zadie on some novels


From two recent novels, a story emerges about the future for the Anglophone novel. Both are the result of long journeys. Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, took seven years to write; Remainder, by Tom McCarthy, took seven years to find a mainstream publisher. The two novels are antipodal—indeed one is the strong refusal of the other. The violence of the rejection Remainder represents to a novel like Netherland is, in part, a function of our ailing literary culture. All novels attempt to cut neural routes through the brain, to convince us that down this road the true future of the novel lies. In healthy times, we cut multiple roads, allowing for the possibility of a Jean Genet as surely as a Graham Greene.

These aren’t particularly healthy times. A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked. For Netherland, our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition. It seems perfectly done—in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait.

more from the NYRB here.

crushing on David Gregory


Like President Bush, I first crushed out on Gregory when he popped up in the White House pressroom, the unbeatable whack-a-mole of the administration’s nightmares. Bush affectionately called him Stretch, which is the most likable thing he’s done in eight years. Aside from the PDA that spills over from the gay bars in my neighborhood, I’ve never seen a man more in love with another man. Not just regular love, but serious romantic comedy love, the chemistry of opposites that begins as antipathy and blossoms into enduring ardor. I believe Bush felt the same anticipatory excitement as I did whenever Gregory’s lanky folding ruler body would begin to unfurl. Admittedly, I was most likely a bit more turned on by the questions, but I believe we both melted a bit at Gregory’s boyish, Curious George-like face, topped by that mop of gray hair glued down into a style I refer to as “Corporate Temp Warhol.”

I love that Gregory is fun, and I love even more that he’s funny. And not just by reputation, but on record. YouTube is chockablock with Gregory good times. His vaguely stoned phone interview with Don Imus from India; his hilarious appearance on Leno where he does a spot-on Bush impression; and, most famously (and already known all too well by the other Gregory lovers) his very groovy, very public boogie down to Mary J. Blige on the Today show. My favorite nerdy white man totally feeling my favorite strong black woman? Two words: mega-swoon.

more from The Daily Beast here.

face the reality


In the mainstream Zionist narrative—which includes liberal supporters—the State of Israel is the realization of legitimate Jewish nationalism. That project, having been sanctioned by the international community through both the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (awarded to Great Britain with the understanding that the British would carry out their commitment described in the famous Balfour Declaration) and the UN partition resolution, was rejected by the Arab world. Because of this violent rejection, Israel has been forced to maintain a strong military and fight many wars as well as remain vigilant against constant terrorist attacks from its enemies. The liberal version here will admit that the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza was a mistake, and that often the Israeli government acts unwisely and unjustly. But the basic parameters of the narrative remain.

On the Palestinian side (which includes many Jews who fall outside the mainstream Zionist camp), the fundamental theme is that Zionist settlement in Palestine was a colonial enterprise, which flourished behind the guns of a major world power that did not have the right to dispose of this land, and that in order to erect an exclusivist Jewish state, the Zionists, once they achieved sufficient power, threw out most of the indigenous population and treated those that remained as second-class citizens. By and large, the Zionist enterprise is seen as similar to the European colonization of North America and Australia.

These are obviously broad-stroke descriptions, but they will do for now. With regard to these conflicting historical narratives, I have two points to make: first, there is a fact of the matter about their relative accuracy, and second, that it matters.

more from Boston Review here.

Friday Poem


Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’ Image_kudu_horns_3 

My father told me this story
when I was a child. We sat
in the shade of a tree and he began:

Long ago there lived a king
who sprouted a pair of horns – just buds,
at first, but he checked them every day
and wore his turban low to hide
this blemish, to hide this mark of shame.

But a king, of course, doesn’t wash his own hair!
His man-servant knew all about the king’s shame
and day by day the knowledge grew
inside him, a word that had to be spoken,
a terrible secret that had to be told.

They said, You’re mistaken.
He said, No.

