Archives: September 2014

Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel
Thomas Pynchon

The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is out. Featuring Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello and Josh Brolin as Bigfoot Bjornsen, it comes out in the UK on 30 January 2015 (according to IMDb). In case you haven’t read the book, this is from the New York Times:

Like the novel, the film is set in 1970 in the fictional Gordita Beach, Calif., among paranoid burnouts, white-supremacist bikers, black-power ex-cons, and hippies turned toothless heroin addicts. The “gum-sandal” detective Doc Sportello (a mutton-chopped, mumbly Mr. Phoenix) begins investigating a mystery at the behest of his free-spirited ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) and to the consternation of the corrupt cop Bigfoot Bjornsen, played by Mr. Brolin with a “flattop of Flintstone proportions,” as a character says in the film, and a malicious “twinkle in his eye that says ‘civil rights violations.’ ”

Along the way, Doc uncovers a conspiracy that touches the shady land developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) and a surf-rock saxophonist named Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson), both of whom may either be dead or alive. Looming over them all is the specter of the Golden Fang, which may be a boat, an Indochinese heroin cartel, a rehab center, a syndicate of dentists — or something even more vast.

Watch the trailer here.

Nobody’s Protest Novel

A critical perspective on Tao Lin's literary career thus far
Tao Lin

This is quite possibly the most in-depth critical analysis of Tao Lin’s work that exists. Written by Frank Guan for n+1‘s latest issue, it covers everything he’s ever written. Also, typically for an n+1 essay, it blends memoir with criticism:

Under pal, fluorescent lighting, I encountered “Tao Lin” for the first time in the computer lab of Potter Hall, the dormitory I was registered to live in for my senior year of college in Northern California, lasting from September 2008 to June 2009. I can’t be more precise than that about the time: it wasn’t an especially profound engagement, and the lab, unscheduled, open all the time to anyone who had a key, seemed as immemorial as the climate outside, just past the windows, not to mention I was reading an ephemeral source of news.

The Gawker article was half bemused and half dismissive; it was probably the one by Moe Tkacik posted on August 22, 2008, but read sometime later than that date. The point was that I learned of the existence of Tao Lin, a novelist selling shares of his not yet published—Gawker claimed it hadn’t yet been written—novel. I thought something neutrally along the lines of “Asian” and “Andy Warhol,” and didn’t hear or think about him for about the next five years.

It was a strange last year of school, a period of partial disembodiment and general, even multitracked, confusion; I spent most of my time on or near a futon in a graduate housing residence where my friend Ben Wang, pursuing a master’s in chemical engineering, and his girlfriend, Mariko Kotani, occupied a bedroom. I had known them since our freshman year, but they had graduated on time. Helplessly grateful for their hospitality, I failed to say so to them as often as I should have. I just hoped they understood, silently. Ben lent me his old laptop, a Dell, I think; I used it to watch Koreans expend enormous energies playing, live, professionally, and on competing teams, a real-time strategy computer game called Starcraft: Brood War. I also played Civilization III and, when Ben and Mariko were awake and interested, the World Tour version of Guitar Hero. I was in some classes, but none of the reading material, aside fromFrankenstein and certain lines by several marginal Victorian poets (“So far between my pleasures are and few”), was especially memorable.

Given my time at college, grad school seemed preposterous. The job market for my kind was laughable. In every way, I was exhausted. New York, perhaps? But media sometimes have overarching messages, and Gawker’s seemed to be, Don’t go to New York, ever; to hold out hope, I creatively misread this as, Don’t go to New York with nothing. I decided to finish my translations into English of a notorious French poet, then go to New York, where I would, “somehow,” I thought, get them published.

And I went home to my family’s countryside estate. It was almost like an old Eurasian novel—except by “countryside estate” I mean the cheapest house in the “estates” section of a subdivision of a white-flight suburb roughly fifteen miles northeast of Louisville, a house whose installments the family had only just paid off, its first one ever in America. Still, why not treat it like a novel, if only, like The Idiot, to skip time without explaining? Three years passed; I flew from Louisville to LaGuardia, with a changeover at Baltimore, in August 2012; if the Baudelaire had been published, don’t you think that I’d be telling you about it?

