Posts Tagged ‘language’
July 18, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re a best-selling author, here is a great way to piss off the FBI: announce that you’re writing a book about the FBI. In 1964, writing in an issue of Playbill, James Baldwin mentioned some future projects he had in mind, including one on “the FBI and the South.” Cue federal anxiety: “When [J. Edgar] Hoover himself was informed of the project, his response was characteristically curt—‘Isn’t Baldwin a well-known pervert?’ This being Hoover’s FBI, that was not a rhetorical question, and it launched an additional inquiry in the nature of Baldwin’s ‘perversion.’ Whatever the FBI planned on doing with this information, it all ultimately proved rather moot—Baldwin never wrote the book, and there’s strong evidence he never planned to.”
- The artist Bruce Conner once provided a list of adjectives to describe his work: the first four were “beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius.” He was, somehow, right on the money. J. Hoberman remembers the first time he saw a Conner piece: “As a fifteen-year-old Pop Art aficionado wandering through the Whitney Museum’s 1964 Sculpture Annual, I discovered Conner’s work in the form of the assemblage Couch. There was no warning. It was like rounding a corner and bumping into Death … a derelict remnant of a nightmare haunted house. Conner took a moldering, paint-spattered, wax-encrusted Victorian divan and managed to imbed it with a child-sized mummy. The simulated, decomposed corpse was nestled into a corner. On closer inspection, it looked as though it might have been strangled.”
- It’s widely accepted that one of the few attractions of a career in medicine is regular exposure to nude people. In the eighteenth century, aspiring doctors had such a hankering for nudity that they took it upon themselves to construct very, very, very detailed wax women: “Known today as Anatomical Venuses, these wax figures of women were life-sized and fully dissectible, with their removable organs completely exposed to all, while their faces were kept intact with beautiful, oddly serene features … I was especially struck by a number owned by the French doctor Pierre Spitzner (whose collection is now at the University of Montpellier), which date to the second half of the nineteenth century: one was a wax automaton, featuring a Venus who ‘breathed,’ with a rising and falling chest; another is of a girl in an impeccably white nightgown undergoing a caesarean section, with four distinctly male hands prodding her revealed organs, bizarrely attached to no bodies—phantom hands, complete with white cuffs and the sleeves of black jackets to add an extra layer of eeriness.”
- In the age of the seven-figure advance, as Nathan Scott McNamara writes, “major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales … In reorganizing the priorities of book publishing—by inventing new models rather than trying to repeat past success, by valuing ingenuity over magnitude, by thinking of sales as a way to make great books possible rather than the point—indie presses aren’t just becoming the places where the best books are published; they’re already there.”
- Let’s finish things off in the gutter, where a group of dirty-minded linguists have started to name all the words that sound sexual but aren’t. For starters: cordwangle, invigilation, formicate, uvula, quincunx. Mark Liberman writes, “A colleague (who has request anonymity) and I have developed a fondness for perfectly innocuous words which, to the linguistically unwashed masses, sound sexual. My colleague’s example sentence is ‘Because her husband was intestate, she sought to dilate her fungible assets; despite cunctation for titivating, she managed to masticate and lucubrate far into the night.’ ”
July 13, 2016 | by Will Heyward
The current issue of The Paris Review features an excerpt from Gerald Murnane’s novel Border Districts. It opens with a remarkable sentence:
Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes and I could not think of going on with this piece of writing unless I were to explain how I came by that odd expression.
What makes this sentence remarkable may not be immediately apparent. It touches on many of Murnane’s main preoccupations: seeing, the peculiar specificities of language, the outer reaches of a landscape. But the phrase “to guard my eyes” also reminded me of a peculiar moment I’d shared with the author when I interviewed him in 2012. Read More »
June 30, 2016 | by Anthony Madrid
Ben Jonson bares all.
Pretty soon it will have been four hundred years since Ben Jonson (1572–1637) walked from London to Edinburgh. I don’t know the whole story. I know he stayed at some length with William Drummond of Hawthornden, a few miles south of Edinburgh. Jonson was around forty-seven at the time; Drummond was around thirty-four.
Both of these guys were poets, were into languages, bought a lot of books. Jonson was of course right in the middle of things in London. He knew Shakespeare, knew Donne. Drummond, meanwhile, had money.
