The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘letters’

Everything Is Now, and Other News

May 20, 2016 | by

A still from Kaili Blues.

  • Today in things to do with your extra $600,000: buy a rambling 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. It’s sixteen thousand words … it’s on paper … any more questions? “The missive, known as the Joan Anderson letter, after a woman with whom Cassady described an amorous relationship, had been known only from a fragment, apparently retyped by Kerouac, that was published in 1964. In an interview in 1968, Kerouac said he had got the idea of the ‘spontaneous style’ of On the Road from ‘seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters) … It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves,’ Kerouac said. After receiving the letter Kerouac lent it to Allen Ginsberg, who passed it along to another poet, who was living on a houseboat, who ‘lost the letter, overboard, I presume,’ Kerouac said.”
  • Everyone wears clothes, which would seem to suggest that they’re important to the whole human gestalt. And yet philosophers give them short shrift—why? “How could we ever pretend that the ways we dress are not concerned with our impulses to desire and deny, the fever and fret with which we love and are loved? The garments we wear bear our secrets and betray us at every turn, revealing more than we can know or intend. If through them we seek to declare our place in the world, our confidence and belonging, we do so under a veil of deception … Dress can bind and constrain us; its regulated repertoire is a bondage estranging us from truer, freer, more naked realities. E. M. Forster wryly cautions us to ‘Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes,’ but his own prim English Edwardian elegance was the keeper of his undisclosed confidence, sexual and otherwise.”
  • The Chinese director Bi Gan’s debut, Kaili Blues, contains among other cinematic oddities a forty-one-minute single take through the windshield of a car. (Don’t worry, the car is in motion.) “Bi, who was twenty-six when he made Kaili Blues, seems primarily concerned with developing a film language that treats memory as a tangible thing. Objects here are pieces of time. In addition to searching for the boy, Chen agrees to look up a man who had once been his elderly co-worker’s lover and present him with several remembrances—including a shirt that had long ago been intended as a gift and a tape cassette of old pop songs. Bi is hardly the first director to dramatize temporal space or to seek to replace chronology with simultaneity. Alain Resnais and Chris Marker come immediately to mind. Bi is, however, less analytical and more intuitive. Kaili Blues is prefaced with a quote from the Diamond Sutra to the effect that Everything is Now. Past thought cannot be retained, future thought cannot be grasped, and present thought cannot be held. Go with the flow. It’s a fair warning.”
  • Whit Stillman’s new film is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. And though it shocks me to report this, I’m afraid he had the audacity to make the movie without ever having read Austen’s handwritten manuscript for the novel. I know. He must’ve just read some paperback edition or something. Fortunately The New Yorker remedied that: “Stillman met me at the Morgan Library to inspect one of the collection’s treasures: Austen’s handwritten manuscript of Lady Susan, which also happens to be the world’s only full surviving manuscript of any of her works of fiction … Even among ardent Austen fans, Lady Susan is pretty obscure. Austen wrote it when she was about twenty, as a family amusement, not intended for publication. The novella is epistolary in form, which sets it apart from her later novels, as does its heroine—if ‘heroine’ is even the right word for Lady Susan Vernon, a lovely, penniless young widow who ruthlessly manipulates handsome men to serve her amorous needs and rich men to handle her financial ones … ‘There are people who are passionately admiring of her real juvenilia, but I’m not one of them,’ he said, breezily, when asked about Austen’s even earlier novella Love and Friendship, the source of his film’s title. ‘A fifteen-year-old wrote that. Great. But I think it does a disservice to Jane Austen to make a big deal about those things. I think this’—he gestured toward the pages before us—‘is when she started writing really seriously, you know, and really beautifully.’”

Ever Affectionately Yours

March 28, 2016 | by

Two letters from Iris Murdoch.

Letter to Raymond Queneau, October 29, 1949, Text below. Click to enlarge.

To Raymond Queneau. Read More »

Pockets—They’re Still Great! And Other News

March 23, 2016 | by

Pockets!