I met Tao Lin in person this past summer at a spacious Dumbo bookstore called the Powerhouse Arena, where an event to celebrate the launch of his new novel was being held. I hadn’t come because I’d heard more about him. A close friend of a new friend (they had both been interns at the same publishing house) of a friend (they had both attended Yale) had become an editor, edited Taipei: it was his event, his victory as well. I debated buying a copy and decided, curiously, that I would. When I offered Tao a black ballpoint pen to sign, he held up, in a wordless and, I thought, amusing way, the black marker he’d been using.

Five days later I referred to myself, in an email to a friend, as being “absurdly grateful” for the book. I told her that I planned to write about it. I typed that I was absolutely sure that no one could explain Taipei more thoroughly than me. The book possessed a firm and eerie tone, a tone predicated on a lucid knowledge of the difficulty of its own transmission, and there was warmth to it as well, albeit tenuous—warmth engaged in a quiet, violent struggle to emerge from lukewarmth. The book was difficult—not ostentatiously so, but in a necessary manner: it was, unmistakably, I felt, created by a human being not because he could afford to show it off to others, but because, in relation to himself, he couldn’t afford not to comprehend or to express: powerfully, elaborately, and succinctly, without vanity or malice, it said the things he had to, and it left.

The Fringe of Reality

A manifesto for post-exoticism by Antoine Volodine
The Fringe of Reality

Over at The White Review, Antoine Volodine’s (fictional?) manifesto for post-exoticism, a literary movement regrouping the author’s many pseudonyms, is worth a read. Volodine, who has written works of fiction under at least four different names including Lutz Bassmann, Manuela Draeger, and his own, defines post-exoticism as ‘an imaginary literature from elsewhere and headed elsewhere, a literature that insists upon its status as strange and estranged, that insists upon its singularity and refuses all affiliations to any specific and clearly identifiable national literature’. Volodine’s latest novel, Terminus Radieux, is on the longlist for the the Femina, Médicis and Académie française prizes.

The word itself was coined in 1990, after I’d already published four novels at Éditions Denoël and as Éditions de Minuit was getting ready to publish lisbon, last edge. It was coined as a joke, without much thought for the pros and cons of the phrase. At first, it was indeed a teasing joke. It was first and foremost a way to answer the question – ‘Where do you belong?’ – that a reporter from the nouvel observateur had just asked me. I thought it obscene the way he was interrogating me. It really did seem to be his own job to figure that out. But at the same time, I definitely knew where I didn’t belong, and I suspected that it was important to declare this difference. So I answered. I explained that my books were outside the conventional categories of existing literature. That they belonged to a trend of literary expression that critics hadn’t really identified just yet. They claimed a marginality, a distance from official centres, norms, styles, a distance from metropolises and dominant cultures, but without claiming a particular identity, without claiming to speak on behalf of a downtrodden minority or a particular national minority. ‘Where do you belong?’ I belong where I write. We belong where we’ve constructed a universe of texts, words, rebellions, images, and fictions. We’re outside. Consciously, completely, and confidently outside. That needs to be said.

The phrase ‘post-exoticism’ was empty. Fundamentally, it didn’t mean anything. We’ve taken control of it, we’ve appropriated it, occupied it, inhabited it, we’ve fashioned it so that it fits us perfectly. Eight years later, a slim book came out from Éditions Gallimard: post-exoticism in ten lessons, lesson eleven. Despite its title, this book isn’t an essay, but a fiction, a pure fiction that dramatises several authors in our community, lets them speak, and shows how post-exoticism is a collective novelistic project, a project that exists in the mistrust and disharmony with the external world, with all the official national literatures, and especially with the real world. The book describes in detail the closed and totalitarian system of post-exotic creation. But what interests us most of all is that it definitively answers the question ‘Where do you belong?’ which had been unclear for a long while. The answer is a place: we’re in prisons, in camps, in maximum-security wings where society isolates its most dangerous criminals. We’re physically imprisoned by walls and psychically imprisoned by insanity, by permanence, and by sensory deprivation. There – in that penal universe at once fictional and absolutely tangible – novelistic works are made that you can now find in bookstores or libraries, bearing the more or less relevant names of Lutz Bassmann, Manuela Draeger, Elli Kronauer, Yasar Tarchalski, or Antoine Volodine. There, the voices of post-exotic authors, narrators, and overnarrators intertwine and self-propagate. All are inmates. Their creative freedom is vast. Their words explore the boundless landscapes of the imagination. But none of them is free.

