There are very few children in my life right now, but if there are in the future, I look forward to sitting down with them to read Olga Tokarczuk’s beautiful and melancholy The Lost Soul. Illustrated by Joanna Concejo and translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, it is the brief tale of a man who, by moving too fast in life, has lost his soul. As a wise doctor explains to the man: “Souls move at a much slower speed than bodies. They were born at the dawn of time, just after the Big Bang, when the cosmos wasn’t yet in such a rush.” All is not lost: the man moves to the countryside and, as illustrated in Concejo’s delicate, wistful images, waits patiently for his soul to find him. Once this finally happens, he throws away all his watches and suitcases so as to no longer move through life too fast. When I was a child, the writing and art I liked best always disturbed me slightly and made me realize, with great surprise, that a very large and sometimes unsettling world existed outside the confines of my childhood. There is something disturbing about beauty, after all; it will, like all objects and experiences, wear away with time. The Lost Soul is a reminder to cherish the present, lest you, too, lose your soul. —Rhian Sasseen Read More
If I could come back,
I wouldn’t come under any other banner.
I’d still embrace you
with two severed hands.
I don’t want wings in paradise,
I just want your graves by the river.
I want eternity at the breakfast table
with the bread and oil.
I want you—
my defeated banner.
This poem, “My Defeated Banner,” is from the fifth section of the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish’s latest collection, Exhausted on the Cross, and in its devastating beauty, it represents one of the peak moments of his poetry as well as of the writing of our time. As in all of Darwish’s poetry, this defeated banner presents us with a primordial scene, possibly inserted in the depths of what we persist in calling the human, where the feelings of a particular being, that sudden nostalgia that grips us, that desire, that love, crosses over and merges with the nostalgia, passion, and love of all humanity. We understand then that, from Nothing More to Lose and Je me lèverai un jour (I will rise one day) to Exhausted on the Cross, the multifaceted poetry of Najwan Darwish puts us again and again in front of the contours of something immemorial, almost unspeakable. It tells us that above all else poetry is solidarity and compassion for every detail of the world: for that specific bread and oil, for that eternity at the breakfast table, for that land with its “graves by the river.” The poem shows us those graves, it explicitly tells us that they are there, by the river; and for a second we see that if that image moves us, it is because—whatever our countries, origins, and histories, and even whatever languages we speak and, beyond that, whatever times we have lived and died in—we have all been buried in those graves and, at the same time, we have all wept over them.
The characters who move through the seven sections that make up Exhausted on the Cross are exhausted, exhausted on an infinity of crosses that rise in an infinity of places. Expelled from their ancestral land, permanently besieged and persecuted, women who have lost everything—their houses, their neighborhoods, their children—make present to others, to me, to you, to the reader, that in this land of victims and perpetrators, displaced and disappeared, all the rest of us are survivors. And if we can affirm that we are facing political poetry, it is because we do it as survivors of an unfinished war. Far removed from any pathos or self-pity and, on the contrary, endowed with a stirring familiarity with everything it names, a familiarity that often resorts to irony and humor, Najwan Darwish’s poetry travels through the villages, landscapes, neighborhoods, cities, and towns of a history that is three millennia old, one that, in each of its corners, preserves the remains of a permanently shattered eternity, as if there were an underlying god, not named, who took pleasure in weaving together suffering and misfortune. Read More
In the early stages of quarantine, a lot of people ordered War and Peace. I hesitated. I am not a doctor, or a delivery person, or a health care worker, I thought. I have no god’s-eye view on the real suffering taking place. In the end I reached for Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, a lurid masturbation epic first drafted in prison on brown paper bags. Because while a lot of us, in these uncertain times, could use some Tolstoyan omniscience, even more of us could use some sex.
