The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

The Lights in the Kitchen Were On

October 23, 2015 | by

At the table with James Salter.

Salter in 1989. Photo: Sally Gall

“To revisit the past was like constantly crossing some Bergschrund,” James Salter writes in the introduction to his 1997 memoir, “a deep chasm between what my life had been before I changed it completely and what it was afterwards.” As it did through his life, an ineludible divide runs through Salter’s work. The same man who gave us great novels and stories of sport, of war and deprivation, produced some of the twentieth century’s most sumptuous meditations on domestic life, on the rituals at the heart of bonding. To read him in both modes is to pace the fullness of Salter’s emotional life—it is akin to entering a room full of people after completing some feat of endurance, a vow of silence or a rigorous fast, and trying to hear every word. What unites Salter’s oeuvre—more than his triumphs of style, the peculiar manipulations of perspective, and the verbless descriptive clauses—is his preoccupation with meals and all that they represent, all they can give and all they can take away.

In 1957, with his first book already published, Salter left the Air Force to become the novelist that he knew he was. As his identity was transformed—from fighter pilot to fiction writer, from that of struggle within the military complex to the isolation he encountered outside of it—so were his novels and stories. Food’s role in them increasingly became a metric for the emotional lives of his characters, who were either driven by the rejection of home or by some elaborate performance that kept the idea of home intact. The dinner table, Salter understood, was the perfect stage for the frailty of our relationships—how we present ourselves to others, how crucial to our sense of self are the recollections of the friends who saw us become the people we were. A much-cited quotation from Light Years perhaps most perfectly encapsulates his feelings about life in the air as a pilot and on the ground as a family man: “Life is weather. Life is meals.” Read More »

Tough Cookies, and Other News

July 7, 2015 | by


Joan Didion. Image via Flickr

  • Joan Didion is twice the man you’ll ever be, so suggests a recent article in The Millions. Her masculine superiority lies in the “glacial emotional distance” of her prose, which is better than yours. Her coolness astounds: in her essay, “On Self-Respect,” she writes that people who have it, “are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.”
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, winner of the 2013 Plimpton Prize, talks with Sarah Gerard about keeping a notebook: “When I’m writing to myself, I’m really trying to process something, and it usually has to do with writing out my delusion and then trying to interpret what that delusion might be in service of, and then trying to comfort myself about the anxiety that the delusion was helping me cope with.”
  • Apple reversed its decision to ban historical video games that depict the battle flag of the Confederate States of America. Copies of Gone with the Wind and The Red Badge of Courage weren’t being pulped during the recent public outcry against flying the Confederate flag at certain state capitols, nor were Cold Mountain or Glory taken off the iTunes store. This reminds gamers, yet again, “that games are seen not as a scholarly pursuit, that they do not merit serious consideration alongside films and books on their subject matter.”
  • While we’re talking about America, it seems our literary canon isn’t fit for television. Consider the numerous Jane Austen adaptations, the massive success of Downton Abbey, and the lack of a critically acclaimed film version of any Faulkner novel. Are American novels too dark for TV, or has Hollywood locked up the rights for most major American titles? As Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece, says, “The reasons that we haven’t are twofold … One is money, the second is money. And the third is money.”
  • Which reminds me: culture isn’t free, but our post-Napster, digitalized-content world still operates as if it were. The trouble is, “if individual artists cannot make a living from their creative work, they will eventually throw in the towel,” and it’s important that “large corporations do not monopolize the cultural sphere.” Wrest control of culture from the ruling class. Buy a book.


Distinctly Emasculated

April 24, 2015 | by

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and sexual anxiety.

Hemingway in Paris, 1924.

History tends to compare Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and why not? As contemporaries and rivals, the two make natural foils for each other. Hemingway, we’re told, epitomizes a certain archetypal masculinity; he presented himself as a hunter, a boxer, a war veteran, and a ladies’ man; accordingly, he wrote in a spare, economical style, mostly about war, solitude, and adventure. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, we know as a social striver, someone who prided himself on his budding elitism and his (incomplete) Princeton education, who was known to have his pocket square and his hair-part always just right. He wrote about socioeconomic status in prose that was, at least next to Hemingway’s, often lyrical and adorned, and most would readily agree that he’s the more effeminate of the two. But the sexual identities of these men, formed by their peculiar childhoods and the Lost Generation artists they surrounded themselves with, weren’t as self-evident as many modern readers might think.

There’s a classic story of the homosexual tensions bubbling just beneath the surface between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It takes place in the men’s room at Michaud’s, at the time an upscale brasserie in Paris. As Hemingway claims in A Moveable Feast—and claims is just the word, because his own sexual insecurities tended to manifest in an unfair emasculation of Fitzgerald—Fitzgerald told him: Read More »

Systems Bigger Than Ourselves, and Other News

March 16, 2015 | by


From SimCity, 1989.

