The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Different Ways of Lying: An Interview with Jesse Ball

April 3, 2014 | by

Jesse Ball

Photo: Joe Lieske

Jesse Ball writes novels and stories in the vein of Kafka or Daniil Kharms—surreal, often hyperpolitical constructions from contemporary life. His 2011 novel, The Curfew, whirls around an absurd dystopia, an uncanny avatar of our own. It’s home, but not quite. The Way Through Doors (2009) and Samedi the Deafness (2007) are set in neighborhoods at once eerily similar to and foreign from our own. To read Ball, who won The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize in 2008, is to step into a kind of liminal space. And his new novel, Silence Once Begun, contains his most beguiling sleight of hand yet.

Silence Once Begun begins in a Japanese fishing town where eight people have recently disappeared from their homes. At a bar, Oda Sotatsu, an unassuming, lonely young man, wagers on a card game and loses to the mesmeric Jito Joo—Sotatsu signs a document that says he’s responsible for the recent disappearances. Jito Joo takes this confession to the police, and soon rumormongering and hearsay consume the town. Throughout his trial and imprisonment, Sotatsu remains almost completely silent, refusing to testify on his own behalf in court and barely engaging with the relatives who appeal to him. At the center of the novel, framing its various narratives, is a divorced investigative journalist named Jesse Ball.

Our conversations found the real Jesse Ball by turns serious and coy. We discussed the political value of plain speech, his near ascetic desire for isolation, and the necessity of lying.

Silence Once Begun demonstrates the failure of this town’s justice system, a failure to do right by one of their own. Another of your novels, The Curfew, also engages with unjust and inescapable social systems. Do you see your work as political?

Saying almost anything as well as you can say it, or doing anything properly and with your whole being, is a political act. And so I think almost any text that strives to have its own focus, without bowing to contemporary modes of humor or a little commercialism or whatever else—I think that’s very political. As long as everyone decides to hold and contain their own state, things improve.

My books, some of them appear to verge on the political. This one certainly seems to be an indictment of a justice system. In the course of time, many things that appear certain within an epoch or an era seem ludicrous and silly to those in another time. However, plain clear speech, or questions stated within the power of the heart, don’t really become silly. They retain a certain power. In terms of attempts to write clearly, I think that’s the most political act. Read More »


O Canada

November 6, 2013 | by


While things may have been tense around Parliament Hill in the last day, let us take a moment to appreciate something lovely: the neo-Gothic wonder that is Canada’s Library of Parliament. Designed by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, the 1876 structure is not open to the general public, but is portrayed on the Canadian ten-dollar note.




Happy Election Day

November 5, 2013 | by


“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it.” —Henry David Thoreau




September 26, 2013 | by


During the bedtime-story portion of his twenty-one-hours-and-nineteen-minutes-long speech on the floor of Congress, Senator Ted Cruz, in an episode that has already achieved notoriety, read Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham as his two daughters watched at home in their pajamas.

“I will credit my father,” Senator Cruz said. “He invented green eggs and ham.” Cruz’s father, the senator remembered, would add food coloring to eggs or mix spinach into them to get the green color.

But not even Dr. Seuss would say that he invented green eggs and ham. It was a bet with his publisher that led Theodor Seuss Geisel to write the book. Bennett Cerf wagered $50 that Geisel could not write a book with only fifty words.

And yet by repeating forty-nine monosyllabic words and a single polysyllabic word (anywhere), Geisel assembled a book with 681 words total that would become his most popular book ever, selling tens of millions of copies. Geisel claimed that Cerf never paid him the $50, but Green Eggs and Ham was one of the many Beginner Books that made the author and his publishing house millions of dollars.

Part of Dr. Seuss’s midcentury success came from federal education reform that dedicated money to stocking school libraries and promoting early education. “Children’s lit,” according to critic Louis Menand, “was a Cold War growth industry, right alongside Boeing, Northrop, and Dow Chemical.”

Dr. Seuss, in particular, was very much of his time, and Menand offers a convincing read of The Cat in the Hat as an allegory for the problems of feminism, communism, and juvenile delinquency. Read More »


Sketches from the Trial of Bradley Manning

August 5, 2013 | by


On Tuesday, I sat in a Fort Meade courtroom, waiting to hear if Bradley Manning would be found guilty of treason. Bradley Manning’s trial (like those of hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, or Anonymous-affiliated journalist Barrett Brown) is a trial of modernity. It shows the old world lashing out against an increasingly uncontrollable future.

I was there because I know which side I’m on.


A tight community of supporters has grown around Manning. From veterans and NASA scientists to teenagers and retirees, they stand in the hot sun while drivers from Fort Meade scream insults at them. They wear black T-shirts, printed with the word truth. Many have been coming for years. They speak of Manning as a friend—or, sometimes, their child. They care for him as much as for they do for the truth his leaks represented. They take care of each other. Read More »



June 19, 2013 | by


A few weeks ago I travelled to Israel to give some talks. Along with invitations to universities I had been contacted by the United States Embassy in Jerusalem and asked if I would participate in an event that would be part of “the cultural outreach program” before President Obama’s visit at the end of March. At first the terms of my employment were loose: I could discuss any aspect of my writing or writing life that I chose. As I was born in London and only came to America when I was twenty-six, I thought I might discuss the seductive appeal that American novelists, especially Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, held for me when I was a young man and how perhaps, more than anything, it was reading their fiction which stirred my desires to move to New York and become, if I could, both an American citizen and an American writer.

The embassy thought this would be fine, but then someone higher up the ladder than the delightful and accommodating woman I had been dealing with decided to intervene. Would it be possible for me, in some way, to link my talk to the theme of “Great American Speeches?” I replied that while I had certainly admired and been impressed by President Obama’s Grant Park election victory speech, and while I had been thoroughly wowed by Aretha’s hat at the fist inauguration, I couldn’t really see how “Great American Speeches” had anything at all to do with my writing. Read More »