Don’t be shy, don’t be ashamed! Reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined, he definitely masturbated. As with romance and God, so has mankind been motivated to aesthetic heights by “trafficking in thyself.” Settling in to a ten-year sentence, Genet’s narrator proclaims, “It was a good thing I raised egoistic masturbation to the dignity of a cult! … Everything within me turns worshiper.” There are lots of books about diddling yourself—and I for one have always thought of writing as a way of granting permission. The inexperienced might seek comfort and instruction in Portnoy’s Complaint, where Alexander makes love to a stolen apple in the woods (“‘Oh shove it in me, Big Boy,’ cried the cored apple that I banged silly on that picnic”). In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie debuts an orgasm under a pear tree in spring: “She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.” The Nausicaa episode in Joyce’s Ulysses is set to the backdrop of festival fireworks and a glimpse of a woman’s underthings (“awfully pretty stitchery”), at whose unveiling Bloom, stationed in a church across the way, can hardly believe his luck: “And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures.” After the climax, the disappointment, the shame: “O Lord, that little limping devil. Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect not pleasant.”
Most days, under lockdown, before I sit down to a task I’d rather not, I take half an hour to—you think I’m about to say something else—procrastinate. I scroll through dispatches from anxious people bleating out reports from their private homes: someone has shaved her head; someone has macerated a rare root vegetable into a time-consuming compote. “Got in a lot of good crying today,” someone else says, or maybe brags. There’s a whole genre of these broad-strokes allusions to the times we’re in, i.e., a pandemic, now cresting its second climax. I put on a sweater and meet with a student over Zoom, direct the task light into my face so that my acne will not show. (I learned cinematography; you learned to make sourdough.) Afternoons are given over to further internet pastimes. For example, perusing salacious, Georgian-era pamphlets of puritanical intention (whose executive summary could be: cease and desist from masturbation), which is how I came across this gem: Onania, or, the heinous sin of self-pollution and all its frightful consequences (in both sexes), Considered, with spiritual and physical advice to those who have already injected themselves by the abominable Practice. If only we’d been so severe in phrasing our early warnings about social distancing.
In 1963, with the civil rights movement in full swing, a group of New York City–based Black photographers began meeting regularly to talk shop, listen to jazz, discuss politics, critique one another’s work, and bond over the power of their shared medium. Thus, the Kamoinge Workshop was born, a collective whose members pursued wildly varying aesthetic interests but held a mutual commitment to photography’s value as art. “Working Together,” an exhibition featuring work by fourteen key members of the Kamoinge Workshop, will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through March 28. A selection of images from the show appears below.
If navigating the internet were an Olympic sport, Patricia Lockwood would sweep the medals. She is not a coder or a programmer (though surely she could be). She doesn’t live in the internet but upon it. She sails along on trends and tweets, a fisher of men, understanding, as she writes, that “everyday their attention must turn, like the shine on a school of fish, all at once.” As the tides shift, she is always one twist ahead of the internet’s dangers, such as overexposure and cancellation. We here at The Paris Review are often made aware of her one important question we have yet to answer:
Lockwood is not only the quiet queen of twitter, she is also a poet, memoirist, sublime critic, and her first novel is on sale this week. I spoke to Patricia Lockwood about her “internet novel” No One is Talking About This over direct message on Twitter, which was something like interviewing Scorsese on the set of Gangs of New York, or something like Scorsese interviewing Fran Lebowitz in front of the World’s Fair Panorama of New York. Unlike Lockwood, the internet overwhelms me. It always has. Lockwood caught COVID-19 in early 2020 and is still suffering from nerve-related difficulty with her hands. She had to ask me to slow my typing because my blank terror at awaiting a response on any messenger app, a form of communication detached from facial expression, intonation, and occasionally context, sends me into a frenzy.
