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Archive for February, 2009

upward“With Mr. Upward’s death, on Feb. 13 in Pontefract, England, the last living link was broken to writers like [Christopher] IsherwoodW. H. Auden and Stephen Spender who shaped English literature in the 1930s. In reporting Mr. Upward’s death, London newspapers said that at 105 he was Britain’s oldest author.

“His influence on his contemporaries was both literary and political, silly and serious. The Mortmere tales — for which biographers give the main credit to Mr. Upward — inspired Auden’s poetry. Isherwood sent manuscripts to Mr. Upward for judgment. Mr. Upward helped convert Spender to Communism.” (via NY Times)

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best-sex1In a posting earlier this week on his New York Times blog about books, David Kelly included an excerpt from Daphne Merkin’s essay, “Penises I Have Known,” one of the 23 pieces in the recently released compilation, “Best Sex Writing 2009,” edited by sex commentator and erotic author Rachel Kramer Bussel.

Merkin’s essay, previously published in Playboy, considers Norman Mailer‘s and Harold Brodkey‘s writings about sex as well as D.H. Lawrence‘s curious penchant for naming body parts.

[Available from Amazon.com as a Kindle Edition download, I hadn’t previously thought of the Kindle as the modern-day equivalent of the tried-and-true brown paper wrapper. We’ve come a long way, baby.]

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kahn-catalog“We’ve all gotten pretty used to looking for books electronically . . . with the result that most dealers, for one reason or another, but usually because of the considerable production costs involved, have moved away from the printed catalogs, which is a shame, because there is still nothing like getting a lively new list of offerings in the mail, and going through it with the kind of leisured approach such an exercise demands.” (via Fine Books & Collections)

[As a long-time collector of modern American literature, my collecting interests, if not my spending power, share much in common with Bruce Kahn’s. The sale by Ken Lopez and Tom Congalton of Kahn’s collection of signed first editions, including so many literary “high spots,” is a rare event in the book collecting world. As such, the just-issued sale catalog is, and will remain, an essential reference for collectors in this field. A copy can be obtained from Ken Lopez, a respected “Americanist” who continues to publish first-rate sales catalogs of modern American literature.]

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no-kissing

A “No Kissing” sign in the Warrington Bank Quay railroad station, Cheshire, England. The sign was installed by Virgin Rail. (via The Guardian)

[And Don’t Sleep in the Subway, either!]

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Near Can Tho in the south of Viet Nam, along one of the smaller canals feeding into the Mekong River, an elderly woman transports ashes bought from one family to be sold to another that will use their purchase as fertilizer (December, 2006)

(Full photo)

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margaret-atwood-002“The acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood has pulled out of a Dubai literature festival after the blacklisting of the British novelist Geraldine Bedell for potential offence to ‘cultural sensitivities’.

“Bedell’s novel The Gulf Between Us, a romantic comedy set in a fictional Gulf emirate, was due to receive its official launch at the event, which claims to be the ‘first true literary festival in the Middle East’.

“According to Bedell, organisers were initially keen to feature the book, but then backtracked, citing its discussion of Islam and its focus on the Iraq war, as well as the fact that a minor character is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.

“In a letter to Isobel Abulhoul, the festival’s director, Atwood wrote that ‘as an international vice-president of Pen, an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers, I cannot be part of the festival this year’.”

(via The Guardian)

Abulhoul’s response to Atwood’s withdrawal has been published on the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature website.

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Update

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bibi“Can a hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu . . . surprise the world and sprout dovish wings?”

( via Foreign Policy)

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Venerable Harper’s Magazine, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the “Harper’s Index,” its popular listing of unexpectedly revealing numerical data, has made the entire index available for searching and browsing by categories. The index database includes all 12,058 lines from all 300 issues, with more than one thousand linked categories.

harpers_index_homepage

Found when searching “Dick Cheney“:

(9/03) Year in which Dick Cheney said that his policy as CEO of Halliburton was that “we wouldn’t do anything in Iraq”: 2000

Price of the oil-field supplies sold to Iraq by two Halliburton subsidiaries during Cheney’s tenure: $73,000,000

(1/09) Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1

    Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4

Found when searching “George W. Bush“:

(7/06) Number of times that President Bush’s “signing statements” have exempted his administration from provisions of new laws: 750

Total number of times for all other presidents since Washington: 568

(8/07) Number of Bush White House officials who are authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the Justice Department: 711

Number of Clinton officials who were: 4

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dark-knightOn the eve of the Academy Awards announcements, the National Review has released its list of the “25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years.” The list, chosen from nominees submitted by National Review readers, includes, among others, The Lives of Others, The IncrediblesJuno, Forrest Gump, Ghostbusters, The Dark Knight and Gran Torino, films conservatives enjoy because “they are great movies that offer compelling messages about freedom, families, patriotism, traditions, and more.”

w-movie(via National Review Online)

[As for the rest of us, there’s always W.]

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greek-laughing-face1“One of the most famous one-liners of the ancient world, with an afterlife that stretches into the twentieth century (it gets retold, with a different cast of characters but the same punchline, both in Freud and in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea), was a joking insinuation about Augustus’ paternity.

“Spotting, so the story goes, a man from the provinces who looked much like himself, the Emperor asked if the man’s mother had ever worked in the palace. ‘No’, came the reply, ‘but my father did.'”

