The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Zadie Smith’

Pick Up the Phone, Bob, and Other News

October 18, 2016 | by

Can you hear me, Bob? Bob?

  • [Beep.] Is it rolling, Bob? Ha, get it, that’s from Nashville Skyline … which all of us here at the Academy just adore, by the way—your voice sounds so beautiful without all those cigarettes chewing it up. But anyway, I’m calling because … well, you know why. Okay, Bob? Bob, are you there? Hey, Bob? … Bob? We’ve got this prize to give you. Bob. It’s the big one, ha-ha! It’s the highest honor! … C’mon, Bob, pick up the phone. I know you’re there. Don’t let me just blather on like this—again—Bob? Come on, man. We’ve been trying to get you on the horn for days now. Maybe it’s—you know you can e-mail us, right? I get it, the phone numbers get pretty long when you’re calling international, maybe you’re just sick of trying to dial … plus the time difference … I mean … just have your manager e-mail a little whatever, He accepts, he thinks you’re great … okay, Bob! Look, we’re not saying you have to get in touch. It would just be nice. We’re all big fans and we have—arrangements—to be made. For the banquet. In Stockholm? For the fucking Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob, which, frankly, we went out on a limb, giving this thing to you, I don’t know if you’ve seen the hot takes, and if you could just show a little decency—I mean not decency-decency, we’re all big fans—but it’s, it’s not like we haven’t taken some heat on this one, right, and now with the prolonged silence and all it sort of looks—just … call us back. Please, please call us back, Bob. 

Read More »

This Picnic Is Over, and Other News

July 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Barry Haynes. Image via Hyperallergic/Wikipedia.

  • Today in wild new frontiers for the humanities: in a new book, the German sociologist Jens Beckert uses literary theory to explain economics. “Rarely do scholars explore the role of imagination in economic life systematically,” Brooke Harrington explains. “In a realm dominated by economic and financial scholarship that aspires to be ‘scientific,’ fantasy and creativity in envisioning the future are often ignored; they don’t fit well into a model of research whose aim is to reduce unknowns and to eliminate surprises as much as possible … Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, makes a thorough, exhaustively documented argument in support of what many have suspected about capitalism: It’s a castle in the air, built on fantasy shading into fraud. He makes a compelling case that no corner of the market is untouched by the process of generating imagined futures. The novelty of his work lies in offering a way to understand that process as a social system in which everyone, from individuals to institutions, is implicated.”
  • At The Paris Review, we pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about the art of the interview. But I’m willing to admit when we’re licked. And Robin Leach—of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fame—may well have licked us. He told a classroom recently, “The one piece of advice I would give you students about the art of interviewing is to listen. There is a joke about a television newscaster who asked all of her questions from a blue card that was prepared by or for her. So instead of listening to the answer to the question she asked, she would busy looking at the next question in order to ask it. I never go into an interview with questions on cards. It is a conversation, designed to elicit information, and you get information only by listening. The follow-up question is more important than the original question. And there is nothing better than eliciting a response by remaining silent.”

Designing Black Power, and Other News

June 16, 2016 | by

Larry Ratzkin’s design for Black Power.

  • Tall orders for graphic designers: in 1967, Larry Ratzkin was tasked with designing the jacket for Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Power, meaning his assignment was essentially to turn a whole political movement into a book cover. And he succeeded, as Josh MacPhee writes: “The cover was simple yet profound: a white field, the center crowded—almost to exploding—with the giant words Black Power in a thick, slab-serifed type. The authors’ names and book subtitle stack above and below, in a more elegant, thin sans-serif. That’s it. No images, no frills … The cover to Black Power is surprisingly successful, such a simple treatment—almost elegant—for a text that caused massive conflict and defines the transition from the non-violent Civil Rights Movement to the much more militant Black Power Movement in the United States. The initial 1967 Random House first-edition dust jacket was created by Larry Ratzkin, a well-known graphic designer who turned out upwards of a thousand book covers … All U.S. editions of Black Power in the almost fifty years since its initial publishing … have used facsimile re-creations of Ratzkin’s original design … This has to be the most seen and trafficked cover of Ratzkin’s long career, yet it is never associated with him.”

