Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Franzen’
September 9, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in ridiculous situations brought to you by global capital: the artist Rebecca Moss has been stranded at sea, stuck on a container ship owned by a now-bankrupt shipping line; ports around the world have denied the ship because it can no longer pay the docking fees. Moss had boarded the ship for an artists’ residency. She has some good material now: “When I watch back all of the footage I have of the containers being loaded, for example, with the knowledge they are destined for nowhere in particular, it becomes comic, but also such a tragic waste of labor. Whereas before I was trying to tease out an absurdity, now it is hitting me in the face everywhere I look … I change between emotions of amusement to anger and incredulity. It is a dumb situation. The fact that nobody is rushing to buy these containers off of us shows that they cannot be needed that desperately in Asia. In some ways they feel very valuable (surely some contain food?!) but apparently they are worthless. Some of the containers contain animal skins. What did they die for?”
- One man has set out to do the impossible: to defend Jonathan Franzen on the Internet. In Franzen’s aversion to technology, and in his treatment of women, Charles Finch sees more honesty than the Twitter commentariat have been willing to concede: “It’s a curious paradox that a writer whose signal gift is his almost barometric sensitivity to the emotional drift of our society attracts the most reductive, disconnected responses to both his work and his attempts to explain it. Again and again, over the years, people have called him a sexist … It’s certainly true that the structures of the world favor the type of person he is; it’s also true that many of the women he writes about, from Patty Berglund to Edith Wharton to Purity Tyler, are troublingly disempowered. But of course another place where women are troublingly disempowered is late capitalist society, and inconveniently for Franzen’s feminist critics he has been obsessed with that very fact.”
August 1, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in age-old arguments about the creative life: “In some annexes of the writing community it’s been playfully termed the ‘pantsing vs. plotting/outlining/planning’ debate. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants: they write and see where it takes them. Planners, well, plan before they write … There is evidence that when readers read stories, they identify with the characters and do much the same thing. It may be the case that pantsers engage in this kind of imaginative and empathic recreation when they tell stories, which is precisely why they cannot plan. They have to tell the story in order to know its contours and structure. They have to place themselves in the minds of the characters and then simulate what the characters do … These writers work by faith that their emotions channel into words a latent object which will later prove to possess a structure.”
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a well-known American novelist sits down for an interview, and he says, “I don’t have very many black friends. I have never been in love with a black woman. I feel like if I had, I might dare [to write about race] … I feel it’s really dangerous, if you are a liberal white American, to presume that your good intentions are enough to embark on a work of imagination about black America. I am particularly vigilant there. I have thought about it—you know, race is big in America.”
- When Lucia Berlin died in 2004, she left behind the makings of a memoir, including a long story about traveling through Mexico with Buddy Berlin, a saxophonist with a heroin problem: “First, Peggy sent a little box with a dozen vials of pure morphine. ‘A little something for Bud.’ Peggy lived alone in a fabulous house on top of the hill. She spent much of her day looking through a powerful telescope, checking the beach for arrivals of famous people to invite up to her house, checking out everything else going on. She must have seen the boys playing soccer with village boys, riding horseback on the beach, going upriver with Juanito to help his father pick coffee. She must have seen them racing canoes, heard their laughter echoing above the water. She must have seen us talking with friends in our beautiful garden, lying on the beach. She must have seen Buddy and me kiss, must have seen us happy. How could she send that box?”
- Our puzzle correspondent, Dylan Hicks, has vouched early and often for the joys of hink pink, “a word game in which synonyms, circumlocution, and micronarratives provide clues for rhyming phrases.” His advocacy has led to a paradigm shift among puzzle enthusiasts who also read literary magazines: at The Cincinnati Review, Michael Griffith has written some hink pinks of his own. (Personal favorite: “Internet discussion board for boosters of an ex-Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate,” which can only be “Santorum forum.”)
- In what many “content providers” probably regard as “the good old days,” fans were more or less powerless—if they didn’t like whatever schlock the major entertainment conglomerates were churning out, their only recourse was a letter-writing campaign. But things are different now, and this year the fans have demanded to be heard. As Elizabeth Minkel writes, “For the past few months, people have been debating whether fandom is ‘broken’ … Fans have always talked back, but prior to social media they weren’t even a fraction as visible as they are today. We’re witnessing the destruction of the fannish fourth wall in real-time: fans and creators are now seeing each other clearly on a massive scale, and creators are unsure how to—or if they even should—listen to fans.”
February 8, 2016 | by Tony Tulathimutte
How to name your fictional characters.
To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy. I spent about a year with a manuscript populated by memorable characters like [[ROOMMATE]] and ???????’s dad, swapping dozens of potential monikers in pursuit of the perfectly natural, unforced, graceful name. After rupturing a few blood vessels that way, I tried to figure out what other writers were doing.
