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Posts Tagged ‘Kingsley Amis’

A Brief History of Seagull Hatred, and Other News

August 26, 2015 | by

Winslow Homer, Rocky Coast and Gulls (detail), 1869.

  • Claudia Rankine on Serena Williams, black excellence, and the strange status conferred by corporate largesse: “The London School of Marketing (L.S.M.) released its list of the most marketable sports stars, which included only two women in its Top 20: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. They were ranked 12th and 20th. Despite decisively trailing Serena on the tennis court (Serena leads in their head-to-head matchups 18–2, and has 21 majors and 247 weeks at No. 1 to Sharapova’s five majors and 21 weeks at number 1), Sharapova has a financial advantage off the court … There is another, perhaps more important, discussion to be had about what it means to be chosen by global corporations. It has to do with who is worthy, who is desirable, who is associated with the good life. As long as the white imagination markets itself by equating whiteness and blondness with aspirational living, stereotypes will remain fixed in place.”
  • Kingsley Amis, says Rachel Cusk, approached the short story as a kind of journeyman, self-consciously avoiding any rhetoric about the form’s high modernist possibilities: “His own stories, he said, were mere ‘chips from a novelist’s work-bench’ … With his talk of product and workbenches, Amis is trying to create the image of the writer as an ordinary worker, to dispel art’s associations with foppishness and pretentiousness and self-aggrandizement … It is as though, in the modernist possibilities of the short story, he perceived a threat both to his masculine and his writerly identity; yet for a generation of American male writers emerging contemporaneously with Amis, the short story was a sort of ‘working man’s’—indeed almost a macho—form.”
  • Reader, I implore you to take a moment out of your day to consider the seagull—it is, now as ever, among our most maligned birds, and the root of our hatred for them is deep and etymological: “The word ‘gull’ doesn’t appear in English until the late medieval period, and its origins are unclear. It’s probably a loan-word from the Cornish guilan or Welsh gŵylan. But in the early modern period, the seagull suffered from its homonyms, particular the verb meaning ‘to deceive’.”
  • At last, the year’s most essential, most probing listicle: a complete ranking of literary magazines funded by or affiliated with the CIA. The New Leader is there, and The Kenyon Review, and Mundo Nuevo, and—oh, what’s this? “Of all the publications on this list, The Paris Review may be the one with the weakest connection to the CIA … But the record clearly shows that The Paris Review benefited financially from selling article reprints to CCF magazines. This was far from the CCF’s direct participation in management of Der Monat or Encounter, but The Paris Review did derive some benefit from the CIA, and there is circumstantial evidence that this affected the choices of authors for its interview series. In a way, the Paris Review case shows how difficult it was for ‘apolitical’ highbrow literary periodicals to get through that period of the Cold War without some form of interaction with the CIA.”
  • Garth Greenwell has spent many hours with Lidia Yuknavitch’s sex scenes, and has emerged a wiser, richer person for it: “Yuknavitch forces us to see the body in all its physicality, its flesh and fluids and excretions, and she depicts scenes of sex, including fetishistic and sadomasochistic sex, that are brutally visceral. Yuknavitch’s sex scenes are remarkable among current American novelists, not just for their explicitness but for the way she uses them to pursue questions of agency, selfhood, and the ethical implications of making art.”

Something Serious

May 4, 2015 | by

Kingsley Amis’s “most unpleasant” hero.


A still from the 1970 film version of Take a Girl Like You.

It’s fair to say that in the late 1950s Kingsley Amis was riding high. In 1954, Lucky Jim had made him the leading novelist of his generation. He had held off an attempt by a new boss to have him fired for “inefficiency” from his post as a lecturer at University College of Swansea. His marriage had recovered from his wife Hilly’s love affair with one of his friends. (Amis’s mistress also abandoned him for a time, but she came back, too.) Though he mocked them in private and in public, he was identified with Britain’s twin literary insurgencies, the Movement poets and the Angry Young Men. He was much in demand as a reviewer and journalist, and he could afford monthly visits to London, where he would drink from lunch until closing time. Despite his famous capacities, he wasn’t always compos mentis by the end of such nights; after one strenuous lunch he was hit by a passing car. He spent a few hours in Charing Cross Hospital, and was taken home by his friends Geoff and Mavis Nicholson. The next morning, a young neighbor stopped by their house; he was pursuing a master’s in literature, and told the Nicholsons his favorite author was Kingsley Amis. Just then a bandaged man in his underwear staggered into the room. This, Mavis told her guest, is Kingsley Amis. The Nicholsons are the dedicatees of Take a Girl Like You. Geoff was his former student, and Mavis his mistress. Amis led a complicated life. Read More »

Home Is Where the TV Is, and Other News

March 11, 2015 | by


It’s okay—you belong!