They said, Dead men keep secrets.
He said, Ah…

Read more »

Malcolm Gladwell is Wrong

From The Abbeville Manual of Style:

20061211gladwell_lgMalcolm Gladwell is one of the world’s best-selling authors and most prominent public intellectuals, having risen to superstardom on the basis of such volumes as The Tipping Point and Blink. He is a skilled and entertaining writer, exemplifying the modern New Yorker “house style” for journalism with its combination of solid research, amused detachment, and quirky anecdotes in the Ken Burns mold. Tragically, Gladwell is also often very wrong. His work, famous for its forays into sociology, social psychology, market research, and other trendy disciplines, is a testament to both the exciting possibilities and the intellectual limitations of those fields. His penchant for what might be called pop statistical analysis sometimes leads to elegant, well-supported, and counterintuitive conclusions, but just as often recalls the man who couldn’t possibly have drowned in that river because its average depth was five feet.

We bring all this up in large part because of an article called “Late Bloomers” that he wrote for last month’s New Yorker.

More here.

Sir Vidia’s Dance

Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard:

Naipaul422 During a brief remission in his wife’s cancer, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist V.S.Naipaul casually explained to a journalist that he had always been “a great prostitute man,” mongering among the whores from the early days of his marriage. The publicity that followed from the remark “consumed” his wife, he later admitted to his biographer, Patrick French. “She had all the relapses and everything after that. She suffered. It could be said that I killed her. .  .  . I feel a little bit that way.” Unfortunately, he didn’t feel “that way” enough to think it inappropriate to move into his house, the day after he cremated his wife, his new mistress, a Pakistani journalist he’d just met (and would, in short order, marry).

Even before the whoring revelations, Naipaul’s first wife, a middle-class woman named Patricia Hale whom he’d met while he was a student on scholarship to England, had known about a prior mistress–but only because Naipaul himself decided one day to tell her, explaining the violent acts he enjoyed with the woman, some of them memorialized in photographs he brought along to aid the explanation. The woman’s name was Margaret Gooding, and Naipaul met her in 1972 in Buenos Aires. French’s new biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, quotes extensively from her letters: unbearable scrawls that read like clinical case studies drawn from the pages of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. She begs, moans, despairs, and pleads for Naipaul’s “cruel sexual desires.” She calls him her “god,” her “black master.” Her multiple abortions of his children sicken her, but she offers them up to him as proof of her love and abasement.

And all this sex stuff is only the beginning.

(Picture: Sir Vidia and Lady Naipaul in 2003. Naipaul married Nadira Khannum Alvi shortly after Pat died).

More here.

The philosopher and the wolf

Mark Rowlands in The Telegraph:

Screenhunter_04_nov_14_1313When Brenin was a young wolf, his favourite game was to steal cushions off the sofa or the armchair. If I was in another room, perhaps working in my study, he would appear at the door, cushion in mouth, and, when he knew I had seen him, he would tear off through the house, through the living-room, the kitchen and then out into the garden, with me in hot pursuit. The game was one of chase and could go on for quite a while. I had already trained him to drop things – so I could have ordered him to drop the cushion at any time. But I didn’t have the heart; and, anyway, the game was much more fun. And so he would charge around the garden, ears back, tail tucked low and eyes shining with excitement, while I thundered around ineffectively behind him. Until he was about three months old, Brenin was quite easy to catch – and so I just pretended he was too quick for me. But the pretence gradually shaded into reality. Soon he was throwing me little shimmies – feinting to go one way while actually going the other. When I caught on to this trick, the shimmies would become double shimmies. Eventually the game was played in a confused blur of feint, double feint and triple feint – feints nested within feints. Of course, this sidestepping practice worked wonders for my rugby skills. I had always based my game on the idea of running over people rather than around them. This worked well in Britain, where I grew up, but not as well in the US, where the people are generally much bigger and have been raised playing American football, where the tackling is ferocious. They are, however, much easier to confuse and, with all this instruction from Brenin, I became a twinkle-toed, sidestepping demon of the south-eastern United States.

More here.

The Stupidest Exercise Machine You’ll Ever See

From Burbia:

Sometimes you come upon something so ridiculous, so on-its-face laughably stupid, you just want to stop everything and enjoy. That’s what we did when we first saw this investors-demo video of SpeedFit, a new concept in exercise technology:The Mobile Treadmill…a treadmill designed specially to move/walk down the street while you’re treading.

Because, let’s see, walking down the street without a treadmill is too tough?

