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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

6: “A Craving for Silence”

April 27, 2015 | by

From “Kang” through “Music,” pp. 116–140

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This is the sixth entry in our Mating Book Club. (Sorry for the wait!) Read along.

This latest portion might be dubbed “The Critique of Pure Boredom, especially given that our narrator name-drops Kant in the midst of it. Early on, she declares, “One attractive thing about me is that I’m never bored, because during any caesura my personal automatic pastime of questioning my own motives is there for me.”

Lest we doubt her, she goes on to wonder whether the journey she intends to undertake to Tsau is the byproduct of certain deep unconscious maternal longings, or something else. She dismisses any neo-Darwinian and Freudian interpretation of her behavior, wrangles with the question of that behavior in relation to Denoon’s childlessness (interesting, she notes), and the overpopulation problem, plus her sympathy for abandoned children globally. And she winds up wanting her decisions in the realm of relationships to be not only deliberate, but “deliberative,” which is where Kant enters into it. Slow and steady.

Yet in the world outside her head, she’s on a flatbed truck that’s flying at hair-raising speeds for 250 miles, with cornmeal, mail, and a “fiendish shavenheaded adolescent at the wheel.” Read More »

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Rimbaud Among the Coffee, and Other News

March 4, 2015 | by

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Rimbaud in Harar, Ethiopia, ca. 1883.

  • Fiction has seen a preponderance of nameless narrators lately—in stories of the apocalypse, stories of exile, and/or stories of just about anything else. “The first few months of 2015 alone have brought us the following books with nameless protagonists: Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country, Greg Baxter’s Munich Airport, Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard, Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents. Surely others have escaped my notice. It’s an epidemic of namelessness.”
  • In 1880, Rimbaud arrived in Ethiopia—it was called Abyssinia then—“sick and completely helpless.” He was twenty-six and had taken on a job “consisting in receiving shipments of bales of coffee”; he lived in a house of clay walls with a thatched roof. But really he was seeking something more metaphysical: “I sought voyages, to disperse enchantments that had colonized my mind … My life would always be too ungovernable to be devoted to strength and beauty.” He had a great time until his leg had to be amputated.
  • Yasmina Reza on the title of her new book, Happy Are the Happy, which comes from Borges and came to her on an airplane: “The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind.” (Read her interview with the Daily here.)
  • On copyediting and class: a copy editor’s job can be “a soul-crushing enterprise … Magazines are rigidly hierarchical places … the work of the copy editor is largely disdained. And because their work is so undervalued, copy editors (and fact checkers) routinely work significantly longer hours for much less money (sixteen-hour days without overtime pay aren’t uncommon) … they’re often dismissed as fussy or obsessive … In the Calvinistic world of magazines, maladjusted grammar weirdos simply fall to their natural station.”
  • “Here is a good example of how inconsistently the term transgressive is applied to some and not to others—that V.C. Andrews in Flowers in the Attic wrote about brother-sister incest (and a semiforced initial coupling at that) and that book sold over forty million copies. More and more I’m coming to think that labeling certain writers as transgressive, or ‘outside traditional writing,’ is a construct perpetrated by reviewers and editors. I really believe that the reading public is far more accepting of the so-called extremes in literature than the gatekeepers of taste give them credit for.” An interview with Matthew Stokoe.

Advice for Travelers: Beware Cannibals!

February 10, 2015 | by

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A map by John Cary of “Independent Tartary,” 1811.

A letter from Charles Lamb to Thomas Manning from February 1803. Lamb, an English essayist, was born on this day in 1775; his correspondence is known for veering into what he called “nonsense.” Here he responds to news that Manning, one of Europe’s earliest Chinese Studies scholars, will embark soon for China and Tibet—he went on to become the first Englishman to secure an interview with the Dalai Lama. “Independent Tartary” is an outmoded term for Central Asia.

