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Posts Tagged ‘Stendhal’

We’re Both Dippy Over Him, and Other News

June 30, 2016 | by

Gee whiz!

  • If you’ve been listening to pop music your whole life, you might think that love is a many-splendored thing, subject to the vicissitudes and vagaries of the human condition. You would be wrong. Love has exactly seven stages—no more, no less. Stendhal said so: “In 1818, Stendhal—then an unsuccessful writer in his midthirties named Henri Beyle—met one of the loves of his life, Méthilde … But Méthilde kept Stendhal at arm’s length, and even limited their interactions, only allowing him to visit her once every two weeks, which, in turn, gave Stendhal time to develop and nurture his fantasy of her, to exaggerate his love and admiration to truly grandiose proportions. ‘This is a love that lives only through the imagination,’ Stendhal recorded in his journal … Stendhal kept track of his emotions, and began to think about love with an almost scientific scrutiny. The result of this project was called De l’Amour, in which he described his famous concept of the stages of love. There are seven stages in all—which could conceivably follow like episodes on a season of The Bachelor—evolving in a form of crystallization: ‘a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.’ ”
  • While we’re talking love—David Rees found his grandma’s diaries, and they are full of it. Mainly the object of her affection is ice cream; sometimes boys, too. “My teenage grandmother’s great genius was flirting,” he writes: “Those amazing boys! The peachy, dandy, charming boys of Gloversville, anointed with adjectives now reserved for Yelp reviews of bed-and-breakfasts. I can barely keep up with her crushes, or their fluctuations in status: ‘But what do you suppose [Peggy] told me? That Bill was mad at me because he thought I was mad at him because he talked to Velma Thorne! And there I didn’t even know he’d been talking to her! Wasn’t it funny. ... So I told [Ralph] to tell [Bill] I wasn’t mad and it didn’t bother me how much he talked to Velma!’ It turns out poor Bill, being ‘stout’ and a cigarette-bummer (‘I hate to see a fellow smoke when he’s with a girl on the street, don’t you?’) was no match for Grant. Or Jonsey. Or the mysterious ‘Sunshine,’ who, if my grandmother is to be believed, was, for one summer in 1911, the most alluring young man in the universe: ‘one grand rower, fisher and sportsman. Really I never saw anybody like him. Emma & I are both dippy over him!’ ”
  • So like imagine you’re a young Karl Ove Knausgaard and you get on the elevator in a fancy midtown building and hey now, it’s some hotshot publisher and you’ve got about thirty seconds to pitch My Struggle: “Ah, hello. Yes, going up. I haven’t chosen a floor yet. You may know me. I’m a writer. Imagine: A young man boards the bus to his grandparents’ flat in Elvegaten. He usually sits on the left side of the aisle, a few rows from the back, by the window, if the seat is available. It is: He sits there. He—there’s more to it, actually, but—yes, have a nice day.”
  • Marianne Moore revised her poems restlessly, constantly—and sometimes publicly. In her willingness to let her readers see a poem in different iterations, she anticipated the Internet, Ali Pechman writes: “Particularly with respect to the way she changed her work, Moore has always struck me as more of a digital-age artist than any of her contemporaries. Her poems were as malleable as something written online … Her process gives a hint of how a poetic mind might use the Internet. In poems such as ‘An Octopus,’ she collages together text from newspapers, guidebooks, and overheard remarks at the circus in a shimmering representation of Mount Rainier. ‘Marriage’ contains roughly thirty sources from Francis Bacon to Ezra Pound to the inscription on a statue in Central Park. Such poems are a reflection of the hours she spent scouring countless books at the library and attending lectures. Her democratic sphere of influence apes the Internet—and, to follow, her aggressive self-editing reads like a symptom of that kind of capacity. One wonders what she would have written if she had had references at her fingertips.”
  • Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, an Oulipo project, tells a love story without ever referring to gender—a feat that’s all the more impressive in French, which has gender baked into its grammatical constructs.To get around these rules, Garréta digs deep into the French language. Instead of the passé composé she uses the literary form of the past tense, the passé simple, which does not employ participles that require agreement, and relies heavily on the imparfait, which describes continuously-occurring past actions. Sometimes Garréta uses sentence fragments to avoid the verb altogether. She describes A***’s body indirectly, taking advantage of the fact that, in French, an arm (un bras) is masculine even if it belongs to a female and a leg (une jambe) is feminine even when it belongs to a male. No primary or secondary sex characteristics are ever mentioned, of course: in the sex scenes thighs and crotches end up doing the erotic and narrative heavy lifting. And in one important instance a genderless English noun stands in for its gendered French equivalent.”

Book Shopping with the Best-Read Man in America

December 28, 2012 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

I was dragging my five-year-old daughter through the musty stacks of my favorite used bookstore last spring when a middle-aged man, squatting in the Sci-Fi section next to a brimming cardboard box, caught my eye and reminded me of someone.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “are you a writer?”

“I am,” he said, standing up and straightening his glasses. His eyes were deep set and hard to read. He was bashful.

“Are you Michael Dirda?” I asked.

