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Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

All Writers Have a Corpse in Their Closet: An Interview with Andrés Barba

November 3, 2015 | by

Andrés Barba. Photo © Andrés Barba

Andrés Barba’s August, October, now translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, should bring him the wide Anglophone readership he’s long deserved. The novel follows the fourteen-year-old Tomás as he travels to the coast with his affluent family on their summer vacation. He’s at a point in his life when everything feels distant and strange: friendships, sex, the alluringly lawless behavior of the lower-class kids he meets. Tomás ends up becoming complicit in the sexual assault of a local girl, the central event from which the narrative unspools, and back in Madrid, assailed by guilt, he tries to plot a path toward atonement—one that shines at times with an uneasy air of self-interest. The reader becomes trapped in a story of immaturity and transgression that leaves no room for the usual reassuring tropes of coming-of-age novels. The prose moves on constant commas, swaying between arousal and revulsion, and in its subject matter August, October brings to mind the early work that earned Ian McEwan the nickname “Ian Macabre”: First Love, Last Rites; The Cement Garden.

Barba is the author of twelve books in Spanish. Besides literary fiction he has written essays, poems, books of photography, books for children, and translations of De Quincey and Melville. We discussed his obsession with aloneness, the difficulties of capturing Moby-Dick in Spanish, and why certain “pompous utterances” in literature are “only useful insomuch as Justin Bieber can get them tattooed across his ass.” Barba is fluent in English, but felt more natural discussing his craft in Spanish. Cecilia Ross kindly translated his answers. Read More »

Cover Your Eyes—Pubes! and Other News

July 15, 2014 | by


Leena McCall’s Portrait of Ms Ruby May was recently removed from a gallery for its supposedly offensive depiction of pubic hair. Image via Slate

  • Ninety-eight years ago this month, Edith Wharton published Summer, a steamy novella “with a plotline that includes sex outside of wedlock, an unplanned pregnancy, and a truly disturbing relationship between a teenage girl and her guardian.” It was not well reviewed.
  • Nor, apparently, was When Harry Met Sally, which, though it eventually ascended into the rom-com pantheon, was widely dismissed when it came out twenty-five years ago. Terrence Rafferty wrote, “The debate, of course, is too shallow to engage us, but they might have tried providing a little plot … When Harry Met Sally positions itself comfortably in the middle of nowhere and casts knowing directions in all directions.”
  • On Virginia Woolf’s conception of privacy: “Many people accept the idea that each of us has a certain resolute innerness … What interested Woolf was the way that we become aware of that innerness. We come to know it best, she thought, when we’re forced, at moments of exposure, to shield it against the outside world.”
  • Today in prudery: in London, the Society of Women Artists’ annual exhibition featured a portrait by Leena McCall, which depicted—trigger warning!—a bit of pubic hair. But don’t worry! Calm down! The painting was summarily removed because it was “pornographic” and “disgusting.”
  • In the nineties, Prodigy was one of the most successful Internet companies around, an “interactive personal service” that finally went belly-up in 1999, taking with it “the written record of a massive, unique online culture, including millions of messages and tens of thousands of hand-drawn pieces of digital art.” Now one man has recovered some of that early Web culture.


The Origins of Barbecue, and Other News

May 5, 2014 | by


Photo: Derrick Tyson, via Flickr

  • The secret libraries of New York. (None of them are technically secrets, but “the comparatively less well-known libraries of New York” doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
  • “A surveillance society … threatens our interiority, our right to a private self that ensures we can never be fully transparent, to others or to ourselves. In a culture driven to render us ever more transparent to one another, literature and art may be among the few spaces in which to keep hold of this understanding of the private self.”
  • On the disappearance of spectacular cinema: “As the bulk of filmmaking has shifted away from studio productions and virtually all movies except for franchises have become, in effect, independent films, movies have fallen into conflicting extremes of artifice and of reality, and the idea of reality has become a sort of critical cult.”
  • “The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus encountered on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. Reports indicate that the Spanish referred to this new style of cooking as barbacoa: the original barbecue.”
  • These statues are very, very, arrestingly large.




April 24, 2014 | by


Gustave Caillebotte, Rooftops in the Snow, 1878

Is there a song about city life more evocative than “Up on the Roof,” the Drifters’ 1963 hit? In 1980, The Illustrated History of Rock and Roll said, “From the internal rhyme of ‘stairs’ and ‘cares’ to the image of ascending from the street to the stars by way of an apartment staircase, it’s first-rate, sophisticated writing.” All true, but the appeal is emotional, visceral, too.

Many years ago, I used to occasionally babysit for a little boy who sported a diaper until an advanced age. When he had to go to the bathroom, he would scream, “PRIVACY!” and everyone would have to vacate whatever room he was in.

That was weird, in retrospect. But I sort of envy him it—not the diaper, but the ability to magically invoke solitude. Maybe I am extra aware of it because I am currently visiting with my parents, and they have a tendency to shout to each other between floors, and I have a tendency to regress, and suddenly, just as when I was a teenager, all I want is to have some space of my own, where I can read, and think, in private. Read More »

Bad Call: Meditations on the Pocket Dial

September 25, 2013 | by


Still from the film Brief Encounter (1945).

My acquaintances rarely call me, but their pockets and purses ring me up faithfully. So it is for the Abigails and Aarons, the Abdullahs and Aaliyahs, A. A. and AAA—and one mustn’t forget the Yaschas and Yankels, the Xenas and Zinos. We alphabetical extremists, we who crown and conclude your contact lists: we aren’t a call away so much as a few unintended nudges. Perhaps your finger, seeking lipstick, flicks the “Contacts” key, and your phone highlights the earliest entry—dear old Abelard!—and your knuckle strikes “Call.” Perhaps, in the thick of all that accidental action, your pinky pokes the “Up” button, taking you to the list’s final entry: then it’s cousin Zabrina you’ve piped into your life.

Not to alarm you; not to suggest that, at this very minute, an army of Abners and Zilpahs are listening to their cell phones with unseemly interest, picking up on secrets you had never meant to share. No, it’s far more likely we’re hearing whish-whoosh, whish-whoosh: the song of your stride.

Is there anything quite like the pocket dial? Does any other form of social intercourse invite us—actually, mandate us—to spy on our acquaintances?

Mandate? you ask. Yes, mandate, at least for a few moments. “Hello?” we say, and listen. “Hello?” we say again. And hear the background music of our friends’ lives: the slamming doors, the roaring traffic, the whish and the whoosh. Where is he walking? we wonder. Why is she shouting? And we never find out. Unless, of course, we keep listening.

Which I don’t. Hardly ever. Only under duress. When, for instance, years ago, the enigmatic and taciturn youth I had recently started dating called me while he was catching up with his mom. This isn’t invasion, I told myself guiltily, as I noted his thoughtful inquiries and nodded with approval. This is research. This is good for the team. Read More »