- For the cultural critic, astrology is low-hanging fruit: a gimmicky, pervasive pseudoscience that preys on our superstitions, our solipsism, our need to make sense of the unknown. It’s easy to ask people, How can you buy into that shit? But the editors of n+1 point out that “a better question might be why people like it, or whether it’s a problem to subscribe to something in which you don’t believe.” They point to astrology’s redemptive features: “We trust it because it corresponds to nothing; it doesn’t pretend to be true, or demand our belief. Unlike the pernicious pseudosciences of the past, or the scientism and pop neurology of the present, astrology poses little threat of getting serious … As a supplement to other points of view—what’s visible on first impression, say, or what you know of someone from experience—it adds another dimension, pulling some features into the foreground and pushing others to the back, reminding you of a person’s complexity … To consider that the shy person is sometimes wild, the considerate person sometimes duplicitous, is to practice something rather like empathy.”
- At business schools, meanwhile, they’re teaching something much more treacherous than astrology: literature. At Columbia, aspiring executives can take a three-hour weekly course called Leadership Through Fiction, taught by Bruce Craven: “A four-minute promotional video posted online alongside Craven’s syllabus outlines the rationale for repurposing literature as management shibboleth … These novels, he explains, are ‘narratives about characters in many different professions’ who must find a ‘balance between their professional obligations, their personal expectations, and goals.’ Like real people, fictional characters stumble, and it is ‘through their stumbling,’ Craven promises, ‘that we will learn how to prepare ourselves for the future.’ ”
- In her Nobel Lecture, Svetlana Alexievich—who will not, one suspects, be auditing Craven’s class—puts forth a more nuanced purpose for literature: “Flaubert called himself a human pen; I would say that I am a human ear. When I walk down the street and catch words, phrases, and exclamations, I always think—how many novels disappear without a trace! Disappear into darkness. We haven’t been able to capture the conversational side of human life for literature. We don’t appreciate it, we aren’t surprised or delighted by it. But it fascinates me, and has made me its captive. I love how humans talk … I love the lone human voice … It always troubled me that the truth doesn’t fit into one heart, into one mind, that truth is somehow splintered. There’s a lot of it, it is varied, and it is strewn about the world. Dostoevsky thought that humanity knows much, much more about itself than it has recorded in literature. So what is it that I do? I collect the everyday life of feelings, thoughts, and words. I collect the life of my time. I’m interested in the history of the soul. The everyday life of the soul, the things that the big picture of history usually omits, or disdains. I work with missing history.”
- If you really want to steep yourself in “the everyday life of feelings,” look at 108 years of high school yearbook photos reduced to a minute-long video. Researchers at UC Berkeley compiled the images to study the changing face of the American teen: “The regular nature of yearbook photos—schools have been asking students to face forward and be recorded for posterity since the early twentieth century—made them a good candidate for this kind of machine-driven visual analysis, which can catch small variations in repetitive images … The final data set is made up of 37,921 forward-facing portraits. The population represented in the dataset is from 115 high schools, in twenty-six states … The researchers created a delightfully named ‘lip curvature metric’ to measure smile intensity, finding that while everyone smiled more as time went on, girls always smiled more than boys.”
- As our nation’s smile intensity has changed, so has the valence of its slang. Take the word badass: in the mid-1950s, as Hermione Hoby explains, it was “used for the kind of men whose posturing invited mockery. To call someone a badass was to seek to puncture puffed-up masculine pride.” Today, though, it’s become perhaps the single most nauseating faux compliment: “the phrase ‘badass women’ peaked in 2015. This, in other words, was the year in which badass underwent such a regendering that it became understood as the foremost battlecry of feel-good feminism … If female badassery, as we understand and value it, comes down to maleness in the most basic and anatomical sense, if virtual dicks are now the yardstick for female power, then we have a problem. Because beneath the feel-good female bravura of badass is a decidedly feel-bad notion, namely that the only way a woman can exercise power is to submit herself to the drag (in both senses) of ‘behaving like a man.’ ”
The latest issue of n+1 opens with an edifying symposium on labor and magazines, two subjects more historically entwined than you might think. Nikil Saval has an excellent primer on the first strike in publishing, and Gemma Sieff tells the still-contentious story of Harper’s unionization—but what really got me was Daniel Menaker’s recollection of tensions at The New Yorker in the seventies, when employees twice tried to stand up for better pay. William Shawn may have been an extraordinary editor, but a manager he was not. “We should have had a policy that after ten years,” he said in a speech to the staff, “if [employees] didn’t rise to something, then they should leave. They’re eccentric, unusual people, and we keep them on.” It’s a lot of inside baseball—I’m not sure, frankly, if anyone who doesn’t work at a magazine will care—but it will nurse the flame of the populist in your soul. And it provides a bracing counternarrative for the publishing industry, which is too often depicted as a kind of rarefied good-old-boys’ cabal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must agitate for collective bargaining among the staff of a certain literary quarterly. Editors of the world, unite. —Dan Piepenbring
