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1) On Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz's recent memoir Dossier K:
What all of this adds up to is very loosely a memoir, but it might be
better described as an energetic and thoughtful introduction (or
companion) to Kertesz’s other books. Kertesz, for his part, seems to
intend “Dossier K.” as a kind of catchall interview that will save him
not simply from having to sit for more interviews, but also from having
the complexity of his life’s experiences and ideas reduced by others to
sound bites. You hear echoes of this concern toward the end of “Dossier
K.,” in his comments on the social realities of being a Holocaust
“It is painful to carry the brand of surviving for some unaccountable
reason. You remained here so you could spread the Auschwitz myth; you
remained here as a sort of freak. You are invited to attend
anniversaries; your irresolute face is video-recorded, your faltering
voice, you hardly notice that you’ve become a kitsch supporting
character in a fraudulent narrative, and you sell for peanuts your own
story, which bit by bit you yourself understand least of all.”
2) Prescient as ever, George Orwell in a letter from 1944:
With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to
disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts
have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer.
Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, ie. there is no such
thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted,
and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity
ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews
started the war, and if he survives that will become official history.
He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of,
say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I
am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which
are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the
fuhrer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.
Each of us reads for different reasons. I daresay even when
our reasons are said to be the same – e.g., “distraction,” “education,” “entertainment,”
etc. – we’re usually describing something unspeakably and maybe unintentionally
personal. There is an art to reading,
and it creates as much as (perhaps more than) it consumes. In this series of
posts, we highlight people who take this notion to heart.
Julio Panisello, the artist behind "The Havisham Hour," describes his fascinating project:
"Each day I read a single page of [Charles Dickens's The Great Expectations]. After reading the page I use
it as format to create artwork inspired by the words in it. I then scan
the sketched page and publish it, along with a brief journal entry,
exactly at 8:40 AM each day, on my local time, the time in the novel
when Miss Havisham receives a letter on her wedding day announcing her
groom is not showing up.
The project started January 7th, 2013 and it will end June 12th, 2014: 521 days, 521 pages, 521 sketches."
In recent months the so-called "Newspaper of Record," the New York Times, has come under increasing fire for what its accusers consider a stark gender imbalance. (Though, as the annual VIDA count shows, it is far from alone in this respect. I'm looking at you New York Review of Books.)
Reasonable people, of course, are free to disagree about what this imbalance means . . . but, boy, the daily updates at the site "Who Writes for the New York Times" don't look pretty. See for yourself.
1) There's a good chance you've not heard of or read Gary Lutz. This says nothing about you, though, and everything about his apparent allergy to self-promotion. Lutz's books are thin and too often tend to hide beside or slip behind their larger cousins. But, oh, what's packed inside! When we're not breathlessly awaiting our shipment of his recently re-released underground classic, Partial List of People to Bleach, we're re-reading books of his like The Divorcer. And then sometimes we're bowled over by something unexpected. Something like, say, a phenomenal, insightful interview with Blake Butler in, of all places, Vice. It's a pretty fabulous entryway into his thinking and style.
From my way of looking at things—and I have never been much of a
looker—a word, enlarged to 24-point type (though I sometimes allow
myself to go far larger, and I’m partial to the rondures of the Cambria
font), presents itself to the eye as something hulky, just another lump
of matter. The more colossal you get a word, the easier the meaning can
seep out of the hollows and bowls and dimples of the letters. Sometimes,
though, you have to scoop it out, and that can slow you down a bit.
You’re left, ultimately, with something bony-looking and gutted, and you
listen to the air whistling through the cavities, and something
eventually comes over you: you want to fill those holes, pack them full,
with something else, usually the plentisome slops and slimes from your
own psyche. You’ve got to get something discrepant going on inside of
the word. Then that word, with a louche sort of air about it now, and
with a shifted import to it, can present itself to another word and
start something swackingly unnatural.
Imagine a narrative format that has probabilistic outcomes.
Imagine a narrative format that can simulate unscripted contingencies against scripted choreography.
