Posts Tagged ‘satire’
April 28, 2016 | by Teffi
Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, born in Saint Petersburg in 1872, used Teffi as her nom de plume. (“It sounds like something you’d call a dog,” she wrote, explaining that she wanted “a name that was incomprehensible, neither one thing nor the other … best of all would be the name of some fool.”) In prerevolutionary Russia, she was renowned for her satire. To celebrate two new editions of her work, here’s a 1929 piece in which she remembers her “first steps as an author.” —Dan Piepenbring
My first steps as an author were terrifying. I had never, in any case, intended to become a writer, even though everyone in our family had written poetry from childhood on. For some reason this activity seemed horribly shameful, and should any of us find a brother or sister with a pencil, a notebook, and an inspired expression, we would immediately shout out, “You’re writing! You’re writing!”
The guilty party would begin to make excuses and the accusers would hop around, jeering, “You’re writing! You’re writing!”
The only one of us above suspicion was our eldest brother, a creature suffused with sombre irony. But one day, when he was back at the lycée after the summer holidays, we found scraps of paper in his room covered in poetic exclamations, and one line repeated over and over again:
“Oh Mirra, Mirra, palest moon!”
Alas! He, too, was writing poetry. Read More »
April 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Need a morning pick-me-up? Say it with me: “I am full of impulses to shove animal matter into my poorly designed facial rot hole … I must endlessly defecate. I need to fuck. I need to be fucked. It’s fantastic and terrifying. Fascinating. Pointless, swirling molecules. But, yeah, having a fun time. I spent $300 on a T-shirt last week … People are horrible. People are cruel. People are abused. Social circles, especially in small towns, can get fucking nasty. I just write what I see and what I’ve experienced. I don’t deliberately set out to aggravate or shock. I don’t censor myself. You need to be honest. You need to not hold back. I hate twee art. I find it dishonest; a false, privileged construct. Life is not nice. Existence is sad and cruel.” That’s Simon Hanselmann, the author of the cult comic series Megg, Mogg and Owl and a dealer in hard truths.
- If you prefer your truths a little softer, or maybe just leavened with bons mots, you could try Dorothy Parker. Or maybe not. Robert Gottlieb reminds us that her quips and flair concealed an enormous sadness: “Death and suicide are never far from her thoughts—she titled her collections Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, Death and Taxes, and Not So Deep as a Well … Was her poetry just rhyming badinage dressed up as trenchant, plaintive ruminations on love, loss, and death? Her subjects are serious, but her cleverness undercuts them: there’s almost always a last line, a sardonic zinger, to signal that even if she does care, the more fool she. Even her most famous couplet—‘Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses’—bandages a wound, although plenty of men made passes.”
- Paintings look great in galleries, but I find that they really shine, in all their subtlety, when they’re hanging behind politicians at podiums. As Kelly Grovier writes, “The silent stare of a poised portrait gazing at you over the shoulder of David Cameron or Vladimir Putin is often more loaded and more deliberately orchestrated than you might think … Obama’s decision to hold a press conference announcing his determination to close Guantanamo once and for all in the shadow of a swashbuckling portrait of Obama’s forebear, Theodore Roosevelt, was hardly accidental. After all, Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1898 led a legendary cavalry of so-called ‘Rough Riders’ to victory against Spanish overlords in Cuba, helped establish U.S. control over Guantanamo Bay in the first place. By placing himself visually alongside a heroic portrait of the galloping leader, who is credited with the credo ‘speak softly and carry a big stick,’ Obama hoped to bask in the reflected testosterone of America’s most macho president.”
- Bad news: most book reviewers do their jobs hastily and carelessly. Good news: Edward Copleston’s 1807 satire “Advice to a Young Reviewer, with a Specimen of the Art” really holds up, because book critics are still using the same set of shortcuts and white lies. “In the art of reviewing I would lay down as a fundamental position,” Copleston writes, “which must be the mainspring of all your criticisms—write what will sell.” He also recommends perusing the table of contents and the index: “Here then is a fund of wealth for the Reviewer, lying upon the very surface; if he knows anything of his business, he will turn all these materials against the author, carefully suppressing the source of his information, and as if drawing from the stores of his own mind, long ago laid up for this very purpose. If the author’s references are correct, a great point is gained; for, by consulting a few passages of the original works, it will be easy to discuss the subject with the air of having a previous knowledge of the whole.”
- Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids is more than twenty years old now. Moira Weigel blew the dust off her old VHS and took another look: “At the time, the press hailed Kids as ‘raw,’ ‘frank,’ ‘honest,’ and ‘gritty’—all adjectives that boasted of its fidelity to the realities of kids just a little older than me. I couldn’t judge for myself since I never got around to seeing it. Watching it now, at thirty, those words still seem apt for describing something important about the film. But that something is not its realism … What I feel most, watching Kids in 2015, is that it is shallow. I mean this partly as praise. The shallowness is the key to the film’s ability to transport us into the world of its characters, as if participating in their refusal to think of consequences, to look beyond the here and now … The problem is that Kids reproduces the superficiality that makes it so stylistically compelling in its approach to its subject matter. Watching it today, I was hoping for an account of the ways that the fear of AIDS shaped how young people in that time and place learned about desire. Instead the film recasts the virus into the threat lurking in the background of a kind of nightmare fairy tale. The role that HIV plays is to give a sense of momentum to what is basically an observational essay.”
January 26, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
A lot of things are a century old this year: Boeing, Roald Dahl, the Professional Golfers’ Association. Another is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s short story “The Nose,” published in January 1916 in a student magazine called Shinshichō.
“The Nose,” which bears no relation to Gogol’s famous story of the same name, is a pretty standard parable about vanity. It stars Zenchi Naigu, a Buddhist priest with a massive schnoz—he needs aides to hold it aloft with a stick during meals. This is, as you can imagine, kind of unseemly, so Naigu undertakes a series of drastic schnoz-reduction measures, only to realize that his newly unembellished nose makes him even more self-conscious than the original had. He tries to catch a cold so his nose plumps up again. It does. He is at peace. And—scene! Read More »
September 30, 2015 | by Damion Searls
Robert Walser’s scrupulous art of translation.
Today is International Translation Day, an occasion of particular piety among the few who observe it. Translation, that glorious service to culture and human understanding!
There are failures, too, though. Some are of the sort that plague most any endeavor in this vale of tears: inadequacy, incompetence, ineptitude. A New Yorker cartoon, beloved in translator circles, shows someone approaching a horror-stricken writer and saying, “Do you not be happy with me as the translator of the book of you?” Read More »
March 12, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The BBC has just reported that Terry Pratchett has died at sixty-six. Pratchett wrote more than seventy books, most of them part of his Discworld series: satirical, philosophical fantasy novels that earned him a wide readership, sometimes at the expense of the critical attention his work merits. “Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise,” his friend Neil Gaiman wrote of him last June, as he was beginning to slip away to Alzheimer’s. “He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light … Terry Pratchett is not a jolly old elf at all. Not even close.”
Here’s a bit from Pratchett’s 2007 essay, “Notes from a Successful Fantasy Author: Keep it Real.” It speaks to genre fiction’s unique position as a vehicle for social commentary, and to the set of logic puzzles a fantasy novelist faces in trying to build a new world. You can find it in A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of his nonfiction published last year. Read More »
February 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “People don’t want moral complexity. Moral complexity is a luxury. You might be forced to read it in school, but a lot of people have hard lives. They come home at the end of the day, they feel they’ve been jerked around by the world yet again for another day. The last thing they want to do is read Alice Munro, who is always pointing toward the possibility that you’re not the heroic figure you think of yourself as, that you might be the very dubious figure that other people think of you as. That’s the last thing you’d want if you’ve had a hard day. You want to be told good people are good, bad people are bad, and love conquers all. And love is more important than money. You know, all these schmaltzy tropes. That’s exactly what you want if you’re having a hard life. Who am I to tell people that they need to have their noses rubbed in moral complexity?” A new interview with Jonathan Franzen.
- On the new era of “authorpreneurship,” in which no one can simply write: “Authors are becoming more like pop stars, who used to make most of their money selling albums but who now use their recordings as promotional tools, earning a living mainly from concerts. The trouble with many budding writers is that they are not cut out for this new world. They are often introverts, preferring solitude to salesmanship.”
- A new study suggests that the three most desirable jobs in the United Kingdom are “an author, a librarian and an academic … The ‘aura of prestige’ connected with a career in writing or academia is preferable to jobs that brought promises of wealth and celebrity status.”
- Copyeditor didn’t make that list, but maybe it should have. There’s a lot of prestige that comes with the title of Comma Queen, especially if you’re judicious in wielding your power: “Writers might think we’re applying rules and sticking it to their prose in order to make it fit some standard, but just as often we’re backing off, making exceptions, or at least trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little.”
- Are the British superior political satirists? Short answer: Yes. They enjoy “a combative temperament that our political satirists can’t help but envy.”