Category: Paris Review

I Love You So Much I Would Drink Your Blood

Charlie Fox for the Paris Review
Jim Goldberg - Megan

Charlie Fox looks at Jim Goldberg’s book Raised by Wolves for the Paris Review:

Friday?
Dad,
I’m really sorry about
losing control of myself
+ hurting you (+ the, “ahem”,
bathroom mirror).
I know + understand
that talk doesn’t mean a
damn thing to you by
now. (Especially from my mouth.) …

Some facts before things get messy. This unattributed note—handwritten as neatly as one’s science homework, its margin decorated with a ghostly heart—appears in Jim Goldberg’s mammoth book of photographs Raised by Wolves (1995), juxtaposed with a fuzzy snap of a scarecrow-like boy tilting forward as if hit by a windstorm. I think that boy is Tweeky Dave, a cadaverous teenage drug addict who died from liver disease circa 1993; he was, for a few years before his death, something of a celebrity urchin on the Los Angeles streets he used to haunt in search of opiates. He’s also the hero of Goldberg’s epic book, which chronicles the lives of various homeless kids in LA and its environs (shout-out to Echo, Marcos with the wonky eye, Wolfette, Vampchild—“this cute boy who says he’s a real vampire”—and Blade) and comes stuffed with transcripts of their conversations, faxes from Social Services, Polaroids, and other grungy ephemera testifying to the decade Goldberg spent shadowing his subjects. Tracking them through the book—on drugs, out of school, and running away from ogreish parents—also means confronting some of the gnarliest fallout from the Reagan-Bush years: the rapacious mutilation of education programs and social services, not to mention the, ahem, decline of the “family values” they claimed to protect. Tweeky Dave is just the most wretched embodiment of the trouble all those acts can cause. 

“I’m really sorry about losing control of myself … ” Raised by Wolves is about what happens when the self gets lost amid all the drugs and dereliction as economics turn savage and parents disappear. Meanwhile, the kids are too spaced out to know what day it is.

Before Dave died, he liked to call Jim Goldberg “Dad,” too. Check that picture of a scar snaking up Dave’s stomach and it’s obvious that his real father, “a biker from hell,” shot him …

Or maybe he stabbed him?

Maybe he did neither: it depends how much you believe the stories coming from that junkie mouth, which, as Dave acknowledges, is famous for telling tall tales. Three hundred pages later, he’s on his deathbed playfully telling “Dad” to invite James Brown, “Trent from Nine Inch Nails,” Stephen King, and “Cher (what the fuck)” to his funeral. This sad event happens on a sunny day outside a Salvation Army Youth Center. Cher doesn’t make it. At its conclusion, the kids release balloons into the sky.

*

The, uh, “establishing shot” that opens the book shows a handsome pinewood house, hazy, shrouded by flowers, sleepy trees, and seen through some creep’s binoculars. When we talk on the phone, Goldberg tells me he was thinking about Buffalo Bill in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the toad-voiced sociopath who abducts and kills innocent women after tracking their movements through his night-vision goggles. Lycanthropic vibes: we could be experiencing the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf lurking outside the house of a succulent little pig. There’s something storybook-like, upstate idyllic, about the picture, too, which may not actually show Echo’s mother’s real house at all but a weirdly familiar dream home liberated from elsewhere, giving extra resonance to her claim that what’s happened to her family could strike “any home in America.”

What Goldberg assembled in Raised by Wolves isn’t a real history, which wouldn’t be a fitting tribute to the kids since they never told the whole truth anyway, but something lyrical and a little feverish. Facts get high or vanish on their way through the night. “Some of the names,” Goldberg tells me, “have been changed to protect the innocent.” Verification is difficult when it’s tested against the kids’ habits of compulsive mythmaking, which is also a strategy for survival: I can’t be hurt if I’m not the real me.

(…)

The Library of Books and Bombs

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan for The Paris Review
andrew-moore-county-archive

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan writes for The Paris Review on the history and transformation of London’s Bethnal Green Library, which was once an insane asylum.

