Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Tag: writing

Mailer on the money

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019

A parable from The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing by the late Norman Mailer:

“The story is that Robert Rauschenberg was once given the gift of a pastel from Willem de Kooning. Rauschenberg, with de Kooning’s permission, erased the pastel and then signed it ‘Pastel by de Kooning Erased by Robert Rauschenberg’, after which he sold it. The story bothered me. There was something profound there, but how to get a hold of it? Then it came to me: Rauschenberg was saying that the artist has the same right to print money as the financier: Money is nothing but authority imprinted upon emptiness.”

Willem de Kooning


Herman Wouk: Who wanted to unite Europe?

Saturday, 18 May, 2019

The author and screenwriter Herman Wouk has died at the age of 103. He was born in the Bronx on 27 May 1915 and passed away yesterday in Palm Springs. Wouk won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1951 with The Caine Mutiny and he topped the bestseller lists twenty years later with The Winds of War, which was made into a popular TV series in 1983. The novel begins six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Here, the character Natalie Jastrow speaks:

“I’m sorry. I’m impressed with Hitler’s ability to use socialist prattle when necessary, and then discard it. He uses doctrines as he uses money, to get things done. They’re expendable. He uses racism because that’s the pure distillate of German romantic egotism, just as Lenin used utopian Marxism because it appealed to Russia’s messianic streak. Hitler means to hammer out a united Europe… He understands them, and he may just succeed. A unified Europe must come. The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete. The balance of power is dangerous foolishness in the industrial age. It must all be thrown out. Somebody has to be ruthless enough to do it, since the peoples with their ancient hatreds will never do it themselves. It’s only Napoleon’s original vision, but he was a century ahead of his time.”

The Caine Mutiny was made into a hit film in 1954 and Humphrey Bogart gave one of his finest performances as the paranoid Captain Queeg. The author knew whereof he spoke. He enlisted in the US naval reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific aboard destroyer-minesweepers.

Herman Wouk Apart from epic historical novels of family and war, Herman Wouk’s literary output was devoted to an understanding of Judaism, especially the American Jewish experience. His religion was central to his work.

“Religious people tend to encounter, among those who are not, a cemented certainty that belief in God is a crutch for the weak and fearful. It would be just as silly to assert that disbelief in God is a crutch for the immoral and the ill-read.” — Herman Wouk, This is My God: A Guidebook to Judaism


White I

Monday, 6 May, 2019

Our posts this week will be devoted to White, the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Lunar Park, to mention just three of his best-selling novels. Talking about the act of writing was something he always avoided, Ellis says in White, “because part of the process was still mysterious to readers, with a kind of secret glamour that added to the excitement with which books were once received, whether negatively or positively.” White is not a novel, however, “because novels don’t engage with the public on that level anymore.”

Ellis says he’d “wistfully noted the overall lack of enthusiasm for the big American literary novels” back in the autumn of 2012, but he felt it wasn’t worth worrying about. “It’s only a fact, just as the notion of the great American studio movie or the great American band had become a smaller, narrower idea.” Then, he hits his stride. Snippet:

“Everything has been degraded by what the sensory overload and the supposed freedom-of-choice-technology has brought to us, and, in short, by the democratization of the arts. I started feeling the need to work my way through this transition — to move from the analog world in which I used to write and publish novels into the digital world we live in now (through podcasting, creating a web series, engaging on social media) even though I never thought there was any correlation between the two.”

Tomorrow, here, Ellis on the value of growing up in world where there were no helicopter parents versus today’s world where children refuse “to grow the fuck up.”

White


The ideal adjectives

Sunday, 10 February, 2019

Observe how waxworks, chagrined and awakened are used here:

1. “From that year on, Martin developed a passion for trains, travels, distant lights, the heartrending wails of locomotives in the dark of night and the waxworks vividness of local stations passing by.”

