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Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’

Regarding Mystery: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez

September 9, 2014 | by

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Photo: Timothy Archibald

In San Francisco earlier this spring, I’d hoped to meet the essayist Richard Rodriguez, the author of The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father, Brown: The Last Discovery of America, and, most recently, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, which has just been published in paperback. Though he’s largely associated with his early stances against affirmative action and bilingual education, not to mention his regular appearances on the PBS NewsHour, Rodriguez, who turned seventy in July, has had a wide-ranging career, and I wanted to discuss the shift of his work from cultural identity to religion. But our schedules were tricky to coordinate, and then I lost my wallet. “Pray to St. Anthony!” Rodriguez immediately wrote. (The wallet was recovered by one of the famous bellmen at Sir Francis Drake Hotel. “St. Anthony dressed as a beefeater,” as Rodriguez put it.) Instead, we corresponded for several weeks.

I was excited and surprised by Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. I had seen you referred to as a Mexican-American writer, a Californian writer, and a gay writer, but never, until recently, as a religious writer. Have you always considered yourself a religious writer? 

Of course, I haven’t, until lately, considered myself a “writer”—in the grand sense. For most of my writing life, I have stood truly, if uneasily, on American bookstore shelves as a sociological sample—shelved “Latino” between a gangbanger’s book of poetry and the biography of a Colombian drug lord. Only in recent years, as it has become clear to me that so few people I know read books, have I been struck by the fact that I am a writer.

My sense of being religious is older. From boyhood, particularly my lower-middle-class childhood in Sacramento, I was transported by religion into the realm of mystery. Consider this: The Irish nun excused me from arithmetic class so that I could serve as an altar boy at a funeral mass. Along with the priest and the other altar boy, I would welcome Death at the doors of the church. We escorted Death up the main aisle. I later went with the cortege to the cemetery. There was a fresh pile of soil piled high at the edge of the grave site, discreetly, if unsuccessfully, covered by an AstroTurf rug that was as unconvincing a denial of the hardness of time as a cheap toupee. I wondered at the mourners’ faces—the melting grief, the hard stoicism. Thirty minutes from the grave, I was back within the soft green walls of Sacred Heart Parish School. It was almost lunchtime. I resumed my impersonation of an American kid. Read More »

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Das Kapital Commodified, and Other News

July 7, 2014 | by

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Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Marx’s portrait appeared on banknotes of the highest value. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

  • On Thursday, just as the Dow Jones closed at an all-time high, a first edition of Marx’s Das Kapital sold for $40,000.
  • Searching for Orwell in Scotland: “I had come to Jura, a remote island on Scotland’s west coast, to find the solitude George Orwell had sought sixty-five years earlier to finish his classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four … [I] wanted to understand why a man so accustomed to city life had come to an inaccessible island of only 190 souls to find inspiration for a novel about totalitarianism in an urbanized state—why a writer at the peak of his celebrity ensconced himself in an austere farmhouse hidden in an inhospitable Scottish landscape.”
  • Paola Antonelli is “one of MoMA’s most prominent, and provocative, curators”: “Petite and energetic, she is prone to fanciful descriptions of the world and its things—a verbal extension, perhaps, of a kind of object-oriented synesthesia. Design, to her, is everywhere … She has said that she believes ‘the age of design is upon us, almost like a rapture.’”
  • In commissioned books of portraits like Matthäus Schwarz’s, from the sixteenth century, we can trace the origins of “self-fashioning”: “Schwarz’s Trachtenbuch (Book of Clothes) was clearly designed for display, and on the whole it paints him in a good light … it announces Schwarz as a person of taste, a supporter of his city and family, a courtly lover, and a well-rounded Renaissance man. It is also, arguably, one of the first fashion books, a distant progenitor of a Vogue lookbook, as it were.”
  • John Wray profiles Nick Cave: “Cave’s public persona has been called ‘theatrical,’ but a more precise term might be cinematic. Like many self-mythologizers, charismatics and plain old eccentrics, he has always appeared to be performing in a movie only he himself could see.”

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The High School Literature Zodiac

November 27, 2013 | by

What does your favorite book from high school tell you about your life?

 

Tim Taranto hails from Upstate New York and attended Cornell. In addition to The Paris Review Daily, his work has appeared on the Rumpus and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Tim lives in Iowa City, where he is studying fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

 

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Round Two

November 14, 2013 | by

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It was Tuesday and Mike Tyson was comparing himself to Machiavelli.

“After you kill the king,” he said, “you cut off his head and you be audacious. You say what you’re going to do to the next king. Speak foully.”

What great writer bears the most resemblance to Mike Tyson? At a talk at the New York Public Library, host Paul Holdengräber compared Tyson to Montaigne, Rousseau, and Orwell, all in the same breath. “Well, uh, that’s pretty profound,” said Tyson, who was there to promote his new memoir, Undisputed Truth. He might have had a different thinker in mind. “I think about Nietzsche a lot,” he writes in the book. Tyson the superman, a former petty criminal from Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the son of, as he put it, two people who “worked in the sex industry,” is by now a thoroughly American symbol. He found riches on the basis of physical strength and sheer willpower, then lost everything by the force of his scarred psyche. He’s currently aiming at the redemptive stage of his career. It isn’t the first time. He is tragic in a Greek kind of way. “I love war,” he told Holdengräber enthusiastically. “I love the players in war. I love the philosophy of war.” And he has the facial tattoos to prove it.

At the library, he walked the audience through the lineage of Frankish kings. He identifies with them because “they came from obscurity” and “I was born in obscurity and I never wanted to go back again.” Tyson is also an admirer of Pepin the Short, the first of the Carolingian rulers, a ruthless suppressor of revolts and the father of Charlemagne. At one point, he likened himself to Ben-Hur.

“Remember Ben-Hur?” Tyson said. “He became a wealthy man. He became a great conqueror for slaves. He became the best celebrity. And, wherever it was, he rescued the general of that ship, and after all that he couldn’t save his family. They put them with the lepers. His sister and his mother. Then he got his family from the lepers. He was a success.” There was a pause. “Look at success with me, myself.” Read More »

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Kafkaesque Toilet Paper, and Other News

August 15, 2013 | by

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  • Kafka cameos in a Charmin toilet paper commercial; one of those incontinent bears is a fan, apparently.
  • “But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the Führer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.” In a 1944 letter, George Orwell explains his reasons for writing 1984
  • The literally question is, in fact, more complicated than it seems; its misuse (this is known as a contronym) has been going on for centuries.
  • Pioneering Swedish crime writer Maj Sjöwall says contemporary Scandinavian thrillers are are “not about police work and crime, but very much about love and relationships—like girls’ books.”
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    Discarded Books, Fake Names, and Other News

    June 19, 2013 | by

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  • In “Expired,” photographer Kerry Mansfield works with discarded books, to eerie effect.
  • How Orwell, Voltaire, and Ann Landers chose their pen names.
  • Meet Simon Vance, the name (or voice!) in audiobooks.
  • Stephen King published Joyland with lofty, print-only intentions. But of course, it is now a pirated e-book.
  • In non-news, Barbara Taylor Bradford is less than impressed by Fifty Shades of Grey.
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