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Posts Tagged ‘sentences’

Goya’s Gallows Humor, and Other News

April 29, 2015 | by

Francisco Goya, Wicked Woman, 1819–23. Via NYRB

  • When he was in his early seventies and gravely ill, Goya began a series of private drawings, full of piss and vinegar and intended to amuse his friends—among them were pictures of naked witches, newborn babies tied to poles, and a procuress fingering her rosary and slugging some rotgut. “The captions are minimal: ‘Monk,’ ‘Nothing is known of this,’ ‘I can hear snoring’ … Goya’s drawings may leave us up in the air, filled with a disquieting unease. Yet in the end, the witches and old people are tokens of life, not death—even the tired, ancient man shuffling on his sticks, mockingly captioned Just can’t go on at the age of 98.”
  • By piecing together years of letters, diaries, and newspapers, one scholar believes she’s discovered the man who inspired Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy. She noted, for instance, “that the physical similarities between the Earl and the description of Darcy are ‘obvious,’ with the former looking ‘very intense.’ ” An airtight case.
  • In Park Slope, Brooklyn, for thirty-five years, a gated storefront hid an artist’s studio. “Behind the black gate was a world of color, hundreds of abstract works created and hidden away by Mr. [Leo] Bates, who had a promising start as a painter in the 1970s before renouncing the art world and retreating to his storefront to paint.”
  • Eight rare books, including one by Benjamin Franklin, had long-ago disappeared from the New York Public Library. A woman who recently tried to sell them to an auction house “said the books have been in her family for decades, and there’s no proof that her late parents obtained the books illegally.”
  • Everyone loves a good sentence—and clauses, subordinate or not, are beloved throughout the land—but what of the paragraph, that other indispensible unit of prose? Why do we speak so often of “a great writer of sentences” and so rarely of “a great writer of paragraphs”?

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The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by

colinbarrett

Photo courtesy of the author.

There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”

The vitality of Barrett’s prosethe special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town lifehas already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fictionlike the community it describescan develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”

Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?

I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »

Counterpunch

October 21, 2014 | by

On a sentence by Robert Walser.

Plantin_letterpress

Plantin letterpress type. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It is worth remembering that there once was a time when every letter, number, and punctuation mark printed on paper started life as a sculpture. Someone had to make the letterforms by hand, in three dimensions; the individual characters could all look alike because they were all molten metal poured into the same mold (hence: font), but someone had to make the molds. The first time this hit home for me was when I thought about changing the type size in letterpress days: rather than pressing CTRL+> or CTRL+<, the whole font—every letter, capital and lowercase and italic and roman, every number and symbol—would have to be recarved, by hand, from scratch. Redesigned, too, since different proportions work better at different sizes. Tiny furniture’s got nothing on typefaces.

They’re sculptures, not drawings, because the angle and depth of the sides affect the look of the printed letter. These can be adequately controlled along the outline of a letter, but for the inner lines and negative spaces—the triangle in an A, the near-rectangles in a serifed E—it’s hard to gouge out the cavities precisely enough. So a D, for instance, would start out as a rod of steel whose tip is carved into a semicircle: a counterpunch, tempered to be harder than the steel of the punch. Pounding this into the flat end of another rod makes a semicircle-shaped hole. Carving around the hole makes a raised D, or rather a raised . Slamming that rod into another block of metal (softer than the steel, usually copper) makes a -shaped hole, the matrix. Pouring molten metal into that and letting it cool produces the piece of type. Then the letters are set into a stick, in reverse order; clamped together; and ink is rolled onto the surface before it is flipped again onto a sheet of paper, leaving a D-shaped black mark.

By my count, that’s five turnarounds: counterpunch, punch, matrix, piece of type, printed character. There’s a strange reversal in time, too, since every other kind of counterpunch (in boxing, in debate) reacts to the punch, while here it pre-exists the punch. I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them, following the fate of a raised waning half-moon to the empty space in a printed D. The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is. Read More »

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The Arches of New York, and Other News

March 7, 2014 | by

arch

Photo: Michael Freeman, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York, via Gizmodo

  • Because completion is for rubes—twelve books that end in the middle of a
  • A new app promises to help you speed-read. The technology is compelling, even if its name, Spritz, reminds one of cheap perfume and poolside wine cocktails.
  • Remembering, or simply remembering to notice, the arches of New York: “These structures were also marvels of artistic engineering, combining intricate brickwork with functional arrays of vaults and pillars, all leading to a kind of Mediterranean dreamworld of colonnades.”
  • “Britain’s best loved writers and storytellers have transformed themselves into the characters they most loved as children.” There’s Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and, perhaps best of all, there’s Malorie Blackman as the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • Everything about the Vikings was designed to stress their individuality … They were a bit like today’s punks or Hell’s Angels.”

 

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