2. “…the country coolness of the rooms, so keenly perceptible after the outdoor heat; a fat bumblebee knocking against the ceiling with a chagrined droning; the paws of the fir trees against the blue of the sky…”

3. “A wave would swell, boil with foam, and topple rotundly, spreading and running up on the shingle. Then, unable to hold fast, it would slip back to the grumbling of awakened pebbles.”

And the writer? He lost everything he had, not once, but twice when he was forced to flee from two of the 20th century’s most wicked tyrants. And although the magical sentences above were written in English, it was not his first language.

The author was Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and the sentences are from Glory.


William Trevor: Last Stories

Monday, 14 January, 2019

January is a series of long nights and it’s an ideal month for reading some of those Christmas-present books. First up, from the house of the Donnellys, is William Trevor: Last Stories. The first of the last is titled The Piano Teacher’s Pupil and it contains all the wistfulness that marked Trevor’s storytelling. Snippet:

“Miss Nightingale’s other pupils came and went also, but among them only the boy never requested a different day, a different time. No note was ever brought by him, no excuse ever trotted out, no nuisance unrecognized for what it was. Graham talked about his pets to delay his unpractised piece. Diana wept. Corin’s fingers hurt, Angela gave up.”

The life of the lonely Miss Nightingale is coloured by loss and regret, but she loved and was loved once, and one great pupil compensates for so many disappointments.

The late William Trevor was born in 1928 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland, and his home could do with a decent coat of paint in 2019.

William Trevor


All the Pretty Horses

Monday, 10 September, 2018

Pretty Scarteen horse

“They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.” — Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses


We would all have had one more

Monday, 27 August, 2018

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul Minnesota on 24 September 1896. He went to Princeton, and afterwards joined the US Army. He was only 22 years old when he wrote his first novel: This Side of Paradise. It was a huge success and Fitzgerald was subsequently declared “the voice of the Jazz Age.” He was the writer who lived it, studied it, drank it and described it in “real time.” An era had found its lyricist.

Despite Prohibition, everyone was having one more. People wanted to celebrate and be celebrated, which is why The Great Gatsby was not well received. The reviews were sour. Gatsby painted a picture of a dizzying Jazz Age that was turning and turning in a widening gyre. The centre could not hold, it suggested. And, sure enough, a decade after This Side of Paradise was published, it all came crashing down on Wall Street. In 1931, Fitzgerald wrote an elegiac essay titled “Echoes of the Jazz Age” about that lost world, the faint melodies of which still signalled from beyond the ruins. Snippet:

“A young Minnesotan who seemed to have had nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their old best dreams. Maybe there was a way out by flying, maybe our restless blood could find frontiers in the illimitable air. But by that time we were all pretty well committed; and the Jazz Age continued; we would all have one more.”

In June 1940, fifteen years after Gatsby was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a poignant letter to Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribners:

“Would the 25-cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye — or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers — I can maybe pick one — make it a favorite with classrooms, profs, lovers of English prose — anybody? But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much!”

F. Scott Fitzgerald died on 21 December 1940 aged 44 — so young and so unjustly after having given so much so early. Posthumously, Gatsby was crowned his masterpiece. Tomorrow, here, a favourite glimpse of its metropolitan twilight.

F. Scott Fitzgerald


Diarist of the day: Barbara Pym

Saturday, 11 August, 2018

“Visit to Jane Austen’s house?I put my hand down on Jane’s desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me! One would have imagined the devoted female custodian going round with her duster at least every other day.” Barbara Pym, 11 August 1943

The English writer Barbara Pym died of breast cancer, aged 66, on 11 January 1980. Her sister Hilary continued to promote her work, and helped set up the Barbara Pym Society in 1993.


Remembering Tom Wolfe

Thursday, 31 May, 2018

It’s been over two weeks since the white-suited heart of the New Journalism stopped beating and there’s still no comment from Deray McKesson. For those not familiar with the name, McKesson is a “full-time activist” and the most public face of the Black Lives movement. As Ben Shapiro put it: “Deray McKesson, who has made his name urging on riots in Ferguson and Baltimore while accomplishing nothing of note for black people. McKesson fancies himself a deep racial thinker, and the media have taken him at his word.” His word is often like this: “People have been voting since the civil rights movement & we are still here.”

