Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man

The 30 January 2017 issue of The New Yorker carries a piece where the retired American novelist Philip Roth takes issue with President Donald Trump:

“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Responding to comparisons between the Trump presidency and the writer’s own dystopian alternate-history, The Plot Against America (2004), Roth suggests an alternate literary model: “The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’”

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Herman Melville's desk at Arrowhead. Photograph: Ornan Rotem.
Herman Melville’s desk at Arrowhead. Photograph: Ornan Rotem.

The Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai has been writing a novella involving Herman Melville, the American writer responsible for Moby Dick (1851) and ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ (1853). The work is purported to focus on ‘Melville, New York, and everything in between’, and prompted Kraznahorkai to seek out places that were most significant to the author. He was accompanied by a photographer, Ornan Rotem, who recorded their expedition with a series of beautiful black-and-white images.

The Guardian has published a selection of Rotem’s photographs with accompanying commentary from Krasznahorkai. I was struck by one image in particular, notable for its simplicity and its symmetry: Herman Melville’s desk at Arrowhead. Krasznahorkai relates:  “I went to visit Arrowhead in Pittsfield, the farmhouse where Melville had lived from 1850 to 1863. I walked through the house, saw its tiny rooms, the bedroom, the living room, the study and the desk where he wrote. I looked out the window and saw exactly the same view that Melville would have seen in his day: a meadow that had not changed at all over the past 160 years.”

Teju Cole
Teju Cole

Back in February, Van Magazine, an independent publication that celebrates classical music, published an interview with the writer Teju Cole. (more…)

Rachele Dini discusses how the work of J.G. Ballard, Don DeLillo, and Samuel Beckett engages with one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)

What motivated you to write Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction?

Well, I’ve been attracted to remnants of different kinds since I was very little, and was obsessed with cutting up magazines as a teenager—but intellectually, the turning point for me was during my MA at King’s College London. I noticed almost immediately that the texts on the modules I was taking were unusually concerned with fragments and fragmentation. Dickens, Zola, Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Ballard, Calvino, and of course Walter Benjamin and Adorno: physical and metaphorical waste proliferates in all of these authors’ work. In hindsight, this was to be expected since the course focused on the seismic effects of capitalist modernity, and waste is certainly one of these. But that focus on residual matter reproaching you for throwing it away, or on things not working and stuff falling apart, especially compelled me at the time, since it was the opposite in every way from the focus of my day job in market research. Market research is an industry essentially devoted to promoting the very things that leftist theory denounces: its modus operandi is to find ways of selling more. So the first spark for the PhD project that ultimately turned into this book was the conflict between the rhetoric of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ (to quote Daft Punk) I was accustomed to in my working life, and all of the countercultural—or simply denunciatory—writing I discovered through my studies, which called that rhetoric into question. (more…)

Autobiography is always negotiating two or more voices, speaking from separate and distinct moments in time. We can see this in what is perhaps the earliest example of modern autobiography, St Augustine‘s Confessions, where a present-day narrator attempts to reconstruct a previous life. In this way, autobiographical writing attempts to collapse the distance between childhood and adulthood, innocence and experience, and past and present.  (more…)