- Since I began working at the Review, I’ve asked repeatedly for one simple thing that would propel this magazine to new heights: limited-edition designer-made cashmere Paris Review socks. They’re now a reality, and guests at our Spring Revel will walk away with a pair of them. (Maybe they’ll even walk away wearing them.) As Women’s Wear Daily reports, “Editor Lorin Stein has enlisted the talents of Gabriela Hearst and Peter Miles to design signature socks as a parting gift for attendees at the April 5 gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. The fashion designer Hearst and art director Miles, whose portfolio includes work for Céline, took into consideration some of the cover art from the literary journal. The women’s design borrows from Derek Boshier’s art on the spring 1966 issue’s cover, and the men’s version drew from Günter Fruhtrunk’s handiwork on the summer 1969 one. Hearst teamed with the Italian sock specialist Maria La Rosa to produce the women’s socks.”
- Dan Chiasson looks at Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, which seems to emerge from the anxious mist of a stress dream: “Schiff’s poems, with their Hitchcock-like distrust of appearances, their alertness to hidden binds and snares, offer something few poets ever discover: a vision of the whole world. It’s a paranoid vision, often an unsettling one, but a huge variety of phenomena enter the poems. From H1N1 to supermarket carnations and the petrified rictus of a lobster (“like a terrible crack / in a wall something worse is coming through”), these poems are interested in everything, possessing a capaciousness that, paradoxically, requires tight control. If you had a houseful of wild animals, you would need cages. Schiff, like Marianne Moore—a profound and not entirely metabolized antecedent—has, instead, stanzas: rigid, cratelike stanzas, which often employ regular patterns of syllables per line.”
- If you go to the movies and see The Witch, you may think, Hey, I know a ton about Puritanism now! I’m, like, an expert in Puritanism! Michael Robbins is here to remind you that you’re not: “Twice we see Thomasin’s brother Caleb steal a peek down her shirt and then feel guilty about it, and we’re supposed to infer that religion leads to shame, which leads to repression, which leads to making out with a witch disguised as a grown-up Red Riding Hood … To be blunt, most reviewers appear not to know much about Puritanism … No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous. But Jonathan Edwards articulated a core theme of Calvinism when he wrote that ‘The deceitfulness of the heart of man appears in no one thing so much, as this of spiritual pride and self righteousness.’ It is one thing to strive to recognize and overcome self-righteousness and fail; it is another to see it only in those to whom you feel superior.”
- Charlotte Moorman is widely known as “the topless cellist,” because she once played the cello with her top off. But she did other things, too. Two new exhibitions aim to tell us more about her career as an avant-garde performer: “The formidable eleven-person curatorial team at the Block has used the opportunity to refurbish Moorman’s unfortunately limited reputation as Nam June Paik’s topless prop … The exhibition begins by positing Moorman’s version of John Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player as the centerpiece of her experimental performances … Her elaborately annotated copy of the score is displayed under glass … Explained in handwritten notes, her additions include playing a giant bomb outfitted with strings, smashing lightbulbs with hammers, kicking cowbells, and frying an egg. These actions, combined with the already rigorous timing, ultimately made the piece impossible to complete in the prescribed twenty-six minutes. Cage publically dismissed Moorman’s interpretation as ‘murdering’ his score, but she performed it on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows anyway.”
- What if JFK’s most stirring bit of rhetoric—“Ask not what your country” et cetera—was lifted from Kahlil Gibran? The poet, whom the New York Times memorably (and accurately) discussed as a “candy metaphysician,” once wrote a letter to the Lebanese parliament with this little zinger in it: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” Kennedy’s advisor Ted Sorensen is aware of the similarity: “The Khalil Gibran Society telephoned and wrote me asking whether either Kennedy or I had read the piece, even though it had not been translated into English by January 20, 1961. Did either of us read Arabic or any of the Middle Eastern languages in which it had appeared? I was asked. No, we did not.”
- Sarah Manguso holds up the many sources of writers’ envy—“of money, of accolades, of publication in this or that place … of profligacy and of well-managed scarcity … of accomplishment and of potential”—to remind us of how easy it is to mess things up: “The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.”
- In which Dan Chiasson attempts to peer through Frederick Seidel’s voluptuary persona in search of the man himself: “Whenever Seidel publishes a book, a portion of his readers recoil in offense, while others celebrate his courage and cunning … The louche vampire who sniffs his fingers and spurns the poor isn’t Frederick Seidel—even though, as we learn elsewhere, this ‘character’ who has so little to do with Seidel lives in Seidel’s apartment, socializes with his friends, and shares his tastes in wine, shoes, and motorcycles. In photo shoots, Seidel stands in his Upper West Side living room, dressed up like ‘Frederick Seidel,’ surrounded by décor whose provenance we have come to know from his poems. The troubling power of this work isn’t its distance from its author but its stifling proximity … His style favors successive tremors of bile and animus, often crudely rhymed so as to suggest doggerel or ad copy.”
