Monday, April 21, 2014
  • I began writing Mutability, a series of poetic and prose ‘scripts for infancy’, during my pregnancy and in the year following the birth of my first child, Ayla. I started not knowing what I was doing, as a parent or a writer. It was a good place to start. Ayla revealed herself gradually. For a long time my occupant was nothing more than an abstract idea; when it fluttered, I still didn’t know which end of it was up. I gave it access to all my activities, the taste of my lunch, the secrets I traded, the rate of my heart at rest and turning the corner.
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  • To read Wilfred Owen as anything other than an English war poet might seem like sheer, anachronistic willfulness. Yet Owen’s generational self-understanding develops as a corollary to his assertion that “English poetry” is un-“fit” to speak of war.
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  • Taking a turn the other day in the Abbey, I was struck with the affected attitude of a figure, which I do not remember to have seen before, and which upon examination proved to be a whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick. Though I would not go so far with some good Catholics abroad as to shut players altogether out of consecrated ground, yet I own I was not a little scandalized at the introduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a place set apart to remind us of the saddest realities.
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  • In a Jefferson Airplane song that was something of a psychedelic anthem, Gracie Slick’s exhortatory, I’m-verging-on-ecstatic, sandpaper growl spoke to the feeling of transformative power that drugs held for a certain kind of user.
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  • Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Bleeding Edge, the third Pynchon has published since 2006, will likely be received as one of his lighter offerings. The plot follows the now unlicensed fraud investigator Maxine Tarnow as she looks into the dealings of hashslingrz, the dotcom run by Gabriel Ice, the novel’s villain, and sustains a fairly straight storyline, despite Maxine’s straying into a number of sometimes only loosely related inquiries and its resisting, in typically Pynchonesque fashion, tidy closure.
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  • In select company, he’s intensely social and charismatic, and, in spite of those famously shaming Bugs Bunny teeth, he was rarely without a girlfriend for the 30 years he spent wandering and couch-surfing before getting married in 1990. Today, he’s a yuppie—self-confessed, if you read his new novel, Bleeding Edge, as a key to the present life of a man whose travels led one critic to reflect: “Salinger hides; Pynchon runs.”
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  • 1. After you move back home to work on your novel, slump into a depression. Feel like nothing really matters. Open up MS Word a lot but don’t type much. Make a video for one of the two stories you wrote the year after grad school, which feels silly because stories aren’t about videos.
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  • As I grow engrossed in the writing, I feel the benevolent spirits of my aunts hovering close by. They were avid readers, as is my mother, their younger sister. My grandmother (the same one who crocheted the afghan) was mystified by this love of literature; when one of her daughters brought home some new title, she would say, ''Another book? Don't you already have one?"
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  • Around 1905 or 1906, Sigmund Freud wrote an essay, unpublished in his lifetime, called “Psychopathic Characters on the Stage.” The essay addressed the question of what we, as spectators, get out of watching people go crazy. Freud’s theory was that we’re fascinated by crazy characters because they help us express our own repressed impulses. Drama, of course, can’t express our fantasies too literally; when that happens, we call it pornography and walk out of the theatre.
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  • I have no intention of rehearsing yet another diatribe against the Swedish Academy’s Nobel committee in Stockholm, which, as is well known in US publishing circles, hasn’t awarded its prize in literature to an American writer since 1993. A few years back, Horace Engdahl, a member of the academy, justified the rejection by stating—famously—that Americans are “too isolated, too insular,” and that we “don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”
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  • Literature should generate lively public debates — all scholars worth their salt will proclaim. We believe in the importance of culture and think that intellectual tussles over significant books, and not celebrity gossip, should grace the front page of newspapers. In reality, such prominent literary arguments rarely happen. Yet half a year ago, South African and international magazines as well as the online media exploded with such a debate — some have called it a feud — that has been flaring up periodically with follow-up responses.
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  • Much is written of Alexander Trocchi’s “profound nihilism”. It is often argued that in his rejection and modification of language and narrative; work and reality (through taking heroin): he “willed death”; “willed to nothingness”. In his “serious novels” Young Adam (1954) and Cain’s Book (1960) amongst the detachment from other people; death; productive work; environment and the running maxims of disintegration of everything within and without the text; a nihilistic bent seems clear. But to reduce Trocchi to “disintegratory nihilist” seems to limit interpretation of his texts to type: the etchings of a death-wish junkie.
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  • The January 2013 issue of PMLA has a pretty cool article ("Whitman's Children") by Bowdoin College English Professor Peter Coviello that takes as its starting point a couple of babies born after the U.S. Civil War that were named Walt—a nominal tribute that two veterans paid to Walt Whitman after receiving Whitman's care during the war.