The proud creators of SpeedFit are now looking for investors. Seriously — and this vid is their pitch. Sure, if you want to walk or run down the street for exercise, you can…walk or run down the street. But, with SpeedFit, now you can do the exact same thing only on a contraption that costs a ton of money, is a pain in the ass (it’s one heavy mo-fo), is a potential traffic hazard and can only barely turn corners. Kind of like marketing a spanking new heart-lung ventilator-machine to 100% healthy people who are perfectly capable of breathing on their own. Sign us up!

Astronomers claim first snaps of planets beyond the Solar System

From Nature:

Exo2 Two teams of astronomers are independently claiming to have the first ever images of planets in orbit around a star other than the Sun — with pictures from one team showing three planet-like bodies orbiting a distant star. Using the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii, one team took infrared images of three objects, each 5-13 times the mass of Jupiter, in orbit around HR 8799, a star 130 light years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus.

The other team used the Hubble Space Telescope to take photographs of a potential planet that’s no bigger than three Jupiters2. It circles Fomalhaut, a star 25 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, completing one orbit every 872 years. The object is roughly 119 times further away from its star than Earth is from the Sun, and is located at the inner edge of a debris disk that it appears to have sculpted into a sharp smooth ring by pulling in stray dust as it orbits. Astronomers have been hunting for direct evidence of planets orbiting a star outside the Solar System for nearly a decade. More than 300 extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, have been discovered so far but these have been found using indirect methods — for example, by detecting the way a star wobbles as planets orbit them rather than using images.

More here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

mama africa (1932-2008)


In the end, Miriam Makeba got her wish: to take leave of this world right after taking her final bow on stage, the only place where she felt truly at home. It was a grandly operatic ending for a woman whose very life defined drama. She endured multiple marriages and divorces, domestic abuse, alcoholism and cancer. Then, too, there were the 11-plus car accidents, the plane crash, the murders of her two uncles in the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960; the death of her only daughter, Bongi; the arrests, the banning of her records, the extended exile from her homeland, South Africa.

She spent six months of the first year of her life in jail, after her mother was arrested for making beer in their home. She was a teenager when apartheid became the law of the land, not that things were much better before. But under apartheid, she wrote, “things went from bad to worse. [Apartheid] would become one of the most hated words the world has ever known.”

more from The Root here.

Vijay Prashad Responds on the Sonal Shah Controversy

In Counterpunch:

Sonal Shah released a statement against “baseless and silly reports” on the Internet. She forthrightly pointed out that her “personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or any such organization.” The VHP and the RSS are well known to spread hate and to have participated in ghastly acts of violence within India against Muslims, Christians, and oppressed castes, not to speak of spreading the general misogyny that their ideology preaches.
Sonal Shah’s statement is gratifying, but unpersuasive. The VHP’s Shyam Tiwari recently said, “Sonal was a member of the VHP of America at the time of the [2001 Kutch, Gujarat] earthquake. Her membership has expired.” This was eight years after the 1993 Gujarat riots, when the VHP had an active, and ghastly role. Ms. Shah was 33 years old then. Her parents were active in Hindutva organizations. How could she not have known of their role, and the controversy surrounding them? She was not from an apolitical household, but an activist one. I brought up her parents only to suggest that she cannot claim now that she was ignorant of the VHP’s role in India. She must have known. And yet she participated in its activities. There were a host of other agencies that raised money for the earthquake survivors. All the earthquake survivors: credible media reports showed that the money raised by the VHP did not go to Muslim survivors, only Hindu ones (for example, “Communalizing Relief: VHP seizes earthquake opportunity,” Statesman, Kolkata, 12 February 2001 and Vijay Dutt, “Discrimination in Distribution of Relief against Dalits in Gujarat Causes Concern,” Hindustan Times, 27 February 2001). This is hardly an act of charity.

