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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of putting out.

Deep acting, like embodied witnessing, involves “loving care.” Hochschild quotes a recent graduate of Delta’s training program, which asked flight attendants to imagine each passenger as a “personal guest in your living room”:

You think how the new person resembles someone you know. You see your sister’s eyes in someone sitting at that seat. That makes you want to put out for them.

The “putting out” expected of flight attendants is different from that required of exotic dancers, but the acting methods are similar. You try to imagine what it would be like to care about the man seated in front of you, pretend a sense of intimacy, and over time you feel as though you feel care and intimacy. In her study of Madison, Wisconsin, escorts, Kirsten Pullen notes that “Deep acting allows sex workers to reframe the sometimes degrading and often discomforting commercial exchange as pleasant or even ennobling.” While this strategy may have helped me reconcile my ambivalent feelings about performing erotic labor and rewrite some of the more uncomfortable aspects of my experience, it has somewhat destabilizing effects on my ability to reflect upon those feelings and experiences as a “researcher.” What does it mean that I felt loving care toward customers if that care was a tactic for increasing profit? Given who I am now—a stodgy, minivan-driving mother of two young boys—how can I recall experiences perceived when I was someone else entirely? If everyone was acting—my customers, my managers, my coworkers, myself—how can I trust my own voice?

—Jessica Berson

—posted 300 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of poetry.

At first, I didn’t want to be a novelist—I wanted to be a poet. And I was a poet: I had already published poetry, and I had respect as a poet. I had readers, reviewers, and people liked me as a poet. I was considered a first-class poet. And I knew that if I was also a novelist, I was going to lose my glamour. But it’s also more than that, because there’s something sacred in the figure of a poet: The poet doesn’t get stained by the kind of labor that a novel implies. Being a poet is another thing.

I hid my first novel, a very violent novel about children; I hid it in the deepest corner of a drawer. And then I wrote a second one, on children too. Then I knew I was doomed. I was a novelist, and I had to publish the first one. After writing my second novel, I wrote a third novel, also about children. I wanted to do another one, but it was no longer need but desire. I needed to write the first ones; with the fourth and fifth ones, it was more the joy of telling a story. And I did not want to repeat the same book, out of respect for what a novel is and out of love for my profession. The idea of making one book similar to the other one seemed dishonest. So I needed a different space. I started looking for a different setting, because that would force me to write a different book. And I was right: The setting forced me to another form, another attitude toward language, another treatment of the characters. But with my same obsessions.

I have these obsessions that I don’t know how to name. But they gnaw at me. And they eat me alive if I’m not writing. So I write.

Carmen Boullosa

—posted 308 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of storytelling.

They tell you you’re supposed to do that; that’s what you should do. I think what music can offer is the feeling of forward motion, also the feeling of accumulation of information, of sensations, of feelings, like we’re going somewhere. When I say “feel like,” I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not real, but that it’s the work of the imagination, which is what narrative is.

We can create the sensation of community through the accrual of actions, and that’s often the clichéd way that it’s talked about, as someone taking a solo—Sonny Rollins taking a solo, having his motific development as formal logic—and that’s great for lots of reasons. But I don’t really like to feel like I’m forced to listen to it in a certain way, or that there is one master reading of performance. I think what we want from performance is multiplicity, which is lots of ways in and through it, because it’s for lots of people, and it was created by lots of people, often.

I find myself skeptical of music that forces you to have a certain experience, emotional reaction, or specific constructive arc of experience. But performers should still take care of that, to a certain extent—how does it add up?

What you want from performance, because we’re all in a room together, is that somehow we’ve gotten somewhere at the end, together. You could call that a sense of narrative, but it’s not so obvious how that happens. One way it happens is by everyone caring about it happening.

Vijay Iyer

—posted 316 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of elementalism.

Here is an audience sensitive to the sheer elements of the English language… Translate their playfulness and serious use of the sheer elements of language into the terms and understandings of a five-year-old and you have as intelligent an audience in rhythm and sound as the maddest poet’s heart could desire.

Margaret Wise Brown

—posted 324 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of integument.

But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
    as sometimes at sunset
        the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
    stretches over salt sea
        equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
    and roses bloom and frail
        chervil and flowering sweetclover.

