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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Mitchell’

Staff Picks: Favorites from 2015

December 18, 2015 | by

From the cover of Resentment

I’m mistrustful of year-end lists, especially best-ofs. I didn’t get to all the books I wanted to read (or write about) this year, though a number of the ones I liked have appeared in this column over the past twelve months. For my last selection here in 2015, I’ve chosen a book that’s old (originally published in 1997) and new (reissued this year) and that I’ve only just finished: Gary Indiana’s ResentmentI read the novel with great pleasure and with a kind of deep attention that I can’t summon for all books, though I might want to. In that respect, it has come as a year-end gift, despite the fact that it trolls America’s darker instincts. The novel circles around a murder trial in Los Angeles that is based on that of the Menendez brothers’ parricide in 1994 and follows the peregrinations of Seth, a reporter who is both attending the trial and writing a celebrity puff piece. The swirl of Seth’s various encounters, the details of the trial, and the seediness of wealth congeal into an ugly mass that so aptly captures the tabloid heart of America. Perhaps because this time of year is acutely, sordidly commercial, I found the novel’s every line to be viscerally true. —Nicole Rudick

One book stuck with me all year—Mark Greif’s atmospheric history The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America 1933–73. Alternate subtitles might include “Books Your Parents Studied in College, and Why Nobody Studies Them Now,” “The Origins of the Culture Wars,” or “Are You Serious: The Rise and Fall of the Great American Novel.” None of these screams best seller, but if you grew up equally confused by Jean-Paul Sartre and Henderson the Rain King, this may be the book for you. —Lorin Stein Read More »

Big, Bent Ears, Epilogue: We’re Not Actually Here

October 14, 2015 | by

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Big, Bent Ears,” our ten-chapter multimedia series with Rock Fish Stew, has come to a close. Over the past seven months, this “serial in documentary uncertainty” has enfolded a host of writers, artists, and musicians, including Joseph Mitchell, Jonny Greenwood, tUnE-yArDs, Sally Mann, Cormac McCarthy, Grouper, Nazoranai, Matthias Pintscher, Tyondai Braxton, the JACK Quartet, Swans, Tacita Dean, and Cy Twombly, as well as artists of a different stripe: a family of piano tuners, a chef, a translator, and, of course, a documentary team. There were also multiple audiences, an earthquake, strangers on a train, and the city of Knoxville.

We’ll leave you with an epilogue in which Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss return to Mitchell’s midcentury chronicles of New York City and sift one more time through his collected objects. This postscript is also an introduction to a filmed interview with Laurie Anderson, whose comments typify the spirit of uncertainty that binds the series.

 Read the epilogue here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 10: Surrender to the Situation, Part 3

September 23, 2015 | by

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

In his prose poem “Rounding Off to the Nearest Zero,” Albert Mobilio writes that “Driving, or at least driving alone, is, I’ve always found, conducive to thinking. The sense of forward motion, the calf’s calibrated flexing, the purposeful grip of the wheel combine, it seems, to concentrate the mind.” Trains have this effect, too: their linear haste through the landscape makes thoughts unspool. The final three chapters of “Big, Bent Ears”—including the latest, Chapter 10—follow the trajectory of the Carolinian 80 as it wends from Durham to New York, and its motion drew Ivan Weiss into a web of associations between the sounds and processes of Tyondai Braxton and of Oren Ambarchi as well as those with whom they collaborate. This new chapter revels in sensory confusion—rhythms that are seen, memories that are sonic, tables that make music—and in the comfort that can be found in music:

I’d walk into a room and be invisible, and music was always the thing that calmed the noise. It was where I found solace. I would go to sleep with the radio next to me and wake up with the radio next to me. Before my eyes would open, my hands would flick the on switch.

The chapter opens with David and Julia, pictured above—strangers who meet on the Carolinian 80 and whose conversation is loosed by the lull of travel. Their exchange, like the rest of the installment, recalls Joseph Mitchell’s lines from our first chapter: 

The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.



June 26, 2015 | by

Illustration: Graziano Origa

I hate the term “writer’s block.” First cited in the OED in 1950—plain old block was in use as early as ‘31—it feels like a dismissive term for a whole host of terrifying phenomena. Besides, if you write, the concept is scary: to acknowledge its existence is to acknowledge that it could happen to you.

Nineteen fifty may seem recent, but it’s not as if creative people didn’t find themselves in dry spells before that. Perhaps they just knew it as an inextricable part of the process—the brain lying fallow—not a lack so much as another component. Read More »

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 6: Treatise on the Veil

June 25, 2015 | by


Cy Twombly Sr., back row, far left, with the swim team he coached at Washington & Lee University. From the 1950 W&L yearbook, Calyx. Photograph courtesy of the Special Collections & University Archives, Washington and Lee University

In the sixth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” the pair turn their gaze to Lexington, Virginia, where Cy Twombly was born in 1928; he grew up four blocks from Stonewall Jackson’s grave, though you wouldn’t know it to roam the town today. “A primary problem in biography,” they write, ‘is that a subject’s formative years are the least documented and the least available. Twombly is no different; the boy and young man are difficult to find, difficult to feel.” As they get a sense of the town and Twombly’s history there, their research leads them to a meditation on his famous painting, Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), and the connection between its sense of tragedy and Twombly’s roots in Virginia. First, though, they find a note on his high-school yearbook photo:

Tall, dark, and very outstanding—Cy is really one of the boys. He’s the only one of our class to have gained state-wide recognition (with his educated brush). Unlike many of us, he’s often seen with some weighty volume on a deep subject, and is well acquainted with the best in music—long-hair stuff, see? We know we’ll have even more reason to be proud of you, Cy.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 5: Alien Observers

June 4, 2015 | by


Liz Harris of Grouper. Photo: Richard Rothman

The fifth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” features the work of Richard Rothman, a photographer whose work demonstrates “depth, dedication, and skill in evoking the enigmatic relationship between natural and built environments.” Around the time of the Big Ears Festival, Rothman spent weeks exploring Knoxville and the surrounding Smoky Mountains for twelve to fifteen hours a day; the results are astonishing. He also went to the festival itself, where he photographed Liz Harris, who performs as Grouper. He says of her performance:

It was as though she had placed a veil between herself and the audience, but one that only served to draw them in and give her a heightened level of attention. The lyrics she offered up were as illegible as tombstones polished by time and the elements. The words, or what could be made of them, seemed to be shrouded in shadows—just as she was—while filmy guitar loops decayed into richly modulated, shifting patterns that oscillated between the technological and the human.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.