- In South Korea, there’s a book so sagacious—so steeped in commonsense know-how and philosophical intrigue—that it’s whispered about at every level of society. It’s the Talmud, whose unlikely role in South Korean culture reads like something out of a counterfactual history: “Each Korean family has at least one copy of the Talmud. Korean mothers want to know how so many Jewish people became geniuses … Twenty-three per cent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish people. Korean women want to know the secret. They found the secret in this book.”
- Fact: book publishers don’t fact-check. According to your average book contract, fact-checking is the author’s problem, and the author’s financial burden, so good luck. But “the status quo might shift a notch this fall, at least for a lucky few. In September, Tim Duggan Books, the editor’s eponymous new imprint under the Crown Publishing Group, will be the first ever to offer fact-checking as a service paid for by the publisher.”
- So you’re cruising west on Interstate 10, shedding the trappings of your old life for a new, free beginning in the American West—congratulations! You’ve undertaken a journey so iconic, and perhaps so hackneyed, that 100 billboards now speckle the highway to commemorate it. The “Manifest Destiny Billboard Project,” which stretches from sea to shining sea, examines “the way we think about aspiration and ambition, achievement and taking. It ties to everything from the capitalist impulse to notions of exploration, and to the desire to know.”
- In the late nineteenth century, Nietzsche’s philosophy found an unexpected (if ambivalent) advocate in George Bernard Shaw: “People read Nietzsche for his philosophy; they go to Shaw’s plays for their comedy … In the absence of God, both were seeking a purpose. There was Nietzsche’s belief in struggle which Shaw acknowledged as necessary for essential improvement; there was also his attack on traditional moral values that acted as a brake on necessary change. He was clever and imaginative and sometimes original. But Shaw was not one of Nietzsche’s ‘brethren’ who is urged to see ‘the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman.’”
- If you were raised Catholic, your writing may well be forever inflected with Catholicism—even if you leave the Church. Don’t worry. It’s not bad … necessarily. “When we tag a writer ‘a Catholic novelist,’ we attribute to him the agenda of the Catholic, and not the aim of the novelist … Blake’s “mind-forged manacles” become faith-forged manacles when the purely imaginative and linguistic motive of the novelist is sullied by the believer’s allegiance to Catholicism. That’s the pinch: Catholics already have the truth, whereas novelists write novels in part because they don’t.”
- That wild pope of ours—what’s he up to this time? Why, he’s hiring a Japanese tech firm to digitize the whole of the Vatican Library’s archives, of course! It’s almost as if this pontiff wants to make the world a better place.
- Victorian occultists believed in a kind of synesthesia, “the theory that ideas, emotions, and even events, can manifest as visible auras.” Fortunately for all of us, they made many terrific illustrations to support this theory, too.
- A landfill in New Mexico may contain truckload upon truckload of the worst video game of all time: Atari’s 1982 E.T. tie-in.
- After years of trying to sweep him under the rug, atheists are finally talking about Nietzsche again.
- Turkey’s Twitter ban has spawned a new Web site, Mwitter, which is semantically pretty fascinating. (Look for Elif Batuman in the comments section.)
It was Tuesday and Mike Tyson was comparing himself to Machiavelli.
“After you kill the king,” he said, “you cut off his head and you be audacious. You say what you’re going to do to the next king. Speak foully.”
What great writer bears the most resemblance to Mike Tyson? At a talk at the New York Public Library, host Paul Holdengräber compared Tyson to Montaigne, Rousseau, and Orwell, all in the same breath. “Well, uh, that’s pretty profound,” said Tyson, who was there to promote his new memoir, Undisputed Truth. He might have had a different thinker in mind. “I think about Nietzsche a lot,” he writes in the book. Tyson the superman, a former petty criminal from Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the son of, as he put it, two people who “worked in the sex industry,” is by now a thoroughly American symbol. He found riches on the basis of physical strength and sheer willpower, then lost everything by the force of his scarred psyche. He’s currently aiming at the redemptive stage of his career. It isn’t the first time. He is tragic in a Greek kind of way. “I love war,” he told Holdengräber enthusiastically. “I love the players in war. I love the philosophy of war.” And he has the facial tattoos to prove it.
