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What To Read When You Want To Make America Great Again - The Rumpus.net
"Next Tuesday, we celebrate our country. A country that seems to be imploding with every passing presidential tweet. A country that has failed to care for the most vulnerable while those in power grow richer. Celebrating the Fourth this year feels a bit like going out for dinner with a cheating spouse.

But it’s important to remember that America is not our leaders, America is us. In that vein, here are some books that help remind us what actually makes America great (hint: it’s not tax cuts). Some of these books are problematic; others contain racism (looking at you Ma and Pa Ingalls); still more are jubilant, triumphant, and full of hope. But each highlights a real aspect of America, good or bad, and hopefully can remind us that what makes America great are the voices of the people who call this messy place home.

***

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov:
As Rumpus Senior Features Editor Julie Greicius pointed out, “Lolita, oddly enough, is a brilliant foreigner’s felonious road trip across America, with Lolita herself as metaphor of a country too young to understand what crime is being committed against her.”

The Federalist Papers by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
A collection of eight-five articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Go check out what two of our Founding Fathers hoped America might be.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The American dream, sans happy ending. So, real life?

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
A Newbery Medal-winning book about racism in America during the Great Depression. Taylor explores life in southern Mississippi, when racism was still common in the South and many were persecuted for the color of their skin.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Rankine recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost—and what they find—is revealed in fifteen interconnected stories that span over thirty years.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—this is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.

Snopes: A Trilogy by William Faulkner
A saga that stands as perhaps the greatest feat of Faulkner’s imagination. “For all his concerns with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man,” noted Ralph Ellison. “Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.”

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A series of American children’s novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder based on her childhood in the northern Midwestern United States during the 1870s and 1880s. Eight were completed by Wilder, and published by Harper & Brothers from 1932 and 1943. The first draft of a ninth novel was published posthumously in 1971 and is commonly included in the Little House series.

The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America.

Native Guard by Natasha Tretheway
Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South, where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey’s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez
Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.

The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing “second American Revolution” we call the Civil War, a war that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty.

Bear, Diamonds and Crane by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
In this collection, personal narratives take their place alongside group stories, “the wound” that “resists erasure and cultural amnesia. […] the image of barbed wire.” Kageyama-Ramakrishnan reflects on the life of her grandmother, who “acquiesced on impulse” to marry and move to the United States on the U.S.S. Jackson as well as on stories from Manzanar, the concentration camp where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

Poeta en San Francisco by Barbara Jane Reyes
Poeta en San Francisco incorporates English, Spanish, and Tagalog in a book-length poem at once lush and experimentally rigorous. From the vantage of San Francisco, Reyes looks outward to the Philippines, Vietnam, and other colonized places with violent histories.

Thomas and Beluah by Rita Dove
Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Thomas and Beulah tells the semi-fictionalized chronological story of Dove’s maternal grandparents, the focus being on her grandfather (Thomas, his name in the book as well as in real life) in the first half and her grandmother (named Beulah in the book, although her real name was Georgianna) in the second.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy."
books  booklists  us  history  society  via:anne  americanexperience  2017  immigration  assimilation  race  class  americandream  vladimirnabokov  jamesmadison  alexanderhamilton  johnjay  chimamandangoziadichie  fscottfitzgerald  mildredtaylor  claudiarankine  julialavarez  sandracisneros  williamfaulkner  laurauingallswilder  domingomartinez  natashatretheway  christinahernandez  jamesbaldwin  jamesmcpherson  clairekageyama-ramakrishnan  barbarajanereyes  ritadove  imbolombue  diversity 
july 2017 by robertogreco
End of the End of the End: Agnès Varda in Los Angeles
"Once the family settled, the Columbia executive who brokered the contract with Demy, George Ayres, then pursued Varda, commissioning from her a manuscript about American hippies, Peace and Love. Columbia liked the script, but negotiations ended abruptly and the film was never made. Ayres (who also approached Andy Warhol) teases that Varda walked away because an executive pinched her cheek; Varda claims Columbia wouldn’t promise her final cut, and signing on without it was unthinkable. The incident is a minor detail in Varda hagiography, and yet it launched her extended engagement with Los Angeles, a relationship between city and filmmaker that would eventually include two sojourns and five films, all conceived, written, filmed, and edited in California. Of the five, two were shorts—Uncle Yanco (1967) and Huey (1968)—shot respectively in Marin County and Oakland, while the three features, Lions Love (…and Lies) (1969), Documenteur: An Emotion Picture (1981), and Mur Murs (1981), are Los Angeles films inside and out, indelibly marked by Varda’s experience of the city.