  • The artist Tim Youd is retyping Lucky Jim, word by painstaking word, in public at the University of Leicester, on an Adler Universal typewriter—the same model Kingsley Amis used. “I’ve read everything before I retype it, so the suspense is gone. The appreciation happens on a deeper level. I get to examine the structure, the style in the course of the most active form of reading … At its heart, the performance is a devotional exercise. It is an extreme, perhaps slightly absurd dedication to the author’s words.”
  • Post-Internet poetry takes for granted that the Web, as a medium, can inspire and inform a poem—it doesn’t make a show, that is, of turning the poet into a kind of DJ, “weaving together samples of preexisting language into something unique. Of course, this is nothing new. The cento—snagging lines from other poems to make your own—has been around for nearly two millennia. But what’s new is [the] use of Google as an oracle, the results from which are strained through [one’s] own subjectivity, leading to poems that are at once organic and mechanical, personal and, in a sense, objective.”
  • “More than 300 million people live here, and they had descended over the course of a very few generations from a huge number of disparate cultures, with different histories, ways of behavior, worldviews, and experiential backgrounds. All of them, sooner or later, had been required to relinquish their old culture and enter the new one. That must be why the most striking thing about the United States was its sameness … And that must be why every American movie was made after the same template and why, in this sense, every movie expressed the same thing. And that must be why all these TVs were hanging on the walls, unwatched; they created an immediate sense of belonging, a feeling of home.” Knausgaard’s travels in America continue.
  • Kristin Dombek on Kim Gordon and Sonic Youth: “Sonic Youth turned the war of sound into a war on the reproducibility of music for consumption, and the failure to create the perfect rock product into music itself … Since guys liked Sonic Youth, learning to like them had seemed like a way to borrow a little male bonding, like wearing flannel, skipping class to drop acid, or fumbling my way through a hacky sack circle.”
  • Don’t pretend you don’t care about the sociology of flatulence. “Heterosexual men were the most likely to think it was funny and the most likely to engage in ‘intentional flatulence’ ... Heterosexual women felt like they were violating gender norms if their farts were stinky: ‘The worse it stinks,’ said one, ‘the nastier they think I am.’ ”

A Sincere Mustache, and Other News

March 6, 2015 | by


From a 1902 newspaper advertisement.

  • John McPhee on writing, illumination, and mustaches: “Robert Bingham, my editor at The New Yorker for sixteen years, had a fluorescent, not to mention distinguished, mustache. In some piece or other, early on, I said of a person I was writing about that he had a ‘sincere’ mustache. This brought Bingham, manuscript in hand, out of his office … A sincere mustache, Mr. McPhee, a sincere mustache? What does that mean? Was I implying that it is possible to have an insincere mustache? … Across time, someone came along who had ‘a no-nonsense mustache,’ and a Great Lakes ship captain who had ‘a gyroscopic mustache,’ and a North Woodsman who had ‘a timber-cruiser’s guileless mustache.’ A family practitioner in Maine had ‘an analgesic mustache,’ another doctor ‘a soothing mustache,’ and another a mustache that ‘seems medical, in that it spreads flat beyond the corners of his mouth and suggests no prognosis, positive or negative.’”
  • Pop music is heralded as one of life’s simple pleasures: a chance for pure escapism. Why, then, are so many pop songs really, really, really sad? “Love songs have always been more likely to deal with the yearning for love, the complications of love, love’s betrayal, or the loss of love (or even, sometimes, the loss of life) than the fancied bliss of love fulfilled … a strain of sadness has long been laced through the popular songbook. Music listeners’ likes have never been restricted to things that make them happy.”
  • On Kingsley Amis’s misanthropic masterwork, Ending Up: “The finished product is short and brutal, a series of cackling vignettes of man’s cruelty to man, all conveyed in Amis’s crisp, beady prose. It is also very funny, growing funnier with each fresh misery, mishap and atrocity. The blurb on my Penguin edition draws attention to its ‘humanity,’ but it might more accurately have highlighted its inhumanity: few novels have ever been quite this bleak, quite this nasty.”
  • The impressionists are often derided as “the painterly equivalent of easy listening,” but they still have much to teach us: “While Degas was in America in 1872 he was much taken with the Southern Creole women, feeling they had ‘that touch of ugliness without which no salvation.’ Let’s not get too politically correct here. His remark has a general application. It speaks to a shared aesthetic disposition. By ‘ugliness,’ Degas means ordinary life—a girl having her hair combed on a beach; women unperturbed, unself-conscious at their ablutions; a laundress stretching, yawning, another one ironing. They are the painters of modern life, in Baudelaire’s encapsulation. As modern as T. S. Eliot’s woman who yawns and draws her stocking up in ‘Sweeney Among the Nightingales.’ ”
  • “Jane Austen’s earliest writings are violent, restless, anarchic, and exuberantly expressionistic. Drunkenness, female brawling, sexual misdemeanor, and murder run riot across their pages.”