The VHP says Ms. Shah left the organization in 2001. Three events from 2004 bear mention:       

(1) Ms. Shah delivered a keynote address at the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh young conference. The HSS is the U. S. branch of the RSS. The University of Chicago’s Martha Nussbaum describes the RSS as “possibly the most successful fascist movement in any contemporary democracy.” The RSS “guru” (teacher) M. S. Golwalkar wrote glowingly about Nazi “race pride,” and called it a “good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

(2) Ms. Shah delivered a keynote address at an Ekal Vidyalaya conference in Florida. The Ekal Vidyalaya’s are schools set up in tribal areas. The RSS’s Chief of Service work, Premchand Goel, said that the RSS and the VHP run “thousands of Ekal Vidyalayas.” One Ekal Vidyalaya teacher, Mohan Lal, told Frontline reporter, T. K. Rajalakshmi, “We go for the RSS shakha [branch] meetings regularly. The teachers are selected only if they subscribe to the RSS way of thought.”

kafka’s office


‘It’s certainly an excellent arrangement,’ the official says, ‘always unimaginably excellent, even if in other respects hopeless.’ We can easily picture, or even recall, arrangements that are excellent for some and hopeless for others, and that is what the phrase ‘in other respects’ invites us to do. But the larger rhythm and grammar of the sentence ask us to go beyond this option, to think both contrary thoughts at once, taking excellence and hopelessness as partners in an intricate dance, each calling for and implying the other; as if the arrangement is excellent because it’s hopeless, hopeless because it’s excellent. Can we manage this logical feat? And where are we?

We are in a room at the Herrenhof Inn, in Kafka’s novel The Castle. The time is around 5 a.m.; K, the land surveyor hired by the castle authorities, but not as yet entrusted with any land-surveying, has an appointment with an official. His great goal, we have learned by now, is not necessarily to get on with his work but rather to be directly acknowledged by the higher officials of the castle, to experience something other than the many evasions and obstructions he has met with so far.

more from the LRB here.

weschler, irwin, hockney


I should perhaps myself note, however, the way that curiously, while the two artists have been engaged in entirely different artistic enterprises—undergirded, they would argue, by entirely opposite readings of history—many of Hockney’s and Irwin’s core concerns have come to seem, to me at any rate, almost entirely identical: the emphasis, for instance, on the critique of photography, the countervailing celebration of the human quality of looking and experience, the focus on the centrality of the observer, the vitality of the periphery, the interpenetrations of art and science, the dialogue of immanence.

Hockney recently embarked on an extended series of lush landscape paintings documenting the changing seasons in the beloved eastern Yorkshire of his youth. And, granted, what could possibly seem more retrograde from Irwin’s point of view? (“You get me all wrong,” Irwin once said to me with regard to Hockney, before concluding, witheringly, “I’ve always thought him a first-rate practitioner.”) But what in turn is one to make of Hockney’s recent characterization to me of those deliriously colorful nature studies, devoid of any human presence, as figure paintings? Figure, I asked him, taking the bait, what figure? There’s no figure in these paintings. “You,” Hockney replied triumphantly, “you, the viewer, are the figure.” And one can’t imagine Irwin’s having parsed things any plainer.

more from The Believer here.

Thursday Poem



I Sing the Body Reclining
Grace Nichols

I sing the body reclining
I sing the throwing back of self
I sing the cushioned head
The fallen arm
The lolling breast
I sing the body reclining
As an indolent continent

I sing the body reclining|
I sing the easy breathing ribs
I sing the horizontal neck
I sing the slow-moving blood
Sluggish as a river
In its lower course
I sing the weighing thighs
The idle toes
The liming knees
I sing the body reclining
As a wayward tree
I sing the restful nerve
Those who scrub and scrub
corrupt the body
Those who dust and dust
also corrupt the body
And are caught in the asylum
Of their own making
Therefore I sing the body reclining

Giorgione (andTitian),
Sleeping Venus


Agnostic Machinery

Bill Maher hoped to use science to paint religion as a neurological disorder, but the researchers in his film Religulous hold a more complex picture of why we have faith.

Nathan Schneider in Seed Magazine:

Screenhunter_03_nov_13_1358Robert Burton’s 17th century treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy, treats psychological disorders as a religious problem. Depression, Burton believed, is an expression of original sin. Three centuries later, Freud reversed the diagnosis entirely by calling religion a symptom of mental dysfunction. Now, a growing number of scientists are studying why we are religious with modern research methods from a range of disciplines. For some interpreters, such as philosopher Daniel Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science reveals religious beliefs to be malignant memes gnawing their way through believers’ brains, diseases needing to be cured. Yet for many of the researchers closest to this work, the recognition that religion has biological roots only makes it harder to talk about severing it from ourselves.

More here.