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Posts Tagged ‘Haruki Murakami’

The Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books

March 24, 2016 | by

A brief survey of fictional books.

Erik Desmazières, Library of Babel.

I’m soon to move across the country, and surveying my bookcases—the three in the living room and the three in the bedroom, plus the unshelved piles that crop up from any flat surface—fills me with dread. The only cure, I’ve found, is to let my thoughts wander to another, even larger literary collection, a kind of underworld reflection of the one all around me. The books in this second collection are not all fiction, but they are all fictional. I’m imagining a place the late Umberto Eco might appreciate: the Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books. Read More »

Martians—They’re Just Like Us! And Other News

December 2, 2015 | by

Robert Abbett’s cover art for John Carter of Mars, 1965.

  • Compared to writers at the beginning of their careers, successful authors have an enormous freedom to experiment with form and style: their reputations are sound. And yet so few of our most prominent authors risk anything in their books. Writers like Haruki Murakami and John Irving compare their readers to addicts, “always waiting” for the fix of a new book; Tim Parks asks if “addiction” is really what an author should seek in his readers. “If a writer accepts such addiction, or even rejoices in it, as Murakami seems to, doesn’t it put pressure on him, as pusher, to offer more of the same? In fact it would be far more plausible to ascribe the failure (aesthetic, but not commercial) of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and indeed Franzen’s Purity, not to the author’s willingness to take exciting risks with new material … but rather to a tired, lackluster attempt to produce yet another bestseller in the same vein … to create anything genuinely new writers need to risk failure, indeed to court failure, aesthetically and commercially, and to do it again and again throughout their lives, something not easy to square with the growing tendency to look on fiction writing as a regular career.”
  • On social media, hyperbole reigns supreme: I’m literally dying because it’s the worst thing ever. It can be hard to mock or even to coolly discuss the trend toward overreaction without sounding like an uptight dad with a wedgie—but let’s try to have that conversation, because right now we’re standing at the brink of Total Overstatement. The Internet, Jessica Bennett writes, “has taken all these speech patterns and hit them with a dose of caffeine: the need to express emotion in bite-size, 140-character bits; the fact that we must come up with increasingly creative ways to express tone and emphasis when facial cues are not an option. There’s a performative element, too: We are expressing things with an audience in mind … Yet if a bacon-flavored ice cream sundae gives you all the ‘feels ever,’ or you are ‘dead’ over a cute cat photo, how do you respond if something is actually dramatic?”
  • Along with hyperbole, the Internet has made a cozy home for trite bursts of New Age pabulum, and science has at last intervened to ask: Why does anyone like this shit? Last month a journal called Judgment and Decision Making published “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,” by Gordon Pennycook and colleagues. “People who are more susceptible to BS,” he found, “score lower for verbal and fluid intelligence, are more prone to ‘conspiratorial ideation,’ and more likely to ‘endorse complementary and alternative medicine’ … In a series of studies, the authors presented participants with randomly assembled pseudo-profound statements, Deepak Chopra tweets, and tests of cognitive and reasoning ability… In general, the profoundness ratings that participants gave the BS statements were very similar to those they gave to Chopra’s tweets.”
  • Given the ever more likely presence of water on Mars, it’s time to reevaluate the Martian in fiction. Though the Martians of the later twentieth century were often destructive, bloodthirsty creatures with only a superficial resemblance to humankind, the earliest Martians were basically exactly like people—demonstrating either a failure of imagination or a deep optimism. Percy Greg’s 1880 novel Across the Zodiac features a polygamous society of ‘Martialists’—diminutive men and women, less than five feet tall, who look a little bit like Swedish people and dominate the planet. They’re an agricultural society: they raise one-horned antelope-like creatures, birds ‘about twice the size of a crow,’ and a range of crops, that, besides their color, basically resemble plants on Earth … In Aleriel (1883), Martians are about twice the size of humans and much more hairy; in Stranger’s Sealed Package (1889), besides being blue, they are essentially the same as humans—they even share ancient ancestors.”
  • One of the more bizarre artifacts of the eugenics movement is this 1904 map showing “The Distribution of Men of Talent” throughout our fair nation. Its author, Gustave Michaud, thought we needed to see where geniuses lived in high density so that, I don’t know, laypeople could move to their towns and force them to reproduce with us, spawning a new generation of baby geniuses. Unsurprisingly, Michaud contended that the overwhelming majority of geniuses lived in New England, and that Wyoming was all but genius-free. Sorry, Wyoming.

