Posts Tagged ‘irony’
October 26, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Hawthorne’s scariest story.
“Even his bright gildings,” Herman Melville once wrote of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “play upon the edges of thunder-clouds.” This was in “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” an 1850 appreciation in which Melville reputed the notion that Hawthorne, fifteen years his senior, was merely “a sequestered, harmless man”:
this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free … At all events, perhaps no writer has ever wielded this terrific thought with greater terror than this same harmless Hawthorne … this black conceit pervades him, through and through.
In the reductive churn that comes with canonization, this “black conceit” seems to have washed off Hawthorne—Melville’s nickname for him, “the Man of Mosses,” hasn’t exactly stuck. We have better Moss People: your Poes, your Lovecrafts, your Shelleys and Stokers. Hawthorne, the thinking goes, is too puritanical to be truly spooky. (Imagine the groans you’d get from reading a bit of The Scarlet Letter around a late October campfire.) But his story “The Ambitious Guest” is scarier than anything in Poe, and its dark romanticism makes no recourse to haunted houses, death masques, black cats, supernaturally sustained heartbeats, or any other genre trope. It’s just about a weary traveler and a nice family who open their home to him. Read More »
May 13, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
In middle school, my friend Marissa and I thought it was pretty darn hilarious to give each other the most inappropriate birthday cards possible. I don’t mean those pre-snark Shoebox greetings full of foul-mouthed grandmas; that would have been tantamount to buying into the earnest Hallmark industrial complex. Instead, we’d look for cards for nephews and stepfathers and babies, and then present them with the hand-knitted scarves and mixtapes we’d made each other. It doesn’t sound funny now. But it was a different time—and I don’t just mean junior high.
In my day, we made our own irony. Without wishing to invoke the proverbial snow-walking grandparent, it’s still important to remember that greeting-card window between Spy magazine and Gawker, between Andy Warhol and someecards, between SNL and the Internet. The time, in short, when people dealt in the currency of subversion, but it wasn’t our gold standard.There’s a reason that the mom humor of fifties commercial art juxtaposed with louche captions seemed deliciously wicked then, and why it feels tame now—we were used to doing all that in our heads. Read More »
November 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In France, 40 percent of TV programming comes from America, which means dubbing is a major industry, and voice-over actors have enough work to collect a following of their own: meet the French Jennifer Lawrence and the French Daniel Radcliffe, for instance.
- The Brothers Grimm published seven editions of their famous tales—the last edition is best known today. But the first edition sounds a lot more fun: “Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White is the princess’s biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so ‘unhinged and desperate’ that she tells her daughters: ‘I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.’ ”
- In the nineties, Bob Dylan pursued a gutsy alternative career: “After binge-watching Jerry Lewis movies on his tour bus, Dylan came to the conclusion that slapstick comedy was where he wanted to put his artistic stamp … ‘We finally wrote … a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff.’ ” HBO bought the show, but Dylan’s interest waned soon after.
- The Gothic is “having a moment” now—and a new exhibition at the British Library explores 250 years of the Gothic tradition. But what does it mean to be Gothic, anyway? “The term suffers from its implicit pluralism: Are we talking about novels, horror films, flying buttresses, Alice Cooper, black-painted fingernails or a specific period in North-European history? On the one hand, it seems fair to say that John Ruskin’s famous comments on the architecture—that most of us know Gothic when we see it, without being able to identify exactly what makes it so—still have something to say about the thing as a whole. On the other, the Gothic really does just mean the spooky and the titillating.”
- “I’m not a cynic. I prefer irony, which depends on the ability to hold contradictory ideas, which probably springs from ambivalence. People confuse and conflate irony with insincerity and dishonesty; they believe an ironist isn’t serious. But saying the opposite of what is meant allows for at least two meanings to fly. Irony couples and uncouples statements, while revealing the hidden agendas of language and its conventions.”
July 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss. If you believe that life is fundamentally a volcano full of baby skulls, you’ve got two main choices as an artist: You can either stare into the volcano and count the skulls for the thousandth time and tell everybody, “There are the skulls; that’s your baby, Mrs. Miller.” Or you can try to build walls so that fewer baby skulls go in. It seems to me that the artist ought to hunt for positive ways of surviving, of living.