Last summer, I moved into a flat on the edge of London’s Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. I chose it only because it was where my significant human made his home. It was my first time moving in with someone. As I clattered up from the Tube, I found myself in a swell of schoolchildren on Jack the Ripper tours, Bangladeshi immigrant families, and men with tortoiseshell glasses and Scandinavian backpacks. The local cafe offers beetroot lattes and vegan croissants. The local supermarket has an aisle devoted to halal food. This was a beautiful place to live, but I was a mess. My first novel was about to come out, and I jittered and jangled around the flat, failing to read or write.

Finally, I did what I’ve always done when nervous. I looked for a library. My father told me once that he always has to know the location of the door of any room he’s in. I need to know the nearest bookshop and library. The theory is the same: we need an escape. 

I googled to check the opening hours and found something stranger. The library building once housed an insane asylum—so notorious that the park was known as “Barmy Park.” On the outside, it looked like a library in a particularly fine picture book, one with watercolor illustrations and a moral ending. The only thing out of place was the violently modern library sign slapped onto the face of the building, letters in blunt red sans serif. When I sat in the main reading room, trying to work, I could not focus. I kept trying to imagine the people who had been locked within these walls. I could not detect a trace of madhouse. It was so quiet. The books were so well ordered. How on earth had this gone from a famous asylum to a home for books? Libraries have always made me feel saner. Perhaps someone hoped this would serve the same purpose?

(…)

Surface Noise

Damon Krukowski for The Paris Review
Surface Noise

In an excerpt from his book The New Analog, Damon Krukowski looks at the aesthetics of noise in analog music—and what we’ve lost in the transition to digital recordings. 

My favorite records sound the worst, because I’ve played them the most. Each time a needle runs around an LP, it digs a little deeper into the grooves and leaves its trace in the form of surface noise. The information on an LP degrades as it is played—as if your eyes blurred this text, just a bit, each time they ran across it.

Analog sound reproduction is tactile. It is, in part, a function of friction: the needle bounces in the groove, the tape drags across a magnetic head. Friction dissipates energy in the form of sound. Meaning: you hear these media being played. Surface noise and tape hiss are not flaws in analog media but artifacts of their use. Even the best engineering, the finest equipment, the “ideal” listening conditions cannot eliminate them. They are the sound of time, measured by the rotation of a record or reel of tape—not unlike the sounds made by the gears of an analog clock. 

In this sense, analog sound media resemble our own bodies. As John Cage observed, we bring noise with us wherever we go:

For certain engineering purposes, it is desirable to have as silent a situation as possible. Such a room is called an anechoic chamber, its six walls made of special material, a room without echoes. I entered one at Harvard University several years ago and heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sounds.

Silence is death, the ACT UP slogan painfully reminded us at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1987. Why seek it out as a part of our musical experience?

(…)

Papa the Investor

Andrea di Robilant for the Paris Review
hemingway-italy-pigeons

How Hemingway became a major shareholder in a venerable Italian publishing house.

Ernest Hemingway had a rough time with his Italian publisher, Einaudi, the venerable Turin-based house that still prints a good portion of his titles today. The issue, as is so often the case, was money: Einaudi, Hemingway complained, were communists looking for any excuse to withhold his overdue royalties. After 1947, he’d grown so exasperated that he refused to publish another book with them. So it’s all the more startling to discover that in the spring of 1955, he quietly agreed to convert a large part of his growing credit with the house into company stock, becoming a major shareholder overnight. Hemingway was usually very prudent with his money—and the chronically mismanaged Einaudi was hardly a safe investment. But having a stake in the publication of his own books, he hoped, would make it easier to get his hands on his growing pile of Italian cash.

As an author, Hemingway had gotten a late start in Italy. During the twenties and thirties, when the Anglophone world consecrated him as one of its brightest talents, he was persona non grata in the country. His blacklisting started as early as 1923, when Hemingway, still a young reporter for the Toronto Star, described Mussolini as “the biggest bluff in Europe.” In 1927, he wrote a few sardonic sketches on Fascist Italy for the New Republic. But it was the 1929 publication of A Farewell to Arms, with its antimilitarism and its powerful description of the rout of the Italian Army after Caporetto, that made him an enemy in the eyes of the Mussolini regime—a reputation further sealed by his support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. 

