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Posts Tagged ‘language’

The State of the Political Novel: An Interview with Édouard Louis

May 3, 2016 | by

Édouard Louis

Édouard Louis, born in 1992, grew up in Hallencourt, a village in the north of France where many live below the poverty line. Now his account of life in that village, written when he was nineteen, has ignited a debate on class and inequality, foisting Louis into the center of French literary life.  

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule) is unsparing in its descriptions of the homophobia, alcoholism, and racism that animated Louis’s youth in Hallencourt. “We thought the book would be as invisible as the people it describes,” said Louis, who rejects any romantic views of the “authenticity” of working-class life. His publisher thought the first edition, two thousand copies, would last years. But hundreds of thousands of copies have sold in France, and the book is being translated into more than twenty languages. The novel, which has earned Louis comparisons to Zola, Genet, and de Beauvoir, is set to appear in English later this year.

Eddy Bellegueule can be read as a straightforward coming-of-age story, but beneath its narrative is an almost systematic examination of the norms and habits of the villagers—inspired, Louis has said, by the theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It’s as if he’s taken the whole place and put it behind glass—like observing the inner workings of an anthill.

Who is Eddy Bellegueule, and why do you want to finish him off?

Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him—he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated. The book shows how—before I revolted against my childhood, my social class, my family, and, finally, my name—it was my milieu that revolted against me. My father and my brothers wanted to finish off Eddy Bellegueule long before, at a time when I was still trying to save him. Read More »

Anagramming the News: The Answers

May 2, 2016 | by

Child's play.

Child’s play.

Ed. Note: last week’s puzzle contest is officially over—thanks to all who entered. Our winner this time is Daria Mikolajczak, who gets a free subscription to the Review. Congratulations, Daria! Below, the solution to Dylan’s puzzle. Read More »

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight, and Other News

May 2, 2016 | by

Who doesn’t?

  • In 1858, Walt Whitman made an impassioned contribution to a series called Manly Health and Training, a kind of precursor to the self-help movement. In the piece, newly rediscovered, he implores the young men of his day to pursue lives of fervid activity, and to avoid indigestion. “To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice,” he says. “Up!” As the New York Times notes, “Whitman’s first installment strikes a vatic, exclamatory note: ‘Manly health! Is there not a kind of charm—a fascinating magic in the words?’ he writes, before outlining the path to ‘a perfect body, a perfect blood.’ That torrent of advice that follows touches on sex, war, climate, bathing, gymnastics, baseball, footwear, depression, alcohol, shaving, and the perils of ‘too much brain action and fretting,’ in sometimes rambling prose.”
  • While we’re on dead white male writers: Is it time to release Rudyard Kipling from detention? True, he was a racist, colonialist naïf who had the gall to speak of the white man’s burden, but The Jungle Book isn’t as bad as all that, Malcolm Jones writes: “The Jungle Book stories were not written by Colonel Blimp. They are not propaganda. They have no agenda. And they are not, in fact, even very optimistic at heart. If anything, Kipling’s tales quietly but inescapably leave their readers with a chilly view of life—nasty, poor, brutish, and short (except for elephants, who live practically forever). First and last, the Mowgli stories condemn all humans as foolish, superstitious, mean-spirited, and full of hubris, specifically for our propensity to assume superiority over the animal kingdom … The truth is, Kipling wrote a lot of ill-conceived garbage and he wrote a lot of truly wonderful fiction as well, and it’s usually not at all hard to tell the difference. Even when it is, the effort is justified. Pondering how a writer so good could occasionally go so wrong forces us to contemplate how all of us, even the most enlightened, can be swayed and deluded by the assumptions and beliefs that hold sway in the times in which we live.”
  • There was a time, roughly a quarter century ago, when one would hear the phrase “I feel like” only in catchy ads for Chicken Tonight. But now the phrase is everywhere, leaving our discourse awash in subjectivity. As Molly Worthen writes, “ ‘I feel like’ masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too—but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks … The phrase cripples our range of expression and flattens the complex role that emotions do play in our reasoning. It turns emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction—and even in our relativistic age, there remains a distinction—between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.”
  • If your goal is to shake the education system to its bedrock, upending the very notion of a curriculum and doing away with universities as we know them … you’re gonna need some convincing posters. When Maurice Stein and Larry Miller wrote the Blueprint for Counter Education, they were sure to spruce up all that talk of Eldridge Cleaver and Jean-Luc Godard with some impressive visuals, now collected in a new edition of the book. “Surrounded by charts, the participant will be confronted by ideas and issues that compel him to interact with everything going on around him—from movies, to riots, to political campaigns,” the introduction reads. “There is no text book, no syllabus, no final exam … THE REVOLUTION BEGINS HERE.”
  • Reading Joseph Brodsky’s poem “On Love,” Kathryn Harrison was struck by the line “For darkness restores what the light cannot repair”: “The line also defines writing, at least writing the way I experience it. For me, writing is a process that demands cerebral effort, but it’s also one informed by the unconscious. My work is directed by the needs of my unconscious. And through that dark, opaque process, I can restore what might otherwise be lost … I teach writing, and before I taught I never would guessed the thing I say most often is: ‘Please stop thinking.’ But people really write better without thinking, by which I mean without self-consciousness.”

