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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The Wrong Scent

April 20, 2016 | by

From a vintage Bienaimé advertisement.

When I rejoined my husband, the first thing he said was, “I love that perfume!”

“That’s just as well,” I said shortly.

Here’s what had happened: I’d taken refuge from the weather in a shop. Guiltily aware that I wouldn’t be buying anything, I sniffed at a series of perfume stoppers. Some customer in a fishing hat, a pair of white socks with sandals, and a bag with a picture of Liza Minnelli on it was chattering with the saleswoman about the exorbitant price of neighborhood tea and his depression. “Maybe some cologne will help your day,” said the saleswoman. Read More »

Exploding Autobiography: An Interview with Mark Leyner

April 14, 2016 | by

Photo: David Plakke Media NYC

When The Paris Review last interviewed Mark Leyner, in 2013, he announced his next book. “Gone with the Mind is my autobiography in the form of a first-person-shooter game,” he said. “You’ll have to blast your way back into my mother’s womb.”

Now, three years later, Gone with the Mind has arrived, and it’s … almost nothing like that. The autobiographical elements are intact, yes, and Leyner’s mother appears early and often—but the notion of a first-person shooter is unceremoniously jettisoned on page forty-six. (“Pretty much everyone I mentioned it to thought it sounded really cool, but what is that, actually? What would a book like that actually be, y’know?”) In its place is a loose frame story in which Leyner appears at the Nonfiction at the Food Court Reading Series at Woodcreek Plaza Mall, where he reads before a crowd of precisely three: a Panda Express employee on break, a Sbarro employee on break, and his mom.

The introductory speech he gives comprises the bulk of Gone with the Mind, a discursive farrago that touches on Freudian mother-son dynamics, constructivist aesthetics, fascist metaphysics, Twizzlers, women’s antiperspirant commercials, prostate cancer, and formative episodes from his youth. In earlier novels, Leyner cast himself as a paranoid egomaniac (Et Tu, Babe) or a feckless, oversexed adolescent (The Tetherballs of Bougainville), but the Mark Leyner we meet in these pages is transparent, erudite, self-deprecating, even tender. This is an autobiography that dramatizes its own creation—the pathos in attempting to express “the chord of how one feels at single given moment, in this transient, phantom world.”

I met Leyner at Marco & Pepe, a restaurant in Jersey City, where he arrived with a copy of Gershom Scholem’s The Messianic Idea in Judaism tucked under his arm. We began our conversation by learning, courtesy of our waitress, what a Portuguese muffin is.

So it sounds kind of like an English muffin, but bigger.

Does that mean anything called Portuguese is just a bigger variant of the English version?

Yes. Portuguese-breakfast tea is just a vat of English-breakfast tea. Anyway—it’s been three years since your last interview with the Review. I gather there’s been a sort of formalist struggle for you since then.

I waited on the idea for this book for a very long time. It’s important to me that each book is starting from scratch. I’m trying to think of a vital, unprecedented idea for a book that I haven’t seen. It’s not because I’m so ambitious—it’s just the way I’ve always worked. I have a feeling it comes from my being most engaged and inspired by visual artists when I was younger. Duchamp, Picabia, all the Cubists, Apollinaire and his people, André Breton, his people. And then all the great Abstract Expressionists, whom I adore still. I’m a big Clement Greenbergian. I’m a high formalist. I would always say that when, back in the day, people talked about postmodernism and things. I thought, No, I’m a card-carrying modernist, and I’m proud to say it. I approached this book in a formal way. How does one represent an autobiography, which in itself is a representation of confabulated memories? I began thinking about my mother—the meals we used to have at various restaurants and how we’ve always been so keen to make an audience out of each other. And that’s one of the really fundamental themes of this book—how intimates make audiences of each other. I really do think there’s a reading of this book that sees it as just me and my mom talking, and the rest of it being some kind of wonderful filigreed delusion—this pathetic event. Read More »

Plastic Presidents

March 1, 2016 | by

The Marx Presidents.

Growing up, our house was filled with presidents and almost presidents. WIN WITH WILLKIE! blared a sign on our front door. Wilson, having “kept us out of war,” looked down benevolently as you mounted the stairs. At the top, you might be confronted with a Nixon caricature and a poster for Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose ticket. And that’s to say nothing of the large case of assorted campaign buttons in the living room, or the cedar closet that had been completely given over to posters, terrifying rubber LBJ and Reagan masks, and other such ephemera. Read More »

Go Out in a Blaze of Glory

January 5, 2016 | by

Robert Frost on a 1974 postage stamp.

