On Launching The TOKY Research Library
A new post I wrote on the TOKY Blog.
A new post I wrote on the TOKY Blog.
At New York Magazine, the great journalist Mark Danner talks at length with The New York Review of Books’ Robert Silvers. Here’s one bit about online publishing and social media, which strikes me not as fuddy-duddy, but very considered:
To tweet or not to tweet. And not to tweet is to be left behind.
And that raises a question: What is this? What are the kinds of prose, and the kinds of thinking, that result from the imposition of the tweet form and other such brief reactions to extremely complex realities? My feeling is that there are millions and millions if not billions of words in tweets and blogs, and that they are not getting and will not get the critical attention that prose anywhere should have unless we find a new form of criticism.
If a novel is published, we have a novel review. If poetry is produced, if a play or a movie or a TV show is produced, there are the forms of criticism we know. With the new social media, with much of the content of the Internet, there are very few if any critical forms that are appropriate. They are thought to be somewhere partially in a private world. Facebook is a medium in which privacy is, or at least is thought to be, in some way crucial. The premise, at least, is that of belonging to a family, a circle of friends. And there’s another premise, that any voice should have its moment. And so there seems a resistance to intrusive criticism.
But this means that billions of words go without the faintest sign of assessment. And yet, if one cares about language, if one cares about the sensibility in which language is expressed, and if one cares about the values that underlie our use of language, such as affection, privacy, honesty, cogency, clarity—then these media, it would seem to me, should qualify as the subject of criticism. We seem at the edge of a vast, expanding ocean of words, an ocean growing without any critical perspective whatever being brought to bear on it. To me, as an editor, that seems an enormous absence.
Excited to try this new online writing and editing environment, built by a few all-stars.
I’ve written before of the penetrating, often funny essays of Aleksandar Hemon, the Bosnian writer who, fortunately for us, calls Chicago home. His new collection, The Book of My Lives, is terrific, whether the subject is gravely serious (war, illness) or much more fun (pick-up soccer with a crew of fellow refugees).
Here’s one opening paragraph I quite liked from the essay “The Lives of Grandmasters,” which has just been published online as well:
I do not know how old I was when I learned to play chess. I could not have been older than eight, because I still have a chessboard on whose side my father inscribed, with a soldering iron, “Saša Hemon 1972.” I loved the board more than chess — it was one of the first things I owned. Its materiality was enchanting to me: the smell of burnt wood that lingered long after my father had branded it; the rattle of the thickly varnished pieces inside, the smacking sound they made when I put them down, the board’s hollow wooden echo. I can even recall the taste — the queen’s tip was pleasantly suckable; the pawns’ round heads, not unlike nipples, were sweet. The board is still at our place in Sarajevo, and, even if I haven’t played a game on it in decades, it is still my most cherished possession, providing incontrovertible evidence that there once lived a boy who used to be me.
St. Louisans: Hemon, who I’ve heard read in town before, returns this Friday. Don’t miss it.
With William H. Gass, at “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” an exhibition exploring the author’s life and work. Photograph © Washington University Libraries, organizer of the exhibition.
From Folio’s “FT Relaunches Web App”:
One of the biggest changes is offering readers both a static version of the morning paper along with a dynamically updated version that automatically updates throughout the day. “The big learning for us with the first app is how important the concept of a finite read is,” says Steve Pinches, FT.com’s group product manager. “Readers love the idea of starting with the FT in the morning and reading it all the way through, which is quite a different concept than on the web. It’s quite a balancing act because we also have a lot of more digitally savvy users who need that ongoing, up-to-the-minute coverage.”
Interesting point about readers who like to finish a thing, even a digital thing. I get it. (There’s a parallel here to why infinite scroll isn’t always appreciated.)
Lots going on at my other blog, perhaps most notably Cynthia Ozick’s review of Middle C, which carried the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
BOMB offers an extraordinary excerpt from Bough Down, a volume by artist Karen Green, who is also David Foster Wallace’s widow:
September again and
I take your parents to the lighthouse, I do. There is nothing but September fog to cover our shame, and your father laughs just like you, at the opacity. I want to eat the laugh, I want to rub it on my chest like camphor, I want to make a sound tattoo. I also want to bash these two small people together and see if a collision of DNA will give me my life back. Last night we had a lightning storm, unprecedented. It scared me to think about who might be conducting it.
After they leave I take your last blue pill, but dream about someone being put to death as punishment for putting themselves to death.
Bright, beautiful L.A. home, photographed by Ethan Pines for The New York Times.
Enjoyed this piece, especially Ashton’s quoting of composer George Ligeti’s secretary, writing to a requester of some kind:
He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall.
Continually impressed by David Remnick, who, between serving as the bloody EIC of The New Yorker, has time not just to bust out whip-smart blog posts on Obama in Israel and Philip Roth, but to pen 11,000-word, richly reported pieces on, say, the Russian ballet. Here’s a characteristically wonderful paragraph:
I lived in Moscow in the last years of the Soviet era, when tickets to the Bolshoi were cheap, and I used to go whenever I could, happily enduring even Grigorovich’s agitprop warhorses “Spartacus” and “Ivan the Terrible.” There was something magical about stepping off the freezing, chaotic streets of the city and settling into a velvet upholstered seat, a million-crystal chandelier twinkling overhead, the balconies crowded with older perfumed women swelling with cultural aspiration and sitting with their adorable pigtailed granddaughters. When the ballet was bad, as it sometimes was, it was still a pleasant escape from newspaper deadlines and the antics of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. When it was good, I was entranced. But now, to watch the dancers from this meagre distance was to see them as if with binoculars: the sinewy weave of a young comer’s quadriceps; the palm-in-the-breeze articulation of a woman’s arm. After a while, one became aware, as well, of the pungent result of increasing exertion. “I don’t understand anything about the ballet,” Chekhov wrote. “All I know is that during the intervals the ballerinas stink like horses.”
At McSweeney’s, Teddy Wayne’s “Feedback From James Joyce’s Submission of Ulysses to His Creative Writing Workshop.”
So this was the coverage Messi was facing — and the incredibly small amount of space he had — when he somehow punched in an insane goal against Milan a few days ago.
The above’s a screenshot, so click through for the video. Genius.
Update: Sorry the video’s been taken down.
In this New Yorker podcast, the great Jane Mayer talks about food, kitchens, and using evening cooking time to let her mind relax and repair amid heavy reporting assignments:
Certain things were good to stir with, and certain things were not good to stir with … Certain poetry. I used to stir risotto to “The Four Quartets,” which I thought had a very, very good rhythm. But I made the mistake of one day writing that I stirred my polenta to John Ashbery. When I saw John Ashbery, he was very angry at me. He said, “How can you stir at the stove while reading my poetry? How can you do that? That’s a terrible insult.” I said, “No, it’s the highest praise. I go through many things before I choose what to stir with. And it has to fill my mind.” He was really pissed, I have to say.