- Frei Otto, the German architect whose tensile, tent-like constructions were marvels of structural engineering, has died at eighty-nine. He designed his bubbles, webs, and wings to use as few materials as possible; they challenged conventions of durability and permanence. “Why should we build very large spaces when they are not necessary?” he once asked. “We can build houses which are two or three kilometers high and we can design halls spanning several kilometers and covering a whole city—but we have to ask, What does it really make? What does society really need?”
- Tim Youd’s project to retype all of Lucky Jim, mentioned here yesterday, is an act of intellectual lunacy lifted straight from the pages of Borges—in “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Borges tells of a man who aspires to rewrite all of Cervantes’s masterpiece line-by-line by inhabiting the depths of its author’s soul: “The initial method that he imagined was relatively simple. Get to know Spanish well, recover his Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or against the Turk, forget the history of Europe between 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this procedure … but dismissed it as too easy.”
- “A well-traveled branch of futuristic fiction explores worlds in which artificial creatures—the robots—live among us, sometimes even indistinguishable from us … Take Twitter. Or the Twitterverse. Twittersphere. You may think it’s a stretch to call this a ‘world,’ but in many ways it has become a toy universe, populated by millions, most of whom resemble humans and may even, in their day jobs, be. But increasing numbers of Twitterers don’t even pretend to be human.” James Gleick on the gradual, mediocre rise of Twitter bots, which have introduced a kind of artificial intelligence that almost no one is in awe of: “this is how the future really happens, so ordinary that we scarcely notice.”
- On academe’s willful ignorance of African literature: “As long as critics and publishers frame African literature as always on the cusp, it will continue to be an emerging literature whose emergence is infinitely deferred. It will remain utopian, just out of reach. It’s long past time to get over this narrative. Its function is, simply, to excuse and legitimize the ignorance of those who have chosen to ignore African literature.”
- On December 4, 1891, America had what’s believed to be its first suicide bombing. Its target was Russell Sage, a financier who “reportedly had more ready cash at his disposal than any other person in the U.S. What nobody yet understood—except for the unfortunate occupants of the financier’s wrecked office—was that a crazed man had just targeted Sage for attack. Even though Sage survived it, the assault had an effect that the assailant never intended: a remarkable redistribution of the vast riches of one of the most notorious robber barons of the Gilded Age.”
- Fiction has seen a preponderance of nameless narrators lately—in stories of the apocalypse, stories of exile, and/or stories of just about anything else. “The first few months of 2015 alone have brought us the following books with nameless protagonists: Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country, Greg Baxter’s Munich Airport, Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard, Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents. Surely others have escaped my notice. It’s an epidemic of namelessness.”
- In 1880, Rimbaud arrived in Ethiopia—it was called Abyssinia then—“sick and completely helpless.” He was twenty-six and had taken on a job “consisting in receiving shipments of bales of coffee”; he lived in a house of clay walls with a thatched roof. But really he was seeking something more metaphysical: “I sought voyages, to disperse enchantments that had colonized my mind … My life would always be too ungovernable to be devoted to strength and beauty.” He had a great time until his leg had to be amputated.
- Yasmina Reza on the title of her new book, Happy Are the Happy, which comes from Borges and came to her on an airplane: “The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind.” (Read her interview with the Daily here.)
- On copyediting and class: a copy editor’s job can be “a soul-crushing enterprise … Magazines are rigidly hierarchical places … the work of the copy editor is largely disdained. And because their work is so undervalued, copy editors (and fact checkers) routinely work significantly longer hours for much less money (sixteen-hour days without overtime pay aren’t uncommon) … they’re often dismissed as fussy or obsessive … In the Calvinistic world of magazines, maladjusted grammar weirdos simply fall to their natural station.”
- “Here is a good example of how inconsistently the term transgressive is applied to some and not to others—that V.C. Andrews in Flowers in the Attic wrote about brother-sister incest (and a semiforced initial coupling at that) and that book sold over forty million copies. More and more I’m coming to think that labeling certain writers as transgressive, or ‘outside traditional writing,’ is a construct perpetrated by reviewers and editors. I really believe that the reading public is far more accepting of the so-called extremes in literature than the gatekeepers of taste give them credit for.” An interview with Matthew Stokoe.
The long-awaited sequel.
This week, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, stepped in to address your queries.
Dear Paris Review,
I live in the deep south and was raised in a religious cult.
Still with me?
