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Posts Tagged ‘Vivian Gornick’

The Slow Decline of the Fridge Poem, and Other News

October 12, 2015 | by

There are about fifty of these under your fridge right now. Photo: Steve Johnson, via Flickr

  • In which Vivian Gornick lives in New York, and walks, walks, walks, and keeps walking, imagining herself under “citywide house arrest”: “Nothing healed me of a sore and angry heart like joining the endless stream of people moving steadily, as blood moves through veins and arteries, along these democratic streets. The relief I felt stepping daily into the anonymous crowd was almost indescribable; and then relief morphed into vigor, and vigor gave me vital information … What struck me almost viscerally was the sense of expectation that seemed to rise and fall before my very eyes … It was this expectation that supplied New York with its unique brand of energy: avid, noisy, fast-moving; wild to get into the act. That was it, really, getting into the act … To this day, the street achieves for me what I so often cannot achieve for myself: composition.”
  • When Trollope published The Duke’s Children in 1879, he had to cull some 65,000 words from it—presumably at the request of his editor. Now the uncut original has been published, and it turns out there was something to those 65,000 words: “The new version will most likely not change anyone’s view of The Duke’s Children, and yet all those tiny excisions do add up. The restored version is a fuller, richer book. And it’s fascinating to compare the two versions and see what Trollope himself thought could go and what he insisted on keeping. Maybe most revealing is a long fox-hunting sequence, about two-thirds of the way through, which Trollope trimmed only lightly. The sequence serves no crucial purpose in the book, other than providing Tregear with an occasion to have an accident that keeps him bedridden and apart from lovelorn Mary. It’s there because there’s almost always a fox-­hunting scene in a Trollope novel.”
  • Defenders of literary awards usually claim some kind of critical value for them; detractors say they’re just part of the publicity machine. But no one’s even arguing about the potential critical value of blurbs. Maybe it’s time for someone to stand up for them. “Can puffing—the practice of lauding a book’s merits in a few words, usually on its jacket blurb—be considered a kind of literary criticism, however cynically regarded it might be? … If we look at a couple of the puffs for this year’s Booker shortlist, we might be able to bring this question into focus. The claim of the unnamed reviewer in the Independent that Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread is simply ‘glorious’ doesn’t seem to get us very far into the realms of literary criticism. Eleanor Catton’s gnomic description of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen as ‘awesome in the true sense of the word’ is perhaps more critically promising: what is the true sense of ‘awesome’? Why does this book in particular evoke that sense?”
  • Not so very long ago, refrigerators across the land were freckled with tiny, easy-to-lose magnetic words from which passersby were intended to fashion a kind of “poetry.” (More often, people used them to make vaguely naughty sex jokes.) So what became of Magnetic Poetry, to say nothing of the impulse behind it? “By removing the messiest step from the cut-up technique, it made the barrier to entry knee-high. It boxed up the creative process, putting it in the checkout aisle and then, once on the fridge, directly at eye level. It let us indulge all these instincts at once—toward communication, creation, jokes, profanity—and layered the results on the domestic experience. From the end of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, it turned kitchens everywhere into an inescapable id pastiche.”
  • The men (and they’re always men) who commit mass killings have a discomfiting tendency to write: they nearly always leave behind a manifesto, and it is nearly always inscrutable. Why the compulsion to address oneself to posterity? And what, if anything, can be gleaned from their words? “There have always been killers and they have often left pieces of writing behind (think of Jack the Ripper and his notes written in blood); some of them were even called manifestos. The Manson ‘family’, a previous group of bent fans of popular culture who heard messages in songs, believed in a program of salvation that required the slaughtering of the human ‘pigs’ who put them down. Valerie Solanos wrote a manifesto that wants to be a feminist tract before shooting Andy Warhol. But not even Warhol, who understood something essential about fame, could have guessed that, one day, such would-be killers, or putative cleaners-up of our corrupt and oppressive world, would carry the wherewithal in the pocket of their jeans. All they needed was a smartphone and a set of grievances, and the world was theirs.”

Teach Your Automaton to Feel, and Other News

June 8, 2015 | by


Tim Davies, Space Robot Lovers, 2012.