By the time of her first visit to Los Angeles in 1967, Varda was already an accomplished filmmaker, having directed four features in France, including the celebrated Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), a day in the life of a famous singer as she awaits the results of a life-or-death medical test. Her first film, La Pointe Courte, made in 1954, created even more of a stir, at least within a small and influential circle of burgeoning filmmakers. La Pointe Courte is now credited as heralding the arrival of a new movement in film and Varda’s name inextricably attached to the moniker “grandmother of the French new wave.” The compliment carries a whiff of condescension; the age difference between Varda and Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut is not a generation but less than five years, and it is premature to assign Varda—who, at 85, continues to make films, teach, travel widely, and speak sharply—her epitaph. It is, however, to the point: Varda’s innovative formal structure and use of natural light and nonprofessional actors in La Pointe Courte predated the earliest work of any of her contemporaries.

Initially at least, Varda influenced film as an outsider. When she made La Pointe Courte, she was entirely self-taught and a film naïf. “I seemed to be there by mistake,” she later remembered of her first meeting with the new wave cadre—Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Truffaut, Godard, and others—“feeling small, ignorant, and the only woman.”9 Her miasma was unwarranted, as she was the only one of the group to have actually made a film. Her would-be peers were critics and cinephiles first, filmmakers second, while Varda’s background was in art history and her interest in literature. She wasn’t watching films in her early twenties but attending classes by philosopher Gaston Bachelard at the Sorbonne and aspiring to be a museum curator, photographing children on the laps of Santa Claus and dancers for the People’s National Theater. Her touchstone as a filmmaker was not Jean Renoir or Orson Welles, whom she claimed to have never heard of, but the formal strategy of Faulkner’s Wild Palms (1939), a novel told on two discordant tracks that she devoured, dissected, marveled at, and finally decided to try on film.

***


Like all travelers, Varda brought to Los Angeles a suitcase of assumptions and judgments. In the late 1960s, America in general—and California in particular—seemed to many foreign observers a cesspool of violence and imperialism. America’s war in Vietnam, racist cops, and brutal attempts to contain civil unrest were international news. Los Angeles’s reputation abroad was specifically haunted by the 1965 Watts riot. American leftists found little redeeming in the violence, but in Paris, Guy Debord of the Situationist International circulated an essay describing the tragedy as a “rebellion against the commodity.”10 Varda may or may not have known Debord’s work—more likely the former, since he had unfavorably reviewed her films—but she generally shared the politics of her milieu.11 She was openly disgusted by American racism and, like many white European intellectuals (most famously Jean Genet), strongly identified with the Black Panthers. In fact, one of her major coups in California was a commission from French television to shoot a documentary short about the Black Panthers, including a coveted interview with Huey Newton in jail. Varda’s depiction of the Panthers is unusually fair-minded, portraying protests in downtown Oakland as congenial family gatherings.12 Varda’s disgust with mainstream American culture is more transparently obvious in a 1969 discussion with Newsweek editor Jack Kroll, conducted at the New York Film Festival and later televised. Twice, Kroll describes the filmic subjects in the first of Varda’s Los Angeles films, Lions Love (…and Lies), as “grotesque,” and twice Varda recoils. Finally, brimming with disdain, she interrupts to tell Kroll his is a “racist position”—racist in this case summing up all variety of American stupidity.13

In fact, Varda’s California films are devoted to such “grotesque” characters, the marginalized and denigrated types that make of California a hypertrophic variation on America. Varda found in Los Angeles a city of seekers—explorers, refugees, and desperadoes who had pushed westward and westward again, compelled by nothing but dreams, and finally arriving at the edge of a continent. The search that has no object resonated with Varda; she is, by her own admission, a gleaner for whom searching and living are coincident. The natural terminus of such a search—the beach—was where Varda felt most at home. The edge of the sea is both a symbol of dramatic finality and endless expansion, and what happens there is one of Varda’s great themes.14 How to live on a precipice? Having pushed westward until there is no more West, what sorts of searches remain?"



"Varda’s insouciance to Hollywood had scarcely diminished 13 years later, in 1980, when she was again approached by the studios to submit a script. Showing little concern for what was likely to be produced, she wrote a story based on a real Los Angeles event she’d read about in the Paris newspapers. A man was walking down the street naked at 5 a.m. He lived nearby, and his pregnant wife was home asleep. Strolling along on the sidewalk, he encountered an LAPD police officer who shot and killed him. When the officer was questioned why, he simply said, according to Varda’s telling of the story, “Because of his eyes.”16 Her script related the incident through the perspective of a French woman who happened to witness the murder from her window.

As Varda might have guessed, Hollywood refused to produce a film about a police officer’s poor judgment, and the same sequence of events repeated itself. When the script was a dead end and the deal came to naught, Varda chose to remain in Los Angeles to independently produce two more features: Documenteur: An Emotion Picture, about a single mother struggling to make a home, and Mur Murs, a documentary about murals and their creators. Varda conceived of the two films as twins and originally screened them together, though they were later separated when she decided each was stronger on its own."