“I am.”

It was him: the book critic and author, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, known apocryphally as the best-read man in America, whose essays had enticed me to read everything from Little, Big to Three Men in a Boat—and here he was, squinting his way through the lowest shelves in the same crusty bargain dungeon I came to all the time.

“Amazing. Nina, this is the man who wrote that little letter that we have in your George and Martha,” I told my daughter. Nina was nonplussed.

“When I was eight, in 1992,” I explained, “I wrote a letter to the Washington Post when James Marshall died and you printed it in the Book World section and even wrote a sweet little response. And her grandpa put a photocopy of that letter in The Complete George and Martha for her.”

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Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’

February 28, 2012 | by

Helen Simpson. Photo by Derek Thomson.

I met Helen Simpson for a genial pub lunch near Dartmouth Park in North London on the day she received the American edition of In-Flight Entertainment: Stories. She was evidently quite pleased by the book’s spare but elegant design, which looks through an airplane window onto a locket of cerulean sky. I’m tempted to draw comparisons to her stories, many of which peek at other people’s blitheness, or cruelty, or dreams of escape. But nothing in Simpson’s fiction is quite as peaceful as that glimpse of blue. She is perhaps best known for the characterization of contemporary motherhood in her collections, but many of the stories in In-Flight Entertainment confront the prospect of climate change.

Your collections are never quite themed, but they do feel very painstakingly designed. Was that true for In-Flight Entertainment?

In-Flight Entertainment is my little climate-change suite, I suppose. But there are fifteen stories in it, and only five are about climate change. My only rule is to write about what’s interesting to me at the time. It’s a great subject, but it’s very hard to dramatize or to make particular, and not to hector, not to moralize.

There are plenty of experts in these stories. There’s Jeremy in the title story as well as amateur researchers like Angelika in “The Tipping Point” and G in “Diary of an Interesting Year.” They don’t seem to benefit from their knowledge.

Well, it alienates people from them. That’s the trouble. Did you ever watch that episode of The Simpsons shortly after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out?  It is spoofed as An Irritating Truth. It is an irritating truth and no one wants to hear someone sounding off about it, and particularly not when they’re about to go on holiday.

Stories are good for uncomfortable things, for uncomfortable subjects. They’re not generally relaxing. Novels are more relaxing. You just give up to the novel, you go into its bath, you submit to it. You don’t with a story. You’re more alert as a reader, and more critical. If it doesn’t grab you by the second sentence, it’s done. Whereas with a novel, people will give it a couple of chapters before they abandon it. Read More »


A Week in Culture: Eric Banks, Part 2

August 26, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Banks' culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


12:30 P.M. I put in a few bets in advance on the Saratoga card and head for the eye doctor to get new lenses for my glasses (which would have been a boon to have in place before the trip to Philadelphia and DC). I’ll be lens-less for a half hour or so but I print out anyway a Guardian article by Tom McCarthy on “technology and the novel” that I want to read after finishing C. The book had already dashed my fears that post-Remainder McCarthy had turned art-world prankster at best, experimentalist court jester at worst. The profile’s a funny and smart piece when I squint over it an hour later. C begins at a turn-of-the-century school for the deaf with the burial of the protagonist’s sister while the dead girl’s father, a wireless communications buff, wants to rig the bier with a device so that she might signal if she’s not really dead. McCarthy mentions an anecdote about Alexander Graham Bell—his father also ran a school for the deaf, he also had a brother who died, and Alexander entered into a promise with his surviving sibling (who died early as well) that should either of them succomb, the other would create a device to receive transmissions from beyond the grave. He probably would have invented the telephone anyway, of course, and “remained a skeptic and a rationalist throughout his life—but only because his brothers never called: the desire was there.” I’m not sure I buy it, but C makes me feel like I should.

3:30 P.M. Get back home after picking up the new glasses, and I’m glad I read the essay while I waited for them—the replacement lenses make me feel like I’m seeing the world through a goldfish bowl, and I get a terrible headache as a result. Plus, I lost my bets. In the mail is the new Jonathan Franzen which I put off reading with my funky vision. It’ll have to wait until next week, which means I’ll have to make up a bunch of lies if anybody asks me what I think of it. I’d rather bullshit my way through than face the guilt that I won’t actually turn to it until I’m on vacation.

8:00 P.M. Head is still throbbing so I cancel plans to go see the Tilda Swinton flick I Am Love (the only film it seems anybody’s talking about these days) and turn on The Wild One on TMC instead. I feel like I’ve seen it a million times but this seems like the first time I’ve noticed the actor who plays one of Lee Marvin’s sidekicks—who is that guy? A quick IMDB check turns up Timothy Carey—his face is familiar because he plays the racist psychopath in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing who shoots a horse, Red Lightning, during a stakes race, setting off the racetrack heist. Man, where have I been? I make a note to rent Carey’s only directorial effort, The World’s Greatest Sinner, where he plays a crazed rock n’ roller who turns into a Jimmy Swaggert–style evangelist and is struck down by God Himself in the final scene.
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