Posts Tagged ‘Ursula K. Le Guin’
September 15, 2016 | by Ursula K. Le Guin
Finding—and writing—the worlds where only I had been.
In high school I was, like many American intellectual kids, a stranger in a strange land. I made the Berkeley Public Library my refuge, and lived half my life in books. Not only American books—English and French novels and poetry, Russian novels in translation. Transported unexpectedly to college in another strange land, the East Coast, I majored in French lit and went on reading European lit on my own. I felt more at home in some ways in Paris in 1640 or Moscow in 1812 than in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1948.
Much as I loved my studies, their purpose was to make me able to earn a living as a teacher, so I could go on writing. And I worked hard at writing short stories. But here my European orientation was a problem. I wasn’t drawn to the topics and aims of contemporary American realism. I didn’t admire Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Norman Mailer, or Edna Ferber. I did admire John Steinbeck, but knew I couldn’t write that way. In The New Yorker, I loved Thurber, but skipped over John O’Hara to read the Englishwoman Sylvia Townsend Warner. Most of the people I really wished I could write like were foreign, or dead, or both. Most of what I read drew me to write about Europe; but I knew it was foolhardy to write fiction set in Europe if I’d never been there. Read More »
August 26, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in farts: there’s a new movie called Swiss Army Man, and it’s full of ‘em. Don’t write it off as stupid. Don’t pretend you’re not seduced by the fusillade of flatulence. There is life in those farts, Annie Julia Wyman writes: “The idea for Swiss Army Man began with a fart joke: a man trapped on a desert island feeds a corpse beans so that he can ride it back to civilization. But a fart joke—like every increment of comedy, however large or small—is a simple encapsulation of Swiss Army Man’s optimism and of the beneficence, the real miracle, which is art … Movies of this kind are highly wrought, spiritually advanced, super-durable versions of the space inhabited by children and old people, by beginners and artists and students, by those of us who are still learning and always will be: that is, by everyone, if they can let the farts in.”
October 22, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Kathryn Schulz’s Thoreau-bashing New Yorker piece last week was only the latest in a long tradition of broadsides against Walden—people love to hate Thoreau. James Russell Lowell, Garrison Keillor, Jill Lepore, and Bill Bryson have all taken swipes at him in print. But all of them, and especially Schulz, are dearly misreading him, especially when they accuse him of misanthropy: “He was active in circulating petitions for neighbors in need. He was attentive to what was going on in the community. He was involved in the Underground Railroad. He quit his first teaching job, in protest, because he was expected to administer corporal punishment, and struggled to find a new one. He loved watermelons, and threw an annual watermelon party for his friends, of whom he had plenty. Children were especially fond of him … He was very handy. He could dance, and play music. He wrote lovingly about his father, mother, and siblings in his journals, and they wrote lovingly about him, and he was so devastated by his brother’s death that he developed symptoms of tetanus in sympathy.”
- Notes from the annals of traffic planning: one of the greatest innovations in Frederick Law Olmsted’s designs for Central Park was his way of guiding people and horses—and, later, cars—gently away from one another: “In 1900 there were some two hundred horse-related deaths in New York City. Thus Olmsted and Vaux’s strict division of circulation in the park acknowledged the ever-present danger of such accidents by consigning heavy east–west vehicular traffic to crosstown transverses sunk well below surface level, while above-grade pedestrian footpaths dipped beneath north–south roadways through small bridges and short tunnels … This concept of dual circulation soon became an article of faith among progressive planners in the United States and Europe. Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s much-praised 1929 design for Radburn, New Jersey—touted as the ‘New Town for the Motor Age’—so effectively segregates cars and people that children can walk to local schools and playgrounds without crossing a street. Stein, whose Central Park West apartment overlooked the 65th Street Transverse, said that he discovered what became known as ‘the Radburn idea’ simply by peering out his front window.”