People still read Jonson, with how much love I don’t know. There are a number of famous lines. “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” “Though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek.” Drummond got a boost with Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (1861), eight items to Jonson’s three. Still, these days, if you love Drummond’s poetry (I do) you pretty much feel you have him all to yourself. Read More »
June 30, 2016 | by Michael Clune
What do we want from poetry? To read a poem is, on some level, to loathe it—both poem and poet aspire to fulfill a set of impossible expectations from the culture. In his new book, The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner argues that a disdain for poetry is inextricable from the art form itself. Earlier this month, Michael Clune spoke to Lerner at Greenlight Books, in Brooklyn. The exchange below is an edited version of that conversation. —Ed.
One of the most striking things you do in The Hatred of Poetry is to reorient our sense of value. Your canon is “the terrible poets, the great poets, and the silent poets,” as opposed to the merely good or the mediocre. You write about the worst poet in history, McGonagall, and his horrific masterpiece, or antimasterpiece, “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:
Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remembered for a very long
Wikipedia says that he’s widely considered the worst poet ever. Read More »
June 28, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Most of us struggle to interest our friends in our vacation photos, even in real time. (My Instagram of Six Flags only got two likes.) But in the midthirties, George L. K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, the so-called Park Avenue Cubists, traveled to such exotic locales that their photos and home movies are still of interest some eighty years later. As Hilary Reid writes, “the Frelinghuysen Morris Home & Studio is a window into the artists’ lives: their books, clothes, midcentury modern furniture and even their liquor bottles and Frelinghuysen’s hair dryer … This summer, visitors can view never-before-seen sixteen-mm color films taken by Morris and Frelinghuysen during their travels to Latin America and Switzerland between 1936 and 1938 … In Switzerland, we watch as Frelinghuysen hops in a convertible with Morris’s younger brother Steve and their friend Natalie Merrill, all wearing driving goggles and masks. The Russian avant-garde artist Esphyr Slobodkina joins them in one shot; and in another, they shimmy and laugh their way out of an ice tunnel.”
- Not unrelatedly: twelve years after he left Buchenwald, Elie Wiesel took a relaxing trip to Disneyland. He loved it—so much so that he dedicated a whole column to it in the Forverts, a Yiddish newspaper. “Several times in the article, Wiesel reflects on his appreciation of Walt Disney—‘the person who created this land, this universe, must be a genius, a rare genius’—and then shares the anecdote that he was told of how Walt Disney often walks around Disneyland in disguise. Wiesel understands why: ‘If one wants to calm his nerves and forget the bitter realities of daily life, there is no better-suited place to do so than Disneyland. In Disneyland, the land of children’s dreams, everything is simple, beautiful, good. There, no one screams at his fellow, no one is exploited by his fellow, no one’s fortune derives from his fellow’s misfortune. If children had the right to vote, they would vote Disney their president. And the whole world would look different.’”
- Brexit raises plenty of unanswerable questions, chief among them being, What the fuck? More fruitfully, we might ask: What effect will this have on the English language? “In 2012 a report found that 38 percent of the EU’s citizens speak it as a foreign language … A sort of Euro-English, influenced by foreign languages, is already in use. Many Europeans use control to mean ‘monitor’ because contrôler has that meaning in French. The same goes for assist, meaning ‘to attend’ (assister in French, asistir in Spanish) … Many nouns in English that don’t properly pluralize with a final s are merrily used in Euro-English, such as informations … Britain may be a polarizing, unusual EU member, but English has become neutral, utilitarian; it is useful because others understand it. Its association with Britain is already weak and set to weaken … Dreamers have long hoped for a neutral auxiliary language that is common to all. Some have even gone to the trouble of inventing such languages. Who knows? English might one day fulfil the destiny intended for Esperanto.”
