- John Berger is eighty-eight, and still seeing—which isn’t to commend him for having retained his eyesight, but to say he’s still an acute observer. “I live enormously through my eyes. The visible is simply a very important part of my experience of being in this world … my own story doesn’t interest me. There’s a risk of egocentricity. And to storytellers, egocentricity is boring.”
- “The world made this book true while I was writing it, which of course is the paranoid’s greatest fantasy.” The deeply surveilled world of Joshua Cohen’s new novel, Book of Numbers, seemed improbable, if not impossible, before the Snowden leaks. Now the book is positioned not as a techno-dystopian fable but as an aspirant to that lofty title, “The Great American Internet Novel.”
- Our London editor, Adam Thirlwell, on Wayne McGregor’s new ballet, Woolf Works: “The mystery arises through a pragmatic attention to physical detail … a truth recognized subtly in the way a choreographer describes making a ballet on a dancer. The dancer is the ballet’s pivot. For there Ferri was. She wasn’t Mrs. Dalloway, or Virginia Woolf. Nor was she Juliet. Or rather, she could allude to all of these—she contained multitudes—but the allusions were only flourishes. Really, she was only herself, and that was everything.”
- Meanwhile, Anne Washburn’s new play, 10 out of 12, is set entirely in the vicinity of a thespian’s nightmare: a tech rehearsal. It is, in essence, a play about figuring out how to stage a play: “Washburn stakes out the tech rehearsal as her territory, a hitherto unexplored subgenre of backstage drama as far as I know, and uses its technology to subtle effect. Washburn’s play, drawn from tech rehearsals of her own shows and listening in on others, provides a fairly faithful reproduction of this ugly task. All of the action and dialogue, which are meant to appear spontaneous and random, are carefully set forth in the 142-page script. Her clever idea is to have the audience listen in on headsets, tuned to the same channel that the tech crew is using to talk to one another while the work continues.”
- What to do with those sixteen thousand bucks you have under the mattress: buy a rare 1935 edition of Ulysses with etchings by Henri Matisse. “Matisse’s mythical Nausicaa design is embossed in gold on the front cover of the edition, displaying four shapely nudes enclosed in a sphere with Roman numerals forming a celestial clock.” (As if Matisse would have included nudes who weren’t shapely.)
- 92Y has released recordings of Tomas Tranströmer reading his poem “Reply to a Letter” in 1989 and Seamus Heaney reading in 1971. “Heaney is in his early thirties on this 1971 recording,” Pura López-Colomé writes in a breathless commentary, “already in full command of his capacities—a Beethoven, more than a Bach … he poet-visionary’s vibrant voice, about to be swallowed by dichotomy, banishes all evil through a salutary tension coil.”
- Adam Thirlwell on Ulysses and the scandal that continues to surround it: “Joyce happened on a whole new way of writing novels. And the first, most intoxicating invention was the discovery of how comprehensive it was really possible to be. Even sexual fantasies, to choose an extreme example, could suddenly find their form … If transgender fisting occurs earlier in the history of the novel, I would be surprised.”
- A visual history of the gamine, with her boyish charm, reminds us that she is “more than just a haircut.”
- On the increasingly gendered use of the exclamation point: “For many women, they are the most common, or neutral, way of ending sentences. Leaving them out indicates negative intentions, while including them simply shows an expected level of enthusiasm.”
- “My father once split an infinitive, and I did not attend his funeral.” “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.” “I disregard ransom notes if their punctuation is incorrect.” The bona fides of true grammar nerds.
Last year, Sadie Stein wrote here about Matteo Pericoli’s Laboratory of Literary Architecture, a “cross-disciplinary exploration of literature as architecture” in which students create physical models of literary texts. Pericoli has taught the course at the Scuola Holden in Italy, at Columbia University, and elsewhere—now he’s broadening the horizons, and the Laboratory has a robust new Web site to prove it. There’s also a new video—replete with a kind of slinky Sade-ish groove, because why not?—that walks you through the course’s fundamental questions.
But perhaps the easiest way to grasp what Pericoli’s up to here is to look at an example—the LabLitArch site features a number of them. Here, for instance, is Katherine Treppendahl, an intern architect, on her literary architecture independent study, seen above, of Ulysses:
The exterior space frame represents the overarching role of Joyce, the arranger, as well the modules of time within the text—each partition represents a different time of day. The two primary characters, Bloom and Stephen (Joyce’s Ulysses and Telemachus) are translated into different volumetric typologies. These volumes are stacked and arranged in terms of their presence, importance, and relationship within the story. The reader is represented as a pale tube snaking through these volumes. In the novel, there is a point at which the text shifts from a more conventional narrative style to a more abstract and self-conscious style. Within the model, as the reader moves into this territory, the volumes begin to break open and fracture. They are no longer whole vessels, and the “reader” is visible, moving uncertainly through this landscape.