96.7 “rosyfingered”: an adjective used habitually by Homer to designate the red look of Dawn. I think Sappho means to be startling, but I don’t know how startling, when she moves the epithet to a nocturnal sky. Also startling is the fecundity of sea, field and memory which appears to flow from this uncanny moon and fill the nightworld of the poem—swung from a thread of “as sometimes” in verse 7. Homer too liked to extend a simile this way, creating a parallel surface of such tangibility it rivals the main story for a minute. Homer is more concerned than Sappho to keep the borders of the two surfaces intact; epic arguably differs from lyric precisely in the way it manages such rivalry.

Anne Carson

—posted 334 days ago

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Clear and unentailed.

One tries not to lift the curtain here too much, but it’s not as if one doesn’t lift curtains. You might have to do a bit work to piece the one with the other, but I did speak with the delightful host of Cabbages & Kings, a podcast I commend to your attention, and the results of which are available for your listening pleasure. (There are also some footnotes.)

—Work proceeds apace on no. 27, “ – tends to crumble – ”, which, well, titles do have a way of doing what they do? —I feel the need to mention the Patreon at this juncture, if only because patrons have seen the images for the next few covers, and I’d hate for you to miss out if you haven’t.

—posted 357 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of ishq.

Ishq makes us human. It makes us responsible and slightly better human beings than we were before. All lovers are not ideal humans, nor always nice, but the one who is in love does imagine a better world. When you are in love, you discover the many nooks and corners of the city. In some places, you hold hands as you walk. In others, you walk alongside but slightly far apart. Lovers want to transform the city into one of their imagination. The city of their memories is not one of Ghalib’s poetry. Woh sheher ko jaante bhi hai or jeete bhi hai. They know the city as well as live it. Within them, the spirit of all the seasons finds a resonance. Those who are not in love, they do not inhabit the city.

Jis tan ko chhooa tune us tan ko chhupaaoon
Jis man ko laage naina, woh kisko dikhaaoon
Rudaali, 1993

We cannot even allow this feeling of love to express itself. Meera, you are from this country, aren’t you? Love makes us a little weak and circumspect. And if a human being is neither, he can turn into a monster. To love is not to just say “I love you.” To love is to know someone and, for that, one has to know oneself. It is the month of February, but don’t waste all your energies in hunting for a lover. Look for yourself, too, and your city. Hunt for those dreams, too, which you want fulfilled for someone else’s sake.

Ravish Kumar

—posted 371 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of streams.

The academics write in their paper that: “Studying characteristics of the sentence-length variability in a large corpus of world famous literary texts shows that an appealing and æsthetic optimum… involves self-similar, cascade-like alternations of various lengths of sentences.”

“An overwhelming majority of the studied texts simply obey such fractal attributes but especially spectacular in this respect are hypertext-like, ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novels. In addition, they appear to develop structures characteristic of irreducibly interwoven sets of fractals called multifractals.”

The other works most comparable to multifractals, the academics found, were A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, The USA trilogy by John Dos Passos, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and Joyce’s Ulysses. Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu showed “little correlation” to multifractality, however; nor did Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The academics note that “fractality of a literary text will in practice never be as perfect as in the world of mathematics”, because a mathematical fractal can be magnified to infinite, while the number of sentences in a book are finite.

“It is not entirely clear whether stream-of-consciousness writing actually reveals the deeper qualities of our consciousness, or rather the imagination of the writers. It is hardly surprising that ascribing a work to a particular genre is, for whatever reason, sometimes subjective,” said Drożdż, suggesting that the scientists’ work “may someday help in a more objective assignment of books to one genre or another.”

Alison Flood

—posted 383 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of bingeing.

In my view, Aristotle misconstrues what epic is trying to do. The episodes aren’t a distraction, they’re the whole point. The overarching story provides a narrative and thematic frame for the episodes, allowing multiple stories to come together into a larger, cohesive whole. The frame narrative is necessarily sparse and even boring, as Aristotle’s famous reductive summary of the Odyssey illustrates, but it’s necessary to keep the episodes from being purely episodic, arbitrarily juxtaposed narrative fragments.

At its best, binge-watchable serial drama is trying to be an epic. Within each season, we have an overarching plot that makes room for several narratively and thematically related episodes. The story of Don Draper’s secret identity gives us a window into the worlds of Peggy and all the other beloved supporting cast, just as Tony Soprano’s quest to become the undisputed boss opens up a narrative world full of fascinating characters.

