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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Max Blecher’s Adventures

March 9, 2015 | by

blecher

Max Blecher

Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, newly reissued, is not a memoir, a novel, or a poem, though it has been called all those names, and compared rightly with the works of Proust and Kafka. Blecher belongs in that company for the density and lyrical force of his writing, but he is also a recording diagnostician of a type the twentieth century had not yet fully birthed, but the twenty-first is honoring in the highest degree.

This is a book that soothes without sentimentality. Blecher chronicled his dying from both the interior of his body and the outside of nonexistence. He made that veil permeable: his words are vehicles traveling through the opaque membrane that surrounds the seemingly solid world. These are the “adventures” of the inside and the outside exchanging places, while being somehow exactly the same in the light of Blecher’s extraordinary sensibility. Nobody knows how to die. Max Blecher, because he was young and a genius, suggests a way that investigates, rediscovers life, and radiates beauty from suffering.

“Ordinary words lose their validity at certain depths of the soul.” Read More »

Sublime, Subversive Sappho, and Other News

March 9, 2015 | by

Sappho_and_Erinna_in_a_Garden_at_Mytilene

Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864.

  • How does contemporary literature derive meaning in the age of big data? “The rise of corporate capitalism, and the astonishing, almost exponential rate of its recent acceleration, I would argue, present a huge challenge to the writer, forcing him or her to rethink their whole role and function, to remap their entire universe. There is no space outside this matrix … Western literature may have more or less begun, in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, with a lengthy account of a signal crossing space, and of the beacon network through whose nodes the signal’s message (that of Troy’s downfall) is relayed—but now, two and a half millennia later, that network, that regime of signals, is so omnipresent and insistent, so undeniably inserted or installed at every stratum of existence, that the notion that we might need some person, some skilled craftsman, to compose any messages, let alone incisive or ‘epiphanic’ ones, seems hopelessly quaint.”
  • “KAYO IN THE LUNA PARK / FREEZE FRAME ON A DRUNK IN THE PIAZZA / THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE FOR PIGEONS / LUMBERING ON ASPHALT FACEDOWN / LEAPSICKNESS THE LAW OF LIQUIDS.” Basquiat’s notebooks “variously sound like song lyrics, slogans, mantras, fragments of scenarios, of ‘routines’ like those of William S. Burroughs.”
  • Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, said that he’s sometimes cut “unfortunate anti-Semitic things” from Shakespeare—should we censor plays like The Merchant of Venice?
  • Who was Sappho? Scholars and readers have been bickering about her for the better part of three thousand years: “about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her ‘sublime’ style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works … Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage.”
  • Part two of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel’s essay “on Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights.”

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The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

Week in Culture: Sophie Pinkham, Slavicist

April 25, 2013 | by

SPPushkin

May 22, 1929

I was sitting on the roof of the State Publishing House, making sure that everything was in order, because no sooner do you overlook something than something happens. You can’t leave the city unwatched. And who will keep an eye on the city, if not me?

A Watchman has the right to:
1. Sing.
2. Shoot at whomever comes along.
3. Invent and compose, also make notes, and recite in a low voice, or learn by heart.
4. Look over the panorama.
5. Compare life below to an anthill.
6. Contemplate book publishing.
7. Take a bed along.

—Daniil Kharms, Boris Levin, and Yury Vladimirov, from I am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary : The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms; translated by Peter Scotto and Anthony Anemone

DAY ONE

I go to Serbo-Croatian class, where we learn how to say “he gave her three piglets as a gift,” and “in Dalmatia there are many stones.” I look forward to the day when I will use these sentences in a conversation.

I go home to read Turgenev, but watch the news all day instead. My friends and I are proud to be among the only Americans to know the whereabouts of both Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan, and the very real difference between Chechnya and the Czech Republic.

it’s topsy-turvy
but there’s something happy
there’s dignity even
in the idea

that not all the world’s monsters
are ours

—Vsevolod Nekrasov, “I Live I See,” translated by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich

DAY TWO

On Saturday, I attend a panel titled “The Russian Avant-Garde Goes Underground.” On Monday, I attend a reading of the work of three Russian poets. (I reject linear time and treat these two events as one.)

Saturday’s discussion is focused on Oberiu, the “Association for Real Art” founded by Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky in Leningrad in 1928. Oberiu dissolved in 1930, after one of its signature poetry reading/magic shows attracted the attention of the authorities. It was the last Soviet avant-garde to live in the open. (Watch a cartoon version of Kharms’s absurdist writing here.)

