“What comes clear in interviews with more than two dozen former friends and colleagues from the various Factory spaces is that, from the start of a career that ended with his premature death at 58, the rabidly ambitious and deeply needy Warhol marshaled all that was paradoxical in his nature and put it to the service of the sustained piece of performance art that was his public self.”
“I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’. We have, in postmodernity, given up on the attempt to ‘estrange’ our daily life and see it in new, poetic or nightmarish, ways; we have given up the analysis of it in terms of the commodity form, in a situation in which everything by now is a commodity; we have abandoned the quest for new languages to describe the stream of the self-same or new psychologies to diagnose its distressingly unoriginal reactions and psychic events. All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by.”
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
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…)
Michael Lackey on the popularity of the biographical novel, and what it can tell us about the relationship between literature, history and truth
What motivated you to write The American Biographical Novel?
Through my reading of biographical novels, I noticed a shift in the nature of literary truth. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad illuminates the colonial mentality that enabled Europeans to plunder Africa and to abuse Africans with impunity. Conrad represents that mentality through Kurtz, and as the narrator says, “all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” In essence, if we want to understand the European mentality that justified colonization and its horrific outcomes, we can look to Kurtz for some answers. But with the rise of postmodernism, there has been growing skepticism about the traditional literary symbol.
Put simply, postmodernists question the value of an overarching truth claim, because they realize that someone constructed that truth for an ideological or political reason. This approach to truth impacted the traditional literary symbol, so a postmodernist could easily say: “Look, Joe, you constructed the character of Kurtz in order to promote your own ideological agenda. Therefore, I don’t see any reason why I should consider a character like Kurtz as symbolic of the European mind.”It is my contention that biographical novelists were becoming increasingly aware of the problems with the traditional literary symbol, but they also did not want to get rid of the literary symbol, because they realized that it could be effectively used to expose the structures and conditions of oppression. (more…)
The second installment of The Directors Series’ examination of the films and careers of Joel and Ethan Coen. This half-hour documentary covers the Coens’ trio of “retro-surreal” period pictures made in the early 1990s: Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).
The American writer tells Guardian Live audience how his vast novel developed
“It was a fairly modest undertaking at first,” Don DeLillo told the Guardian live event, explaining how his 827-page novel came to be. “It was a novella – I assumed perhaps 50, 60 pages … I had an idea based on a newspaper headline that I saw when I realised it was 3 October 1991, the 40th anniversary of this famous game.” Visiting a local library to check the microfilm archive, he found that the front page of the New York Times was split perfectly in two, one half reporting the Giants’ win and the other the Soviet Union’s explosion of its first nuclear bomb. “So there it was, and once I saw it there was no escape.” (more…)
On the teaching practices of American writer Gordon Lish
“[Gordon] Lish’s engagement with theory was every bit as revisionary as his editing of Carver and others. As he readily admits, ‘if I read a philosopher, and he’s not interested in what I’m interested in, I’ll revise what he’s said… bend it and change it, to make it come out my way’. In the classroom, Lish revised theoretical concepts into provisional models for literary composition. True to the spirit of the program era, his teaching prioritized practical over propositional knowledge, converting conceptual ‘knowing that’ into the creative know-how of craft.”
“Back in the early 1990s, the British art world changed forever thanks to a band of bright young things that weren’t afraid of controversy, threw away the artworld rulebook and rewrote it in multimedia forms and tabloid headlines. Nearly 30 years on, and the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin remain some of the leading lights in contemporary British art. A new book from Thames & Hudson, Artrage details that blistering scene and looks at its place today.”
Summoned to serve as executor for the will of her ultra-rich former lover, Oedipa Maas is led into the mystery of Trystero, a shadowy band of, of — of what exactly? They have operated for centuries, connecting the dispossesed, the discontented and the strung out by way of their secret underground postal system, a network that may also serve other ends. As she wanders through California in the mid-1960’s, trying to unravel their secret, Oedipa senses for the first time a larger, weirder universe of the disinherited, a scampering, fugitive reality just beneath the placid surface of what she thinks she knows. With its slapstick paranoia and its heartbreaking metaphysical soliloquies, Lot 49 takes place in the tragicomic universe that is instantly recognizable as Pynchon-land. Is it also a mystery novel? Absolutely, so long as you remember that the mystery here is the one at the heart of everything. (Source) (more…)
Rafe Bartholomew (Grantland) talks to the American writer about the prologue of Underworld, and the influence of ‘the shot heard round the world’ to his landmark novel
In honor of the 60th anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” National Book Award-winning author Don DeLillo answered some of Grantland’s questions about writing, baseball, and the historic 1951 New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers Game 3 that ended with Thomson’s home run. The prologue to DeLillo’s novel Underworld is set at Game 3.
Can you explain how Underworld came together? The prologue was first published as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” in Harper’s Magazine in 1992, but Underworld wasn’t released until 1997. When you wrote Pafko were you already planning to use that scene as the beginning of a long novel?
One day in October 1991, I learned from a newspaper story that this day marked the fortieth anniversary of a famous baseball game played in New York, in the old Polo Grounds, Giants vs. Dodgers. The event was located somewhere at the far reaches of memory, mine and many other people’s. But some lingering aura persisted and finally sent me to the library, where I discovered news that startled me: on that same October day, the U.S. government announced that the Soviet Union had recently exploded an atomic bomb. The two events seemed oddly matched, at least to me, two kinds of conflict, local and global rivalries. In time I went to work on what I believed would be a long story and at some point well into the enterprise I began to suspect that the narrative of the ballgame and the atomic test wanted to be extended — well into the last decades of the Twentieth Century. I was eager to make the leap. (more…)
Dwight Garner (The New York Times) on the cultural legacy of Bret Easton Ellis’ most controversial novel
When Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” was about to be published in 1991, word of its portrait of a monster — an amoral young Wall Street serial killer named Patrick Bateman, who nail-gunned women to the floor before doing vastly worse to them — was met with outrage.
There were death threats. A book tour was scuttled. The Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women proposed a boycott of the novel’s publisher. An advance review of “American Psycho” in The New York Times Book Review was titled “Snuff This Book!” Some stores refused to stock the novel.
I didn’t read “American Psycho” at the time. I was two years out of college in 1991, and while I’d eagerly ingested the stylish mid-80s debuts of the so-called “brat pack” writers, of which Mr. Ellis’s novel “Less Than Zero” (1985) is a crucial artifact, I’d moved on.
Yet it disturbed me that, in the moral panic over “American Psycho,” so many smart people made a rookie mistake: They’d confused author with character. Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman were pariahs. (more…)
Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within… By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere.
From Paul Auster’s City of Glass, part of the The New York Trilogy.