Staff Picks: Moo, Maine, Malfeasance

August 22, 2014 | by


This collage helped solve a crime. Robert Rauschenberg, Collection, 1954-55; image via the New York Observer.

“From the outside it was clear that the building known generally as ‘Old Meats’ had eased under the hegemony of the horticulture department.” So begins Jane Smiley’s 1995 campus satire, Moo; from that first sentence I knew it was the only book I needed for the weekend. It had that tone—that late-century Midwestern tone. You hear it in Jonathan Franzen’s first two novels, and in Infinite Jest, too. It’s the sound of an omniscient narrator who is sophisticated and slightly wry and who, at the same time, belongs to a safe, stable, neighborly community, the sort of place where things can be “known generally.” Maybe because I grew up on the East Coast, in a city—or maybe just because it is so manifestly pre-Internet—that kind of sentence is as soothing and inviting to me as “Once upon a time.” And Moo lived up to its promise. —Lorin Stein

What happens when myth becomes reality? For the residents around Maine’s North Pond, a legend about a hermit became strikingly less legendary when the hermit, a man by the name of Christopher Knight, was found and arrested last year during a burglary attempt. For twenty-seven years, Knight had lived in the woods of Maine in a tent, never communicating with the outside world (except once, when he passed a hiker). “Silence is to me normal, comfortable,” he tells Mike Finkel, a journalist for GQ. “I’m not used to seeing people’s faces. There’s too much information there.” What’s remarkable about Knight’s story is that there wasn’t any particular reason he chose to disappear. He merely started driving one day and didn’t stop until he came across his camp in the woods. “I found a place where I was content.” Thoreau couldn’t have summed it up better himself. —Justin Alvarez

Sixty years ago in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the NYPD pinned a crime spree on four innocent men. What else is new, you might say. Well, a researcher has brought the malfeasance to light, and a collage by Robert Rauschenberg helped solve the mystery. Specifically, it was “Collection,” which Rauschenberg composed in the mid-fifties from newspapers containing accounts of the crimes. The Observer tells the story, which is full of crooked cops and falsified documents and botched autopsies and noirish goings-on under the Williamsburg Bridge; Rauschenberg’s involvement, however peripheral, makes the whole thing impressively surreal. —Dan Piepenbring

Many clichéd things can be said of the stories in Justin Taylor’s new collection, Flings. They’re hilarious and heartbreaking; there’s an existential loneliness to their characters; there’s a stark beauty in their sentences. But these sentiments smooth over the messy truths that Taylor works with—he’s managed to gather up all the confusion, repressed aggression, and misplaced acceptance of growing up in the nineties and becoming a young adult in the twenty-first century. Taylor isn’t afraid to place his characters squarely in our place and time. The narrator of “Sungold” manipulates his boss—a coked-up, alcoholic, trust-funded man-baby who owns an unnamed pizza chain—into not being so much of a fuck-up. In “Mike’s Song,” a brother and sister and their divorced father attend a Phish concert together. But behind his contemporary premises, Taylor is practicing a brand of acute, oblique realism that stretches back to Carver and Yates and even to Sherwood Anderson, in which events act as triggers for memories that are the real story. —Andrew Jimenez Read More »


Kingsley Amis’s James Bond Novel

April 16, 2014 | by


Happy birthday to Kingsley Amis, who would be ninety-two today. In his 1975 Art of Fiction interview, Amis says,

I think it’s very important to read widely and in a wide spectrum of merit and ambition on the part of the writer. And ever since, I’ve always been interested in these less respectable forms of writing—the adventure story, the thriller, science fiction, and so on—and this is why I’ve produced one or two examples myself. I read somewhere recently somebody saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” I think that’s very good. It puts its finger on it, because there are never enough books of the kind one likes: one adds to the stock for one’s own entertainment.

Amis was always a staunch defender of genre fiction—and one of the “examples” he speaks of having produced is Colonel Sun, a James Bond novel he published in 1968 under the pseudonym Robert Markham. Read More »