“Don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.”—Stephen Colbert
As gender roles shift and evolve, this set-up — man as predator, woman as prey — is one we seem reluctant to let go of. These are roles we play willingly, or at the very least resignedly. It can be difficult even to see there are other alternatives, what with how frequently the girls are scattered about to motivate world-weary detectives to make bland statements about just how out-of-control the world has become. In Maria Tatar’s 1995 study of how the sexual murder and the female victim entered our culture — Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany — she writes that in today’s culture it’s “because they are so familiar, so evident, we are culturally blind to the ubiquity of representations of feminine death.”
"Do you mean that even the most prestigious public universities in the United States, and you can take your pick of what you think they are — Berkeley, U.C.L.A., University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, U.N.C. — do you mean to say that not one of those is in the top  tier of institutions? It doesn’t really make sense, until you drill down into the rankings, and what do you find? What I find more than anything else is a measure of wealth: institutional wealth, how big is your endowment, what percentage of alumni are donating each year, what are you faculty salaries, how much are you spending per student."
"I think that the fetishization of elite schools in American culture, the way in which they cultivate an image as brands, as imprimaturs of some scarce resource called “excellence,” is sad and pathological, and profoundly anti-democratic. The truth (a truth I didn’t know, or at least didn’t want to admit, in college) is that an intellectual life is available to almost anyone, almost anywhere, if they work hard enough and are given some kind of access point. There are other models for organizing academic life so that resources are much more widely distributed—this is certainly true in Canada, for example, and I think in other more centralized economies as well. It doesn’t have to be based on a model of scarcity and socially-defined privilege. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece on college admissions in The New Yorker makes this case very clearly. The hierarchy of our universities mirrors our class structure. In this way—and this is the point the narrator is trying to make in “Dear Yale” —we have returned to the tribalism of the 1950s, though now the tribe is not racial but socioeconomic."
A vine has invaded Shaun Tan’s house in suburban Melbourne, Australia, through a previously unnoticed gap where the window of his studio doesn’t quite meet the sill. Advancing along a curtain rod and sinking offshoots into the dark places behind his desk, the vine has overgrown Tan’s workspace. He has to trim it back, because it keeps trying to grab things — an electric pencil sharpener, unopened letters in his inbox. Recently he returned from a trip to find that it was exploring the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet, where he keeps new projects.
…”The Lost Thing” is a kind of manifesto for Tan’s way of looking at the world. Again and again, his stories introduce a lonely character in an alienating landscape and then, often by concentrating on some previously overlooked detail, transmute the feeling of isolation into something more like an artist’s sensibility: a more purposeful and yet more playful state infused with an intensely observant appreciation of the secret beauty of life.
Q: Well, one thing that always came up with Lost was this idea of, they better have the ending figured out. I want them to know right from the beginning what the plan is. As a storyteller, do you believe that that is what you should be doing? Is it even possible?
A: I think it’s possible to an extent. Well first of all, there are different kinds of writers. I’ve given this lecture in many of my talks. I like to say that there are two kinds of writers, there are the architects and the gardeners. And the architects plan everything ahead of time before they write the first word of a novel. They do all the world building, they know how many rooms the house is going to have and they know how they will flow to each other and how high each floor is going to be and where the electricity and the plumbing is going to go and everything. Before they even nail up the first board.
And then there are the gardeners who just sort of dig a hole and they put a seed in it and they water it with their blood and then something starts to grow. Now, they usually know that they plant a peach tree or did they plant a cactus. But the precise shape its going to take they don’t know. I think all most writers are somewhere in the middle, you know. I’m much more of a gardener than an architect and so was Tolkien.
But I like to compare my books to a journey. Like that map there [gestures to a U.S. map on the wall]. If you were going from Los Angeles to New York, you would look at a map like that and you would say, well, okay, I’m going to leave and I’m going to follow the route through Albuquerque and I’m gonna go north to Denver… So you know your eventual destination and the main roads and some of the big landmarks you’re going to go through, but you don’t know where you’re gonna stop for dinner the first night, or where there’s gonna be road construction that will force you to take a detour, where a hitchhiker is going to show up on the side of the road and tell you a fascinating story. These are the things you discover during the journey.
I know the ultimate destination, I know the principal landmarks and things that happen along the way, like [big event redacted] which had been planned from the beginning and all of that. But some of them I discover in the writing. Essentially I know the big stuff, but a lot of little stuff occurs in the course of the writing. And of course some of the little stuff is very, very important. The devil is in the details. The devil is what makes the journey more than just an outline or a Cliff’s Notes kind of experience. So I may know the ultimate fates of Jon Snow and Daenerys and Arya and some of the other principal characters. But I don’t necessarily know the ultimate fates of Dolorous Edd or Hot Pie, you know. Well, I have a few ideas about those, but still.