Kafka on the Shore Stage, and Other News

August 10, 2015 | by

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From Kafka on the Shore. Photo: Takahiro Watanabe

  • “It wasn’t easy to interest glossy magazines in poverty in the 1980s and 90s,” Barbara Ehrenreich writes: “I once spent two hours over an expensive lunch—paid for, of course, by a major publication—trying to pitch to a clearly indifferent editor who finally conceded, over decaf espresso and crème brulee, ‘OK, do your thing on poverty. But can you make it upscale?’ ” That was then. Today, things are even worse: “Now there are fewer journalists on hand at major publications to arouse the conscience of editors and other gatekeepers. Coverage of poverty accounts for less than 1% of American news.”
  • How New York Review Books is perfecting the art of the reissue: “It was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue … We set out to do the whole mix of things that a curious person might be interested in, which would take you back and forth from fiction to certain kinds of history … We were picking low-hanging fruit, only no one knew the fruit was out there, hanging from the branches.”
  • In 2003, the Russian writer Kirill Medvedev lifted the copyright from his publications, putting them all into the public domain worldwide. Twelve years later, he defends his choice:Do you, as a poet or writer or musician, really want to go the way of prohibitions, fences, barbed wire and guard towers to defend texts and music the way some would defend private cottages, private forests, private fields and private earth?”
  • Nearly a century after it was composed, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” remains the quintessential adolescent poem: “Eliot himself was barely out of his teens when he wrote it, uncannily in touch with the exquisite torments of hypersensitive youth, and with the peculiar burden of seeing through everything without having experienced much of anything. This was a different species of verse. It exuded cinematic urgency rather than exam-ready ‘messages’ and ‘themes.’ It was full of sudden rhythmic jolts and colliding tones, and could make emotional pirouettes on a vowel. Unapologetic, brash, discontinuous, ‘Prufrock’ taught me the thrill of disorientation in language. No matter how often I returned, it was never tamped down by classroom-style explanations. It grew. It seemed to understand me more than I understood it.”
  • Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore has been adapted for the stage at Lincoln Center by Yukio Ninagawa: the production is “a collage of modern, neon-lit, commercialized, glitzy Japan, haunted by dark, mostly unspoken memories of World War II, including the atom bomb, shown in what looks like a stylized advertising logo … [it’s] still unmistakably Japanese: stylized, poetic, comical, violent, full of spectacular effects, and often exquisitely beautiful to look at.”

Staff Picks: Birthdays, Bluegrass, Baked Alaska

January 9, 2015 | by

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From the first-edition cover of Appointment in Samarra.

Cold, biting January made me reach for Simon Van Booy’s The Illusion of Separateness. This deceptively slim novel transcends time and geography to explore the lives of six unwittingly connected strangers, each rendered with stunning incisiveness and warmth. (If Raymond Chandler had swapped gin for chamomile tea he might have written some of Van Booy’s sentences.) However, the prose is so rich—so resonant—it’s easy to miss the real treat on offer: an exceptionally compassionate lens through which to view the world. Search no more. This is that book, the one you carry through the midwinter doldrums toward spring. —Emilia Murphy 

Over Christmas I read Is He Popenjoy?, Anthony Trollope’s tale of a rich girl who marries an impoverished Lord and finds herself in the middle of a battle over his inheritance. This is late, minor Trollope (he wrote forty-seven novels altogether), but Trollope is one of those writers in whom minorness and greatness are hard to tell apart. He makes everything look so easy. His experiments are hidden in plain view. So is his special brand of moral skepticism. For Trollope, every character is the hero of his own story, or the heroine; every character thinks he or she has to deal with villains (sociopaths, we’d say). From time to time every character is right. Or may be. But the most powerful force in Trollope’s fiction is not good or evil, but group dynamics, the ever-shifting relations between family members and friends. Among other things, Is He Popenjoy? is the best novel I have ever read about in-laws and how to get along with them. For the moment, I'm so deep under its spell I wouldn’t trade it for Anna Karenina. —Lorin Stein

Every year around the holidays, I try to fill in one of the gaps in my knowledge of the canon. When you’re revisiting classics, I’ve found, it’s always good to seek out the ones that people hated when they were first published—so I took up John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, which Sinclair Lewis called “nothing but infantilism—the erotic visions of a hobbledehoy behind the barn.” And what visions they are! Sex and class are O’Hara’s great subjects, and in Appointment—wherein a rich, high-society guy ruins himself for no good reason, really, except that the straitjacket of Depression-era life demands it—he treats them with a candor that most novelists still can’t muster eighty years later. He’s known, rightly, for his dialogue, but there’s a kind of O’Hara sentence, precise but faintly ostentatious, that sounds utterly American to me. “The festive board now groaned under the Baked Alaska,” for instance. Or: “Frank Gorman, Georgetown, and Dwight Ross, Yale, had fought, cried, and kissed after an argument about what the team Gorman had not made would have done to the team Ross was substitute halfback on.” —Dan Piepenbring
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Save the The, and Other News