Imagine a narrative format that requires its authors to embrace contingency and irreversibly change during its making.
Imagine a narrative format that doesn’t promise a scheduled time to end.
Imagine a narrative format that erodes as you erode.
3) While we're thinking about narrative structure and the accumulative advance of technology, maybe a step backward in time and across in culture is in order. The three-dimensional stop-motion films of Ladislaw Starevich are visual wonders. In this one from 1911, "The Ant and the Grasshopper," Starevich returns to that most basic -- but also infinitely adaptable -- narrative form, the fable. And though the lesson of the story is, admittedly, a bit harsh, we can surely learn something positive from Starevich's ingenuity.
What is to be made of the book trailer for Thomas Pynchon's dazzling new novel, Bleeding Edge (out September 17th -- reserve your copy today!)? Quirky on the same level as the book? Pynchon & co. trolling the very idea of a book trailer? Is it intentionally or unintentionally bad? Caught somewhere in between? Does it stumble on the sublime?
Like some of Pynchon's best work, joke and mystery are indistinguishable. You're either in on it or not.
We lost one of our great poetic voices this week when Seamus Heaney died following a short illness. Described by the poet Robert Lowell as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats," Heaney's profoundly deep and human reflections on life and memory spoke to -- and will continue speaking to -- untold numbers.
In honor and memory of Heaney, here are a few examples of him reading some of our favorites.
1) Sonnet 3, from Clearances (1986)
2) "Scaffolding," from Death of a Naturalist (1966)
I'm also quite fond of his lyrical reading of that most musical of his poems, "Deor," posted at Poets Out Loud.
William T. Vollmann, author of the recently re-released (and utterly fabulous!) An Afghanistan Picture Show, was interviewed on NPR last week. It is not to be missed. He discusses in particular his recent Harper’sarticle [subscription needed], in which he details what he learned when he gained access to his FBI file: e.g., that he was on different occasions suspected of being the Unabomber and/or anthrax mailer, and deemed to have in his possession a flamethrower. Needless to say, the interview is a doozy.
1) Oh, this is all sorts of fabulous: "In 1969 Norman Mailer ran for mayor of New York. He called for the
city’s secession from the State of New York to become the 51st state; a
ban on private cars in Manhattan; free public bicycles; devolution of
powers over policing, education, housing and welfare to neighbourhood
authorities; a casino on Coney Island or Roosevelt Island to generate
tax revenue; and something called ‘Sweet Sundays’, one day each month on
which all mechanical transportation, including lifts, would be banned.
His fliers were apocalyptic: NEW YORK GETS AN IMAGINATION – OR IT DIES!
His slogan was 'No More Bullshit.'" (For more, see the London Review of Books . . . )
3) Same story with this video of poet Neil Hilborn performing his poem "OCD." No matter your personal feelings about slam poetry, with four million views and counting Hilborn's description of falling in love and obsessive-compulsive disorder has rightfully captured our imagination and attention.
One of the masters of taut, economical storytelling, Leonard was also a master at crafting the perfect opening line. Alex Belth and his friends at The Stacks blog have a wonderful compilation of some of his greatest.
A few of my favorites from their list:
"The war began the first Saturday in June 1931, when Mr. Baylor sent a boy up to Son Martin's place to tell him they were coming to raid his still."—The Moonshine War (1969)
"This morning they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waiting patiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus."—Mr. Majestyk (1974)
"The gentleman from Harper's Weekly, who didn't know mesquite beans from goat shit, looked up from his reference collection of back issues and said, 'I've got it!'"—Gunsights (1979)
"Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something."—Bandits (1987)
"Chris Mankowski's last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb."—Freaky Deaky (1988)
"Foley had never seen a prison where you could walk right up to the fence without getting shot."—Out of Sight (1996)
We are celebrating April as National Poetry Month with this dedicated Poetry Newsletter and with our annual bookseller poetry videos. This month (and every month) please join us in celebrating the mysterious joy and elusive usefulness found in reading poetry.