- How Chris Jackson, executive editor of Spiegel & Grau, is building a list of writers from the margins: “ ‘I want to protect the writer, of any race, from the dishonesty of racism, and how it can inflect any kind of work,’ he said. ‘And, for writers who are trying to challenge the pandering of the white gaze, if you have to go through a series of gatekeepers who are uniformly white, you’re going to end up with something that’s’— here came a considered pause—‘it’s going to be tough to preserve the integrity in the end.’ ”
- Reading Primo Levi in translation, Tim Parks stumbled on the word ankylosed, prompting some thoughts on diction between languages: “A certain credit or self-esteem now attaches itself to reading translations; it is something that intelligent, broad-minded people do. Above all, it is understood that the books will be literary and challenging, perhaps with something of their exotic origins still clinging to them … The American reader of translated novels is predisposed to read a rather different, non-standard English. No one need be anxious that quintals or ankylosed might force themselves into standard vocabulary; rather, they will remain pleasant curiosities, or perhaps even pretentious markers, catering to a self-consciously ‘informed’ reader of foreign novels … We know what it sounds like when an Italian speaks English with an Italian accent. But how can we possibly recognize the flavor of written Italian in written English, if we can’t read in Italian? How can we distinguish it—in English—from the flavor of Spanish or French or Russian or Czech? What can we experience beyond a muddled exoticism?”
- Book trailers: Those are funny, right? Watch as writers who’d normally object to crass consumerism sit down in the front of the camera to sell some hardcovers. It’s a uniquely self-loathing spectacle, as Katy Waldman writes: “Perhaps everyone is embarrassed by the apparent fact that a soft-shoeing writer gets people’s wallets out faster than flashes of plot and craft. Perhaps authors resent that it’s so hard to sell their actual books, or phone it in because the clips feel tangential to this tower of words they’ve made. Perhaps hustling your person is just grosser than hustling an object. Or perhaps writers appreciate not having to ‘pimp’ their novels, retreating, instead, inside their winning personalities, if applicable, and the self-mockery represents a kind of nervous laughter.”
This November, we’re publishing our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years. The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. It’s a master class, across genres, in what is best and most alive in American literature today.
Take a look at the cover and you’ll recognize names such as John Jeremiah Sullivan, Atticus Lish, Emma Cline, Ben Lerner, and others who have become emblematic of a renaissance in American writing. Although these are younger writers, already any history of the era would be incomplete without them. At a moment when it’s easy to see art as another product—and when writers, especially, are encouraged to think of themselves as professionals—the stories, poems, and essays in this collection have no truck with self-promotion. They turn inward. They’re not afraid to stare, to dissent, or even to offend. They answer only to themselves.
In the coming months, we’ll reveal more about the anthology, which Akhil Sharma calls “the best possible introduction to the best literary magazine we have.” Stay tuned!
Just yesterday, I snuck an advance-reader’s copy of Lorenzo Chiera’s Shards: Fragments of Verses, translated from the Italian by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, off a colleague’s bookshelf and devoured it on my subway ride home. The pocket-size book comprises delicious morsels of twelfth-century verse by an otherwise unknown fellow from Testaccio. Though the fragments—plucked from scratches on parchment paper or fiber sacks—are no more than a few lines each, they brim with raunch and grime and love. Chiera breathes sex into most verses, which are bound to make one blush with either delight or despair. Some read as playful winks, others as moans, and still others as desperate, carnal prayers. “Hearing Chiera for the first time,” Ferlinghetti writes in his introduction, “we soon realize we are in the presence of a savage erotic consciousness, as if the lust-driven senses were suddenly awakened out of a hoary sleep of a thousand years … He’s vulgar. He’s mad. He’s uncouth. Yet he is innocent.” Here’s a little taste of Chiera himself: “Sexy Nonny / in her silk nun’s habit / behind the arras / of the cult of the Virgin / stuck her tongue in my mouth / when I was fourteen / Made me cream.” —Caitlin Youngquist
I’ve never read any fan fiction, and I never made it all the way through Pretty Woman, so devotees of either may take this recommendation with a grain of salt, but I loved Michael Friedman’s novel Martian Dawn, all about a couple of movie stars (viz Richard and Julia) whose off-screen romance is strained by a visit to the Red Planet. No doubt half the jokes went over my head. It didn’t matter. Friedman’s urbane silliness and élan hark back to the glittering twilight of high camp—without seeming to hark back. Hats off to Little A for reissuing Martian Dawn and Other Novels. I didn’t know anyone could still make it look so easy to have so much fun on the page. —Lorin Stein
Like Nicole, I thrilled to Jed Perl’s essay on Jeff Koons in the current New York Review of Books. I also loved Dan Chiasson’s review of Boyhood in the same issue. In its quiet way this essay amounts to a defense of fiction in the age of social media: “If Boyhood were a documentary, it would involve much more acting, with the subjects self-consciously shaping their on-screen personae (this happens, to an extent, in the Up series). Here, there is nothing to be done: time itself is the real actor.” Both Linklater’s movie and Chiasson’s review reminded me of another experiment with the longue durée—This Is Autism, the 2011 concept album by Anders Danielsen Lie. American filmgoers know Lie as the brooding lead in Reprise and Oslo, August 31, but he is also an accomplished musician and composer. This Is Autism is a song series built on compositions that Lie made as a kid (starting at the age of ten), then revisited as a grown-up; the music seems to have soaked up a childhood’s worth of listening, mainly to parental vinyl in what Lie likes to call the “autistic” tradition, from Steely Dan and Keith Jarrett to Kiss. —Lorin Stein
