Posts Tagged ‘language’
September 27, 2016 | by Anthony Madrid
In March 2016, our correspondent Anthony Madrid began composing a set of quasi-kōans (on the theme “What is poetry for?”) for the Chicago arts and commentary magazine The Point. What follows is the second of two sets written for the Daily. (The first one ran in July.) Madrid’s unwieldy and indeed unusable title for the first set was “Both speech and silence are involved in transcendent detachment and subtle wisdom. How can we pass through without error?” His unusable title for the present set is “I always remember Jiangnan in May; where the partridges call, the hundred flowers are fragrant.” (Taken together, the two titles constitute Case 24 in the Song Dynasty kōan collection Wumenguan.)
Public Case 6: Ancient Chinese
Our teacher said: “Has anyone ever noticed that many of the most attractive ancient Chinese poets have the same ideas about poetry as modern American high school students? Anyhow, the themes are the same. What am I doing today. How am I feeling. What’s my philosophy. What can I see from where I’m sitting. What just happened. I am kind of a loser. What are my favorite quotes.”
One of the students said: “James Schuyler.”
Comment. It is hard for twenty-first-century USA poets to really understand old Chinese poetry: no surprise there. The surprise is that we find our own childhoods as difficult to “relate to” as the literary world of premodern China. We rub our eyes in disbelief when we have anything in common with either.
Tao Qian, James Schuyler, our own sixteen-year-old selves—of course they write about what they can see from where they’re sitting. What else can be seen?
The truth is almost everyone has almost everything in common. The main exception is the people who are “too smart for that.” They make a point of not having anything in common with anybody. Read More »
September 26, 2016 | by Randy Rosenthal
Moonstone, Sjón’s latest novel, has been called “the gayest book in Iceland.” It follows the sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn, a queer hustler and cinephile whose life becomes upended by the Spanish flu of 1918 when the pestilence ravages Reykjavik. With the country fearful of any bodily contact, Máni can no longer pick up “gentlemen,” and the cinema houses are shut down. Máni finds solace in a new friendship with Sóla G, a beautiful feminist who rides a motorcycle and dresses all in black. When Máni gets tangled up in a sodomy scandal that threatens to humiliate the homophobic country, Sóla is perhaps the only person who can help him.
As with Sjón’s previous books—The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox, and From the Mouth of the Whale—the magic of Moonstone lies in language. Máni Steinn doesn’t just love movies but “lives in the movies. When not spooling them into himself through his eyes he is replaying them in his mind.” Máni is illiterate, and as he struggles to read, “the letters of the alphabet disguise themselves before his eyes, glide between lines, switch roles in the middle of a word, and might as well be a red cipher to which he does not have the key.” Sjón’s easy way with words goes back to the Icelandic sagas he devoured as a child. He has internalized the lyrical language of epics, myths, folktales, and religion—“the old great narratives,” as he calls them.
Moonstone has been praised all around, with David Mitchell calling it “Sjón’s simmering masterpiece,” and it has won nearly all of Iceland’s literary prizes, including the country’s most prestigious: the Icelandic Literary Award. Sjón and I met once in New York in 2013, to discuss his earlier works; this month he was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him about Moonstone over e-mail. Read More »
September 26, 2016 | by Dylan Hicks
Every month, the Daily features a puzzle by Dylan Hicks. The first list of correct answers wins a year’s subscription to The Paris Review. (In the event that no one can get every answer, the list with the most correct responses will win.) Send an e-mail with your answers to email@example.com. The deadline is Thursday, September 29, when we’ll post the answers. Good luck!
Early last year, the novelist, editor, and wordplay master Ed Park energized and distracted his Facebook circle with the post “Hall and Joyce Carol Oates,” which as of this writing has prodded 5,853 comments. The responses imagined other incongruous supergroups and amalgams—Umberto Eco and the Bunnymen, Howlin’ Virginia Woolf—and ventured into kindred puns and portmanteaus such as the answers to this month’s puzzle. Aside from recycling or reformulating a few of my own contributions, I haven’t knowingly plagiarized from Park’s thread, but neither have I reviewed more than a fraction of its comments, so quite likely there’s some overlap. (Great minds and so on.) Though there are several musical-literary pairings here, I’ve rarely mingled writers with musical acts on Park’s precise model. Most frequently, the title of a movie, book, album, song, TV show, or poem has been joined with a celebrated figure from any field, but you might run into a tagline or some other familiar phrase instead of a title, or the answer might blend two titles. Homophones are welcome. The clues try to provide some context, often anachronistic or absurd, for the pun. A few examples:
- Popeye Doyle chases Irish suspense novelist.