  • The cafard and mirthlessness that have long governed French philosophers have now extended to French writers of all kinds—a new survey says they’ve never been unhappier. Their proposed solution? Surrender. “French writers have never felt more badly paid, undervalued, or under pressure … More than half of established authors earn less than the minimum wage. Many are so depressed by the state of the book industry that they are considering giving up altogether, according to a new report that canvassed more than 100,000 authors of fiction and nonfiction … Although exact comparisons are difficult to make, French writers appear to be still doing better than their British or American equivalents.”
  • BREAKING: Nicholson Baker loves pockets. Give him a good pair of pockets, he’s happier than a pig in shit. And who isn’t, really? You gonna look me in the eye and tell me you don’t like pockets? “I’m a pocket-loving guy,” Baker says in a new podcast. “At any moment I got a couple pens—like why would you have just one pen? For a long time I tried to do everything with pockets … the pocketing of things. The prestidigitational trickery of being able to move things from the world of public visibility into a private place. It sort of feels to me like writing. Or I guess, what I like about writing, is that paragraphs take your most personal observations, or embarrassments sometimes, fantasies, whatever they are, and you fill them up, and it feels as if you’re putting them away or you’re stowing them, you’re pocketing them. But then because of the weird and wonderful act of publishing, you’re making public what you have hidden.”
  • Terry Southern’s letters are full of the humor you’d expect from him, Will Stephenson writes—but as windows into his personal life, they’re curiously opaque. “There’s something cold about Southern’s persona, in other words—he’s always in character, always on. The letters come complete with scenes and dialogue—a voice that’s arch and faux-pretentious, recalling the comedian Lord Buckley—and his habit of signing them under false names only thickens the fog. Reading the book, I wondered whether Southern would have really wanted to see it published, or whether that matters. I wondered whether I even liked Terry Southern anymore, having read it … The majority of these letters, though, have to do with the labor and economics of writing … In some ways, this is the major theme of the collection—where is the next check going to come from?”
  • Alex Mar on Doreen Valiente, once dubbed “the mother of modern paganism,” who believed that witchcraft was simply a means of accessing one’s own power: “One particular image of Doreen Valiente tells two unresolvable stories at once. In this black-and-white portrait, perhaps taken in the fifties at her home in Brighton, she is, at first glance, a suburban wife seated before a pale curtain, wearing a patterned cocktail dress, a string of stones around her neck. (She was in her thirties then, her jet-black hair cut short in a wavy bob, her lips and brows painted in.) But then the photograph becomes complicated: spread before her on a table is an altar laid out with a crystal ball, a bowl, rope, candles, and incense; in one hand she holds up a large bell, in the other a ritual knife … She is the Nerd Queen, a person of rare esoteric knowledge. She is Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft … ‘I had never felt any objection to working in the nude,’ she writes. ‘On the contrary, it was fun to be free and to dance out the circle in freedom.’ ”
  • I consider it part of my job to keep you abreast of quiet advances in the robot-writing community—so you should know that artificial intelligences can now write well enough to make headway in literary contests. “In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest … Humans decided the plot and character details of the novel, then entered words and phrases from an existing novel into a computer, which was able to construct a new book using that information … The prize committee didn’t disclose which of the four computer co-written entries advanced in the competition. The Japan News reports that one of the submitted books is titled The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, which ends with the sentences ‘I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.’ ”

A Thing That Wants Virginia

March 9, 2016 | by

William Strang, Lady with a Red Hat (A portrait of Vita Sackville-West), 1918, oil on canvas.

Vita Sackville-West, born on this day in 1892, and Virginia Woolf exchanged the letters below in January 1926. The two began an affair in the midtwenties that inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando. These letters came after their first separation; their affair ended in 1929. Original spelling and punctuation have been retained. Their correspondence is collected in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf.Read More »

The Entrepreneurial Kafka

March 8, 2016 | by

These two excerpts from Reiner Stach’s Is That Kafka? 99 Finds reveal a new side to Kafka—and new shades of meaning for the Kafkaesque.

Is that Kafka?

