The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘memoirs’

Destroy Capitalism by Watching Clouds, and Other News

July 13, 2016 | by

John Constable, Wolken-Studie, 1822.

  • Rukmini Callimachi reports on ISIS for the New York Times—a demoralizing, tormenting, dangerous beat. She constructs her pieces like poems: “My formation as a writer was as a poet. I tried very early on to be a poet and I published about a dozen poems in America and in American journals before I realized that this was a totally dead-end street as a career. In terms of poetry, one of the people who really marked me was Ezra Pound, who was a modernist poet and talks about the importance of distilling an image. The idea is that you have an image that you want to convey. Beginning and even intermediate writers will end up drowning that image in prose. The idea is that you look at the prose almost like a tree. You have to pare it down. You have to take out all of the extra limbs, all of the extra shrubbery so that you can really see the form. That idea, which I tried to practice in poetry, is one that I very much try to practice in journalism: to try to distill the language. I pick my adjectives carefully. I try to build stories around images because I think that’s the way that the human brain works when you are reading a story.”
  • A new wave of memoirs aim to advance feminism through confessional-style sexual candor, but Rafia Zakaria argues that they’re merely vehicles for white female entitlement: “We are now in a time where the avowal of nakedness (both physical and emotional) is key, where the publicly exposed woman is truly courageous. The line between titillation and transgression is a fine one and in a voyeuristic world that expects women to all be coquettish exhibitionists, titillation does feminists no favors. To borrow Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler’s argument in We Were Feminists Once, what we are seeing now is feminism used as a brand; dislocated and disconnected from any collective political project. Sex has always sold well—but feminist sex sells even better … There is a lesson for all women here: declaring a woman’s sovereignty over body and mind must not be reduced to a willingness to be naked, to prurient confessions or anecdotes of despair and self-doubt.”
  • In 2004, Gavin Pretor-Pinney launched the Cloud Appreciation Society, which involves spending a lot of time supine on the grass, gazing at the sky. It’s the latest in a long line of projects to endorse idleness, that most underappreciated of art forms. Colette Shade spoke to him about the politics of loafing: “Aristophanes, the ancient Greek playwright, described the clouds as ‘the patron goddesses of idle fellows’ … He was talking about the way that lying back and finding shapes in the clouds is an aimless activity, and it’s one that’s not going to get you anywhere in life … I always say that cloudspotting is an excuse. It legitimizes doing nothing, and I think that’s valuable these days.”
  • Because today’s true-crime stories are only half as lurid as yesterday’s, let us revisit the events of July 17th, 1895, when, in East London, a thirteen-year-old boy named Robert Coombes stabbed his mom to death. Kate Summerscale writes, “Walker, the medical officer of Holloway gaol, talked to Robert that day about the forthcoming trial. The boy at first seemed gleeful at the prospect of going to the Old Bailey, telling the doctor that it would be a ‘splendid sight’ and he was looking forward to it. He would wear his best clothes, he said, and have his boots well polished. He started to talk about his cats, and then suddenly fell silent. A moment later he burst into tears. Dr. Walker asked him why he was crying. ‘Because I want my cats,’ said Robert, ‘and my mandolin.’ ”
  • A new biography of Diane Arbus prompts Alex Mar to remind us: Diane Arbus is not Diane Arbus’s photographs. “The legend of Diane Arbus has as much to do with a prurient fascination with her personal life as it does with her images. Which makes sense—the line between her life and her work is blurred in the extreme; in a conservative time, she did what few women of her background dared, pushing her personal boundaries, seeking out new territory. But while she’s present in the close encounters that produced her photographs, in every face that stares back at the camera, to confuse the woman with her work is to sell her short. She wrestled with being both a photographer and a mother; she struggled with depression; she put herself in danger over and over again. But as an artist, she was deliberate, calculating, and in control, prepared to do almost anything to grab the image she wanted.”

Bloodthirsty Billboards, and Other News

July 11, 2016 | by

As integral to the landscape as the horizon is.

