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David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: new york (page 1 of 6)

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

From the introduction to Steven Moore’s The Novel:

In the early 1990s I was an editor at Dalkey Archive Press, which specialized in what one bookseller disparaged as “egghead” fiction. The most difficult and demanding novel we published was probably Julián Ríos’s Larva: Midsummer Night’s Babel, sort of Spain’s answer to Finnegans Wake. It received fine reviews across the country, including a spirited one from Michael Dirda in the Washington Post, but since the New York Times Book Review adamantly ignored it (despite Carlos Fuentes’s pleading) and a promised review in the Voice Literary Supplement fell through, I decided to try to reach that hip demographic with an ad in the VLS captioned “Are You Reader Enough for Larva?” The mock-macho appeal was intended to attract those who like a literary challenge, as well as those who are open to new artistic experiences. Since I’m convinced those who malign innovative fiction do so more for personal, temperamental reasons than for the aesthetic ones they publicly espouse, here’s a test you can take to see if you’re the right kind of reader for writerly texts:

1. You are an average Joe or Jane and have moved to a big city offering lots of culture. One night you’re strolling past an art-house theater and the manager is out front giving away tickets to fill the house (the money’s in the concessions). Having nothing better to do, you take a seat and soon learn the movie is in a foreign language and has no subtitles. Do you:

(a) automatically get up and leave, knowing you won’t completely understand it?

(b) stay and get what you can out of it: appreciate the cinematography, the background music, the way an actress holds her purse, the possibility of a sex scene, etc.?

2. A neighbor gives you a free ticket to the ballet in gratitude for babysitting her cat last week. You go and discover it’s not a simple story ballet like Gisele or Swan Lake but an evening of abstract dance. Do you:

(a) give your ticket away because you don’t “understand” modern dance?

(b) stay and enjoy the show: the unusual choreography, the beautiful bodies poured into bodystockings, the weird music, etc.?

3. Speaking of weird music: you go to a club hoping for some good ol’ rock ’n’ roll, but instead of a long-haired band there’s a bald DJ spinning some techno-ambient concoction unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Do you:

(a) pull an Ashbery by crying, “I don’t understand this at all” and burst into tears?

(b) let the music wash over you, let yourself find the pulse, maybe even ask that purple-haired girl in the striped tights to dance?

4. You’ve had enough of the big city and decide to return home. Waiting for a bus, you pick up a discarded copy of Larva and, because you have a long bus-ride ahead of you, begin reading. You quickly discover it is not a conventional novel. Do you:

(a) discard it and stare out the window all the way back home?

(b)

From an old interview with Steve Albini:

I can dig the Ramones and the Birthday Party and the Stooges and SPK and Minor Threat and Whitehouse and Link Wray and Chrome and Pere Ubu and Rudimentary Peni and Four Skins and Throbbing Gristle and Skrewdriver and the Ex and Minimal Man and US Chaos and Gang Green and Tommi Stumpff and the Swans and Bad Brains all at the same time, and if you can’t then fuck you.

John Cheever

So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one’s purest memories and ambitions; and I can barely recall the old house where I was raised, where in midwinter Parma violets bloomed in a cold frame near the kitchen door, and down the long corridor, past the seven views of Rome–up two steps and down three–one entered the library where all the were in order the lamps were bright, where there was a fire and a dozen bottles of good bourbon locked in a cabinet with a veneer like a tortoise shell whose silver key my father wore on his watch chain. Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we admire death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of night and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience….

“The Death of Justina”

After this howl, how could the rest of the story be anything but a disappointment? It’s atypical, at any rate, and The New Yorker rejected it.