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Girls or Transparent or Togetherness, or reading too much Trollope (see below), but for my money, no comedy on TV can compete with season two of Getting On, a show with old, sick people in it, and with smart, passionate, deluded, lonely protagonists—none of whom is trying to get famous. Such people do exist, and their problems are funny, too. —Lorin Stein
While I was in England a few years ago, someone recommended I arrange to see an Evensong concert. The majesty of the experience doesn’t translate to anything I’ve encountered in the U.S.—the tightly enclosed chapels and their unspeakably beautiful designs, the intensity and reverberation of the voices, the ritual of it all. I was reminded of the experience—one that I repeated as many times as I could—when I came across the Choir of New College Oxford’s version of “Shenandoah.” (Leave it to an Oxonian choir to offer the most hauntingly beautiful version of an American folk song.) —Stephen Hiltner
The New York Times wrote that Kathleen Ossip’s first collection of poems, The Cold War, “conjures delightful and unexpected muses in this socio-poetical exploration of post-World War II America.” Her second collection, The Do-Over, is an equal delight. It uses the same socio-poetically shrewd eye to consider America’s pop-culture milieu, distilling its own understanding of mortality and death. Unassuming and masterly, Ossip’s poetry is sneaky, very often disguising itself as easy, and surprising you the moment you let your guard down; “her poems are fun and deadly serious at once,” as NPR put it. The Do-Over is a kind of elegy to contemporary culture: it critiques modern life while basking in its ever-younger, glitzier rabble. —Jeffery Gleaves
Even the losers
Keep a little bit of pride
—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
About a month ago, when I last wrote about The Paris Review’s softball team, I called us “damn fine.” “The Parisians are on something of a hot streak,” I had the gall to say, noting that we’d “met with defeat only once, at the hands of The Nation.”
Then July happened.
Reader, you gaze upon the words of a broken man. (Specifically a broken right fielder.) Today, that “damn fine” is inflected with callow hubris; that “hot streak” runs lukewarm. After three more games—against Vanity Fair, New York, and n+1—our season is over, and our win-loss record is a measly 4-4.
The close of yesterday’s game found us supine on the Astroturf, wondering: What happened back there? That’s for history to decide, or the trolls in the comments section. Whatever the case, our early, easy victories against the likes of The New Yorker and Harper’s now seem like distant memories.
The trouble started with our game against Vanity Fair, whose chic black-on-black uniforms belied their brutish athleticism. (And their trash talking: “Don’t just tweet about it,” shouted their third-base coach, “be about it.”) They eked out a 5-4 victory; I ate some of their pizza in recompense. Our spirits were still high enough, at that point, for a group photo: Read More
This week, to celebrate the launch of our Fall issue, we will preview a few of our favorite footnotes from “Against Heine,” Jonathan Franzen’s translation of the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Click here to get your subscription now!
Believe me, you color-happy people, in cultures where every blockhead has individuality, individuality becomes a thing for blockheads.3
3 You’re not allowed to say things like this in America nowadays, no matter how much the blogosphere and the billion (or is it two billion now?) “individualized” Facebook pages may make you want to say them. Kraus was known, in his day, to his many enemies, as the Great Hater. By most accounts, he was a tender and generous man in his private life, with many loyal friends. But once he starts winding the stem of his polemical rhetoric, it carries him into extremely harsh registers.
(“Harsh,” incidentally, is a fun word to say with a slacker inflection. To be harsh is to be uncool; and in the world of coolness and uncoolness—the high-school-cafeteria social scene of Gawker takedowns and Twitter popularity contests—the highest register that cultural criticism can safely reach is snark. Snark, indeed, is cool’s twin sibling.)
As Kraus will make clear, the individualized “blockheads” that he has in mind aren’t hoi polloi. Although Kraus could sound like an elitist, and although he considered the right-wing antisemites idiotic, he wasn’t in the business of denigrating the masses or lowbrow culture; the calculated difficulty of his writing wasn’t a barricade against the barbarians. It was aimed, instead, at bright and well-educated cultural authorities who embraced a phony kind of individuality—people Kraus believed ought to have known better.
It’s not clear that Kraus’s shrill, ex cathedra denunciations were the most effective way to change hearts and minds. But I confess to feeling some version of his disappointment when a novelist who ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter. Or when a politically committed print magazine that I respect, n+1, denigrates print magazines as terminally “male,” celebrates the Internet as “female,” and somehow neglects to consider the Internet’s accelerating pauperization of freelance writers. Or when good lefty professors who once resisted alienation—who criticized capitalism for its restless assault on every tradition and every community that gets in its way—start calling the corporatized Internet “revolutionary,” happily embrace Apple computers, and persist in gushing about their virtues.
