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Posts Tagged ‘Geoff Dyer’

A Big Glooby Blob of Sad Blufush, and Other News

July 22, 2016 | by

Kerouac photographed by John Cohen, 1959. Image via The Spectator.

  • Remember that time Henry James met Winston Churchill? The encounter took place in December, 1914, when Churchill was forty years old and James, his elder by three decades, was still a year from the stroke that would have him signing letters as Napoleon to arrange for “the decoration of certain apartments and palaces ... of the Louvre and the Tuileries.” According to Louis Menand, “Churchill had no idea who James was, found him tedious, and behaved crudely.” After the event, James told his host, Violet Bonham Carter—a friend of Churchill, daughter of the prime minister, and grandmother of Helena—that the “interesting” experience had “brought home to me, very forcibly and vividly … the limitations by which men of genius … purchase their ascendancy … over mankind.”
  • In 1931, during what he described as his wilderness years, Churchill launched an American speaking tour in an effort to make back the money he’d lost in the stock-market crash two years earlier. While crossing Fifth Avenue in New York, Churchill looked the wrong way for traffic and was hit by a taxi, an accident he later wrote up as “My New York Misadventure,” which essay he sold to the Daily Mail for twenty-five hundred dollars. (Yes: about forty thousand dollars in today’s money.) Earlier that year, some three hundred and fifty miles from the site of Churchill’s lucrative debilitation, the hard-bop jazz pianist Conrad Yeatis “Sonny” Clark was born in a Pennsylvania coal patch. Clark’s career was often torturous, in no small part thanks to the heroin addiction that killed him in 1963. But he found a wide following in Japan, and, as Sam Stephenson wrote for the Daily in 2011, “no jazz pianist was more drenched in minor blues” than he was. Clark would have been eighty-five yesterday.
  • Clark released Sonny’s Crib, with John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, in 1957, the same year Jack Kerouac published On the Road. For Geoff Dyer, “there has never been a better-looking male writer. The Kerouac of the 1950s—athletic, muscular forearms emerging from plaid shirt, dark hair roughly quiffed—could step into a bar in Brooklyn today and he’d still look hip.” But Kerouac’s time at the top was brief: “From the moment his achievement was recognized his talent was in decline. He became imprisoned by the method of composition—spontaneous prose—that had liberated him. The breakthrough that enabled him to become a great writer condemned him to often being a pretty terrible one. Sinking into alcoholism, living with his mum in Florida and Massachusetts, he became ‘a big glooby blob of sad blufush.’ ”
  • Kerouac’s father, a French Canadian printer, died of stomach cancer in 1946, the same year a former domestic servant from Scotland gave birth to the man who last night became the Republican Party’s official candidate for president of the United States. About that last fact you may read a word or two today, but in the midst of the frenzy let us not forget the welcome counsel of Julian Barnes, namely that “this has been a rich time to explore nineteenth-century Scandinavian painting.” A new show at the Fondation Custodia, in Paris, includes paintings by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, a Danish painter who studied under Jacques-Louis David. “The Paris show,” Barnes says, reveals Eckersberg “to be always securely himself, yet frequently on the move.”

We’re All on Location, and Other News

June 29, 2016 | by

From the set of Intolerance.

  • D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance is a hundred years old. Its lavish sets—replete with plaster elephants, ornate ten-story walls, and all manner of Babylonian spectacle—testify to a creepy brand of movie magic that has long since leaped from the screen: “Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future … Even though it’s largely vanished from movies, the attraction of a reality that is recognizably phony and yet honest-to-gosh exists has hardly vanished from our culture … Increasingly, shopping malls, hotels, and the like do their best to emulate the same effect. We’re all on location, baby, even when we’re just shopping or hunting for a bite to eat. Intolerance anticipated many things, and one of them was Disneyland. In turn, Disneyland anticipated a lot of the modern environment we live in—not just at the multiplex or while on vacation, but full time.”
  • The journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a teacher in North Korea and wrote a book about what she witnessed there—but her publishers decided to call it a memoir, thus exposing one of the industry’s many fault lines. She writes, “As the only journalist to live undercover in North Korea, I had risked imprisonment to tell a story of international importance by the only means possible. By casting my book as personal rather than professional—by marketing me as a woman on a journey of self-discovery, rather than a reporter on a groundbreaking assignment—I was effectively being stripped of my expertise on the subject I knew best. It was a subtle shift, but one familiar to professional women from all walks of life. I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?

