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Posts Tagged ‘Iris Murdoch’

Beware Usen’t To

January 28, 2014 | by

Constance_Charpentier_-_Melancholy_-_WGA04799

This is what happens when you use usen’t to. Constance Charpentier, Melancholy, 1801, oil on canvas.

At ten every morning, Garner’s Usage Tip lands in my inbox—I’m sure Garner could suggest a less clunky formulation for “in my inbox”—providing a quick bit of unfussy, eminently sensible grammatical advice. There are worse things to look forward to.

Yesterday’s installment was the third in a scintillating four-part series on used to, which gets pretty spicy, as far as grammar goes. Fun fact: the contracted form of used not to is usen’t to, which has been, despite its pleasant lilt, almost wholly displaced by didn’t use to.

You could try to bring it back into style, but apart from sounding pretentious—which you would—you’d run the risk of becoming very miserable. Take a look at usen’t to as it appears throughout literature and you’ll see: it’s almost always used in the context of a total bummer. See below for examples from Forster, Trollope, Beckett, et al., none of which make the sun shine any brighter.

Please, if you can find any positive instance of usen’t to, direct me to it. Otherwise I’m inclined to offer a warning: abstain from this phrase, or you’re liable to be plunged into cafard, parochialism, censoriousness, or just sort of a downer mood. Read More »

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Interviewing Dame Iris

December 13, 2013 | by

Iris-Murdoch-Live-Paris-Review

Photography credit Nancy Crampton.

The other day we shared recordings of Garrison Keillor, William Styron, and Iris Murdoch as part of an ongoing collaboration with 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center. Since 1985, the Poetry Center and The Paris Review have copresented an occasional series of onstage conversations—many of which have ended up as part of our published Writers-at-Work interviews—and we’ll be sharing more of these recordings in the months to come. Meanwhile, here is James Atlas on what it was like to interview Iris Murdoch on February 22, 1990. This essay is also part of 75 at 75, a special project for the Poetry Center’s seventy-fifth anniversary that invites contemporary authors to listen to a recording from the Poetry Center’s archive and write a personal response.

I have known three charismatic writers in my life: Philip Roth, Robert Lowell, and Iris Murdoch. (A fourth, Saul Bellow, was what might be called anticharismatic, by his own choice; he didn’t mind attention, but he liked to keep his self to himself.) And there is one venue that I would describe as charismatic if an auditorium can be defined that way: the 92nd Street Y. Every major writer in the English-speaking (or I should say -writing) world has spoken there. I myself have seen—and, more importantly, heard—Joseph Brodsky, Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, Gore Vidal, Bellow (on several occasions), and many others I can’t remember. So when I was invited to interview Dame Iris on the occasion of a visit in the winter of 1990, it wasn’t exactly a hard sell. In fact, it would turn out to be one of the great literary experiences of my own life.

I use her title with great reluctance because I did know Iris Murdoch, having spent time with her in Oxford a few years earlier for a Vanity Fair profile. This was no doubt the reason why the Y had thought of me in the first place for a live Writers-at-Work interview cosponsored by The Paris Review. As famous as she was, Murdoch did not have a large following in America, and there may have been a limited pool of interlocutors capable of introducing her before the kind of sophisticated New York audience that tended to show up at the Y.

She was a gentle soul, soft-spoken, and almost willfully self-effacing. When I first met her at Oxford, at a friend’s Sunday brunch, she had grilled me about my own life—my family, my children, my education, books written, books not written, before she had even figured out that I was the man from America who had come all that way to interview her. I was nervous about the very public forum of the Y anyway; how was I supposed to sit there on stage in front of nine hundred people and ask—for instance—about her forbidding work of philosophy, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals? I hit upon a rather craven solution: “I’m just going to ask you one question, Iris, and then you speak for an hour.”

