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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Malcolm’

Staff Picks: H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Apocalyptic Dry-humping

April 3, 2015 | by

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A still from Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y.

The hysteria and mystery surrounding the Germanwings crash have led me back to Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a 1997 film collage that traces the history of plane hijackings—and, just as important, the media fixation on those hijackings. When Tom McCarthy presented Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y at Lincoln Center last month, he praised its presentation of “media as a crypt from which history is leaking out” and “terrorism as a theological condition.” The film’s macabre footage captivates, in no small part because of Grimonprez’s shrewd, ironical editing. In one sequence, a grinning boy just rescued from a hijacked plane tells reporters, “I had a good time, I guess”; in another, a girl, still violently crying, is hustled off a recuperated aircraft only to be led into the klieg lights of a press junket. As McCarthy pointed out, the project hasn’t aged well—it came before 9/11, after all, and its focus on television can feel quaint in the age of the smartphone—but as a meditation on the codependency of media and terrorism, it remains invaluable. Sprinkled throughout the film are spoken excerpts from DeLillo’s Mao II, which feel, whenever they’re incanted, truer than ever: “In societies reduced to blur and glut, terror is the only meaningful act.” —Dan Piepenbring

Someone who has “a lasting liking for the cryptic and the ambiguous and the incantatory and the disconnected and the extravagant and the oracular and the apocalyptic” might turn out to be pedantic and self-absorbed, but chances are, they’re the sort of person you want to know deeply but are never able to. The person in question here is Joseph Mitchell, the rather enigmatic subject of a new biography that is itself the subject of a review by Janet Malcolm in the latest New York Review of Books. (See also our series “Big, Bent Ears,” which takes Mitchell as a subject.) Malcolm is an obvious choice for the assignment, but that doesn’t detract from how fun it is to read her on Mitchell. “Where the hell is this going?” she asks about a rambling conversation between Mitchell and one of his subjects. “As in all of Mitchell’s pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so you’d notice.” Malcolm is admiring of Mitchell’s work, reverential even, but astute. When Thomas Kunkel, Mitchell’s biographer, discovers that his subject invented portions of his nonfiction stories and makes excuses for these fabrications, Malcolm puts him in his place: “Few of us have gone as far as Mitchell in bending actuality to our artistic will. This is not because we are more virtuous than Mitchell. It is because we are less gifted than Mitchell.” —Nicole Rudick
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Coming Soon: More Vengeful Deities, and Other News

November 13, 2014 | by

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The wrath of God.

  • Everyone’s going nuts for Serial, an impeccably reported (and very self-aware) true-crime podcast spun off from This American Life. But Janet Malcolm was up to something similar many decades ago, wasn’t she?
  • Then again, this should come as no surprise. “Hasn’t it all been done before? Perhaps better than anyone today could ever do it?” Why should any of us bother with the new when so much of the old is out there waiting for us?
  • Actually, why should any of us leave our houses at all? We’re just going to encounter the absurd—a bunch of loony scholars, for instance, tooling around town with a life-size statue of Jane Austen in tow …
  • And even the best literature offers no respite from the absurd and the terrifying. Quite the opposite. “In August a man in the Bronx tied a chain to a pole, wrapped it around his neck, got behind the wheel of his Honda and stepped on the accelerator. The chain severed his head from his body, which crashed through the windscreen and landed on the street when the Honda slammed into a parked car … It put me in mind of a passage early in Donald Antrim’s first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.”
  • But it’s all right. As the world grows more confused and tempestuous, we’ll at least find ourselves with more righteous, awesome, angry gods. A new study finds that “belief in moralizing high gods is ‘more prevalent among societies that inhabit poorer environments and are more prone to ecological distress’ … In societies that exist in places with violent monsoon seasons or periods of extreme drought, cooperation is more important than it is in temperate areas … And what better way to promote cooperation and fair play than the idea of an all-seeing god who demands it?”

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What We’re Loving: Adventures in Silhouette; Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow; the Narcissistic Hypocrisy at the Center of Human Nature

January 3, 2014 | by

Lotte Reiniger Adventures of Prince Achmed

I’m embarrassed to admit that I barely touched a book over the holidays (besides 84, Charing Cross Road, which I’m in the habit of rereading most years around Christmastime), but I did see a spectacular movie whose imagery I can’t get out of my head. In 1923, a talented artist named Lotte Reiniger was approached by a banker looking to make an investment. He suggested that Reiniger parlay her particular skill—cutting delicate silhouette art—into making a feature-length animated film. Three years and over 250,000 hand-cut images later, The Adventures of Prince Achmed premiered in Berlin. The story is a mélange of tales from the Thousand and One Nights, but good luck paying attention to the plot; the visuals are so arresting that they’ll keep you from focusing on more than one character or bit of pattern during any given scene. The original print of Prince Achmed is lost—a casualty of the Battle of Berlin, in 1945—but thanks to a restoration project completed a little over ten years ago, a fully colorized (and scored!) version is available on DVD from Milestone Films. —Clare Fentress

I’m a sucker for culinary memoirs by authors who aren’t primarily considered “food writers”—a genre that includes work by such varied names as A. J. Liebling, Laurie Colwin, and Jim Harrison. (The Pat Conroy Cookbook and The Roald Dahl Cookbook, respectively, also deserve honorable mentions.) Jason Epstein is best known as a publisher and cofounder of The New York Review of Books, but he’s also an accomplished cook and gourmet. Eating, the 2009 collection of Epstein’s food essays, covers family recipes, his days working as a professional cook, and, of course, the memorable meals he has shared with various literary luminaries. Although Eating is by no means gossipy or indiscreet (the only one who comes under the knife is Roy Cohn, with whom Epstein once lunched at 21), it’s filled with terrific vignettes; one could do worse than lunch, on a ship, with Edmund Wilson and Buster Keaton—“lobster over linguine with a bottle of Chablis beneath a perfect sky.” —Sadie O. Stein