(via Times Online)

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kafkaIn his fine essay published earlier this month in The Nation, Alexander Provan considers the recent literature on the life and work of Franz Kafka and argues for a more expansive appreciation of the novelist and short story writer than the impression of him in “the popular imagination [which has] been subsumed by a one-word slogan: Kafkaesque.”

“Kafka’s singular insight,” writes Provan, “was that the ‘rationalization’ of society, with the bureaucracy as its engine, was increasingly shaping individuals and relations between them. His genius was to make this observation into something more than a trope or a theme in his writing, to give this new social force a literary form.”

Yet if “Kafkaesque” is as author Louis Begley describes — the existential predicament of struggling “in a maze that sometimes seems to have been designed on purpose to thwart and defeat [Kafka’s characters]. More often, the opposite appears to be true: there is no purpose; the maze simply exists” — then, as Provan enumerates, these are indeed Kafkaesque times:

Kafkaesque “is the explosion of the international market for mortgage-backed securities and derivatives, in which value is not attached to the thing itself but to speculation on an invented product tangentially related to (but not really tied to) that thing. It is FEMA’s process for granting housing assistance after Hurricane Katrina: victims were routinely informed of their applications’ rejection by letters offering not actual explanations but ‘reason codes.’ It is the Bush administration’s declaration that certain Guantánamo Bay detainees who had wasted away for years without trial were ‘no longer enemy combatants’ and its simultaneous refusal to release them or clarify whether they had ever been such.”

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morgan-cartoonWith the stir over the New York Post’s economic stimulus cartoon unlikely to die down any time soon (unlike the stimulus bill-writing chimp), there may be no better time to visit the ongoing exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, “On the Money: Cartoons for The New Yorker From the Melvin R. Seiden Collection.”

“Celebrating the art of the cartoonist, On the Money: Cartoons for The New Yorker features approximately eighty original drawings by some of The New Yorker’s most talented and beloved artists who have tackled the theme of money and the many ways in which it defines us. . . .

“The works are drawn entirely from the collection of Melvin R. Seiden, a longtime supporter of the Morgan, who has assembled one of the largest and most representative private selections of this art form which spans the history of The New Yorker. The Seiden collection of New Yorker cartoons, numbering nearly 1,500 sheets, complements the Morgan’s holdings in the history of satire and humor, which range from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. . . .

“Since 1925 The New Yorker magazine has served as the leading forum for American cartoonists to reflect and comment on the nation’s social and cultural environment.”

The exhibition runs through May 24th.

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monkeycartoon

Published in today’s New York Post, Sean Delonas’ cartoon linking a chimpanzee with the economic stimulus package signed by President Obama is being roundly criticized for implicitly comparing the President with the primate and evoking a history of racist imagery of blacks. Post editor-in-chief Col Allan defended the cartoon as “a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy.”

Sam Stein of The Huffington Post observes that on the page preceding the cartoon, the Post published a large photo of Barack Obama signing the stimulus legislation. “The succession of the story and cartoon creates a rather jarring visualization for some readers,” writes Stein.

Update

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churchillThe New York Times earlier this week reported that the New York Theater Workshop is considering mounting Caryl Churchill‘s controversial new play, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” which is critical of Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza. The play, which runs for only ten minutes, is currently being performed at the Royal Court Theater in London – on the theater’s website, Churchill, described as “one of the titans of British theatre,” is quoted as saying, “Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme.” The play is being performed without an admission charge – audience members are asked afterwards for contributions to the charity “Medical Aid for Palestinians.”

In today’s New York Times, Robert Mackey gathers opinions from both sides of the Atlantic as well as the Middle East: included are columnists; theater critics; the vice chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, Jonathan Hoffman; and Susannah Tarbush, who writes in The Saudi Gazette that the play “succinctly dramatizes the tragedies and ironies of history for both sides.”

The full text (.pdf) of “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” can be downloaded here.

Update: (3/26/09) ‘Tell Her the Truth’ (A response to Churchill’s play by Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon)

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language_books“Americans have developed an admirable fondness for books, food, and music that preprocess other cultures. But for all our enthusiasm, have we lost our taste for the truly foreign?”

(via The Wilson Quarterly)

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Cao Lau, the celebrated Vietnamese noodle dish (usually served with pork and fried rice paper bits), according to local legend can only be made authentically in the ancient port town of Hoi An with water drawn from wells such as the one pictured here dug hundreds of years ago by the Cham people (December, 2006)

(Full photo)

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bushTimed for Presidents Day, “C-SPAN released its second Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, in which ’65 presidential historians ranked the 42 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership.’ Coming in first was Abraham Lincoln, followed by George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. Finishing last was James Buchanan. George W. Bush came in 36th, just beating out Millard Fillmore, who ranked 37th.” (via Think Progress)

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“Alfred A. Knopf Jr., who left the noted publishing house run by his parents to become one of the founders of Atheneum Publishers in 1959, died on Saturday. He was 90, the last of the surviving founders, and lived in New York City.”

(via NY Times)

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cheever-storiesJohn Cheever‘s long out-of-print short story, “Of Love: A Testimony,” one of a dozen Cheever stories not included in the 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning anthology “The Stories of John Cheever,” is currently being serialized online at FiveChapters.com(via New York Observer)

[Last week, on his New York Times blog “Talk Show,” Dick Cavett reminisced about the October 14, 1981 edition of “The Dick Cavett Show” when Cheever and John Updike appeared together. In the featured video clips, both writers speak admiringly of the other’s work. (Writers Bloc: When Updike and Cheever Came to Visit)]

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