My favorite bit ahahaha:
Q: Yeah, I mean, what’s the happy ending of the Lord of the Rings, right? Now magic is now leaving the world and we humans take over and now it’s the Fourth Age and it will just be mundane shit.
A: I have occasionally thought of writing a story, I could never write it for copyright reasons. Tolkien’s Estate would never give me permission, and for good reason, but I thought of writing a story set in Middle Earth 2,000 years later where some hobbit is on a tour bus visiting all the great locations: “And now we’re going to take you to the Mines of Moria today, make sure you stay on the paths!” And they’re going through and he’s staying at crummy little inns and having bad food.
Ted rose early the next morning and took a taxi to the Museo Nazionale, cool, echoey, empty of tourists despite the fact that it was summer. He drifted among dusty busts of Hadrian and the various Caesars, experiencing a physical quickening that verged on the erotic in the presence of so much marble. He felt the proximity of the Orpheus and Eurydice before he saw it, sensed its cool weight across the room but prolonged the moments before looking at it directly, reminding himself of the events leading up to the moment it described: Orpheus and Eurydice newly married and wildly in love; Eurydice dying of a snakebite while fleeing the advances of a shepherd; Orpheus descending to the underworld, filling its dank corridors with music from his lyre, as he sang of his longing for his wife; Pluto granting Eurydice’s release from death on the sole condition that Orpheus not look back at her during their ascent. And then the thoughtless moment when, out of fear for his bride as she stumbled in the slippery passage, Orpheus mistakenly turned and looked.
Ted stepped toward the relief. He felt as if he’d walked inside it, so utterly did it enclose and affect him. It was the moment before Eurydice must descend to the underworld a second time, when she and Orpheus are saying goodbye. What moved Ted, what crushed some delicate glassware in his chest, was the quiet of their interaction, the absence of drama, even tears, as they gazed at each other, touching gently. He sensed between these two an understanding too deep to articulate: the hushed, unspeakable knowledge that everything is lost.
First chance I got I photocopied this story after I finished it.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”—Ira Glass (via hyperallergic)
“This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African-American President.”—Mark Shields (via azspot)
“That’s what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It’s the only thing that really is particular and personal. It’s the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said: What I mean is the secret story…. The secret story is the one we’ll never know, although we’re living it from day to day, thinking we’re alive, thinking we’ve got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn’t matter. But every damn thing matters! It’s just that we don’t realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don’t even realize that’s a lie.”—from Last Evenings on Earth, Roberto Bolaño (via blogtastic)
“As he stood before them the perfection of their survival often struck him as the supreme eloquence, the virtue that included all others, thanks to the language of art, the richest and most universal. Empires and systems and conquests had rolled over the globe and every kind of greatness had risen and passed away, but the beauty of the great pictures had known nothing of death or change, and the tragic centuries had only sweetened their freshness.”—Henry James, The Tragic Muse
In her class, I learned that while I had spoken English all of my life, there was actually very little I knew about it. English was born from low German, a language that was good for categorization, and had filled itself in with words from Latin and Anglo Saxon words, and was now in the process of eating things from Asian languages. Latinates were polysyllabic, and Anglo Saxon words were short, with perhaps two syllables at best. A good writer made use of both to vary sentence rhythms.
Alexander Chee (must check out this guy) on Annie Dillard.
Reminder to self: read this after finishing the Ishiguro books (Remains of the Day,When We Were Orphans, Pale View of the Hills, The Unconsoled) in my possession. Should I do this after or before my Atwood/Le Guin/Shriver spree? Hmmm. Well, yes, I know he’s male, but he’s also Asian. Oppressed societal subsets are my flavor of the month. I feel justified okay.
You know, the more I think about Never Let Me Go, the more brilliantly it shines in my mind. How it reminds me of my own childhood! (and, ahem, of certain friends whose names I will not mention publicly, on this blog.) How elegant and immaculately controlled, the revelations! How terrifying the undercurrent of feeling, that simmers and rages but never breaches the narrator’s control! And how deceptively placid the narration, like the peaceful surface of a pond that conceals the grisly remains of a murder victim.*
I also have an avid interest in Ishiguro’s thoughts on immigrants and the responsibility or lack thereof on the parts of hyphenated Asian authors who rise to literary prominence to write about hyphenated Asian issues, or even to explore the historical legacies of their mother countries in this, their adopted language, but I don’t think I have a firm base from which to speculate about his stance, since I’ve only read NLMG. So! Upcoming on my to-do list: read the rest of these books.
*This is not my analogy, but I forget whose it is. Sylvia Plath, maybe?