5/23/2011 12:34:04 PM
As a former English major, I’ve slashed my way through tons (literally) of books. The aggregate weight of your literary explorations becomes a sort of status symbol on campus, with extra-shiny merit badges awarded for the really heavy tomes—the Ulysseses and Infinite Jests and David Copperfields and The Count of Monte Cristos. From a semi-serious academic perspective, this logorrheaic one-upmanship makes a sort of professional sense, but that doesn’t explain why thousands of non-scholarly types cart along dense snoozers like War and Peace or Les Misérables or Anna Karenina on their sandy vacations when they could actually be having fun. Mark Oconnell has a theory: Readers have Stockholm syndrome.
Oconnell chronicles his conversion from reading thinner, second-tier literature to hulking beasts of literary burden over at The Millions.
At some point towards the end of [The Recognitions, by William Gaddis,] it occurred to me that what I was experiencing could be looked at as a kind of literary variant of the Stockholm syndrome phenomenon, whereby hostages experience a perverse devotion to their captors, interpreting any abstention from violence and cruelty, however brief or arbitrary, as acts of kindness and even love. Psychologically, this is understood as a defense mechanism in which the victim fabricates a “good” side of the aggressor in order to avoid confronting the overwhelming terror of his or her situation. Perhaps I’m stretching the bonds of credulity by implicitly comparing William Gaddis to a FARC guerilla commander, but I’m convinced there’s something that happens when we get into a captive situation with a long and difficult book that is roughly analogous to the Stockholm syndrome scenario.
Are we to pity such bibliophilic prisoners? Not if the twisted devotion helps sail them through literature’s masterpieces. “Ulysses might treat us like crap for seemingly interminable stretches of time,” continues Oconnell,
but it extends just enough in the way of writerly benevolence to keep us onside. And this kindness is the key to Stockholm syndrome. You don’t know when it’s going to come, or what form it’s going to take, but you get enough of it to keep you from despising your captor, or mounting a brave escape attempt by flinging the wretched thing across the room.
Source: The Millions
5/19/2011 12:40:49 PM
Malcolm X would have been 86 today, May 19. In honor of this occasion, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! had a roundtable discussion with Amiri Baraka, Herb Boyd, and Michael Eric Dyson about a new biography of the civil rights leader by Dr. Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. The debate is fascinating and gets a bit testy, especially between Baraka and Dyson, with the two talking over one another and disagreeing about elements of the book.
From Democracy Now!:
After two decades of work, Dr. Manning Marable completed a new biography, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” Dr. Marable used material for his book that recently made available, thus providing a new insight into the famed civil rights leader. His biography, however, has also refueled the debate on many controversial aspects of Malcolm X’s life and interpretation of his politics and legacy. To discuss Dr. Marable’s biography, we host a roundtable discussion with three guests. Amiri Baraka is an acclaimed poet, playwright, music historian and activist based in Newark, New Jersey. Herb Boyd is Harlem-based activist, teacher and author who edits the online publication, The Black World Today and writes for several publications, including Amsterdam News. Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and is the author of numerous books including, "Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X."
Source: Democracy Now!
5/18/2011 12:09:37 PM
In the last few days I’ve come across what seems like a trend—modern authors making Shakespeare their own by either rewriting the famous bard or ghost writing in his name. In an interview at the quarterly literary magazine InDigest*, Dustin Nelson talks with Arthur Phillips and John Reed, two authors with “a similarly pragmatic love of Shakespeare,” while at The Paris Review, Sam Maclaughlin talks with Chris Adrian, author of The Great Night—A Midsummer Night’s Dream recast in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park. (I’ve previously written about Adrian here.)
In his latest book, The Tragedy of Arthur, Phillips actually wrote a “new” Shakespeare play, while in his 2008 book, All the World’s a Grave: A New Play by William Shakespeare, Reed created a new Shakespearean work piecemeal using elements from works that already exist. The “pragmatic love” the two authors feel comes from the fact that the writer has become, to many, untouchable. Failing to recognize his failings does a disservice to him, so argue these writers. When asked about the possible intimidation that could come with messing with an author who has been placed, like no other, on top of a pedestal, Phillips responds:
I felt like he should be liberated from that. I came to quite admire him in the process of doing this and hold an increasing scorn for the way he’s treated. Maybe for different reasons than John’s talking about. I would like to be remembered forever and canonized. Everybody probably would. That would be nice. You’ve got to make room, get rid of some of the crap, otherwise there’d be no time to read it all….
