Liby Hays’s Geniacs!, a graphic novel out this summer from the art book publisher Landfill Editions, takes place at a hackathon—truly inspired material for slapstick comedy, body horror, and philosophical reflection alike. This tech competition’s goal? Invent a new life-form. “People always think my ideas are dumb … but they’re purposefully so! Their failure is coded within them! It’s like when scientists artificially reanimate the cells of a dead pig’s brain. The brain becomes trapped in an infinite loop reliving the terror of its final moments. But within that narrow terror loop… We might find potential for new forms of thought to arise!” So muses our heroine, a morbidly minded wordsmith undercover as a “po-ent” (poet-entrepreneur). Her (hot, tattooed) slacker partner would rather copy and paste some old code, though, than entertain her inefficiently emo-poetic concepts. Hays’s detailed black-and-white illustrations are as gymnastic, compositionally, as her characters’ dialogue: her panels cut across the page in dizzying fits of polygons and word bubbles that leave us spiral-eyed, minds buzzing, cartoon birds circling our heads. A canny and cryptic meditation on group projects, life, “life,” art, and the cheat code lifestyle only slightly more surreal, though much more fun, than my worst nights of coding. —Olivia Kan-Sperling Read More
My grandmother collected perfume bottles, a seeming whimsy for a woman of such plainness and ferocity. I have three of them, given to me when she was still alive. They lived in a drawer and then later, in a decorative moment, on the bookshelf, where I have since placed them higher and higher out of reach, as my daughter has attempted to climb up to play with them, a slow-moving game between us, until now they are so high up as to be out of view. I tend not to be sentimental about objects, but I at least don’t want them to break, this being all I possess from my grandmother, anything else guarded by her surviving daughter, who, having remained unmarried, still lives alone in the house in which she was born, that being the way in my family. The bottles are candy-colored glass—blue and purple twins with matching Bakelite flowers as the stoppers, and another newer, smaller one, with complementary hand-painted purple flowers with bluish-green stems and yellow pistils at the centers, and with a gold atomizer. They are not valuable—objects in my family become antiques only through accruing dust in the house they’ve inhabited, on mantles and in glass. I can still see the menagerie that resided on the heavy wooden dresser in my grandmother’s bedroom, which was covered with plastic and underneath it a lace doily. On top of the doily, viewable through the plastic, were black-and-white photographs: portraits of relatives, baby photos, and photographs of her late husband, who died when she was still a young woman with a young child, leaving her a widow until her death in her nineties, half-paralyzed from a stroke but still ruling the world from her dining room table, waving her grabber at her grown children, gleefully threatening to hit them with it for whatever crime committed, usually (her word) stupidity. The table itself was covered always with at least a cheap cloth-backed vinyl or plastic decorative tablecloth of garish pattern, frayed or cracking at the edges, and for holidays, a nicer, solid-colored linen cloth on top. Underneath was the heavy mahogany table, like all the furniture in my grandmother’s house, the immovable furniture of generations. My grandmother’s collection of perfume bottles crowded next to her jewelry, which was minimal and rotely worn, including not only her heavy wedding band, which my sister keeps asking for, but also her silver watch, which my grandmother must have had to wear to keep time while working the linens counter at Marshall Field’s all those decades after becoming a widow, having had to close up her husband’s butcher shop and store where she had previously presided behind the register, the calves widening from girlish into matronly, all those varicose vein decades, after suddenly becoming a single mother with a young child to raise, her older grown sons, the twins, away in the Navy, later returning in order to gather around their mother, one staying unmarried and in that house until his untimely death, the other moving away, but not too far, that other being my father, who accrued his own museum, having lived for his own decades in the state of the widower, although his savings account was never the subject of existential dread, he having been the one who made all the money in his marital life, my mother at home with the children, as was the way. She was a saint, an angel, both my uncle, my grandmother’s son, and my father, my grandmother’s other son, said about both their mother and my mother, respectively, at their funerals, one having died of an astonishing old age, and the other, at a sudden and tragic middle age. I didn’t recognize who they were talking about. All I recognized was the empty monologue of Catholicism, which serves to erase by anointing the woman at home, who only exists in service to others but not to herself. Does she even exist, I often have wondered, to herself? Writing this I have no idea why my grandmother collected perfume bottles, were they gifts that her sons brought home from overseas, and they began to unthinkingly accumulate, over birthdays and Christmases? My grandmother cut her ridged nails with the kitchen scissors, she never wore makeup, let alone perfume. I have no idea what my grandmother, or my aunt, or my mother, thought about at night in their empty houses, in the solitude of caretakers. I have no idea if they were unhappy, whether they thought of their girlhood, or when the children were young, whether they had regrets, and if they could, what would they confess? I have no idea because I never asked, and they would never have said. It would have been an impossibility. Their inner monologue would have been closed to me. Read More
People were drinking wine out of plastic cups. The chairs were pushed close together. Bags were tucked under feet. I sat on the bookshop stage with two other writers, ready to read our ghost stories. Before we began, the moderator asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” After a pause, we spoke of doubt. Creepy incidents were related. I found myself saying that perhaps the dead might be watching us.
I’ve never seen a soul move through the air. I am not sure that we are anything more than a skin-bag of electrical impulses. But ghosts are different from the other uncanny citizens. They are only one step away from the known. To become a ghost, you don’t have to be bitten by a vampire or receive a curse or encounter a mad scientist or fall under the spell of a full moon. All you have to do is die.
