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Posts Tagged ‘J. D. Daniels’

What We’re Loving: Algiers, Aliens, Adulthood

July 25, 2014 | by

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George Saunders talks to an alien. Detail from an illustration by Thomas Allen, in O, the Oprah Magazine.

I went on vacation planning to read Tristram Shandyat last. Instead I read Frank Kermode on “Modernisms,” most of The Rise of the Novel (including the chapter on Tristram Shandy), and half the Selected Poems of Howard Moss. Total reading time: not much. But it was choice. Then I got home and found The New Yorker in my mailbox. Greg Jackson’s “Wagner in the Desert” is the best fiction debut they’ve published in years. The story belongs to an ancient genre: young, rich people hole up in a country house to avoid the plague. In this case, the country house is a rental in Palm Springs, the plague is adulthood, and the hosts are a Hollywood couple about to start fertility treatments, hoping to get their ya-yas out in a mindful, caring way. Jackson knows his antecedents. He has metabolized Ben Lerner and David Foster Wallace. He can throw in a blank verse, like Melville, to heighten a scene. He even steals, without attribution, from Kenny Rogers. I read “Wagner in the Desert” my first night back, fell asleep, and dreamed I was in the story (and also back in elementary school, getting a lesson in the story) then woke up and read it again, with no diminution of enjoyment. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading Adam Shatz’s very smart account of how reporting on the Middle East cured him of political romanticism. I suspect he’s not alone in this experience: “When I finally began to spend time in the place about which I had pontificated for so long, I discovered that I was much more interested in what the people I met had to say than in my own views.” My favorite parts are Shatz’s trips to Algiers—“a city I knew mostly from Gillo Pontecorvo’s film”—and his interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. It’s a sobering essay, and a timely one for this low point (after a very high one) in the history of the region. —Robyn Creswell

In this month’s O, The Oprah Magazine, George Saunders explains to a space alien what it means to be human. His explanation takes the form of a series of short-story recommendations, of course. Drawing on diverse selections from Chekhov to Hemingway to Lahiri, he covers the basics of love, loneliness, greed, kindness, death, and empathy. The essay’s a gem, a genuine love letter to reading as a noble pursuit. Saunders says it best: “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas. By reading a thoughtfully selected set of them, our alien could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live. Except how it feels to lose one’s car in a parking garage and walk around for like three hours, trying to look as if you know where you’re going, so the people driving by—who have easily found their cars, having written the location on their wrists or something—don’t think badly of you. I don’t think there’s a short story about that yet.” —Chantal McStay

Another thing I did on vacation was see The Shining for the first time in a couple of decades. This, unfortunately, was the director’s cut, in which Jack Nicholson has several long, boring conversations with ghosts. But even the scary parts weren’t scary anymore. To hear J. D. Daniels tell it in the new issue of Flaunt, I’d rather have seen the documentary Room 237—at least, if I got to see it with J. D. Daniels: “Room 237 is about unhinged Stanley Kubrick fanatics … Each of them thinks The Shining is a coded message. One participant believes The Shining is Kubrick’s confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo 11 moon landing. Have you seen The Shining? It’s about an axe murderer. It’s about 145 minutes long.” —L.S.
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Hodgman on Daniels

April 15, 2013 | by

THE PARIS REVIEW Spring RevelEvery year, at our Spring Revel, we give three honors: the Hadada Prize, the Plimpton Prize, and the Terry Southern Prize. This year, John Hodgman of the New York Times Magazine, the Daily Show, and those Mac ads presented the Southern Prize to J. D. Daniels.

Like the other two honors, the Southern Prize is chosen by our board. Unlike those, it recognizes writing in both The Paris Review and The Paris Review Daily. Click here to see Daniels’s latest piece from the magazine and here for his Web archive.

Good evening.