As I listen to this recording now, I discover with relief that she was anything but forbidding. She was modest. When I asked her what she thought she had achieved—remember, she was over seventy at this point and had long been considered one of the most important writers in England—she answered, with complete sincerity, “I haven’t achieved anything yet.” She was profound without sounding that way, or, I suspect, even knowing that she was: “Live in the present. It’s what you think you can do next that matters.” And she was funny: “The thing about the theater is, why do people stay there? Why don’t they just get up and go?” But the most valuable thing I learned from Dame Iris Murdoch that evening was about the relationship between art and humility. “One is always discontented with what one has done,” she said. “One always hopes to do better.” To be satisfied with one’s work was to misunderstand the very nature of creativity.

Toward the end of our hour, she gave the audience—or was it just me this was intended for?—a piece of advice: “It’s a good idea to know about something.” “I’ll keep that I mind,” I quipped. There was laughter in the auditorium, and I realize now that knowing about Iris Murdoch—even the little I knew—had been a good idea.

James Atlas is the founding editor of the Lipper/Viking Penguin Lives Series. A longtime contributor to The New Yorker, he was an editor at The New York Times Magazine for many years. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, Vanity Fair, and many other journals. He is the author of Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet, which was nominated for the National Book Award.

 

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Listen to Garrison Keillor, Iris Murdoch, and William Styron!

December 10, 2013 | by

Iris-Murdoch

Photography credit Nancy Crampton.

This is exciting, and something we’ve had in the works for a long time.

Since 1985, 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review have copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which became the foundation of a Writers-at-Work interview. As of today, 92Y and The Paris Review are making these recordings available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. The release of these recordings is made possible by a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, who worked in the art department at The Paris Review and volunteered as an archivist at 92Y’s Poetry Center.

The online series kicks off with audio of Garrison Keillor on the secrets of humor writing; Iris Murdoch on what makes a great book; and William Styron on the future of the written word. The series also happily features George Plimpton, the late, great founder of The Paris Review, conducting many of the interviews.

Stand by in the coming months for audio of John le Carré, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Octavio Paz, Günter Grass, Paul Auster, Tony Kushner, Czeslaw Milosz, Maya Angelou, Jamaica Kincaid, and Allen Ginsberg, among others.

 

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The Gift of Hunger

January 25, 2013 | by

The first time I cooked for him, it was the height of August. The meal was very simple: a salad; a pasta; some peaches I roasted and served with ice cream. Nothing special. And he seemed to like it okay. But the writing was on the wall: this was a man who ate to live, and not the other way round.

For some of us, this is unthinkable. I am always plotting my next meal, mulling over my last, calculating my degree of appetite. Those days when illness robs me of hunger are among my most hopeless. I remember food scenes in movies and books better than others. The city is mentally mapped by cookies and hamburgers; noodle stands are my landmarks; a trip is an opportunity to eat new things, and work up an appetite, and try more. Read More »

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Literary Paint Chips: Gallery 3

May 14, 2012 | by

Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue.

Fox Stain1 Graham Greene2 Iteration Pudding3 Hood4
Fence5 Skipper’s Whiff6 Pizza7 Noise White8
Martyr’s Tongue9 League10 Funeral Suit11 Dead Sea12
Doze13 Dishwater Blonde14 Stupid Blue15 Dorsal16
Bible Black17 Lo’s Socks18 Poop Poop19 American Autumn20
Damned Spot21 Spit Black22 Georgie’s Pins23 Oatmeal Tweed24
Treasure Blue25 Nimbus Card26 Felon Yellow27 Wine-dark28

