Zola Is Not Impressed, and Other News


On the Shelf

London was not the town for him.


  • One nice thing about exile is the novelty. Oh, the places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet … as you’re forced out of your way of life and into a strange, foreign land! In 1898, amid the Dreyfus affair and that famous J’accuse fiasco, Émile Zola thought it might be wise to leave Paris for a while. So he exiled himself to London, where he found many wondrous new things to complain about: “At the age of fifty-seven, equipped only with a nightshirt wrapped in a newspaper, Zola made his way to the coast and boarded a boat to England … ​[He] devoted himself to brooding on all the elements of English life that mystified and upset him. Shirts were ‘too short.’ Roads weren’t ‘as good as French ones.’ Houses were disgracefully lacking in shutters and featured windows that didn’t close properly. Food got ‘more and more revolting’ by the day. English women were guilty of ‘carelessness’ (witness the number of hairpins to be found on the city’s streets); of spending too much time cycling; and of being insufficiently enthusiastic about breastfeeding (‘that is hardly my conception of a mother’s duty towards her infant, whatever be her station in life’).”
  • If you’re going to put yourself through the technocratic hell that is the Consumer Electronics Show, you should at least make sure you’re not compos mentis beforehand. Erin Gloria Ryan found this the perfect occasion to try LSD for the first time: “Five or six androids on tiny wheels, maybe three feet tall, turned and blinked in unison on a smooth white surface. On their chests were screens displaying a cartoon heart, like a child’s drawing of a heart. The hearts were beating. Shitty pop music thrummed. One robot, separated from the dance crew, turned and blinked alone. I felt strongly that the robot on the outside was ostracized because she was too fat, or because she’d hit on one of the dance team robot’s boyfriends. Either way, she was not sitting with the cool robots at lunch. I felt really bad for her. I couldn’t look her in the plastic eyes.”

  • Our London editor, Adam Thirlwell, on the films of Raúl Ruiz: “The basic rule, in a Ruiz movie, is that different stories co-exist, either nested within one another or side by side. Perhaps the most exuberant example of this is Three Crowns of the Sailor, from 1983. It begins with a student who has just murdered his professor in Warsaw. Fleeing through the streets at night, he meets a sailor, who offers him a way out of the country on a boat. In a bar, the sailor names his price: that the student must listen to the story of his adventures, and pay him three crowns. The film then tells the picaresque story of the sailor’s adventures on board the Fuchalense, a ghost ship docking around the world—so that the movie’s structure resembles the great story novels, like Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found at Saragossa … ”
  • Janan Ganesh is on the lookout for the true “citizen of nowhere,” that icon, often postulated but seldom seen, of the globalized international elite: “How many atomized individuals are there, really? Even in London, the world headquarters of Deracinated Man, of Theresa May’s deplored ‘citizens of nowhere.’ Or in New York, home to the heathen ‘values’ that make Ted Cruz shiver. It cannot be more than a sect within a cult within a groupuscule of the overall population who live for transient pleasures and submit to nothing greater than themselves. The people you think might—hipsters, the liberal rich—generally do not, at least not far beyond the age of thirty.”
  • It’s Monday, so before you get too involved in the affairs of your week, you should remember that there are “meat clowns” out there: cold cuts with faces printed on them. “They’re also called billy sausage and purzelwurst and gesichtswurst, which appears to quite sensibly mean ‘face sausage’ … I always wondered whether they, these clammy looking meat logs with unsettling clown or animal faces were real. Seems like they are … I’m fascinated by cold cuts and raw meat, perhaps because I see and handle it so rarely, perhaps because of the faint terror of seeing skinned flesh. That slightly metallic smell of raw blood which, going by last summer’s corpse flower, is the smell of fresh death.”