Still, I imagine the first days of ghosthood would be tricky. There are so many different hauntings, so many ways to do it. In a way, it reminds me of puberty. The unpredictable shifts. Sudden changes in weight and the way people see you. Unexpected blood. Puberty was a process I did not enjoy and, unluckily for me, it was nothing I could google—or more accurately “Ask Jeeves,” the search engine my IT teacher recommended. It was a time when strange men’s penises appeared in my Hotmail account and were not caught by the junk filter. I didn’t trust the internet. And so I found myself flipping to the back of the magazines my classmates’ mothers bought. The paper was always wrinkled from the girls’ hands that had come before. At the back would be a quiz or a decision tree to tell you what sort of person you were or would become. Sometimes there was the freckle of a biro mark, or an initial to mark the previous reader’s path. It was reassuring.
Playing around, I tried to devise one as an introduction to that stage of life yet to come—our ghosthoods. Read More
On April 12, The Paris Review announced N. Scott Momaday as the recipient of the 2021 Hadada Award, presented each year to a “distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” Over the past few months, the Daily has published a series of short essays devoted to his work. Today, in the final piece of the series, Terry Tempest Williams writes about her decades-long friendship with Momaday, the power of his work, and what can be done to atone for ecological destruction.
The events of one’s life take place, take place. How often have I used this expression, and how often have I stopped to think about what it means? Events do indeed take place, they have meaning in relation to things around them.
—N. Scott Momaday, The Names
We were gathered at the Teton Theater in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a historic cinema built in 1942, a testament to taxidermy where faux ledges of local mammals appeared on the north and south walls. A grizzly bear, black bear, coyote, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and mountain lion perched above rows of red velvet seats and, on a typical evening, watched the audience as the audience watched the movies. But on this night in 1977, several hundred of us were waiting in our seats not to see a film but to hear the great N. Scott Momaday read from his book The Way to Rainy Mountain, which had just been published in paperback.
The writer, whose Kiowa name is Tsoai-talee, or “Rock Tree Boy,” walked confidently onto the humble stage in a three-piece suit. He was large in stature and reputation: eight years earlier, his debut novel, House Made of Dawn, had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. “Good evening,” he said, in a strong, booming voice, deep with resonance.
The audience gasped.
“You were expecting feathers?” he replied. Read More
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This week at The Paris Review, we’re marking the seven hundredth anniversary of Dante’s death on September 14. Read on for Ishmael Reed’s Art of Poetry interview, Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s “Identity Check,” Evie Shockley’s “ex patria,” and a translation of Dante Alighieri himself by Robert Pinsky.
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Ishmael Reed, The Art of Poetry No. 100
Issue no. 218 (Fall 2016)
With literature you can condemn the powerful, and you can critique the powerful. Of course, Dante paid for it. He was never able to return to Florence. He died in exile. He endured a lot to speak his mind. They tell us, Don’t write about politics. You know, because the politics is aimed at them. But Dante had a political office! And some of those characters in Dante’s Inferno are political opponents of his. The same with Shakespeare. His work was political. I was reading The Merchant of Venice the other day and it includes one of the most devastating antislavery arguments ever written. So I don’t know where they get the bourgeois idea that art shouldn’t be political.
On April 12, The Paris Review announced N. Scott Momaday as the recipient of the 2021 Hadada Award, presented each year to a “distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” To honor the multifariousness of Momaday’s achievements, the Daily is publishing a series of short essays devoted to his work. Today, Chelsea T. Hicks considers Momaday’s revolutionary novels, House Made of Dawn and The Ancient Child, which blend the conventions of American literary realism with the oral tradition of Kiowa storytelling.
The first work I ever read by a Native author was N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain, in an undergraduate English literature seminar. Although I am a Native person and a voracious reader, I’d grown up under the influence of Southern Christian teachers who warned their students against paganism. Perhaps that is why they never assigned us anything by Momaday, whose novels, set in Jemez Pueblo and the Navajo Nation as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco, tell of witches and traditional medicine women, sacrilegious preachers and alcoholics. Reading James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha in high school made me wary of literary depictions of Native people. My discomfort became avoidance, until my second year of college, when the syllabus of “Literature of the West” included The Way to Rainy Mountain.
I remember feeling confused, excited, and curious, and then as I began to read, delight overtook me. The sense of place in Momaday’s work is so immediate and gripping that upon finishing the book, I wrote an essay arguing that people are formed by their relationship to the landscape. When I later read Momaday’s first novel, House Made of Dawn, I was shocked to find that the author had made nearly the same argument in a postscript:
Both consciously and subconsciously, my writing has been deeply informed by the land with a sense of place. In some important way, place determines who and what we are. The land-person equation is essential to writing, to all of literature. Abel, in House Made of Dawn, must exist in the cultural and physical context of Walatowa, just as Stephen Dedalus, say, must be fashioned in the mold of Dublin.
House Made of Dawn, with its lyric passages evoking the land, recalls John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The Navajo narrator Ben Benally’s conversational descriptions of Abel’s cultural dislocation and struggle against assimilationist attitudes in Los Angeles seem to echo Nick Carraway’s narration in The Great Gatsby. Yet Ben and Abel are Native characters, and this virtuosic novel is also a container for the high oral tradition of Kiowa and Navajo songs. As Momaday once put it, “I grew up in two worlds and straddle both those worlds even now. It has made for confusion and a richness in my life. I’ve been able to deal with it reasonably well, I think, and I value it.” After House Made of Dawn won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the Native American Renaissance began, in part because Momaday’s syncretistic method—using English-language literary conventions to represent distinct and sovereign peoples—showed readers the vastness and complexity of the Native world. Read More