Jules Feiffer: Backing Into Forward, A Memoir

There is no mention of I Want to Go Home in this book.1



Tantrum

____________________
1 As much as I love Feiffer’s drawing, The Great Comic Book Heroes, and Little Murders, there has always seemed to be an emptiness in his writing, or maybe not an emptiness but a pointlessness, the same pointlessness found in Philip Roth or William Gaddis. Feiffer’s self-anointed position is that of truthteller, the man who excoriates hypocrisy and reveals the unconscious anxieties of society. Call it the Yaddo mindset. The problem, on display in the memoir, is that when the same standard isn’t applied to one’s self, it’s rather embarrassing. By burying the worst (I hope) thing that he was ever associated with (“It could have been a lot different, a better movie, if I had been present,” he says in his Onion interview), Feiffer seems to be practicing nihilism in the service of self-aggrandizement, a forgivable sin in all but the self-anointed truthteller. He has always been at his best when at his most visceral, in Tantrum and Little Murders, and at his worst when in the role of a condescending observer, as with Carnal Knowledge and, alas, much of his own strip.

Attention truthtellers: do not write your autobiography!

Maryla Jonas Plays Chopin

One of the loveliest (but also melancholic) renditions of anything I’ve ever heard, from the underrecorded and neglected Maryla Jonas. It’s only 2 minutes; give it a listen.

Mazurka Op. 68 #3

From a Time article in 1946:

She was in bombed-out Warsaw when it fell. The Gestapo agent who found her in the city’s ruins tried to persuade her to go to Berlin to play for the Nazis. She refused and was sent to jail.

Seven months later, a Nazi officer who had heard her play let her out, told her that if she could get to the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin, she could get out of Europe. She walked most of 325 miles from Warsaw to Berlin, slept on the roadside, scarcely ever ate, and does not know how many weeks it took her. But she got to Rio. There she was put in a sanatorium, exhausted and sick. She got word that her husband, her parents and a brother had been killed in Poland. She did not go near a piano for months.

Polish Pianist Artur Rubinstein, visiting Rio, decided to trick her into playing again. He invited her to Rio’s empty Municipal Opera House, asked her to play some chords so he might test the acoustics. She sat down at the piano at 2:30, played until 8. Said she: “It was a put-up job.” She played three years in Latin America, earning enough to pay her way to the U.S., and the $1,400 that a Carnegie debut cost her.

Last week, five weeks after her New York debut, she played again in Carnegie Hall. This time the house was packed and the critics were in their pews. A buxom, platinum-haired woman of 35, her face was heavily rouged to cover the pallor of the past six years. Her U.S. sponsors wanted her to wear a corset; she refused (“I have to feel what I play from the legs up”) Says Maryla: “My first concert is European. Come one artist in old dress, no photogenic, no smiling. Then come complications. The criticisms are too good. Come snobs, I play too pianissimo, too fortissimo, my hair, I am too fat, my dress. My second concert is American concert. Everyone come to see am I really so good. It is not art, it is sport. It is football! If I have goal, bravo! If no goal, goodbye!”

Matthew Wilder on Renata Adler on Pauline Kael

Absolutely the best moment of the dustup when Renata Adler nitpicked Pauline Kael to death (or at least to boredom).

February 5, 1981

To the Editors:

I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms your decision to publish Renata Adler’s depressing, vengeful, ceaseless tirade against that brilliant critic Pauline Kael. Adler’s criticism in The New Yorker was mediocre, mushy. How dare she lash out at Kael for using masturbatory slang and “we” or “you” for “I”? Can’t the little viper see the beauty, poetry, hilarity, and straight-forwardness in Kael’s critiques? Oops. I’m using “Kaeline” rhetorical questions! What a crime! You’d think I or she killed Kennedy or something!

Oh—while R.A.’s at contradictions,…she berates Kael for demanding punishment and crying guilt of her unfavored movie folk when she herself acts as if Kael knifed Gary Coleman—oops! I used a “violent” and “sadistic” metaphor! Okay, heat up the electric chair! So “line for line, When the Lights Go Down is worthless,” eh? What about the titles of her critiques of Seven Beauties and Carrie? I cracked up just reading them. And how about her punchy opening and closing lines, especially her closing line of her critique of Satyajit Ray’s Distant Thunder?

Adler’s “review” is bathed in bitterness. The final irony is that about half as many people will read “Perils of Pauline” as will read “Master Spy, Master Seducer”—by Pauline Kael.

Please print this!

Matthew Wilder

A loyal P. Kael fan, age 13

Des Planes, Illinois

(And no, I am far too young to have written this, thank you.)

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