Team |1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10 Total n+1 |2|0|0|1|0|1|0|0|0|0 4 TPR |0|0|3|1|0|0|0|0|0|1 5
After a week off due to bad weather, the 2013 Paris Review softball season finally had its second act last Thursday afternoon: a riveting extra-inning victory over friendly rival n+1. Although last season’s meeting resulted in a easy TPR win, these two teams have, historically, been very competitive, and this year’s game—which took place at our new home field in West Chelsea—was a characteristically tight contest throughout. General notes (linear and tangential), thoughts, and feelings on the game below:
- n+1 scored first on some hard hits by the top of their lineup, but the damage was mitigated by some stellar TPR outfield defense, which would prove to be a recurring theme.
- Pitching for our opponents was Marco Roth, the sometimes dominant but always infuriating, screwballin’ n+1 editor and cofounder. He wore a Pier Paolo Pasolini cotton replica T-shirt jersey; Pasolini, Italian poet and filmmaker, was a surprisingly keen softball player, frequently taking breaks during the shooting of Salò—his controversial adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom—to organize a series of lighthearted pickup games with the cast and local schoolchildren.
- After the first inning, the game fell into a steady rhythm. Our defense remained strong, and with some timely hitting we lurched out of the middle innings one run ahead. Highlights included an inside-the-park home run by Ben “Chaos Mode” Wizner; some slick fielding by second baseman Louisa “Louisa” Thomas; and an escalating series of really great dugout high fives. We gave up the lead in the penultimate regular frame, and the game remained tied at the end of regulation. Now feels like the right time to introduce this man, who, unaffiliated with either team, inexplicably decided to root for n+1, making his allegiance known through constant heckling. Example: when I came up to bat in the sixth he yelled out the schoolyard classic, “Easy out!” (I popped up to third.) Afterward he came to over to congratulate us, and offered to umpire our next game.
- In the top of the seventh, Chad Harbach, who taught a seminar on the Art of Hitting All Game, smashed a ball to right field that would definitely have been a home run if not for an overhanging tree. Before the start of the game, it had been decided that if this situation arose, the resulting ruling would be a live ball, and, although it was an obvious home run, he and his cohorts displayed their patented Art of Graciousness in accepting the decision. He didn’t score, and the game remained tied.
- This was not the only close call. Twice in the late innings n+1 hit it deep into center, and both times Robyn “Great Defensive Outfielder” Creswell came up with spectacular catches. Creswell, whose presence last season was spotty (on account of his newly born daughter), had been sorely missed, and was this game’s unanimous MVP.
- In the bottom of the tenth we finally broke through, winning the game off the bat of captain and associate editor Stephen “Ham Sandwich” Hiltner.
- Notable debuts: Poet and frequent TPR contributor Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who switch-hit and displayed some nifty glove work; assistant editor Clare Fentress, who played catcher and hit n+1 editor Nikil Saval in the head throwing the ball back to the mound; and TPR’s head of advertising and promotions, Hailey Gates, the most stylish TPR team member since Styron.
- Kudos to: us, for winning; the sun, for shining; and to n+1’s Keith Gessen, for lending me his glove every inning.
Next up: Harper’s (June 27th , 3:30 P.M., Chelsea Park).
Cody Wiewandt is The Paris Review’s softball correspondent.
In 2006, a leading Moscow publisher issued Texts Published Without the Permission of the Author, comprised of the works of a well-known Russian poet. Rather than a lawsuit, the book resulted in a literary symposium, accompanied by a debate about the nature of copyright and, finally, the first translation of Kirill Medvedev’s works into English. In December 2012, It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions—a compilation of the thirty-seven-year-old poet-activist’s work—was published, indeed, technically without the permission of the author, by n+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse.
Medvedev, a controversial figure in the contemporary Russian poetry scene, stopped publishing in 2003. He would continue to release poetry, essays, and calls to political action on his Web site, LiveJournal, and Facebook page. But he renounced all rights to his own work. “I have no copyright to my texts,” he wrote in Manifesto on Copyright, “and cannot have any such right.” He became more deeply involved in leftist activism. Some thought him washed up, a has-been, even crazy. Others were angered by what they deemed a gimmick.
Critical of the post-Soviet liberal intelligentsia, makers of the culture who came to dominate an increasingly booming nineties Russia, Medvedev—who was born in Moscow in 1975—and his work issue directly from the tradition he critiques; his father was a well-known post-Soviet journalist. A decisive moment of separation might be found in his abdication of the most basic literary right. Read More