Staff Picks: White Sands, Whit, Weiner

June 3, 2016 | by

From Weiner.

Weiner, man. You’re going to hear a lot of people telling you to see this, so let me offer a meta service and say that you should listen to each and every one of them. The documentary follows Anthony Weiner’s 2013 run for New York City mayor, which ended miserably thanks to an aftershock of the not-quite-sex scandal that had forced him from Congress two years earlier. The film makes a few diligent nods at the suggestion that the sexting scandal obscured more pressing concerns in the mayoral primary. But the real appeal here is characterological. Josh Kriegman, the former Weiner aide who shot the footage, was allowed such intimate access that he ends up, late in the film, incredulously asking Weiner why he granted it. Together with Elyse Steinberg, his codirector, Kriegman presents Weiner as a roiling tumble of contradictions: savvy and reckless, strident and insecure, charming and dickish, and never more serene, it seems, than when he’s watching himself whirl into a rage during a disastrous TV interview. Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife and one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, is in every way her husband’s opposite, and there are moments in the film when her anguish is so obvious that you’re almost rooting for her to show Kriegman, not to mention Weiner, the door. But the camera stays, and so does she. It’s no small accomplishment of this film that you can almost imagine why. —Robert P. Baird

There are certain directors whose new movies you skip out of a kind of scared devotion, because the badness of their later work seems to reveal something that was essentially bad about their movies all along. Then there’s the opposite case of Whit Stillman, whose Love & Friendship surpasses his early movies but makes you (or at least me) like them even better. He has never seemed more at home than in the slightly threadbare gentility of these country houses—somehow the sets look less “period” than antique, in a comfortable way—and his characters have never seemed so at home in their skin. Tom Bennett’s first scene, playing the amiable idiot Sir James Martin, has brightened my whole week. —Lorin Stein Read More »

One Percent

February 2, 2016 | by

Photographing inequality.

A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot-air-balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Guillaume Bonn, 2012—INSTITUTE

Have you ever stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai? I'd warmly recommend it. It’s super luxurious and, right next door, there’s a classic slum. So you can do a quick slum tour and get back to your sanctuary without any inconvenience but with some excellent snaps. The great Indian photographer Raghubir Singh termed this genre of photography “the abject as subject.” It has a long and distinguished history—and not just in what used to be called the Orient. In the 1930s, photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange produced images of sharecroppers and Okies, which drew attention both to the conditions in which these unfortunates found themselves and to their heroic fortitude. This resilience was easily incorporated into the ideology of ceaseless endeavour that continues to underpin the system of exploitation that condemned them to destitution in the first place. It’s just that now, instead of loading up your jalopy and heading for California, you take a second, badly paid job; The Grapes of Wrath has turned into Nickel and Dimed. The iconic photographs of the Great Depression, meanwhile, have acquired a kind of stonewashed glamour. 

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The World Doesn’t Care About You, and Other News