From “Dabbling in Corruption,” an essay by W. D. Snodgrass, in our Spring 1994 issue. Snodgrass was born on this day in 1926; he died in 2009. Here, he recalls seeing Robert Frost read at a Washington D.C. poetry conference in October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was at full tilt. Frost was eighty-eight then, and, as Snodgrass writes, “obviously in his last months”; he died the following January.

Our luncheon with Jacqueline Kennedy that day was suddenly canceled—rumor had it she was in a cave somewhere in a western state. Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles were steaming toward Cuba; American war ships were steaming toward them. If they met in mid-Atlantic, World War III would almost certainly begin; Washington would be wiped out in hours … 

By the time [of Frost’s reading], I was even more drunk and … did not dare register what was happening until a day or so later. Frost began, as he almost never did, by reading someone else’s poem: “Shine, Perishing Republic” by Robinson Jeffers. The title alone might have outraged his audience but they were so preconditioned to reverence that nothing else could reach them. Moving to his own poem, “October,” he drew special attention to its relevance for the current autumnal crisis: 

Read More »

The Phantoms of the Fifteenth Arrondissement

December 28, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

RCailloisRMinnaertca1975

Caillois ca. 1975. Photo: R. Minnaert

In an unremarkable section of Paris, Roger Caillois saw hiding places for “floating beings.”

Pity the Fifteenth! Paris’s most populous arrondissement is also one of its least celebrated. Stretching from the Front de Seine high-rises in the northwest to the Tour de Montparnasse in the southeast, the Fifteenth is sleepy, residential, and architecturally undistinguished. Home to minor government agencies and the headquarters of various corporations, its streets and thoroughfares are named for military officers, former colonial possessions, inventors, and Émile Zola, France’s dullest great novelist. Rue des Entrepreneurs intersects Rue de Commerce, where it branches off into Rue de l’Église and Rue Mademoiselle, which gives a good indication of what was on the minds of the men who incorporated the small suburban villages of Grenelle, Javel, and Vaugirard into the metropolis in the early years of the Second Empire. To make matters worse, the Fifteenth is tantalizingly adjacent to some of Paris’s genuine landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, located just across the Avenue de Suffren in the Seventh, the Cimetière Montparnasse, on the other side of the neighborhood’s eponymous and much-reviled skyscraper, or the tony apartment buildings on right bank of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

Yet this is Paris, and even the most unremarkable stretches of Zone 1 have their devoted mythographers. Born in 1913 in Reims, the jack-of-all-genres Roger Caillois knew something about being fame-adjacent. If you were to look at the faded group photographs of some of the most important avant-garde literary movements of the twentieth century, you would see him, in the background, with his thick eyebrows and chubby cheeks, manuscript in hand, ready to launch into a lecture about his latest intellectual obsession: mimicry, ludology, the sacred, gemstones, secret societies, science fiction, the City of Light. As a student at the prestigious École pratique des hautes études, Caillois became acquainted with the works of pioneering philosophers and anthropologists like Alexandre Kojève and Marcel Mauss. He was a member of the surrealists until a disagreement with André Breton over the nature of a Mexican jumping bean got him kicked out of the movement. He went on to found a discussion group, the Collège de Sociologie, with fellow excommunicant George Bataille, contributing articles to Bataille’s journal Acéphale while skipping the meetings of his secret society, one of which notoriously involved a serious discussion about a ritual sacrifice of one of the members. Walter Benjamin loathed him, but nevertheless included several citations from his writings on Paris in The Arcades Project. In Buenos Aires, where Caillois, a militant antifascist, spent the war years, he met Victoria Ocampo, the editor of the journal Sur. Ocampo was responsible for publishing some of the leading lights of what would become known as the Latin American Boom. Upon his return to France, Caillois took up a position at UNESCO, using his influence there to introduce the French reading public to his new friends Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and Silvina Ocampo. Read More >>

Letter from COP21, Part 2

December 14, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Read Part 1 here.

Day 6

Negotiators submitted a historic draft agreement today: mostly brackets and multiple choice options, but progress is more important than details right now. It is a starting point that will be handed to environmental and foreign ministers on Monday. Then the real grind begins.

The UN is calling today an official Day of Action, which is ironic—most of the official “actions” in Paris have been canceled, and the high-level ones at Le Bourget are off-limits to the public. Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein are staging a public trial for Exxon in Montreuil. Exxon was recently outed for having covered up, since 1978, the knowledge that its products were warming the planet. The dramatic reenactment includes the NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen and Peter Sarsgaard. Read More »