WRB—September 20, 2023
“I am like a porcupine”
Prince, thou art sad. Get thee a Managing Editor, get thee a Managing Editor.
In The Baffler, Adrian Nathan West on the “cocktail revolution”:
Then again, all subcultures are underexploited market opportunities, and it was inevitable that the cocktail revolution of the late 1990s and early 2000s would prove useful to restaurant groups and multinationals and wind up packaged for mass consumption. Obscure spirits people used to have to bring back from Europe or South America have now been sucked up by megaportfolios like Diageo and Pernod Ricard (who are currently developing an “authentic and deeply rooted” brand of sotol, a liquor from the desert spoon plant, with Lenny Kravitz); big name mixologists (a word coined in jest and now taken seriously) fly across the globe giving seminars and designing drink lists for major resorts. The nice thing is you can get a good drink almost anywhere. The bad thing is it’ll cost you fourteen bucks, plus tax, plus tip, on average, and the price doesn’t vary much from New York to Hamburg. (Apparently in Belgrade, which the New York Times has dubbed the “new cocktail capital of Europe,” you can find a decent tipple for seven euros, but expect that to go up, as it always does when the Gray Lady tips its readers off about the new place to be.)
[Until they start producing increasingly depraved cocktails involving Moxie, as I have, I say they’re all cowards. —Steve] [I will never forgive you for that miserable potion we tried. What’s wrong with vodka? —Chris]
In the Marginalia Review of Books, Neil Eisenberg and Ira D. Glick on Jewish chess players:
It is an absolute fact that many religious Jews excelled at chess and many were aptly described as chess geniuses. For example, Sammy Reshevsky, the American chess champion in 1949, attended a sermon by Rebbe Menachem Mendel Scheerson who described chess as follows: “The king is the most valuable piece on the chessboard. . . . the same thing is true of all created reality. The king represents the king of the universe.” But whether or not the Jewish faith has inspired Jewish chess masters is a topic yet to be explored in depth by religious scholars and beyond our present aims. While it is true that, as Dr. Glick has pointed out, playing chess is good for mental health, when it comes to matters of faith, perhaps it can suffice to speculate that when Sammy Reshevsky and a multitude of other Jewish chess champions watched their opponents make a fatal mistake on the chess board, they muttered under their breath, “Thank God.”
In The Yale Review, Sanjena Sathian on the rise of fiction about the choice to have children:
Last year, a twenty-something meddling desi-auntie in training shouted at me—actually shouted!—when she learned that I did not plan on having children. She objected not on political grounds, but imaginative ones: What, she demanded, would a life without kids look like? What satisfactions could lie on the other side of such a choice? As Rebecca Solnit writes in her Harper’s essay about choosing not to bear children, “The Mother of All Questions”: “The problem may be a literary one: we are given a single story line about what makes a good life.” It is these missing story lines that choice plot number three takes up—the one about people deciding not to have children, now or ever. These choice plots do not perform public relations on behalf of confidently childless women; rather, they depict women trapped within that single storyline, who are trying to author an alternative. Heti writes in Motherhood that “What holds me back is my actual freedom—my reluctance before the void. Reluctant to make my own meanings, in case I make them up badly.” This choice plot is an endless iteration of those possible meanings, depicting characters attempting, and often failing, to make their own meanings within what has long been considered a societal void: a childless woman’s life.
[I’ve said it before, but Motherhood (2018) is really a masterpiece, something that sticks with you. Passage: “You are not someone who could steer the ship of a house and a marriage and children, the way that Nicola can. Look at her life like a beautiful ocean liner, a grand old steam liner passing by—see that life as it waves at you from the deck. Those promises and pleasures were never meant to be yours. You had a great time imagining they could be, working yourself up into a real lather: Should I? Should I? Should I choose it? Should I? But the real question is, Could you? No, you could not. It was just a fantasy, and the most common one in the world.” —Chris]
I’m not interested in the novel as a didactic or moralizing tool in any straightforward way—the politics of a novel aren’t necessarily coterminous with the narrator’s, or any other character’s, attitudes or views. Sometimes they emerge partially, with or against these characters, but usually they come out in a much more complex relation, through a novel’s representation of contradictory impulses, imperfections—in short, its representation of life—through its play with and destabilizing of language and form. In the novel, I paraphrase Barbara Guest writing something like “reading is not the equivalent of explanation.” More recently, Anne Boyer has written that she is interested in “poetry as a vehicle of social antagonism.” She writes, “I want it to be, in the very best and noblest sense of the word, evil. Or at least I never want it to be what is considered in this miserable and greedy era good.”
In The New Criterion, Timothy Jacobson on “the forgotten magazine of travel writing,” TRIPS:
And in the first issue of TRIPS, Black once again showed how it was done. The cover, illustrated by the Mexican caricaturist Abel Quezada (who also contributed a humorous graphic about Oakland, reading: “In San Francisco you’re a tourist, but cross the bridge to Oakland and you’re an explorer!”), telegraphed the tone of the magazine’s content without literally illustrating any of it. Like good covers everywhere, it was arresting enough to make you pick it up off the newsstand or look twice when it came in the mail. Quezada’s scene is framed within a circle, its subjects in soft focus, as if we were looking through a spyglass. Through that spyglass, we see a beach with a man playing a grand piano, another astride an elephant, a native woman perched demurely on a settee, an ocean liner on the horizon, a periscope protruding from the deep, and, in the foreground, a quizzical looking traveler clad in a beret and a suit jacket complete with a pocket square (not exactly the kind of fashion Banana Republic peddled in their stores). And, of course, there are palm trees. With decorative art and illustration, hand-colored photography, clever maps, and classy typography, Black managed the trick of making a magazine fairly stuffed with content feel positively breezy.
In Harper’s, Tobi Haslett reviews several books by Annie Ernaux:
Ernaux could call her oeuvre the Splitting of Everyday Life (though she winces at the word oeuvre). Each book is a brittle exercise in auto-vivisection. Shocking self-indulgence sits cheek by jowl with self-denial. Obliterating passion is viewed at a calm remove. She makes a harrowing display of cutting through layers of the ego—but the prose is a planar surface, such that even her jerks and stutters arrive at a curious fluency. Reeling from a girlhood stalked by the image of the bourgeois good life, she becomes a meta- or master-spectator, swiveling vigorously, compulsively, to get a look at her own looking—but she only catches flashes. This is a pointillist subjectivity, a psyche playing arpeggios. As she writes in A Girl’s Story, “She has no defined self, but ‘selves’ who pass from one book to another”—a sentence saved from po-mo dazzlement by the coolness of that “she.”
[We previously linked to a review of Ernaux’s latest in WRB—September 9, 2023.] [Cf. My comment on Ernaux from Critical Notes back in June: “This is the quality I found impressive about Simple Passion and The Possession as well: capturing the paranoid turns of your mind as it is being driven mad by love is actually quite difficult—if you’ve ever tried to pay attention to yourself when that’s happening, it’s something like watching light play on moving water. You get very close to a totally different experience of self-consciousness.” —Chris]
[Behind the paywall: Julia on Larry Levis and a poem dedicated to him [Julia’s notes this morning are very good. —Chris], Steve on a line of a chant from a nomadic clan in Borneo, Chris on Heinrich von Kleist, an Upcoming book with an absolutely wild cover, and the usual curated selection of links, reviews, and commentary. If you’re not a paid subscriber, why not sign up? It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it helps us push back the forces of barbarism and philistinism. What’s better than that?]
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