Often I’m asked to define post-exoticism in a short phrase. They ask me to say everything in a single sentence. I’m happy to answer, but the words change depending on my mood and on the circumstances. In any case, I’m going to give you a few of these little overarching definitions. They’re worth what they’re worth, but at least they have the merit of expanding the scope. And, taken together, they broaden the definition.

So what is post-exoticism?
- A literature of elsewhere, from elsewhere, headed elsewhere.
- An international, cosmopolitan literature with memories rooted deeply in the tragedies of the twentieth century: the wars, revolutions, genocides, and defeats of the twentieth century.
- A foreign literature written in French.
- A literature that thoroughly mixes dreams and politics.
- A trash literature, completely broken from official literature.
- A penal literature of rumination, of mental deviance, and of failure.
- A novelistic project that has something to do with shamanism, with a Bolshevist variant of shamanism.

The Troll Slayer

A profile of Mary Beard in the New Yorker
Mary Beard

Earlier this month in the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead painted a portrait of Mary Beard as slayer of online (and print, eg. AA Gill) trolls. A good, entertaining piece on an important British public figure:

The targeting of Beard is hardly a singular instance of online misogyny, and she is quick to note that there are differences of degree. A comment about one’s teeth is rude; a rape threat is criminal. After Caroline Criado-Perez, a thirty-year-old activist, launched a campaign last spring to have an accomplished woman represented on the British ten-pound note, she was subjected to multiple threats of rape and murder via Twitter. (Her effort succeeded nonetheless: Jane Austen will soon appear on the currency.) Stella Creasy, a Member of Parliament, received similar threats after expressing support for Criado-Perez. Last summer, Caitlin Moran, the newspaper columnist, mobilized a day of “Twitter silence” to protest the site’s slow response to threats of violence against women; Beard intended to participate, but broke her silence when she received a tweeted bomb threat, which she reported to the police as well as to her followers. When the hour of the threatened explosion had passed, she tweeted, with sang-froid, “We are still here. So unless the trolling bomber’s timekeeping is rotten . . . all is well.”

In another highly publicized incident, Beard retweeted a message that she had received from a twenty-year-old university student: “You filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting.” One of Beard’s followers offered to inform the student’s mother of his online behavior; meanwhile, he apologized. Beard’s object is not simply to embarrass offenders; it is to educate women. Before social media, she argues, it was possible for young women like those she teaches at Cambridge to enjoy the benefits of feminist advances without even being aware of the battles fought on their behalf, and to imagine that such attitudes are a thing of the past. Beard says, “Most of my students would have denied, I think, that there was still a major current of misogyny in Western culture.”

Beard’s zest for the online fray seems indefatigable. If there is a newspaper comments section excoriating her, readers may be surprised to come across comments from Beard, defending herself. If there is a thread praising her on Mumsnet, a popular British site for parents, she may pop up there, too, thanking her admirers. When she feels that she has been misrepresented in a newspaper article, she takes to her blog to explain herself further. If she gets into a Twitter spat, it is likely to be reported on by the British press, to whom she will give a salty, winning quote. When asked by the BBC what she would say to her university-student troll, she replied, “I’d take him out for a drink and smack his bottom.”

Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets

A short story by Zadie Smith
Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets

Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Paris Review, this short story by Zadie Smith has just been re-published by the Daily Telegraph (since when do they publish fiction?), seemingly because it’s on the shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award. Here’s the beginning:

Oscar Murillo and the ‘current state of the art world’

In New York Magazine
Oscar Murillo

Apparently art collectors ‘have come to understand Murillo as a new Basquiat’. After all, he is ‘black, ambitious, and engaged with both art history and graffiti’ — and ‘he even shared a hairstyle with the late artist’. Nonetheless, this is an interesting piece on the ‘current state of the art world’, and how collectors are skewing the process by which an artist might be elevated to ‘greatness’:

The 28-year-old Colombian-born art­ist Oscar Murillo has had a very good couple of years and has paid for it with a very bad couple of months. Until April, when he installed an elaborate chocolate factory inside one of blue-chip David Zwirner’s big-box spaces in Chelsea, he’d never had a solo show in New York. And yet astronomical sales of his scribbly, urgent, and defiantly un-precious paintings—which he makes using a broomstick and sometimes stitches together from multiple canvases, often feature “dirt” among their listed materials, and are tagged with large enigmatic words (YOGA, CHORIZO, MILK)—had made him perhaps the most talked-about young artist in the world.