The question of what names mean, what they’re for, has been around in the West since at least 500 B.C., when the Pythagoreans developed a few rules of onomancy to divine human traits from things like the number of vowels in one’s name. (Even numbers signaled an imperfection in the left side of the body.) One of the earliest discussions about naming comes from Plato’s dialogue “Cratylus,” in which Socrates oversees a debate about whether a name is “an instrument of teaching and distinguishing natures” or whether it’s just a matter of “convention and agreement.” More recently, psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Carl Jung posited that the “compulsion of the name” not only reflects but determines one’s future: that we’re all engaged, from birth, in a nominative determinism. (Anyone quick to dismiss this as Freudian bunk should look at the abundance of Shaquilles now entering professional sports.) Read More »
November 19, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’ll be celebrating The Unprofessionals, our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years, tonight, November 19, at BookCourt, where Emma Cline, Kristin Dombek, and Cathy Park Hong will read from their selections in the book. The event is free and begins at seven P.M. See you there!
The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. The Atlantic calls it “a dispatch from the front lines of literature.” “A new generation of American writers is not only keeping American literature alive but restoring the excitement of it,” says Jonathan Franzen, “and The Paris Review, despite its age and pedigree, is at the forefront of the renaissance.”
November 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Today it’s finally here: our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years. The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. The Atlantic calls it “a dispatch from the front lines of literature.” “A new generation of American writers is not only keeping American literature alive but restoring the excitement of it,” says Jonathan Franzen, “and The Paris Review, despite its age and pedigree, is at the forefront of the renaissance.”
We’ll be celebrating The Unprofessionals this Thursday, November 19, at Bookcourt, where Emma Cline, Kristin Dombek, and Cathy Park Hong will read from their selections in the anthology. The event is free and begins at seven P.M. See you there.
Oh, and one more thing: today is your last chance to preorder The Unprofessionals from our online store for just $12—a 25 percent discount from the cover price. Click here to reserve your copy!
October 28, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Jonathan Franzen investigates the necessary and sufficient features of that classic, oft-maligned form, The New Yorker story: “What made a story New Yorker was its carefully wrought, many-comma’d prose; its long passages of physical description, the precision and the sobriety of which created a kind of negative emotional space, a suggestion of feeling without the naming of it; its well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery; and, above all, its signature style of ending, which was either elegantly oblique or frustratingly coy, depending on your taste.” In Cheever’s well-wrought “The Country Husband,” we see “a reminder of why ‘the New Yorker story’ became so dominant. In a country recovering from one war and entering others, living under a nuclear shadow, awaiting large-scale social upheavals, no scream could do justice to the American middle-class predicament. Only understatement could.”
- For ammunition in your war against writer’s block, look to the past—Wycliff Aber Hill’s Ten Million Photoplay Plots, from 1919, offers a superabundance of narrative solutions for whatever ails you. (Okay, it only lists thirty-seven “basic dramatic situations,” which is a far cry from ten million, but use your imagination.) Among such mainstays as “fatal indiscretion” and “adultry [sic] with murder”—those are apparently different—you’ll find deep cuts like “struggle against God” and “involuntary criminal love,” which contains fecund sub-possibilities: “discovery that one has married his own mother … having through the villainous instigation of a third person taken a sister for wife … discovery that one is about to violate, unknowingly, a daughter.” On second thought, just give up—writing is silly, anyway.
- Today in spooky media: Long-Delayed Echoes (LDEs) have plagued radio since their discovery in 1927, and scientists can’t really explain them. They could be signals reflected from outer space; signals reflected terrestrially; or, most plausibly, signs of alien life. “In 1960 Ronald Bracewell proposed in Ronald Bracewell proposed in Nature that if we were to be contacted by an autonomous artificially intelligent alien probe, the messages we received would most likely sound like the echoes … the reflection of our own radio signals back to us being a highly energy efficient mode of establishing contact.”
- For years, American writers have toiled in obscurity, with precious few monuments, commemorative plaques, or wax likenesses devoted to their memory. Well, friend, no more: Chicago is soon to open the first-ever American Writers Museum, where, god willing, the fraught history of our art-form, like so many before it, will be boiled down into propaganda and shoveled merrily down the throats of our youth. And if you’re worried that a museum about words will look too much like a library—perish the thought—allow me to allay your fears: “The museum will focus on using new media and technology in exhibitions, not only to differentiate it from a library, but also to engage in contemporary forms of writing from social media to digital journalism.” That is, not much writing will be featured at the American Writers Museum.
- Fact: “an unprecedented six cooking-related books by black women will have been published by the end of this month.” If six doesn’t sound like many to you, remember that the tradition is rooted in memorization, not record: “Plenty of my African American friends marvel over their family elders’ ability to cook from memory, processes so rote that mistakes are rare. But history is never so simple. Memorizing recipes or cooking without them has its roots in slavery: The need for cooking aptitude predated the existence of legal literacy for enslaved kitchen workers—let alone the existence of cookbooks by free black authors … cookbooks by black authors have steadily trickled to market in far fewer numbers than titles by white authors.”