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Posts Tagged ‘Shirley Jackson’

Wild New York

April 22, 2016 | by

Humans_shown_in_their_relationships_with_their_pet_animals,_Wellcome_V0022952

W. Clerk, Matters of Taste, As Regards Natural History (No. 1), lithograph, ca. nineteenth century.

The NPR station WNYC is hosting an initiative they call Wild New York, in which listeners are encouraged to snap and submit pictures of urban nature. The idea is to celebrate Earth Day by drawing city dwellers’ attention to the beauty all around us, and the result is a riot of birds’ nests, plants pushing up between paving stones, blooming trees and, yes, pigeons. It’s lovely, and I’d happily submit if I’d seen anything save a small rat and a decorative cabbage in the last two days.

Like most cities, this one has often had an uneasy relationship with the natural world. A particularly galling reminder of this is the photographic record of a 1920s and thirties craze: animal mania. Like many fads of the era—phone-booth stuffing, goldfish swallowing, pole balancing—animal mania was brief, giddy, frivolous, and paid by the realities of World War II. But even at its apex—think Bringing Up Baby, a screwball centered around a pet leopard—animal mania was a rarified phenomenon: even pre-Depression, most people couldn’t afford an exotic wild animal to parade at parties. Read More »

Crunching Christie, and Other News

August 3, 2015 | by

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The poster for Murder Most Foul.

  • Data analysts have descended on the corpus of Agatha Christie—to celebrate the 125th anniversary of her birth, they’ve crunched some numbers and honed a formula “that they claim will enable the reader to identify the killer before the likes of Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple have managed the feat,” thus taking the fun out of what had been formerly known as “reading.” The formula examines factors like setting, gender of culprit, number of culprit mentions per chapter, and sentiment of culprit mentions; in some cases its findings are surprising. “They found that if the victim was strangled, the killer was more likely to be male … if the setting was a country house—not uncommon for a Christie novel—there was a 75% chance the killer would be female. Female culprits were usually discovered thanks to a domestic item, while males were normally found out through information or logic.”
  • At Stanford, meanwhile, new software called ePADD will change the way researchers process e-mail collections. Archivists who’d been “grappling with more than 150,000 e-mails in the archive of poet and author Robert Creeley” used ePADD to separate the wheat from the chaff: e-mails “accumulate like dust … A mountain of ‘See you at eight o’clock.’ Every now and then, there must be significant ones but the sheer volume is very great.”
  • An old lecture by Shirley Jackson looks at two of a writer’s most necessary tools—memory and delusion: “The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were. I am, this morning, endeavoring to persuade you to join me in my deluded world; it is a happy, irrational, rich world, full of fairies and ghosts and free electricity and dragons, and a world beyond all others fun to walk around in. All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing.”
  • This is your periodic reminder that it’s okay, or even laudable, to pursue “difficult” fiction: “Think back on our country’s rich literary traditions in fiction: from Hawthorne to Melville, through Poe to James, Stein, ­Ellison, and Faulkner, just to cite a few. Their books make use of circularity, fragmentation, and elision, and at their most extreme reject coherence in an effort to produce new meaning. Their wildness has played an important defining role in our culture’s literary identity … If we want to make sure this important tradition continues, we have to sustain the curiosity to care about work that, at first glance, might seem difficult … Let’s not give up on the intricacies of ambitious fiction. Let’s not stop reading the kind of books that keep teaching us to read.”
  • Marie Darrieussecq’s first book, Pig Tales, published in 1996, is “narrated by an unnamed young white woman who aspires to a higher class, but in turn, is becoming a pig. As her body undergoes this great metamorphosis, she attracts increasing acts of sexual violence … The narrator, who works at Perfumes Plus as a perfume seller and prostitute, doesn’t seem to know that she is abused, let alone deceived about her pay.” But in all its grotesquerie, the book’s formalism offers an effective way of depicting violence against women: “Darrieussecq, in Pig Tales, rigorously insists on visibility—form is light. Her formal rigor, her careful and caring arrangement, her tactic, bares her comment. I want all writers, if they want to take the female body out of their tool kit, and hurt it, to work hard. Mostly, so hard they don’t bother.”

Unhousing

January 2, 2015 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

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Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

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Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More >>

Unhousing

March 19, 2014 | by

Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Boar Hearts, Panic, and Shirley Jackson

May 24, 2013 | by

  Laurel Nakadate, Kalispell, Montana #1, 2013

Laurel Nakadate, Kalispell, Montana #1, 2013.

I stayed up much too late finishing Shirley Jackson’s newly reissued Hangsaman—and then was so spooked it took me another two hours and a warm milk to finally fall asleep. The novel, loosely based on the unsolved 1947 disappearance of Bennington College student Paula Jean Welden, is as scary as The Haunting of Hill House, as chilling as “The Lottery,” and as weird as We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (And that’s saying something!) Perfect reading for a gloomy weekend, if not a work night. —Sadie Stein

“Head shot for boar! Open him up! There’s no taste like live boar-heart while it’s still beating in your hand!” Thus Hermann Göring in The Hunters of Karinhall, a movie script by Terry Southern. The script was never produced, oddly enough—but it is newly excerpted in Hot Heart of Boar & Other Tastes, a little chapbook of Southern snippets and outtakes and put-ons that had me laughing before my second cup of coffee. —Lorin Stein

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“The Lottery”: PG-13 Version

October 31, 2012 | by

In honor of the master of the creepy story, Shirley Jackson, we bring you this incredibly misleading pulp paperback cover. It must have led to some really disappointed —or freaked out—readers. Also: who is this demon lover of which they speak?

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