Eugene Ostashevsky, who translated the first English-language collection of Vvedensky’s poetry, quotes Nietzsche: “I am afraid we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.” Read More »

In the Buff: Literary Readings, Pasties, and Jiggling Genitalia

March 4, 2013 | by

naked-girls-reading

The beautiful is always bizarre. —Charles Baudelaire

My first time with the postfeminist, burlesque lit girl culture—pasties, G-strings, audience clapping to jiggling booties—I was in a fun little Brooklyn bar called the Way Station. I had, minutes before, read from my own work, what I thought was a wryly humorous and oh-so-literary postfeminist exploration of time, culture, and relationships. I knew the term “burlesque” had been thrown around on the billing, but to my Midwestern sensibilities, burlesque meant feathers and brief flashes of almost breast, the inner curves of almost vagina, with the full monty saved for fictional accounts. This, on the other hand, was a literary reading. So you can imagine my reaction to the dancer’s G-stringed ass shaking so close to my face I felt an instinct to throw up my hands in self-defense. I don’t think she meant to shake her booty in my face. Not mine particularly. It was coincidental. But it felt so personal at the time, in the moment so intentional, that I was certain something must be happening creatively. There were the dancer’s pastied breasts on my author page, alongside my book, compliments of my publisher’s well-intentioned marketing attempts. Cosmic. There was a message in this. I wasn’t quite sure what the message was except that it involved pasties and butt jiggling. All I knew for sure was that it was disconcerting to an oh-so-serious, postfeminist, gender explorer. Read More »

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Gracie and Cyril: An Oral History

December 11, 2012 | by

Grace Paley was born Gracie Goodside ninety years ago today, and my grandmother still calls her that. My grandmother’s parents separated when the Depression hit: her father lost his job, and couldn’t countenance his wife, a beautician, the household’s only breadwinner. In summer, her mother stuck around the beauty salon, but my grandmother would visit her aunt and uncle in Long Pond, in Mahopac, fifty miles north of the city. Uncle Al was a piano teacher, and one of his students a girl named Grace. Two years older than my grandmother, Cyril, Grace spent the whole summer in Mahopac. Her father, a doctor, built a house there, and he’d bring the family up from their Bronx brownstone, at Hoe Avenue and 172nd Street.

I first picked up Paley after my father’s father, Mortimer, died. I hadn’t realized she was part of their same world of meetings, but my grandmother told me. My grandmother remembers everything.

Dr. Goodside—Isaac—he had a chauffeur, Saunders. God forbid, you could never use that word. It was a driver. Gracie’s father, he came from a large city in Russia, not the Pale of Settlement. They  spoke Russian, they did not speak Yiddish. He went to medical school in Italy, and his great pleasure was when the Italian fruit vendor came, you know, with his truck. He’d come once or twice a week, and Dr. Goodside came to talk to him in his broken Italian. Gracie’s father, he also was a great fan, a lover, of Victor Hugo—and his son, who became an ophthalmologist, was named Victor. Gracie was the youngest, she must have been at least ten years younger than Jeanne, Jeanne after Jean Valjean. And she was named Grace, and her sister said to me, in Italian, it was Grazie—thanks, thanks. Jeanne told me this when she was already teaching. She was much older, and she was married to a child psychologist, a real son of a b—a child psychologist who hated children. They never had children.

Gracie was unusual, she was extremely bright. Every day she was made to read at least an hour, I think she was made to study Russian. And they had a large house in Mahopac, her parents always encouraged kids to come to the house. Her father was a music lover, and he would invite people over to his house, and play music. He had this phenomenal record player. My Uncle Al, the piano player, was such an SOB—he would say, “I’m not going, he doesn’t know anything about music.” But that’s how I knew Gracie, the lessons. Her parents, they wanted us to come to her house, we went there, we played Monopoly. I would see Gracie almost every day—we would go swimming, we would have a hare and hound race, try not to fall for the false trails the guys set up. And we’d discuss politics and sex and stuff, whatever kids at that age discuss. She was the leader because we always went to her house, and she was the one who had ideas, and who could give advice. Even at that age. Wherever you went to meet, it was always at Gracie’s house. All the kids would follow Grace.

The other children—Victor, he was not a talker, and Jeanne, Jeanne was always apologizing. I don’t think they ever really answered the father. And their mother was a quiet woman. Gracie was always the one who was really challenging him.

Read More »

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