Posts Tagged ‘William James’
March 15, 2012 | by Andrew Palmer
I recently turned thirty, the age by which, according to William James, “the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.” But he wrote that in 1890, before mobile devices and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and Lana Del Rey and the fragmentation of the self, and I’m happy to report that my character is as soft as unhandled Play-Doh. For the past year I’ve slept mostly in well-worn twin beds generously provided by writing colonies, my life a new kind of nomadism made possible by America’s patrons of the arts. Every morning I get up at seven, or seven thirty, or eight, or eleven, and record my dreams, or forget them, then make my bed, or not, after which I proceed immediately to take a shower, or start the coffee, or eat breakfast, or go for a walk, then sit down at my desk to begin the day’s work, or write e-mails, or stare out the window, or do absolutely anything else. I usually end my day by reading a book, or talking on the phone, or watching basketball highlights on ESPN.com, or wondering why I keep the channel on Jimmy Fallon when every instance of empty enthusiasm makes me loathe him a little more.
William James again: “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.” This very hour.
Habits are for squares, is what I’ve always felt. Read More »
December 9, 2011 | by The Paris Review
Last Thursday at the New York Public Library, Lorin interviewed Jean Strouse on Alice James, the “hysterical” sister of William and Henry. They discussed her sexually charged relationship with William, her passionate love for another woman, and the very peculiar genius of the James family (with dramatic readings from the letters).
Click here to listen to a recording of the conversation.
December 2, 2011 | by The Paris Review
The New York Review just reissued Alice James, Jean Strouse’s 1980 biography of a brilliant invalid—Henry and William’s sister—whose brave wit shone through depression, physical paralysis, and the constraints of being a female James. Alice is not the only one who comes to life in Strouse’s book; they all do, and the love and loneliness in that family can move you to tears. —Lorin Stein
Albert Cossery was an Egyptian novelist who lived for more than sixty years in the Hôtel La Louisiane in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He never held a job (he refused to get out of bed before noon), and each of his seven novels is a hymn to laziness. Two new translations of Cossery will be published this month: Proud Beggars, a metaphysical whodunit set in a whorehouse, and The Colors of Infamy, about real estate, blackmail, and life in a Cairene cemetery. Both are treats. —Robyn Creswell
I was in France for a week after Thanksgiving and had the chance to go to some terrific exhibitions, one of the best of which, at the Grand Palais, was on Gertrude Stein and her family and managed to replicate their collection. (The fact that it was called “L’Adventure des Stein” didn’t hurt—and, yes, I took a picture in front of the sign!) Of everything there, my favorite piece was a small Matisse still life of some nasturtiums. And when I looked at the wall text, I saw it was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum. I’m sure there’s some cliché in there about traveling across the ocean to find the treasure in your own backyard. —Sadie Stein
In a superb piece for Vanity Fair last June, Christopher Hitchens relates how he used to open his writing classes with the cheering maxim that anyone who could talk could write (of course he would then ask his students how many of them could really talk). The anecdote is telling: the experience of encountering his latest essay collection, Arguably, is less one of reading and more one of sitting down to a long and intimate dinner with the man himself. Over the course of over a hundred pieces, Hitchens’s fierce intellect ranges from the authors of the Constitution to illicit blowjobs in public toilets to the case for humanitarian intervention in totalitarian states. The wit shimmers, and when the talk turns serious, though you may not always agree with the man, he, like the best interlocutors, will demand you know why and have the courage of your convictions. —Peter Conroy Read More »
July 7, 2010 | by John Williams
DAY ONE7:00 P.M. Head to Idlewild Books in Manhattan for an event marking the publication of Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager. The evening, like the book, takes the form of a conversation between n+1 editor Keith Gessen and the hedge fund manager. The latter was not in disguise at the event, but people who knew him kept creepily referring to him in code as “HFM.” From all I can tell, he has retired and moved to Austin, so I’m not sure why the anonymity is so important. He looks like a “Steve” to me. Maybe an “Andy.”
10:30 P.M. I've enjoyed the culture diaries contributed by other people, and it's been interesting to see their different approaches. Like Rita Konig, I've mostly chosen to focus1 on a few things a day that captured my prolonged attention. I flip through Reality Hunger by David Shields again. I have extensive notes for a review, but I need to put them together. Several of these notes are just quotes from Shields’ many promotional interviews, almost all of which have annoyed me as much as the book did. I also take a look at the first few pages of Shields’ Black Planet, his chronicle of the 1994-95 season of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, lent to me by a friend. Planet is a better read than Reality Hunger, but I won’t know how much that says until I get through more of it.
11:58 P.M. Before going to bed, I check the night’s baseball box scores on ESPN.com. For six months a year, this is a nightly ritual2.
11:30 A.M. I’ve been reading Jackson Lears’ Something for Nothing: Luck in America, partly because I’ve been meaning to for years3 and partly because I’m treating it as research for a potential writing project of my own. The tone is somewhere between generalist and academic, and halfway through I’m enjoying it and finding it useful, particularly the early sections on early-American religious attitudes toward gambling.
1:15 P.M. I go to Andrew Sullivan4’s blog to catch up on the last few days. I’ve been visiting the site less often lately for various reasons—I’ve been busy; reading about Sarah Palin at length is depressing even when you agree with the writer; etc.—but probably three million times since he launched it.
7:30 P.M. I go to the IFC Center with my girlfriend to see the new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work5. Following an obsessed person around for a while is a reliable documentary formula, and Rivers, at seventy-five, remains obsessed with her career. She’s still funny, maniacally driven, and poignantly unsatisfied.
11:30 P.M. Read a little more of Something for Nothing and write some notes about my own project. Listen to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison while doing it. Read More »
- I do a lot of aimless web surfing, play far more rapid-fire online Scrabble than could possibly be good for me, and listen to music (mostly from the 10,000 songs on my iTunes) almost constantly, but I've tried to spare you my jittery habits whenever possible.
- I've been a big baseball (and Yankees) fan since I was a little kid. Remembering the days when some West Coast games finished too late for the box scores to appear in the next morning's newspaper (thus leaving fans in the dark) makes me feel like I'm a hundred years old. It's oddly comforting to know all the results before night's end. I'm also involved in fantasy baseball, a pastime that my friend Lauren Sandler refers to as "hobbit sex."
- It's true that I occasionally read books about gambling and I'm interested in the subject, but this week's strong emphasis is coincidental, not representative. Up to this point in life, I've liked sports and gambling more than I've liked reading about them. Perhaps that's changing. Gambling does tend to attract the kind of conversational, witty writers I most enjoy.
- I consider myself a political moderate, and I like Sullivan's general lack of orthodoxy. But there are times when he gets hooked on a subject in a way that makes the blog more repetitive than I like it to be.
- This is a case where strong reviews did their job, getting me to see something I wasn’t planning on.