Thus Hemingway’s books were banned in Fascist Italy even as the works of other American writers, such as Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, were brought into translation with success and acclaim. But as soon as Mussolini fell, in 1943, publishers scrambled to buy up the translation rights to his novels. The first Italian edition of The Sun Also Rises was published by a little-known company, Jandi Sapi, in the early summer of 1944, only weeks after General Mark Clark’s troops liberated Rome. A Farewell to ArmsFor Whom the Bell Tolls, and To Have and Have Not came out in quick succession with different houses the following year, immediately after the liberation of Northern Italy. The translations were hurried and the first editions sloppy; it was unclear which house owned which rights, if it owned any at all.

(…)

You Haven’t Texted Since Saturday

Michael Robbins writing for the Paris Review

Michael Robbins’ poem in the Spring 2017 issue of the Paris Review:

You haven’t texted
since Saturday,
when I read Keith Waldrop’s
translation of Les Fleurs du mal
on a bench by whatever
that tower is on the hill
in Fort Greene Park
until you walked up
late as always and I do
mean always
in your dad’s army jacket
and said “Hi, buddy”
in a tone that told me
all I needed to know,
although protocol dictated
that you should sit next to me 
and spell it out
and we should hold each other
and cry and then pretend
everything was fine, would
be fine, was someday
before the final
trumpet, before heat death,
zero point, big rip
sure to be absolutely
perfectly completely
probably fine. And 
though it wasn’t and 
wouldn’t be, 
I walked you to the G
then rode the C
to Jay Street–MetroTech.
Just now I took a break from 
this retrospect
to smoke one of the Camels
in the sky-blue box marked
IL FUMO UCCIDE
you brought me from Italy
and page through a book
on contemporary physics.
“Something must be
very wrong,” it said,
and I agreed,
although it turned out
the author meant that “no theory
of physics should produce
infinities with impunity.”
I’d point out that every theory
of the heart
produces infinities
with impunity
if I were the kind of jerk
who uses the heart
to mean the human
tendency to make
others suffer
just because we
hate to suffer
alone. I’m sorry
I brought a fitted sheet
to the beach. I’m sorry 
I’m selfish and determined
to make the worst
of everything. I’m
sorry language is a ship 
that goes down
while you’re building it.
The Hesychasts of Byzantium
stripped their prayers
of words. It’s been tried
with poems too. But insofar
as I am a disappointment 
to myself and others, it seems fitting
to set up shop in almost 
and not quite and that’s not 
what I meant. I draw the line at the heart,
though, with its
infinities. And I have to say 
I am not a big fan 
of being sad. Some people 
can pull it off. When 
we hiked Overlook, you
went on ahead to the summit
while I sat on a rock
reading Thomas Bernhard. 
I’d just made it to the ruins 
of the old hotel
when you came jogging back down
in your sports bra
saying I had to come see the view.
But my allergies were bad
and I was thirsty,
so we headed down the gravelly trail,
pleased by the occasional
advent of a jittery
chipmunk. You showed me pictures
on your phone of the fire 
tower, the nineteenth-
century graffiti carved
into the rock, and the long
unfolded valley
of the Hudson. At the bottom, 
the Buddhists let us
fill our water bottles
from their drinking fountain.
We called a cab and sat
along the roadside
watching prayer flags
rush in the wind. I said the wind
carried the prayers
inscribed on the flags
to the gods, but Wikipedia
informs me now that 
the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space. 
So I was wrong, again,
about the gods. Wherever
you are, I hope you stand
still now and then
and let the prayers
wash over you like the breakers
at Fort Tilden that day
the huge gray gothic 
clouds massed and threatened to drop
a storm on our heads
but didn’t.