Annotations

  1. “The season’s ill— / we’ve lost our summer millionaire, / who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean / catalogue. His nine-knot yawl / was auctioned off to lobstermen. / A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.” “Skunk Hour,” Robert Lowell.
  2. Graham Greene
  3. “But if you stir backward, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?” ‘Arcadia,’ Tom Stoppard.
  4. “Her mother was excessively fond of her; and her grandmother doted on her still more. This good woman got made for her a little red riding hood.” “Little Red Riding Hood,” Charles Perrault.
  5. “Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.” ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ Mark Twain.
  6. “Wendell takes a whiff of Skipper, who is wearing what used to be a pair of pink flowered pajamas. A small bit of satin ribbon is still visible around her neck, but the rest, including her smiling face, is wet brown mud and something else. ‘Part of this is poop,’ Wendell hollers.” “Cousins,” Jo Ann Beard.
  7. “She noticed a piece of bright orange pizza stuck between his teeth, and it endeared him to her.” “A Romantic Weekend,” Mary Gaitskill.
  8. “I heard a noise, faint, monotonous, white.” ‘White Noise,’ Don DeLillo.
  9. “St. John Nepomucene was martyred in Prague in 1393 for refusing to reveal a secret of the confessional. His tongue has been entirely preserved. Experts examined it 332 years later in 1725, and testified that it was the shape, color, and length of the tongue of a living person, and that it was also soft and flexible.” ‘Beautiful Losers,’ Leonard Cohen.
  10. “Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red.” “The Red-Headed League,” Arthur Conan Doyle.
  11. “In the meantime I unpacked my bag, opened the wardrobe and hung up the dark gray suit I had taken along to Chur as my funeral suit, so to speak.” ‘The Loser,’ Thomas Bernhard.
  12. “I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Colored they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.” ‘Waiting for Godot,’ Samuel Beckett.
  13. “And then I went off into a blue doze, sitting there in the car next to William. I was thinking about Josephine who is also this very dear friend of mine.” ‘Novel on Yellow Paper,’ Stevie Smith.
  14. “... a jewelry box in which a strand of Mary’s dishwater-blonde hair lay bedded on cotton.” ‘The Virgin Suicides,’ Jeffrey Eugenides.
  15. “I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straightforward, perfectly, perfectly stupid.” ‘The Good Soldier,’ Ford Madox Ford.
  16. “It took Brody’s eyes a moment to adjust, but then he saw the fin—a ragged brownish-gray triangle that sliced through the water, followed by the scythed tail sweeping left and right with short, spasmodic thrusts.” ‘Jaws,’ Peter Benchley.
  17. “It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crow-black, fishingboat-bobbing sea.” ‘Under Milk Wood,’ Dylan Thomas.
  18. “Officer, officer there they go— / In the rain, where that lighted store is! / And her socks are white, and I love her so, / And her name is Haze, Dolores.” ‘Lolita,’ Vladimir Nabokov.
  19. “They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find, as the Badger had anticipated, a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a bright red (Toad’s favorite color), standing in front of the house.” ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ Kenneth Grahame.
  20. “The afternoon was perfect. A deeper stillness possessed the air, and the glitter of the American autumn was tempered by a haze which diffused the brightness without dulling it.” ‘The House of Mirth,’ Edith Wharton.
  21. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ William Shakespeare.
  22. “The restaurant to which he took us was a theater people’s one, not very far away, and filled with gentlemen in fancy waistcoats just like himself, and with girls and boys like Kitty, with streaks of greasepaint on their cuffs and crumbs of spit-black in the corners of their eyes.” ‘Tipping the Velvet,’ Sarah Waters.
  23. “Then she hitched up her skirt and some layers of stiff white petticoat and began to draw on a pair of peacock-blue stockings which I had given her.” ‘A Severed Head,’ Iris Murdoch.
  24. “You wouldn’t be able to decorate out a table in afromosia teak veneer, an armchair in oatmeal tweed and a beech frame settee with a woven sea-grass seat? ” ‘The Caretaker,’ Harold Pinter.
  25. “He then explained to me that it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year—last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway—a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed.” ‘Dracula,’ Bram Stoker.
  26. “Suddenly the restaurant seems far away, hushed, the noise distant, a meaningless hum, compared to this card, and we all hear Price’s words: ‘Raised lettering, pale nimbus white...’” ‘American Psycho,’ Bret Easton Ellis.
  27. “Conrad now surveyed the pod room with a horrible clarity. It was a foul gray chamber inhabited by grim organisms in yellow felony pajamas who arranged themselves in primitive territorial packs.” ‘A Man in Full,’ Tom Wolfe.
  28. “As far as a man seeth with his eyes into the haze of distance as he sitteth on a place of outlook and gazeth over the wine-dark sea, so far leap the loudly neighing horses of the gods.” ‘The Iliad,’ Homer.

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