Katharina Grosse is a German artist based in Berlin. We were captivated by her architectural shapes, and the vivid colors in her paintings. Her process is equally powerful: armed with a spray gun, she covers large canvasses, often close to seven feet heigh, with layers of paint. “I become a different being when I’m spraying,” she said in a recent interview. “I enlarge myself. I’m able to embrace far more than just my bodily presence. I would always start with these very intense yellows and greens and reds because I always assumed that that’s what’s underneath the surface. That’s how I see things. That’s how I see the world. The very strong and raw colors tend to attract or even repulse the viewer. They tend to create certain reactions in a very direct way. To be over-explicit with these raw colors is one of my intentions.” —Thessaly La Force
Michel Houellebecq has finally received the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize. As Susannah Hunnewell suggested in our current issue, the honor is overdue. Click here to read the most in-depth interview with Houellebecq available in English.
As our diarist Nelly Kaprielian reported last September in The Paris Review Daily, Houellebecq is still living hard. He has aged visibly in the last couple of years. He even tells her that his latest novel, La carte et le territoire, may be his last. We hope and trust that time will prove him wrong.
In the meantime, we send our most heartfelt congratulations.
I was having this argument with my friend recently about award-winning novels. I find them stodgy and inaccessible. She thinks I’m not applying myself to the pages long enough to get it. In defense, I invoked a literary heavyweight—Martin Amis. He was quoted a few weeks ago as saying, “There was a great fashion in the last century, and it’s still with us, of the unenjoyable novel. And these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, ‘Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.’”
She tried to tell me that Amis has sour grapes from his Booker Prize near-miss in the early nineties. We need someone to settle this. —Paul Hawkins
It may have been sour grapes, but don’t you think Amis is right? The worst is when the judges of literary prizes try to legislate from the bench—flexing their “muscle” by giving a prize to some book that nobody’s ever heard of, or passing over a popular favorite because it’s “too obvious” or “doesn’t need it.” As I wrote the other week, when it comes to literary merit (or sex appeal) there is no such thing as too obvious. And most unfun novels are not much good. My heart sinks when I see a list of unknowns as finalists for a prize I care about. It is usually a case of committee work or telling people what they ought to like (and already know they don’t).Then there are wonderful exceptions, like Tinkers, a fine novel rescued from obscurity by the Pulitzer Prize. Or—a very different case—the most recent recipient of the Nobel, Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer who has been accused of many things, but never of being hard to read.
Zadie Smith takes aim at The Social Network, writing, “It’s clear that this is a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people.” It’s an assessment that echoes what Lawrence Lessig wrote for The New Republic a few weeks back: “But the most frustrating bit of The Social Network is … its failure to even mention the real magic behind the Facebook story. In interviews given after making the film, Sorkin boasts about his ignorance of the Internet. That ignorance shows.” Agreed, but the truth is—you still gotta see it. In the same way everyone joins the real Facebook to complain about it, everyone sees the film in order to join the discussion. —Thessaly La Force
The weather’s turned; time to make a cup of tea and settle down with something melancholy. Jonathan Franzen’s elegy for David Foster Wallace, read at the New York memorial following his suicide two years ago, is a good place to start. Franzen’s heartache as he describes his friend’s ultimately doomed efforts to climb out of a hole of “infinite sadness” is palpable. Follow it up with “The Boy,” a previously unpublished DFW short story that recently appeared on the Internet. Sure, it’s depressing to remember that Wallace will never write anything new, but one can’t help but be grateful for the work he did leave us. —Miranda Popkey
Too much of what I read these days is distraction: an irritating flurry of sexist commentary on the DKE “no means yes” incident at Yale, and a dispiriting analysis of Bush’s attempt at image rehabilitation: “He seems to think that baffled surprise, on the part of a President, is somehow exculpatory. (It is not.)” So it was nice to curl up with something timeless and humanizing this week—Howards End, by E. M. Forster. Here are the Schlegel sisters at the end of the book: “The present flowed by them like a stream. The tree rustled. It had made music before they were born, and would continue after their deaths, but its song was of the moment. The moment had passed … Life passed. The tree rustled again.” Thanks, Mr. Forster. —Kate Waldman
For some good eighteenth-century gossip, read Doctor Augustin Cabanes’s Cabinet secret de l’histoire. It’s not an easy book to find: You have to look for copies in carts along the Seine or in antiquarian shops, but they are fun to collect. Apparently, some aristocrats tried to pay Marie-Antoinette’s doctor, Seiffert, to start a rumor that the Queen could not conceive because of de Lamballe’s “moral influence.” De Lamballe was Marie-Antoinette’s attending lady and the envy of all the other ladies of the court. Which is probably why de Lamballe was the first woman to be guillotined during the Revolution, her flesh impaled upon a spike and paraded all over Paris. —Alexandra Zukerman
It’s often said that a loss hurts more than a victory can heal. As a rule, it might be true, but it didn’t seem so on Monday night. After fifty-six years of waiting, the Giants finally won the World Series, and San Francisco set itself on fire.
Lee pitched a hell of a game. Hats off to him—he is the beau ideal, I’ll give you that. But give me the weird one; give me Tim Lincecum. At rest, slouchy and loose, wearing a grimy, graying cap, he looks like a teenager cupping a spliff in his hand. But then he begins. The torque—the spring—the splits—the snap! His coaches call his motion “flow.” He did not dominate the Rangers so much as confound them. Mighty hitters were reduced to awkward little jerks of the bat. Remarkably, he may not even be the Giants’ best pitcher—Matt Cain threw more than twenty-one scoreless innings in the postseason—but he’s the best to watch.
I nearly missed it all. As it happens, when the game began, I was at Lincoln Center. The tickets had been purchased long ago, back when it looked like the Giants might not even make the playoffs. The Dresden Staatskappelle was playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. I think it was nice, but I wasn’t really playing attention. Instead, I was sitting in the back row, pressing refresh on my Blackberry. One scoreless inning, two… Ah! Perfido was next on the program. Ah, Perfido?! I bolted and headed to the nearest bar.
I’m very fond of these Giants. They came upon me by surprise. Then again, not totally. The Giants were my dad’s team growing up. He used to tell me about Willie Mays, who played with power and with passion and who smiled. He had a pigeon-toed gait, bowlegs, long arms, and a barrel chest. A strange specimen. A Giant!
It’s been a pleasure watching the World Series with you, Will. Better luck next year!
This is the second installment of Burnes’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
7:40 A.M. A little tired and wobbly this morning. Get up late …
8:20 A.M. … but this is OK. Littlest is in a great mood as we head out. We get the good bus that takes us just two blocks from school.
10:40 A.M. Listen to a CD of a public-radio program, as its producer wants to do a big multimedia project, which sounds compelling. I think I may refer him to Kickstarter.
12:13 P.M. Off to lunch to meet my agents group, as Brian said—anyone who missed it this time needed a doctor’s note. Betsy isn’t there, though; I commend her blog to anyone interested in the writing life.