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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Kushner’

Staff Picks: H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Apocalyptic Dry-humping

April 3, 2015 | by

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A still from Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y.

The hysteria and mystery surrounding the Germanwings crash have led me back to Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a 1997 film collage that traces the history of plane hijackings—and, just as important, the media fixation on those hijackings. When Tom McCarthy presented Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y at Lincoln Center last month, he praised its presentation of “media as a crypt from which history is leaking out” and “terrorism as a theological condition.” The film’s macabre footage captivates, in no small part because of Grimonprez’s shrewd, ironical editing. In one sequence, a grinning boy just rescued from a hijacked plane tells reporters, “I had a good time, I guess”; in another, a girl, still violently crying, is hustled off a recuperated aircraft only to be led into the klieg lights of a press junket. As McCarthy pointed out, the project hasn’t aged well—it came before 9/11, after all, and its focus on television can feel quaint in the age of the smartphone—but as a meditation on the codependency of media and terrorism, it remains invaluable. Sprinkled throughout the film are spoken excerpts from DeLillo’s Mao II, which feel, whenever they’re incanted, truer than ever: “In societies reduced to blur and glut, terror is the only meaningful act.” —Dan Piepenbring

Someone who has “a lasting liking for the cryptic and the ambiguous and the incantatory and the disconnected and the extravagant and the oracular and the apocalyptic” might turn out to be pedantic and self-absorbed, but chances are, they’re the sort of person you want to know deeply but are never able to. The person in question here is Joseph Mitchell, the rather enigmatic subject of a new biography that is itself the subject of a review by Janet Malcolm in the latest New York Review of Books. (See also our series “Big, Bent Ears,” which takes Mitchell as a subject.) Malcolm is an obvious choice for the assignment, but that doesn’t detract from how fun it is to read her on Mitchell. “Where the hell is this going?” she asks about a rambling conversation between Mitchell and one of his subjects. “As in all of Mitchell’s pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so you’d notice.” Malcolm is admiring of Mitchell’s work, reverential even, but astute. When Thomas Kunkel, Mitchell’s biographer, discovers that his subject invented portions of his nonfiction stories and makes excuses for these fabrications, Malcolm puts him in his place: “Few of us have gone as far as Mitchell in bending actuality to our artistic will. This is not because we are more virtuous than Mitchell. It is because we are less gifted than Mitchell.” —Nicole Rudick
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“Grammatico-political Monstrosities,” and Other News

March 31, 2015 | by

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From Puck Magazine, 1900.

  • In which Tom McCarthy, Rachel Kushner, Paul Muldoon, and other writers are photographed in their offices: “Helicopters, the L.A.P.D.’s crazy hobby, thunder overhead, chasing some guy who stole a Honda Element,” Kushner writes of her home office in LA. “The whoop-whoop of sirens comes next. I sit at my desk, less than a mile from the criminal courts and the jail, structures of human sacrifice, where people’s lives get wrecked.”
  • “I talked about the times he had slapped me and the times he had locked me in the cellar, and the point of these stories was always the same: his fury was always triggered by some petty detail, some utter triviality, and as such was actually comical. At any rate we laughed when we told the stories. Once I had left a pair of gloves on the bus and he slapped me in the face when he found out. I had leaned against the wobbly table in the hall and sent it flying and he came over and hit me. It was absolutely absurd!” A new excerpt from the long-awaited fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
  • A strain of occultism runs through Yeats’s poetry—“do-it-yourself religion,” as Seamus Heaney called it—and sure enough, “as a young man, according to the scholar Kathleen Raine, Yeats had a pack of Tarot cards among his ‘few and treasured possessions.’ In London, in 1887, he was initiated into the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, one of those secret societies that tend, as Raine remarks, ‘to relate everything with everything—letters with numbers, with cycles of months, years, and the signs of the zodiac, with parts of the body, celestial and infernal hierarchies of angels, with minerals, metals, plants, and animals.’ ”
  • On Obadiah Slope, the “calculating curate” at the center of Trollope’s Barchester Towers: “Isn’t Slope just a man seeking a better job and, into the bargain, a wife with a comfortable income? What exactly does he do, and why is he so disturbing? Ruthlessly fawning, constantly trying to wriggle his way into favor with the rich and powerful, and in the process tread on the heads of others, Slope is a particularly poisonous example of the kind of creep that haunts almost any organization or social group.”
  • Reports by the World Bank are torturing the English language like never before—these “grammatico-political monstrosities” amount to a new form of expression, “Bankspeak.” “In the world of ‘management’, people have goals and agendas; faced with opportunities, challenges and critical situations, they elaborate strategies. To appreciate the novelty, let’s recall that, in the 1950s–60s, issues were studied by experts who surveyed and conducted missions, published reports, assisted, advised and suggested programs.”