  • At last, the time has come for robots to harness the single most powerful force known to humanity: metaphor. An attempt to teach emotional nuance to artificial intelligences, The Poetry for Robots project invites people—even decidedly unpoetic people—to react to photographs in verse, which the robots will thereafter memorize, as is their wont. “By feeding poems to the robots, the researchers want to ‘teach the database the metaphors’ that humans associate with pictures, ‘and see what happens.’ ”
  • Pistols at dawn! The duel, which was at the peak of its powers in the eighteenth century, enjoyed a prominent status in the literature of the era. Actually, “without literature, there would be much less to go on, historically speaking. Dueling was usually illegal. It was often tolerated, but, still, discretion was an issue—dueling at dawn was popular for reasons of secrecy … One outcome of the silence surrounding the activity was that, for first-timers, the nearest guide to protocol might lie in fiction.”
  • Vivian Gornick on Delmore Schwartz: “Like the time itself, everything about him was out of control—his beautiful, anxiety-ridden face, his stormy eloquence, his outrageous self-dramatization. He charmed and alarmed. There was a sweetness of spirit at the center of all his dishevelment that made nearly everyone who knew him hold him in tender regard.”
  • Fact: “under the right conditions, three atoms that all repel each other will be forced into an inseparable triad.” Physicists have only recently discovered what existentialists have known for a good while—“hell is other atoms.”
  • In French, the word créneau—what we’d call a crenellation, or a battlement in a castle—has taken on a rich figurative life; it can mean a parking spot, an appointment time, even a market opportunity. In other words, it’s very much like our word slot. So why not ask: “Does it mean anything that the French etymology sees appointment times, schedule segments, and parking spaces as figurative openings in a defensive wall made for ‘shooting or launching projectiles upon the enemy,’ while English speakers see them figuratively as shaped depressions made to allow pieces of wood to be fit together into useful structures?”

The Golden State’s Golden Age, and Other News

January 27, 2015 | by


John Van Hamersveld and Victor Moscoso, The Who with Fleetwood Mac Shrine Auditorium poster, 1968. Image via It’s Nice That

  • From the department of own-horn-tooting: Looking for something to read today? Try The Paris Review. But you didn’t hear it from us: “One thing I’d like to have on my blanketed lap today,” Dwight Garner wrote, “is the new issue of The Paris Review. That journal has found its mojo, in a big way … The new one has among other things a warm and wise interview with the memoirist and essayist Vivian Gornick that’s worth the price of admission alone.”
  • India’s Jaipur Literary Festival is advertised as the largest free literary festival in the world. “This year it attracted an estimated 80,000. And on the fourth day, with 20,000 packed into the disorderly old palace complex where it is held, and the queues for entry still growing, the police abruptly closed the gates. They feared a stampede was coming. But who were these people? And what were they coming for?”
  • A new book looks at midcentury graphic design in California, which had a sensibility and influence all its own: “Fuck New York. Fuck Europe. We’ll figure out what art is.”
  • Whither the ukulele? It began its life as a piece of exotica and then, in the hands of Tiny Tim, descended promptly into kitsch—but some say it’s enjoying a revival. “The ukulele still plays its role as everyman instrument quite convincingly.”
  • Today in people who are wrong: “Today’s minor arts, I think, include theater, ballet, opera, symphonic music, and literary fiction. These still include small audiences whose members are not also creators, audiences who patronize these arts in part out of an inherited feeling that these are superior to movies or genre fiction … The literary novel, too, may be on its way to losing its minor art status and becoming a pure hobby.”


Announcing Our Winter Issue

December 1, 2014 | by

TPR 211That photo on the cover comes from Marc Yankus, whose subject is New York buildings: “I can feel the brick, I can feel the hardness and the corners of the building ... the structure, the monolith, the sculpture, the abstract.”

