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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Theroux’

Take a Mental Vacation—Listen to Travel Writers

March 24, 2014 | by

Theroux on Train

Paul Theroux on a train, doing what he does.

What do Paul Theroux, Ryszard Kapuściński, Peter Matthiessen, and Jan Morris have in common? All four have advanced the art of travel writing, or writing that foregrounds a sense of place. And over the years, all four have been interviewed at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, where The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Now, 92Y and The Paris Review are making recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review.

As yet another cold front shunts frigid air in our direction, it’s especially nice to hear smart people talk of exotic climes and faraway places. So you can listen to Paul Theroux, who spoke to our beloved founder, George Plimpton, in December 1989:

I came from, not a small town, but basically not a very interesting place. I felt that the world was elsewhere and that nothing was every going to happen to me, or that I wouldn’t actually see anything, feel anything, any sense of romance or action, or that my imagination wouldn’t catch fire until I left home. So it was very important for me not to rebel but simply to get away, to go away …

Or a conversation with Jan Morris, who appeared at 92Y that October:

I resist the idea that travel writing has got to be factual. I believe in its imaginative qualities and its potential as art and literature. I must say that my campaign, which I’ve been waging for ages now, has borne some fruit because intelligent bookshops nowadays do have a stack called something like travel literature. But what word does one use? … I think of myself more as a belletrist, an old-fashioned word. Essayist would do; people understand that more or less. But the thing is, my subject has been mostly concerned with place.

Or Peter Matthiessen, another cofounder of The Paris Review, from 1997:

It’s broad daylight, good visibility, yet mountains move. You perceive that the so-called permanence of the mountains is illusory, and that all phenomena are mere wisps of the cosmos, ever changing. It is its very evanescence that makes life beautiful, isn’t that true? If we were doomed to live forever, we would scarcely be aware of the beauty around us …

Or Ryszard Kapuściński, from 1991:

If we write about human beings, in the most humanly way we are able to, I think everybody will understand us. I find humanity as one family. People really are very much the same in their reactions, in their feelings. I know the whole world. I can’t find much difference in the way men react to others’ unhappiness, disasters, tragedies, happiness. Writing for one man, you write for everybody.

These recordings are the next best thing to a vacation. Their release is made possible by a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, who worked in the art department at The Paris Review and volunteered as an archivist at 92Y’s Poetry Center.

 

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Essex Girl

February 21, 2013 | by

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We traveled from East London in a Zipcar, beating the traffic bound for Lakeside, the out-of-town shopping center. The pier car park was sparsely filled with cars. Abandoned in a corner was a statue of the Virgin Mary the size of an umbrella stand. Out of season, the Essex archipelago lures only the most hardened. By October, the weather is spitting and icy, and its landscape is too bleak and monotonous to qualify as ruggedly beautiful. A Wikipedia entry had told us there are nineteen islands off the coast of Essex, most of them owned by the British Ministry of Defence and contracted to private companies testing ammunitions. The individual entries were nearly all stubs, waiting to be filled in. An archipelago struck a curious exotic note in a place associated mostly with commuting, military test sites, and, most recently, “constructed reality” television.

American import Jersey Shore inspired The Only Way is Essex, a show similarly centered on the intricate love lives of pneumatic people living in an area derided for being culturally bankrupt, despite its proximity to one of the most exciting cities in the world. Jersey’s Essex County was even named after the UK’s own historical Essex, in 1683. Maybe there’s no need to make analogies between the UK’s Essex and anywhere else because its reputation is internationally bad, and we don’t defend it. The county town Chelmsford, where I was born, was voted eighth best place to live in the UK on the prerecession property-porn show Location Location Location. Residents promptly rang in to call it soulless; flashy on one hand and tedious on the other, like a nouveau riche neighbor with dull preoccupations. Read More »

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Elusive Epigraphs; Travel Books

