Posts Tagged ‘Walter Benjamin’
October 17, 2013 | by Bijan Stephen
Little things in life supplant the “great events.” —Peter Altenberg, as translated by Peter Wortsman
The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: “[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,” as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like.
In the ensuing decades, however, the idea of flânerie as a desirable lifetsyle has fallen out of favor, due to some arcane combination of increasing productivity—hello, fruits of the Industrial Revolution!—and the modern horror at the thought of doing absolutely nothing. (See: Michael Jordan’s “retirements.”) But as we grow inexorably busier—due in large part to the influence of technology—might flânerie be due for a revival?
If contemporary literature is any indication, the answer is a soft yes. Take Teju Cole’s debut novel, Open City. Cole’s narrator, Julius, wanders up and down Manhattan, across the Atlantic to Brussels and back again, while off-handedly delivering bits of wisdom and historical insight. It’s not just that Open City is beautifully written, though that’s certainly true. Cole’s skill manifests itself in depicting the dreamy psychogeographic landscape—and accompanying amorality and solipsism—of Julius’s mind. Riding behind his eyes is a trip; even though we’re in his head, the tone of his thoughts still sets us at a distance.
Tao Lin’s recently released Taipei achieves something similar. As Ian Sansom wrote in the Guardian, “Passage after passage in the novel dwells on the meaning of disassociation and self-exile.” Read More »
May 28, 2013 | by Lorin Stein
The proofs of our Summer issue just arrived at Twenty-Seventh Street from the printer. This afternoon is our last chance to catch any mistakes. You always find a few typos—and we have more names to spell-check than usual, because this issue contains more stories, poems, and interviews than any in recent memory.
Some of these writers are regular contributors, including Lydia Davis—with her first publication since she won the 2013 Man Booker International Prize for fiction—and David Gates, whose new story is a favorite of his and ours. Others are writers we’ve been waiting to publish for a while, namely Ben Lerner, whose first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is one of the best debuts we’ve seen in the past few years, and Kristin Dombek, whose essays in n+1 electrified us. The newly translated stories by Robert Walser are from his groundbreaking 1904 collection, Fritz Kocher’s Essays. This book (which won the admiration of Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin) made me feel for the first time that I understood what all the fuss is about.
Still others, including Emma Cline, Gillian Linden, and the Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli—translated by the likes of Jorie Graham and Mark Strand—are new to us and will probably be new to you. We look forward to saying, You read them here first.
Plus, three interviews.
Two are devoted to the art of literary biography. Michael Holroyd’s lives of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, among others, revolutionized the study of Bloomsbury and Edwardian literary history.
I am a great believer in private life, which is quite unfashionable now—to be a celebrity is the thing, or you are nothing. But I believe in private life for the living, and I think that when one is dead one should be a little bit bolder, so that the rest of us may have some record of how things actually were. Otherwise we will be left with well-meant lies, which add to the difficulties of life and lead to real misunderstanding.
Hermione Lee’s biographies of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton are just as influential.
What is it like to write a death scene?
It depends how they died. Some cynical biographer said to me, Make sure it’s a good death. Make sure you’re not picking someone who just declined.
Finally, we have an Art of Fiction interview with the Nobel laureate Imre Kertész. It is, according to Kertész, the last interview he will ever give. Luisa Zielinski’s probing, sensitive questions explore the reasons that Kertész—ten years after he survived the Holocaust—decided he had to write.
Look, I don’t want to deny that I was a prisoner at Auschwitz and that I now have a Nobel Prize. What should I make of that? And what should I make of the fact that I survived, and continue to survive? At least I feel that I experienced something extraordinary, because not only did I live through those horrors, but I also managed to describe them, in a way that is bearable, acceptable, and nonetheless part of [a] radical tradition … Perhaps I’m being impertinent, but I feel that my work has a rare quality—I tried to depict the human face of this history, I wanted to write a book that people would actually want to read.
May 8, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Harmony Korine’s name is usually paired with the word controversial. The writer and director of the films Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Gummo, most recently he helmed Spring Breakers, which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. A Crack Up at the Race Riots, his debut novel, was originally published by Mainstreet/Doubleday in 1998, and has recently been rereleased by Drag City. As unconventional as any of his films, the book presents a multimedia assemblage of text both printed and handwritten, drawings, photographs, news clippings, suicide notes, celebrity gossip, appropriated material, lists, diagrams, ideas for books and films, as well as stories and scenes that are at times humorous and at times disturbing, but always provocative and engaging. At the time of A Crack Up at the Race Riots’s initial publication, Korine explained the book to David Letterman as “the great American choose-your-own-adventure novel.”
I recently sat down with Korine to discuss the rerelease of A Crack Up at the Race Riots.
Since you wrote the book fifteen years ago, I wonder how you feel about it now. Do you still feel close to it, or does it seem like a distant memory?
I think both. I was about twenty-three when I wrote it, but it’s still pretty close to how I think now. It sets up a lot of the themes and ideas that I would start to work on later. I definitely see some connections and through-lines to things I’ve been doing today.
What do you remember about the process of composing it?
I’m gonna be honest with you, I was doing a lot of drugs back then. So my memory is kind of spotty, but it was definitely a kind of narco-fueled micro-deconstructed jam I was trying to get out.
Were you carrying around a composition book and jotting material down as it came to you?