There’s also a very fitting makeshift mission statement drawn from Alice Munro’s Selected Stories:
A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.
Check out more of the student projects here.
- Museums have a real, if enviable, problem on their hands—they’re too popular. “Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.”
- A proposed virtual-reality edition of Ulysses sounds about as abstruse as the novel itself: “As a user of In Ulysses walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them—they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written—but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images, and links.”
- Fewer people are giving books as gifts—the number of gift-book sales fell by nine million in a year. (If you’d like to reduce the deficit and you need an excuse to give, today is International Tiger Day.)
- Trend alert: there’s never been a finer moment to be a deceased performer. “Two thousand fourteen is only half over, yet the year in culture has already been dominated by people who are dead … I mean people like Michael Jackson, who, five years in the grave, performed at the Billboard Music Awards in May. And Rick James, who’s been dead for a decade and who has a new memoir this year. And the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in February and has a new movie out.”
- From Disobedient Objects, a book about design’s effect on social change, a look at the storied history of defacing currency.
Celebrating Bloomsday in prison.
The man I affectionately termed Odysseus, though never to his face, was sixty-five and ailing. He was Philip Rubinitz, a onetime actor who had served about twenty years by then for the crime of stabbing his best friend through the heart with an antique SS dagger. Nevertheless, he was the facility rabbi’s clerk. His liver was failing and his back hurt, but he took laps with me around the yard of Green Haven Correctional Facility, observing our simulated Dublin through cataracts in his eyes. It must have been hard for him to keep up with my much younger legs, but he tottered around our Nightown seeking out a way home to his long-lost wife with the same fervor that Leopold Bloom had. His parole date was still five years away. I followed around full of the overconfidence and energy of youth and insecurity, much like Stephen Dedalus. It was June 16, several years ago now, and little did Rubinitz know that he was helping me celebrate Bloomsday in the yard.
After I’d been convicted, my father had said, “Good. You’ll finally read Joyce.” But it took a few years inside to finally come to it. Having initially avoided Ulysses, my mind was blown when I finally gathered the fortitude to read it—the scales fell from my eyes, and from then on I decided I had to celebrate Bloomsday with the rest of the converts.
None of whom, it seemed, were anywhere near me. Working as a prison librarian, I had seen a few men attempt A Portrait of the Artist, but our edition of Ulysses always stood on the shelf gathering dust. Grim, thick, and foreboding, it was too imposing in reputation for even the most ambitious of convicts. Finnegans Wake wasn’t available at all. The civilian librarians knew better. Read More
“Bloomsday,” the James Joyce scholar Robert Nicholson once quipped, “has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.” The celebrations of Ulysses every June 16—the date on which the novel is set—attract extreme ends of the spectrum of literary enthusiasm. Academics and professionals mingle with obsessives and cranks, plus those simply along for the ride. The event can be stately and meticulous or raucous and chaotic—or, somehow, all of the above.
A telling instance came a few years ago, when the Irish Arts Center arranged a Bloomsday picnic in New York’s Bryant Park, under the rueful shadow of the Gertrude Stein statue. (Stein disliked Joyce.) Aspiring Broadway types were enlisted to circulate in period costume before bursting into popular songs from 1900-era Ireland. I spoke to one of the performers, a young Irish actor who had recently moved to New York. Had she read Ulysses? “I plan to,” she said, and in my memory, she adds, “I’m told it’s a grand book by them that knows.” The kicker was when the Irish finance minister, in town for summit meetings, got up to say that his government would take as inspiration the balanced daily budget that appears in Ulysses. The problem? Leopold Bloom’s spreadsheet in Ulysses works out only because he omits the money he’s paid to Bella Cohen’s brothel. No one pointed out the irony.
The admixture of expertise and fanboyism that marks Bloomsday, perhaps unique among literary gatherings, is remarkable—but no more so than Bloomsday’s emergence as a cultural event, one that attracts mainstream attention and participants from well outside the readership of Ulysses, by which I mean to include all those who profess to have read it. A novel written in 1922 and legally unavailable in the U.S. until 1934, a novel hailed to this day as the pinnacle of modernist obscurity and density, one that, as novelist Jacob M. Appel recently put it, “isn’t exactly hopping off the shelves in airports,” has earned an international holiday. Of all the literary celebrations that might blow up, why Joyce, why Ulysses, and why Bloomsday? Read More