Warp and Woof

David Ramsey writing for the Paris Review
david-ramsey-chances-with-wolves

David Ramsey thinks about lived lives, loneliness,and Chances with Wolves for the Paris Review:

I first listened to my favorite radio program, Chances with Wolves, in the summer of 2015, while cleaning out my parents’ longtime home. The premise, more or less, is that a pair of DJs play strange old records and periodically mix in wolf-howl noises, sound clips, and echo effects. All of their two-hour episodes—now more than 350—are streamable, so I had hundreds of hours of material for the hundreds of hours of labor in the task at hand. Sonic distractions in difficult times always leave an imprint. It was a hard year.

My father has Parkinson’s and my mother has multiple sclerosis; my wife, Grace, and I had moved to Nashville to help out. There are good days and bad days, but the prognosis is uncompromising in its bleak narrative: over time, things will get worse. The arc of one’s own mortal universe bends toward decline. If asked how he’s doing, my dad likes to respond, “Better than I’ll be doing the next time you see me.”

We used the word transition to speak of practical matters: moving my parents to a smaller apartment closer to town, and clearing their old house and readying it to put on the market. But the real transition was the awkward, creaky role reversal that no one wanted. There is no manual, and perhaps no wisdom altogether, for caregiving for your own parents. The emotional geometry is all wrong. We tried, delicate as diplomats, to navigate the new terrain without tensions exploding. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

Logistics overwhelmed, as they tend to do. The state of the house had, inevitably, deteriorated in parallel to my parents’ health. And there was the matter of their stuff, a word that is doing a lot of work here. Both trained historians, my parents took an approach to their belongings over the years that preserved rather than purged the primary sources of their own lives. They had a lot of stuff.

Part of our job was to help them salvage and sort, to catalog keepers and question marks. We were in charge of the curation and restoration of what amounted to a private museum. As anyone who has ever rooted through such a museum knows, the treasures are interspersed with the trash. Copies of the New York Review of Books in the attic dating from the Carter administration, encrusted with roach droppings—right alongside a letter my mother wrote at eighteen, to her own mother, upon arriving at college. Antique chairs in the crawl space. Rat-eaten board games. A lifetime supply of disposable chopsticks. My father’s boyhood violin.

We filled box after box after box. In my headphones, a marimba cover of “Thriller” and Della Reese vamping through a B-Side. A French folk singer in 1972 spitting out the names of “les prisonniers politiques” and a 1960s Mexican ska band’s Spanish-language version of “Sound of Silence.” Chances with Wolves, episode 331. Sun Ra fades to the whisper of an unreleased Paul Simon song, to a creepy-crawly funk tune by Estonian singer Velly Joonas so exquisitely alien it made me blush, to a James Brown antidrug PSA. DJs and mixtape-makers often talk about a flow, but Chances with Wolves is more narratively wily than that, less a flow than a tease of questions, a trail of surprises.

The show has a fondness for work songs. I mean that literally—there are workers’ ditties and solidarity anthems mixed in—but the episodes also seem suited to the pulse and stir of labor. There’s an endurance to the songs they’re drawn to, a buoyant effort. Like any great radio show, its immersive hum is comfortably situated in the background. Wolf whistle while you work.

We hauled stuff to the storage unit, to my parents’ apartment, to Goodwill. Sorting through a bedraggled cardboard box recovered from the attic, I discovered a sheet of paper with a disorderly arrangement of watercolor reds and blues. My parents had labeled it: the first picture I ever made.

We had yard sales and negotiated with Craigslist hagglers. We filled two fifteen-yard dumpsters with trash. To avoid dust and grime, we went at the work with surgical masks and latex gloves. Like we were clinicians, dissecting a home.

