William Deresiewicz

While You (read=we) Were Out: A Backlog

Apparently, Saudi Arabia has an American Idol-style poetry contest show. (!!!!.) In this clip at Jezebel, which aired on state-run TV, a competitor named Hissa Hilal recited a 15-verse poem criticizing–among other things–clerics who issue fatwas, and suicide bombers. The clip, though untranslated and unsubtitled, is worth watching. The audience applauds occasionally, and she goes on to win the round. And now she’s getting death threats, but I guess that’s just to be expected. The Abu Dhabi National has a decent-size article on her. In English, duh.

The Rumpus has a long piece on Darius Rucker’s weird second career as a country singer. Also, Funny Women #20: Holiday with Communists. Also^2, The Rumpus will be at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on 4/6, featuring Sam Lipsyte, Colson Whitehead, Michael Showalter, Alina Simone, & more. You’ll be hearing from us about this again, but consider this the early warning system.

William Deresiewicz at The American Scholar, shares his thoughts on “Solitude and Leadership.” The essay was first presented as a lecture at West Point. Cool, I guess. (via NY’ker Book Bench blog.)

Vanity Fair presents something they call The Bookopticon, a kind of half-brilliant half-idiotic look at “the incestuous web of the publishing world.” The “interactive field guide illustrates how 10 young authors with potential best-sellers coming out this spring and summer fit into the firmament.” The first thing the chart reveals, before you even start clicking around, is a rather generous conception of the word “young”, which I think here means “under 40.” Now, I’m sure I’ll appreciate that generosity in 10 years’ time, but right now I’m going to go call BS (except on Simon Rich and Nick McDonell, who are both 26) because even the NBCC and Granta manage to cut their “young whippersnapper” lists off at 35 (though sometimes Granta cheats–but they also don’t know what the word “novelist” means; so let’s just figure they’re doing the best they can). ANYway. The chart is worth checking out and clicking around on, though a few key pieces of information are missing. For example, it’d be interesting to know how many of these people have the same agent, or who their agents are. Second, Vanity Fair fails to state the obvious, which is to identify themselves as participant observers, whose creation and presentation of the chart will almost certainly affect the thing they’re measuring/predicting (and hey- good for these guys!). There ought to be a VF node on the chart itself, to which all ten writers are connected. For those of you playing along at home, here’s how to figure out where you fit in: Start by ignoring everything but the Big 10 Names. Give yourself two points for each person you know personally. Give yourself one point for each person who is known personally by one or more people that you know, and with whom you could reasonably expect to be put in touch by the end of the business day (assuming of course you had some business to conduct, which you probably don’t–but if you did). Give yourself half a point for each person you do not know and could not reasonably be put in touch with today, but whose name rings a bell to you. Deduct a point for each person you have never even heard of. Also, if any person who got you two points is linked to Norman Podhoretz, you lose ten points. Now spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what those points translate into. I bet you can’t. (Also, I scored a 4 1/2.)

And finally, one more piece of useful advice from our friends in Dentonville, this thorough and practical post from Lux Alptraum at the very NSFW Fleshbot explains “How to be a dirty perv in the digital age (and not get caught).” The first answer, obviously, is dress like the Saudi poet whenever you’re going on Chatroulette, but the other stuff might be good to know, too.

Roundup / 16 Comments
March 30th, 2010 / 10:10 am

How about a rousing game of literary-cultural high-low?

[NOTE: Guess which are which.]

“The Bubble and The Globe” – Joshua Clover on John Ashbery’s Planisphere as a chronicle of the financial collapse at The Nation.

Ashbery is heroically free of the world-was-better-when-my-body-was-younger piffle that mars some of his well-known contemporaries. Instead we have the sense of the poet (and us with him) being always inside time, suspended within it as within some queer medium (an entirely proprietary substance, one part limestone and two parts prosecco). There is no lyrical leap to ecstasy, to someplace beyond the capacious Ashberian land. Time itself is the worldly country, and there is no other.

Part two of Melissa Broder’s two-part series on twitter as a strange attractor in the writer’s life is now live. In Part 1 she spoke to poets, including Ron Silliman, Amy King, Tao Lin, and Reb Livingston. In Part 1.5 she spoke at some length with Brandon Scott Gorell. Now, in Part 2, she speaks to prose-writers, Kevin Sampsell, Dara Horn, Fiona Maazel, our own Blake Butler and Matthew Simmons, and yours truly.

Fiona Maazel: Twitter? What the hell is that? I, Neanderthal.

“Carded” – William Deresiewicz amply disgusted with the packaging of Nabokov’s Original of Laura at The New Republic.

The cards are perforated and, as Dmitri says in a note, “can be removed and rearranged, as the author likely did when he was writing the novel.” I’ll get back to the second half of that statement, a claim both strategic and semi-dubious (not to mention ungrammatical). The first breaks new ground in editorial chutzpah, inviting us to play a kind of Nabokov: Rock Band–the novel as theme park. One can only imagine what dear old dad–the ultimate artistic control freak, not to mention one of the all-time snobs–would have thought of the idea of letting his readers re-arrange his scraps and chapters at will.

