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Posts Tagged ‘Nicole Krauss’

A Theory of Love

April 19, 2013 | by

KayproIIopenedI remember sitting in red tights and buckled shoes in my childhood room as my word processor booted up. My father had taught himself DOS programming, and boxy yellow letters blinked on the gray green screen. “THIS IS KATIE RYDER’S WORD PROCESSOR. HELLO KATE.” A system-check flashed through my existing files—“/a_bad_day” (child minimalist), “/last_unicorn” (child plagiarist)—before bringing me to the composition page. My dad’s words changed slightly from week to week by mysterious means; this time, they declared: “YOU’RE READY TO WRITE KATE.”

In Scott Hutchins’s debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, Neill Bassett Jr. communicates with his dead father through a computer. Dr. Neill Bassett Sr. committed suicide while his son was in college and left behind a tome of meticulous journals. These—painstaking and only superficially personal—are used to form the base “personality” of a computer run by a small team of scientists aiming to develop the world’s first “sentient” machine, by the standards of the Turing test. Neill’s task is to “chat” with DrBas, as the program is called, and work out the kinks, training the computer in the rules of language and interaction. Soon it begins to demonstrate inclinations and preferences—something a bit like a will—and DrBas comes to closely resemble Neill’s dead father. The two talk of Neill Sr.’s best friend; his wife, Libby; Neill Jr.’s childhood and current life—a recent divorce and a new, stunted romance with a much younger woman—all the while skirting the black hole of the computer’s knowledge: that the real Dr. Bassett killed himself in 1995, that the person Dr. Bassett is dead. 

Meanwhile, in the real world, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has stored a warehouse room full of information about his own dead father for the purpose of bringing him back to life as an electronic consciousness. The chief inventor of the flatbed scanner and the Kurzweil keyboard synthesizer, and a millionaire many times over, Kurzweil described the Internet before its existence and accurately projected the year a computer would defeat a human chess champion. He now predicts computers will reach sentience by 2029—a point at which they will “match human intelligence and go beyond it.” This moment is sometimes referred to as the singularity—a mythic, multipurpose term, borrowed from physics and mathematics. At its most basic, the singularity is the moment when “the model breaks down”: when we can no longer know what we knew before. In a 2009 documentary about Kurzweil called Transcendent Man, Ray explains that he will live forever (through transhumanistic nanotechnology: microscopic machines that will aid in “reprogramming” our “Version 1” bodies to more perfect health), and, he says, eyes into the camera, “I do plan to bring back my father.” Fred Kurzweil’s letters, sheet music, financial ledgers, and electric bills all sit in wait. Read More »

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Here We Are: On the Occasion of Philip Roth’s Eightieth Birthday

March 23, 2013 | by

Birthday-Party

Upon the occasion of Philip Roth’s eightieth birthday, acclaimed critic and biographer Hermione Lee likened the newly retired writer first to Shakespeare and then to one of his creations, The Tempest’s Prospero, who famously invokes the audience’s applause as a means to his freedom. But surely, not even Prospero enjoyed such applause as Mr. Roth received on his birthday night, as family, friends, and fans gathered at the Newark Museum on Tuesday evening to honor the literary legend. Dressed in their party best, yet casual and comfortable (no black ties here), guests at the invitation-only celebration—including Philip Gourevitch, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, Library of America’s Max Rudin, official Roth biographer Blake Bailey, and many dedicated Roth scholars and members of the Philip Roth Society—perused collections of American and Tibetan art and visited the nineteenth-century home of the Ballantines, then mingled in the museum’s airy classical court, pacing the marble floors, conversing, sipping sodas and sparkling water, and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres and crudités before moving to the auditorium for a program of tributes and speeches. Read More »

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The Book Club

January 2, 2012 | by

I recently found myself in need of an inexpensive suit that didn’t look like I picked it up at a Salvation Army. Like countless other men in the same position, I headed to J.Crew. As I walked over the wide-planked wood floors of the store, I admired the chain’s decor: framed copies of jazz albums issued in the 1950s by Columbia and Blue Note, movie posters from the French New Wave, Japanese fashion magazines, and a case full of leather bracelets, flasks, and knives. While one man took my measurements, I cheerily pointed to a copy of Leonard Cohen’s book Beautiful Losers, which was nestled atop a display of shirts and quoted the author’s best advice: Cohen “never discusses his mistresses or his tailor.” The man laughed uncomfortably, then, looking at the book, admitted he wasn’t actually a tailor (“I just work here on the weekends”) and revealed that the copy of Beautiful Losers, along with the other books scattered around the store, were really just for show.