My name is John Hodgman. It’s my pleasure tonight to hand over this B-52 model airplane, which represents the Terry Southern Prize, awarded each year along with $5,000 to honor work from The Paris Review that embodies the qualities of humor, wit, and sprezzatura, which sounds like a word Lorin Stein made up and put into the Wikipedia to describe himself—an artful nonchalant, carrying himself with a a cared-for carelessness.

I’ve read J. D. Daniels’s letters from Majorca and Kentucky and I agree that they also seem effortless, which makes me furious, as they are often achingly well written.

They’re dispatches, and they feel that way, dashed off travelogues from corners of globe and memory, full of crafty rambling and quick jumps from his current home in the fancy eastern edge of Massachusetts to his first home in Kentucky, where J. D. counts out the strip malls and storefront churches and ghosts of bars lovingly like animals climbing aboard a blighted ark, to the vomit-slicked deck of an actual boat at sea, a pilgrimage he takes to leave both homes behind to fight it out while he watches Ibiza burn up in a wildfire.

And it may seem that in all this sprezzatura that his work is a little nonchalant; you don’t know what all these little flash narratives add up to, but then you’ll get one moment: a memory, say, of Daniels being strangled by his own father, whom he still loves, and the running from and returning to that moment, which he’s done ever since; you see a narrative flash like lightning, spreading quick blue light for a moment over the whole shadowy, tortured territory.

It doesn’t sound very funny, and it’s not very funny. Unless you count the part where J. D. Daniels gets strangled by his own father, which is hilarious; we know this from The Simpsons. And if you’re wondering why he’s getting the Terry Southern Prize for Humor it is because, like Southern, his work is sly, and wicked, and playful, and, most of all, it’s true.

People ask me why is the Daily Show funny and I usually say it’s because of the jokes. Because explaining humor is neither funny, fun, nor possible. But some jokes always work because they break taboos. That’s why dirty jokes work, as Albert Brooks discovered opening for Richie Havens; there’s one word you can say into a microphone that will always win over one thousand drunk Texan Richie Havens fans who hate you, and that word is a miracle word, and that word is shit. But when it comes to the Daily Show, and J. D. Daniels too, the greatest taboo-breaking is simply to say what is true, plainly, and without apology. That joke always works, even when it’s no joke. J. D. Daniels’s letters know intimately that space between the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves when we’re sitting on a bar, and the queasy, daylit truth that awaits us once we are kicked outside into the afternoon sun.

In a recent posting to The Paris Review Daily he wrote, “We know what comedy is: life is increased. Think of Rodney Dangerfield addressing the crowd at the end of Caddyshack: ‘Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!’” [Dirty joke.] And we know what tragedy is: isolation increases. I used to think that life was about winning everything, Mike Tyson once said, but now I know that life is about losing everything.”

So J. D. Daniels is a plain good writer, but not like every good writer, he is clear, he is also a very funny guy. And when he doesn’t make you laugh, it’s on purpose, and when he does, that’s on purpose, too. What better definition of humor is there?

So it’s my pleasure to offer the Terry Southern Prize to J. D. Daniels of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and the world. Congratulations, to him and to us all.

We’re all going to get laid.

 

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Ottessa Moshfegh Wins Plimpton Prize; J. D. Daniels Wins Terry Southern Prize for Humor

March 26, 2013 | by

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Each year, at our annual Spring Revel, the board of The Paris Review awards two prizes for outstanding contributions to the magazine. It is with great pleasure that we announce our 2013 honorees.

The Plimpton Prize for Fiction is a $10,000 award given to a new voice from our last four issues. Named after our longtime editor George Plimpton, it commemorates his zeal for discovering new writers. This year’s Plimpton Prize will be presented by Jeffrey Eugenides to Ottessa Moshfegh for “Disgust” and “Bettering Myself,” from issues 202 and 204. 