In the Art of Memoir No. 2, Vivian Gornick talks about feminism, bad reviews, love versus work, and coming to terms with failure:

I knew I had to stay with it as long as it took to write a sentence I could respect. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do—to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

And in the Art of Screenwriting No. 5, Michael Haneke reveals the imaginative process behind movies like The White Ribbon and Amour—and why there are no “right” readings of his films:

I would never set out to make a political film. I hope that my films provoke reflection and have an illuminating quality—that, of course, may have a political effect. Still, I despise films that have a political agenda. Their intent is always to manipulate, to convince the viewer of their respective ideologies. Ideologies, however, are artistically uninteresting. I always say that if something can be reduced to one clear concept, it is artistically dead.

There’s also a special triple feature on Karl Ove Knausgaard, with an exclusive excerpt from My Struggle, Book 4; an essay on depression and Dante’s hell; and an exchange with The New Yorker’s James Wood on masculinity and good reasons for writing badly.

Plus new fiction by Joe Dunthorne, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sam Savage, and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh; poems from Sylvie Baumgartel, Jeff Dolven, Cathy Park Hong, Phillis Levin, Jana Prikryl, Frederick Seidel, and Brenda Shaughnessy; and a series of aphorisms by Sarah Manguso.

Get your copy now. And may we add that a subscription to The Paris Review makes a great present? The recipient will receive a postcard announcing your gift with your personal message. Just select the “gift” option when you check out.


Sex and Sensibility

October 16, 2013 | by


Joseph Wright of Derby, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, detail, 1768, oil on canvas. National Gallery, London, UK.

Vivian Gornick describes the journey to self-possession as one of unimaginable pain and loneliness. “It is the re-creation in women of the experiencing self that is the business of contemporary feminism: the absence of that self is the slave that must be squeezed out drop by drop,” she says, quoting Chekhov, in “Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility,” from her 1978 collection Essays in Feminism.

The journey, Gornick observes, is “one in which the same inch of emotional ground must be fought for over and over again, alone and without allies, the only soldier in the army, the struggling self. But on the other side lies freedom: self-possession.”

Last July, three years to the month that my marriage ended, I also ended my first serious postdivorce relationship, on the eve of the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death. It was the first year I had forgotten my mother’s anniversary and one month after my divorce became official. My ex-husband, who had vowed to become a better friend the day we told my father we were splitting up, showed up when others were too fed up with my ramblings and hand-wringing over a man who had made me astoundingly unhappy for months. For some, it was not easy to understand that the sexual content of being loved, after so much loss, was simply gripping. Read More »


What We’re Loving: Quaker Meeting, Blue Trout, and the Call of the Wild

June 21, 2013 | by


Quaker Meeting in London, c.1723.

Why aren’t there more novels about Quaker worship? It’s inherently dramatic, people sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak through them. Dramatic—and really, really funny. For proof look no further than Nicholson Baker’s forthcoming novel, Traveling Sprinkler. The hero, Paul Chowder, spends a lot of time attending Quaker meetings (i.e., church). Most of the rest of the novel he spends trying to teach himself the guitar, write (incredibly dorky) songs, and win back the girlfriend who left him in Baker’s earlier novel The Anthologist. There are lots of reasons to love Traveling Sprinkler: Baker gets sweeter with each new book, and underneath the sweetness lie witty arguments about poetry and song and taste. Among other things, this is the best novel I’ve read about Spotify. It also vividly captures Quaker beliefs and practices at a moment when, as Paul Elie wrote last year in the New York Times, many novelists have trouble writing about religion. —Lorin Stein

“Beautiful and brilliant, possessed of an eye protected against sentiment coupled with a steel-trap mind and a tongue feared by all who had been at the receiving end of its talented sarcasm, a sarcasm that for some would always be wickedly amusing, for others just wicked.” So says essayist (and issue 204 contributor) Vivian Gornick of critic and writer Mary McCarthy on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. In a piece drawn from her introduction to a new edition of McCarthy’s 1949 novel, The Oasis, Gornick highlights the book’s biting satire but, more importantly, McCarthy’s fearlessness in barely disguising her characters from their real-life counterparts (mostly her Partisan Review colleagues). As McCarthy stated in her Art of Fiction interview, “What I really do is take real plums and put them in an imaginary cake.” —Justin Alvarez Read More »