  • On SimCity and the value of games that dared to make complex systems their protagonists: “SimCity is a game about urban societies, about the relationship between land value, pollution, industry, taxation, growth, and other factors … the game got us all to think about the relationships that make a city run, succeed, and decay, and in so doing to rise above our individual interests, even if only for a moment. This was a radical way of thinking about video games: as non-fictions about complex systems bigger than ourselves. It changed games forever—or it could have … ”
  • Philip Roth’s misogyny is treated as a given these days; “the women are monstrous because for Philip Roth women are monstrous,” Vivian Gornick once wrote. But: “Maybe Philip Roth loves women? Maybe he, who offers a three-page description of female masturbation, is in fact an advocate for female desire? … While misogynists try to shame women, Roth celebrates women’s sexual power. It’s the men he is out to get.”
  • “That sentence is shit. It’s got to be better. You asshole.” Matt Sumell on writing and doubt.
  • Today in German words that dearly need English equivalents: verschlimmbessert, which can be roughly translated as “ ‘ver-worsebettered.’ In essence, it’s a combination of verbessern (‘to improve’) and verschlimmern (‘to make worse’).  Here, then, is a verb that is able to express the idea of something simultaneously improving and worsening.”
  • In which Benjamin Percy attends the dreadfully named Man Camp and enjoys a surprisingly rousing encounter with masculinity: “When men get together, they tend to speak with irony or rough-throated braggadocio, but [here] there was an uncommon sincerity to everyone’s tone. It caught me off guard.”

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An Interview with Matt Sumell

February 17, 2015 | by


Matt Sumell

In Spring 2012, The Paris Review published Matt Sumell’s short story “Toast,” in which the narrator, Alby, humiliates his girlfriend so creatively, and so often, that she ends the relationship. “Over the next few years,” Alby says in a typical passage, “I changed from a mostly passive prick to a mostly aggressive one, sexing a lot of girls and I’m pretty sure contracting HPV in my throat.”

“Toast” appears in Making Nice, Sumell’s first book, a collection of linked stories all told from Alby’s perspective. He’s a thirty-year-old having a hell of a time navigating the world since his mother died from cancer. Sumell’s stories are pugnacious, figuratively and literally. In “Punching Jackie,” Alby spars with his sister; in “OK,” he pushes his one-legged father over the side of a boat. Even when he isn’t taking anyone to task, the stories are full of fighting words: bitterness at the world, anger with fate, and misunderstanding of circumstance. Alby is lost. His outlets for self-discovery and definition are few and far between. Making Nice is hilarious in its prose, but painful in its nakedness.

Sumell and I met up to talk fighting, writing, and being named Matt on a freezing January afternoon. We ended up in Chelsea, at Barcade, a bar lined with arcade games where the tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces. When we walked through the door, Sumell took a quick survey of the room and jetted from my side, making a beeline directly to Punch Out!! Nothing could seem more apropos.

You just returned from a trip to Manila with your father, Albert, to whom your book is dedicated. Your main character is also named Alby—which doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. What’s your relationship with your dad?

Oh, we’re going straight there, are we? Well, the funny thing about my father having that name—I’m the first born, but my great-grandfather’s name is Alby, and my grandfather’s name is Alby, and my father’s name is Albert. Read More »

Being a Tough Guy, and Other News

January 21, 2014 | by


A lobby card for The Tough Guy, 1926. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • What’s it like to share a name with a Tom Clancy hero and teach at the Naval Academy? “I would be lying if I didn’t say that when I walk out Gate Three of the Academy from time to time—which is the gate that Jack Ryan walks out of during Patriot Games and gets shot—that there’s a sense of surrealness to it.”
  • Speaking of which, masculinity in art is undergoing a transformation. We’re “questioning yesterday’s tough guys.” Condolences, tough guys!
  • In honor of MLK Day, The New Yorker has lifted the pay wall on Renata Adler’s 1965 classic “Letter from Selma.”
  • What New York’s editors want in a good book: “Are you writing a dinosaur erotica novel, or the book that all dinosaur erotica novels will be measured by?”
  • The poet Mamoun Eltlib on writing and reading in Sudan: “You don’t feel it’s a living language; you just feel it’s like a dead language, a bloody language.”
  • Now accepting applications for admission: the Yale Writers’ Conference, a summer program with a formidable faculty including Nathaniel Rich, Je Banach, Teddy Wayne, Trey Ellis, Marian Thurm, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Chuck Klosterman, and others.