September 2, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein, May I take advantage of the hospitality of your letters column to ask if you or your readers can help me to solve a small puzzle? I have come across an epigraph ascribed to Proust that heads the first chapter of Hamish Miles’s English translation of Édouard VII et son temps by André Maurois (King Edward and His Times, London: Cassell, 1933, p. 1). It reads: “Every social status has its own interest, and to the artist it can be just as compelling to show the ways of a Queen as the habits of a dressmaker. —Marcel Proust.” An excellent colleague of mine remarks that this certainly sounds genuine, and he even wondered if the aperçu came from the bit in Le Côté de Guermantes where Proust talks sniffily about grocers writing aristocratic novels, but I am afraid it is not there. Now we find that the epigraph is nowhere to be found in Maurois’s original French text, so the plot thickens. Much as I am tickled by the idea of an industrious and I daresay underappreciated translator recklessly concocting a spurious epigraph for the purpose of self-promotion, or worse, something tells me that there is an alternative explanation. So can anyone, do you think, identify these lines about “the ways of a Queen” and “the habits of a dressmaker,” and pin them on Proust? Thank you, Angus Trumble

We all hoped it was made up. But no. The epigraph comes from “An Historical Salon,” an essay—really, a celebrity profile—that Proust wrote for Le Figaro in late 1902. His subject is the Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, a niece of Napoleon’s and the last Bonaparte to remain in Paris after the fall of the Second Empire. She was known for her literary salons, which included Mérimée, Flaubert, and the Goncourts. In the sentences you quote, Proust has just finished his you-are-there description of one of the princess’s soirées and he’s gearing up for the mini bio (which, in the case of Princesse Mathilde, is slightly delicate, since she left her first husband, a Russian tycoon, for another man, with the connivance of yet another uncle: Czar Nicholas I; it's good to know people).

As translated in F.W. Dupee’s edition of Pleasures and Days, the entire paragraph reads:

An artist will serve the truth only, and have no respect for rank. In his portrayals he will take rank into account as a principle of differentiation like nationality, race, or environment. All stations in society have their interest for an artist, and it is as exciting for him to picture the ways of a queen as the habits of a dressmaker. Read More »

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Words We Don’t Say; The Tao of Travel

May 27, 2011 | by

Kurt Andersen had his list of “Words We Don’t Say.” As the editor of The Paris Review, what are some of yours? —Tom Michaels

Usage snobbery is a poor man’s snobbery. It has no place at The Paris Review. When Kurt Andersen compiled his list of peeves, he had the excuse of working at New York—a magazine that pretty much exists to market snootiness on a budget. You will notice that most of his verbotens come from the tabloids, the trades, or lifestyle magazines. (There is something, not just ironic, but deep about a lifestyle magazine banning the word lifestyle.) Which is to say, Andersen was doing his job. He was maintaining a tone.

Here at the Review we have no such excuse. All we’ve got are hang-ups. I blame mine on The Worth of Words, a late-Victorian usage manual that I picked up at a yard sale during high school and subsequently destroyed. It was too late. The Worth of Words had singed it onto my brain that the phrase due to should be used only in instances of someone actually incurring a debt of gratitude, that aggravate must never be used except in the sense of adding to, and that partially means only “with bias.” (Google Books has now reunited me with this manual and its insane author, Ralcy Halsted Bell. Entry one: “ABORTIVE means of untimely birth ... To speak of an abortive attempt or act is hardly short of the ridiculous.”

I do not recommend The Worth of Words, and I offer this tiny (partial) list of my own in a spirit of confession and contrition. Recently our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, cured me of an aversion to forthcoming (in the sense of “soon to be published”) with the help of the OED. Here, off the top of my head, are some more:

Home (for house)
Hopefully (for “I hope”)
Disinterest (for “lack of interest”—yes, even though I know it’s totally correct)
Delicious, Spicy, Tangy (used metaphorically)
Tasty (ever, but especially in reference to a “lick”)
Pleasantry (except in the sense of “joke”)
Following (to introduce a list: as in “the following”)
Contact (as a verb)
Relationship (ever, ever, even when it’s the mot juste)
Impact (unless we’re talking about, e.g., a car crash)

I could go on. (Couldn’t you?)

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