And Boing Boing introduces us to Jake Adelstein, the American Jew who relocated to Japan and became the toughest reporter on the yakuza beat. Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, will be collaborating with Boing Boing over the next two months, to bring out a series of exclusive stories about the yakuza. Which we’ll have our eye on, no doubt, but in the meantime they kick things off with an interview.

Do you worry about your family?

I have a guarantee from someone up high in the Yamaguchi-gumi that they won’t touch my family. Their word is pretty solid. It’s a gentleman’s agreement that they’ll only kill me, which makes me feel better.

Random / 2 Comments
March 10th, 2010 / 2:20 pm

Your Very Non-V-Day V-Day Roundup


This will be as mushy as it gets.

At The Fanzine, Jeff Johnson considers Ben Lerner’s Mean Free Path.

Dennis Cooper hosts the official online launch of Mark Gluth’s The Late Works of Margaret Kroftis. I have yet to hear anything but the best about this book.

Because we love Roger Ebert now, we are interested in his review of Valentine’s Day.

“Valentine’s Day” is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it’s more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.

Also, did you know that Ebert wrote a book called Your Movie Sucks ?

William Deresiewicz on Tolstoy at The Nation. (I’ve become such a committed Deresiewicz reader I can now type his last name without having to check the spelling first–I check after, and I’m usually right. This goes for you, too, Moe Tkacik.)

NYTea Time: Dominique Browning is quite taken with Cathleen Schine’s The Three Weissmanns of Westport. She locates the book in the updated-Austen trend, but hastens to identify a crucial distinguishing feature: “The strange thing about the Jane brigade is that most of its practitioners have raided only her plots, apparently not quite up to the task of honoring the essence of Austen. But Schine’s homage has it all: stinging social satire, mordant wit, delicate charm, lilting language and cosseting materialistic detail.” Hey, there’s a new Peter Handke book! And Adam Haslett wrote a novel! About the financial crisis! Michiko Kakutani did not like Union Atlantic-but that was on a Monday; Liesl Schillinger likes it quite a lot today. What else? Jon Caramanica looks at a couple of rock & roll books;  Catherine Rampell on the interesting-looking academic-ish-seeming, Capitalism and the Jews by Jerry Z. Muller; Dahlia Lithwick on death row lawyer David R. Dow’s memoir, Autobiography of an Execution; and Todd Pruzan makes my weekend.

Happy Sunday!

Random / 4 Comments
February 14th, 2010 / 11:58 am

The Nation Spring Books Issue…

On the origin of awesome beards.

…is on stands now. I haven’t seen a hard copy yet, but if you click over to their website the top story is an essay by William Deresiewicz, for whose critical writing I expressed much love in a previous post. Here’s a meaty little excerpt from “Adaptation: On Literary Darwinism.”

Human beings expend an enormous amount of energy doing things that don’t seem to have any survival value: singing, dancing, painting caves, decorating spears and, above all, telling stories. (Think how much time you spend consuming fictional narratives–novels, movies, TV shows–in one form or another.) The nascent field of Darwinian aesthetics seeks to account for the art-making impulse in evolutionary psychological terms. If art is a product of the mind, and the mind is a product of evolution, then art is a product of evolution. Again, as an intellectual project, this is perfectly valid. But there are also strong selection pressures pushing in the direction of such an approach. Evolutionary thinking is, at present, an aggressively expansive species within the academic world, a kind of emergent Homo sapiens outcompeting the old-school Neanderthals across a wide swath of intellectual territory. Having colonized the social sciences–where it has begun to displace the view, predominant throughout the twentieth century, that the mind is a highly malleable product of culture–it has now set its sights on the humanities, the last area of resistance.

Author Spotlight / 8 Comments
May 23rd, 2009 / 1:29 pm

When the Whip Comes Down: William Deresiewicz Reviews Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry

There's a heaven above you, baby.

I read “When the Whip Comes Down”  in The Nation yesterday, and I think it’s well worth sharing, not so much because it matters whether Deresiewicz “likes” Mary Gaitskill (he does) or the new book in particular (he doesn’t), but because I think the piece itself is a shining example of a particular kind of critical writing, more or less in its optimum form. Though he’s fit his thoughts into a review-length essay, I think Deresiewicz has given us a valuable piece of criticism-proper. You come away from the review with a substantially enlarged and nuanced understanding of Gaitskill’s work, even if you’ve read it all before (and I have, except for the new one). I also think any aspiring critic looking to hone her skills (and I’ll go ahead and count myself among this number) stands to learn quite a lot from reading Deresiewicz and understanding how he works. After you’ve read “When the Whip Comes Down,” you should click-through on his name at The Nation website and check out his previous work for them. Critics are like any other kind of writer–if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, read up.

How Wood Works: The Riches and Limits of James Wood” (11/19/08)

Homing Patterns: Marilynne Robinson’s Fiction” (9/24/08)

Fuku Americanus” – on Junot Diaz (11/08/07)

Author Spotlight / 12 Comments
April 25th, 2009 / 9:08 am