- Kiss Me Kate, staged as will and representation, kicks off with a twist.
The answers would be (1) The Tana French Connection (though I’m sure French is as law-abiding as her books are addictive); and (2) Another Op’nin’, Another Schopenhauer (which would present singers with phrasing hurdles). As must be clear, answers lean heavily on given names and surnames that are also everyday English words (Moscow on the Hudson Yang) and names that include meaningful syllables (as in our groaner headline, or The Danny McBride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even).
Okay, that should be enough explanation; I’ll let you John Kerry on. Read More »
September 15, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Paris Review’s offices are in Chelsea, where we attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every day. (What, you thought all those people were here for the High Line?) But now there’s a new attraction in town: stairs. Lots and lots of stairs, beautifully arranged, and going nowhere. It’s part of an ambitious new sculpture that some have dubbed “the social climber”: “Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, Vessel, stands fifteen stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, forty-six, an acclaimed and controversial British designer … Mr. Heatherwick said Vessel was partly inspired by Indian stepwells, but he also referred to it as a climbing frame—what Americans would call a jungle gym—as well as ‘a Busby Berkeley musical with a lot of steps.’ ”
- If you’re not into steps, just visit the city for the pavement. There’s a lot of it—and if you squint a bit or take the right drugs or just give it a good long think, you’ll see how interesting it is. Edwin Heathcote argues that “the pavement is the skin of the city, a membrane that separates the veneer of civilization from the darkness of the earth … The pavement is a paradoxical thing. It begins as a symbol of civilization and liberation but also becomes a kind of final resort, the domain of the homeless, of beggars and of defecating dogs. A city’s attitude to its street surface reveals much about its ideas of civic space, of ownership and generosity … ‘I think that our bodies are in truth naked,’ wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves. ‘We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.’ ”
September 13, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re in New York, you’ve surely noticed them, those well-heeled people bolting down the sidewalk looking pissed off and holding enormous cups of coffee. That frisson of exclusion … that perfume of condescension: it’s Fashion Week! And what better time to remind ourselves that the industry promulgates a whole range of body-image issues, not just in the models it chooses but right down to the mannequins? M. G. Zimeta, at a shop in London, tried to get some answers about those mannequins: “Nearly a year ago I complained about the mannequins at the entrance of the ladies’ department in John Lewis on Oxford Street … Months passed, and I received no response … The ‘Fashion Queen’ mannequin range I’d seen in John Lewis is produced by Bonami in Belgium and has the following dimensions: height 185 cm (6'07"), waist 59 cm (23"), hips 87 cm (34") and bust 87 cm (34"). A Fashion Queen mannequin is taller than the average British man, but with the waist of a ten-year-old girl in John Lewis sizes. Some of the clothes on the mannequins at John Lewis were discreetly pinned in place because the outfits would otherwise, even in the smallest sizes, be too loose for their frames.”
- When you’re considering which book to read next, remember this: you don’t have to read anything. You might, in fact, find it considerably more pleasurable to read nothing. In 2011, more than fifty thousand new novels appeared in the U.S., an abundance that makes it impossible, Amy Hungerford argues, to have a proper encounter with any of them: “While any given reviewer may be an excellent reader, and any book buyer may have excellent taste, the literary market as a whole is vulnerable to forces that have less to do with literary discernment and more to do with money, class, contemporary pressures on journalism, the geography of cities, and the social networks that circumscribe the reach of editorial attention or a bookstore’s clientele. These forces have a profound effect on what is celebrated and what remains culturally invisible among the masses of books written and published, and they affect the meanings that particular books come to have as they enter the stream of culture.”
August 31, 2016 | by Peter Nowogrodzki
Sali Tagliamonte is a linguist at the University of Toronto, where she studies language variation and change. Her latest book, Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents, was published in June.
I called Tagliamonte because I’d noticed more and more people using the word truly. All of a sudden it seemed to be everywhere: in work e-mails and movie reviews, in headlines, on Twitter, on Twitter, and on Twitter. “It truly is up to us,” Hilary Clinton said this summer in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. A week prior, in Cleveland, Trump had remembered his “truly great mother.”
Is truly trending? I couldn’t tell—Liane Moriarty’s book, Truly Madly Guilty, had just published. There had been that Savage Garden song in the nineties, and the Lionel Richie one in the eighties. I wanted to find out more, so I did what anyone with a linguistics question would do: I e-mailed Noam Chomsky. To my surprise, he wrote back within half an hour, suggesting I ask “an outstanding sociolinguist like William Labov.” So I did. Labov told me, “The person who has done the most work on intensifiers like truly is Prof. Sali Tagliamonte.” Read More »