"The same mural that concludes Mur Murs opens Documenteur: LA Fine Arts Squad’s Isle of California.20 The massive painting depicts a broken concrete highway precipitously perched on an island, dangling above a foamy ocean. Split from the mainland, Los Angeles is in ruins. Without the West, the edge of the West has become a nowhere. Varda once described Documenteur as a film about the “end of the end of the end,” a phrase that also evokes the cataclysm to which this mural alludes, the specter of a catastrophe that will plunge Los Angeles into the sea.21 The ocean reclaims and gifts land at will, such that the end of the end will at some point meet its end. In this respect and others, Varda’s Los Angeles films insist on exposing the city’s secret substratum—the geological precariousness, the outsider’s take on Hollywood, the painful slivers of loss endemic to Angelenos’s propensity for self-invention. If only Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Brecht and all the others had seen Los Angeles as Varda did—as a city of seekers and misfits teetering on the edge of the world—they would not have hated it as they did. Of course, to find that Los Angeles, they would have had to leave Hollywood."
agnèsvarda  film  losangeles  frenchnewwave  françoistruffaut  2014  jean-lucgodard  sashaarchibald  gender  williamfaulkner  fscottfitzgerald  bertoltbrecht  jacquesdemy  georgebeauregard  hueynewton  california  us  thomanderson 
may 2017 by robertogreco
THE BITTER SOUTHERNER - Great Stories from the South
"You see, the South is a curiosity to people who aren’t from here. Always has been. Open up your copy of Faulkner’s 1936 masterpiece, “Absalom, Absalom!” Find the spot where Quentin Compson’s puzzled Canadian roommate at Harvard says to him, “Tell about the South. What it’s like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”


It always comes down to that last bit: With all our baggage, how do we live at all? A lot of people in the world believe that most folks in the South are just dumb. Or backward. Just not worth their attention.

And you know what? If you live down here, sometimes you look around and think, “Those folks are right.” We do have people here who will argue, in all sincerity, that the Confederacy entered the Civil War only to defend the concept of states’ rights and that secession had nothing to do with the desire to keep slavery alive. We still become a national laughing stock because some small town somewhere has not figured out how to hold a high school prom that includes kids of all races.

If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.

The Bitter Southerner is for the rest of us. It is about the South that the rest of us know: the one we live in today and the one we hope to create in the future.

According to Tracy Thompson’s brilliant “The New Mind of the South,” it’s been only two decades since Southern kids (including the entire Bitter Southerner crew) stopped learning history from censored textbooks, which uniformly glossed over our region’s terrible racial history. Even today, kids are studying texts that Thompson rightfully labels “milquetoast” in their treatment of Southern history.

And recent election results suggest that the Southern mind hasn’t evolved much, that we’re not much different from what we were in 1936, when Faulkner was struggling yet again with the moral weirdness of the South. Almost 80 years later, it’s still too damned easy for folks to draw the conclusion that we Southerners are hopelessly bound to tradition, too resistant to change.

But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It's also full of people who face our region's contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.

The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter. But it prompted us to create The Bitter Southerner™.

We’re talking here about people whose work embodies what my old buddy Patterson Hood once called, in a song, “the duality of the Southern thing.” The purpose of The Bitter Southerner is to explore, from every angle we can, the duality of the Southern thing.

Last time I saw Patterson, we sat in his van outside Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. We were talking about how his view had changed in the dozen or so years since he’d written that song.

To him, the 2012 election results brought clear evidence that we are moving into a more progressive era, and that our southern home might actually be following, however slowly. “We may actually wind up living in a more enlightened country,” he said, and laughed a little.

Still, the tension — the strain between pride and shame, that eternal duality of the Southern thing — remains. Lord knows, most folks outside the South believe — and rightly so — that most Southerners are kicking and screaming to keep the old South old. But many others, through the simple dignity of their work, are changing things.


We’re here to tell their stories. Over time, you’ll see many pieces about bartenders, because a) that’s where we started and b) we very much enjoy a great cocktail. After all, one Southern tradition worthy of honor is the act of drinking well. But we’ll also cover the musicians, cooks, designers, farmers, scientists, innovators, writers, thinkers and craftsmen. We’ll show you the spots that make the South a far better place than most folks think it is. You’ll also see essays, short stories and poems — pieces that Bitter Southerners like ourselves create as we wrestle with our region. And every now and then, we’ll give you a peek at the oddities that seem to happen only down here.

We hope you’ll enjoy The Bitter Southerner and spread the word about it. Help us round up other Bitter Southerners, no matter where they live.

