Literature

Proust Questionnaire: Jessa Crispin

September 25, 2015
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Proust Questionnaire: Jessa Crispin

The Proust Questionnaire dates back to the parlor room fad of the “confession album,” popularized in late-nineteenth-century England, in which individuals, families, strangers, and the occasional ill-mannered first date answered a series of questions, which inevitably revealed a bevy of his/her/their aspirations, fantasies, and personal tastes. Earning its current moniker via the series of sophisticated (and yes, Proustian) responses provided by the author in two recorded versions (dated 1885/86 and 1890/91, respectively), the mental survey accrued further cultural currency when it was included as form of celebrity confessional in the back pages of the American magazine Vanity Fair. To celebrate the debut of her first book The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, we asked writer and editor Jessa Crispin to let us crawl along with her to the recesses of her mind to give you a taste of what makes her tick and let you know why she’s one of the sharpest interlocutors of contemporary art and lit around today. Not playing favorites or anything, but you can read Proust’s—and for fun and karmic restitution, Norman Mailer’s—responses via hyperlink. Read Crispin’s in full below. *** Your favorite virtue: I have been using the Minchiate tarot for a while, and for a while almost every day I was drawing the virtue . . .

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Alan Thomas on Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire

September 11, 2015
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Alan Thomas on Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, University of Chicago Press editorial director Alan Thomas has a piece on the legacy of Norman Maclean’s now classic account of the 1949 Mann Gulch disaster, Young Men and Fire—carefully detailed and processed by an account of Thomas’s own experience of bringing the long delayed manuscript to publication. Below follows an excerpt from the longer essay, a must-read for anyone interested in Maclean’s stunning reportage or the contradictions and complexities inherent in a young man editing a posthumous manuscript from one of our most acclaimed storytellers, on furloughs in Japan, Chicago, and Missoula, Montana. Visit the LARB website for me. *** Reading Young Men and Fire for the first time, you expect that the book will end with fire science and the definitive account it allows Maclean to give at the end of part two of the book. But there is a third and last part to come, a very brief section that feels like a coda. It is in some ways the most experimental part of Young Men and Fire, and Marie Borroff, for one, argued in her essay on the book that it is not a success, that the book should have ended short of part three. . . .

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Case and Crispin on The Dead Ladies Project

September 9, 2015
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Case and Crispin on The Dead Ladies Project

Below is an excerpt from an interview conducted by the editor/novelist Mairead Case with Jessa Crispin, about Crispin’s forthcoming book The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries (publishing on September 22—my birthday, coincidentally). The two talk bathing rituals, auguring one’s future via hypothetically deciding whose role you’d play in the Odyssey, kitchen-adjacent and macaroni-sacrificing breakdowns, love, travel, jerks, and writing, among other things. *** When do you not feel lonely? There are moments. I wish other people would write about loneliness more. It’s hard to remember that it’s not personal. That we live in a world that is built to make people lonely. That our society is structured around competition, so that we cannot connect we must always conquer. We are set up to think there is a finite amount of goodness in the world, and so if we are lacking in it it is because that bitch over there with the really good shoes is hoarding it. So it’s difficult to remember that your loneliness is not really about you and everyone has it. So I try to remember that. It’s been a really long time, though, since I’ve been in a relationship that anybody else would recognize as a relationship, and that . . .

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Jonathan Ames on Anthony Powell

August 27, 2015
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Jonathan Ames on Anthony Powell

The novelist and occasional raconteur Jonathan Ames was asked by the Big Issue to name his “Top 5 Books for American Anglophiles.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, he named a cadre of authors instead, Anthony Powell among them, and Ames had this to say, in particular, about Powell and his work: About 15 years ago some snobby writer in New York told me he was reading Powell’s epic 12-novel series, A Dance to the Music of Time, and wanting to be this writer’s intellectual peer (a hopeless endeavour), I set out to read it as well. I spent nearly a year absorbing all 12 books, and especially enjoyed the beautiful edition that had been put out by the University of Chicago Press—the spines of the books, when all lined up, formed the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin, which had been, in part, Powell’s inspiration for the work. A lot of Dance was rather boring but it was also quite wonderful to follow Powell’s characters over 70 years, and I saw resonance in my own life—how we keep re-encountering the same people over and over, how we keep struggling with the same issues over and over. Powell certainly intended this, as he wished to . . .

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Ramie Targoff shortlisted for the Christian Gauss Award

August 25, 2015
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Ramie Targoff shortlisted for the Christian Gauss Award

The Phi Beta Kappa Society recently announced the shortlists for their 2015 book awards, and several books published by university presses made the cut. The awards include the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award (which honors the book “that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity”), and the Christian Gauss Award, described below: The Christian Gauss Award goes to books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The prize, created in 1960, honors the late Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher, and dean who also served as President of The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Among those books shortlisted for the Gauss Award was Ramie Targoff’s Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England, which considers the boundaries that Renaissance English poets drew between earthly and heavenly existence, as they transformed the concept of posthumous love—so dominant in the days of Dante and Petrarch—and instead introduced a new mode of poetics that derived its emotional and aesthetic power from its insistence upon love’s mortal limits. Winners—each of whom will receive a $10,000 prize—will be announced on October 1, 2015. To read more about Posthumous Love, click here. . . .

