The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘The Zone’

Don’t Worry, R. Crumb Is Still Weird, and Other News

April 26, 2016 | by

An R. Crumb illustration from Art & Beauty No. 2. Courtesy the artist, Paul Morris, and David Zwirner, New York/London

  • To celebrate the reissue of George Plimpton’s sports oeuvre (Paper Lion, Out of My League, et cetera), you’ll probably want to see these pictures of him doing one of the things he did so well: getting in over his head with very athletic men.
  • Crumb has a new exhibition at a London gallery—a surprisingly reputable turn for an artist who prides himself on his ill repute. But don’t worry: he’s the same old glorious pervert. “I was always a contrarian. My wife says sometimes I’m too much so—born weird. I always felt there’s something odd and off about my nervous system. If everybody’s walking forward, I want to walk backwards. During adolescence I couldn’t fit in, and it was very, very painful. But it fired me to develop my own aesthetic. I was very much in pain about being this outcast, but it freed me to drop that Hollywood ideal and pursue the people that I thought attractive … My work is full of anger toward women. I was sent to Catholic school with scary nuns and I was rejected by girls at high school. I sort of got it out of my system, but anger is normal between the sexes. Okay, it can go to the top and men can harm women, but if anyone says they are not angry I don’t believe it, especially while your libido is still going. The men who are most charming are often the most contemptuous.”
  • In which Eileen Myles gets paid for—can you believe this?—writing poetry. “A poem is my money … My poem is my property. Like my lawn. I get a thousand dollars for a poem in Transparent … I think The New Yorker gave me something like $600 for the poem ‘Dissolution.’ It had been the most I had ever gotten for a poem I think. Sometimes now when I am asked to write a catalogue essay for an artist I realize I could do a poem and I propose that or simply send it. In those cases I have gotten $1500 for the poems which is the most. Yet it is low for an art catalogue so in a way writing a poem is a kind of complaint. Here take a fucking poem for that price. I mean it doesn’t literally feel that way but I’m always looking for the easiest way for language to pour. Especially in relationship to cash.”
  • Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident, the Zone remains a strange kind of literary center: “the Zone has spawned a literary genre of its own. Indeed, it seemed instantly to pass into myth, even possessing its own poetic language. The soldiers and firefighters who cleaned up the site—many of whom died from exposure—are referred to as the liquidators. Reactor Four remains encased in a concrete-and-steel shell known as the sarcophagus. In the Zone, there is a Red Forest; there was black rain … Through three decades of literary response, Chernobyl has undermined the sort of authoritative depiction that might bring closure. But something closed can be forgotten. The finest works express profound doubts about the power of language to absorb a disaster of this magnitude, and so continually reopen it to new ways of being remembered.”
  • Midcentury British boarding-school novels—sensible, stuffy, strict—wouldn’t seem to offer much in the way of contemporary ethical guidance. But Nakul Krishna, reading Edith Blyton’s school stories, begs to differ: “The schoolgirl’s hell is not, as a character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (1944) memorably puts it, other people; her hell is the isolated self, incapable of getting outside itself. Time and again, the girls must be brought to their lowest ebb (ostracism, betrayal, near-fatal illness or, worse, near-expulsion) before they are offered a glimpse of self-knowledge and the chance to get back on their moral feet. Sometimes an apology will do it, or an acknowledgement, or some gesture of recompense to those harmed. But Blyton, like life, can be brutal: not every character is redeemed by the end of the series, and no character is straightforwardly rid of her vices. There is only the lifelong challenge of acknowledging the reality of other people.”

The Troubadour of Honed Banality

January 25, 2012 | by

Sergei Dovlatov (right) with Alexander Genis (smoking) at Novy Americanets office. Photo by Nina Alovert, 1980.

A., my girlfriend, is originally from Moscow. Her mother lives around the corner from us in Queens and throws dinner parties. It’s mainly an older, cultured ex-Soviet crowd. Lots of vodka, lots of overeating zakuski (appetizers to accompany vodka)—hours of nostalgic guffawing (Soviet jokes) and choral crooning (dissident songs and Stalinist patriotic rousers, with equal pleasure). Not speaking the lingo, I grin a lot—a genial, inebriated, slightly patronized potted plant.

The air of these evenings is thick with Russian irony and cultural chauvinism. Pushkin is beyond all criticism. “How dare you even pronounce his name with your filthy mouth,” A. will flare up, not altogether faking her indignance.

Or an old photographer-pal of Brodsky’s from Leningrad (inevitably old pals of Brodsky’s are present) will assert that Russian translations of Hemingway far surpass the originals.

This latter bit of flag-waving causes me to reflect that much of the literature that deeply influenced me as a writer I read in English translation. Foremost stands Isaac Babel, whose compressed, lyric violence overwhelmed me in my twenties. Then there was Bulgakov; even P—n’s fate-haunted tales. Later, in my early days with A., while she was away and I mooched disconsolately in her apartment, I read in translation Shalamov’s horrifying, degraded, flickering Kolyma Tales about his frozen years in the Siberian Gulag. I kept dropping the book and pacing away, moaning and clutching my head at the savagery, the unspeakable pathos. Then there were Cendrars and Simenon, Borges and César Aira (another alchemical Argentinean, rendered brilliantly by Chris Andrews) .

But, however good the English versions, there’s always in these books a slight straining—a hovering sense of idioms being just off. Read More »