We hope you’ll want to contribute to The Bitter Southerner. In fact, we need you to. Right now, we have no budget and a staff of volunteers, so we're starting in our hometown of Atlanta. But we know there are others out there like us, people with the skills to capture a good story, or create one. Tell us your ideas. Let us know who you are.

The stories are out there, all over the South. They deserve to be told.

Until we tell them all, we will remain as bitter as Antoine Amedie Peychaud.

Welcome to The Bitter Southerner."

[via:
"Gifts to self recently include this subscription to @BitterSouth"
https://twitter.com/tressiemcphd/status/861322125348614145 ]
magazines  south  chuckreece  pattersonhood  tracythompson  williamfaulkner  bittersoutherner 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Against Interpretation
[before quoting the entirety, quoting one line:

"What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more."]

"“Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny - very tiny, content.”
- Willem De Kooning, in an interview

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
- Oscar Wilde, in a letter

1

The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual. (Cf. the paintings in the caves at Lascaux, Altamira, Niaux, La Pasiega, etc.) The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.

It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself.

Plato, who proposed the theory, seems to have done so in order to rule that the value of art is dubious. Since he considered ordinary material things as themselves mimetic objects, imitations of transcendent forms or structures, even the best painting of a bed would be only an “imitation of an imitation.” For Plato, art is neither particularly useful (the painting of a bed is no good to sleep on), nor, in the strict sense, true. And Aristotle’s arguments in defense of art do not really challenge Plato’s view that all art is an elaborate trompe l’oeil, and therefore a lie. But he does dispute Plato’s idea that art is useless. Lie or no, art has a certain value according to Aristotle because it is a form of therapy. Art is useful, after all, Aristotle counters, medicinally useful in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions.

In Plato and Aristotle, the mimetic theory of art goes hand in hand with the assumption that art is always figurative. But advocates of the mimetic theory need not close their eyes to decorative and abstract art. The fallacy that art is necessarily a “realism” can be modified or scrapped without ever moving outside the problems delimited by the mimetic theory.

The fact is, all Western consciousness of and reflection upon art have remained within the confines staked out by the Greek theory of art as mimesis or representation. It is through this theory that art as such - above and beyond given works of art - becomes problematic, in need of defense. And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call “form” is separated off from something we have learned to call “content,” and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory.

Even in modern times, when most artists and critics have discarded the theory of art as representation of an outer reality in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression, the main feature of the mimetic theory persists. Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first. The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (“What X is saying is . . . ,” “What X is trying to say is . . .,” “What X said is . . .” etc., etc.)

2

None of us can ever retrieve that innocence before all theory when art knew no need to justify itself, when one did not ask of a work of art what it said because one knew (or thought one knew) what it did. From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practice.

This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism.

Though the actual developments in many arts may seem to be leading us away from the idea that a work of art is primarily its content, the idea still exerts an extraordinary hegemony. I want to suggest that this is because the idea is now perpetuated in the guise of a certain way of encountering works of art thoroughly ingrained among most people who take any of the arts seriously. What the overemphasis on the idea of content entails is the perennial, never consummated project of interpretation. And, conversely, it is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art.

3

Of course, I don’t mean interpretation in the broadest sense, the sense in which Nietzsche (rightly) says, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” By interpretation, I mean here a conscious act of the mind which illustrates a certain code, certain “rules” of interpretation.

Directed to art, interpretation means plucking a set of elements (the X, the Y, the Z, and so forth) from the whole work. The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation. The interpreter says, Look, don’t you see that X is really - or, really means - A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C?

What situation could prompt this curious project for transforming a text? History gives us the materials for an answer. Interpretation first appears in the culture of late classical antiquity, when the power and credibility of myth had been broken by the “realistic” view of the world introduced by scientific enlightenment. Once the question that haunts post-mythic consciousness - that of the seemliness of religious symbols - had been asked, the ancient texts were, in their pristine form, no longer acceptable. Then interpretation was summoned, to reconcile the ancient texts to “modern” demands. Thus, the Stoics, to accord with their view that the gods had to be moral, allegorized away the rude features of Zeus and his boisterous clan in Homer’s epics. What Homer really designated by the adultery of Zeus with Leto, they explained, was the union between power and wisdom. In the same vein, Philo of Alexandria interpreted the literal historical narratives of the Hebrew Bible as spiritual paradigms. The story of the exodus from Egypt, the wandering in the desert for forty years, and the entry into the promised land, said Philo, was really an allegory of the individual soul’s emancipation, tribulations, and final deliverance. Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text (another notorious example is the Rabbinic and Christian “spiritual” interpretations of the clearly erotic Song of Songs), they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there.

Interpretation in our own time, however, is even more complex. For the contemporary zeal for the project of interpretation is often prompted not by piety toward the troublesome text (which may conceal an aggression), but by an open aggressiveness, an overt contempt for appearances. The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs “behind” the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.