January 8, 2015 | by

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The frequency of the over the twentieth century, as seen in Google Books ngrams. Image via Language Log

  • An English translation of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission will be published in America, though no date has been set. (Houellebecq and the controversial novel are on the cover of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo.)
  • Have a question for Haruki Murakami? (NB: “Dear Mr. Murakami, I, too, enjoy jazz and cats” is not a question.) Go ahead and ask him. He’s answering queries from fans on a new site called Mr. Murakami’s Place, though as of this writing the site remains—maybe fittingly—impossible to find.
  • Our definite article is endangered. Linguists have crunched the numbers, and over the course of the twentieth century, our use of the plummeted. If you treasure the the as I do, join the campaign to employ the the as often as the circumstances allow. (We started by putting it in the title of our magazine.)
  • The key to an authentic sci-fi novel: show your work. Andy Weir’s The Martian, once a self-published e-book, has found a wide readership because of its attention to technical specifics: “An astronaut gets left behind on Mars in a near-future NASA mission, and has to survive until help comes. This he does through physics and chemistry, algebra and pipe fitting, botany and celestial navigation, all described in meticulous detail, some of it even simulated with software that Weir wrote himself.”
  • The descent of the English department—why do outsiders so commonly regard it as “a bastion of muddled thinking”? Some say “academics ‘must make their peace with the fact that viewed from the outside their work does not look like work,’ but this misses how academics are perceived by those sensible enough to dwell outside their ranks: The problem is precisely that their work looks too much like work—onerous, meticulous, pointless, jargon-soaked work without application either to literature or to living.”

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Staff Picks: Kids Tossing Guns, Phenomenal Hard-ons

October 10, 2014 | by

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Josh Dorman, A Life Led, 2014, ink, acrylic and antique paper on panel, 60" x 56."

Despite the fact that the workmen next door have been playing the catchiest pop songs from the past thirty years for a few days now, I managed to tune them out long enough to read Jon McNaught’s Dockwood, a book that, though spare in dialogue, is oddly focused on sound, or, more accurately, on a symphony of silence. The book comprises two comics stories set in the titular British town, a leafy, suburban sort of place that is settling into the early days of autumn and into what seems like a permanent state of dreamy twilight. The first story follows a man named Mark through his day as a kitchen porter at a nursing home. The opening pages of the book are soundless, save the munch of a mouse eating a chip and tink of colliding hanging straps on a bus. But the quiet of early morning is surprisingly vivid. It creates a rhythm of reading—the pages are divided into tiny panels mixed in with larger ones—and plunges you instantly into the narrative. The second story, about a boy delivering newspapers, works according to the same principles. It’s a stunning effect. And McNaught, who is also a printmaker, makes each panel contemplate the smallest of life’s details. —Nicole Rudick

This Saturday is your last chance to see “Whorled,” Josh Dorman’s vast and imaginative solo show at Ryan Lee Gallery. Dorman paints vibrant, dreamlike landscapes and festoons them with found images: illustrations, fragments, and diagrams from old textbooks and catalogs, all of them from the seemingly prelapsarian period before photography, and all carefully (though still jarringly) collaged into the paintings. Parades of flora and fauna coexist with kids tossing guns; lakes are made of hammers, mountains grow from maps. You’d expect all this to devolve into chaos, a kind of jackdaw’s nest, but Dorman’s compositions are precise, even orderly, which makes them all the more uncanny—as beautiful as they are, the paintings evoke a state of basic contradiction that has a way of getting under your skin. —Dan Piepenbring

Even if it’s only an hour and forty minutes, Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja was one of the most difficult films I’ve sat through, and I’ve survived everything from Sátántangó to Snakes on a Plane. Moving at a glacial pace, with a plot as complicated as Waiting for Godot’s, the film follows the Danish surveyor Dinesen in nineteenth-century Patagonia as he tries to find his missing daughter in the otherworldly landscape. In long, carefully composed takes, Alonso declares his commitment to a minimalist cinema, one that blends narrative with documentary; the film is more about Dinesen’s relationship with the landscape itself than any miraculous reunion with his daughter. I walked out of the screening completely perplexed by the experience, but since then I haven’t been able to shake the film. It’s like a dream you hope to revisit until some sort of answer reveals itself. —Justin Alvarez
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