My Dear Manning,—The general scope of your letter afforded no indications of insanity, but some particular points raised a scruple. For God’s sake, don’t think any more of “Independent Tartary.” What are you to do among such Ethiopians? … I tremble for your Christianity. They will certainly circumcise you. Read Sir John Mandeville’s travels to cure you, or come over to England. There is a Tartar man now exhibiting at Exeter Change. Come and talk with him, and hear what he says first. Indeed, he is no very favorable specimen of his countrymen! But perhaps the best thing you can do is to try to get the idea out of your head. For this purpose repeat to yourself every night, after you have said your prayers, the words “Independent Tartary, Independent Tartary,” two or three times, and associate with them the idea of oblivion (‘t is Hartley’s method with obstinate memories); or say “Independent, Independent, have I not already got an independence?” That was a clever way of the old Puritans—pun-divinity. My dear friend, think what a sad pity it would be to bury such parts in heathen countries, among nasty, unconversable, horse-belching, Tartar people! Some say they are cannibals; and then conceive a Tartar fellow eating my friend, and adding the cool malignity of mustard and vinegar! … The Tartars really are a cold, insipid, smouchy set. You’ll be sadly moped (if you are not eaten) among them. Pray try and cure yourself … Shave yourself oftener. Eat no saffron, for saffron-eaters contract a terrible Tartar-like yellow. Pray to avoid the fiend. Eat nothing that gives the heartburn. Shave the upper lip. Go about like an European. Read no book of voyages (they are nothing but lies); only now and then a romance, to keep the fancy under. Above all, don’t go to any sights of wild beasts. That has been your ruin. Accustom yourself to write familiar letters on common subjects to your friends in England, such as are of a moderate understanding. And think about common things more … You’ll never come back. Have a care, my dear friend, of Anthropophagi! their stomachs are always craving. ‘Tis terrible to be weighed out at fivepence a pound. To sit at table (the reverse of fishes in Holland), not as a guest, but as a meat!

God bless you! do come to England. Air and exercise may do great things.

Talk with some minister. Why not your father?

God dispose all for the best! I have discharged my duty.

Your sincere friend,

C. LAMB.

Think Big

January 14, 2015 | by

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

We are told it is a liability to be thin-skinned, and it’s true that these are bad times for it. When an Internet slight makes you question your path in life, an encounter with a surly stranger results in canceled plans, and the day’s news derails your day, you are at the whims of fortune. And a life without perspective, like a painting, is disorienting.

But the porousness goes both ways, doesn’t it? And if everything looms large, the world’s kindnesses are equally outsized, like in that store Think Big, which only carried enormous versions of things. Maybe you didn’t want a giant jar of mustard. But the fact that it existed meant that you could also have a six-foot Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2, so. Read More »

The Cousin

January 5, 2015 | by

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Alfred Sisley, La Terrasse à Saint-Germain, Printemps, 1875.

One summer, a woman I know worked at a farm in the French countryside. I know this because I rented her Brooklyn apartment while she was gone, a massive space owned by a family of mysterious busybodies in a building filled with unsavory characters. My friend was enrolled in a program that places volunteers on farms around the world in exchange for room and board; the estate where she ended up had vineyards and produced a small amount of wine. 

The estate was large and beautiful and decrepit, and owned by a titled Englishwoman who claimed to be descended from royalty on the wrong side of the blanket, plus a number of minor literary figures. This woman was tall and imposing and draped in robes, and followed at all times by a pair of wolfhounds.

The volunteers did work in the vineyard by day. At night, their hostess demanded entertainment. Each evening brought with it an amateur theatrical, a series of tableaux vivants, a concert. It became clear that no one was there by accident; their hostess had reviewed all the volunteer applications and selected only those guests who had some sort of theatrical or artistic background. My friend, who had attended art school, was made wardrobe mistress. She also had to perform in a production of The Swan. After the end of a long day in the fields, this was the last thing anyone felt like doing, but the hostess would brook no opposition. Read More »

Going Aboard

December 16, 2014 | by

Retracing Moby-Dick on a nineteenth-century whaler.

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Photo: Ben Shattuck

­­­When Herman Melville was twenty-one, he embarked on the whaleship Acushnet, out of New Bedford. We all know what that led to. This past summer, Mystic Seaport finished their five-year, 7.5-million-dollar restoration of the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the sister ship to the Acushnet. The Morgan is in many ways identical to Melville’s fictional Pequod, save that sperm whale jawbone tiller and a few other sinister touches. Mystic Seaport celebrated the completion by sailing the Morgan around New England for a couple months. I went aboard for a night and a day, intent on following in Ishmael’s footsteps, hoping to breathe a little life into my idea of the distant, literary ship. Below are passages from Moby-Dick that involve the Pequod, followed by my own accounts.
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