Teens Are Forever, and Other News


On the Shelf

Samara Scott, Lonely Planet II, Frieze London, 2015, stainless steel, water, mixed media. Image via Sunday Painter/Frieze

  • This year’s Nobel and Booker winners have destabilized the literary prize scene—it was only a matter of time until the aftershocks spread to other awards. Op-Ed writers have helped it along: there’s never been a better time to stroke your chin and ruminate pseudo-controversially about the purpose of prizes. How should a literary award be? What is “prestige”? Shouldn’t I be voting right now instead of asking rhetorical questions? Anyway, now Tom LeClair has the National Book Award in his crosshairs: “Some months ago … I identified a trend I called ‘commercialit,’ craft fiction, like craft beer, for popular consumption produced by young M.F.A.-holding novelists whom one might expect to be artists rather than artisans. In attempting to reach what the National Book Foundation calls ‘new communities’ of book buyers and to please its corporate sponsors, the National Book Award for Fiction—once more prestigious than the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award—has turned toward commercialit and artisanal creations. In my judgment, this year only two books of ten have any reasonable claim on the award.”
  • Today in good reasons not to do things: Tim Parks thought he might set out to retranslate The Decameron. Then he read the original English translation and thought, why bother? “Are new translations always better, or always feasible, even? … I suspect what it suggests is the importance of finding the right translator for the first translation of a literary work, one who has a genuine affinity with the style of the original, and, above all, can root it into our own literature in a moment when it makes sense, when the culture can really receive it in its own idiom. In Italy, with the lapse of copyright on Faulkner’s writing, there have been a number of new Faulkner translations that are doubtless more semantically accurate than those made back in the Forties and Fifties. And yet those old translations—made when a modernist work was still a matter of excitement, rather than an aesthetic museum piece—seem more aware of the energy and spirit of the original and certainly a better read than more recent, academic efforts.” 

  • Now that teenagers are living in their parents’ houses well into their twenties, the time has come to reassess this whole “teen” thing—especially, as Rosanna McLaughlin writes, the notion of the teen girl, a pliable, naive archetype, perfect for selling stuff to men and women alike. “The teenage bedroom has been granted a decade-long extension, as have all manner of pubescent mores. In recent years, the effects of prolonged adolescence have become subject matter for a number of female artists in their late twenties and early thirties … It is an irony that some of us get better at being teenage as we get older—when we’ve spent long enough staring at screens and shop shelves to have learned the lines and perfected the look. For artists, turning to the juvenile in adulthood has its spoils: elevating the hurts, hubris, and hedonism of youth necessitates a reappraisal of what we consider serious, intelligent pursuits. As the artist Beatrice Loft Schulz has said: ‘The taking of pleasure, particularly female pleasure, is a political act.’ Acts of conspicuous gratification are an opportunity to give the finger to staid notions of female decorum—and the po-faced fantasy of the toiling genius to boot.”
  • When Lady Anne Barnard died in 1825, she left behind a six-volume autobiography and a demand: never publish this thing. Almost two centuries later, a new biography has started to leak her secrets: “She attracted powerful patrons, many of whom were also her suitors … Anne related all these turbulent romances at length in the memoirs that she composed in her sixties … Perhaps she wanted to put the record straight and clear her name of scandal by showing that most of her relationships with men were not physical. She admitted to having only two lovers. To us, however, what matters is not so much whether she slept with her admirers, but rather that by refusing to marry she kept control of her life. Unlike so many eighteenth-century women, Anne had agency.”
  • Volkswagen, not exactly a beloved automaker at the moment, has compounded its problems by parting ways with its longtime historian, Manfred Grieger, who was once instrumental in helping the company come clean about its Nazi past. Now, it seems, his transparency is less than welcome: “The apparent catalyst for Mr. Grieger’s departure was his critical review almost a year ago of a 518-page study of the World War II labor practices of Audi, a VW subsidiary. The review—and the study, published in 2014—gained scant attention until a leading German business weekly, Wirtschaftswoche, mentioned both in late August … On Tuesday, two more historians specializing in the behavior of German companies during the Nazi era issued a sharp rebuke on the website of Wirtschaftswoche, the business weekly. By parting with Mr. Grieger, they said, Volkswagen was ‘disposing of an enlightener.’ ”