Lovecraft Ghostwrote for Houdini, and Other News

March 18, 2016 | by

Houdini with an elephant, 1918.

  • Today in long-lost manuscripts commissioned by prominent escape artists: an expansive essay by Lovecraft called “The Cancer of Superstition” (sounds nuanced, doesn’t it?) was found among the memorabilia from a defunct magic shop. Apparently Harry Houdini conceived the project, which was, as its title suggests, a screed against every aspect of the superstitious: “Houdini had asked Lovecraft in 1926 to ghostwrite the treatise exploring superstition, but the magician’s death later that year halted the project, as his wife did not wish to pursue it … The document explores everything from worship of the dead to werewolves and cannibalism, theorising that superstition is an ‘inborn inclination’ that ‘persists only through mental indolence of those who reject modern science’ … ‘Most of us are heathens in the innermost recesses of our hearts,’ it concludes.” Christopher Hitchens would be proud.
  • In which Anakana Schofield enters the job market only to find that it’s been overrun with hyperbole and the bloated, dead, “aspirational” language of advertising: “I can’t save lives or fix broken pipes: I need a job with the potential for staring into space or reading Pinget on the side—a car park attendant seemed ideal. I found an advert online and immediately entered a car park of excessive adjectives. The parking lot attendant they were looking for needed to ‘Be a trail blazer … Be Bold, Open-minded & Entrepreneurial.’ I was puzzled. How does one ‘blaze a trail’ handing out change and scanning parking stubs and visa cards through a drafty hut window? … I left that car park with the new understanding that the language of recruitment has gone up several octaves but since I negotiate language for a living, I was undeterred. The next advert included the promising phrase ‘a front line ambassador’ … ”
  • America doesn’t need vacuous words like bold and open-minded. America needs y’all. “It sounds elegant, warm, and inviting. It offers both economy and an end to second-person ambiguity. Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests … The possibilities are endless, and a simple substitution could actually solve a real problem in modern English that will only grow as we continue to examine how gender works in language. It could provide a better and gender-neutral word. It could relieve “you” of the impossible task of ostensibly functioning in so many roles, and maybe even along the way ease some of the regional and racial stigmatization of language and slang.”
  • Talking to Zadie Smith, Darryl Pinckney looks at the effect of memoirs like Margo Jefferson’s Negroland on the conventional narrative of black achievement: “I think one of the things Margo Jefferson’s marvelous memoir does is remind us that classed aspiration was at one time a radical act or a radical mode for black people, because white people didn’t want you to leave the plantation. They didn't want your barbershop to succeed. They didn’t want you to go to college. They didn’t want you to have Latin in college because they violated what DuBois called ‘personal whiteness.’ It wasn’t until the late fifties with the E. Franklin Frazier book Black Bourgeoisie that all this was demonized, that black middle class. DuBois also raked everyone over the coals for wanting to play golf instead of wanting to be in the NAACP. And then in the sixties, middle-class life became an optic of scorn anyway. So blacks were doubly scorned, for ‘trying to be white,’ which was a deep insult because these people had found a way to be black, and that wasn’t respected at all.”
  • Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 novel Cré na Cille was widely regarded as an Irish Gaelic masterpiece—so why are we only now seeing an English translation? “For almost seventy years, Ó Cadhain’s greatest work remained inaccessible to nearly all Irish readers, because it was written in Irish Gaelic, a language vanishingly few of them speak, and it had never been translated into English … Sáirséal agus Dill, Ó Cadhain’s publisher, took concrete steps toward putting out a translation. In the early nineteen-sixties, a contract was sent to a young woman who’d submitted a sample translation as part of an open contest. (A letter from the woman’s mother eventually came back: her daughter wouldn’t be able to finish the translation, she wrote, as she’d just entered a convent.) Sáirséal agus Dill next tried to entice the poet Thomas Kinsella to translate the book; though he was honored they’d considered him, Kinsella wrote in a 1963 letter, he was ‘sure it would be a very difficult job, especially since we’re talking about Cré na Cille. It’s not an exaggeration to say it would take years.’ ”

Remember to Authenticate Your Falcon, and Other News

February 22, 2016 | by

Humphrey Bogart with the elusive (and presumably genuine) Maltese Falcon.

