Just over a week ago, at the Chardon High School near Cleveland, Ohio, a seventeen-year-old youth opened fire on fellow students: Six were wounded and three have died. A teacher said it was important to get the rest of the students back to school to “show that terror and evil do not win out.” Such things keep happening, and people make brave, encouraging, and ridiculous statements.
“I have no doubt of seeing the animal today,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote hastily to her husband, William Godwin, on August 30, 1797, as she waited for the midwife who would help her deliver the couple’s first child. The “animal” was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would grow up to be Mary Shelley, wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of Frankenstein, one of the most enduring and influential novels of the nineteenth century.
There’s a moment in Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miranda July’s hilarious and discomfiting first film, in which the director of a contemporary art museum and her assistant are fawning over a new show. “It really is amazing. It just looks so real,” the director kvells over what she believes is a sculpture of a discarded hamburger wrapper. “Oh, that wrapper is real,” says the artist, a young man with blond Fabio-style hair.
The meme is now the message. So I learned from Monday’s New York Times profile of Kalle Lasn, the Adbusters editor who can be dubiously credited with creating the Occupy Wall Street movement. My dubiousness has nothing to do with the qualities of the movement itself, which, whatever else can be said about its tactics or its political direction, has sparked an important national conversation about income inequality. It’s the word “create” that I’m not sure about. Lasn did not issue a call to action, or write a position paper, or build an encampment.
The subject was dirt, or perhaps I should say “Dirt.” It was spring 1996, and I was a newly minted comp-lit Ph.D. candidate thrilled to be taking part in my first academic conference. Okay, it was a conference of grad students organized by my friends in the Harvard English department, but somehow that just made it feel more authentic, like college football compared to professional. I still have the flyer, which reproduces an artsy photo of a dump truck about to discharge its load into a giant quarry.
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in events honoring Irmgard Keun and Amos Oz—two writers who, on the surface, would seem to have little in common. Keun (1905-1982), born in Berlin, was a literary darling of Weimar Germany who promptly found her works blacklisted after the Nazis came to power. She spent the late 1930s in exile—for a time as the companion of the Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth—before returning to Germany, where she lived out the rest of her life in relative obscurity.
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] “He is book smart.” “She has people smarts.” “He isn’t intellectually intelligent.” “She has no emotional intelligence." These phrases are all familiar because, as observers of other people, most of us do our best to define brain type as well as brain power. Particular varieties of intelligence are easy to recognize and difficult to precisely explain.
Peeking into the Amazon Publishing booth at Book Expo last spring, I felt like a member of the Rebel Alliance in the Death Star. While the main floor of the hall was crowded with readers lining up for giveaways and editors huddled around tables, the corner Amazon had staked out—right up front by the entrance—exuded a suspicious calm. Though it had the plushest carpeting anywhere in the hall (always the most reliable Book Expo status indicator) and the comfiest looking chairs, few books were to be found.
There are many ways to prop up a currency artificially. “We’re wrestling with the same stuff as Rilke,” Bono recently told The New York Times about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the hapless Broadway wonder for which he collaborated on the music. More specifically, “Rilke, Blake, ‘Wings of Desire,’ Roy Lichtenstein, the Ramones.” I was not previously aware of the Rilkean elements in “Rockaway Beach.” Those elements Bono characterized as “the cost of feeling feelings,” which throws the Blakean dimension into question, but never mind. Precision is really not the point.