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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Lipsyte’

Do Not Drop These Books, and Other News

September 14, 2015 | by

Books of laminate glass by Ramon Todo. Image via This Is Colossal

  • In which Justin Taylor dissects a paragraph of Sam Lipsyte’s story “This Appointment Occurs in the Past,” in the name of pedagogy: “The only higher-order claims I wish to make today are, attention to language at the molecular level is valuable in itself; second, that anyone can learn it, in or out of the classroom; and third, that once it becomes assimilated as instinct it will enhance your writing as much as your reading, irrespective of whether you ever choose to write or read this way again.”
  • Witness the rise of the smarmonym, a living reflection of our passive-aggressive use of language. What is it? Any word that we’ve “ironized and de-meaninged and re-meaninged”: “Pal, which often connotes enemy … And tolerance—which, when selected as a noun, often suggests its own absence. And classy. And sincerely, whose presence in a sentence is often evidence of, you know, total insincerity. Honestly, for the same reason. Respectfully, too. And, of course, literally 
  • Today in interdisciplinary skirmishes: Simon Critchley remembers his teacher Frank Cioffi, whose philosophy had scientism in its crosshairs. “His concern was with the relation between the causal explanations offered by science and the kinds of humanistic description we find, say, in the novels of Dickens or Dostoevsky, or in the sociological writings of Erving Goffman and David Riesman. His quest was to try and clarify the occasions when a scientific explanation was appropriate and when it was not, and we need instead a humanistic remark. His conviction was that our confusions about science and the humanities had wide-ranging and malign societal consequences.”
  • Paper is obsolete. Paper is wasteful and silly. And pages! Pages are ridiculous. The future of books is glass. Say it with me: the future belongs to glass.
  • Garth Greenwell read Michael Nava’s The Little Death, a mystery novel with a gay Latino hero from an immigrant family in California’s Central Valley: “Henry Rios is a defense attorney whose hardboiled bona fides—world-weariness, wit, a penchant for erotic entanglement—are accompanied by a hyper-attentiveness to class and a commitment to the poor. In a genre that had used queer people primarily as figures of ridicule and contempt, the Rios books offer a vista on gay lives extending from the closet-lined corridors of power to cruising parks and leather bars.”
  • The Paris Review Parisians didn’t fare too well this summer in New York Media Softball League. But you know who did? The High Times. They beat us. They beat pretty much everyone. “The Bonghitters remain an industry powerhouse. They’re the defending league champions … and they’ve been blazing through opponents since forming in 1991 … For the Bonghitters, the first key to winning is showing up.” The second key is getting stoned.

Tarnishing the Golden Ratio, and Other News

June 5, 2015 | by


Igor Kochmala distorts celebrity faces with the golden ratio. Photo via Wired

  • Two centuries ago, book critics were a reliably truculent bunch, their knives always sharpened, their authority indisputable—what happened to journals like Blackwood’s, which had what Karl Miller later called “squabash, bam, and balaam”? “Parody, personality, and headlong jollity summed up the Blackwood's manifesto, while imitation, masquerade, and double bluff lay at the heart of its personality. The contributors, who hid behind noms de plume, imitated both one another and themselves, and passed themselves off as sometimes real and sometimes fictitious characters.”
  • When you’re next inclined to wring your hands over the state of mass media, don’t—it’s always been full of down-market sensationalism, and it’s always appealed to our inner morons. Yes, even the New York Times: “Here’s a story from July 7, 1884 that has all the Facebook-ready hyperbole and anthropomorphism of ‘15 Llamas Who Just Do Not Give A Damn’: ‘THE PARROT’S LITTLE JOKE.; HE HIDES HIMSELF FROM HIS MISTRESS AND THROWS HER INTO A FIT OF ANGUISH.’ ”
  • The Bloomsbury Group has inspired new novels, a ballet, a TV series, exhibitions, and—lest we forget—an economics prize; it sometimes seems the group’s reputation has never been higher. “But it is not long since the most recent round of Bloomsbury-bashing, a century-old sport often said to have started when the painter Wyndham Lewis fell out spectacularly with Roger Fry, over (of all things) a commission to create a display for the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home show … By the 1950s, Bloomsbury’s unfashionableness was a fact. Writings by the survivors took on an aggrieved and defensive tone: literary critic and broadcaster Desmond MacCarthy dismissed the term Bloomsbury as a ‘regional adjective’; Clive Bell claimed they had never been more than a group of friends; Vanessa suggested Bloomsbury was finished before the first world war.”
  • Ah, sweet 1.618, the golden ratio, that ancient proportion of aesthetic bliss, that geometric path to pulchritude—there are those among us who hold it up as the sine qua non of artistic appeal. And yet if you rearrange celebrities’ faces according the ratio, you wind up in the realm of sheer disfigured horror.
  • Sam Lipsyte on time travel as a chance to right the world’s wrongs: “the do-gooder package tour, the warn-Pompeii-kill-Hitler itinerary. It’s a dicey proposition, messing with the past. But wouldn’t my intrusions cancel each other out if I brought a teen Hitler to Pompeii just before Vesuvius blew? ‘I’ll leave you here,’ I’d say. ‘The new arts academy is just over that ridge!’ ”

This Tuesday: Paul Beatty and Lorin Stein in Conversation

March 9, 2015 | by

paul beatty slider

New Yorkers: join us tomorrow at McNally Jackson, where our editor Lorin Stein will appear in conversation with Paul Beatty. Paul’s new novel, The Sellout, is out now; the Guardian calls it “a galvanizing satire of post-racial America,” and Sam Lipsyte noted its “spectacular explosion of comic daring, cultural provocation, brilliant, hilarious prose, and genuine heart.”

The event begins at seven P.M. See you there!