How Kafka and Brod Almost Became Millionaires

During a trip that they took together in August and September of 1911, traveling to Paris via Lugano and Milan, Kafka and Max Brod hit on the idea of creating a new type of travel guide. “It would be called Billig (On the Cheap),” Brod remembered. “Franz was tireless and got a childlike pleasure out of elaborating all the principles down to the nest detail for this new type of guide, which was supposed to make us millionaires, and above all wrest us away from our awful office work. Then I engaged in a very serious correspondence with publishers about our ‘Reform of Guidebooks.’ The negotiations failed because we didn’t want to disclose our precious secret without an enormous advance.” Read More »

That Old-time Coney Island Dreamland, and Other News

March 7, 2016 | by

Joseph Stella, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras, 1913–1914.

  • Coney Island today is a fine place to force-feed yourself hotdogs and get a weird rash, but in centuries past it was a bona fide dreamland—so much so that a new exhibition of early Coney Island art is called “Visions of an American Dreamland.” J. Hoberman writes, “As befits a dreamland, the exhibit—curated by Robin Jaffee Frank, who also wrote much of the show’s excellent, richly illustrated catalogue—is a mix of artifacts and artworks and a trove of suggestive juxtapositions … A 1910 wooden cut-out cartoon of Mae West and Jimmy Durante, both of whom got their starts in Coney Island ‘concert saloons,’ is positioned opposite a selection of roughly contemporaneous Sunday pages by the master draughtsman Winsor McCay, whose gorgeously inventive comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland was surely the greatest graphic expression of fin-de-siècle Coney.”
  • Morgan Jerkins reflects on the role of the diary for black women: “The boundaries of a black woman’s social life are many and varied. Alice Dunbar Nelson, who had been married to the famous black writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, wrote in her diary of her lesbian and other extramarital affairs. One of the fears that many black women writers have historically had is that if they reveal too much of their intimate lives, it could reflect badly, not only on themselves but on the black community. In addition to matters of romance and money, these earlier diaries of black women are filled with confessions about strained familial relationships, and personal demons and insecurities … For a black woman in a white world, a conversation with the self is crucial: for when she walks through that often-unwelcoming world she is subjected to confining perceptions of who she might be. When that world insists on racist and narrow paradigms, the diary gives these women a chance to scratch out and rewrite such definitions.”
  • Today in unsolicited advice for parents: take your kids to see Where’s Peter Rabbit, a new puppet musical designed to preserve the memory of Beatrix Potter’s darker side. It’ll scare the shit out of them … but, you know, in a good way. As the designer Roger Glossop argues, “[Potter’s] stories really are not all fluffy bunnies. I mean, Mr. Tod, the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, is one of the darker villains you will find anywhere in children’s literature … It is a really foul piece and so, dramatically, that is terrific! We do wonder if some children in the audience may leave weeping, although we will certainly not try to scare them.” Sold!
  • Not unrelatedly, a new book of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s letters sheds some much-needed light on her past and her feelings about the coddled youths of her day: “Later in life, as the Little House series grew in popularity, her letters are devoted to readers—children, parents, schoolteachers, librarians, even a congressman—who flood Wilder with fan mail. The Laura in this period is given to mildly political disquisitions on how things used to be. ‘The children today have so much that they have lost the power to truly enjoy anything,’ Wilder wrote from her ten-room house in 1944. ‘They are poor little rich children.’”
  • To go by the new collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, Love and Freindship [sic], no one would ever accuse her of being a poor little rich kid. The book is, at its best, sublimely ridiculous, as in the case of a 1788 work called The Beautifull [sic] Cassandra: “Escaping her parents’ millinery shop with another woman’s hat on her head, Cassandra sets out to ‘make her Fortune.’ Her attempt would last seven hours. For a lot of heroines, that exit from the parental home would be precisely the moment when a handsome man, whether a villain or a preserver, would be thrown in her way. But when Cassandra finds herself in just this situation, passing an attractive Viscount, she walks right by him to devour a gluttonous amount of dessert … The heroine ‘proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook and walked away.’ ”