Thus, interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness. In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling.

4

Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is largely reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.

Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world - in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn … [more]
art  interpretation  philosophy  theory  essays  susansontag  plato  artistotle  film  representation  innocence  nietzsche  proust  kafka  tennesseewilliams  jean-lucgodard  rolandbarthes  erwinpanofsky  northropfrye  walterbenjamin  yasujirōozu  robertbresson  culture  thought  senses  oscarwilde  willemdekooning  content  appearances  aesthetics  invisibile  myth  antiquity  karlmarx  freud  jamesjoyce  rainermariarilke  andrégide  dhlawrence  jeancocteau  alainresnais  alainrobbe-grillet  ingmarbergman  ezrapund  tseliot  dgriffith  françoistruffaut  michelangeloantonioni  ermannoolmi  criticism  pierrefrancastel  mannyfarber  dorothyvanghent  rndalljarrell  waltwhitman  williamfaulkner 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Reverting to Type: A Reader’s Story |
"It did become my thing. I transferred to what we thought of as the University of Alabama, the one in Tuscaloosa, largely because it had a better English department. I double-majored in English and history, and at some point decided — what considerations went into the decision I no longer remember — that I wanted to go to graduate school to study more literature. So I attended the University of Virginia. I developed a historical sense — my love for Browne’s prose led me to spend most of my time in the seventeenth century, until a relatively late encounter with the poetry of W. H. Auden made a modernist of me — amassed a repertoire of critical gestures, learned to invoke the names and terms of High Theory in the proper ways and at the proper times. I was initiated into the academic guild; I became a professor.

It wasn’t always easy, of course. In my last weeks as an undergraduate one of my professors had taken me aside and whispered to me the sacred names of Barthes and Derrida, and told me I should make fuller acquaintance with them. I dutifully wrote down the names and immediately forgot about them. Since none of this Theory stuff had previously been mentioned to me in my undergraduate career, how important could it be? So when I plunged into my first graduate classes — including a theoretical survey in which we read Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Gramsci, Georg Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno, Husserl, Heidegger, Ricoeur, Jakobson, Althusser, Brooks, Frye, de Beauvoir, Kenneth Burke, and, yes, Barthes and Derrida, among others — I was immediately transformed from a confident critic-in-the-making to a lost lamb, baahing reproachfully, petulantly.

Ten weeks or so into my first semester I decided that I just couldn’t cut it and needed to drop out. But I was a newlywed, and had carried my bride hundreds of miles from her family, set her down in a strange town, and effectively forced her to hunt for compartatively menial jobs, all to support this great academic endeavor of mine. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how miserable and incompetent and just plain lost I was.

Our apartment in Charlottesville had a small windowless room that I used for a study. One evening after dinner I went in and closed the door and tried to sort through the vast pile of photocopied theoretical essays I had bought at Kinko’s on the first day of class. (We could violate copyright in those days, too.) But it was useless. I could scarcely bear even to look at the stuff. My professor had copied from his own well-used books, and every essay was full of confident underlinings and annotations that seemed by their very presence to judge me and find me wanting. I couldn’t bring myself to read another word.

My eyes wandered to a nearby bookshelf, and were caught for a moment by the glit of a gold cardboard box: it contained the three volumes of the Ballantine mass-market version of The Lord of the Rings. I had never read Tolkien: I was a science-fiction guy, not a fantasy guy. But of course I knew that The Trilogy (as I thought of it) was important, and that someday I ought to get to it. Almost thoughtlessly, I picked up the first volume and began to read.

When bedtime rolled around I set the book down and emerged from the sanctuary. “How’d it go tonight?” Teri asked.

I said, “It went well.”

The next evening I re-entered the study, under the pretense of continuing my academic labors with all due seriousness, and picked up where I had left off in the story. For the next week or so, though during the days I went to classes and did generally what I was supposed to do, I did none of the reading or writing I was assigned. I got further and further behind. I didn’t care; I was somewhere else and glad to be somewhere else. Teri seemed pleased with my scholarly discipline, as each evening I washed the dishes, gave her a kiss, and closed the study door behind me.

When I finished The Lord of the Rings I drew a deep breath. I felt more sound and whole than I had felt in weeks, maybe months. But, to my own surprise, I did not conclude that all that academic crap was a waste of time and I should do something else with my life, something that gave me time to read lots of fantasy novels. Instead, I experienced a strange refreshment, almost an exhilaration. My confusion and frustration seemed like small afflictions, conquerable adversaries. Barthes and Derrida weren’t so fearsome after all. I could do this.