  • Come to Catullus for the hunger and heartache, stay for the dick jokes: “The verses Catullus addressed to male rivals, or to friends who he felt had let him down, often pullulate with rage and obscenityPaedicabo ego vos et irrumabois his gloriously defiant reply to two companions, Furius and Aurelius, who had criticized the indecency of his writings: ‘I shall fuck you in the ass and I shall fuck you in the mouth.’ His fearless attacks on his enemies, even revered public figures, teem with anuses, penises, stinking armpits—one man, a certain Rufus, is said to have a wild goat living beneath his—and graphic sex acts either given or received. The saltiness of these poems has thrilled many a beginning Latin class, but their power extends beyond mere shock value. With his freewheeling aggression, his willingness to let fly at the slightest provocation, Catullus evokes the modern Beat poets; the ‘neoteric’ school to which he belonged was just as daring as theirs in breaking with literary tradition.”
  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, reviews Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, which finds Matar returning to Libya for the first time in thirty-three years, after Qaddafi’s fall: “His memoir is set in this honeymoon of the revolution, the brief window between the dictatorship and the current civil war. ‘Anything seemed possible,’ Matar writes of this hopeful interim, ‘and nearly every individual I met spoke of his optimism and foreboding in the same breath.’ In the memoir’s most rapturous passages, which recall Albert Camus’s essays on his Algerian childhood, Matar evokes his rediscovery of the Libyan landscape, the luminous Mediterranean coast and the austerity of the interior, where the earth ‘stood as all the unpeopled landscapes of Libya stand, clean and witnessing.’ ”

We’re All on Location, and Other News

June 29, 2016 | by

From the set of Intolerance.

  • D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance is a hundred years old. Its lavish sets—replete with plaster elephants, ornate ten-story walls, and all manner of Babylonian spectacle—testify to a creepy brand of movie magic that has long since leaped from the screen: “Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future … Even though it’s largely vanished from movies, the attraction of a reality that is recognizably phony and yet honest-to-gosh exists has hardly vanished from our culture … Increasingly, shopping malls, hotels, and the like do their best to emulate the same effect. We’re all on location, baby, even when we’re just shopping or hunting for a bite to eat. Intolerance anticipated many things, and one of them was Disneyland. In turn, Disneyland anticipated a lot of the modern environment we live in—not just at the multiplex or while on vacation, but full time.”
  • The journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a teacher in North Korea and wrote a book about what she witnessed there—but her publishers decided to call it a memoir, thus exposing one of the industry’s many fault lines. She writes, “As the only journalist to live undercover in North Korea, I had risked imprisonment to tell a story of international importance by the only means possible. By casting my book as personal rather than professional—by marketing me as a woman on a journey of self-discovery, rather than a reporter on a groundbreaking assignment—I was effectively being stripped of my expertise on the subject I knew best. It was a subtle shift, but one familiar to professional women from all walks of life. I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?

An Emotional Performance

June 23, 2016 | by

How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »

Of Milan and Miniskirts, and Other News

June 10, 2016 | by

Valentina Rosselli in Nessuno. Photo courtesy Scott Eder Gallery, via Hyperallergic

  • Fun pretentious dinner-party trick: ask if anyone has read Byron’s memoirs and mock anyone who answers in the affirmative, because those memoirs don’t exist, duh. “Byron’s memoirs—which might have finally provided the ‘truth’ about his life—were destroyed soon after his death. The story goes that three of his closest friends (his publisher, John Murray; his fellow celebrity poet, Thomas Moore; and his companion since his Cambridge days, John Cam Hobhouse), together with lawyers representing Byron’s half-sister and his widow, decided that the manuscript was so scandalous, so unsuitable for public consumption, that it would ruin Byron’s reputation forever. Gathered in Murray’s drawing room in Albemarle Street, they ripped up the pages and tossed them into the fire. The incident is often described as the greatest crime in literary ­history. It has certainly served to fuel curiosity and conjecture about Byron’s personal life for another couple of centuries. What was the damning secret his friends needed to protect? Domestic abuse? Sodomy? Incest? Probably all three, we imagine.”

Green Thoughts

May 5, 2016 | by

From the cover of Green Thoughts.

I’m terrified by the concept of the green thumb. Your proverbial green thumb combines all the factors for maximum intimidation: he or she has the worthy ability to interest herself in something really boring, a general competence and practicality, and a quality that’s something like mystical virtue—like being able to horse whisper or something. (I think The Secret Garden’s Dickon is partially responsible for this stereotype.) When someone loves to garden, he or she immediately becomes an alien species to me, just as do people who love to run. Read More »