Posts Tagged ‘satire’
June 15, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Borges, who died thirty years ago this month, led a life as tangled in riddles as his fiction is. One burning question: How did he pay the bills? “Borges was blessed with the most privileged, ideal life for a burgeoning literary genius. Educated in Europe, raised by his father to become a serious writer, Borges devoted his entire life to literature. He did not take a full-time job for nearly forty years … [But] we see that young Georgie Borges did not actually write his great fictions until after his family lost their money. For anyone who has struggled to make writing pay, Borges’s financial story is a perplexing—yet utterly hopeful—case to consider.”
- Watching the gay-pride celebrations and vigils for Orlando at the Stonewall, Huw Lemmey tries to parse the movement’s vexed relationship with political power structures: “Early Prides saw placards railing against fascism and police harassment, and calling for the liberation of gay people; at today’s Pride you’re just as likely to see police officers and soldiers marching in uniform, representatives of the arms industry in corporate T-shirts and, for the first time this year, a flyover of military jets. Radicals see this as a violent and exclusionary takeover of a liberation struggle by capital’s most reactionary institutions; liberals see it as a mark of society’s progress, with LGBT people now enjoying many of the rights and protections once denied us. For one group, Pride is a celebration of an anti-cop riot, representing the fundamental disconnect between LGBT people and heterosexual society. For another, Pride is the world’s biggest party, representing a spirit of judgment-free inclusiveness, if only for a day. Both are right.”
- In Moscow, meanwhile, constructivist landmarks are suddenly slated for demolition as Russians struggle to decide which parts of their past are worth preserving: “ ‘They operate by ticking boxes, but you cannot judge a building in this way,’ says Marina Khrustaleva, an expert on constructivism … ‘By the 1930s, [constructivist buildings] were already rejected for being insufficiently decorative and too western,’ says Khrustaleva. During perestroika, she adds, the architecture was associated with the worst of the Soviet past … Russians’ bad memories of the 1920s, [Alexandra] Selivanova suggests, keep them from appreciating early Soviet architecture. ‘People associate this period with hunger and social experiments,’ she says. Stalinist architecture is more popular: ‘It’s festive and reminds people of the propaganda films of the 1930s and 1950s, which still make an impact today.’ ”
- In a mad race to professionalize any remaining art forms still given to creativity and informality, Emerson College has decided to offer a B.F.A. in comedic arts, the nation’s first comedy major: “Formalizing the study of comedy into an academic degree may seem like, well, a joke. But Emerson has made strides to pre-empt criticism. The curriculum is heavy on theory and craft, with practical classes like Comedy Writing for Television, Great Screenwriters: Wilder, Allen, Kaufman and Comedy Writing for Late Night, balanced out by headier electives like Why Did the Chicken?—Fundamentals of Comedic Storytelling.”
- And while we’re on comedy: “Punching up and punching down are relatively new pop-political terms … So it should come as no surprise that they have become entangled with our current national panic over political correctness, which, apparently, not only has created a ‘humor crisis,’ but also is why we can’t properly fight terrorism, control immigration, or make unruly college students read Alison Bechdel and eat faux bánh mì. Western democracy itself hangs in the balance, depending on who happens to be lecturing you at the moment … The question it raises—Who has the moral authority to punch down?—is a messy one, and one rarely asked of those who appear to punch up.”
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 »