Anyway, back in March 2016, BuzzFeed ran a story headlined: DeRay McKesson To Hold Fundraiser At Banker’s Manhattan Home. McKesson was speaking in Upper West Side pad of Ted Dreyfus, a former Citibank executive, who has also worked for the Clinton Foundation, and that brings us to Tom Wolfe.

Nostalgie de la boue is a 19th-century French term that means “nostalgia for the mud,” and its white guilt connotation was leveraged by Tom Wolfe in one of the all-time great piece of modern journalism. Published by New York magazine in June 1970 and titled Radical Chic it captured the craziness of those times perfectly.

Background: The scene that Wolfe so (in)famously depicted took place in the Manhattan apartment of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary conductor, composer and Democratic Party supporter assembled many of his wealthy friends to meet members of the Black Panthers to discuss how they could help their cause. Black Panther The director Otto Preminger was there and so, too, was the TV reporter Barbara Walters. With their armchair agitation and high fashion, they were, in Wolfe’s eyes, the “radical chic” pursuing revolutionary ends for social reasons. Snippet:

“One rule is that nostalgie de la boue – i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives – are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and ‘of the soil,’ but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren’t likely to become too much… underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off… as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

When Time magazine later interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein’s party, the official said of Wolfe: “You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?”

Nothing that Time or BuzzFeed has ever done could match the music and madness that Tom Wolfe put down on paper in 1970:

Quat is trying to steer the whole thing away — but suddenly Otto Preminger speaks up from the sofa where he’s sitting, also just a couple of feet from Cox:

“He used von important vord” — then he looks at Cox — “you said zis is de most repressive country in de vorld. I dun’t beleef zat.”

Cox says, “Let me answer the question —”

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government —”

Preminger is still talking to Cox: “Do you mean dat zis government is more repressive zan de government of Nigeria?”

“I don’t know anything about the government of Nigeria,” says Cox. “Let me answer the question —”

“You dun’t eefen listen to de kvestion,” says Preminger. “How can you answer de kvestion?”

“Let me answer the question,” Cox says, and he says to Lenny: “We believe that the government is obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income . . . see . . . but if the white businessman will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessman and placed in the community, with the people.”

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

“Right on!” Someone in the back digs it, too.

“Right on!”

Julie Belafonte pipes up: “That’s a very difficult question!”

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back —”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms —”

“That’s the language of the oppressor,” says Cox. “As soon as —”

“Dat’s not —” says Preminger.

“Let me finish!” says Cox. “As a Black Panther, you get used to —”

“Dat’s not —”

“Let me finish! As a Black Panther, you learn that language is used as an instrument of control, and —”

“He doesn’t mean dat!”

“Let me finish!”

RIP, Tom Wolfe.


Jim Martin RIP

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018

On Saturday, in Munich, in the presence of those who loved him, Jim Martin died. He was an American, a pilot, an author, a bon vivant who loved the pleasures of France, a writer who was fascinated by Bavarian tradition and German history, a democrat in the broadest sense and a Democrat in the votary sense who enjoyed hosting a monthly salon where politics and wine were mixed with humour and hospitality. Our sincerest sympathy goes out to Winni and all the family.

Back in 2012, Jim was so dismayed by the decision of the Pulitzer Prize board to withhold its annual award for fiction — “Book lovers react bitterly to no fiction Pulitzer” — that he proposed setting up a fund for his choice, Denis Johnson, and he offered this guest post, titled “The Pulitzohr Prize”, to Rainy Day. Here goes:

Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany, in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He holds a masters’ degree from the University of Iowa and has received many awards for his work, including a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction (1993), a Whiting Writer’s Award (1986), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review for Train Dreams, and most recently, the National Book Award for Fiction (2007).

