WRB—September 6, 2023
Big shimmery pop perfection
Part of the test of a Managing Editor shall be the absence in him of the idea of the covert, the lurid, the maleficent, the devil, the grim estimates inherited from the Puritans, hell, natural depravity, and the like. The Managing Editor will be known, among the rest, by his cheerful simplicity, his adherence to natural standards, his limitless faith in God, his reverence, and by the absence in him of doubt, ennui, burlesque, persiflage, or any strain’d and temporary fashion.
In today’s edition:
(working backwards from the bottom):
Geography…Taylor Swift…depression…ice cream…dinner parties…St. John of the Cross…Eastern Europe…the French Riviera…fanfiction…egg yolks…
In Eater, Marian Bull on the history of America’s relationship with egg yolks and their color:
Egg carton marketing, which is at best opaque and at worst a pernicious lie, would have us believe that the hens who imparted these eggs to the bourgeois grocery shopping class are twirling through pastoral fields like Maria in The Sound of Music. The yolk is the purest representation of this dream, a bright orange ball of flavor and “good” fat that dazzles the eye, fills the belly, and soothes the conscience. Earlier this year the high-end egg purveyor Vital Farms launched an ad campaign in which couples propose to each other not with diamonds, but Vital Farms eggs. Inside these shells, if you follow this swell of marketing logic, lies not just the secret to happiness and virtue, but life itself. The state of the yolk today tells us more about ourselves and our desires than it does about the egg that laid it.
In the LARB, Remo Verdickt and Emiel Roothooft interview Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o:
I suppose that when you write in English, you write for personal salvation. Joseph Conrad was Polish, but he learned English at the age of 19 and produced an incredible body of work in that language. That was a personal thing in the sense that he found writerly fulfillment or whatever, but he did not contribute to Polish literature. The same goes for writers like Chinua Achebe and myself. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) is a brilliant novel—in English, but it did nothing, absolutely nothing, for Ibo literature. The same in the case of James Joyce and many Irish writers, as Irish, too, was systematically destroyed by the English colonials. James Joyce, in fact, is very cognizant in his writings about the language question, but still he wrote in English. The same applies for my own early novels [written in English]—Weep Not, Child (1964), The River Between (1965), A Grain of Wheat (1967), and Petals of Blood (1977). I’m glad I wrote them, but I’m happier having written my later novels in Gĩkũyũ.
In n+1, Olivia Kan-Sperling on fanfiction, pop literature, and their relation to trends towards such things as “autofiction” and “naturalism”:
It’s much rarer to find fanfiction in formal publishing economies, with book tours and publicists, bucket hats and coffee carts: fanfiction might be sub-, but it isn’t countercultural (it’s very, very pro-). A lot of literary fiction, conversely, might be called a-cultural. It’s not only that litfic writers don’t build on the work of other artists, even their characters barely respond to culture at all. Unlike a Flaubert (Emma Bovary is a kind of proto-Y/N) or a Proust, few contemporary, mainstream Anglophone novelists treat cultural or intellectual experiences as compelling sources of emotional complexity, despite the uptick in “writing-on-writing” occasioned by some autofiction (Timothy Bewes’s Free Indirect: The Novel in the Post-Fictional Age explores the implications of these metafictional moments). Litfic’s beautiful world is populated by normal people having conversations with their friends about the safely, universally “relatable,” obviously “natural” experiences of dating, divorcing, and maybe parenting.
[One could say that the novel is an art form perfectly designed to depict the manners and habits of the bourgeoisie at the time of writing. One might then recall that, as Kan-Sperling says, the characters in many contemporary novels “barely respond to culture at all”. The remainder of the proof is left as an exercise for the reader. —Steve]
In TNR, Laura Marsh reviews the book Naomi Klein wrote on repeatedly being confused with Naomi Wolf and the political realignments caused by the pandemic (Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, September 12):
The focus of Doppelganger is not an individual but, as in the expansive visions of Klein’s other books, a system that fractures society and drives people apart. This framing is the least unkind and least self-obsessed way possible to approach a book about seeing a portion of your public persona swept away in someone else’s career maelstrom. And yet it’s hard to imagine this work without the bizarrely distinctive figure of Naomi Wolf at the center of it: not only because of the perverse flair she has shown for invention and self-reinvention, but because we see her here at a moment of transformation that is now almost complete, and will be crucial to understanding where the politics she represents are heading. She is no longer really a warped reflection of the liberal media or its values, and, as the diagonalist formation solidifies, she is less obviously a double of Naomi Klein or anyone else. I would be surprised if anyone mistakes one for the other in future.
[I quite liked the review-cum-profile in the Times as well. —Steve]
In the Times, Liesl Schillinger reviews a history of the French Riviera by Jonathan Miles (The Once Upon a Time World: The Dark and Sparkling Story of the French Riviera, September 5):
But even in those early days — before there even was a Monte Carlo, let alone a casino — the area abounded with scoundrels poised to prey upon wealthy newcomers. In 1810, for example, the ailing Marchioness of Bute obtained permission to travel through the South of France. While her carriage ascended a path in the hills near Menton, a gang of bandits attacked and made off with her diamonds and a bottle of what they presumed to be fine liqueur. Glugging it down, they fell asleep by the roadside and were “quickly apprehended,” Miles writes. The bottle had contained an opium-laced sleeping potion.
Many of the highwaymen turned out to be connected to the noble families of Nice. Until they were caught, they had put local authorities off the scent by inviting them to opulent dinners following each crime spree.
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