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Posts Tagged ‘Kafka Was the Rage’

Staff Picks: Modernist Journals, France Gall

February 3, 2012 | by

France Gall.

I’ve spent several hours poking around the Web site of the Modernist Journal Project, a wonderful archive of magazines—The Egoist, The Little Review, The Tyro—from the heyday of modernism. It’s always bracing to read Wyndham Lewis’s BLASTS in their original typography, but I’d never heard of Le Petit Journal des Réfusées (published in 1896, in San Francisco). Its single issue was printed on wallpaper cut in the shape of butterfly wings. All the poems are presented as having been written by women—though in fact they’re probably the work of the editor, James Marrion—and rejected by more famous magazines. “We know of two copies of this journal,” the site’s editors write, “and they are not identical.” —Robyn Creswell

I keep watching France Gall sing her 1965 hit “Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son” over and over and over again. The refrain means “I’m a wax doll, I’m a stuffed doll.” It could also mean “I’m a doll made out of records, I’m a doll made out of sound.” In later life, Gall claimed that she had been too young to understand the lyrics, by Serge Gainsbourg (or to understand the doubles entendres in another hit he wrote for her, “Les Sucettes”). I love Gall’s girlish dignity. Somehow the joke just isn’t on her. —Lorin Stein

I watched Robert Altman’s 3 Women over the weekend and was transported—by the film’s gauzy surrealism and also by Sissy Spacek’s preternatural woman-child. When her character Pinky uttered the line “I wonder what it’s like to be twins … do you think they know which one they are?” I couldn't believe that I’d also been thinking of watching Persona. —Nicole Rudick

Sarah Levine, when asked about the unlikeable narrator of her novel Treasure Island!!!, replied, “There is a moral center to the book—and she doesn’t inhabit it.” But what the protagonist lacks in compassion and modesty, she makes up for in wit. I found myself smiling—nay, giggling—at her seemingly endless (and endlessly entertaining) capacity for egotism. —Emily Cole-Kelly

I recently revisited Evelyn Waugh’s controversial imperialist satire, Black Mischief, in which the oblivious Oxford-educated emperor of an island off Africa’s east coast returns home to modernize his empire and, of course, fails catastrophically. It’s bitterly funny. —Emma del Valle

In New York, it’s sometimes hard to imagine living city life on the cheap. Anatole Broyard’s remembrances of 1940s West Village bohemia in Kafka Was the Rage are a wonderful corrective, portraying longings of the heart, rather than the pocketbook. —Josh Anderson

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Satanic Seduction; Dufus Casanovas

January 20, 2012 | by

Dear The Paris Review,

Last week’s question on the topic of books you should read when young got me thinking: Can you provide a warning, or cautionary note, to attach to any books that may prove to be catastrophic when read at too young an age?

Thank you for your help.

All the best,
Daniel Davies

Fifteen years ago the late Roger Shattuck published a long attack on the writings of the Marquis de Sade, arguing that they were overrated as art and dangerous as pornography, especially to young readers. Being a young reader, I sneered at the time. But for all I know Shattuck was right. Kids are mean enough as it is, and too apt to treat each other like crash-test dummies, even without some lunatic marquis egging them on. I might also keep Larry Clark’s books on a high shelf. Drugs are sexy, sure, but the kids don’t need to know that. I sometimes wonder if I should have read Kafka Was the Rage in high school or the memoirs of Andy Warhol, or Edie, or quite so much Martin Amis. I’m not sure The Changing Light at Sandover was such a good idea, either. (Better precious than semiprecious, James Merrill liked to say—but surely there are limits.)

Do teenage boys still need to be warned off Kerouac? A friend of mine, currently in the second grade, has memorized The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and is in the habit of quoting it at length. It seems to me that this could turn into a problem. I remember the poet Peter Taylor complaining that he was taught To the Lighthouse in high school, when he was too young to know what was going on, or even to know that he didn’t know. Maybe the best you can do is to read once in boredom and incomprehension, then go back in protosenility and read everything again.

I am juggling lovers, which is no easy task. What are, in your opinion, the great literary love triangles? Which books will guide me in my complicated amorous pursuits?

Here at The Paris Review, we are of the Liz Lemon school: the word lovers bums us out unless it comes between “meat” and “pizza.” Anyway, how could we choose a favorite triangle? Pretty much every great novel contains one. That said, I’d probably vote for the ur-triangle of Satan, Adam, and Eve in Paradise Lost. In Book Four, Satan stands there and watches Adam and Eve having paradisical sex, until he can’t stand it anymore and turns away—like Warhol, running out of the room during a porn shoot: “I'm going to have an organza!” (See “cautionary note,” above.) That’s when Satan cooks up the plan to seduce Eve and ruin things in Eden.

What’s great about the passage—what makes Satan Satan—is the argument that he’s going to do all of this for Adam and Eve’s own good:

... Aside the Devil turnd
For envie, yet with jealous leer maligne
Ey'd them askance, and to himself thus plaind [i.e. complained].

Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two
Imparadis't in one anothers arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy thir fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfill'd with pain of longing pines;
Yet let me not forget what I have gain'd
From thir own mouths; all is not theirs it seems:
One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge call'd,
Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidd'n?
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord
Envie them that? can it be sin to know,
Can it be death? and do they onely stand
By Ignorance, is that thir happie state,
The proof of thir obedience and thir faith?
O fair foundation laid whereon to build
Thir ruine! Hence I will excite thir minds
With more desire to know, and to reject
Envious commands, invented with designe
To keep them low whom knowledge might exalt
Equal with Gods ...

If you ask me, that comes pretty close to a triangulator’s credo. Who in a bad mood hasn’t suspected that so-called happy couples “stand/By ignorance”? And who hasn’t been seduced by “more desire to know, and to reject / Envious commands”? Read More »

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