Anagramming the News

April 25, 2016 | by

Child’s play.

Ed. Note: 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 contests@theparisreview.org. The deadline is Thursday, April 28, at noon EST, when we’ll post the answers. Good luck!

Our latest puzzle anagrammatizes names and titles ripped or daintily cut from newspapers and magazines published this April. The anagrams have been arranged into three numerically uneven groups. In the first group, Multiplex Marquee Prank, you’ll find the jumbled titles of movies in wide release as of this mid-April writing. With a few exceptions, the anagrams don’t relate to or otherwise provide clues to the movies, but since there are relatively few titles playing widely on big screens at any given time, the pool of possible answers should be manageable. Because some of the anagrams might on first glance resemble nonsense, each is preceded by a context-suggesting parenthetical. So, a puzzle leading to Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead might look like this: Read More »

Who Wrote Lolita First? An Interview with Michael Maar

April 19, 2016 | by

Nabokov in 1969. Photo: Giuseppe Pino

In this conversation—first published last month in the German magazine Cicero—Daniel Kehlmann and the Nabokov scholar Michael Maar discuss one of Maar’s most unlikely discoveries about Lolita.

In your book The Two Lolitas, you made an intriguing discovery—it started to obsess me a bit. What’s equally interesting, and kind of outrageous, is that most Nabokov scholars ignored your finding. Maybe they felt they ought to shield Nabokov from charges of plagiarism. So let’s get this out of the way first—is this about plagiarism?

Of course not. The word came up in the press when I published my first article about the discovery, but that’s not what this is about at all. Read More »

Ping-Pong: The Game of Medieval Discovery, and Other News

April 19, 2016 | by

Two female war workers play ping-pong at the YWCA war workers' club in Yeovil, Somerset, England, 1944.

  • I speak only English, so I write in English, too. And though for years this seemed to me the natural state of affairs, it might just be that I’m economically and politically undiscerning. As Tim Parks writes, “Ever since Jhumpa Lahiri published In Other Words, her small memoir in Italian, people have been asking me, Why don’t you write in Italian, Tim? You’ve been in the country thirty-five years, after all. What keeps you tied to English? Is it just a question of economic convenience? … But beyond any understandable opportunism, there is often a genuine idealism and internationalism in the decision to change language. If you have ‘a message’ and if English is the language that offers maximum diffusion, then it would seem appropriate to use it. In the 1950s, the rebellious and free-spirited Dutch novelist Gerard van de Reve felt that the Dutch language and culture was simply not open enough and not big enough for an artist with important things to say. Van de Reve moved to England in 1953, dropped the exotic ‘van de’ from his surname, and set about writing in his adopted language … Writing in another language is successful when there is a genuine, long-term need to switch languages (often accompanied by serious trauma), and when the new linguistic and social context the author is moving in meshes positively with his or her ambitions and talents.”
  • Sup, speed reader? You think you’re so cool, with your fast retinas and your fancy apps. I think you’re a fraud. And the Gray Lady has my back: “In fact, since the 1960s, experiments have repeatedly confirmed that when people ‘speed read,’ they simply do not comprehend the parts of the text that their eyes skip over. A deeper problem, however—and the one that also threatens the new speed-reading apps is that the big bottleneck in reading isn’t perception (seeing the words) but language processing (assembling strings of words into meanings). Have you ever tried listening to an audio recording with the speaking rate dialed way up? Doubling the speed, in our experience, leaves individual words perfectly identifiable—but makes it just about impossible to follow the meaning. The same phenomenon occurs with written text.”
  • Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe wrote, respectively, the first book in English by a woman and the first autobiography in English by a woman. Their manuscripts are being shown together at the Wellcome Center, but only one of them has a discovery story involving Ping-Pong. “Only one known manuscript exists of Margery Kempe’s story: its whereabouts were unknown from around 1520 until the 1930s, when it was discovered in the cupboard of a country house during a game of Ping-Pong. One of the players stepped on the ball and while searching for another, the Book of Margery Kempe manuscript fell out of a cupboard.”
  • Meanwhile, in Culver City: a pair of sisters have opened the first-ever “exclusively romance brick-and-mortar bookstore.” “The Ripped Bodice is a clean, well-lit place, devoted to the many subgenres of romance, such as cowboys, aliens, Vikings, biker dudes, and the paranormal. There’s also a large erotic section, a Spanish-language area, and plenty for young adults, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities. In the historical section, books include Jane Austen spin-offs and romantic tales among tartan-clad Scottish highlanders. ‘Love can come in many forms,’ says Bea, twenty-six, with a smile.”
  • In which Emma Cline offers a tour of her writing room, an old garden shed in Brooklyn one block from the Gowanus Canal: “It reminds me of the cruddy little outbuildings I saw a lot of growing up in Northern California—the sloping floor, the amateur carpentry. We still haven’t finished the ceiling and it’s been three years … The best thing about working in such a small room, especially one without Internet access, is the sense of compression, a winnowing down to the essential things. Even one other person makes the space feel crowded. There’s really not very much to do in here but write, or nap on the air mattress in the loft.”