Hoarding Shakespeare, and Other News

April 17, 2014 | by

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James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps lived like a tramp, but he had a huge collection of "Shakespearean rarities." Photo via the Guardian

  • On Vijay Seshadri, the poet who won this year’s Pulitzer: “The combination of epic sweep … and piercing, evocative detail is characteristic of the contribution Seshadri has made to the American canon.”
  • Next week at Lincoln Center, Rachel Kushner introduces Anna, a seventies documentary that will be familiar to readers of The Flamethrowers: it “centers on the titular pregnant, homeless sixteen-year-old whom the filmmakers discovered in Rome’s Piazza Navona.”
  • “In a small series of sheds in Sussex a nineteenth-century joker and eccentric hoarded the evidence that reconciles Shakespeare the playwright with Shakespeare the man.”
  • Heaven Is for Real “is based on the mega-bestseller by a pastor whose four-year-old had major surgery, after which he knew things he couldn’t possibly have known, and also claimed to have met Jesus … The intended audience appears to be people in medically induced comas who enjoy Nebraska-themed screensavers and who think that Michael Landon had a little too much ‘bad boy edge’ on Highway to Heaven.”
  • What’s this? Just the average story of a doctor-buccaneer who lived among the natives of Panama in the seventeenth century: “It took almost an hour for his shipmates to recognize him. Then one started backwards in shock. ‘Why! Here’s our doctor!’ the man cried, and a crowd gathered around him, trying to rub off the geometric paint that obscured his features. It was Lionel Wafer, the pirate surgeon.”
  • In 1951, when the sociologist C. Wright Mills published White Collar: The American Middle Classes, “an entire society was being white-collarized. Status and prestige, emotional games and office politics: These were leaking out of the workplace and into the world, coloring the entire way people interacted and organized their time and leisure. The frankly confrontational style of blue-collar work and industrial unions was disappearing.”

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Youth, Eternal Life, and Other News

March 19, 2014 | by

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Garuda, the “vahana” of Vishnu, returning with a vase of Amrita, a nectar thought to bestow immortality. A drawing by an unknown artist, ca. 1825.

  • Some writers—the white male ones, mostly—expect to attain immortality through their work. Others simply write about eternal life.
  • And others still must wait for the afterlife for their work to get the attention it deserves. Walter Benjamin, for instance, was “all but forgotten in the years leading up to his death … his name had been kept alive by a small number of friends and colleagues, the kind of trickle of a readership that hardly suggested he would one day be counted among the most significant and far-ranging critics, essayists, and thinkers of the past 100 years.”
  • But the ebb and flow of critical reputation is almost a given these days, when we’re always developing provocative new rubrics with which to classify our writers. E.g.: “As novelists spend much of their day watching the grass grow, it is only logical that they can be defined according to their landscaping technique. Thus Donald Antrim is a push-mower novelist, while Rachel Kushner is a ride-mower novelist.”
  • There were not always “teenagers.” A new documentary examines the peculiar history of the concept, which was “the result and invention of adolescent girls … There is a kind of sexist quality to it as well, a crucifixion of the young female figure.”
  • As Ukraine becomes the nexus of geopolitics, pickup artists worry about the implications for getting laid. Would EU membership make Ukrainian women more independent, and thus more difficult to seduce? “Kiev’s pussy paradise potential has been permanently damaged … It’s very sad.”

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Tonight: Rachel Kushner and James Wood

February 11, 2014 | by

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Photo: Lucy Raven

Tonight at seven, Rachel Kushner launches the paperback edition of her wonderful novel The Flamethrowers—she’ll be in conversation with The New Yorker’s James Wood at the Powerhouse Arena, in Dumbo. (Note to the uninitiated: it’s a bookstore, not an arena, though it would be something to live in a world where a Kushner/Wood bill could sell out Madison Square Garden.)

As we mentioned briefly yesterday, The Flamethrowers is one of eight books to have been shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize, the first major English-language book prize open to writers from around the world. Its aim? “To celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” Kushner is in good company: the other nominees are Anne Carson, Amity Gaige, Jane Gardam, Kent Haruf, Eimear McBride, Sergio de la Pava, and George Saunders. The winner will be announced on March 10; we wish her the best of luck.

But perhaps these recent developments aren’t enough to slake your Kushnerphilia. Should this be the case, we recommend her short story “Blanks,” excerpted from The Flamethrowers in our Winter 2012 issue. Or, from that same issue, the collection of art and photography she curated—images that inspired the novel. Or her interview with Jesse Barron, published on the Daily last year.

You can also read James Wood’s acute review of The Flamethrowers, published last year in The New Yorker—a fitting appetizer for his conversation with Kushner tonight.

 

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Eliot’s Darker Side, and Other News

February 10, 2014 | by

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Eliot in 1934, photographed by Lady Ottoline Morrell.

  • “Everyone wants to be clever—it’s hard to give up that side and go blindly for stupidity. But even more frightening was the fact that it was so easy … I guess I have a talent for humiliation.” An interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard.
  • On the shortlist for Britain’s new Folio Prize, open to all English-language writers: Rachel Kushner, Anne Carson, Sergio de la Pava, George Saunders, and more.
  • Since T. S. Eliot has been lionized as Britain’s favorite poet, let’s all take a step back and remember: he was one of the most “daemonic poets who ever lived.”
  • “O where are they now, your harridan nuns / who thumped on young heads with a metal thimble / and punished with rulers your upturned palms”: RIP Pulitzer-winning poet Maxine Kumin, who died last week, at eighty-eight.

 

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