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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Lipsyte’

Staff Picks: Staircases, Sister Mountains, Self-Help

November 21, 2014 | by

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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

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Proust, Lost in Translation

May 6, 2013 | by

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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 »

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The Fun Part

March 7, 2013 | by

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“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.

 

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Happy World Book Day, and Other News

March 7, 2013 | by

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  • Happy World Book Day, the biggest book show on earth. May we suggest a sinister book cake?
  • In its honor: dream ballets and operas, based on books. (Fear and Loathing: the opera, anyone? Why not?)
  • Sam Lipsyte talks to The Henry Review about “overcoming despair,” hardcore, and assfuzz.
  • Barbara “Cutie” Cooper, a ninety-six-year-old LA blogger, has hit the best-seller list with a guide to staying married for seventy-three years.
  • This Sunday, you can hear Disturbing Fan Mail. Not in New York? Check out the letters sent to Mark Twain, and his trenchant responses.
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    Introducing Our Sixtieth-Anniversary Issue!

    February 27, 2013 | by

    -1If you happened to be in Paris this past month, and walked past the public toilets at the corner of rue Alexandre Dumas and boulevard de Charonne, you may have noticed a giant picture of George Plimpton’s face gazing out over the 11th arrondissement with great benignancy and just the slightest possible suggestion of a gueule de bois. This illegal memorial to our founding editor, by the poster artist JR, celebrates the sixtieth birthday of The Paris Review in the city of her birth. 

    It happens also to be the cover of our special anniversary issue.

    In which:

    Deborah Eisenberg talks failure and perseverance with Catherine Steindler—

    You write something and there’s no reality to it. You can’t inject it with any kind of reality. You have to be patient and keep going, and then, one day, you can feel something signaling to you from the innermost recesses. Like a little person trapped under the rubble of an earthquake. And very, very, very slowly you find your way toward the little bit of living impulse.

    Mark Leyner talks process with Sam Lipsyte—

    When I was at Brandeis, I met this girl named Rachel Horowitz, and we really loved reggae music. This was in 1970. We decided, Why don’t we go to Jamaica? So we went and we got some really nifty little bungalow place in Montego Bay—very cheap, because we couldn’t afford much then. And it had a little pool for the couple of bungalows and a little kitchen. And I’d never really stayed in place like this on my own, with a girlfriend. I mean, nothing quite like that. I had been away the year before with another girl, took a trip to Israel and in Europe and things, but I’d never been in a groovy tropical place like this. And we had a car, so one day we drove into town and got some stuff, because we had a refrigerator and a pantry. We also got some Red Stripe. And this guy at Brandeis had given me some acid to bring to Jamaica. This guy was like the Johnny Appleseed of acid. He would take a load of acid and explain an album cover to you for just hours. He would take a Hot Tuna album that you had seen a trillion times and he would begin to examine it with these long lectures that were like Fidel Castro giving a lecture at the Sorbonne. He also once set his hand on fire and watched it for quite a while because he was so high. That really impressed me. Anyway, this guy had given me some acid and one night, when Rachel and I were just hanging out in the hotel, I said, You wanna take some? She said no. I said, Okay, I think I’m going to. So I took it, and it comes on, and then I want a beer and I go into the little kitchen, and by now the acid’s full on and this guy, this big flying cockroach, like a palmetto bug—you know those things?—it crawls out of the six-pack, and to me, at the time, it was like a pterodactyl, in some Raquel Welch movie set in prehistoric times. According to Rachel, I batted this thing in the little kitchen for, like, five hours. She heard pans and things breaking and she said I emerged with a torn shirt, sweaty—and victorious. That’s what my experience of writing The Sugar Frosted Nutsack was like. Battling this pterodactyl in the closet with a pan. At a certain point, of course, the book attained a mind of its own, a subjectivity or an autocatalytic, machinelike quality.

    And Willa Kim shows us her store of Paris Review erotica.

    Plus, fiction by Adelaide Docx, David Gates, Mark Leyner, Ottessa Moshfegh, Adam O’Fallon Price, and Tess Wheelwright. Poetry by Sylvie Baumgartel, Peter Cole, Stephen Dunn, John Freeman, Tony Hoagland, Melcion Mateu, Ange Mlinko, Frederick Seidel, and Kevin Young. Essays by Vivian Gornick and David Searcy. 

    On newsstands March 15. Subscribe now!

     

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    Defiance: A Literary Benefit to Rebuild Red Hook

    November 8, 2012 | by

    Last week, the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was one of the areas shattered by superstorm Sandy. On Wednesday, November 14, join host Kurt Andersen; musicians Steve Earle and Stew; novelists Joseph O’Neill, Sam Lipsyte, and Rivka Galchen; nonfiction luminaries Phillip Lopate, Chuck Klosterman, Philip Gourevitch, Meghan O’Rourke, Deborah Baker, Robert Sullivan, and others for Defiance: A Literary Benefit to Rebuild Red Hook. Readings will center on the themes of recovery and rebuilding, drawing on more than two centuries of literature about the historic neighborhood.

    The event takes its name from Fort Defiance, the revolutionary-era citadel that once loomed over Red Hook, keeping ferry routes clear for General George Washington’s Continental Army. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the evening will be divided between two nonprofit organizations that are leading Red Hook’s post-Sandy recovery, Red Hook Initiative and Restore Red Hook. Learn more and buy tickets here.

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