(…)

Sensory delights: cooking for the Pope

Edward White writing for the Paris Review
Austria, Vienna, oil on canvas Still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem

Writing for the Paris Review, Edward White remembers the extravagant culinary art of Bartolomeo Scappi, the most innovative chef of the Italian Renaissance:

(…)

Scappi was born to modest circumstances around the turn of the sixteenth century, probably in Dumenza, a tiny town about forty miles north of Milan. At the time, medieval tastes still dominated elite dinner tables. In the Ancient world, the cuisine of the Mediterranean, based on bread, oil, and wine, was held up as a marker of its innate superiority over the Germanic peoples, with their supposedly barbaric fare of meat, milk, and beer. After the fall of Rome, the two traditions slowly merged until, in the late Middle Ages, the food served on the tables of the mighty across Europe was broadly similar: heavily spiced sweet-and-sour combinations, given layers of earthy complexity with great heaps of garden herbs. Many of the dishes Scappi chose to record in his magnum opus retain that sensibility, such as his recipe for an omelette made with pig’s blood goat cheese, spring onion, cinnamon, clover, nutmeg, marjoram, and mint—the kind of concoction that would nowadays be considered inedible just about anywhere on earth. Yet, among these forbidding relics of the medieval world, the Opera abounds with innovation that put cooking—perhaps for the first time—on a plinth next to the other creative arts.

We know nothing of Scappi’s childhood, or his private life; there are few facts about him of which we can be certain beyond that he was obsessed with food, and ordered his adult existence around it. By his midthirties, he was running the kitchen of Cardinal Campeggio of Bologna, preparing meals for him and his guests, including, on one occasion, the Holy Roman Emperor. It was here that his reputation as a great pioneer began to take shape.

Stimulated by discovery and innovation, the young cook developed a culinary identity that embraced the whole of the Italian Peninsula at a time when the notion of an Italian cuisine was as distant as the notion of an Italian nation. The Opera overflows with references to a Bolognese sauce for this, a Genoese garnish for that, or a delicious dessert known and loved by the people of Padua but virtually secret from anyone else. It suggests he traveled a lot with the express intention of trawling markets, speaking to traders, and experimenting with every new ingredient that came his way. Though he hardly ever refers to something as “Italian,” in a rudimentary way Scappi’s recipes inadvertently assemble the nation that had yet to be made, sitting side by side dishes from the Veneto to the Kingdom of Naples in a single, sumptuous meal. This roving palate also encompassed the New World, the flavors of which are on every page of the Opera—especially sugar, which features in something like 90 percent of its recipes, including as a pizza topping, along with pine nuts and rosewater.

(…)

Interview with William Trevor

In the Paris Review
William Trevor

We are saddened to hear of the passing of the Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer William Trevor, aged 88. Here is an extract from his interview with Mira Stout for the Paris Review in 1989: 

William Trevor first achieved prominence with the publication of his second novel, The Old Boys (1964); but perhaps he is best known for his volumes of short stories, including The Day We Got Drunk on Cake (1968), Angel at the Ritz and Other Stories (1976), winner of the Royal Society of Literature Award, and The News from Ireland (1986). His other novels include The Children of Dynmouth (1977), winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, Fools of Fortune (1983), and most recently Silence in the Garden (1988).

Trevor met me at the Exeter railway station on a chilly, drizzly February morning, cutting a rather startling figure on the platform in his matching tweed greatcoat and deerstalker hat. Although my train had kept him waiting for nearly an hour, he was smiling when I arrived, and even apologized ambassadorially for British Rail’s inefficiency.

Trevor lives in a ruined mill in the green countryside of Devon, with his wife, Jane. They also spend a few months of the year in Tuscany and go back regularly to Ireland, where he was born. The interview took place in the sitting room of their Victorian farmhouse, where a small fire burned in the hearth. Books lay neatly stacked on a side table amid fringed lampshades, and the walls were bare with the exception of a few Redouté prints. Windows curtained in Wedgewood-blue velvet opened out over rolling downs. Trevor settled languidly into an armchair, crossed his long legs, and bore the expression of a man who had just fastened his seat belt for a long and possibly perilous airplane ride.

Nearly sixty, William Trevor is youthfully slender. In his brown cardigan, tweed tie, and corduroy trousers he resembled a kindly country schoolmaster. Sunk deep into the velvet cushions, Mr. Trevor spoke for nearly four hours—sometimes rambling generously, and at other times shutting down completely if the question was too personal. He was so detached in speaking about himself one might have thought he was discussing someone he vaguely remembered meeting at a party. After several hours we broke for a hearty luncheon of turkey pie, homemade vegetable soup, cheese and fruit, and a delicious bottle of Montepulciano chianti.

