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Posts Tagged ‘James Joyce’

Tension Minus the Genitals, and Other News

July 21, 2016 | by

From the cover of Exquisite Masochism.

  • If there exists, as Susan Sontag once insisted, a “terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things,” nobody seems to have warned John Gruen. Born in France, in 1926, Gruen (né Jonas Grunberg) fled Hitler and then Mussolini before landing in New York in 1939, where he learned English by watching movies. Gruen, who died on Tuesday, spent his seventysomething years on this continent as a book buyer at Brentano’s, a publicity director at Grove Press, a composer, a photographer, and, in his words, a “writer, critic, journalist, bon vivant, gadfly, busybody, father, husband, queer, neurotic workaholic,” as well as a “handmaiden to the stars, reveler in reflected glory and needy intimate of the super-famous.” In a 2008 interview, he told Time Out: “One of the big problems is that I never really settled on one thing ... I kept them all going, like a juggler, but none of them really took hold in a way that would catapult me as this one creature.” At the same time, he said, “As Miss Piaf sang, ‘Je ne regrette rien.’ ”
  • I’ll claim any person who dies with “Renaissance Man” in the headline of his obituary as an instant culture hero. But after learning that Charles Dickens turned his deceased cat into a letter opener, I'm beginning to feel a terrible, mean American resentment toward artists who try to make their dead pets do too many things. I can believe, for instance, that Le Corbusier loved his schnauzer Pinceau, just as I can believe that he loved Cervantes’s Don Quixote with all his heart. What I cannot bring myself to believe is that the adequate response to both loves was to bind the latter book in the former’s tanned and hairy hide. And yet.
  • But what do I know? Love is strange like that. Sex is even stranger, especially in Victorian novels, where it often isn’t sex at all. In her new book, Exquisite Masochism, Claire Jarvis suggests that for many of the fictional characters who had the bad luck to be stuck in a Victorian marriage plot, “withholding sex … is a perverse way of having it. In a novelistic milieu where illegitimacy or adultery can be the motives for serious tragedy, a fully developed sexual life presents a frightening threat. By describing erotic life in ways that avoid depicting sexual intercourse in favor of nongenital tension or intensity, novelists can render the frisson of sexual desire without the attendant plot risks.”
  • Andrew O’Hagan, reporting from the Department of Overlaps, finds a shared lesson in Joyce’s Ulysses and The People vs. O.J. Simpson: “the tendency of reality to give way to the fiction-maker’s abuse.” And yet, he notes, that abuse is also the guarantee of a certain immortality (what was that about exquisite masochism?), which helps explain why “Dubliners lining up at Sylvia Beach’s shop in Paris in 1922 were desperate to see if they’d been included, or, Holy Mother of God, left out ... In a way, Ulysses is like the greatest ever newspaper—all that was fit and unfit to print in one day—and its abundance depends on the idea that nobody is nothing.”
  • If nobody is nothing, does that mean that everybody is something? And if so, what? Or better yet: Who? At New York, Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger visit Whoville, a social-media limbo that often appears more insubstantial than the one Dante devised in the fourth canto of the Inferno: “Now that we’ve all been thrown together on—and get our news from—enormous social platforms with seamless, instantaneous sharing, it’s more likely than ever that we’ll be confronted with stories about people who sound made up. The traditional A-list-to-D-list hierarchy no longer makes sense when people whose names you’ve never heard before are trending on a social networks with hundreds of millions of users. Instead, the subjects of gossip coverage can be divided into two categories: Whos (as in: *furrows brow* Who?) and Thems (as in: ‘Oh, them.’)”

The Necklace

June 7, 2016 | by

Revisited is a new series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. For the first edition, Sloane Crosley revisits Guy de Maupassant’s story “The Necklace.”

Illustration by Gil Blas, 1893.

