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Posts Tagged ‘names’

Rimbaud Among the Coffee, and Other News

March 4, 2015 | by

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Rimbaud in Harar, Ethiopia, ca. 1883.

  • Fiction has seen a preponderance of nameless narrators lately—in stories of the apocalypse, stories of exile, and/or stories of just about anything else. “The first few months of 2015 alone have brought us the following books with nameless protagonists: Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country, Greg Baxter’s Munich Airport, Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard, Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents. Surely others have escaped my notice. It’s an epidemic of namelessness.”
  • In 1880, Rimbaud arrived in Ethiopia—it was called Abyssinia then—“sick and completely helpless.” He was twenty-six and had taken on a job “consisting in receiving shipments of bales of coffee”; he lived in a house of clay walls with a thatched roof. But really he was seeking something more metaphysical: “I sought voyages, to disperse enchantments that had colonized my mind … My life would always be too ungovernable to be devoted to strength and beauty.” He had a great time until his leg had to be amputated.
  • Yasmina Reza on the title of her new book, Happy Are the Happy, which comes from Borges and came to her on an airplane: “The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind.” (Read her interview with the Daily here.)
  • On copyediting and class: a copy editor’s job can be “a soul-crushing enterprise … Magazines are rigidly hierarchical places … the work of the copy editor is largely disdained. And because their work is so undervalued, copy editors (and fact checkers) routinely work significantly longer hours for much less money (sixteen-hour days without overtime pay aren’t uncommon) … they’re often dismissed as fussy or obsessive … In the Calvinistic world of magazines, maladjusted grammar weirdos simply fall to their natural station.”
  • “Here is a good example of how inconsistently the term transgressive is applied to some and not to others—that V.C. Andrews in Flowers in the Attic wrote about brother-sister incest (and a semiforced initial coupling at that) and that book sold over forty million copies. More and more I’m coming to think that labeling certain writers as transgressive, or ‘outside traditional writing,’ is a construct perpetrated by reviewers and editors. I really believe that the reading public is far more accepting of the so-called extremes in literature than the gatekeepers of taste give them credit for.” An interview with Matthew Stokoe.

The Art of Paños, and Other News

February 9, 2015 | by

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Photo: Reno Leplat-Torti / Paños Chicanos, via Vice

  • Wackford Squeers, Peg Sliderskew, Charity Pecksniff … the names of characters in Dickens novels are outré enough to put Thomas Pynchon to shame.
  • Relatedly: naming one’s characters is arguably the fiction writer’s most critical task. “I make up names for people all the time—it’s part of writing. Very often, the name comes with the character, along with of a sense of who they are and what they do … All names are masks, as well as identifiers.”
  • For her services to literature, Hilary Mantel—with whom we’ll feature an Art of Fiction interview in our next issue—has been made a dame.
  • Early in the twentieth century, an unlikely duo developed the first mechanistic theory of the mind: Warren McCulloch, “a confident, gray-eyed, wild-bearded, chain-smoking philosopher-poet who lived on whiskey and ice cream and never went to bed before four a.m.,” and Walter Pitts, “small and shy, with a long forehead that prematurely aged him, and a squat, duck-like, bespectacled face.” They asserted that the brain “uses logic encoded in neural networks to compute.”
  • Finally, without further ado: Mexican prison art. “The tradition of paño (from the Spanish ‘pañuelo,’ which means ‘handkerchief’ ) began in the correctional facilities of Western American States sometime in the 1940s. At the time, decorating handkerchiefs was the only way for illiterate Mexican prisoners to communicate with the outside world. To this day, paños are still often sent to friends and family instead of letters, while, in certain prisons, the handkerchiefs are a popular form of currency.”

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Them Apples

November 18, 2014 | by

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An illustration by Philip Dadd for P. G. Wodehouse’s William Tell Told Again, 1904.

According to legend, it was on November 18, 1307, that the Swiss patriot William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head. After refusing to pay homage to a Hapsburg liege, Tell was forced to submit to the test of marksmanship. Later, Tell killed the tyrant and went on to many a daring exploit in the service of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

Although the William Tell legend is mentioned in books dating back to the late fifteenth century—and one can find similar marksmanship myths throughout the world—it was Schiller’s highly politicized play that canonized the apple-centric version, and, buoyed by Switzerland’s post-Napoleonic patriotism, made the archer iconic. Schiller had never visited Switzerland; he got the idea from his friend Goethe, who returned from a trip bearing tales of local lore. In 1804, the play premiered at Weimar under Goethe’s direction. (The popular Rossini opera—and the resulting Lone Ranger theme—was based on the play.)