The Terry Southern Prize is a $5,000 award honoring work from either The Paris Review or the Daily that embodies the qualities of humor, wit, and sprezzatura. The prize is given in memory of our loyal (and very funny) contributor Terry Southern. The 2013 Terry Southern Prize will be presented by John Hodgman to J. D. Daniels for his “Letter from Majorca” and “Letter from Kentucky” (issues 201 and 203) and his frequent contributions to the Daily.

From all of us on staff, a heartfelt chapeau!

(And if you haven’t bought your ticket to attend the Revel—supporting the magazine and writers you love—isn’t this the time?)

 

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Watch: Issue 201 in Action!

June 25, 2012 | by

To celebrate the release of The Paris Review’s Summer issue, we put together a little video that takes you inside the pages of 201.

In case you’ve forgotten, the issue features Tony Kushner and Wallace Shawn on the art of theater; new fiction from Sam Lipsyte and Ann Beattie; nonfiction by Davy Rothbart, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Rich Cohen, and J.D. Daniels; a portfolio curated by Waris Ahluwalia; and poetry by Sophie Cabot Black, Roberto Bolaño, Raúl Zurita, John Ashbery, Octavio Paz, Lucie Brock-Broido, and David Ferry.

Subscribe now!

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Lit Crawl: Sneak Peek of Issue 194

September 14, 2010 | by

This Saturday, The Paris Review unveiled its fall issue at Fontana's.

Photographs by Wesley Chen.

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Watching the Detectives

June 8, 2010 | by

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Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe isn’t a man without needs.

It’s late. You take Sidney Bechet’s “Apex Blues” off the turntable and switch on the television. The private eye on the screen is doing more or less as you are: Ravel on his record player, his revolver in the open desk drawer, his whiskey in his hand. It is appalling how much of your everyday behavior has been modeled on these clowns and caricatures. You pick up the phone in the dark and call your father to make sure he isn’t missing the movie.

The apparent absence of any desire to please in the hard-boiled hero presupposes an absence of any need to please. When Diogenes saw a man drink from his hands, he threw his cup away. A real man doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts, his state is kingly. He doesn’t go to the grocery, he breaks off a hunk of himself and eats it.

Adorno’s “Tough Baby” from Minima Moralia:

There is a certain gesture of virility, be it one’s own or someone else’s, that calls for suspicion.

He-men are thus, in their own constitution, what film-plots usually present them to be, masochists. At the root of their sadism is a lie.

In the end the tough guys are the truly effeminate ones, who need the weaklings as their victims in order not to admit that they are like them.

Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe isn’t a man without needs: “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” Chandler, a popularizer of this style of overtly wounded heroism—Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid—was a terrific boozehound, and the expertly casual scenes in which his detective is bludgeoned unconscious are extrapolations from a lifetime of research into blacking out. Marlowe’s stigmata demonstrate his fundamental invincibility. There is no man neither tarnished nor afraid: such a creature would be an animal, or a machine—or a god, where each gimlet is another station of the cross in a pornography of suffering that culminates in the hangover, the Crucifixion, the money shot.

When I tried to locate a certain phrase in Chandler, I can’t say I was shocked to find it instead in Travis Bickle’s mouth in Taxi Driver: “There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” Loneliness is a small price to pay for being God’s man of any sort: divine permission to be aggrieved, with an ensuing role as the avenging angel. In the absence of willing persecutors, you flay yourself, accumulating smaller or larger scars like skee-ball tickets on the carnival midway, until you can afford a Taxi Driver–style orgy of violence. I’d like to trade in this used 1974 masochism for a shiny new sadism, please.

Adorno again: “Here pain, as pride in bearing it, is raised directly, untransformed, as a stereotype, to pleasure.” Such a man must repress his pain imperfectly: his real aim is to experience it, and to display his experience of it. That is why it isn’t enough to watch the movie by yourself in the dark. You call your father, but his line is busy. He’s calling you.

J. D. Daniels lives in Massachusetts. He will contribute an essay on Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the fall issue of The Paris Review.

 

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