- Admire the tenacity of lit mags yet question their utility? The poet Stephen Burt argues that a new journal simply needs a raison d’être: it should seek to fill a “gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement, a constellation of authors for whom the future demand for work exceeds present supply, a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes.”
- What can the Greek tragedies tell us about the current Mediterranean refugee crises? Aeschylus’s 470 B.C. play, The Suppliants, concerns the fifty daughters of the Egyptian king Danaus, who flee Africa and seek asylum in Greece. Fitting then that a new production of the play is being reimagined in modern-day Sicily, where “African refugees beg at traffic lights,” and is being staged in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse, in Sicily.
- What can the inmates at a Missouri prison tell us about the evolution of language? In compiling a lexicon of facility-specific slang, they found that a viking is a “prisoner with poor hygiene,” a kite is “an informal message sent by a prisoner,” and a pumpkin is, you guessed it, “a term used for new arrivals” (but not for the reason you might expect). After all, “a dictionary is not a book of rules but a description of language as it is used in real life at a particular moment in time,” says English professor Paul Lynch, who volunteers at the prison.
- Jerry Seinfeld thinks that political correctness is killing comedy; he doesn’t perform at college campuses because “they’re so PC.” it wasn’t always that way: American college humor is historically steeped in offensiveness. Take National Lampoon, an offshoot of the The Harvard Lampoon and precursor to Saturday Night Live, for example, where “getting a rise out of people was precisely the goal, and the magazine was steadfast in its dedication to what it saw as a decidedly non-partisan approach to humor.”
- This week in the perils of the modern age: the Russian government released a public-awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of taking a selfie. With a little help from Google Translate, we learn that “when a person is trying to take a picture of himself—he scattered attention, he lost his balance, he does not look around and did not feel in danger.” Have fun this summer. Practice safe selfies.
This is the second installment of Nadel’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
I realize this journal is meant to be cultural, but I swear, a ton of my daily doings are more like the “business” of culture. Or like being the janitor of the business. Or something. That’s what I did for most of the day until I went to Penn Station to pick up Brian and Christopher. A couple sandwiches later, we were en route to a bookstore in Williamsburg, where the guys did a stock signing. This is when authors sign a stack of books so customers will, hopefully, buy them faster.
Then it was dinner with Gary Panter, his wife, Helene Silverman (designer of many of my books), and their daughter, Olive. The two dudes love Gary as a spiritual north star of sorts, and Gary has, after thirty-five years, finally found artistic progeny he can be proud of. It’s a lovefest.
Stray thought: The problem (or, flipped, the pleasure) of being involved with a funky little subculture like comic books is that you have to deal with a level of absurdity so high that it’s like the gods are constantly fucking with you just for kicks. In other words, ninety percent of the “serious” books on the topic have introductions by TV stars or are filled with absurd claims of greatness. Rarely are comics left alone to be a medium unto itself.
I really admire good publicists. This week, oddly, I’m just a pale imitation of one, but it’s hard to both hustle these books and the authors and also, y’know, think about them, too. Or, uh, think about anything else at all.
Morning finds the guys asleep on my living-room floor. They’re both kinda tall, so they take up an absurd amount of space in the room. Over coffee and tea we have a friendly nerdfest in the morning discussing something Dan Clowes recently said to the effect of reconciling himself to the reality of comics history. Which is to say, understanding that there are few thoroughly “great” works or artists to be found, as in film or literature. There aren’t many Jim Thompsons or Philip Dicks to “rediscover” and tout as transcending their genres. Instead, we pick through the bins for a great storytelling device or wonky approach to drawing, or some freakishly good art-text combo by a hack, picking our pleasures and fascinations within a single comic book or even just an eight-page story.