No. At that point in my life I had no idea how to contain my ideas. The creative process was more explosive for me. And I didn’t have a filter, and I didn’t try to filter anything, as much as just try to get stuff down. So, I would just write everywhere. I would wake up in the morning and hear a conversation on the street, like a guy on crutches—this is my own sense of humor—I’d hear a guy on crutches going down the streets and I’d hear him muttering something to himself, something observational, and then I’d write that down on a piece of paper and then I would change his name. I would think, What if Clint Eastwood said that? Or, What if Snoop said that same sentence? Or, What if it was a quote from Margaret Thatcher? I was so interested in how the humor would change or devolve into something else. So that’s how it would happen. I would write things and then I would change the authorship. I would appropriate things from certain places. Then within certain quotations, I would change words around inside it, or changes sentences, or break it down in some way, or add to it in some way. And a lot of them were ideas for other things, but in the end I just liked the titles better. Like, they would be titles for books I would want to write, but I would look at them and I would think, Wow, the titles in and of themselves are exciting. Read More »
April 2, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Kenneth Goldsmith’s writing has been called “some of the most exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry.” Goldsmith is the author of eleven books of poetry, founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb, and the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, which was the basis for an opera, Trans-Warhol, that premiered in Geneva in 2007. An hour-long documentary on his work, Sucking on Words, was first shown at the British Library that same year. In 2011, he was invited to read at President Obama’s “A Celebration of American Poetry” at the White House, where he also held a poetry workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama. Earlier this year, he began his tenure as the first-ever Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I recently sat down with Goldsmith to discuss his new book, Seven American Deaths and Disasters.
Since your practice emphasizes the value of the selection process over the creation process, how do you choose what to include and exclude from Seven American Deaths and Disasters?
I began with the assassination of JFK, which is arguably the beginning of media spectacle, as defined and framed by Warhol. His portrait of Jackie mourning iconizes that moment forever. Although he made Marilyn’ss, he never memorialized her death, thus it never entered into the realm of media spectacle in the same way. From JFK, I naturally proceeded to RFK, an eyewitness account of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It’s an incredible linguistic document—you really feel the newsman’s struggle to find words to describe what is unfolding before his eyes. John Lennon is taken from a cassette tape made by someone scanning the radio the night of and days following his assassination, which feels like an audio document from a lost time. Space Shuttle Challenger is from a TV broadcast of the event and its long, weird, silent aftermath. Columbine is straight transcript of a harrowing 911 call. The World Trade Center, the longest piece in the book, is from several sources—talk radio, news radio, color commentary—stitched together into a multichapter epic, thus mirroring the gargantuan scale of the event. And Michael Jackson is from a catty FM station, where the shock jocks have no problem cracking jokes and making racist comments at his expense. Read More »
September 6, 2012 | by Lucy McKeon
One day in late March, I took some pictures of the crowds of protesters in Union Square, newly arrived from Zuccotti Park. The week before, more than seventy protesters had been arrested, and the Union Square encampment evicted in a fashion many Occupiers described as gratuitously violent. Ramarley Graham had been killed about a month before, and the racially-charged practice of stop-and-frisk was asserting itself into mainstream consciousness. Trayvon Martin was now a household name. And since the previous August, one revelation after another had surfaced about the NYPD’s secret Muslim surveillance program. So people gathered on March 24.
Tall, glittery women milled about with signs that proclaimed SOCIAL JUSTICE IS FABULOUS!, at one point posing for a picture with veteran progressives whose cardboard sign read PROTESTING IS NOT A CRIME IT IS A RIGHT!. One man held a white square above his head with red Chinese characters and their English translation in black: PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS. PEACE FREEDOM DEMOCRACY. A LONG WAY TO GO. A young guy pontificated, a lit, dripping, handmade candle his microphone. A “naughty policewoman” balanced on the toes of her ice skates, legs angled and baton in hand, her sign saying something about police wiping their collective ass with the Constitution. Former Police Captain Ray Lewis promoted the documentary Inside Job, while the Hare Krishnas, gathered in the square as usual, sang and danced in full force.
These pictures, I didn’t realize at the time, would be lost. Innocent of their fate, I took photographs that day as most people do, with the idea that this was not a test.
Thirty minutes after leaving Union Square, I arrived at the Jewish Museum, where “The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936–1951” was on view for its last day in New York City. (The exhibit is currently at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, set to travel to San Francisco and West Palm Beach.) And while the sparse grandeur of Museum Mile was in contrast to the teeming crowd of Union Square, the trajectory felt logical. Read More »
January 2, 2012 | by Jason Diamond
I recently found myself in need of an inexpensive suit that didn’t look like I picked it up at a Salvation Army. Like countless other men in the same position, I headed to J.Crew. As I walked over the wide-planked wood floors of the store, I admired the chain’s decor: framed copies of jazz albums issued in the 1950s by Columbia and Blue Note, movie posters from the French New Wave, Japanese fashion magazines, and a case full of leather bracelets, flasks, and knives. While one man took my measurements, I cheerily pointed to a copy of Leonard Cohen’s book Beautiful Losers, which was nestled atop a display of shirts and quoted the author’s best advice: Cohen “never discusses his mistresses or his tailor.” The man laughed uncomfortably, then, looking at the book, admitted he wasn’t actually a tailor (“I just work here on the weekends”) and revealed that the copy of Beautiful Losers, along with the other books scattered around the store, were really just for show.
Long before Abercrombie & Fitch became a fixture in shopping malls across America, it was one of the first places Ernest Hemingway would visit when he came to New York. Fitzgerald and Plimpton favored Brooks Brothers, and Tom Wolfe crafted his trademark around New York tailor Vincent Nicolosi’s white suits. Well-dressed writers are far from an anomaly, but recently there’s been a twist in this trend: books are becoming the dressings for brands.Read More »