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Overheard Haiku

November 18, 2014 | by

The rhythms of overheard speech.

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Photo: NARA

In Martin Walser’s 1987 book Brandung, about a German professor teaching abroad at the very un-German University of California, Berkeley—a novel really not worth reading unless you are interested in German-English translation and able to read it in the Berkeley sun, to a whiff of eucalyptus or a glimpse of Mount Tamalpais, and even then I didn’t finish it—the professor overhears a bit of dialogue. A student steps into an elevator and says “Going up?”; the one in the elevator says “Trying to.” The professor, “who did after all teach English back home, was crushed to realize, yet again, that he would never master this language.” Not long afterward, he sees a campus newspaper headline, “Sex Blind Admission,” and tries and fails to reconstruct the line in German. “English is a language for headlines,” he thinks.

I saw a headline myself in Berkeley, on the unbelievably trashy San Francisco Examiner: “Cops Fear Pimp Turf War.” Five punchy syllables, each pretty much any part of speech—it took me a moment to understand what it meant, then I knew I had witnessed greatness. (I’m not the only one who noticed: a weekly DJ night called “Cops Fear Pimp Turf War!” sprang up a few months later in San Francisco.)

It was walking in downtown Manhattan, on the other hand, past the new construction of, according to the slogan around the scaffolding, TWENTY INDIVIDUALLY-CURATED FINELY-CRAFTED CONDOMINIUM RESIDENCES, that a couple hurried past and we heard the man say, “The problem is in this country people believe they deserve something ... ” Whether his complaint targeted the members of the 1 percent who were building or planning to live in these super-creative residences, or the passersby resenting that they couldn’t, or other groups altogether, it was also a classic example of American speech:

The problem is in
this country people believe
they deserve something

It’s not a haiku—the haiku form has demands besides 5-7-5 syllables: seasonal key words (kigo), one image, two moments with a turn or jump cut between them indicated by a “cutting word” (kireji). It’s the serendipitous, spoken, American form: the overheard haiku. Read More »

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Staff Picks: A Field in England, A Desert in the Mind

September 12, 2014 | by

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A still from Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England.

Like Nicole, I thrilled to Jed Perl’s essay on Jeff Koons in the current New York Review of Books. I also loved Dan Chiasson’s review of Boyhood in the same issue. In its quiet way this essay amounts to a defense of fiction in the age of social media: “If Boyhood were a documentary, it would involve much more acting, with the subjects self-consciously shaping their on-screen personae (this happens, to an extent, in the Up series). Here, there is nothing to be done: time itself is the real actor.” Both Linklater’s movie and Chiasson’s review reminded me of another experiment with the longue duréeThis Is Autism, the 2011 concept album by Anders Danielsen Lie. American filmgoers know Lie as the brooding lead in Reprise and Oslo, August 31, but he is also an accomplished musician and composer. This Is Autism is a song series built on compositions that Lie made as a kid (starting at the age of ten), then revisited as a grown-up; the music seems to have soaked up a childhood’s worth of listening, mainly to parental vinyl in what Lie likes to call the “autistic” tradition, from Steely Dan and Keith Jarrett to Kiss. —Lorin Stein

For me, the description of Ben Wheatley’s most recent film, A Field in England, was instantly appealing: a handful of deserters from the English civil war traipse across a field; ensnared by an alchemist, they are forced to help him hunt for treasure supposedly buried in the field. Oh, and they’re tripping on mushrooms. The film is moody and spare—it’s shot in black-and-white—and the mind-altering effect of the mushrooms adds another textural layer on the progressing horror, making it strange and abysmal. I kept turning to my husband to ask whether he understood what was going on, thinking that I was missing something. He’d recite the plot, as he’d comprehended it, and I realized that I’d managed to grasp exactly what was going on. It’s just that everything seemed, well, kinda trippy. The setting helps to circumscribe the film’s disturbing events, a theater both expansive and enclosed. (It makes sense that Wheatley’s next film is an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise.) When one character tells another that he cannot escape the field, he replies, “Then I shall become it!” —Nicole Rudick

Last week I noted the excellent epigraph to Roberto Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita, but I neglected to say that the novella itself is excellent, too: brisk, nervous, and curiously compassionate, with a conceit I can only describe as Bolaño-esque. A young woman loses her parents and, to make money, visits a blind, withered bodybuilder who likes to slather her in oil before sleeping with her. As usual, Bolaño’s characters endure their miseries with unnerving equanimity; there’s no amount of suffering, we’re led to believe, that can’t be shrugged at. And since this is Bolaño, the book has a surreal, tragicomic dream sequence. (As Jonathan Lethem pointed out in his review of 2666, M.F.A. praxis maintains that dreams make for dull fiction—digressive, freighted with easy symbolism—but Bolaño writes them often and well, with skewed logic and foreboding mental detritus.) The narrator, Bianca, dreams of plodding through the desert with a heavy, white, possibly flightless parrot on her shoulder: “He weighed too much (ten pounds at least, he was a big parrot) to be carried for so long, but the parrot wouldn’t budge, and I could hardly walk, I was shaking, my knees hurt, my legs, my thighs, my stomach, my neck, it was like having cancer, but also like coming—coming endlessly and exhaustingly—or like swallowing my eyes, my own eyes … ” —Dan Piepenbring

