WRB—May 20, 2023
“Keep everyone talking”
“Reciting poetry is against our agreement not to discuss God or science in the WRB.”
In The Point, Jessie Munton on motherhood and the Hegelian master-slave dialectic:
Newborns naturally “mouth” their hands when hungry, sucking on them and rubbing them over their mouths. In the very early days of his life, I struggled to prise my baby’s hands away from his mouth long enough to insert my breast in their place. The onanistic pleasure of his own fat fingers was guaranteed. What I could offer, though ultimately more sustaining, came at the price of a moment of vertigo, sitting with an absence and trusting that another body would fill it, an experience of vulnerability to another’s fickle willingness to satisfy his hunger. Safer for him to understand me instead, as far as possible, as an extension of his own self, to try to ignore the ways in which I was not under his control.
In Compact, Marcus Hijkoop on Emmanuel Carrère, writing about other people, and writing about yourself:
But in a 2016 interview, Carrère revealed he was blocked, unable to write—in part because he was troubled by having revealed these intimate details. “What’s difficult,” Carrère said, preferring to speak in impersonal terms, “is that when one writes about oneself, one is obligated to write about other people.” He recalled an interview he had read with Jacques Massu, a former French general accused of torture during the Algerian War. “In the interview, Massu said, of la gégène—torture with electric prods from a generator—‘Listen. Don’t exaggerate. The prods? I tried them on myself. It hurts, but not worse than that.’” Carrère commented: “What’s atrocious about torture is that someone else is afflicting you, and you don’t know when he will stop.”
Finally, then, for all its death-metal magic and hallucinogenic intensity, one has to return to Solenoid’s pervasive sentimental fondness. Even the most grotesque description in the novel is wrapped softly, swaddled in something like care. Cărtărescu is, more than anything perhaps, a nostalgist, with the indiscriminate and generous love a nostalgist has for anything vanishing, obsolete, decayed. Certainly for Bucharest above all else. But here the role of surrealism is an interesting, complicating factor. Surrealism in Cărtărescu enters into a mutually transformative relationship to nostalgia. The surreal, in its peculiar 21st-century obsolescence, opens up new horizons of things to care for, occult vulnerabilities, the palpitating agonized flesh inside the hard walls, all of it far from the antisentimental mode announced by Breton. And nostalgia, by being surrealized, loses its connotations of familiarity, comfort, retreat, and achieves something of the status of an adventure.
In BOMB,interviews Madeline Cash about her debut collection of short stories (Earth Angel, April):
Right, it's speculative. The uncanny valley. Could exist in our world but doesn’t. I’ll take an eerie reality—like AI or an Amazon listening device—and exaggerate it. (Couldn’t there be a marketing agency that rebrands terrorist organizations? An air freshener that profits off nostalgia?) While there are echoes of reality, everything in the book is fiction. Because everything is fiction, to some extent. Even this interview is fiction. Like, we had this conversation at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster but both respectively went in and tweaked the transcript, removed conversational mitigation and wine orders and chitchat, polished the surface.
While Anastase and Faustina meet secretly at Sunday Mass, and San Giacinto pursues Faustina with the directness of a man accustomed to achieving his goals, Prince Sant Ilario and his wife Corona are led by a series of small confusions and miscommunications into dangerous suspicion. They have wealth, honor, and beauty, but a rupture in their love for each other threatens body and soul. Only an act of heroic sacrifice can repair the wound.
In, André Forget reviews Karl Schlögel’s recently translated doorstop about the material culture of the Soviet Union (The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World, 2018, March): “In the introduction, Schlögel acknowledges acknowledges that his gallery of topics cannot achieve ‘encyclopedic completeness,’ and perhaps it would be uncharitable to condemn an 820-page book for what it doesn’t contain.” [No, get his ass. —Chris]
Likewise, in the poem, “S14E11: Guy Fieri’s Dive & Taco Joint, Kansas City,” Caine goes looking for Guy at his new restaurant but can never truly get close. Fieri seems to have left ages ago. All that remains is a picture of his face on a sign, and a note: “Guy was here.” Caine finally sits down to eat and his nachos are lukewarm. He leaves, unbeknownst to him, in the opposite direction of his car.
