WRB—Sept. 10, 2022
The Stillman interview, and other mixed media artists
Saturday, September 10, 2022, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States.
To do list:
Order a tote bag;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, now stored on this page for non-paying readers to access, either by placing or responding to one;
Online for The Point, Helena de Bres wonders if academic philosophy has any point at all: “It’s not always clear what the average person is after when seeking life guidance from philosophers, but it tends to be a mix of three things. First, some general orientation in the universe; second, a serving of existential consolation for when life fucks us over; and, more rarely, a dose of specific practical advice (to text back or not to text back?)”
The Donna Tartt novel that everyone likes (The Secret History, September 11, 1992) is 30 years old this weekend. Nick Burns, for The New Statesman, looks back: “The Secret History is not a novel of ideas—its primary interest is not in how charismatic professors engage in the trafficking of ideas, dangerous or otherwise, and how they can be put to good or bad use. It is rather a novel about the wonders and dangers of friendship. Morrow himself takes up relatively little space in the novel—if he approves of his students’ Dionysian explorations, he does nothing to prompt them, nor does he involve himself in the horrors that follow. The focus is rather on the group itself, and at first on the charming, intellectual companionship it provides.”
More from The New Statesman’s department of legacy consideration: Ryan Ruby writes about the long career of German writer Alexander Kluge: “It is tempting for Anglophone readers to think of Kluge’s information epic as a species of that creative non-fiction genre that is sometimes classified as unclassifiable, experimental or hybrid, but Kluge does not do so. In Russia Container, first published in German in 2020 and now available in English translation by Alexander Booth, he writes: ‘As to the question of why I don’t write novels, I reply: what I write are novels. Novels are, in principle, collections. Classical novels belong to a layer of the public realm, which turns them into “material” for the present.’”
Kluge is a writer who has done quite a bit with film. An example of the opposite: The Drift’s Rebecca Panovka interviewed Presbyterianism’s Whit Stillman ahead of some showing of his films up north next Saturday. “I wrote this novel after Last Days of Disco. They couldn’t get the novel out before the movie came out, and they thought a novel had to come out with a movie. Jonathan Galassi said we wouldn’t have time to do the novel before the movie comes out, so just take your time, do a literary novel, do the best you can and we’ll publish it.” [You can still get the unredacted text on Google cache.] [How was this version at all controversial? —Nic] She also plugged his Barcelona for The Paris Review’s Friday quick recommendation column last week. Chris has been trying to get his roommates to watch The Last Days of Disco for months, and it is not working.
More from the department of filmmakers-cum-novelists: Werner Herzog’s first novel (The Twilight World, June) is out (mentioned in WRB May 28, 2022), and Paul Franz, writing for The Nation, thinks he should have stuck to film: “We can regret that Herzog has not (yet) made Onoda’s story into the feature film for which The Twilight World at times feels like a treatment—or, better, the documentary that its narrative frame suggests it could have been.” Herzog’s birthday was on Monday.
[Confession: on Wednesday, I put a link to the Bookforum review of Rachel Aviv’s new book. But I like this one from Tablet more! (No disrespect to Ms. Shane, but I’m in the middle of a Janet Malcolm kick): “The strength of Janet Malcolm’s work was her ability to understand the pitfalls of Freudian psychiatry and the foibles of its adepts through a Freudian lens. By comparison, Aviv’s pragmatism seeks to dissolve the animating tension of her great predecessor’s approach by ignoring the existence of a reality beyond the shadows on the walls of one’s private cave.” We regret the error. —Chris]
In The New Criterion, John J. Miller uses a recent retrospective of Cézanne at the Art Institute of Chicago to explore his mysterious influence on Hemingway: “The question of Hemingway is peripheral to any serious discussion of Cézanne, who died in 1906, when Hemingway was seven years old. It may also be a wise dodge. Scholars who draw connections between Cézanne’s paintings and Hemingway’s prose risk stumbling into a bog of overinterpretation. More than a few have flopped into it. Yet the baffling fact remains: Hemingway, who was more than capable of ditching friends after they were no longer useful to him, on several occasions across decades paid gracious tribute to Cézanne.”
Andrew Kirtzman’s biography of the former mayor of New York City (Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America’s Mayor, September) is out next week. Christian Lorentzen reviews for the TLS: “With the smoke still rising from Ground Zero, Giuliani became the face of 9/11 Inc. You might say Osama bin Laden was the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Later this month, the National Building Museum will host a public lecture from some of the architects in charge of rebuilding Notre-Dame. Here’s an interesting article about part of the process from The Guardian.
Plough is looking for submissions.
And The Believer, back at McSweeney’s, is open for subscriptions.
The Nation has, among other things, set minimum rates for freelance work.
Which is good news, because working in publishing is miserable.
Department of Things Chris found on Substack:
September 13 | Soft Skull Press
by Elisa Gabbert
From the publisher: Known to be both “casually brilliant” (Sandra Newman) and a “ruthless self-examiner” (Sarah Manguso), acclaimed writer Elisa Gabbert brings her “questing, restless intelligence” (Kirkus Reviews) to a new collection of poetry.
By turns funny and chilling, these poems collect strange facts, interrogate language, and ask unanswerable questions that offer the pleasure of discovery on nearly every page: How does one suffer “gladly,” exactly? How bored are dogs? Which is more frightening, nothing or empty space? Was Wittgenstein sexy?
With her sharp observations building to extremely quotable one-liners, the poems in this collection are earwormy, ultra contemporary, essayistic, aphoristic, and philosophical—invitations to eavesdrop on a mind paying attention to itself. Normal Distance is a book about thinking and feeling, meaning and experience, trees and the weather, and the boredom and pain of living through time.
[The Poem in WRB June 29, 2022 was from this collection. I am pretty sure I stole it without realizing from Devin’s newsletter. To make up for this indiscretion, you all have to go subscribe. For more, see today’s Poem. —Chris]
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