Given that Chaucer provides us with the earliest example of the verb “to twitter,” it seems appropriate that his Twitter persona, “Chaucer Doth Tweet,” has now attracted an impressive 29,800 followers. And he’s not the only medieval writer to venture into social media, with the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, the poet John Lydgate, and the author Sir Thomas Malory all joining him in popularizing #MiddleEnglish. Perhaps the most surprising member of this group, though, is the late fourteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe, who has not one, but four rival Twitter accounts. Best known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery spent most of her life repenting for her sins “wyth gret wepyng and many teerys,” being abused by her local community and abstaining from the “abhomynabyl” act of sex with her husband. While it may initially strike us as astonishing that a mystic visionary should have more official Twitter pages than Jay-Z, the online world has more in common with medieval Norfolk than you might think—maybe Margery can no longer be imprisoned by angry priests, but slander and public shaming are still ever present on the web. As @tweetyng_teres puts it: “dey seyn this creatur cryin / dey haytin #wepyn.” Plus ça change, it seems. —Helena Sutcliffe
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Win Two Free Front-Row Seats: Ben Lerner in Conversation with Paul Holdengräber

September 12, 2014 | by

10-04

The Paris Review has recently published two stories by Ben Lerner, who won our Terry Southern Prize this year: first was “False Spring” (issue 205) and then “Specimen Days” (issue 208). Both are excerpts from his excellent new novel 10:04. If you’ve opened a newspaper or book review in the past month, you’ve likely encountered rhapsodic praise for 10:04. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Mr. Lerner packs so much brilliance and humor into each episode … this brain-tickling book imbues real experiences with a feeling of artistic possibility, leaving the observable world ‘a little changed, a little charged.’” In The Times, Dwight Garner wrote that Lerner is “among the most interesting young American novelists at present,” and in Bookforum, Christian Lorentzen called 10:04a beautiful and original novel … it signals a new direction in American fiction.” NPR said that it’s “strange and spectacular … Don’t even worry about classifying it; just let Lerner’s language sweep you off your feet.”

And why not let that sweeping happen in person? Next Tuesday, September 16, Lerner will appear at the New York Public Library in conversation with Paul Holdengräber—it’s sure to be an expansive interview, and we’re giving away two front-row seats. (For proof of Holdengräber’s conversational acumen, check out his Art of Nonfiction interview with Adam Phillips, which we published in our Spring issue.)

For a chance to win, retweet our announcement below before three P.M. EST today. We’ll select two winners at random. Bonne chance!

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Our Globe-trotting Winners

September 9, 2014 | by

Last month’s #ReadEverywhere contest was a great success. (If you need a refresher: we asked readers to submit pictures of themselves reading The Paris Review or The London Review of Books around the world.) Now the time has come to announce the winners. Cue the marching band, please, and have the sommeliers ready their champagne sabers …

THIRD PLACE is a tie! Both Ivan Herrera and Anders Gäddlin will receive third-place prizes. Ivan is pictured with The Paris Review (and an erumpent sparkler) at Tennessee Alabama Fireworks. Anders read The London Review of Books in a “modernist twentieth-century utopian suburb”: Råslätt, Jönköping, Sweden. They’ll get a copy of one of our Writers at Work anthologies and an LRB mug.

fireworks

Ivan Herrera

 

sweden

Anders Gäddlin

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Working on My Novel

July 28, 2014 | by

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From Cory Arcangel’s Working on My Novel.

I wonder whether there will ever be enough tranquility under modern circumstances to allow our contemporary Wordsworth to recollect anything. I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction. —Saul Bellow, the Art of Fiction No. 37, 1966

Cory Arcangel’s new book, Working on My Novel—based on the Twitter feed of the same name—is a compilation of tweets from people who are putatively at work on novels. No more, no less. On Twitter, this concept feels merely clever; printed and bound as a novel would be, though, it becomes a vexed look at novels’ position in the culture, and a sad monument to distraction. Or so it seems to me. Arcangel’s “elevator pitch” puts a brighter gloss on it:

Working on My Novel is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it's the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

But the book piques my interest for the opposite reason: it’s the story of what it means to live in a cultural climate that stifles almost every creative impulse, and why it so often seems we should stop trying. Arcangel suggests there’s something inherently ennobling in trying to write, but his book is an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion—every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art. Working captures the worrisome extent to which creative writing has been synonymized with therapy; nearly everyone quoted in it pursues novel writing as a kind of exercise regimen. (“I love my mind,” writes one aspirant novelist, as if he’s just done fifty reps with it and is admiring it all engorged with blood.)Read More »

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Witchcraft Then and Now, and Other News

July 24, 2014 | by

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Detail from Francisco José de Goya’s Linda maestra, 1797.

  • Profiling William T. Vollmann: “Although Vollmann these days sports the punctilious mustache of a maître d’, he still resembles the baby-faced boy wonder readers first encountered in his shocking late ’80s author photo, in which he affectlessly held a pistol to his own head … Along with the Internet and e-mail, Vollmann also foregoes cell phones, credit-card use, checking accounts, and driving.”
  • On David Mitchell’s Twitter story, “The Right Sort”: “The effect of reading was not feelings of disjunction and separation but rather one of surprising connection, a sense of disappearing into the scroll and the vortex of the story.”
  • From the Guardian, July 24, 1844: “a most lamentable difference exists between the witchcraft of modern romance and the witchcraft of ancient superstition.”
  • “Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? … As of a few days ago UK sales of all three volumes of Knausgaard work in hardback and paperback had barely topped 22,000 copies … In the US, which has a much larger market, that figure— total sales of all three volumes (minus e-books)—stood at about 32,000.”
  • “As Amazon gains market share, we can no longer abide its self-proclaimed conceit that unfettered growth is invariably in the consumers’ interest … Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.”

 

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