“Lighting Rods captivates from the start. The first 50 pages, especially, evoke the death-spin insularity of the voices in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. DeWitt has the knack for making formal daring feel utterly familiar. She commits fully, thrillingly, to the idiom of pragmatic self-interest as the stuff of her characters’ inner lives. Joe and the others cogitate and address themselves with the fathomless logic and received life-management platitudes that you imagine must be hiding something terrifying when you encounter people who actually talk that way. Excepting Joe’s fantasies, which are so vividly filthy they could only be human, with these characters what lies behind the mask is another mask. And yet if the tone is often wicked—it’s a very funny book—it’s never snide. If anything, the characters cross into poignancy, appearing to the reader like small laboratory animals dutifully negotiating an elaborate maze. It’s a sweet spot between satire and parody, and the animating question quickly becomes how DeWitt is going to hold that domain over the next 200 pages and get out of this mother of a conceit. What follows is like watching Houdini wriggle out of the world’s most elaborate metaphor, hook by hook.”—
“Maybe Helen DeWitt’s nickname should be Honey Badger because she just really doesn’t give a shit about what anyone expects from her writing or her books.”—
I don’t necessarily agree with John Warner about this — I think Helen Dewitt actually anticipates and expects response from her readers more than anyone who really “doesn’t give a shit” does — but I like that he said it. Honey badger, in case you are not one of the 4 million people who’ve already seen it.
“I wore a pastel dress from the 50s that I’d bought at a flea market. In the gleaming white daylit room my yellowed pink dress definitely read as ‘used,’ not ‘vintage,’ and probably my hair could have been cleaner. My classmate wore a green silk dress I’d seen in a magazine. There were trays with blanched asparagus spears and there was a person who had been hired to come around and endlessly refill your glass with champagne. I wandered from room to room, looking out of the massive windows and wondering if I would ever even visit an apartment this nice again.”—
I sat down to write about why I don’t like this time of year and then remembered I already had, in 2009. 2009-era Emily knew it all a little more than 2012 Emily does, but I still admire this blog post.
If the double feature last night at the Spectacle taught us anything, it’s that we need more women, more heroic silliness (less subpoena envy), more costumes, more songs. Anyone who cares about occupations should really see Carry Greenham Home—or read Ann Snitow on the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp; and anyone who cares about feminist film should check out, and support, Women Make Movies.
“The general snootiness about Franzen’s success that you could smell wafting off the literary scene grossed me out and became indicative of something ominous to me. The Corrections and Freedom are the two best novels that came out of my generation, so man up and deal with it, guys. It came to a point where I just couldn’t put up with the pettiness of it all anymore. Being confronted by it was making me miserable. I didn’t want to go to another PEN dinner. I didn’t want to hang with these people. I didn’t want to have cocktails in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art and sit at a table and listen to writers give speeches. I didn’t want to go to another book party at Pravda or at a loft in Tribeca. I found myself thinking more often than not when I’d receive an invitation, I’d rather cut my head off with a knife.”—Bret Easton Ellis on why he lives in LA and makes shark movies now. Perhaps you’d like to buy the Paris Review and read the whole interview.
“Workshops are where you first start hearing people say really dumb things about your writing and where you first start developing an ability to deflect those comments, or at least not let them change what you initially wanted to do with a particular story. You need that kind of armor to survive as a writer.”—the Bret Easton Ellis interview (by Jon-Jon Goulian) in the new Paris Review is PERFECT IN EVERY WAY
i was looking desperately for clues, because if there were no clues then i thought i might be insane.
adrienne rich, “when we dead awaken: writing as re-vision.”
i used to have this argument with my ex-boyfriend in which he would accuse me of “looking for different things” in art than he did. by which he meant: i was looking for clues, or i was looking for myself, or, as adrienne rich says, “she goes to poetry or fiction looking for her way of being in the world, since she too has been putting words and images together; she is looking eagerly for guides, maps, possibilities; and over and over in the ‘words’ masculine persuasive force’ of literature she comes up against something that negates everything she is about; she meets the image of Woman in books written by men.”
i found his argument to be profoundly patriarchal, coming from a privileged while male who could find powerful images of himself everywhere and always had, who had never been an 11-year-old jewish girl in catholic school in the 1980s who read ms. magazine instead of doing her homework and who didn’t know anyone almost for two decades with similar emotional, intellectual, and political affiliations—who only knew, in the meantime, ani and tori and liz, and that wasn’t even until the 1990s—who didn’t need to look desperately for clues. not to mention that his desire to identify with male artists who are not privileged white men has its own long and politically problematic lineage.