“English words are like prisms. Empty, nothing inside, and still they make rainbows.” — Denis Johnson

Not only does he get the prize money, but we buy him beer for a day in Munich (and he looks like he could put a dent in our wallet.)

I identify with the author. I’ve lived in Idaho — still have property in the panhandle. I’ve driven horse carts and flown biplanes there, just like Robert Grainier. I’d have been an orphan too, had it not been for my parents. I’m at least 42% crazy.

I cast my vote for Train Dreams. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Anthony Doerr:

“The story concerns the life of Robert Grainier, a fictional orphan shipped by train in 1893 into the woods of the Idaho panhandle. He grows up, works on logging gangs, falls in love, and loses his wife and baby daughter to a particularly pernicious wildfire. What Johnson builds from the ashes of Grainier’s life is a tender, lonesome and riveting story, an American epic writ small, in which Grainier drives a horse cart, flies in a biplane, takes part in occasionally hilarious exchanges and goes maybe 42 percent crazy.

It’s a love story, a hermit’s story and a refashioning of age-old wolf-based folklore like ‘Little Red Cap.’ It’s also a small masterpiece. You look up from the thing dazed, slightly changed.”

Farewell, Jim, Your words and quotations and writers were always well chosen. In his novel, Night Flight (Vol de Nuit), the French pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expressed well what Jim Martin was and where he was going;

“The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk. And, at the touch of his finger, his flying-lights flashed back a greeting to them. The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling. And it rejoiced him to enter into this night with a measured slowness, as into an anchorage.”

Jim Martin


Fish on Trump

Thursday, 19 April, 2018 0 Comments

“Verbal fluency is the product of hours spent writing about nothing, just as musical fluency is the product of hours spent repeating scales.” So wrote the great Stanley Fish in How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. Today, the literary theorist, legal scholar, author, newspaper columnist and intellectual Stanley Fish will celebrate his 80th birthday and we wish him health and happiness for many years to come.

Stanley Fish wrote his final New York Times column in December 2013, but he returned to the paper’s pages in July 2016 with a warning to academia titled Professors, Stop Opining About Trump. According to Fish, historians “are merely people with history degrees, which means that they have read certain books, taken and taught certain courses and written scholarly essays, often on topics of interest only to other practitioners in the field.” It’s not degrees, says Fish, but the strength or weakness of the arguments that tells in the end. Fish returned to Trump later that year in his book Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom. Snippet:

“And yet that performance has a method. Trump’s artlessness, like Mark Antony’s, is only apparent. Listen, for example, as he performs one of his favorite riffs. He begins by saying something critical of Mexicans and Chinese. Then he turns around and says, ‘I love the Mexican and Chinese people, especially the rich ones who buy my apartments or stay at my hotels or play on my golf courses.’ It’s their leaders I criticize, he explains, but then in a millisecond he pulls the sting from the criticism: ‘they are smarter and stronger than our leaders; they’re beating us.’ And then the payoff all this has been leading up to, the making explicit of what has been implied all along. Stanley Fish ‘If I can sell them condominiums, rent space to them in my building at my price, and outfox them in deals, I could certainly outmaneuver them when it came to trade negotiations and immigration.’ (And besides, they love me.)

Here is the real message, the message that makes sense of the disparate pieces of what looks like mere disjointed fumbling: I am Donald Trump; nobody owns me. I don’t pander to you. I don’t pretend to be nice and polite; I am rich and that’s what you would like to be; I’m a winner; I beat people at their own game, and if you vote for me I will beat our adversaries; if you want wonky policy details, go with those losers who offer you ten-point plans; if you want to feel good about yourselves and your country, stick with me.

So despite the lack of a formal center or an orderly presentation, Trump was always on point because the point was always the same. He couldn’t get off message because the one message was all he had.”

Stanley Fish was, and is, sharp.