in the Iron Hotel, came in 1984, and in the ensuing thirty years he has translated more than sixty novels from the German and published five more poetry collections, along the way collecting numerous prizes for his work. He is the editor of an anthology, Twentieth-Century German Poetry, and in 2002 published a collection of critical essays, Behind the Lines. (This is far from a comprehensive accounting.) The thirty essays in his new collection, Where Have You Been?, visit a range of poets, novelists, and artists of the last hundred years, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Thomas Bernhard, Kurt Schwitters, and Frederick Seidel.

Hofmann’s essays are intense inquiries: he tunnels deeply, engages profoundly, and whether or not he likes what he’s read or seen, his essays ennoble the work under review. There’s a sense of humor, even joy, electrifying the enterprise. Of course, his criticism can pulverize, too—Günter Grass and Stefan Zweig are destroyed in Where Have You Been?—but most of Hofmann’s selections tend toward the form of one reader grabbing another’s sleeve and shouting, Come on now, this way! You’ve got to see this!

Though Hofmann doesn’t keep a computer at home—“usual Luddite setup,” he said at one point—this interview was conducted over e-mail. On a couple of occasions, he wrote from a stand-up terminal in a municipal library.

You’ve written that contemporary American poetry is “a civil war, a banal derby between two awful teams.” In Britain, it’s “a variety show.” These are grim assessments.

Discouraging, isn’t it? It’s just a fact that there are never very many poets around at any given time. I think poetry is always one or two poets away from extinction anyway. If it’s any comfort, it’s not a living tradition—it doesn’t depend on being passed from hand to hand. It could easily go underground for a couple of decades, or a couple of centuries, and then return. People disappear, or never really existed at all, and then come back—Propertius, Hölderlin, Dickinson, Büchner, Smart. Poetry is much more about remaking or realigning the past than it is about charting the contemporary scene. It’s a long game. Read More »

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Announcing Our Winter Issue

December 1, 2014 | by

TPR 211That photo on the cover comes from Marc Yankus, whose subject is New York buildings: “I can feel the brick, I can feel the hardness and the corners of the building ... the structure, the monolith, the sculpture, the abstract.”

In the Art of Memoir No. 2, Vivian Gornick talks about feminism, bad reviews, love versus work, and coming to terms with failure:

I knew I had to stay with it as long as it took to write a sentence I could respect. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do—to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

And in the Art of Screenwriting No. 5, Michael Haneke reveals the imaginative process behind movies like The White Ribbon and Amour—and why there are no “right” readings of his films:

I would never set out to make a political film. I hope that my films provoke reflection and have an illuminating quality—that, of course, may have a political effect. Still, I despise films that have a political agenda. Their intent is always to manipulate, to convince the viewer of their respective ideologies. Ideologies, however, are artistically uninteresting. I always say that if something can be reduced to one clear concept, it is artistically dead.

There’s also a special triple feature on Karl Ove Knausgaard, with an exclusive excerpt from My Struggle, Book 4; an essay on depression and Dante’s hell; and an exchange with The New Yorker’s James Wood on masculinity and good reasons for writing badly.

Plus new fiction by Joe Dunthorne, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sam Savage, and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh; poems from Sylvie Baumgartel, Jeff Dolven, Cathy Park Hong, Phillis Levin, Jana Prikryl, Frederick Seidel, and Brenda Shaughnessy; and a series of aphorisms by Sarah Manguso.

Get your copy now. And may we add that a subscription to The Paris Review makes a great present? The recipient will receive a postcard announcing your gift with your personal message. Just select the “gift” option when you check out.

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What Is an Essay, Anyway? and Other News

October 8, 2014 | by

Montaigne-Dumonstier

A portrait of Michel de Montaigne, whom you can blame in part, maybe, for all these “essays.”

  • Essays—essais, essayes—what are they, how are they, where did they come from, why can’t we seem to settle on the meaning of them, is Montaigne to blame for all this, or Francis Bacon or maybe King James, and what’s the meaning of all this “attempting” anyhow … John Jeremiah Sullivan aspires (don’t make me say essays) to find out.
  • Horace Engdahl, who helps to judge the Nobel Prize in Literature, laments the “professionalization” of writing in the West: “I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions … Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries, and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard—but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.”
  • Relatedly: “A growing number of biographers and historians are retrofitting their works to make them palatable for younger readers … And these slimmed-down, simplified and sometimes sanitized editions of popular nonfiction titles are fast becoming a vibrant, growing and lucrative niche.”
  • Zadie Smith on a certain famous populous island: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue. There is a kind of individualism so stark that it seems to dovetail with an existentialist creed: Manhattan is right at that crossroads. You are pure potential in Manhattan, limitless, you are making yourself every day.”
  • “An intellectual is a person who is mainly interested in ideas. I am an aesthete—a person who is mainly interested in beauty. Nowadays the word aesthete carries with it the musty reek of high Victoriana. Still, there remains no better word to describe the way certain people—people like me—view the world.”

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Pati Hill, 1921–2014

September 24, 2014 | by

Pati-Hill-600

An illustration by B. Whistler Dabney for Pati Hill’s essay “Cats,” from our ninth issue.