I don’t believe that I was thinking, “Literary theory is as nothing in comparison to the power of Mordor!” Or, “If Frodo can carry that Ring to the Cracks of Doom I can write this paper on Paul Ricoeur!” Rather, I was just benefiting from spending some time away from my anxieties. We had been too intimate and needed separation. So I resumed my studies in a far better frame of mind; as a result, I did better work. I completed my doctorate and began my career as a teacher, but I didn’t forget the debt I owed to that week I spent in Tolkien’s world."



"In a sense I am only talking here about expanding my repertoire of analogies, my ability to make illuminating and meaningful comparisons. For many years now Douglas Hofstadter, drawing on the work of the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, has been convinced that the secret to creating artificial intelligence lies in teaching machines to recognize analogies. (Ulam says somewhere that it’s all about “as”: we see marks on a piece of wood pulp as a portrait of a beloved child, a cairn of stones as a monument to a dead chieftain.) Similar principles underlie the methods of Google Translate, which collects an enormous corpus of sentences and then tries to match your input to something in that corpus, and Apple’s “digital personal assistant,” Siri. Siri can’t parse what you say to her unless she can connect to the network, which undertakes a comparison of your utterance to other utterances on record. All this might be called brute-force analogizing, but it seems to me that my own understanding develops as I pursue the same method, though with far less force and (I hope) less brutishness.

In one of his most beautiful poems, Richard Wilbur writes, “Odd that a thing is most itself when likened.” And this is true no matter the thing: a book becomes more fully itself when we see both how it resembles and how is differs from other books; one discipline of study takes on its proper hues only when we see its relations to other disciplines that stand close to it or very far away. My repertoire of analogies is my toolbox, or my console of instruments, by which I comprehend and navigate the world. It can’t be too large; every addition helps, at least a bit. And that’s why I’m thankful for my gradual recovery of the books I adored, and thoughts I lovingly entertained, when I was forty years younger."
alanjacobs  howweread  reading  2015  analogies  metaphor  text  pleasurereading  richardwilbur  harukimurukami  jrrtolkein  thelordoftherings  stainslawulam  loreneisley  sciencefiction  understanding  literarycriticism  genrefiction  fiction  literature  academia  writing  howwewrite  howwelearn  books  jacquesderrida  rolandbarthes  whauden  sirthomasbrowne  williamfaulkner  nealstephenson  joycecaroloates  twocultures  cpsnow  jamesgleick  linux  learning  canon  digressions  amateurism  dabbling  listening  communication  howweteach  teaching  education  silos 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 69, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"When García Márquez speaks, his body often rocks back and forth. His hands too are often in motion making small but decisive gestures to emphasize a point, or to indicate a shift of direction in his thinking. He alternates between leaning forward towards his listener, and sitting far back with his legs crossed when speaking reflectively."



INTERVIEWER How do you feel about using the tape recorder?

GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The problem is that the moment you know the interview is being taped, your attitude changes. In my case I immediately take a defensive attitude. As a journalist, I feel that we still haven’t learned how to use a tape recorder to do an interview. The best way, I feel, is to have a long conversation without the journalist taking any notes. Then afterward he should reminisce about the conversation and write it down as an impression of what he felt, not necessarily using the exact words expressed. Another useful method is to take notes and then interpret them with a certain loyalty to the person interviewed. What ticks you off about the tape recording everything is that it is not loyal to the person who is being interviewed, because it even records and remembers when you make an ass of yourself. That’s why when there is a tape recorder, I am conscious that I’m being interviewed; when there isn’t a tape recorder, I talk in an unconscious and completely natural way.



GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist. What I didn’t like about journalism before were the working conditions. Besides, I had to condition my thoughts and ideas to the interests of the newspaper. Now, after having worked as a novelist, and having achieved financial independence as a novelist, I can really choose the themes that interest me and correspond to my ideas. In any case, I always very much enjoy the chance of doing a great piece of journalism.



INTERVIEWER Do you think the novel can do certain things that journalism can’t?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same. The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a great novel and Hiroshima is a great work of journalism.

INTERVIEWER Do the journalist and the novelist have different responsibilities in balancing truth versus the imagination?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.



INTERVIEWER How did you start writing?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ By drawing. By drawing cartoons. Before I could read or write I used to draw comics at school and at home. The funny thing is that I now realize that when I was in high school I had the reputation of being a writer, though I never in fact wrote anything. If there was a pamphlet to be written or a letter of petition, I was the one to do it because I was supposedly the writer. When I entered college I happened to have a very good literary background in general, considerably above the average of my friends. At the university in Bogotá, I started making new friends and acquaintances, who introduced me to contemporary writers. One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories. They are totally intellectual short stories because I was writing them on the basis of my literary experience and had not yet found the link between literature and life. The stories were published in the literary supplement of the newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá and they did have a certain success at the time—probably because nobody in Colombia was writing intellectual short stories. What was being written then was mostly about life in the countryside and social life. When I wrote my first short stories I was told they had Joycean influences.