I’ve written before about Main Character Syndrome, the phenomenon of viewers becoming bored and even resentful of the main character of the framing narrative, and I believe that the fundamentally epic structure of binge-watchable serial drama explains why that is such a constant pitfall. It’s a difficult balance to keep the framing narrative thin enough to allow for rich episodic side-trips but compelling enough that you don’t get impatient with it. Arguably even Homer fails on this point — once it comes time to settle accounts with the primary story of Odysseus coming home to claim what’s his (the beginning of book 13), it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room.

The balance is easier to strike within a single season, as the Mad Men and Sopranos examples make clear.

Adam Kotsko

—posted 391 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of language.

Interestingly, the work which MacFarlane looks at which breaks most obviously with this conception of precision is the one which is often cited as an ur-text for the lyrical prosaic form practiced by the present crop of nature writers: J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine. In the chapter dedicated to him, MacFarlane immediately offers a sign which serves to distinguish Baker, remarking that he reveals himself to be “a good writer but a rather bad birdwatcher”. Throughout this chapter, despite a couple of extremely tenuous attempts to tar him with the same brush, the word precision is curiously absent. Baker’s myopia is both literal and linguistic. He is a brilliant writer but he is anything but precise. Instead his prose seems to stem from urgency, disorientation, and desperation. His landscape is one which is drawn with compass points but no more, it remains loose and elusive. His peregrinations are cartographically inchoate. Baker continually upsets the even, leisurely syntax and spacing of his fellow nature writers, his prose is an expressionistic and feverish thirst which seemingly cannot be quenched. He often turns nouns into verbs and adjectives, wilfully ignoring the conventions of language, painting his observations in loose obsessive strokes. His prosaic obsessiveness recalls the pictorial desolation of Van Gogh: the falcon’s kill is his yellow paint and, at one stage, we worry he might decide to eat. One does not need to know that Baker was suffering from a slowly encroaching paralysis, or that he was sacrificing his own financial stability and health in his search: his hunger is evident on every page. Like Federigo degli Alberighi in the Decameron, Baker spends the whole of his substance: he has nothing but the falcon.

What sets Baker apart then is that, for him, writing has a transformative aspect. His desire is to become the peregrine. In this sense, unlike the other writers in Landmarks (and unlike its author), Baker’s writing is not a (re)-turn towards nature but a turning away from it. Baker seeks to shed the humanity which he finds so abhorrent but it is not nature which allows him to do this: it is writing. Baker wishes to negate the distance between the human and the animal, to lose his physical form and become the animal he hunts. At some point the all-seeing ‘I’, that solid conquering subject which plants nature writing so firmly within the turf of the political status quo, begins to slip. Baker recognises the exteriority of his being to that of nature and that he must turn to something else if he is to try to express this separation. In this sense his prose is an act of ritual, of magic, of re-enchantment. There is something prehistoric about it. Like those painters who daubed the walls of Lascaux in order to commune with the animalistic existence which still haunted them, Baker seeks to use his words in order to shed his human form, to gain, in Bataille’s words, ‘the silence of the beast’, and take flight. But, most importantly, he recognises that this ritual, this turn towards language, too can only be a failure. The ‘We’ of communion with the hawk is illusory and Baker knows he will always remain part of the ‘we’ who ‘stink of death’. Writing and the material cannot be connected, there is space between them. By not recognising this disjunct, the preservation of these words, these memories of landscape, may too easily function as their memorial.

What, then, is it which ultimately makes the language of Landmarks an act of preservation in its most pejorative sense: pickled, sweetened, displayed? Is it its refulgence, its fertility, its abundance? Certainly, that constitutes part of the problem, but what seems to underlie this fecundity is the assumption of a direct correlation between landscape and language. Despite the weak protestations MacFarlane offers, he never questions the assumption that reality, a reality full of objects to be conquered and collected, is merely there. It lacks the interrogative lacuna, the space between, which literature requires. The problem with MacFarlane’s language, and the language of nature writing, is that it posits a direct relationship between the sounds and syntaxes of our words and the natural world of our experience.

Daniel Fraser

—posted 427 days ago

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