Posts Tagged ‘James Agee’
September 2, 2016 | by Jonathon Sturgeon
- “Sorry, not sorry!” This little rhetorical slip—a dead hashtag, really—is analyzed by David Lehman as a poetic structure at The American Scholar. The non-apology, Lehmann explains, pits the poet against the crazed angel of language. “Our tendency to lie, distort or revise,” Lehman writes, “follows from the inability of the language to discriminate between truth and falsehood: Language is not self-verifying. Fiction is based on just this discrepancy between language and the duplicitous and calculating writer. Is it a discrepancy—or a struggle? Writers often describe their writing as a kind of wrestling match with language, as T. S. Eliot does in ‘Four Quartets.’ ”
- We can all agree that nothing is more debauched than a five-hundred-year-old drawing of a hand. That’s why we’ve consciously chosen Facebook as the arbiter of our shared morality. Facebook will first find the image of the hand, and then Facebook will do something about it—it will eliminate all traces of the hand. And it has done this very thing with a drawing by Holbein. Thankfully, too, an exemplary moral human (read: not an algorithm) was responsible for removing Holbein’s hand from the social network, Jonathan Jones writes at the Guardian: “It would be more reassuring if computer error were to blame, yet according to Facebook this is no algorithmic accident. An actual conscious human brain honestly thought a Renaissance drawing of a hand was obscene. Or did the curator think it was being published without proper copyright permission? That would open a huge hornet’s nest, but Holbein’s drawing is about 500 years old so fair use surely applies.”
- It has been eighty years since James Agee was offered the assignment of his life by Robert Ingersoll, his editor at Fortune magazine. It turns out, too, that this assignment—a piece on the works and days of white sharecroppers in the South—saved Agee from crushing boredom and despondency. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Christopher Knapp retells the tale: “Agee had been on sabbatical from the magazine for seven months, recovering from his self-disgust. But the time off had been enough to restore his natural enthusiasm. As ambivalent as he was about the slick brand of magazine journalism that the Henry Luce publishing empire was built on, he was not only broke, but also desperately bored.” I wonder if Fortune will run an anniversary special!
- At The New Yorker, Daniel Wenger visits with the poet Bernadette Mayer, who has changed her writing method in the wake of a stroke. It now takes her a full four minutes to mentally compose a poem! “When I suggested to Mayer that her poetry had always been rather unbalanced,” Wenger writes, “she pretended to be dumbfounded, and then explained that the attack had forced her to alter her writing method. Without the use of her right hand, she cannot type quickly enough to transcribe her thoughts as she has them. She must now work out the poem in her mind, which she calls ‘actually thinking.’ I asked how long in advance she composes her poems before writing them down. ‘About four minutes,’ she said—both ribbing me and suggesting that even this obstacle has been made into an object of study.”
- Holbein’s hand may be morally objectionable, but a band named Penis is fine by me. At Bomb, Penis the band offers its “Penis Tenets.” They seem fairly reasonable: “We adjust our expectations and check in with ourselves: ‘Do I like this? Is this fun?’ WE decide whether or not Penis has value in our lives.”
June 7, 2013 | by The Paris Review
In a virtuosic long poem from his recent collection, Go Giants, Nick Laird inveighs against “the monotony of always being on a side!” Laird was born in Northern Ireland, but the complaint isn’t aimed only at sectarianism. His poetry, which shuttles between New York, Rome, and Cookstown, in County Tyrone, consistently escapes monotony and one-sidedness (including, in this case, a cricketeer’s pun on the word side). His book includes versions of Juvenal, Antoine Ó Raifteirí—a wandering bard and one of the “giants” of Laird’s title—and Anglo-Saxon poetry. You can also hear the nimble diction of Muldoon (“an atmosphere / flecked like emery paper, the finest grade, / that whets the seriffed aerials and steeples”) and the more ponderous music of Heaney (a summer job at a meatplant is spent “lugging plastic / crates of feathercut and paddywhack / and prime off the belt and onto palettes”). “Progress,” a long poem that rewrites Bunyun’s allegory, is a gathering of all these voices and ends up sounding like no one except Laird: “A fine baroque example / of how successfully the choral template / might adjust itself to fit an elliptic / non-contiguous life.” —Robyn Creswell
I recently visited my parents to help them sort through a lifetime of acquisitions in anticipation of a mammoth yard sale. Looking through boxes of my old books, I came across a favorite, The Queen of Whale Cay, and promptly reread it. Kate Summerscale’s biography is a vivid picture of Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs, a flamboyant figure of the Lost Generation. A boat racer, womanizer, dandy, and, yes, queen of her own island, Carstairs (an oil heiress) was also known for traveling everywhere with a doll, Lord Tod Wadley, who sported an equally dapper wardrobe. Summerscale was working on the Telegraph’s obit desk when she ran across the story of this forgotten figure; I’m so glad she did, and that I rediscovered my copy. (The office also acquired, from this foray, a brass whale, a crystal ball, and a harpoon.) —Sadie O. Stein
June 4, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
January 30, 2013 | by Sam Stephenson
On Tuesday morning, December 11, I drove a rented 2013 Chevrolet Impala out of Chapel Hill on I-40 East, the first miles of a twenty-two-day road trip around the South, with points as far west as New Orleans and Shreveport. These were the first Christmas plans I’d made on my own in forty-six years.
Without children, my holidays since 1995 have alternated between my parents’ house in eastern North Carolina and my in-laws’ in Pittsburgh. Over a nearly identical duration, I’ve been researching the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith. Now I’m working to finish my last book on him. The first stop on this Southern holiday journey is Berkeley County, South Carolina, a former slave-plantation region near the coast where Smith photographed his 1951 Life essay, “Nurse Midwife.”
The truth is that I’m tired of Gene Smith. Read More »