It wasn’t intimidating to deal with him. It was intimidating to try to think of all the ways people were going to get mad.
Adrian, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to write a “new” Shakespeare play. Of his project he says,
My relationship [to A Midsummer Night’s Dream] is one of abject admiration. I had it in the back of my head to do a story or a novel that’s a retelling of a Shakespeare, and I thought I’d probably like to retell A Midsummer’s Night Dream but could never figure out what the actual story would be. What could I possibly come up with that would add anything to something that was already perfect, or at least make the retold story urgent and compelling? So it took a while. I figured it out in part from walking back and forth to work through Buena Vista Park at dawn and dusk, when it’s a fairly creepy and magical place, and in part from having a relationship fall apart in just the right way to generate an obsessive need to tell a story about love.
What do you think? Is the great poet and playwright untouchable or do modern authors have the right to “liberate” him from the shackles of canonization?
Related: Listen to Arthur Phillips on “Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson.”
*Full disclosure: I am a founding editor of InDigest.
Source: InDigest Magazine, The Paris Review, Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson
Image by sammydavisdog, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/13/2011 10:47:27 AM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for best writing, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
Since 1932, The American Scholar has provided a forum for the spirited exploration of ideas. The “venerable but lively” quarterly, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, enlightens and provokes readers with thoughtful prose on public affairs, history, science, and culture.
An arts magazine with a decidedly literary bent, The Believer covers books, film, music, and pop culture with barely contained intellectual glee. Part of the McSweeney’s empire founded by author Dave Eggers, it constantly finds new ways to showcase the creative impulse.
is published biannually, and the wait time between issues is agonizing. In 2010, the Canadian literary magazine published pieces by emerging writers alongside prose by giants Robert Hass, Geoff Dyer, and Mark Doty. The editors’ mandate is “to create a beautiful product,” and they succeed twice a year, every year.
Oversized and stuffed, The Brooklyn Rail opens with an eclectic blend of cultural discourse and political debate, then segues into an engaging array of reviews and down-to-earth interviews with both up-and-coming and established artists.
The stories told between the covers of Creative Nonfiction are not the confessionals that dominate chain bookstore shelves; they are thoughtfully told narratives that present a universal sense of experience. Through its consistent publication of quality nonfiction prose, as well as essays examining the genre more closely, Creative Nonfiction has helped give the genre legitimacy, continuing in the footsteps of writers like Mailer, Wolfe, Capote, and Talese, who paved its way.
There are few university magazines that, like Portland, can be described as simply profound. At its core, the University of Portland’s beautiful publication is a Catholic endeavor, but faith isn’t so much the subject matter as the fuel for essays and reportage that challenge and inspire.
is the best of so many things—philosophy, spirituality, photography—but what always stands out is the writing. In essays, fiction, memoirs, and poetry, this ad-free, independent magazine lets all of its content shine brightly, whether it’s a story about a recovering alcoholic finding redemption in a new family or a poem about the sweet things we leave behind when we die.
Thirteen years ago, the founders of Tin Houseset out to create a journal “tantamount to being guest of honor at the greatest literary house party ever.” Mission accomplished. In its 10th year, Tin House is wildly delightful, showcasing a roster of writers both emerging and established.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by karindalziel, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/9/2011 11:46:09 AM
We’re accustomed to getting oodles of literary journals around the Utne office each month, so many that we’re quickly overwhelmed. But once each year we’re treated to the latest copy of The Ivory Tower, a publication edited and produced by a class of about 15 students at the University of Minnesota. Each issue is wildly different from the last; the layout, content, and mission is a reflection of the particular students that year. The 2011 class chose an elegantly minimal design and loaded it with clever fiction, fierce poetry, and vibrant personal essays. Most folks won’t be able to get their hands on a hard copy (unless you drop by the U of M campus), so the students posted a complete digital version online.
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