August 31, 2015 | by

Bad Brains in 1983. Photo: Malco23

  • Today in reevaluations of problematic twentieth-century philosophers: Heidegger’s predilection for tragedy and poetry informed his yearning for a grand narrative, a story that could encompass all of history. That yearning, in turn, is part of what led him to Nazism. Even so, “Heidegger’s tragic, overblown interpretation of Nazism may have been unique to him, but he was certainly not the only twentieth-century philosopher to think that poetry and tragedy might preserve something integral to human experience that was in danger of being swallowed up by the forces of reason and demystification … Maybe academic philosophy today has conceded too much ground to demystifying argumentation, to judgment and quantification. Maybe we do need more poetry in our lives. Maybe films really do represent a last gasp for tragedy and grand-scale thinking in the modern world.”
  • Jane Smiley, whose Art of Fiction interview will appear in our Fall issue, discusses her cluttered office in Carmel Valley, California: “I have never objected to mess, since mess reminds me that I can choose to write or I can choose to clean, and I have always chosen to write … I have never liked privacy in a writing room; I have always preferred noise and traffic and phone calls and people walking in and out.”
  • Remembering New York City’s hardcore scene, some thirty years later: “The insight boiling up, across all of these records, is: the world doesn’t care about you. There are no merit badges awarded for normalcy and complacency for the likes of us in straight society. It’s a long slog, and some days you are just a piece of living meat unhappily compelled to work and eat and sleep and go through the motions of your relationships, just because it is too much trouble to do otherwise. Hardcore starts from the minimal, almost entirely swallowed-up spark of human life, maybe just the faint, unwanted heartbeat whose persistence means, ‘I have to go to work today.’ The young Marx thought that mankind would attain its ‘species-being’ in the free time obtained for human development after the attainment of communism. Hardcore says: our species-being is a pretty ugly thing, for now, but we have to own it. It—we—can’t wait.”
  • For the past several years, an experimental genre of creative nonfiction has been quietly thriving online: one-star Yelp reviews of national parks. Don’t let the unsophisticated and often ungrammatical prose fool you; these works have taken the pulse of America. Read on as our nation’s treasures and all manners of natural beauty are cast aside as garbage: Death Valley is “the ugliest place I have ever seen,” Yosemite needs more parking lots, and Carlsbad Caverns appeals only if “you find big caves and rocks overwhelmingly fascinating.”
  • Geoff Dyer revisits Raymond Williams: “Borders—how they are constructed and recognized, how they impede and are crossed—are central to his thought … [he] entirely reshaped my sense of life and literature and the way they were related … Before that, in a way that now seems hard to credit, I had no understanding of the social process I’d lived through even though it was, by then, a well-documented one: the working-class boy who keeps passing exams—exams that take him first to grammar school, then to an Oxbridge college—and discovers only in retrospect that there was more to all this than exams, or even education.”

The Hunters

June 23, 2015 | by

In memory of James Salter, who died last week, the Daily is republishing a series of essays from 2011, when Salter received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. In today’s piece, Geoff Dyer looks at Salter’s first novel, The Hunters.

To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.

James Salter in a fighter plane.

The Hunters (1957) was Salter’s first novel and remains the most concise expression of his talents. It is based closely on his own experience as a pilot flying combat missions in Korea. The war in the air proceeds in tandem with a near civil war on the ground as the pilots vie with each other to achieve the coveted five kills that will make them aces. The conflicting demands between ensuring the safety of comrades (the “sacred” duty of the wingman) and the individual daring—recklessness even—needed to shoot down MiGs threaten to destroy the central character, Cleve Connell.

In Burning the Days Salter recalls a friend’s advising him that “the original form of storytelling is someone saying, I was there and this is what I beheld.” As soon as he began writing, Salter knew that his time as a fighter pilot would give his storytelling this elemental immediacy and power. (The magnificent climactic scene of the novel involves an incident mentioned briefly in the memoir, when two planes, out of fuel, are forced to glide back to base.) Earlier still, when he was learning to fly, Salter had fallen under the spell of the most famous writer-pilot of them all, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “it was his knowledge I admired, his wholeness of mind, more than his exploits. ... In [his] footsteps I would follow.” (This tradition—or perhaps trajectory is a better word—has recently been extended by Jed Mercurio. Part of his novel Ascent (2007), about Soviet pilots flying MiGs in Korea, can be read as a commentary on—or duel with?—Salter, whose novel, presumably, served as template and inspiration.) Cassada has at its core an event that is in some ways a reworking of the kind of crisis imaginatively depicted by Saint-Exupéry in Night Flight as two lost planes drift past their landing strip, cut off from the earth by darkness and rain clouds. The Hunters contains a direct allusion to the master, a translation of the lyricism of Wind, Sand and Stars (“Below the sea of clouds lies eternity”) into the argot of the jet age, the dawn of the right stuff: “There was a mission when they conned across seas of eternity, never catching sight of the ground except at the beginning and end.” Not that Salter is lacking in his own lyric gifts. The experience of flight, the mysteries of the sky, remain as intoxicating and magical as they were for the pilots of propeller-driven biplanes:

Suddenly Pell called out something at three o’clock. Cleve looked. He could not tell what it was at first. Far out, a strange, dreamy rain was falling, silver and wavering. It was a group of drop tanks, tumbling down from above, the fuel and vapor streaming from them. Cleve counted them at a glance. There were a dozen or more, going down like thin cries fading in silence. That many tanks meant MiGs. He searched the sky above, but saw nothing.

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