By the end of the interview it was dark, and we had a celebratory drink. It was only after the tape recorder had been put away that Mr. Trevor, clutching a brimming glassful of sherry, laughingly admitted that twenty years previously he himself had been dispatched to conduct a Paris Review interview. He had failed, in fact, to get the formidably taciturn Anthony Powell to do any talking whatsoever. They admitted defeat almost immediately, he recalled, and spent most of the afternoon stalking the estate grounds in an uncomfortable silence. Although I sympathized with his predicament, I was nonetheless grateful that the memory prompted him to be so dutiful a subject.

INTERVIEWER

What did you do after leaving university?

WILLIAM TREVOR

When I left Trinity Dublin, I tried to get a job, and it was very difficult in those days—in the 1950s in Ireland. Eventually I found an advertisement in a newspaper that said someone’s child needed to be taught. “Would suit a nun” it suggested at the end of it, which was interesting, and I actually got that job. So I used to leave Dublin every day on the bus, go about twenty-five miles into the country, and teach this rather backward child. Her mother brought in the neighbor’s children, and a little academy was formed.

INTERVIEWER

Why had they asked for a nun?

TREVOR

Because nuns sometimes have time on their hands. It was half a day’s work, which was enough to live on, and this went on for about a year. I wasn’t interested in writing in those days. I left that job when I got married, and then worked in a school in northern Ireland for about eighteen months, before the school went bankrupt. We had to leave Ireland after that because I couldn’t get another job. I taught in a school in England for two years or so—in the Midlands near Rugby—before deciding to try and make a living as a sculptor. I came down to the west country and set myself up, rather like Jude the Obscure, as a church sculptor, and existed like that for seven years. Then, when our first child was about to be born, it was clear that the money couldn’t be spread between three people, so I gave that up, and got a job writing advertisements—which I was very lucky to get because I knew nothing about it. I was thirty. We moved to London, and I wrote advertisements for some years, always on the point of being sacked.

INTERVIEWER

Why?

TREVOR

Because I was extremely bad at it. It was then that I began to write short stories. I was given a typewriter and endless cups of tea. I was always allowed to spend days and days over an advertisement, because they were regarded as so very important. If I was writing, for instance, four lines about paint, they wouldn’t expect to see any copy for two days. I couldn’t take that seriously so I began to write stories. I wrote The Old Boys while I was there, and two other novels I think.

On company time?

TREVOR

Not entirely. But I did photocopy one of my novels on the company machine. The poet Gavin Ewart, who also was at the agency, refers to that in one of his poems: “Later we both worked at Notley’s—where no highbrow had to grovel / and I remember Trevor (with feminine help) xeroxing a whole novel. / ‘I see you’re both working late,’ the Managing Director said / as he went off to his routine gin and tonics and dinner and bed.” In the end I persuaded them to allow me to work two days a week, but I abused that privilege. Jane and I went to Bruges one weekend and didn’t come back. I’d left some firm in the Midlands in the lurch. I resigned just as I was on the point of being sacked. I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with employers.

(…)

William Faulkner

An interview with Jean Stein, 1956
Faulkner

The Paris Review have unearthed from their archives an interview with William Faulkner from 1956. The author of The Sound and the Fury discusses his views on literature – ‘art has no concern with peace and contentment’. The full interview can be read on the Paris Review website:

William Faulkner was born in 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, where his father was then working as a conductor on the railroad built by the novelist’s great-grandfather, Colonel William Falkner (without the “u”), author of The White Rose of Memphis. Soon the family moved to Oxford, thirty-five miles away, where young Faulkner, although he was a voracious reader, failed to earn enough credits to be graduated from the local high school. In 1918 he enlisted as a student flyer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He spent a little more than a year as a special student at the state university, Ole Miss, and later worked as postmaster at the university station until he was fired for reading on the job.

