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Posts Tagged ‘O.J. Simpson’

Tension Minus the Genitals, and Other News

July 21, 2016 | by

From the cover of Exquisite Masochism.

  • If there exists, as Susan Sontag once insisted, a “terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things,” nobody seems to have warned John Gruen. Born in France, in 1926, Gruen (né Jonas Grunberg) fled Hitler and then Mussolini before landing in New York in 1939, where he learned English by watching movies. Gruen, who died on Tuesday, spent his seventysomething years on this continent as a book buyer at Brentano’s, a publicity director at Grove Press, a composer, a photographer, and, in his words, a “writer, critic, journalist, bon vivant, gadfly, busybody, father, husband, queer, neurotic workaholic,” as well as a “handmaiden to the stars, reveler in reflected glory and needy intimate of the super-famous.” In a 2008 interview, he told Time Out: “One of the big problems is that I never really settled on one thing ... I kept them all going, like a juggler, but none of them really took hold in a way that would catapult me as this one creature.” At the same time, he said, “As Miss Piaf sang, ‘Je ne regrette rien.’ ”
  • I’ll claim any person who dies with “Renaissance Man” in the headline of his obituary as an instant culture hero. But after learning that Charles Dickens turned his deceased cat into a letter opener, I'm beginning to feel a terrible, mean American resentment toward artists who try to make their dead pets do too many things. I can believe, for instance, that Le Corbusier loved his schnauzer Pinceau, just as I can believe that he loved Cervantes’s Don Quixote with all his heart. What I cannot bring myself to believe is that the adequate response to both loves was to bind the latter book in the former’s tanned and hairy hide. And yet.
  • But what do I know? Love is strange like that. Sex is even stranger, especially in Victorian novels, where it often isn’t sex at all. In her new book, Exquisite Masochism, Claire Jarvis suggests that for many of the fictional characters who had the bad luck to be stuck in a Victorian marriage plot, “withholding sex … is a perverse way of having it. In a novelistic milieu where illegitimacy or adultery can be the motives for serious tragedy, a fully developed sexual life presents a frightening threat. By describing erotic life in ways that avoid depicting sexual intercourse in favor of nongenital tension or intensity, novelists can render the frisson of sexual desire without the attendant plot risks.”
  • Andrew O’Hagan, reporting from the Department of Overlaps, finds a shared lesson in Joyce’s Ulysses and The People vs. O.J. Simpson: “the tendency of reality to give way to the fiction-maker’s abuse.” And yet, he notes, that abuse is also the guarantee of a certain immortality (what was that about exquisite masochism?), which helps explain why “Dubliners lining up at Sylvia Beach’s shop in Paris in 1922 were desperate to see if they’d been included, or, Holy Mother of God, left out ... In a way, Ulysses is like the greatest ever newspaper—all that was fit and unfit to print in one day—and its abundance depends on the idea that nobody is nothing.”
  • If nobody is nothing, does that mean that everybody is something? And if so, what? Or better yet: Who? At New York, Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger visit Whoville, a social-media limbo that often appears more insubstantial than the one Dante devised in the fourth canto of the Inferno: “Now that we’ve all been thrown together on—and get our news from—enormous social platforms with seamless, instantaneous sharing, it’s more likely than ever that we’ll be confronted with stories about people who sound made up. The traditional A-list-to-D-list hierarchy no longer makes sense when people whose names you’ve never heard before are trending on a social networks with hundreds of millions of users. Instead, the subjects of gossip coverage can be divided into two categories: Whos (as in: *furrows brow* Who?) and Thems (as in: ‘Oh, them.’)”

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

New Highs in Motel Voyeurism, and Other News

April 5, 2016 | by

Dear Mr. Jarecki

March 23, 2015 | by

How Gordon Lish’s first novel anticipated The Jinx.

DearMrCapote

From the paperback cover of Dear Mr. Capote.

Like every other sentient being with an HBO subscription, I’ve been riveted by the layers of mendacity, hypocrisy, voyeurism, manipulation, deception, dysfunction, and psychopathology on display in The Jinx. Robert Durst is as compelling a creep as has ever appeared on an LED screen; he seems like a character sprung from Patricia Highsmith’s dark imagination. (The Talented Mister Durst?) Andrew Jarecki, with his distinctly Mephistophelean facial hair, gives off his own aroma of brimstone. As I watched the series—rapt, but with a queasy feeling of complicity—I felt I’d encountered something like this before. Then I remembered what it was: Gordon Lish’s skilled, twisted, and exceptionally prophetic first novel, Dear Mr. Capote (1983).

The self-proclaimed “Captain Fiction,” Lish is most famous and/or notorious today for his writing classes, which more resembled EST sessions than workshops, and his hyperactive editorial pencil—which, depending on your point of view, either butchered or rescued much of Raymond Carver’s fiction. By 1983, Lish was riding high as an editor at Knopf, but through most of the seventies he’d been the fiction editor of Esquire, where he had almost single-handedly engineered a sea change in the style and substance of American short fiction, publishing the work of such minimalists as Carver, Joy Williams, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. Lish also convinced Truman Capote to publish the first two installments in his long bruited-about novel-in-progress, Answered Prayers. Capote had bragged that it would be his American answer to Proust, and the first of the chapters to appear, in June 1975, “Mojave,” received rapturous praise. Buoyed by this response, he gave Esquire another chapter to publish later that year, the incendiary and staggeringly impolitic “La Cote Basque, 1965,” which spilled a dump truck’s worth of dirt on his high-society friends and exiled him from the fancy circles and acquaintances he had so assiduously cultivated. Its publication sent Capote’s career into a terminal tailspin, perhaps the most disastrous miscalculation by a major writer in our literary history. Lish, too, has his Mephistophelian side. Read More »

Ishmael Reed on ‘Juice!’

September 13, 2011 | by

Ishmael Reed © Terence Byrnes.

Seventy-three-year-old Ishmael Reed has been a major figure in American letters for more than four decades. In April, Dalkey Archive published Juice!, Reed’s first novel in more than fifteen years. Juice! tells the story of a struggling African American cartoonist whose personal and professional life is disrupted by the media frenzy surrounding the O. J. Simpson murder trial. Earlier this summer, Reed, who is based in Oakland, California, responded to some of my questions about his latest work.

Juice! is your first novel since 1993. What inspired you to write another novel after all these years?

I began this one as soon as I heard about the murders. I was vacationing in Hawaii, and the murders ruined my vacation. The media went berserk over the murder of Nicole Simpson, the kind of ideal white woman—a Rhine maiden—one finds in Nazi art and propaganda, murdered allegedly by a black beast. It was a story that reached into the viscera of the American unconscious, recalling the old Confederate art of the black boogeyman as an incubus squatting on top of a sleeping, half-clad white woman. It was also an example of collective blame. All black men became O. J. The murders ignited a kind of hysteria.

Juice! does not have a conventional structure. The novel incorporates courtroom documents, television transcripts, and pieces of visual art. It also plays around quite a bit with time. What gave rise to the novel’s peculiar shape?

I try to experiment. Writing a conventional novel would be boring for me. In this novel, I added cartoons. Cartoons were probably my introduction to storytelling as a child, because on Sundays we got The Chattanooga Times, and I’d read the funnies. A publisher wanted to publish Juice! but decided that the cartoons weren’t up to par. So, at the age of seventy, I studied at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, and the cartoons improved so much that I now do political cartoons for The San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, City Brights.Read More »

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