  • Zadie Smith is thinking about The Polar Express 4–D Experience and Anomalisa and, of course, Schopenhauer: “One way of dealing with the boredom of our own needs might be to complicate them unnecessarily, so as always to have something new to desire. Human needs, Schopenhauer thought, are not in their essence complex. On the contrary, their ‘basis is very narrow: it consists of health, food, protection from heat and cold, and sexual gratification; or the lack of these things.’ Yet on this narrow strip we build the extraordinary edifice of pleasure and pain, of hope and disappointment! Not just salmon, but wild-caught Copper River Alaskan salmon almandine! And all to achieve exactly the same result in the end; health, food, covering, and so on … ”
  • Today in late authors and real-estate envy: turns out Harper Lee had a place on the Upper East Side all these years, and she paid less than a thousand bucks a month for it. Early in the morning, you could spot her not at Starbucks but at the local butcher’s: “She was a regular at Ottomanelli Bros. butcher shop on York Avenue, visiting twice a day, first at 7:30 A.M. for a cup of black coffee and a raisin scone, said co-owner Nicolas ‘Uncle Nic’ Ottomanelli. She would go back in the late afternoon for a chicken, a lamb chop ‘trimmed real neat’ or the first cut of Delmonico steak.”
  • Advice for biographers—if you want to earn the respect of your subject’s forebears, hide the dirty laundry. Henry James’s first biographer, Leon Edel, won the trust of the James estate in part because of his suspicious willingness to conceal aspects of the author’s sexuality: “Slowly, Edel became a trusted servant of the James estate as well as James’s biographer. He informed the family when a scholar he met at a conference expressed an interest in James’s homoerotic correspondence. He was assured by the Houghton Library that ‘she is certainly not going to see anything she’s not supposed to see.’ Edel’s job was to keep all insinuations about James’s sexuality at bay … Since Edel knew he would have to deal with James’s sexuality in his later volumes, he hoped that some other writer would spill the beans first so that it would, as he wrote, ‘relieve me of the onus of “breaking” the story.’ ”
  • Advice for crime writers—put girl in your book’s title, make a little money. “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the world girl in their title,” Megan Abbott told NPR. “It’s not necessarily an issue with the content of the book itself, but there’s this sort of shorthand that if it has girl in the title, then I know what to expect.”
  • Advice for movie-memorabilia collectors—if you’re going to shell out $4.1 million for the black statuette from The Maltese Falcon, make sure it’s the genuine article first. Ask Hank Risan, who owns two of them and has gone to great lengths to discover their provenance: “Mysteriously, there was an identical marking near the base on each of Risan’s Falcons. It appeared to be two numbers: a 7 with a crossbar and a 5, each followed by a period. Could it be a ‘7.5.,’ referring to the 1975 film? … Risan managed to make an appointment with Edward Baer, an assistant manager in the property department, who had been at the studio for thirty-seven years ... When they showed him one of Risan’s Falcons, Baer said it was nothing like those he had designed. Baer explained that he had made the 1975 Falcons from the original 1941 mold, which he had fished out of a Warner Bros. warehouse. But the mold had deteriorated, so after using it to make a single replica out of resin, he destroyed the mold, then used the resin Falcon to make a new mold. The replicas made from this mold were scrunched forward and a little lopsided—sad cousins of the original.”