When we address the etymology of franchise—“to make free”—it denotes positivity and liberation. In Flavortown, this impression is turned on its head.
Two from the latest NYRB:
Kevin Power on Nicole Flattery’s forthcoming debut novel (Nothing Special, July) set in the heyday of Andy Warhol’s [In the news this week] Factory, “an environment that felt both futuristic and camp”:
In Flattery’s telling, a: a novel becomes a prototype of social media: endless unsorted disclosure, or apparently unsorted—in fact sorted by a hidden hand. A for Andy. A for algorithm. And to listen to the tapes, as Mae does, is to scroll: to eavesdrop on confessional monologues that have been coaxed out of strangers by a distant, perhaps cruel, certainly self-interested authority. As with Andy, Twitter’s only job is “to keep everyone talking.”
And Laura Kolbe on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s latest book of science writing, on the cell (The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human, 2022):
Whereas Scientific American, founded in 1845, focused on applied science’s gadgetry and news from the US Patents Office, Popular Science offered middle-class nonprofessionals distillations of Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Lyell, and others. With those missives from the scientific vanguard, subscribers were tacitly promised at least passive participation in mankind’s quasi-divine march toward a more humane, rational, successful, and peacefully organized future.
Readers could also be reassured that while the latest from natural selection theory, plate tectonics, or paleontology might seem like dramatic upheavals of the known world, these would drape gently over old schema, showing merely novel aspects of “the infinite wisdom of the Creator,” as Youmans put it elsewhere. The new wine would taste exciting. And the old bottles in which it was decanted would still be revered.
Online for The New Yorker, Kyle Chayka reviews a new history of the 1977 Apple II personal computer (The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal, May):
Nooney’s book tells the story of how computers became irrevocably personal, but what’s most striking, revisiting the history of the Apple II, i:s how much less personalizable our machines have become. Computers today, small enough to fit in the palms of our hands, require much less work on the part of the user. Apple’s iPhones all look more or less the same. Their cases are sealed; when they break or glitch, or when an upgrade is required, we tend to replace them outright and discard the old one. We control their superficial traits—choosing between rose-gold or alpine-green case covers—but make few decisions about how they function. Customizable computer towers, like the Mac Pro, are the domain of professionals and experts—a video editor who needs extra horsepower, for example. The rest of us just flip open our laptops and expect everything to run on its own.
Damage magazine is getting into print.
Dirt is getting into books.
Courtney Love: “The best books I’ve read in the past year are, firstly, Desperate Characters by my grandmother Paula Fox. We only met once and we didn’t get on. But I am writing my autobiography and got the urge to read her books at last. She is minimal, meticulous.”
Paul Dry Books is having a 35% off sale.
The Times is going in for “enhanced bylines.” That’s fine.
Beautiful sentence: “Kraft Heinz has announced the upcoming debut of the Heinz REMIX, a new digital sauce-dispensing machine capable of serving over 200 unique condiment combos.”
“As a rule, literary fiction doesn’t sell.” [Literary fiction is a very recent idea, and not one I think is going to catch on. —Steve]
May 23 | Belt Publishing
Midwest Pie: Recipes that Shaped a Region
edited by Meredith Pangrace, introduced by Phoebe Mogharei
From the publisher: New England may say it’s the “Great American Pie Belt,” but pie has a rich and varied history in the American Midwest too. Stop by any church or community event in the heartland today and you’re likely to see as many types of pie on the dessert table as there are people who made them.
Midwest Pie highlights the treats, both sweet and savory, that have come to define this region. Here, you’ll learn about bean pie’s origins in the Nation of Islam, the popularity of “desperation pies” during the Depression, how Michigan miners ate lunch “pasties” in the mines, and much more. Full of accessible instructions and helpful sidebars, you’ll learn the stories behind a variety of pies, including: Hoosier Pie, Schnitz Pie, Sawdust Pie, Ohio Buckeye Pie, and Runza.
Midwest Pie is the perfect collection for any home chef looking to learn more about the diversity and deliciousness of one of the region’s most enduring culinary contributions.