Staff Picks: Staircases, Sister Mountains, Self-Help

November 21, 2014 | by


A still from The Staircase.

In The Program Era, Mark McGurl illuminated postwar American fiction’s inextricable ties to universities and creative-writing programs; his new paper, “The Institution of Nothing,” undertakes a reading of David Foster Wallace in the framework of “the program,” and it’s one of the most thoughtful exegeses I’ve found of Wallace, whose work has enjoyed no shortage of critical insight. (Remember Wyatt Mason on Oblivion?) McGurl finds that the bulk of Wallace’s writing is fixated on institutions—it invokes them as a kind of safe harbor, a respite from the nihilism of the world at large. (This is borne out not just in his books but in his life, which he spent almost entirely in the thrall of institutions of higher learning.) In this light, a certain unnerving conservatism emerges in his work: what should be questions of sweeping political import are recast as matters of individual ethics. McGurl writes, “Clinging to the institutional order, clinging for dear life, Wallace’s commitment is … to a conception of therapeutic community in which what might have become political questions—and, by implication, motives for political contestation—are obediently dissolved.” —Dan Piepenbring

Natalie Lyalin’s poetry collection Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It has an intriguing title, but I’ve felt mildly daunted by the illustration on the cover—of a woman who stares straight into my eyes whenever I look at her. It turns out, though, that such feelings of discomfort aren’t inappropriate. Lyalin’s poems are weird, wide-eyed, and bold, and I feel uneasy reading them—in a good way. Like this, from “On the Beaches of Majorca”: “Aboard ships they snapped goodbye to their cities / They sparked like knives / And the oceans took them in with oceanic slurps / In a parallel moment we were on the beaches / Mute pastel puffs / Smoking around a cult-like fire.” Her poems remind me of Karen Russell’s fiction: at once familiar and otherworldly, tame and frightening. Lyalin’s “A Lemon Sweat Over Everything” is almost a poetic version of the title story from Russell’s Vampire in the Lemon Grove:

You can find my bones in the sister mountains
Identify me by the gold fangs
The fangs I showed you in the lemon orchard
almost two hundred years ago
You said they were sexy
The sun blinding you from my mouth
We were both smirking
and then I snarled 
It was very foreign
chasing you around the trees

Nicole Rudick

I could write about the addictive nature of Serial, the true-crime podcast from the This American Life team, but millions of others beat me to the punch. Instead, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Josh Lieberman, I advise you to fill these next two weeks until the next Serial episode with Sundance Channel’s eight-part documentary series, The Staircase. The crime saga follows the case of the novelist Michael Peterson, whose wife, Kathleen, was found unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s Durham mansion. Was the death an accident, the result of falling down the stairs after consuming alcohol and Valium—or was she murdered by Peterson? While the twists and turns are captivating and the series is filled with a cast of characters so interesting and bizarre it’s difficult to appraise anyone involved, it’s the fly-on-the wall–style of Jean-Xavier de Lestrande’s filmmaking that kept me going from one episode to the next. —Justin Alvarez

You might have heard that Sam Lipsyte used to be in a punk band called Dungbeetle. This Saturday night at Le Poisson Rouge, they’re reuniting—with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on drums, no less—as part of the launch party for Radio Silence, a lit-and-music mag that’s just released its third issue. I suspect magic will be in the air. Bring earplugs and a taste for the bizarre. —DP

I had never heard of Lorrie Moore when I tried to sit in on her M.F.A. workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was 2009, and I was barely eighteen. She kicked me out pretty quickly. Now, having spent the better part of five years recovering from the embarrassment, I have finally read Self-Help, Moore’s first collection of stories. About two-thirds are written in the second person, and this is both refreshing and compelling. It serves an almost didactic purpose in “How,” as Moore guides us, step-by-step, through the motions of dumping a (maybe) dying boyfriend. In “How To Be an Other Woman,” the second person puts a delightful twist on a recycled story: her protagonist struggles to find herself in (and as a result of) a messy extramarital affair. Witty and deft, Moore demands that her readers believe the story could be about them … not that it is about them, but that it could be. She blends comedy and tragedy so seamlessly that I found myself merrily caught between sadness and mirth, cynicism and optimism. —Alex Celia


Proust, Lost in Translation

May 6, 2013 | by


The first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way was published almost exactly a hundred years ago. Its opening lines make one thing inescapably apparent: Proust’s style is inimitable; there is much more to it than long sentences, pauses for reminiscence and brittle cookie breaks, and whatever other tropes readers have associated with Proust. It is a style that tussles with our notion of literary temporality itself. Over the last century, countless translators have struggled with these famous opening lines:

Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n’avais pas le temps de me dire: « Je m’endors. »

Nobody seems to be able to agree whether to translate the verb of the principal clause as a conditional or a past participle, because while in French it is obviously the latter, it seems to act as the former. We’ve had various degrees of “went to bed early,” “used to go to bed early,” “would go to bed early,” each meaning more or less the same thing, but none hitting the nail directly on the head.

Scholars have found these lines, at once, undeniably charming and a huge pain to work with.

But in this seemingly untranslatable sentence, even among translators—whose very job it is to take troublesome idioms and phrases and grammatical twists and make them legible and appropriate, and to do so by imparting as much of Proust’s style and as little of their own as possible—there is so much variety that it raises another important question: How would this sentence have been handled by other writers? Read More »

The Fun Part

March 7, 2013 | by


“You can’t help it,” she said. “It’s a genetic thing. You weren’t allowed to own land in the Middle Ages.”

We were excited to see Sam Lipsyte on The Henry Review—and even more so when we realized that the video showcases the author reading from “This Appointment Occurs in the Past,” which first appeared in issue 201! Check it out.