Not long ago—but long enough that I’ve forgotten how it happened—I asked you to explain why exactly the rediscovery of Aristotle, from Arabic sources, mattered so much to medieval theologians. You recommended Étienne Gilson’s 1938 classic primer Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages. Over the vacation a copy arrived at my house from a used bookstore, without any note. I’ve read Gilson’s lectures with great pleasure, and a keen sense of intellectual relief, but I can’t think who you are. Who are you? —Lorin Stein Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Rilke, Revolution, and Wild Places

May 17, 2013 | by

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Even if you’ve been reading Janet Malcolm for years, the critical appreciations collected in Forty-one False Starts may surprise you. The title essay is (or pretends to be) a series of scrapped beginnings to her profile of the painter David Salle, a giant of the art world in vulnerable mid-career. If you want to write magazine prose, this alone should make you buy the book. Ranging from Bloomsbury to Edward Weston to J.D. Salinger, the entire book is full of stylistic daring, fine distinctions, and bold judgments set down at the speed of thought. —Lorin Stein

The Emperor’s Tomb was the last novel Joseph Roth wrote. Michael Hofmann, whose versions of Roth are all unsettlingly good—more like inhabitations than translations—calls it a “valedictory repertoire of Rothian tropes and characters”: Viennese cafés, feckless and frivolous young men, the call-up to war, the end of Empire, the never-ending nostalgia for Empire. If you’ve read Roth before, you’ll enjoy the new variations on old themes; if you haven’t read Roth, start with The Radetsky March. You won’t want it to end and when it does, reading The Emperor’s Tomb will bring it all back. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

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A Little Vacation from Writing

May 25, 2012 | by

The most obvious attraction of quotation is that it gives you a little vacation from writing—the other person is doing the work. All you have to do is type. But there is a reason beyond sloth for my liking of quotation at length. It permits you to show the thing itself rather than the pale, and never quite right, simulacrum that paraphrase is.

Janet Malcom, The Art of Nonfiction No. 4

Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy the long weekend.

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A Week in Culture: Sarah Crichton, Part 2

June 3, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Sarah Crichton’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

Sarah Crichton. Photograph by Joyce Ravid.

DAY FOUR

7 A.M. Morning edition. The New York Times. Kagan, oil spill, crushing debt. Market’s going to hell in a hand basket. Leaving late today because I’ve put off a mammogram long enough. Kill time with Architectural Digest. Jean Strouse has an article on a house in Costa Rica. These days, fewer magazines send fewer writers to fewer fab spots on their dime. Good on you, Jean Strouse! Tear out pages with decorating tips I’ll never use. Killing more time, turn on Morning Joe. Tired of the banter, go to YouTube and watch the Lady Gaga and Beyoncé video people have mentioned, “Telephone.”

9 A.M. Wander back to kitchen where the radio is still on. BBC World. Bangkok is preparing to explode, and expats are calling in with observations in real-time. Very exciting. Hard to pull away to leave for mammogram. In fact, decide to pretend I have a ten-thirty appointment, when I know full well it was ten.

10:45 A.M. Have brought Janet Malcolm article to appointment with me; I’m almost done. (It’s very long.) She’s visiting the Bukharan part of Forest Hills, and has just accidentally spotted the little girl who has, in essence, been orphaned by the murder: “A child on a tricycle, pedaling vigorously and laughing in a forced and exaggerated manner, preceded [the couple]. It was Michelle. Gavriel recognized me from the courtroom, and paused to exchange a few words. Walking to the subway, I swore at myself. Had I stayed in Khaika’s garden another minute, I would have had the chance to observe Michelle in the heart of her feared father’s family. But perhaps my glimpse of her face distorted by mirthless laughter sufficed for my journalist’s purpose. I thought I got the message.”

11:00 A.M. The View comes on. In the doctor’s. I try hard to stay focused on my magazine. I lose the battle. The show is too weird to ignore.

11:45 A.M. Back on the No. 4 train to Union Square. Manage to finish Malcolm piece, and mourn the fact that it’s over.

6:40 P.M. Home. As I cook, All Things Considered. Marketplace—they’re playing "Stormy Weather," which means another bad day on Wall Street. I have shameful plans for the rest of the night. I think, Yes! At eight, American Idol: we’re getting to the finish. And when that’s over: Glee. Fine, mock me. But I love that Matthew Morrison; loved him as a love-struck Italian boy in Light in the Piazza, and as a love-torn lieutenant in South Pacific. I love a song-and-dance number.
 I have an hour before AI (as they say), so I put on an old Segovia LP (I love the pops of the vinyl against the warm strings), and read a large chunk of a surprisingly good manuscript. At eight, I forget my plan and put Joni Mitchell’s scratchy For the Roses on the turntable. The vinyl pops pop pop. I stage my own song-and-dance number. If this were Shindig!, they’d give me a cage.

10:50 P.M. Damn. Missed all shows, but catch a few final moments of Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife. She is so beautiful.

11:00 P.M. Jon Stewart is very good tonight: Release the Kagan.

11:30 P.M. Dip around in Jules Feiffer’s memoir.

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