Long before Abercrombie & Fitch became a fixture in shopping malls across America, it was one of the first places Ernest Hemingway would visit when he came to New York. Fitzgerald and Plimpton favored Brooks Brothers, and Tom Wolfe crafted his trademark around New York tailor Vincent Nicolosi’s white suits. Well-dressed writers are far from an anomaly, but recently there’s been a twist in this trend: books are becoming the dressings for brands.Read More »

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Staff Picks: Booker Gossip, Wittgenstein Gags

October 15, 2010 | by

Howard Jacobson, the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. Photograph by Luke MacGregor.

Two years ago, in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Booker Prize, The Guardian dredged up a judge from every single year willing to dish on the behind-the-scenes goings-on: Wives promote their husbands' books; punches are thrown; Salman Rushdie is insulted. Another Booker-related treat: a funny and surprisingly poignant profile of aging table-tennis great Marty Reisman, written in 1999 by this year’s winner, Howard Jacobson (once a ranked junior table-tennis player in England), published for the first time in the U.S. this week by Tablet Magazine. Sample description of Marty: “a leftover Beat poet about to read to a bunch of contemporary kids in a non-English speaking country.” —Miranda Popkey

“A typical Wittgenstein gag was drawing an arrow to the ‘W.C.1’ in a London address on a letter he was going to mail and writing, ‘This doesn’t mean ‘Lavatory.’” If the great man finding amusement in such things tickles you—and it really should—you’ll enjoy the rest of Jim Holt’s little book Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. And oh yes, French children are apparently fond of jokes about the fantastical creature known as the zizi tordu, or “twisted penis.” Now you’ll read the book, won’t you. —Mark de Silva

A History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. I was pulled in by the fluid, experimental structure and kept reading because Krauss, like Roth, gets Jewish families exactly right. Elie Wiesel wrote that the ambivalent “and yet” is the most Jewish of phrases; it is also protagonist Leo Gursky’s constant refrain. —Kate Waldman

The novelist Douglas Coupland previews his upcoming, five-part Massey Lecture on the culture of our near-future in the Globe and Mail. And Vaughan Bell looks backward, to an era in which murder was among our most social and democratic activities. —David Wallace-Wells

Zadie Smith has a short essay in The New Yorker's money issue about lending funds to a friend. I appreciate her honesty: “Until this episode, I’d thought of myself as a working-class girl who’d happened upon money, my essential character unchanged. But money is not neutral; it changes everything, including the ability to neutrally judge what people will or will not do for it.” Bonus: Zadie was a young violist, just as I was! —Thessaly La Force

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A Week in Culture: Maud Newton, Part 2

June 10, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Maud Newton’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

8:07 A.M. I don’t work on Wednesdays, but I’m up early anyway, mildly hungover and with tea in hand, to write. The dinner scene looks clunkier now; commence line-edits.

9:30 A.M. Online grazing: Garrison Keillor publishes an infuriating death-of-publishing op-ed. Kingsley Amis argues that Keats isn’t a great poet. Graydon Carter says that Kingsley Amis was “an accomplished womanizer, drinker, and conversationalist” who was “funny and raffishly rude, and had the thinnest, whitest skin I’ve ever seen on a man—like a condom filled with skim milk.” The NYPL and the Brooklyn and Queens library systems are beginning major layoffs; protest by joining the postcard campaign.

10:30 A.M. More writing, further consultation of Memento Mori.

12:30 P.M. For lunch: bagel with tomato, onion, lox, and cream cheese. I’ve set aside a little time here because I’m excited to take a look at the galley for my friend Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, about the U.S. terrorism-detection machine/industry.

2:00 P.M. Back to work on my novel draft.

8:12 P.M. After six hours’ work, I’m feeling more optimistic about the way all the hullabaloo with the dogs leads into the dinner scene.

8:45 P.M. Sushi and drinks with Max. Lately when I drink gin, I’ve been doing it Kingsley Amis’s preferred way, with a little ice, lemon, and water. It’s growing on me. I don’t know why I’m drinking the things he and Muriel Spark did.

11:00 P.M. Time for another episode of Damages (second of Season Two).

1:23 A.M. Amis on owing to/due to: Never say “Due to lack of interest, the carol service has been cancelled"—only “Owing to...”  

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