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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

August 21, 2015
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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

“Berlin/William James” from Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries *** Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help! William James, Varieties of Religious Experience   “You’re in Berlin because you feel like a failure.” I had met this man all of ten minutes ago and he was already summing me up neatly. I made subtle readjustments to my clothing, as if it had been a wayward bra strap or an upwardly mobile hemline that had given me away. More likely it was my blank stare in response to his question, “So, what brings you to Berlin?” He has had to do this a lot, I imagine: greet lost boys and girls, still wild with jet lag, still unsure how to make ourselves look less obviously like what we are, we members of the Third Great Wave of American Expatriation to Berlin. This man before me was second on the list of names that everyone gets from worried friends when resettling overseas: Everyone I Know in the City to Which You Are Moving (Not Totally Vouched For). I had lasted about a week before I sent e-mails tinged with panic to everyone on my list. . . .

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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015
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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015, marks the 66th anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, which eventually spread to cover 4,500 acres of Montana’s Gates of the Mountain Wilderness in Helena National Forest, and claimed the lives of 12 of the 15 elite US Forest Service Smokejumpers, who acted as first responders in the moments before the blaze jumped up a slope and “blew up” its surrounding grass. Haunted by the event, Montana native, author, and former University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean devoted much of his life’s work to researching and writing an account of the events that unfolded that first week of August 1949, which would met publication posthumously two years after Maclean’s death as Young Men and Fire. The book, now considered a classic reconstruction of an American tragedy and a premier piece of elegiac memoir qua historical non-fiction, went on to win a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. Below follows an excerpt. *** Then Dodge saw it. Rumsey and Sallee didn’t, and probably none of the rest of the crew did either. Dodge was thirty-three and foreman and was supposed to see; he was in front where he could see. Besides, he hadn’t liked what he had seen when he looked down . . .

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Our free e-book for August: Traveling in Place

August 3, 2015
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Our free e-book for August: Traveling in Place

Our free e-book for August: Bernd Stiegler’s Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel Armchair travel may seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t travel require us to leave the house? And yet, anyone who has lost herself for hours in the descriptive pages of a novel or the absorbing images of a film knows the very real feeling of having explored and experienced a different place or time without ever leaving her seat. No passport, no currency, no security screening required—the luxury of armchair travel is accessible to us all. In Traveling in Place, Bernd Stiegler celebrates this convenient, magical means of transport in all its many forms. Organized into twenty-one “legs”—or short chapters—Traveling in Place begins with a consideration of Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 Voyage autour de ma chambre,an account of the forty-two-day “journey around his room” Maistre undertook as a way to entertain himself while under house arrest. Stiegler is fascinated by the notion of exploring the familiar as though it were completely new and strange. He engages writers as diverse as Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Cortázar, Kierkegaard, and Borges, all of whom show how the everyday can be brilliantly transformed. Like the best guidebooks, Traveling in Place is . . .

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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

July 9, 2015
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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

From a recent piece in the New Yorker by Stephen Burt on the plight/flight of the little magazine in the digital age: Ditto machines in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, offset printing and, in the past two decades, Web-based publishing have made it at least seem easier for each new generation. In 1980, the Pushcart Press—known for its annual Pushcart Prizes—published a seven-hundred-and-fifty-page brick of a book, “The Little Magazine in America,” of memoirs and interviews with editors of small journals. “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America,” a much more manageable collection of interviews and essays that was published in April, looks at the years since then, the years that included—so say the book’s editors, Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz— “the end of the ascendancy of print periodicals,” meaning that the best small litmags have moved online. The Little Magazine in America does indeed chronicle the history and trajectory of the “little magazine” through the past half-century of American life, from its origins in universities, urban centers and rural fringes, and among self-identified peers. Featuring contributions from the editors of BOMB and n + 1  to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and the Women’s Review of Books, Morris and Diaz’s collection pays special attention to the fate of these idiosyncratic cultural touchstones in an age fueled . . .

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Doña Barbara: Our free e-book for July

July 6, 2015
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Doña Barbara: Our free e-book for July

Our free e-book for July is Doña Barbara by Rómulo Gallegos (“a Madame Bovary of the llano,” as Larry McMurtry hails it in his Foreword). *** Rómulo Gallegos is best known for being Venezuela’s first democratically elected president. But in his native land he is equally famous as a writer responsible for one of Venezuela’s literary treasures, the novel Doña Barbara. Published in 1929 and all but forgotten by Anglophone readers, Doña Barbara is one of the first examples of magical realism, laying the groundwork for later authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Following the epic struggle between two cousins for an estate in Venezuela, Doña Barbara is an examination of the conflict between town and country, violence and intellect, male and female. Doña Barbara is a beautiful and mysterious woman—rumored to be a witch—with a ferocious power over men. When her cousin Santos Luzardo returns to the plains in order to reclaim his land and cattle, he reluctantly faces off against Doña Barbara, and their battle becomes simultaneously one of violence and seduction. All of the action is set against the stunning backdrop of the Venezuelan prairie, described in loving detail. Gallegos’s plains are filled with dangerous ranchers, . . .

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