INTERVIEWER Can you name some of your early influences?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The people who really helped me to get rid of my intellectual attitude towards the short story were the writers of the American Lost Generation. I realized that their literature had a relationship with life that my short stories didn’t. And then an event took place which was very important with respect to this attitude. It was the Bogotazo, on the ninth of April, 1948, when a political leader, Gaitan, was shot and the people of Bogotá went raving mad in the streets. I was in my pension ready to have lunch when I heard the news. I ran towards the place, but Gaitan had just been put into a taxi and was being taken to a hospital. On my way back to the pension, the people had already taken to the streets and they were demonstrating, looting stores and burning buildings. I joined them. That afternoon and evening, I became aware of the kind of country I was living in, and how little my short stories had to do with any of that. When I was later forced to go back to Barranquilla on the Caribbean, where I had spent my childhood, I realized that that was the type of life I had lived, knew, and wanted to write about.

Around 1950 or ’51 another event happened that influenced my literary tendencies. My mother asked me to accompany her to Aracataca, where I was born, and to sell the house where I spent my first years. When I got there it was at first quite shocking because I was now twenty-two and hadn’t been there since the age of eight. Nothing had really changed, but I felt that I wasn’t really looking at the village, but I was experiencing it as if I were reading it. It was as if everything I saw had already been written, and all I had to do was to sit down and copy what was already there and what I was just reading. For all practical purposes everything had evolved into literature: the houses, the people, and the memories. I’m not sure whether I had already read Faulkner or not, but I know now that only a technique like Faulkner’s could have enabled me to write down what I was seeing. The atmosphere, the decadence, the heat in the village were roughly the same as what I had felt in Faulkner. It was a banana-plantation region inhabited by a lot of Americans from the fruit companies which gave it the same sort of atmosphere I had found in the writers of the Deep South. Critics have spoken of the literary influence of Faulkner, but I see it as a coincidence: I had simply found material that had to be dealt with in the same way that Faulkner had treated similar material.

From that trip to the village I came back to write Leaf Storm, my first novel. What really happened to me in that trip to Aracataca was that I realized that everything that had occurred in my childhood had a literary value that I was only now appreciating. From the moment I wrote Leaf Storm I realized I wanted to be a writer and that nobody could stop me and that the only thing left for me to do was to try to be the best writer in the world. That was in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1967 that I got my first royalties after having written five of my eight books.



INTERVIEWER What about the banana fever in One Hundred Years of Solitude? How much of that is based on what the United Fruit Company did?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The banana fever is modeled closely on reality. Of course, I’ve used literary tricks on things which have not been proved historically. For example, the massacre in the square is completely true, but while I wrote it on the basis of testimony and documents, it was never known exactly how many people were killed. I used the figure three thousand, which is obviously an exaggeration. But one of my childhood memories was watching a very, very long train leave the plantation supposedly full of bananas. There could have been three thousand dead on it, eventually to be dumped in the sea. What’s really surprising is that now they speak very naturally in the Congress and the newspapers about the “three thousand dead.” I suspect that half of all our history is made in this fashion. In The Autumn of the Patriarch, the dictator says it doesn’t matter if it’s not true now, because sometime in the future it will be true. Sooner or later people believe writers rather than the government.

INTERVIEWER That makes the writer pretty powerful, doesn’t it?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Yes, and I can feel it too. It gives me a great sense of responsibility. What I would really like to do is a piece of journalism which is completely true and real, but which sounds as fantastic as One Hundred Years of Solitude. The more I live and remember things from the past, the more I think that literature and journalism are closely related.



INTERVIEWER Are dreams ever important as a source of inspiration?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In the very beginning I paid a good deal of attention to them. But then I realized that life itself is the greatest source of inspiration and that dreams are only a very small part of that torrent that is life. What is very true about my writing is that I’m quite interested in different concepts of dreams and interpretations of them. I see dreams as part of life in general, but reality is much richer. But maybe I just have very poor dreams.

INTERVIEWER Can you distinguish between inspiration and intuition?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Inspiration is when you find the right theme, one which you really like; that makes the work much easier. Intuition, which is … [more]
gabrielgarcíamárquez  1981  interviews  colombia  writing  journalism  truth  reality  fiction  literature  latinamerica  drawing  kafka  jamesjoyce  stories  storytelling  everyday  williamfaulkner  imagination  biography  autobiography  politics  childhood  fantasy  magicrealism  credibility  detail  details  belief  believability  responsibility  history  bricolage  collage  power  solitude  flow  dreams  dreaming  inspiration  intuition  intellectualism  translation  mexico  spanish  español  gregoryrabassa  borders  frontiers  miguelángelasturias  cuba  fame  friendship  film  filmmaking  relationships  consumption  language  languages  reading  howweread  howwewrite  routine  familiarity  habits 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway (and how I learned of Marquez's Nobel) - David Dobbs's Somatic Marker
"Somehow this completes a circle: Hemingway, Garcia commenting on Hemingway's bullfighter Spanish, and the Colombian wine steward, beaming, bringing me the news of Garcia's own triumph."
hemingway  gabrielgarcíamárquez  writers  idols  spanish  español  encounters  literature  virginiawoolf  williamfaulkner 
november 2011 by robertogreco
Stray Questions for: David Eagleman - NYTimes.com
"with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position—one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