Although a part of the German dramatic canon (and initially a Nazi favorite), the play came into disfavor with Hitler. After a 1941 assassination attempt by a Swiss-born activist, the Führer banned William Tell, reportedly lamenting, “Of all people Schiller had to glorify this Swiss sniper.” Read More »

The Soul of Wit

November 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: Carpe Donut NYC

While contemplating the purchase of a hot-cider doughnut at the aptly named Carpe Donut truck, one finds oneself thinking about food-truck names. Many have; it is one of the consolations of modernity that we live in the golden age of food-truck nomenclature. Or at least the first age.

Anyone who has worked in a business district or watched an episode of Street Eats knows it’s not enough to have a truck and a grill: your name should ideally be gimmicky, fun, and filled with attitude, to underlie the anarchic spirit of the whole enterprise. Sexual innuendo is of course desirable. Puns are a plus. In the words of an academic with whom I once spent a tedious dinner, “Language informs consciousness: we know this.”

But did you know that there is a food-truck-name generator? Of course there is. (I have no knack for it; my key words—scampering, spinster, maple—were apparently not sufficiently cheeky, even after I added sullen to the mix for extra attitude.) But then, I didn’t really need it; I already have the perfect name. Ogden Nosh. We’ll sell franks, but of course, they’ll be called Doggerels. The way some fast-food chains give their customers discreet Bible verses on the bottoms of cups, we’ll force-feed our patrons nonsense verses. And, naturally, on the side of the truck will be written the following: “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.”

Strong Names

September 8, 2014 | by

Sometimes you go to Wikipedia to see whose birthday it is and you end up spending the next thirty minutes reading flap copy from old Harlequin romances. By “you” I mean me, here—I’ve just now crawled up out of the Jane Arbor mineshaft I fell into.

Arbor, who was, yes, born today in 1903, wrote fifty-seven romance novels in her day, all of them published by Mills & Boon, a UK imprint of Harlequin. Even without their florid illustrations, their titles are terrific; they sound variously like managerial concepts, short-lived sitcoms, or Yankee Candle scents. In addition to those in the slideshow above, here are a few favorites:

  • Ladder of Understanding (1949)
  • My Surgeon Neighbor (1950)
  • Memory Serves My Love (1952)
  • Jasmine Harvest (1963)
  • The Feathered Shaft (1970)
  • Two Pins in a Fountain (1977)

But Arbor’s true talent was in naming her characters, a gift that extended to the author herself. Jane Arbor is a pseudonym—and a pretty perfect one, dainty without lacking in heft and authority—for the comparatively ungainly Eileen Norah Owbridge. Arbor had a knack for naming her heroines’ love interests, all of whom have strong but subtle appellations of three or four syllables. They’re impossibly perfect names that seem hewn from granite, as are, presumably, the abdomens of the men they belong to. Names like Erie Nash. Dale Ransome. Elyot Vance. Lewis Craig. Mark Triton. Raoul Leduc. Grandmere Cordet. You see how a Piepenbring could be envious.

Without further prologue, then: the flap copy for three of Arbor’s novels. Read More »

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A Horse Named Paris Review

June 7, 2014 | by

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Go baby go!

With the Belmont Stakes upon us, today is an apt day to revisit a our Spring 1976 issue, in which George Plimpton made an astonishing equine discovery:

This office received a letter from an English writer who reported that at the racetrack he had put a fiver on a horse named Paris Review … We have looked into the matter. Paris Review, a chestnut with a handsome star on his forehead, was born in 1972 in the U.S.A. (by Noholme II out of Pride of Paris), bought by John Hay Whitney’s Greentree Stables at the Saratoga Stakes, and named by Mr. Whitney soon after.

Paris Review, pictured above, may never have enjoyed the cultural primacy of your California Chromes, your Secretariats, or even your Mister Eds—maybe it was that missing definite article holding him back—but he had his day in the sun. In his second year, he won, placed, and showed in a series of races in England. After that, he was bought as a stud and sent to Australia, where presumably he had a lot of fun.

Plimpton closes the piece by “passing on to the Australians a few suggestions of titles of poems and stories ‘out of’ the literary Paris Review which could be applied to Paris Review’s offspring”:

Looking Backward; Last Comes the Raven; Ho Ho Ho Caribou; Phenomenal Feelings; Travel Dust; Chest of Energy; The Flying Fix (!); Mister Horse. If there were not a limit imposed by the Racing Commission on the number of letters possible in a horse’s name, we would offer these two poem titles, Going Downtown to Buy Some Pills, and (our favorite) Nimble Rays of Day Bring Oxygen to the Blood.

Read the essay here, and gamble responsibly this evening.

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