I was embarrassed but not surprised to betray myself. Lockwood knows how to cast an astral projection on the Web, while most of us (read: this interviewer) are still tapping the bloated backside of a desktop PC trying to find our way “inside the computer.” Lockwood’s novel is about a woman who navigates the internet with such perfect ease that she becomes an Internet-ese celebrity expert asked to speak about the internet to audiences around the world, what it is and what it means. The protagonist of No One is Talking About This describes the feeling that the internet “was a place where she knew what was going to happen, it was a place where she would always choose the right side, where failure was in history and not herself, where she did not read the wrong writers, was not seized with surges of enthusiasm for the wrong leaders, did not eat the wrong animals, cheer at bullfights, call little kids Pussy as a nickname, believe in fairies or mediums or spirit photography, blood purity or manifest destiny or night air, did not lobotomize her daughters or send her sons to war, where she was not subject to the swells and currents and storms of the mind of the time—which could not be escaped except through genius, and even then you probably beat your wife, abandoned your children, pinched the rumps of your maids, had maids at all. She had seen the century spin to its conclusion and she knew how it all turned out.”
The first part of the novel is told from so deep within the internet that it is almost vertiginous, but Lockwood never loses control. Then, the protagonist steps out of her element and into the real-life concerns of her family. Lockwood’s novel is in two distinct parts: there is the era before her niece’s genetic condition becomes clear, and the after.
I slid into Lockwood’s DMs to ask her about the novel, her screen names of yore, the Zoom cat, and I snuck the conversation back, once or twice, to the terra firma of her astute literary criticism, which seems to be a third language in which Lockwood is fluent.
Hello, Patricia! Thank you for agreeing to an interview by DM. I felt it would add a note of authenticity to this interview if we scheduled it for 2 A.M., but quarantine is strange enough.
Hi Julia! Let’s do this little old thing
DM hogs, in the chat
Can I start by asking what the last DM you got was before this one? I’m interested in what it’s like to be very online and have open DMs.
Looks like it was a red heart on a koala picture I sent to John Darnielle.
Does one receive bundles of dick pics? Cornucopias of dick pics?
Yeah, I’m not sure why I left them open. I have always been more inclined to openness; I like to hear about things. Occasionally people will DM to say thank you for a poem I wrote, or that they named their cat after Miette—I would miss those things if I were locked down.
I don’t get all that many dicks, really. A few textual wangs, here and there. But Twitter also hides “suspicious content,” so I don’t click on pics if there’s a warning.
You met your husband online—is that right? Does that change your idea of “strangers on the internet” do you think?
Like maybe the masses are actually friends waiting to be made, husbands waiting to be wed, instead of just faceless analytics?
Maybe. Or maybe I met my husband online because of this quality, because my mind was ALREADY so open that anything could fall in. Including—my god—a Man.
There are theories that online dating is changing the gene pool, because people can self-select more readily for partners, and that this is especially true for those who might have been too shy to meet folks irl—though perhaps your story with your husband disproves them. I just think about how the internet is changing the way we mate.
I don’t know about that—our case might actually support those theories. Because we never had kids! No chance to SMell EAch OTher beforehand.
Okay good point
Did you keep any of your early conversations?
Sorry, can you see my typing ellipses? I’m probably typing too slow but I’m having problems with my hands.
I didn’t actually—all those love letters lost like gorillas in the mist. They’re locked up somewhere in a Hotmail account, I think. If you want to keep something safe on this earth, put it in an old Hotmail account.
Sorry ‘bout your hands. I can see the ellipses! I’ll slow down. I learned my typing speed from trying to capture the heart of a 14 yo boy on the AIM and I’ve never recovered composure.
It’s not great now that I Slack my colleagues all the time.
Someone with the right skills and the right pleather can probably liberate those love letters for you at some point…
Spandex, probably. It’s a privilege, not a right.
Did you ever capture the boy on AIM?
Not at all
I must have put up the wrong away message after all
Can you remember one of your early screen names?
Oh yeah I’ve got a great one. fruitandcake.
Does this ring any bells?
THE FIG NEWTON TAGLINE. MY BRAND WAS INTACT FROM AN EARLY AGE.
That is truly impressive
The entire time I was reading the novel, I pictured you like the oracle of Delphi.
