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Posts Tagged ‘Tom McCarthy’

Sublime, Subversive Sappho, and Other News

March 9, 2015 | by

Sappho_and_Erinna_in_a_Garden_at_Mytilene

Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864.

  • How does contemporary literature derive meaning in the age of big data? “The rise of corporate capitalism, and the astonishing, almost exponential rate of its recent acceleration, I would argue, present a huge challenge to the writer, forcing him or her to rethink their whole role and function, to remap their entire universe. There is no space outside this matrix … Western literature may have more or less begun, in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, with a lengthy account of a signal crossing space, and of the beacon network through whose nodes the signal’s message (that of Troy’s downfall) is relayed—but now, two and a half millennia later, that network, that regime of signals, is so omnipresent and insistent, so undeniably inserted or installed at every stratum of existence, that the notion that we might need some person, some skilled craftsman, to compose any messages, let alone incisive or ‘epiphanic’ ones, seems hopelessly quaint.”
  • “KAYO IN THE LUNA PARK / FREEZE FRAME ON A DRUNK IN THE PIAZZA / THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE FOR PIGEONS / LUMBERING ON ASPHALT FACEDOWN / LEAPSICKNESS THE LAW OF LIQUIDS.” Basquiat’s notebooks “variously sound like song lyrics, slogans, mantras, fragments of scenarios, of ‘routines’ like those of William S. Burroughs.”
  • Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, said that he’s sometimes cut “unfortunate anti-Semitic things” from Shakespeare—should we censor plays like The Merchant of Venice?
  • Who was Sappho? Scholars and readers have been bickering about her for the better part of three thousand years: “about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her ‘sublime’ style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works … Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage.”
  • Part two of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel’s essay “on Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights.”

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Readers Demand More Grandparents, and Other News

February 11, 2015 | by

grandparents

Fiction: A grandparent-free zone?

  • Museums around the world are motioning to ban selfie sticks, those, sleek, obtrusive icons of narcissism. “While its elongated form might have some structural merits and it inspires a devoted gaze just from standing below it, it simply detracts from other pieces in the collection in a rather pedestrian fashion. So, like groundbreaking art forms before it, the selfie stick will just have to patiently wait for times to change before it receives its artistic due.”
  • On Tom McCarthy’s new novel, Satin Island, as a rewiring of avant-garde fiction: “Convergences, nodes and relays, interstices: This is precisely the lexicon of the midcentury avant-garde McCarthy once found so useful and influential. But where this abstract-concrete thinking … once seemed urgent and perhaps even politically salient, now it just seems like cliché. Actually, worse than cliché: commercial and pernicious. The avant-garde’s work has been inherited by the corporation.”
  • This is not your beautiful house. This is not your beautiful wife. This is not your beautiful art: “A retired odd job man and electrician and his wife stand trial on Tuesday, accused of illegally possessing 271 works by Pablo Picasso … Mr. Le Guennec claims that he was given the collection by the artist and his second wife Jacqueline when he carried out odd jobs for them more than forty years ago.”
  • Contemporary fiction is cool and all, but why aren’t there more grandparents in it? Grandparents are cool, too, you know. “Look around current adult fiction and there’s little writing about grandparents as grandparents. You can find forever-young baby boomer grandmas falling in love at sixty and novels about spirited older women finding self-fulfillment, but novels about grandparents’ relationships with their grandchildren seem in short supply.”
  • Philip K. Dick’s work reveals its prescience yet again: in his 1969 novel Ubik, “characters have to negotiate the way they move and how they communicate with inanimate objects that monitor them, lock them out, and force payments.” Meanwhile, in the reality of 2015, Samsung invents a television that captures “personal or other sensitive” information for transmission to a third party …

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Hatchet Job: When Bad Reviewers Go Good

November 19, 2012 | by

In February of this year, Adam Mars-Jones, an English writer not much known in this country, won the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year award for his review of Michael Cunningham’s Nightfall: “And a two-person epiphany has to outrank the single kind. Two comely young people standing in the lake shallows, ‘looking out at the milky haze of the horizon’—that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard.”

Geoff Dyer, another English writer, much better known since 2008’s Death in Venice, Jeff in Varanisi brought most of his strange work back into print, was nominated for his attack on Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending:

Later, after Tony has broken up with his girlfriend, Adrian commits suicide. This would be my first objection. Obviously people commit suicide, for a variety of reasons, but in fiction they tend to do so primarily in the service of authorial convenience. And convenience invariably becomes a near-anagram of contrivance.

The impulse behind good bad reviews is not much understood, and whether understood or not, is usually disliked or dismissed. It’s considered ungenerous, as though generosity could never be misplaced. Read More »

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Staff Picks: ‘Desire,’ Tim Tebow

December 9, 2011 | by

Last night I read Sydney Smith’s attack on the Methodists and listened to Desire. It’s been that kind of week. —Lorin Stein

Chuck Klosterman offers one explanation for why Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow is so polarizing: “The crux here, the issue driving this whole ‘Tebow Thing,’ is the matter of faith ... The upside to secular thinking is that—in theory—your skepticism will prove correct. Your rightness might be emotionally unsatisfying, but it confirms a stable understanding of the universe. Sports fans who love statistics fall into this camp. People who reject cognitive dissonance build this camp and find the firewood. But Tebow wrecks all that, because he makes blind faith a viable option. His faith in God, his followers’ faith in him—it all defies modernity. This is why people care so much. He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don't actually believe.” —Natalie Jacoby

This weekend I’ll be hoping to see one of the more curious, and surely more fascinating, Nobel acceptance speeches as the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who lost his speech and the use of his right hand after a stroke some twenty years ago, accepts his prize by playing the piano. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

The fruitcake from Holy Spirit Monastery in Georgia—rich with fruit and pecans and liberally doused in peach brandy—has converted many a fruitcake-scoffer. And if you know one of those defiant iconoclasts who already loves it, well, you’ve found your holiday gift for the foreseeable future. (Mine arrived last night and we’ve already eaten half!) —Sadie Stein

In her debut novel, The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am, Kjersti A. Skomsvold has created a world—through the eyes of a terribly shy old woman who ponders death—that is calm and incredibly strange. —Jessica Calderon

I eagerly started reading a galley of Men in Space, Tom McCarthy’s first novel, which will be published in the US for the first time in February. The first hundred pages contains a very funny letter from a gay Netherlandish art curator on Václav Havel’s reinvention of Czech military costumes: “After two thousand years, Plato’s philosopher king becomes a reality—and the first thing he does is get some fag to spruce up his goons and make them march around more aesthetically. Sometimes I despair of our profession.” —Nicole Rudick

Emma Straub’s piece on the phenomenon of “showrooming” (a word I didn't even know!) was a revelation. —Sadie Stein

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