At the library, he walked the audience through the lineage of Frankish kings. He identifies with them because “they came from obscurity” and “I was born in obscurity and I never wanted to go back again.” Tyson is also an admirer of Pepin the Short, the first of the Carolingian rulers, a ruthless suppressor of revolts and the father of Charlemagne. At one point, he likened himself to Ben-Hur.
“Remember Ben-Hur?” Tyson said. “He became a wealthy man. He became a great conqueror for slaves. He became the best celebrity. And, wherever it was, he rescued the general of that ship, and after all that he couldn’t save his family. They put them with the lepers. His sister and his mother. Then he got his family from the lepers. He was a success.” There was a pause. “Look at success with me, myself.” Read More
You will likely have noticed by now the writerly fashion of building an essay by numbered sections. These sections can vary from just a single sentence to many pages. Sometimes a section will bear one or more indentations or line breaks and will stretch into a mini-essay. Sometimes there will be as few as three sections and sometimes there will be more than a hundred.
Writers, such as God, have been numbering sections for a very long time indeed, and I do not wish to suggest that this technique is new, rather that it is increasingly used. My proof is a general sense that this is happening, nursed into conviction by a robust confirmation bias.
Quite often these sections comprise a series of declarative sentences, near aphorisms, sayings that, breathed from the lips of drunks, would by most of us be taken in, swished around and then spat out.
These sections comprise wild declarative sentences, aphorisms, sayings that, belched from the throats of drunks, would be swished around and then spat out.
To take one example, “The only picture that it seems appropriate to paint in 2012 is a painting of people having their picture taken by famous paintings.”
Our Spring Revel will take place tomorrow, April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
“I first met Robert Silvers in 1989 at a party that George Plimpton gave for me at his apartment on Sutton Place.” It would be hard to exaggerate how gratifying it is to be able to write down such a sentence. Those were heady days. My novel, The Book of Evidence, had been shortlisted for that year’s Booker Prize, and I was riding on the crest of a wave that, as it turned out, would quickly run into the sands, though the ride was fine while it lasted. I may not have been exactly the toast of New York, but an evening at George’s place that included an encounter with the editor of The New York Review of Books was bubbly enough for me.
Bob that night inquired where I was staying in New York and said he would “send something round.” When I got back to my hotel room there was a parcel waiting for me, containing Denis Donoghue’s memoir Warrenpoint, along with a note from Bob asking if I would write on it for the NYRB. At least, that was what it seemed to be asking, for this was my first experience of Bob’s handwriting and it took a good ten minutes of peering and squinting before I had deciphered enough of the message to guess at the overall import.
I have had many notes from Bob since then, most of them brief and all of them hard to read, but never less than courtly in tone. The few longer ones have tended to be typed, on what is evidently a real typewriter. This last is oddly comforting; somehow a man who continues to type is a man one can trust. Read More
Umberto Eco’s novels have been widely admired for their blend of erudite scholarship and satisfying, page-turning plots. His latest book, The Prague Cemetery, continues this tradition by placing a fictional character by the name of Simonini in the midst of a real, historical milieu and giving him a significant, sinister place in nineteenth-century history and beyond. Simonini, an equal-opportunity hater of ethnicities, races, and religions, is a master forger and plays an important role in crafting the “conspiracies” of his time, most importantly the document that becomes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I spoke to Eco about the novel, just now being published in the US, on the phone from Italy.
The Prague Cemetery is your sixth novel. Do you find it becomes easier to write a new book at this point in your career? Does it become harder to find new subjects to interest you?
Every time that I write a novel I am convinced for at least two years that it is the last one, because a novel is like a child. It takes two years after its birth. You have to take care of it. It starts walking, and then speaking. In two months I will be eighty years old. Probably I will not write another novel, and so mankind will be safe.
Did you enjoy writing this particular book?
Less than the others. For me, the process of writing usually takes six years. In those years I collect material, I write, I rewrite. I am in a sort of a private world of myself with my characters. I don’t know what will happen. I discover it step by step. And I become very sad when the novel is finished because there is no more pleasure, no more surprise. Read More