Back in September, a Murillo that had been bought for $7,000 in 2011 was auctioned for $401,000 at Phillips; in February, a three-year-old painting, with BURRITO written on it, sold for $322,000 at Christie’s, and the prices of stacks of his other works had soared, too, appreciating by as much as 3,000 percent in just two years. It may seem crass to describe the arrival of a new painter by tracing the trajectory of his sales (not to mention none of that resale loot went to the artist but to those who had bought his work when it was cheap). And yet his story is impossible to tell otherwise; even the critical backlash is driven less by skepticism about his paintings (which many haven’t had the opportunity to see in person) than by a general anxiety about what fast money is doing to the art world and to those non-financiers who used to curate and adjudicate it. As the art adviser Allan Schwartzman predicted about Murillo earlier this year, “Almost any artist who gets that much attention so early on in his career is destined for failure.”

 

 

John Jeremiah Sullivan on Donald Antrim

A profile in the New York Times magazine
21antrim1-master675

One of the best essayists we have on one of the best writers of fiction we have in the New York Times Magazine:

Of the qualities that set Antrim apart from the group of writers he’s often casually lumped in with or excluded from — the Eugenides-­Franzen-Lethem-Means-Saunders-Wallace cluster of cerebral, white-male, Northern fiction makers born around 1960 — it may be this predilection for characters “not necessarily redeemed” that offers the neatest distinction. It’s not that those other writers don’t ever do evil characters or antiheroes or that they all write tidy, hopeful plots. It’s not even that Antrim’s­ characters are beyond the pale in their badness, in a Cormac McCarthy manner — they aren’t psychopathic (except insofar as being human may involve being a little bit psychopathic). It’s more the case that Antrim’s fictional universe is different. It doesn’t bend toward justice, not even the kind that knows there is none but sort of hopes art can provide absolution. His universe bends — it is defi­nitely bent — but always toward greater absurdity (in both funny and frightening guises).

Some critics have lamented over the years that his characters don’t really “change,” but they do; it’s just that they devolve, they go mad. Mr. Robinson, man and book, certainly does, in a closing passage that is both unprintable by this magazine and unwritable by any other novelist I’ve heard of, except maybe the Mississippi writer Barry Hannah in his early-1980s “Ray” period. That echo calls to mind another thing dividing Antrim from his better-known peers, that he doesn’t really come from the North, despite having made his whole career there, living in Brooklyn in a small apartment he calls “a good place to be for now for 22 years,” where he reportedly gives unforget­table dinner parties (great cooking, great stereo) throughout which everyone sits on the floor. He works in a spartan room with a plain, black desk and shelves of books, papers on the wall and a two-volume O.E.D. (the pretty one, with the little drawer for the magnifying glass).

The Gravity of Circumstances by Marianne Fritz

Translated by Adrian West
Naturgemäß III

Asymptote features an extract from Adrian West’s translation of Marianne Fritz’s The Gravity of Circumstances, ‘a slim novelette about a woman impregnated during the Second World War by a music teacher who would be drafted and later die in battle’, published in 1978. As West explains in a critical essay accompanying his translation, Fritz is an important and controversial literary figure:

[Her] work is barely known outside her small circle of admirers. Praise, though scant, is neither tepid nor inconsiderable: from 1978, when she received the inaugural Robert Walser Prize for the unpublished manuscript of her first novel, to her winning the highly prestigious Franz Kafka Prize in 2001, her writing was repeatedly honored with awards and stipends. On Naturgemäß, Fritz’s unfinished magnum opus, Elfriede Jelinek commented, “It is a singular work, before which one can do nothing but stand, like a devout Muslim before the Ka’aba.” W.G. Sebald, meanwhile, dedicated to her a section of the late poem “In Alfernée.” Here the image of Fritz working through her exhaustion, “one hand on the keys of her machine,” recalls the passage in The Rings of Saturn on the melancholy of scholars and weavers, “harnessed to the machines we have created.”

A contrasting view was held by Thomas Bernhard, who addressed his esteemed publisher, Siegfried Unseld, with characteristic charm in 1986:

Before my departure I have had another glance at your recent publishing catastrophe: the 3,000 pages you have had printed and allowed to appear are the greatest embarrassment I have been acquainted with to this day. To print and bind over 3,000 pages of mindless proletarian trash with all the bombast of a centenary event belongs, quite frankly, in the record books: as a world record of stupidity. I am not speaking so much of the begetter of this idiocy, rather of the fact that the publisher has handicapped himself by releasing this fatuous vulgarity.