That’s John Gardner, from his Art of Fiction interview, which The Paris Review published in 1979—three years before Gardner died in a motorcycle accident. As far as lines in the literary sand go, this one seems defensible enough: make salutary art, wall off the volcano, protect the crania of your babies, et cetera. But here Gardner has given us the distillate of what had been, a few years earlier, a very controversial opinion; he’s paraphrasing his thesis from On Moral Fiction, a polemical book of criticism in which he took to task nearly every prominent American writer, pissing off a good number of them in the process. As Dwight Garner wrote a few years ago, “It wasn’t Gardner’s thesis, exactly, that made him enemies. It was the way he indiscriminately fired buckshot in the direction of many of American literature’s biggest names.”
Pynchon? Too inclined to “winking, mugging despair.”
Updike? “He brings out books that don’t say what he means them to say. And you can’t tell his women apart.”
Barthelme? Merely a disciple of “newfangledness.”
And the whole New Yorker crowd? Too into “that cold, ironic stuff … I think it’s just wrapping for their Steuben glass.”
If you’re thinking that picking fights is a pretty poor way of seeding one’s literary philosophy, you’re completely correct. As Per Winther, the author of The Art of John Gardner, has written, “One cannot help but think that Gardner’s cause would have benefited from less stridency of tone … What Gardner risked in couching his arguments in such bellicose terms was a hasty dismissal of his book and all its views.” Read More »
July 17, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
When I was thirteen, and my dear friend Laura went on a teen hiking tour of the British Isles, I wrote her religiously. Letters, yes, but cards, too. I was stationary in New York, but I had found a lot of vintage postcards somewhere ,and sent a pair of fictional spinsters around the country on an imaginary road trip; each card chronicled their increasingly lurid and ridiculous adventures. One of the sisters proved man-crazy, the other developed a gambling addiction in Reno. When Laura transferred to a boarding school in Wales, their adventures continued.
Nowadays, that doesn’t seem like that big a deal. People are always sending Flat Stanleys and toys and gnomes around the world; you can download a template right from the Internet. Nothing new under the sun, I guess, but I loved having that imaginative connection to a friend across the world.
Now, as a grownup on vacation, I’m sitting here with a pile of postcards in front of me, wondering what to do about it. What, after all, is a postcard? In the age of e-mail and Instagram and Twitter, it’s a self-conscious anachronism. When you read an old postcard, their messages—in that spindly, legible, Palmer-script hand—are often strikingly banal. People really do say “wish you were here,” without embarrassment, and talk about the weather. With traditional postcards, the thought is what counts; these were, by and large, generic images bearing the most impersonal of greetings. Read More »
June 26, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
“The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance.” —Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”
Too much camp is bad for the soul. It’s unwholesome, lacking in spiritual nourishment—like eating only processed foods. Irony is no substitute for feeling, detachment no replacement for intellectual engagement: enough camp begins to eat away at both. After a steady diet of midcentury educational films, salacious memoirs, and Florence Foster Jenkins recordings, one begins to feel oneself morphing into a sort of soulless Lord Henry Wotton, and the only remedy is beauty, spareness, and fresh air. Part of the problem is that earnest camp is heartbreaking; in order not to cry, one needs to put up defenses, and this is in itself exhausting.
Periodically, I need to go on cleanses. In these virtuous moods, I resolve to listen to only the finest music, read the best books, watch films worthy of the term. I banish my collection of 1930s Love Story magazines. I shun the “High Gruck and Outsider Art” playlist on my Spotify account. The words “Russ Meyer” are not to be mentioned in my hearing.
The problem is that in the midst of this, your copy of Barbara Cartland: The Romance of Food arrives in the mail from England and tempts you like a rosy-hued she-devil. And then it follows you everywhere, with the promise of easy laughs and garish pictures and oddity nonpareil. You can hide it in the closet. You can stick it under the kitchen counter with the other cookbooks. Still you hear its siren song, which is sort of quavery and backed by a lot of lush strings. Read More »