The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Lydia Davis’

Nostalgia for the Future, and Other News

April 9, 2015 | by

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Illustration by Dan McPharlin. Via Beautiful/Decay

  • Writers love to hate M.F.A.s; they also love to brag about them. Are the degrees worthless? Essential? Expansive? Detrimental to one’s creative impulses? “It’s no surprise that the promise of the M.F.A.—to make you, if you’re lucky, a famous, well-paid author—strikes so many people with even the smallest literary dream as utterly irresistible.”
  • To master the subtleties of another language is no mean feat—and getting prepositions right is often the most frustrating part. They can seem entirely arbitrary: “Spaniards dream with (not about) something. In the unlikely event that Germans schedule something at an approximate time, it is gegen (against) seven o’clock, not about or around. The ancient Greeks, progenitors of western logic, had many prepositions that do bizarre double duty to the English eye: meta means both with and after; kata means both according to and against.”
  • Lydia Davis, meanwhile, has faced struggles of her own in learning Norwegian: “You see how you are suddenly able to unlock so many words, just by studying the pattern? Take the words beginning with ‘Hv.’ I guessed they were used in questions: ‘hva’ meaning ‘what’, ‘hvorfor’ meaning ‘why’. But it took me a long time to figure out ‘hvis’ was ‘if.’ ”
  • Then there are contranyms, auto-antonyms, antagonyms, Janus words, and/or antiologies—words that can function as their own opposites. Take no, for instance, which increasingly means yes. (Only, mind you, in certain situations.)
  • Dan McPharlin makes art “derived from blueprints laid down decades earlier on the pages of battered sci-fi paperbacks, fantasy art books, and mid-century design quarterlies.”
  • On the “mind-numbing chatter” of the art world: “There is a debate about whether or not something ‘posits something about its ability to posit something.’ One critic tells a student, ‘You have to make better paintings fail.’ One exchange between student and critic involves the critic demanding, ‘What does that paint can stand for, in that painting?’ When the student doesn’t reply, the critic continues, ‘Stop squirming! Is there a political implication to this paint can or not?’ ”

Now in Bloom: Our Spring Issue

March 2, 2015 | by

212The cherry blossoms on the cover of our new Spring issue augur the end of winter—even if they’re made of paper. They’re part of a portfolio by Thomas Demand, accompanied by poems from Ben Lerner.

We also have the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, on the art of fiction:

As a girl—twelve, thirteen years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me … At fifteen I began to write stories about brave girls who were in serious trouble. But the idea remained—indeed, it grew stronger—that the greatest narrators were men and that one had to learn to narrate like them … Even when I wrote stories about girls, I wanted to give the heroine a wealth of experiences, a freedom, a determination that I tried to imitate from the great novels written by men.

And Lydia Davis, on her approach to the short story, to translation, and to naming:

I’ve always felt that naming was artificial. I’ve done it. I wrote about one woman and called her Mrs. Orlando, because the woman I based her on lived in Florida. Recently I wrote a story called “The Two Davises and the Rug” because I have a neighbor named Davis and he and I were trying to decide which one should end up with a certain rug, and I was very fond of using that name, even though it wouldn’t make much difference to anybody if I called it “The Two Harrises and the Rug.”

Plus, Hilary Mantel discusses her Cromwell books and the difference between historians and novelists:

Nobody seems to share my approach to historical fiction. I suppose if I have a maxim, it is that there isn’t any necessary conflict between good history and good drama. I know that history is not shapely, and I know the truth is often inconvenient and incoherent. It contains all sorts of superfluities. You could cut a much better shape if you were God, but as it is, I think the whole fascination and the skill is in working with those incoherencies.

There’s new fiction by Angela Flournoy, Ken Kalfus, and Mark Leyner, the winner of this year’s Terry Southern Prize; a novella by James Lasdun; and poems from Charles Simic, Peter Gizzi, Major Jackson, Stephen Dunn, Susan Stewart, Shuzo Takiguchi, Craig Morgan Teicher, and Sarah Trudgeon.