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  • Each time I access “Galatea,” Emily Short’s fabulous piece of interactive fiction, a supple string of text hails me, flirts with me, and stops just short of calling me by name. Strictly speaking, this mode of address should not be possible, at least not according to the familiar conventions of literary tradition. In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye states the matter unequivocally: “Criticism can talk, and all the arts are dumb…there is a most important sense in which poems are as silent as statues”
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  • Right at the phrase “…Black beads and broke” – I felt the sharp kick of recognition and, putting The Glimmering Room back down on my desk, understood that Cruz's words activated a dark mechanism whose soft gears I could feel turning within me. They would tear me apart from the inside out, I knew, and to stop them I had to go back. To Anne Sexton. And to Bald James.
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  • Years ago, reviewing Dambudzo Marechera’s collection of stories and poems, The House of Hunger, I called him the Zimbabwean Keats. I don’t want to recant the estimation of the power of his work such a moniker implies, but it should be said that Marechera was no slight, mild-mannered, generous and sensitive surgeon from Cheapside.
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  • Ever since Edmund Gosse published Father and Son in 1907, father memoirs have caused a kind of Linnean unease. Talking about Gosse’s book in The Development of English Biography (1927), Harold Nicholson said it is not "a conventional biography; still less is it an autobiography. It is something entirely original; it is a triumphant experiment in an entirely new form." Almost seventy years later, Mary Gordon, at work on The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father (1996), wondered if she wasn't writing "some non-fiction genre whose proper name has not yet been found." More recently, Michael Frayn, speaking of My Father’s Fortune (2010), said that "it's not really autobiography; it's a memoir of my father."
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by Kristen Zipperer
There are very few Urdu writers who have written about these despondent days in Pakistan’s history, with perhaps one notable exception. Intizar Husain is a novelist and short story writer whose work takes an unrelenting look at man’s attempt and ultimate failure to keep his humanity during the post-Partition period.
by Daniel Bosch
Even before the camera slowly swings upward from her mouth to her eyes, even before we realize that those are not opaque black pits but irises, the first frames of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo have made us conscious of how a camera and a screen limit and fix visual perception — even with all their jump cuts, films concentrate better than we do. And so it is strangely a relief to fall as we do into the pupil of the eye that Hitchcock’s camera enters.
by Stephen T. Asma
In his 1790 Critique of Judgment, Kant famously predicted that there would never be a “Newton for a blade of grass.” Biology, he thought, would never be unified and reduced down to a handful of mechanical laws, as in the case of physics. This, he argued, is because we cannot expunge teleology (goal-directedness) from living systems. The question “what is it for?” applies to living structures in a way that has no corollary in physics.
by Eric Schneider
Were Philadelphia police different? In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. City police may not have exchanged their badges for the white hoods of vigilante groups, but a nearly completely white police force held the same racial prejudices of the Philadelphia neighborhoods from which they were recruited.
by Russell Bennetts
Wittgenstein certainly regarded himself as a philosopher, and certainly believed in the fundamental truth of what he was saying. So it would be a misleading oversimplification to maintain that he was “against philosophy” or against “the possibility of philosophical truth”. More accurately, what he criticized was a certain kind of philosophy – perhaps the dominant kind in the West.
by Michael B. Katz
The biological definition of poverty reinforces the idea of the undeserving poor, which is the oldest theme in post-Enlightenment poverty discourse. Its history stretches from the late eighteenth century through to the present. Poverty, in this view, results from personal failure and inferiority. Moral weaknesses – drunkenness, laziness, sexual promiscuity – constitute the most consistent markers of the undeserving poor.
by Volker M. Welter
Following a map for a driving tour along Palm Spring’s mid-twentieth century Modernist homes and buildings, I had just peeked at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, the rebellious sibling from 1947 of Frank Lloyds Wright’s Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania, which was begun for the same client in 1935. Figuring out on the map where to drive to next, a house whose owner was identified as Dr. Franz Alexander caught my attention.
by Albert Rolls
Consider, for example, the Pynchon anecdotes told by the television producer Deane Rink — who attended Cornell a few years after Pynchon and studied creative writing under Walter Slatoff, with whom Pynchon had also studied. Rink tells his stories as part of an early Web exercise in which he sent emails for publication to the B&R Samizdat Express at the end of 1996, when he was in McMurdo, Antarctica, to work on Live from Antarctica (1997) for PBS productions.
by Cain Todd
In an effort to be interdisciplinary, and to keep up with the current trend for all things neuroscience, I recently attended a conference in Berlin on neuroaesthetics. One of only two philosophers in the room, I found myself on the receiving end of an incredibly hostile attack after asking a question of the founding guru of the discipline, the neuroscientist Professor Semir Zeki of University College London.
by Patricia Emison
I came to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing through the back door. About a decade after the four-part series on the BBC (1972) had excited attention as a scrappy response to Kenneth Clark’s staid Civilisation (1969), I read the book because the title was so often cited. I confess that I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. It was a little, murkily grey book that seemed to make rather obvious points about how the Old Masters had reinforced orthodoxies to which we no longer subscribe.
by Frank R. Stockton
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done.
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