The extract is worth a read:

“… I WAS JUST DREAMING.”

Rudolf hung on the cross. Around him stood scattered groups of people, all of whom contemplated him with deprecating gazes. “Where’s my mother?” Rudolf cried down from the cross.

“Your mother is in her grave,” a faceless voice answered him from within the group of people, and Berta became conscious of herself, lying beneath the earth a few meters from the cross. She tried to dislodge the coffin lid and cry out with the force of her love:

“Rudolf! I’m still alive! I’m coming! Wait for me! Be patient! I’ll get you down from there! Rudolf!” The dreaming Berta observed the other Berta, as powerless, as voiceless as a corpse in her futile struggle.

“Where’s my mother?” Rudolf cried a second time and looked down onto the nearby hillock where there was no cross and no flowers, only shoveled-up earth, as on a molehill. A faceless figure, a torso on two legs, pulled away from the group and said: “There she lies. Let her rest. It will be over soon. You will understand when the sun has reached its zenith.”

 

 

Tao Lin interviews Ben Lerner

In the Believer's September 2014 issue
Author Ben Lerner visits the the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Apparently Tao Lin first interviewed Ben Lerner for The Believer ‘three years and 10 days ago, although it seems less to [him].’ Only Tao Lin would then ask Ben Lerner if it feels the same to him, but his answer is interesting: ‘It seems shorter to me, too. But that might be because writing 10:04 confused my sense of time—I’ve been building a fiction in part around the Marfa poem since my brief residency there, which has kept it from receding into the past.’

And that’s pretty much how the whole interview goes: kooky/non-question from Tao Lin, insightful answer from Ben Lerner. There are some exceptions, including this interesting passage on autofiction:

BLVR: When you’re having the experiences that end up in your fiction or your poetry are you aware they might end up as literature? Like are you thinking “this is going in a book,” or do you try to oppose that tendency, saying “no, I’m going to experience this as if ‘writing’ didn’t exist to me” and then, as needed, recall the experience only in retrospect, as you’re writing?

BL: I’ve always wondered about that. Henry James claim that if you want to be a novelist you should be somebody on whom nothing is lost. The problem is that if you’re self-conscious about being a person on whom nothing is lost, isn’t something lost—some kind of presence? You’re distracted by trying to be totally, perfectly impressionable. I guess when I’m frightened or in pain or maybe very bored I’ve tried to hold myself together by imposing a narrative order on the experience as it happens. I don’t think “I’m going to publish this as fiction” but I think “I’m going to tell this story to a friend” and then I start telling the story in my mind as the experience transpires as a way of pretending it’s already happened. Does everybody do this? I’ve always assumed this is a common human defense mechanism. Regardless, this is the opposite of James’ dictum, right? Because I’m trying to be somebody on whom the experience is lost by supplanting it with its telling. I definitely do that in medical contexts, even in trivial ones.

 

Interview with Jill Schoolman, founder of Archipelago Books

From BOMB Magazine
jill-schoolman

Jill Schoolman founded Archipelago Books ten years ago. She’s published Knausgaard, Cărtărescu, Khoury, Duras, Mukasonga and Tsvetaeva, among others. In this BOMB Magazine interview with Bibi Deitz, she talks about the importance of literary translation:

BD It’s vital to read literature from around the world. For those of us striving to find more international literature, which books would you recommend or deem unmissable?

JS Oh, there are so so many books that I feel close to. For starters, the novels by Céline and Ondaatje and Krasznahorkai and Nabokov, Hrabal, Rulfo, Elias Khoury and Magdalena Tulli; and stories by Jergović, Gombrowicz, Cortázar, Calvino, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, and Borges. Héctor Abad’s Oblivion, Breytenbach’s A Season in Paradise, Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, and Antonio Tabucchi and Josep Pla; the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, José Ángel Valente, Nichita Stănescu, Ingeborg Bachmann, Różewicz, Césaire, Soyinka, Leopardi. More and more I am drawn to books that defy genre, like Ivan Vladislavić’s Portrait with Keys or Railtracks by John Berger and Anne Michaels.

 

Fitz Carraldo Editions