After the jump, a recap of last night’s softball game against Vanity Fair.
Between the sheets with Ignatius Reilly.
My father gave me A Confederacy of Dunces when I was twenty-one. Like most people who have read this book, I fell hard for the protagonist, a waddling, unkempt mammoth toddler with “blue and yellow eyes” and crumbs in his mustache. Unlike most people who have read this book, however, my love for Ignatius involved wanting to be naked with him in my bed.
Until then, I’d always thought of myself as straight. I walked straight and I talked straight. I dated girls, I slept with girls, when I jacked off, I jacked off to girls. I had a girlfriend for ten years, and I loved her. I enjoyed each and every time we fucked. Boys never interested me. Not “cute boys,” anyway, not “handsome men.” The only members of my sex I ever noticed were the stockier set. The jovial ones. That was the word I could live with—jovial: both happy and like some god you might see in a fountain. Every time I passed one on the street I’d think something like, “If that guy was my friend I would probably hug him so much that people would start to wonder if we were gay.”
Reading Confederacy, well, it changed me. I was living in Rome at the time. I was often alone so I was often reading. I was being fascinated by a lot of books. My fascination with this book, however, and with the man in the middle of it. I read it erect. I reread it, erecter. Who in the fuck was this Ignatius? Who was this?
I lusted after this chubby mess of a man until I felt sick in the stomach over it.
One scene, near the beginning of the book, had an especially dizzying effect on me. (I’ve read it hundreds and hundreds of times.) It’s where we find Ignatius practicing a little “self-love” in his bed; an innocent, even saintly, wank to a happier time in his life. He had accessories nearby: a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, and a jar of Noxzema:
Ignatius manipulated and concentrated. At last a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large devoted collie that had been his pet in high school…Ignatius’s eyes dilated, crossed, and closed, and he lay back among his four pillows, hoping that he had some Kleenex in his room.
This is the page where I went fag. The solitude and isolation, the very sadness of it all, didn’t turn me off—on the contrary, it was the hook. Sex scenes had always been filled with gorgeous people. Ignatius wasn’t gorgeous. But he was sexual. I think it must have been the first time, in literature or film or life, when it occurred to me these were two different things. It was loud and clear. I had been fooling myself. I wanted something else from the Ignatiuses of the world. Something if much more than hugs.
Giancarlo DiTrapano is the editor of New York Tyrant, a tri-quarterly literary magazine.
DAY ONE, Saturday, May 8
3:28 A.M. Up. Always up at 3:28 A.M., on the nose. Before I crashed, I started Jill Lepore’s piece on the real historical Tea Partiers in The New Yorker. I flip past Lepore and move onto Janet Malcolm’s piece on the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, the Bukharan Jewish doctor, for hiring a hitman to off her dentist husband. Brilliant. “We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.” Heaven.
5:21 A.M. Awake again. Magazine’s on my chest; light’s still on. Bukharan killers dance in my head. Continue reading.
6:43 A.M. Awake again. Get up? Or shoot for more sleep? Return to Malcolm, who dazzles me, the way she weaves in and out of her piece. “I have let Fass run on too long, and have got ahead of my story. Let me go back to my talk in the hallway with the law guardian, who had said yes to an interview…” I’d love to read some of this to someone, but of course everyone’s asleep and my husband is in Bratislava, I think.
8:50 A.M. A proper weekend wake-up time. Tea, yogurt, weekend Times. What’s in there is scary: oil spills, crushing Greek debt. So start with real-estate section. Mean co-op boards can’t scare me! Work methodically through the sections, ending with the book section, which I’ve already read, so I pick up last week’s Book Review, which is still on the stack by my chair, and read that instead. Francine Prose on how anti-Semitic Irène Némirovsky really was.
10:00 A.M. Switch on NPR. Car Talk. I don’t own a car anymore, but I love those brothers. Would I love them as much if they didn’t have Southie accents?
11:00 A.M. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Love that show too, but I’m done chopping vegetables for my soup, and Roy Blount, Jr. isn’t on, so I switch it off.
11:05 A.M. Boot up PC. Check to see if money has miraculously appeared in my checking account (it hasn’t); if I’ve heard from my husband in Bratislava (I haven’t); if there’s something on 1st Dibs that I should know about and buy. Read somewhere that Gwyneth Paltrow did a cute hip-hop routine with Jimmy Fallon, so track it down on Hulu.
12:30 P.M. Pick up Zipcar, and head to JFK to pick up Oberlin-student daughter, in for quick Mother’s Day visit. On radio: Live from the Met. Berg’s Lulu. The wonderful Marlis Petersen as Lulu. Reluctant to leave the opera when I get to JFK, so I sit in the parking lot until intermission. Buy Star magazine in the terminal. HOUSEKEEPERS TELL ALL. Only, they don’t. Daughter arrives. Back in Zipcar, Lulu loses to the new Grizzly Bear CD, which my daughter wants me to hear.