For me, the description of Ben Wheatley’s most recent film, A Field in England, was instantly appealing: a handful of deserters from the English civil war traipse across a field; ensnared by an alchemist, they are forced to help him hunt for treasure supposedly buried in the field. Oh, and they’re tripping on mushrooms. The film is moody and spare—it’s shot in black-and-white—and the mind-altering effect of the mushrooms adds another textural layer on the progressing horror, making it strange and abysmal. I kept turning to my husband to ask whether he understood what was going on, thinking that I was missing something. He’d recite the plot, as he’d comprehended it, and I realized that I’d managed to grasp exactly what was going on. It’s just that everything seemed, well, kinda trippy. The setting helps to circumscribe the film’s disturbing events, a theater both expansive and enclosed. (It makes sense that Wheatley’s next film is an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise.) When one character tells another that he cannot escape the field, he replies, “Then I shall become it!” —Nicole Rudick
Last week I noted the excellent epigraph to Roberto Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita, but I neglected to say that the novella itself is excellent, too: brisk, nervous, and curiously compassionate, with a conceit I can only describe as Bolaño-esque. A young woman loses her parents and, to make money, visits a blind, withered bodybuilder who likes to slather her in oil before sleeping with her. As usual, Bolaño’s characters endure their miseries with unnerving equanimity; there’s no amount of suffering, we’re led to believe, that can’t be shrugged at. And since this is Bolaño, the book has a surreal, tragicomic dream sequence. (As Jonathan Lethem pointed out in his review of 2666, M.F.A. praxis maintains that dreams make for dull fiction—digressive, freighted with easy symbolism—but Bolaño writes them often and well, with skewed logic and foreboding mental detritus.) The narrator, Bianca, dreams of plodding through the desert with a heavy, white, possibly flightless parrot on her shoulder: “He weighed too much (ten pounds at least, he was a big parrot) to be carried for so long, but the parrot wouldn’t budge, and I could hardly walk, I was shaking, my knees hurt, my legs, my thighs, my stomach, my neck, it was like having cancer, but also like coming—coming endlessly and exhaustingly—or like swallowing my eyes, my own eyes … ” —Dan Piepenbring
Given that Chaucer provides us with the earliest example of the verb “to twitter,” it seems appropriate that his Twitter persona, “Chaucer Doth Tweet,” has now attracted an impressive 29,800 followers. And he’s not the only medieval writer to venture into social media, with the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, the poet John Lydgate, and the author Sir Thomas Malory all joining him in popularizing #MiddleEnglish. Perhaps the most surprising member of this group, though, is the late fourteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe, who has not one, but four rival Twitter accounts. Best known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery spent most of her life repenting for her sins “wyth gret wepyng and many teerys,” being abused by her local community and abstaining from the “abhomynabyl” act of sex with her husband. While it may initially strike us as astonishing that a mystic visionary should have more official Twitter pages than Jay-Z, the online world has more in common with medieval Norfolk than you might think—maybe Margery can no longer be imprisoned by angry priests, but slander and public shaming are still ever present on the web. As @tweetyng_teres puts it: “dey seyn this creatur cryin / dey haytin #wepyn.” Plus ça change, it seems. —Helena Sutcliffe
Since 1953, a central mission of The Paris Review has been the discovery of new voices. Why? It’s not just a matter of wanting to lead the pack or provide publishers with fresh blood. In “The Poet” Emerson wrote, “the experience of each new age requires a new confession.” That’s our idea, too.
Even by TPR standards, our Fall issue is full of new confessions. Readers will remember Ottessa Moshfegh, the winner of this year’s Plimpton Prize. We think our other fiction contributors—and most of our poets—will be new to you. They certainly caught us off guard.
We also have new kinds of work from writers you do know—a photography portfolio curated by Lydia Davis, and a project more than twenty years in the works: Jonathan Franzen’s translation of Karl Kraus, including some of the most passionate footnotes we’ve encountered since Pale Fire.
Find an interview with groundbreaking writer Ursula K. Le Guin:
A lot of twentieth-century— and twenty-first-century—American readers think that that’s all they want. They want nonfiction. They’ll say, I don’t read fiction because it isn’t real. This is incredibly naive. Fiction is something that only human beings do, and only in certain circumstances. We don’t know exactly for what purposes. But one of the things it does is lead you to recognize what you did not know before.
The Art of Nonfiction with Emmanuel Carrère:
Your first impulse is to be terribly embarrassed by the other’s suffering, and you don’t know what to do, and then there’s the moment when you stop asking yourself questions and you just do what you have to do.
All this plus new poems by former Paris Review editors Dan Chiasson, Charles Simic, and Frederick Seidel.