In order to discover Guy de Maupassant, I had to read James Joyce first, which is logical only in the sense that you have to fly over Ireland to get to France. As far as I can tell, James Joyce has little to do with Guy de Maupassant. There are some loose parallels between the story “Clay” and “The Necklace” (beautiful woman entrenched in tedium simmers with frustration), both gentleman had solid mustaches, and both had syphilis. But the last is a condition that hardly qualifies as bonding fodder; syphilis is the dead-male-writer equivalent of spelling your name correctly on the SATs. And yet, thanks to a sinfully underqualified eighth-grade English teacher, these two authors are inextricably linked in my memory. Read More »

Unexpected Eisenstein

February 17, 2016 | by

Sergei Eisenstein, Set design for Act III of Heartbreak House (unrealised),  1922, paper, pencil, ink and watercolour on paper ©Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow

Sergei Eisenstein, Set design for act 3 of Heartbreak House (unrealized), 1922, paper, pencil, ink and watercolor on paper. ©Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow

 
In November 1929, the thirty-one-year-old Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was the world’s most notorious film director. Four years earlier, Battleship Potemkin, his euphorically reviewed, highly influential tour de force about mutiny on the eponymous naval vessel, had brought him both acclaim and infamy. Infected with wanderlust, Eisenstein won permission from Stalin to leave Russia on a short research trip. He took off in August 1929, with twenty-five dollars in his pocket. He returned home, reluctantly, just under three years later.
 
During the ensuing whirlwind—to Berlin, Paris, London, then on to Hollywood—Eisenstein met with the world’s leading intellectuals, actors, and avant-garde artists: James Joyce, Jean Cocteau and Robert Desnos in France, George Bancroft in Germany, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in the United States. His grand tour often gets overshadowed by his disastrous film collaboration in Mexico with the novelist Upton Sinclair—framed in Peter Greenaway’s 2015 movie Eisenstein in Guanajuato—but British culture was a significant and often neglected long-term source of interest.

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The Cats in Our Lives

February 9, 2016 | by

An illustration by James Mason from The Cats in Our Lives.

Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies ran the 1954 A Star Is Born as part of its Month of Oscars: the single greatest page of the TV-watching calendar. Anyway, by the end—between the tragic irony of Judy Garland starring in a film about addiction and the vulnerable dignity James Mason brought to his role—I was, maybe not surprisingly, in tears. And I thought, in turn, not just of James Mason the matinee idol, but of James Mason the cat fancier. Read More »

Rivers, First Draft

January 13, 2016 | by

Lorraine O’Grady’s living Künstlerroman.

“Rivers, First Draft”: the Debauchees intersect the woman in red and the rape begins, 1982 Digital C-print from Kodachrome 35mm slide. Photo via Alexander Gray Associates

In 1982, the artist Lorraine O’Grady staged her first major performance piece in Central Park, “Rivers, First Draft.” In the park’s bucolic Loch section, the audience watched a black woman in a red dress walk down the ravine. Red is a sign for wanton women, and this one was in the company of wild-eyed dancers, barely clothed—all of them white. She was shy, lingering behind the dancers as they shimmied and shook down the hill. When she caught up and tried to engage them, they spurned her.

So the woman in red wandered over to a door. Several black male artists were gathered behind it. She knocked, and they, too, turned her away. While she hesitated, hoping to change their minds, the dancers returned and attacked her with Dionysian energy. Read More »

The Nonessential: On Marianne Fritz

October 1, 2015 | by

Marianne Fritz’s apartment in Vienna. From the volume Marianne Fritz Archiv Wien. Eine Dokumentation, edited by Klaus Kastberger and Helmut Neundlinger.

Marianne Fritz’s apartment in Vienna. Image from Marianne Fritz Archiv Wien. Eine Dokumentation, edited by Klaus Kastberger and Helmut Neundlinger.

In an interview published three months before his death, W. G. Sebald referred to his aversion to the systematic and to his faith in the haphazard: “If you look at a dog following the advice of his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. And he invariably finds what he is looking for. I think that, as I’ve always had dogs, I’ve learned from them how to do this.” Though my own aversion to structure is less an outgrowth of any faith in serendipity than a temperament both indolent and indecisive, rooting around has at times for me, too, yielded benefits that a single-minded approach to literature wouldn’t have afforded. And it is particularly fitting, in light of the quotation above, that I should have hit upon Marianne Fritz—whose novel The Weight of Things I have just translated—by following up on a footnote from Sebald’s posthumously published Across the Land and the Water, a selection of poems translated by Iain Galbraith.

In the late poem “In Alfermée,” named for a Swiss commune where Sebald twice visited the scholar Heinz Schafroth and where the ashes of the poet Günter Eich are scattered, the following two stanzas appear:

Threading sleep
letter by letter
comes a language
you do not understand

The exhausted eyes
of the writer the fingers
of one hand on the
keys of her machine

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