Encouraged by Sherwood Anderson, he wrote Soldier’s Pay (1926). His first widely read book was Sanctuary (1931), a sensational novel which he says that he wrote for money after his previous books—including Mosquitoes (1927), Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), and As I Lay Dying (1930)—had failed to earn enough royalties to support a family.

A steady succession of novels followed, most of them related to what has come to be called the Yoknapatawpha saga: Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses, and Other Stories (1941). Since World War II his principal works have been Intruder in the Dust (1948), A Fable (1954), and The Town (1957). His Collected Stories received the National Book Award in 1951, as did A Fable in 1955. In 1949 Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Recently, though shy and retiring, Faulkner has traveled widely, lecturing for the United States Information Service. This conversation took place in New York City, early in 1956.

 INTERVIEWER

Mr. Faulkner, you were saying a while ago that you don’t like interviews.

WILLIAM FAULKNER

The reason I don’t like interviews is that I seem to react violently to personal questions. If the questions are about the work, I try to answer them. When they are about me, I may answer or I may not, but even if I do, if the same question is asked tomorrow, the answer may be different.

INTERVIEWER

How about yourself as a writer?

FAULKNER

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn’t have needed anyone since.

INTERVIEWER

But even if there seems nothing more to be said, isn’t perhaps the individuality of the writer important?

FAULKNER

Very important to himself. Everybody else should be too busy with the work to care about the individuality.

INTERVIEWER

And your contemporaries?

FAULKNER

All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

(…)

Chris Marker’s Studio

Adam Bartos and Ben Lerner
Chris Marker

‘Adam Bartos’s photographs of Marker’s Paris studio offer a powerful answer; they are beautiful portraits from which the subject has gone missing’— Ben Lerner examines the work of photographer Adam Bartos:

Chris Marker, whose name was not “Chris Marker,” was a play of masks and avatars, an artist who leapt, like one of his beloved cats, from medium to medium. If, as Walter Benjamin said, a great work either dissolves a genre or invents one, if each great work is a special case, Marker produced a series of special cases. He invented the genre of the essay film; he composed what is widely considered the greatest short film ever made, La Jetée, in 1962; in the late nineties, he issued one of the first major artworks of the digital age, the CD-ROM Immemory. Even Marker’s relation to his own celebrity was an evasive masterpiece: until his death in 2012, at ninety-one, he was everywhere and nowhere, refusing both the haughty fantasy of nonparticipation and the seductions of spectacle. How do you ­memorialize an artist who refused to remain identical to himself? How do you remember one of the great philosopher-artists of memory?

Adam Bartos’s photographs of Marker’s Paris studio offer a powerful answer; they are beautiful portraits from which the subject has gone missing.

In Bartos’s photographs, people are everywhere and nowhere. The first of his books I encountered was International Territory (1994), a series of ­images of the UN building in New York. Emptied of people, the architecture is left to dream its modernist dream of a future that never arrives. In many of the images, a distinctly postapocalyptic feeling obtains: without a speaker atop it, the General Assembly podium appears like a giant tomb; the subtle signs of aging infrastructure—cracks in the walls, peeling paint—make the building look less momentarily vacated than abandoned. I can’t quite decide, for instance, whether the coat hanging in the photograph of the Russian Translation Service indicates that someone is working just beyond the frame or whether the garment has been hanging there for years. The healthy-­looking office plants that appear in several images look less like ­reassuring signs of habitation than ominous indications that nature is starting to reclaim the buildings of a depopulated city. And the single rose in a vase at the center of the image of the Delegates Dining Room—is that freshly cut or plastic? Bartos’s photographs are full of such ambiguities, undecidable temporalities. Across his projects, I experience the contradictory sense that the human figure is just about to reenter the picture and that the architecture and furniture will never again be occupied. Of course, this shifting sense of presence and absence isn’t an effect merely of what’s depicted, but of how: Bartos’s images feel both perfectly composed and simply found, patterned and yet unmanipulated, which means that my awareness of someone “­behind” the camera dims and intensifies and dims again as I look.

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