Friday, March 30, 2012

Tony Judt: A Final Victory

Readers of The New York Review of Books will vividly recall the essays Tony Judt, the NYU historian, published in the months leading up to his death from ALS. Now Jennifer Homans, his wife, has offered an intimate look at the process by which Judt worked in the last months of his life when his “locked in syndrome,” left both him and her in “what we came to call the bubble. The bubble was a closed world, an alternative reality, a place that we lived in and peered out of." (“Tony Judt: A Final Victory,” NYRB, 3/22/12) The beauty of the prose is belied by the horror it describes. A famous New York Times reporter namedNan Robertson, who also wrote about battling illness, once described a fatal plane crash with a similar lush prose; the ability to find beauty in tragedy (which is after all the substance of Lear and Karenina ) never ceases to astonish, particularly when its brought to bear on real events. The title of the book that Judt was working on at the end of his life wasThinking the Twentieth Century and a brief excerpt from it appears inTNYRB along with Homans memoir. Homans essay describes the writing of the book as the means by which Judt escaped his imprisonment in the bubble. “There were…portals to the world where he could find his way, at least momentarily, out of the bubble and back to himself…Thinking the Twentieth Century was part of that: a portal to the world. The past was still the engine of his thoughts. Not history anymore, but memory. Memory was Tony’s only certainty…It was the thing the disease could not take from him.” Judt could have called the book Remembering the Twentieth Century, but thinking is much more powerful since it accounts for both the present from which he is writing and the past and recalls other great works of intellectual history like theAutobiography of John Stuart Mill. In an especially riveting part of the essay Homans says “Tony was tormented by the idea of his own absence not in itself (he was as hard a realist as any) but for his two boys.” But as Homans describes it, the book also provided a reprieve from the pain of that loss. “Here he did something extraordinary: he projected himself beyond his own death and found a way to reach ‘back’ from the abyss. I didn’t truly understand it at the time but I now see that the dead can extend feelings across the divide separating the living from the ever after. But—and it is a big but—they can only do it if they think of it in advance, before they actually die.”

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

The Agony and Ecstasy of Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey is a performance artist who made things up for his piece,The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs which recently completed a run at the Public Theater. No one says that performance artists can’t make things up. Was Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia enjoyed as piece of journalism or rather for being a monologue whose concerns reflected on reality but didn’t necessarily mirror it? Journalists are embedded with platoons, but fictionistas rarely are and thus we have the difference between writers like Frances Fitzgerald who reported on the Vietnam War and on the other hand those who fictionalized it like Tim O’Brien. And then there was John Hersey whose Hiroshima used fiction techniques in the service of truth. Where Mike Daisey got into trouble was to make things up and claim they were true and then make matters worse by taking them on This American Life, which also employs dramatic expository techniques, but prides itself on high journalistic standards. “It was a fine bit of theater, but worked less well as a piece of journalism,” the Times’ David Carr commented in his column The Media Equation (“Theater, Disguised as Real Journalism,”NYT 3/18/12) Mike Daisey claimed his faux pas was for a good cause: the exploitation of low paying Chinese workers by Apple, one of the world’s wealthiest companies (Apple recently reported it would pay its stockholders their first dividend in 17 years since it had $97.6 million dollars in cash reserves). No one is comparing Daisey to Clifford Irving, but a more exaggerated form of what he did hearkens back to the Clifford Irving case. Irving solved the problem of having an elusive subject in the reclusive Howard Hughes by making up his autobiography. It also recalls the cases of the fictional persona of JT LeRoy made up by a writer named Laura Albert and of James Frey’s fictionalized account of his alcoholism, A Million Little Pieces.Appropriation is an important movement in modern art and literature. But all of these works represented not the appropriation of reality in the service of fiction or art, but the appropriation of fiction in the service of reality. Well, you might say, as Daisey has, that the means justify the ends and that it’s all for a good cause. That’s a little bit what happened with Kony 2012, the video that became an internet sensation and a cause, until as Carr reports the filmmaker Jason Russell “was found running around naked and yelling incoherently in a San Diego neighborhood.” No one doubts that Joseph Kony is bad and should be brought to trial by the ICC, but when an excess of imagination and artfulness actually muddies reality than a dangerous line, what we might called “the story line,” has been crossed. Daisey appeared on a subsequent This American Life to recant and ostensibly explain himself. Carr quotes Daisey telling This American Life’s Ira Glass the following: “I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way that would ruin everything.”

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Twin Palms Trailer!

How To Get Into The Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak from Karolina Waclawiak on Vimeo.

Check out this awesome trailer for Karolina Waclawiak's How To Get Into the Twin Palms (July '12)!
It is possible to pre-order the book now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Ups to Books on WOSU

I got to participate on WOSU, central Ohio's NPR affiliate, monthly roundtable discussion of books yesterday, with the always-stellar Kassie Rose and Kevin Griffith, and host Christopher Purdy. It was a bucket of fun, as I regularly tune in to the show, to have the opportunity to share some of my own book recommendations with listeners, as well as to chat up Two Dollar Radio some.

Here's a link to the video of the discussion.

And here are some of the books that I discussed and/or mentioned:
These Dreams of You -- Steve Erickson
SPRAWL -- Danielle Dutton
Everything Sings -- Denis Wood
Saguaro -- Carson Mell
Scurvy Goonda -- Chris McCoy

Monday, March 05, 2012

Trinie Dalton @ Spoonbill + Sugartown!

Join Trinie Dalton for her east coast launch of Baby Geisha at the one and only Spoonbill & Sugartown this Sunday, 2pm. Be there!