6:50 P.M. Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu) at BAM Rose Cinema in a beautiful fresh print. Couple behind us carp as we sit down. We are tall; they are not. My daughter, sweeter than I, says, “No problem, let’s swap seats.” As we start to settle into our new seats, the couple now behind grumbles, and my daughter starts, but I make it clear I’m not moving. I haven’t seen the movie on a full-size screen since a Brattle Street Theater/Janus Film marathon in the early 1970s. The movie is a joy—farce, satire, visually delicious. But the audience is rigid with respect, and when my daughter starts cracking up, you can sense the irritation. I think they think we are drunk. We’re not. I am intimidated and quiet into a chuckle, but Eliza refuses to be muted. Rightfully so.
11:20 P.M. Home in time to catch Betty White host Saturday Night Live, who’s been picked because of a Facebook contest. She looks damn good for eighty-eight, and she always could talk quasi-dirty, which of course is what they’ve got her doing. I nod off as she’s being a baker, talking about her “big, dusty muffin.”
As George Plimpton explained in 1996, the year of Southern’s death:
Terry was in a a sense largely responsible for the birth of this magazine back in 1953. In the early stages of publishing a Paris-based New Yorker imitation entitled The Paris News-Post, its editors, Peter Matthiessen and Harold L. Humes, were so impressed by the strength of The Accident, a story submitted by their friend Terry (a section of his novel Flash and Filigree) that they decided to scrap The New Yorker imitation and start a literary magazine. The story was incorporated in the first number. Thus, The Paris Review.
Here, for starters, is an interview by Mike Golden from issue 138 in which Southern discusses Paris in the fifties, making Easy Rider with Dennis Hopper (RIP), and the famous “lost” pie-fight from Dr. Strangelove:
When Louise Bourgeois published “The View From the Bottom of the Well,” a seminarrative portfolio of prints, in The Paris Review (Fall 1996), she seemed already to be gazing up from the grave. Bourgeois, who died yesterday at ninety-eight, had been long enjoying a kind of afterlife as a celebrity sculptor, with work that made improbably explicit the themes that had animated her work from the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties—the human body and its vulnerability, the threat of predation, sexuality both grotesque and ever-present.
That afterlife owed quite a lot to a 1982 photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, which showed a grandmotherly Bourgeois fondling her phallic sculpture Fillette. And when she began in her seventies and eighties to receive major commissions and museum retrospectives, the acclaim seemed as much personal as aesthetic, the exhibitions inspired as much by her engaging biography and confessional personality as by the work itself, which could hardly be reduced to the story of childhood trauma. Longtime followers knew that Bourgeois was much more than Spiderwoman, and in the summer of 1984, at perhaps the peak of her fame, the Review published a small portfolio of her drawings from the fifties—as a kind of reminder, it seems, that though her work was often engrossingly personal it was also, at its best, arcane. Below, a slide show of her two portfolios from The Paris Review:
To the Reader:
Welcome to the The Paris Review Daily, a culture gazette brought to you by the editors of The Paris Review.
Since its founding in 1953, The Paris Review has devoted itself to publishing “the good writers and good poets,” regardless of creed or school or name-recognition. In that time the Review has earned a reputation as the chief discoverer of what is newest and best in contemporary writing.
But a quarterly only comes out…well, you know. We have been looking for a way to keep in touch with our readers between issues, and to call attention to our favorite writers and artists in something close to real time. If the Review embodies a sensibility, this Daily will try, in a casual and haphazard and at times possibly frivolous way, to put that sensibility into words.
Taking inspiration from the Review’s founding editor, George Plimpton, our mode will be participatory journalism, our beat the arts. We will write about what we love, not as critics, but as participants—as amateurs in the Plimptonian sense of the word. That anyway is our aim. Furthermore we hope that you will enjoy the Daily and—most of all—that you’ll write in and tell us what you think.
If you are like us, you hear a lot of gloomy talk about the future of reading, but you don’t quite recognize yourself in these discussions: books are the reading you care most deeply about, and you doubt that’s going to change. You love your favorite blogs, but you also know when to turn off your devices. You read your favorite magazines faithfully—and if sometimes you skip the fiction, it’s not because you think new writing is in some sort of inevitable decline. It’s probably because you are what Roberto Bolaño called a “desperate” reader, on the lookout for a story that will speak more directly to your condition.
“Perhaps the critics are right,” wrote William Styron half a century ago, in the Review’s first issue: “this generation may not produce literature equal to that of any past generation—who cares? The writer will be dead before anyone can judge him—but he must go on writing.”
In the same spirit, we say there is plenty to interest us in the writing of our moment, and not only in the writing. Everywhere we look, whether it’s the new painting, film, or YouTube clip, we find beauty sufficient unto the present day, the only one we’ve got.
Ever faithfully yours,