A CARYATID WITH WHITE EYES—sorry caps lock was still on
My toga pouring like a fountain
Oracles is also a very “online word,” though I don’t know how many remember that
The training program for oracles is the same as it is for vestal virgins, except they switch out the snatch and the eyes. In my opinion.
I had a friend who asked everyone he met for a year, “would you rather do ___ celebrity with a snatch in the middle of her stomach or with three eyes?”
This seems relevant
But okay a real-ish q
I’ve read that you revised the first section of the novel, in the first months of the pandemic, to add in things that had happened since you began writing. What didn’t make it into the novel that you wish had. The cat lawyer? The QAnon Shaman?
Can you even believe the cat lawyer?
They changed something in the matrix
Exactly. You can smell some uncanny difference. Berenstain Bears.
I think that if we were meeting in person, I would have said 25 minutes ago that I cannot believe how brilliant the novel is, except that I can, because your work is fabulously, uncannily exquisite
Thank you! Yes, all these interviews would be so changed if we were able to do them in person. There’s been a sense of grief throughout the process, in fact, and I think that’s the reason.
Your recent review in LRB of Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults also basically wiped out my brain and replaced it—it was so newly correct. It also made want to think about your novel differently
About how both Twitter and (forgive me) autofiction make the writer the HERO. The manipulator.
Do you think that is true at all? Does Twitter change Lenu’s into Lila’s?
I loved doing that review—I felt limerent the whole time I was working on it. It’s been my constant companion ever since the election, up through the Georgia runoffs, up through the insurrection. The entire time I was doing my promotional push, it’s all I was thinking about. I was like, stop asking me all these questions! I’m considering the problem of Alfonso!
No, a Lenu can’t be changed into a Lila. It’s a leopard/spot situation.
But also Lila identified Lenu as *someone like her,* which is easy to forget. She takes her by the hand because there IS some likeness, some ruthlessness that she identified—the ruthlessness that will eventually write the story.
That’s why one critical approach to them considers them as parts of each other. This is not quite right, I think. Lila identifies something animal in Lenu, some scent that is like hers.
Even if what is animal in Lenu is only her desire to be like Lila
One temptation with a book like this, the book I wrote, is to make the protagonist both right and good. To position her on the correct side of every issue.
To go back and revise in the light of further information, to elevate her. Lenu talks in one of her bookstore Q&As about how we must not become “policemen of ourselves,” while at the same time tailoring everything she says to some standard of Nino’s. Nino, that little fuck! Twitter is certainly a place where this can happen—where we issue proscriptions while at the same time tailoring our speech to different audiences within the stream.
Sorry that was all a mouthful. God knows I took approximately One Thousand Pages of notes on all these themes.
I think one interesting thing about your protagonist is that she is aware of how useful it is to be nimble, to move more quickly than the morality of the internet. She exists above all the morass of offending and being offended. There is also her canny sense of how to bring her internet skills to the real world. When she sees a geneticist who is conspicuously excited by how rare the baby’s condition is, instead of being pained, she thinks, “Messy bench who loves drama.” It’s a quick phrase that puts the doctor in a place where she can do no real harm. In some ways she is absolutely without moral standing, maybe because she stands so centered in the slipstream.
Yes, her soul is not a moral soul, it is an attentive one, a white beam of observation. But nimbleness within the portal is also ruthlessness. It is what keeps you ahead, what keeps you out of other people’s teeth. Yet in the second half of the book the protagonist is surely thinking, to what end? What did I believe was chasing me before?
Why was I practicing this agility, what was I adapting to? Has it given me the muscles for what I’m now experiencing? Has it given me the language, the ability to listen, the cry? Does it allow me now to lift and carry a human life? To some extent she finds that it did, that whatever lives we lead they do prepare us for these moments.
In that way, the novel really sadly/eerily presages the pandemic: a stark medical reality has pulled a lot of people out from their less conscious routines. Did you see people around you asking themselves those questions this year? Recognize it?
