In the early eighties Terry Southern sent his Saturday Night Live collaborator Nelson Lyon an envelope containing three tabloid clippings and a letter written on ten sheets torn from a legal pad. Lyon calls this document “The Worm-ball Man Letter” and has shared it with many people. In the humble opinion of The Paris Review Daily, it may well be the best pitch—for anything—ever written. The original came with clear instructions from Southern: “Read after having read, and understood—repeat, understood—the news items.”
Congratulations to Wells Tower, whose short-story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award last night. Tower’s first two published stories were picked from the slush pile by The Paris Review way back in 2001, and both showcased what Edmund White called the “tensile strength” of his style. “His range is wide,” wrote White, “and his language impeccable, never strained or fussy.” You can hear Tower read the first of the two stories we published, “Down through the Valley,” by clicking here.
There is nationalism, Arthur Koestler said, and then there is football nationalism, the latter being much more deeply felt.
But soccer nationalism—soccer nationalism is another thing entirely. For a Brit like Will Frears, English football encodes plenty of thinking-man’s-ambivalence about the country itself—its haughty self-regard, its classishness, its sporadic hooliganism. In America, delightfully, conveniently, soccer decodes ambivalence. On the field, the United States is not a superpower but a scrappy younger sibling, not racially strifed but Benetton-harmonious, not stratified by class but unified blandly by a rec-league middle-classness. Soccer isn’t war, it’s much more self-denying than that, something closer to noble pacifism. Americans have tribal instincts, too, though we check them, and soccer nationalism might be our only form of bloodless imperialism—a chance to root for our country when it doesn’t actually mean anything. Soccer loyalty, unlike national loyalty, is lightly-felt and light on its feet; it is a weak nuclear force; it is winning.
Not literally winning, of course. Over the last generation American soccer has climbed out of the realm of the putrid but pitiful and ascended to discourteous mediocrity. This makes us, somehow, only less loveable to the rest of the world. But being an underdog is perhaps the most cherished position in American sports. Here, we actually like surprises, unlike Europeans—whose leagues feature no playoffs, no salary caps, and punish lackluster teams by actually demoting them, like bad students—and all the more so when we’ve been along for the ride. Here, we might even prefer surprises to excellence. And being mediocre means we’re only a lucky break from attaining decency.
A few Saturdays ago, Inter Milan, an Italian team without any Italian players that’s coached by a Portuguese, won the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, a German team, coached by a Dutchman, whose two best players are Dutch and French, known in Germany as FC Hollywood, by playing that most Italian of games: Il Catenaccio.
Catenaccio translates loosely as door bolt. It is Italy’s gift to the world game; it is anti-space, anti-movement and it seeks to corral the match in the defensive third of the field. It’s how they won the last World Cup. In tandem, that is, with being fitter than anyone else. They simply wore the other team out by making them do all the running and then scored in the last ten minutes when the other team was knackered.
Inter’s victory can confidently be described as Italianate in the sense that it is in the Italian tradition, but can it be called Italian? It is an Italian club in an Italian city owned by an Italian and supported by Italians. On the pitch itself though, these are foreign mercenaries representing Italy (an idea that complicatedly makes the Inter team more-rather-than-less Italian in a Swiss Guards, Borgias are actually from Spain kind of way). Would it have still been an Italian victory if the soccer itself had been less Italian in its style; if Inter had played like Barcelona would that have made it a more or less Italian victory? Does Italian heritage and Italian style outweigh the complete lack of Italians playing in the actual game itself?
These questions do not present themselves in the World Cup. In the matter of national identity, the World Cup is very simple: the team is the country, and the country is the team.
After the jump, a recap of Tuesday night’s softball game against Harper’s Magazine.
You might be familiar with the oeuvre of Caitlin Roper as The Paris Review’s resident tweeter. In between tweets, Caitlin is managing editor of the Review. For the summer issue Caitlin has surpassed herself—valiantly stepping in as interim editor between Philip Gourevitch and me. Issue 193 is her editorial handiwork. —Lorin Stein
It’s been thrilling to put together an issue, and to do it with my sharp, talented colleagues, Christopher Cox and David Wallace-Wells.
It’s strange now to see this issue, which we’ve been working on for a few months, finally sprout legs and amble out into the world to meet its readers. There’s a story, “Rhonda Discovers Art,” by Katherine Dunn, that I can’t wait for you to read. I think passionate fans of Geek Love will not be disappointed; Dunn is still as twisted and as genius as she was in 1989.
The summer issue also includes a stunning portfolio by Jeff Antebi of bonfires shot at night in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He says, “the fires seem almost like sentient creatures coming alive of their own free will, and staying awake as long as they care to.”
Did you know that R. Crumb saw God in a dream in 2000? It’s true. He talks to Ted Widmer about his vision, his work habits, his influences—from early TV to Norman Rockwell, LSD to Donald Duck—in the first Art of Comics interview in our fifty-seven-year history. I won’t rattle off the entire TOC, but I hope you enjoy the issue. It’s full of surprises.