- Black Flag played their last show thirty years ago, and our ears are still ringing: “Doesn't it all sound like another world? It probably was. To foist your bohemia on an indifferent public, to harrow the complacent, to shake it up … Joe Carducci, the outsider intellectual who helped run Black Flag's label, SST, takes the long view: ‘Our closing frontier,’ he writes in his 2008 memoir, Enter Naomi, ‘was the sixties cultural revolution as it died out in the seventies and early eighties. In retrospect the Black Flag/SST story looks like a cultural analogue to the Manson-Weathermen-S.L.A.-Black Panther-Nixon White House-People’s Temple endgame—art just had more life in it than crime or politics or religion.’ ”
- “Must not forget to commit suicide,” the poet Alejandra Pizarnik wrote in her diary—a decade later, she died of a barbiturate overdose. “She was known for working long and obsessively on a little chalkboard, typically on a single poem at a time, exhausting its possibilities before moving on, erasing a word one day, replacing it the next, rearranging the lines (about a dozen at most, presumably all that would fit on the slate) of her small, lapidary poems with an obsessive care that has been obscured by their obvious debts to surrealism and automatic writing … Nothing has colored the reception of Pizarnik’s work more than her death by her own hand.”
June 13, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the grim aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, Richard Kim pays tribute to gay bars as institutions: “My first gay bar was Crowbar. Like all great gay bars, Crowbar was a dump: dark, low-ceilinged, shitty sound system. It was off Tompkins Square Park and Avenue B, when Tompkins Square Park was still a place you’d go to to buy drugs. It smelled like mildew, urine, cheap vodka, and Designer Imposters body spray. It’s long gone—made extinct like too many wonders by gentrification and Giuliani—but for a hot moment in the ’90s, it was the single most fabulous place in the galaxy. Dance moves were invented there. People went in, and when they came out, they weren’t just drunk—they were different people. That’s how powerful its juju was … Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression.”
- The language of the skies is like the language of the road, but less profane … more altitudinous. Mark Vanhoenacker, a pilot, calls it Aeroese, and has a longstanding fondness for it: “We’re instructed to pronounce three as ‘TREE’ and nine as ‘NINER’, and 25,000 as ‘two-five thousand’ (more specifically, ‘TOO FIFE TOUSAND’), not ‘twenty-five thousand’, because experience has shown that these modified pronunciations are less likely to be misunderstood. Or, when a controller knows you’re waiting to speak, they won’t say, ‘go ahead’, because that could indicate approval of something they didn’t hear you ask for. Instead they’ll say: ‘Pass your message.’ If all this sounds prescriptive and rigid, it is. Our exchanges are almost purely transactional. There’s no fat in the system, because it would take up precious airtime, and at worst it might introduce confusion. ‘The excessive use of courtesies should be avoided,’ warn our dour manuals.”
- Today in British people and their zany British pastimes: let us not forget that in centuries past they pursued an obsession with follies, i.e., pointless, decorative buildings: “Follies could take many forms. An occupied hermitage, of course, but ruined castles, kiosks, cottages, pyramids, altars, temples of virtue, alcoves, sepulchers, labyrinths, pavilions, pagodas and towers were all part of the repertoire … Follies had to be eye-catching. That was the whole point … Perhaps the last great folly was built in the mid-1930s at Faringdon by Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Lord Berners … Berners understood his business: he explained to the planning inspectors, ‘The great point of the tower is that it will be entirely useless.’ Maybe not: today you can find a notice that says, ‘Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk.’ ”
- Just when you start to believe that you know what you like, you use the Internet, and come to see that your preferences are as illusive as anything else about you. Louis Menand writes about the havoc that algorithms have wrought on taste: “Taste is not congenital: we don’t inherit it. And it’s not consistent. We come to like things we thought we hated (or actually did hate), and we are very poor predictors of what we are likely to like in the future … Understanding how traffic works is made exponentially more complicated by the fact that it’s not just one person who is barely paying attention; all the drivers on the road are barely paying attention, and they’re also reacting to each other. The same is true of taste. The reason stuff you don’t like is out there is that other people do like it.”
- They made a movie about Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe, and they called it Genius? Oh, this can’t miss! Except that the film “depicts creation via furious montage. Tom stands at the refrigerator scribbling. Max jabs and plucks at pages of typescript. Bourbon and martinis are consumed. Cigarettes are smoked. Women come and go … Genius sighs with palpable nostalgia for a supposed golden age of masculine artistic potency and paints the struggle for self-expression in familiar sentimental colors. For Tom, writing is the unbridled expression of the life force, something [Jude] Law indicates by hollering and gesticulating and allowing a stray lock of hair to fall just so across his brow.”