"I’m always recommending my literary heroes: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner. At the moment, I’m reading David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” and Olaf Stapledon’s “First and Last Men.” In the nonfiction realm I read a lot of neuroscience and physics, but in this past week I’ve been revisiting Carl Sagan, an early inspiration for my Possibilianism."
philosophy  davideagleman  possibilianism  tonimorrison  gabrielgarcíamárquez  italocalvino  borges  davidmitchell  agnosticism  athieism  belief  uncertainty  religion  atheism  science  ambiguity  certainty  curiosity  hubble  ultradeepfield  williamfaulkner 
february 2011 by robertogreco
Eastern Seaboard, West Coast (full episode) | A Way with Words
"Does sanction mean “a penalty” or “an approval”? Well, both. Martha explains the nature of contranyms, also known as Janus words. Here’s an article about them in the periodical Verbatim.

Listeners share their suggestions for the game What Would You Serve? Hosting a golfer for dinner? Tea and greens should be lovely!

William Faulkner used adjectives like shadowdabbled, Augusttremulous, and others that can only be described as, well, Faulknerian. Grant and Martha trade theories about why the great writer chose them.

The University of Virginia has an online audio archive of Faulkner, recorded during his tenure as that school’s Writer-in-Residence.

Also, check out this splendid 1956 Paris Review interview with Faulkner about the art of writing."
writing  words  wordgames  games  play  waywithwords  contranyms  classideas  language  English  wordplay  williamfaulkner 
february 2011 by robertogreco
Ayelet Waldman, Author of Bad Mother and Red Hook Road, on Writing Well - WSJ.com
"A scene, unlike a description, not only has a beginning, a middle and an end, but by the time it’s over, something has changed, something has happened without which the story can’t continue. Each scene must be necessary to the narrative…

When rewriting, I inevitably find passages that aren’t necessary to the plot…Usually I’m convinced that these passages are among the most gorgeous things I’ve ever written. It’s then that I remind myself of Faulkner’s painful advice: ‘In writing, you must kill your darlings.’…

Good narrative writing must defend itself. Every sentence, even every word, must be there for a reason beyond its beauty. It must move the story along, pushing it toward what comes next. Good writing can and should be beautiful, but it must never be only beautiful. Bore-geous is always too much, and never enough."

[via: http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/1714019974/a-scene-unlike-a-description-not-only-has-a ]
writing  lego  ayeletwaldman  editing  classideas  beauty  killingyourdarlings  storytelling  williamfaulkner 
november 2010 by robertogreco
Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 120, Mario Vargas Llosa ["I realized then that we [Latin Americans] have extremely interesting writers—the novelists perhaps less so than the essayists or poets.…]
"…Sarmiento, for example, who never wrote a novel, is in my opinion one of the greatest storytellers Latin America has produced; his Facundo is a masterwork. But if I were forced to choose one name, I would have to say Borges, because the world he creates seems to me to be absolutely original. Aside from his enormous originality, he is also endowed with a tremendous imagination and culture that are expressly his own. And then of course there is the language of Borges, which in a sense broke with our tradition and opened a new one. Spanish is a language that tends toward exuberance, proliferation, profusion. Our great writers have all been prolix, from Cervantes to Ortega y Gasset, Valle-Inclán, or Alfonso Reyes. Borges is the opposite—all concision, economy, and precision. He is the only writer in the Spanish language who has almost as many ideas as he has words. He’s one of the great writers of our time." [That's just a snip. There's lots more inside.]
mariovargasllosa  latinamerica  literature  borges  sarmiento  facundo  interviews  fscottfitzgerald  dospassos  writing  reading  perú  victorhugo  floratristan  guimarãesrosa  sartre  dostoyevsky  balzac  flaubert  tolstoy  nathanielhawthorne  charlesdickens  hermanmelville  gabrielgarcíamárquez  gabo  cervantes  spain  spanish  español  language  history  politics  ideology  happiness  unhappiness  parisreview  depression  josélezamalima  hemingway  joãoguimarãesrosa  españa  williamfaulkner  jean-paulsartre 
october 2010 by robertogreco

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