Okay. I’m attempting to throw off the shackles of my religious upbringing and become an intelligent well-informed adult. My primary source of rebellion thus far has been movies. I would watch a Fellini movie and then feel suddenly superior to my friends and family because they only watched movies in their native tongue (trust me I know how pathetic this is). My main question involves my reading selections. Obviously, I have stumbled upon your publication and am aware of its status as the primary literary periodical in English. Also, I have a brand-new subscription to the New York Review of Books, since it is apparently the intellectual center of the English-speaking universe. I am not in an M.F.A. program or living in Brooklyn working on the Great American Kindle Single, I’m just a working-class guy trying to take part in the conversation that all the smart people are having. This brings me to my question: What books should I read? There are so many books out there worth reading, that I literally don’t know where to start. To give you some background info: I was not raised as a reader and was not taught any literature in the Christian high school that I attended. What kinds of books do I like? My answer to that would be movies. I’m desperate to start some kind of grand reading plan that will educate me about the world but don’t know where to start. The classics? Which ones? Modern stuff? Should I alternate one classic with one recent book? How much should I read fiction? How much should I read nonfiction? I went to college but it was for nursing, so I have never been taught anything about reading by anybody.
I realize this stuff may be outside of your comfort zone, as most of the advice questions seem to be from aspiring writers or college-educated people. Please believe me when I say that I am out of touch with the modern world because of a very specific religious cult. I want to be an educated, well-read, cultured, critically thinking person but need some stuff to read. Before I end this letter, I’ll provide an example of just how out of touch I am: you know how “Ms.” is the non-sexist way to refer to a woman, and that “Mrs.” is sexist? Yeah, I just found out about that. I’m twenty-five.
Elaine Blair says let your children read Nicholson Baker: “House of Holes will introduce impressionable readers to many interesting sexual possibilities without a whisper of stereotype or slur. You can be sure that no matter what scene your children are masturbating to, they are not objectifying women. But you will have to make sure that they accidentally stumble on it soon, before they find the Internet, if they are to have a fighting chance at being wholesome and delightful fuckers instead of hopelessly depraved ones like yourself.” —Lorin Stein
My friend Pete turned me on to Ephemeral New York, which, along with Vanishing New York, has immediately entered my personal must-read feed. And if you really want to feel melancholy about our city’s lost treasures, take a look at this. (And thanks to Vanishing New York for turning me on to Karen Lillis’s Bagging the Beats at Midnight, a memoir by a long-time employee of beloved—and endangered—St. Mark’s Bookshop.) —Sadie Stein
Is print dead? Not at all. The New York Art Book Fair, hosted by Printed Matter this weekend at P.S. 1, is probably the best browsing experience you’ll have all year. Photobooks, artist’s books, antiquated books, ephemera, zines: it has everything from the small to the massive, the odd to the vintage, the practical to the whimsical. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
I’ve been poking around in Asymptote, a new and impressively eclectic online magazine, with fiction and nonfiction, poetry and criticism, all in translation. I’ve especially enjoyed the (very) short story by Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Adonis’s “Ambiguity,” translated by Elliott Colla, and an essay about riddles by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, translated by Shushan Avagyan. There is, in other words, something for everyone. —Robyn Creswell
I picked up a copy of Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi in the office and am thoroughly enjoying doses of Wes Anderson-esque whimsy. It’s a fairy tale disguised as a novel about a writer (named Mr. Fox), his muse (Mary Foxe), and his characters. Like all good fairy tales, the story is told over and over again in various romantic settings, in this case involving plenty of typewriters, brownstones, and flower shops. —Artie Niederhoffer
An old interview between Borges and Enrique Krauze, devoted mainly to Spinoza, is newly translated in the current issue of The Reading Room: “Descartes let himself be seduced by that abominable little Protestant sect, the heresy that is the Church of Rome; but if one accepts his premises, one arrives either at solipsism or Spinozism. Which means that Spinoza was a more coherent thinker and certainly much braver than Descartes. For me—simply because I’m a coward myself—bravery is an essential virtue.” –L. S.
Much has already been written on the immersive, off-broadway theatre experience, Sleep No More. Recently extended through November 5, this eerie production has been haunting me all week. Though the storyline (based on Macbeth) left me a bit puzzled and frustrated, the sets, music, and lighting design alone are worth the price of admission. If you go, stick as close to the actors as you can (even when that means literally running up and down stairs) and you might get as lucky as I did to get locked in a room alone with one of the players. What a memorable and bewitching treat to have a monologue recited to you and you alone—sans mask. —Charlotte Strick