You and Your Fantastic Hopes, and Other News

December 7, 2015 | by

Kurt Vonnegut with his wife Jane and their three children, Mark, Edie, and Nanette, in 1955. Photo: Edie Vonnegut

  • Our new Winter issue, out now, features an interview with Gordon Lish, the editor whose drastic emendation of Raymond Carver’s work remains contentious even now, decades after the fact. In an excerpt of the interview in the Guardian, Lish talks about his reasoning with Carver: “I saw in Carver’s pieces something I could fuck around with. There was a prospect there, certainly. The germ of the thing, in Ray’s stuff, was revealed in the catalogue of his experience. It had that promise in it, something I could fool with and make something new-seeming … But Carver’s were not the only ones I’d worked on to that extent. Not the only ones by a long shot. There were many. I’ve been decried for a heinous act. Was it that? Me, I think I made something enduring. For its being durable, and, in many instances, beautiful.” Subscribe now to read the whole interview.
  • Kobe Bryant’s versified retirement announcement is only the latest example (and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, not an especially sublime one) of the sports poem, a venerated form whose proponents include Randall Jarrell (“Say Goodbye to Big Daddy”) William Carlos Williams (“The Crowd at the Ball Game”) and Marianne Moore (“Baseball and Writing”). But how to tell which is the most accomplished of all time? With a March Madness–style tournament, of course, conducted by Daily contributor Adrienne Raphel: “In honor of Bryant, I’ve pitted sixteen sports poems against one another—with both ‘sports’ and ‘poems’ arbitrarily defined … to determine which sports poem should be crowned victorious. The four regions: Basketball, Baseball, Football, and Running.”
  • Zadie Smith argued in 2008 that literature was too dominated by lyrical realism. In a new interview with The White Review, she refines her thinking: “The fashionable argument against ‘realism’ has become a bit simple-minded … In fact I think we are rather sophisticated in our understanding of the limits and illusions of language, and that this is again largely due to our familiarity with the literary uses of language in everyday life. When you hear, for example, two girls at a bus stop and one is telling the other a ‘story’—‘and she was like … and I was like … and they were like’—the storytelling girl is not doing this because she imagines that with this act of mimesis, with this ‘realistic’ re-telling, she has fooled her listener into believing that what she is presenting is ‘authentic’ or an unvarnished truth, in some sense essentially ‘real’—no. She is performing a speech act in which both parties understand, at least to some degree, that what is happening is a form of ‘performance’, a bracketed and partial reality. The problem with the argument that all realism is naïve is that it assigns to both parties in the literary exchange—the reader and the writer—an almost childlike innocence in the face of literary artifice.”
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s wife Jane played a critical role in her husband’s career—it was she who convinced him that he should write at all. “Many of the ideas and themes that characterize Vonnegut were born in the conversation between Kurt and Jane, and throughout his career she remained a voice in the text … Her faith sometimes baffled him. ‘I can only hope, and this on your instigation, that I’ve not reached my full stature,’ he wrote. ‘I’m willing to work like a dog to attain it.’ And he did ... ‘I don’t want to let you and your fantastic hopes down with a thump.’ ”
  • Did you know? This thing called Art Basel happened in Miami: a bunch of overblown parties that may or may not have been art-related. Kaitlin Phillips was there, watching the arrivistes: “Christopher Bollen playful-seriously accused all artists of the Dunning-Kruger effect, ‘a psychological term for people who highly exaggerate their skill sets. I feel like all artists have to be sufferers of it. What you are trying to achieve, like, outweighs even your own experience of what it is’ … Aesthetically, I’m more willing to diagnose the suits from last night with Dunning-Kruger; the men without so much as a Wikipedia entry, or even a personality, let alone charisma or looks, god forbid politesse, trying to talk their way into clubs. But I’m being morbid. ‘What is your criteria? I just want to learn,’ said a man, angrily. ‘There’s no criteria,’ said the doorman, a real cool customer. And there were women too: ‘You don’t understand the culture,’ lisped (or rasped) a thickly beautiful woman in a thick Italian accent. ‘You don’t understand the culture.’ Neither, apparently, did she, not that I don’t sympathize with the trials of a chunky-junky-jewelry woman. It’s a postlapsarian scene, baby—you can’t just walk in on the Louboutins you never learned to walk in.”