Mel Bochner, who designed a cover for the magazine back in 1973, is back with a portfolio of thesaurus paintings. And last, there’s “Letter from the Primal Horde,” an essay by J. D. Daniels about a fateful experience at a group-relations conference.

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Staff Picks: Cat-and-mouse Games, a Miasma of Cuddles

February 13, 2015 | by

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

A still from Fifty Shades of Grey.

Among the more consistent sets of questions to appear in Paris Review interviews are those regarding one’s influences. It’s a funny line to track throughout the Writers at Work series—and one, I’d venture, that often says a lot about a given writer’s ego. (Watch, for example, as Robert Frost bristles at the suggestion of an affinity between his work and that of Faulkner or Wallace Stevens, or as Nabokov denies having learned anything from James Joyce.) But aside from allowing for the pleasure of watching certain writers shift in their seats, these kinds of questions can also introduce me to writers I haven't heard of, or writers I should have paid more attention to. In her soon-to-be-published Art of Fiction interview, Lydia Davis cites her discovery of Russell Edson’s stories—“He would call them poems,” she says, “but I wouldn’t”—as a major turning point in the development of her style. I couldn’t help but dart off to find a few myself, much to my enjoyment. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

When Fifty Shades of Grey was first published, it was a cheap thrill to watch the critical bons mots pile up—we had the book reviewers’ equivalent of a home-run derby, with zingers for dingers. I remember Andrew O’Hagan, writing in the LRB, taking aim at the novel’s arrantly vanilla kinkiness: “I suspect the book has taken the world’s mums by storm because there’s no mess on the carpet and there are hot showers afterwards. Everybody is comfortable and everybody is clean: they travel first-class, the rich give presents, the man uses condoms, and everything dark is resolved in a miasma of cuddles.” Now the film is out, and another team of critics is at bat. It’s too early to declare a winner, but surely bonus points should be awarded to those who manage to trash the book and the movie in one fell swoop, as Anthony Lane has. “We should not begrudge E. L. James her triumph,” he writes, “for she has, in her lumbering fashion, tapped into a truth that often eludes more elegant writers—that eternal disappointment, deep in the human heart, at the failure of our loved ones to acquire their own helipad.” —Dan Piepenbring

William Vollmann’s piece in this month’s Harper’s,Invisible and Insidious,” focuses on the fallout, both nuclear and financial, of the Fukushima radiation leak. The media wants big, explosive stories, but that’s not the way nuclear fallout works, as evident by the climbing numbers, “one or two digits per day,” on the dosimeter Vollmann keeps in his house in Sacramento, California. On several trips to Japan, Vollmann ventures near the “Forbidden Zone,” the twenty-kilometer radius around Plant No. 1, whose level of radioactive contamination makes the area “unlivable.” Most striking, as always, is Vollmann’s attention to the poor people in the area surrounding Fukushima—those whose businesses are failing, those on the hook for mortgages, and those among the 150,000 nuclear refugees. When NPR asked him about his extreme form of immersion journalism and whether he was worried about the radiation he’d exposed himself to, Vollman said, “I’m an older person … I’m going to die in any event, so I have less to fear. And I would really like to try to do some good in the world before I die and, you know, if I get cancer as a result, it’s no real loss. The more I see of, you know, the disasters that nuclear power can cause, the more I think I would really like to describe this and help people share my alarm.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Faster, Faster, Faster, and Other News

December 16, 2014 | by

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Adolph Menzel, Eisenwalzwerk (Moderne Cyklopen), ca. 1872.