The Paris Review was saddened to learn that Pati Hill, a frequent contributor and longtime friend of the magazine, died last Friday at ninety-three. A native of Kentucky, Hill worked during the forties and fifties as a model in France, where she was part of the same community of expats that included George Plimpton and the founders of the Review.

Over the years, beginning with our second issue, Hill published six stories and an essay with the Review; her last contribution, part of a series of sketches, came in Spring 1981. She wrote a pair of well-regarded books—a novel and a memoir—in the fifties, but today she’s probably best known for her art, which made early and innovative use of an IBM photocopier, as an obituary in the Times says.

To celebrate Hill, we’re posting her essay “Cats,” from our Summer 1955 issue, in its entirety, with a pair of illustrations by B. Whistler Dabney. It begins:

I like cats as far as creatures go. I like almost any animal that does not have horns or scales on it for that matter, but I especially like cats. Any sort and denomination: spotted or solid, fat or thin, with and without fleas. I like them and admire them and almost anything they do is a pleasure to me.

The way they can walk around the rim of a bathtub, for instance, without falling in and the way they can get comfortable in any old place. There is nothing better than a cat looking out from behind a pot of geraniums on a windowsill or walking slowly down a country road of a summer evening. There is something at once comforting and disquieting about a cat which makes him attractive.

They are wonderful when they stick their noses cautiously into a hole and then back out again, and when they flatten down their ears the tops of their heads look like giant bumblebees. Also they have marvelous feet. When a cat puts his paw on the head of a half eaten fish it is at once delicate and dainty and fierce and when he retracts his claws again he is most beautifully innocent like firearms in a shop window or a pin-cushion with no pins in it.

Read the rest here.

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I Scream

August 7, 2014 | by

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Photo: Zechariah Judy

As a child in suburban Connecticut, I had always considered the purl of the Good Humor truck to be more closely akin to a cricket’s chirp or the sound of summer rain: a seasonal gift, wreathed in sweet associations … [but] it is a grave error to assume that ice cream consumption requires hot weather. If that were the case, wouldn’t Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have established their first ice cream parlor in Tallahassee instead of Burlington, Vermont, which averages 161 annual days of frost? … Wouldn’t John Goddard, an outdoorsman of my acquaintance, have arranged for a thermos of hot chicken soup instead of a half gallon of French vanilla ice cream with raspberry topping to be airdropped to him on the summit of Mount Rainier? And wouldn’t the Nobel Prize banquet, held every year in Stockholm on the tenth of December, conclude with crepes Suzette instead of glace Nobel? As the lights dim, a procession of uniformed servitors marches down the grand staircase, each bearing on a silver salver a large cake surrounded by spun sugar. Projecting from the cake is a dome of ice cream. Projecting from the dome is an obelisk of ice cream. Projecting from the obelisk is a flame. When the laureates—who have already consumed the likes of homard en gelée à la crème de choux fleur et au caviar Kalix and ballotine de pintade avex sa garniture de pommes de terre de Laponie with no special fanfare—see what is heading their way, they invariably burst into applause.

—Anne Fadiman, born today in 1953, from her essay “Ice Cream”

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Swat with Scruple

June 3, 2014 | by

Balthasar_van_der_Ast_-_Flowers_and_Fruit_-_WGA1040

Balthasar van der Ast, Flowers and Fruit, c. 1620

From “Why We Hate Insects,” an essay by Robert Lynd, collected in his 1921 book, The Pleasures of Ignorance.

It has been said that the characteristic sound of summer is the hum of insects, as the characteristic sound of spring is the singing of birds. It is all the more curious that the word “insect” conveys to us an implication of ugliness. We think of spiders, of which many people are more afraid than of Germans. We think of bugs and fleas, which seem so indecent in their lives that they are made a jest by the vulgar and the nice people do their best to avoid mentioning them. We think of blackbeetles scurrying into safety as the kitchen light is suddenly turned on—blackbeetles which (so we are told) in the first place are not beetles, and in the second place are not black …

There are also certain crawling creatures which are so notoriously the children of filth and so threatening in their touch that we naturally shrink from them. Burns may make merry over a louse crawling in a lady’s hair, but few of us can regard its kind with equanimity even on the backs of swine. Men of science deny that the louse is actually engendered by dirt, but it undoubtedly thrives on it. Our anger against the flea also arises from the fact that we associate it with dirt. Donne once wrote a poem to a lady who had been bitten by the same flea as himself, arguing that this was a good reason why she should allow him to make love to her. It is, and was bound to be, a dirty poem. Love, even of the wandering and polygynous kind, does not express itself in such images. Only while under the dominion of the youthful heresy of ugliness could a poet pretend that it did. The flea, according to the authorities, is “remarkable for its powers of leaping, and nearly cosmopolitan.” Even so, it has found no place in the heart or fancy of man. There have been men who were indifferent to fleas, but there have been none who loved them, though if my memory does not betray me there was a famous French prisoner some years ago who beguiled the tedium of his cell by making a pet and a performer of a flea. For the world at large, the flea represents merely hateful irritation. Mr W. B. Yeats has introduced it into poetry in this sense in an epigram addressed “to a poet who would have me praise certain bad poets, imitators of his and of mine”: Read More »

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