i also found the implication that i privileged content over form, and that such a privileging was unsophisticated, to be deeply patronizing. first it wasn’t true: i absolutely enjoy misogynistic music; it’s just that i don’t “just” enjoy it. my favorite part of this ongoing argument was when he would talk about a black female friend of his who loves rap because she is ”moved by the beat” or “listens with her heart as much as her head” or something like that and i was like: you’ve got to be joking if you think one woman speaks for all women and you’ve got to be joking if you think you know everything about the way she experiences this music and you’ve got to be joking if your argument is basically what ellen willis said in the 1960s. which is all a long way of saying that there is nothing aesthetically or intellectually immature about being the kind of person who, in their experiences of art, looks for clues, because we still need to. if you don’t, wow, what a privilege.
“A plasma television hung from his wall; DVDS, pillows, and the smell of sunscreen and cat litter. White carpet and leather couches. His house reeked of purchases and longing, a smell that I recognized. It smelled like compulsive shopping and teenage sex.”—
“Please? I think I might be freaking out,” he says. “Am I ruining my life here, or what? Am I making a mistake? Jo?” He breathes raggedly and sniffs into the receiver for a moment, then hangs up with a muffled clatter.
Caroline stares at the machine as if it’s a copperhead.
“Holy fuckoly,” she says, shaking her head. “You’re living with this crap?”—seriously: The Fourth State of Matter , read/reread it (requisite warning about carving out a block of time and privacy, like, probably not a subway read)
“[My day jobs were] Secretary and glorified secretary. For a while in my early forties I had a job stapling. It was actually fun but then it started bothering my back.
I worked once for a woman who was younger than me; she had me doing things like bringing her bagels and guarding her car when it was illegally parked. I liked her quite a lot and liked the job too, mainly because I could smoke while I guarded the car. Then she ran across a piece I had published in The New Yorker and almost had a coronary. She couldn’t adjust her idea of who this person she saw every day was. It’s like a box of paperclips had started talking to her. She just kept staring at me all day, and her friends kept coming by and laughing at her. To them this was high hilarity, that their colleague had underestimated her box of paperclips. At the end of the day she called me into her office and said: “You don’t know it, but The New Yorker is a big deal.”
I might be making it sound bad, but it was actually pretty great, all of it. The cigarettes, sitting on a fire hydrant in the sunshine, this woman’s genuine desire to let me in on my good fortune.”—
I always feel, and at this point I kind of hope that I always will feel, that I have no idea how things will work out. Because I think that is actually the fact. The minute you start thinking you have it made, you’re in big trouble. Everything is in flux, always.
If you’ve been around as long as I have, watching the literary scene, then you know that who’s in and who’s out changes by the year. It’s really a very fluid situation that requires that the person who is having the good luck now isn’t having it a year or two from now.
”—Jennifer Egan. This whole blog about famous writers’ pre-success lives is so good. I like that the interviewer always asks about what they were eating in their lean years. People ate a lot of soup. (via somethingchanged)
“Seeing himself in the office mirror had come as a shock. In fact it had made him wonder whether he had actually been sane when he bought that suit in the first place. Why would anybody buy a shit-colored suit? Why would that have seemed even momentarily a good idea? All right, it was on sale at the time. Originally a $99.99 suit, it had been reduced to $49.99 with choice of tie. But wouldn’t you think you would at least wonder why they hadn’t been able to sell it at $99.99? Wouldn’t you think you would look at it and think, oh, I’ll bet the reason they couldn’t sell it at $99.99 was that nobody wanted to buy a suit that went with their turds. But no! He’d just gone in and said, Hey, $49.99! And it fits! And it’s 100% polyester so it won’t get wrinkled! Jesus.”—Lightning Rods, our March pick
“I was in my room, in despair, feeling as if I could never write a book again. And then this voice started talking to me. This is the great thing about being a writer. To watch a film, you need this physical medium, you need to project it on a screen. If you’re a writer, God is just beaming stuff into your head. Once upon a time Springtime for Hitler didn’t exist, and then all of a sudden God beamed it into Mel Brooks’s head. I had that feeling, that God was sending me these jokes about this guy.”—Helen DeWitt ladies and gentlemen!