- The Polish writer Agnieszka Taborska is gazing seaward, as writers are wont to do. In the ocean she’s found a suitable home for surrealism: “The sea calms and alarms. Its swoosh is compared to a hundred sounds at once and yet there’s no way to convey the whole complexity. Screams, wails, thunderclaps, whistles, moans, rumbles, shrieks of exhortation, the boom of waves breaking on rocks, seagulls’ cries, sirens’ chants, the weeping of sailors tickled to death, half-audible words coming from no one knows where, transfused with their own echo. Ghost ships on the horizon, spirits of castaways floating on waves nearer the shore, shadowed by the amused look of a mermaid combing her wet locks for eternity … And then there are the beaches! Dunes torn asunder by secret life.”
- “Do you remember Novokuznetskaya Station? … My mother threw up at each of the throne-like benches and felt sick at the sight of the lamps that look like a dentist’s spittoons…” Each chapter of Hamid Ismailov’s newly translated The Underground is named after a Moscow metro station, which is fun and all, but how is a bewildered, provincial American reader to make heads or tails of these places? You can use Google, for starters—it brings those sick-making spittoon-lamps right to life.
- Isn’t it high time that we give Ursula K. Le Guin the anarchist cred she deserves? “Le Guin has received her due as a master crafter, as the lyrical chronicler of worlds of the imagination, spaces apart from the world, where children and lingering adults can find an oasis. But the political implications of her anarchist aesthetics go much further than that … Stalin said that the poet should be the engineer of human souls. Le Guin is the anti-engineer.”
January 5, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ursula K. Le Guin defends genre fiction: “When the characteristics of a genre are controlled, systematized, and insisted upon by publishers, or editors, or critics, they become limitations rather than possibilities … I love to remember Edmund Wilson, king of the realist bigots, squealing ‘Oo, those awful Orcs!’ and believing he’d made a witty and cogent critical point.”
- The sordid history of the paperback, which democratized and scandalized: “When we look back on the mass-market-paperback phenomenon it’s hard to keep the Emily Brontës separate from the Mickey Spillanes. In the same year that Signet published I, the Jury, it also published reprints of books by James Joyce, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Arthur Koestler. Paperback publishers made no effort to distinguish classics from kitsch.”
- Where does zero come from? A mathematician traced the earliest-known written representation of the numeral to a seventh-century tablet in Cambodia: “It was important to recover this artifact with the earliest zero … there’s a monument to this great invention of the human mind, the ability to write something down that represents complete nothingness.”
- A new year, a new occasion to police language. Presenting Lake Superior State University’s fortieth annual list of banished words, including curate, skill set, takeaway, and others you’d sooner cut your ears off than hear again. (It’s worth revisiting the lists from years past—in ’98, for instance, people were sick of da bomb, talk to the hand, and yadda yadda yadda.)
- And while we’re on words: “What exactly is luxury? The concept is both slippery and divisive … The language associated with it is replete with qualifiers. It can be ‘authentic,’ ‘absolute,’ ‘aspirational’ or ‘affordable’ … The acquisition of luxury is both an attempt at transcendence and an act of appropriation, like the picking of the apple in the garden of Eden. Perhaps that was mankind’s first luxury good.”
September 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Our congratulations to Ursula K. Le Guin, who will receive the National Book Foundation’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters:
“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”
And additional congratulations are in order for Louise Erdrich, who has won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a “lifetime achievement honor for American writers” judged this year by E. L. Doctorow, Zadie Smith, and Edwidge Danticat, “who praised the ‘awesome’ breadth of Erdrich’s work.”
The Paris Review has interviewed both Le Guin and Erdrich for our Art of Fiction series, the former in 2013 and the latter in 2010. Erdrich advised aspiring writers,
Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.
And Le Guin said,
Fiction is something that only human beings do, and only in certain circumstances. We don’t know exactly for what purposes. But one of the things it does is lead you to recognize what you did not know before … A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them—yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. All the arts do this. Music, painting, dance say for us what can’t be said in words. But the mystery of literature is that it does say it in words, often straightforward ones.
We offer both of them our best wishes.
October 21, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“I don’t think ‘science fiction’ is a very good name for it, but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is, if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, the Art of Fiction No. 221