I did. I think that’s true, though I also think the internet been a crucial way for people to connect this year. At times we’re all biting each other like the Donner Party, but it still has been crucial.
But for me, I got COVID in March, and that threw me out of the portal in another way—I had a lot of neurological symptoms, and I developed Howard Hughes–level nerve pain in my hands. So first I couldn’t really read and understand what was happening online, from spring all the way through fall. And then I couldn’t use my trusty finger, my little ET pointer, to scroll in the same way.
I sincerely hope you are feeling better. My partner hid the fact that you had COVID from me until we started to feel better from our own. He knew I would have been very worried for that ET pointer.
We had like a nothing case
We just ate ramen and groaned at each other
But for a minute there I was sure it was the end
Yeah, did your body Prepare to Die? Everyone I’ve talked to, even people who had mild cases, experienced a moment where their Bodies Prepared to Die.
I prepared to defend my sanity.
My gentleman was like:
But are you sure its COVID? (I’m a rampant hypochondriac.)
And it was an ENORMOUS moment of intellectual crisis, because I was like, can I really be crazy enough to be making this up?
And then he got it too and I had only enough energy to say “see” and then moan like we were the Ingallses in the part of Little House on the Prairie where they all get diphtheria
My husband and I both experienced that too and we really were on death’s door, down on all fours and crawling from room to room. I think it’s because at that point you just couldn’t get tested, and doctors really did treat you as if it was an INCREDIBLY REMOTE POSSIBILITY that you might have it. Which is insane—at that point thousands of people a day were dying in NYC!
We were in NYC
And my doctor was saying don’t get tested, the ER is a battlefield from which you will never return
Right. Like we really didn’t feel we could go to the hospital.
I guess I did prepare to die
Now that you mention it
I had blocked it out
Perhaps because the body was encountering something absolutely new, for the first time in a long time. I found it interesting later.
I’m finding it interesting now. It is the total surrender everyone is always talking about. While you were sick, did you have religious feelings you thought you had lost track of?
(I was going to have my final question be about something else. But COVID just fills the brain.)
No, nothing of the kind actually. But I felt returned to my childhood in the most visceral possible way. My dreams were hyperreal and populated with my oldest friends and most ancient episodes. I actually recovered memories, as if some path in the brain had been set on fire.
In a way it was DOPE AS HELL.
I know what you mean. I don’t want to keep you past an hour. Please carry on promoting this masterpiece and lighting my brain on fire from the spires of the LRB.
And… I’m sorry that we at The Paris Review have kept you waiting on that review of Paris.
NO, I never want to know!
Julia Berick is a writer who lives in New York. She works at The Paris Review.
Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.
This week at The Paris Review, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day and dwelling on both the highs and lows of love. Read on for Simone de Beauvoir’s Art of Fiction interview, Akhil Sharma’s short story “The Well,” Frank O’Hara’s poem “Love,” and Eric Fischl’s portfolio “Couples.”
If you enjoy these free interviews, stories, and poems, why not subscribe to The Paris Review? Or take advantage of our current subscription offer, featuring our stylish new notebook—the perfect place to draft love poems, write your novel, or log your reading list. (And you can always just buy the notebook, too!)
Simone de Beauvoir, The Art of Fiction No. 35
Issue no. 34 (Spring–Summer 1965)
None of your female characters are immune from love. You like the romantic element.
Love is a great privilege. Real love, which is very rare, enriches the lives of the men and women who experience it.
In your novels, it seems to be the women—I’m thinking of Françoise in She Came to Stay and Anne in The Mandarins—who experience it most.
The reason is that, despite everything, women give more of themselves in love because most of them don’t have much else to absorb them. Perhaps they’re also more capable of deep sympathy, which is the basis of love. Perhaps it’s also because I can project myself more easily into women than into men. My female characters are much richer than my male characters.