  • Congratulations to our art editor, Charlotte Strick, whose design for Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t made the New York Times’s list of the best book covers of 2014.
  • Humankind has felt crunched for time for centuries, but now we really, really, really feel crunched for time. “If one’s leisure time feels like work that one doesn’t have time for, work itself increasingly feels like work one doesn’t have time for.” What effect has the speedup had on our cultural lives? A line from George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), of all things, applies perfectly to the rise of the online think piece: “The evil of the time is the multiplication of ephemerides … hence a demand for essays, descriptive articles, fragments of criticism, out of all proportion to the supply of even tolerable work.”
  • How did a work of One Direction fan fiction garner more than a billion reads and a six-figure book deal? Especially when this is its plot synopsis? “When clean-cut Tessa leaves her family (and cardigan-wearing good-guy boyfriend, Noah) behind for university, she meets Hardin, a darker version of One Direction’s Harry Styles—a pierced and tattooed punk with a reputation as campus lothario. They start an excruciating on-again off-again relationship, punctuated with drunk sex, laddish input from Hardin’s friends (the other pseudonymous 1D boys), and some of literature’s saddest handjobs. All that in a few thousand pages … ” The secret lies in the devotion of fan-fic communities.
  • Among AbeBooks’s most expensive used-book sales of 2014: a five-volume set of French Art Deco posters, Das Kapital, eighty-one Renaissance-era engravings of Mediterranean fish, a first edition of le Carré’s debut novel.
  • And now, finally, pictures of people standing next to their televisions.

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Crop Circles (Not That Kind), and Other News

December 8, 2014 | by

Pivotal-2

Kendall McMinimy, Pivotal 2, 2013, acrylic, toner, and panel, 36" x 36" x 1". Image via Wired

  • “At moments like these prose is a brick through the poet’s window. The fate of the poet is to ignore the broken window and make good use of the brick, and of the draft.” Rowan Ricardo Phillips on being a poet.
  • Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is enjoying a “cinematic convergence” in New York: “Altman’s comic, poetic, wacked-out adaptation of the Raymond Chandler detective novel will play at three of the city’s leading rep houses—the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Museum of Modern Art, and Film Forum—in a stretch of eighteen days.”
  • Lydia Davis interviews Dan Gunn, one of the editors of Samuel Beckett’s collected letters: “One of the questions in transforming rapidly produced handwriting into print is what to do with anomalies. Is it useful or interesting to show where Beckett makes typos, or where he crosses something out and amends it? Is it worthwhile to show where he misspells a name (as he regularly does, for instance, when he adds a circumflex to the second ‘e’ in the surname of Jean Genet), or confuses a French transliteration of a Russian name with an English one?”
  • The New Republic as we know it is dead—and everyone, suddenly, has an unshakably strong opinion about it. “[This] sort of response to the end of the old TNRthe reductive shouting, the polarized tribes, the narcissism of small differences in the progressive media world—provides perhaps the best reason to mourn what TNR once represented.”
  • Center-pivot irrigation systems: bad for the planet, good for abstract art.

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Cover Model

November 6, 2014 | by

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Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

T: The New York Times Style Magazine just sent us a sneak preview of their newest cover model: Philip Roth. He’s in handsome company, perhaps dangerously so. The last guy on the cover was Channing Tatum.

But if Roth has that stressed, I-can’t-bear-to-look thing going on—anxiety chic—it’s not because he’s out of his depth in the modeling game. It’s because he’s been rereading his own work, always a dicey proposition. Specifically, he’s been rereading Portnoy’s Complaint, to which his reputation remains staked, many decades and nearly two dozen novels later. Roth doesn’t have a problem with that, but he does have a problem with those who have cast the book as gratuitous or indecorous:

I portrayed a man who is the repository of every unacceptable thought, a 33-year-old man possessed by dangerous sensations, nasty opinions, savage grievances, sinister feelings and, of course, one stalked by the implacable presence of lust. In short, I wrote about the quotient of the unsocialized that is rooted in almost everyone … One writes a repellent book (and Portnoy’s Complaint was taken by many to be solely that) not to be repellent but to represent the repellent, to air the repellent, to expose it, to reveal how it looks and what it is. Chekhov wisely advised that the writer’s task lies not in solving problems but in properly presenting the problem.

With his usual candor, Roth meditates on Alexander Portnoy’s standing today, in these “erotically unfettered” times. His essay is one in a series wherein authors reread their own work; there’s also Lydia Davis on Break It Down, Robert Caro on The Power Broker, George Saunders on CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Marilynne Robinson on Housekeeping, Jennifer Egan on A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Junot Díaz on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You can read all of them here

Next month, these writers and others are auctioning annotated first editions of their books to benefit PEN American Center. The auction, “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” takes place December 2 at Christie’s New York; previews begin November 17.

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