Beyond Hemingway: Opulence in Paris

Who were the Americans who followed Hemingway?

Early in the fifties another young generation of American expatriates in Paris became twenty-six years old, but they were not Sad Young Men, nor were they Lost; they were the witty, irreverent sons of a conquering nation and, though they came mostly from wealthy parents and had been graduated from Harvard or Yale, they seemed endlessly delighted in posing as paupers and dodging the bill collectors, possibly because it seemed challenging and distinguished them from American tourists, whom they despised, and also because it was another way of having fun with the French, who despised them…

They now live in New York. And most of the parties are held at George Plimpton’s large bachelor apartment on Seventy-second Street overlooking the East River, an apartment that is also the headquarters for what Elaine Tynan calls “The Quality Lit Set,” or what Candida Donadio, the agent, calls “The East Side Gang,” or what everybody else just calls “The Paris Review Crowd.”

And includes this darkly humorous episode:

Austryn Wainhouse, who had suspected that suicide was very much on Christopher’s mind, had spent the following week sitting outside of Christopher’s hotel each night watching his window, but one afternoon when Christopher was late for a luncheon date with Wainhouse, the latter rushed to the poet’s hotel and there, on the bed, was the painter.

“Where’s Chris?” Wainhouse demanded.

“I am not going to tell you,” the painter said. “You can beat me if you wish; you’re bigger and stronger than I, and. . .”

“I don’t want to beat you,” Wainhouse shouted. It then occurred to him how ridiculous was the painter’s remark since he (Wainhouse) was actually much smaller and hardly stronger than the painter. “Look,” he said, finally, “don’t you leave here,” and then he ran quickly to a café where he knew he would find Trocchi.

Trocchi got the painter to talk and admit that Christopher had left that morning for Perpignan, near the Spanish border twelve hours south of Paris, where he planned to commit suicide in much the same way as the character in the Samuel Beckett story in Merlin entitled “The End”—he would hire a boat and row out to sea, further and further, and then pull up the plugs and slowly sink.

Trocchi, borrowing thirty thousand francs from Wainhouse, hopped on the next train for Perpignan, five hours behind Christopher. It was dark when he arrived, but early the next morning he began his search.

Christopher, meanwhile, had tried to rent a boat, but did not have enough money. He also carried with him, along with some letters from his former girl friend, a tin of poison, but he did not have an opener, nor were there rocks on the beach, and so he wandered about, frustrated and frantic, until he finally came upon a refreshment stand where he hoped to borrow an opener.

It was then that the tall figure of Trocchi spotted him and placed a hand on Christopher’s shoulder. Christopher looked up.

“Alex,” Christopher said, casually handing him the tin of poison, “will you open this for me?”

Trocchi put the tin in his pocket.

”Alex,” Christopher then said, “what are you doing here?”

“Oh,” Trocchi said lightly, “I’ve come down to embarrass you.”

Christopher broke down in tears, and Trocchi helped him off the beach, and then they rode, almost in total silence, back to Paris on the train.

…After the suicide episode, which, according to George Plimpton, sent at least a half-dozen young novelists to their typewriters trying to build a book around it…

Great writing is great writing.

via Longform

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Haruki Murakami, probably not getting the nobel prize this year

It’s that time of year again when some online forum (viz., The Guardian) claims that this is the year that Haruki Murakami will win the Nobel Prize in literature:

After years of hovering in the wings, this could be Haruki Murakami’s year to clinch the Nobel prize for literature – at least if you go by the odds offered by Ladbrokes on the Japanese author, who is 3-1 favourite.

Other favoured contenders include US author Joyce Carol Oates (6-1), Hungarian writer Peter Nádas (7-1), South Korean poet Ko Un (10-1), and Alice Munro, the short story writer from Canada (12-1).

But I’m convinced that Murakami won’t win this year after last year’s pick of Mo Yan. The committee likes to spread the geographic extent of their picks and it’s not only way too soon for another Asian winner but their styles are way too similar.

Of course, the literati over at The Literary Saloon have been pushing Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o for years and betting has been suspended on him because of ‘irregularities’ (surprisingly large bets from Sweden). Moreover, he’s got the political bona fides that the committee loves – Marxist, fights colonialism, won’t write in English anymore. And after the political whoops-a-daisy that was Mo Yan, I think someone like Thiong’o has a pretty good shot.

[For the record, I love Murakami, am kind of indifferent to Yan, and have never read anything by Thiong’o.]

William Faulkner, illustrator, children’s author

Apparently William Faulkner was a bit of a proto-Gorey! And not only that but:

During the postwar years … Faulkner remained in aggressively role-playing mode. Following the initial season of sporting his unearned war uniform — worn not only on ceremonial occasions but at dances and on golf courses as well — he settled into an equally self-conscious role as a special student at the university. He took courses in English, Spanish, and French, but he was better-remembered for his cultural and sartorial pretensions. Earlier, his expensive tailored suits had earned him the title “The Count.” Now his more elaborate costuming — replete with cane, limp, and swagger — elicited from his university peers the derisive term “Count No ’Count.” Seemingly descent from Parnassus and returned from war-torn France, Faulkner maintained his façade of imperturbability. He published poems in the university literary magazine, the Mississippian, as well as contributed elegant, Beardsley-inspired drawings.

He also wrote a children’s book (with only the noblest of intentions, of course):

In 1927, Faulkner gave the story to Victoria “Cho-Cho” Franklin, the daughter of his childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham, with whom he was still in love. He hoped Estelle would leave her unhappy marriage and marry him instead — which she did two years later.

Scifi to warm the cockles of your heart

Oh man do I love me some scifi. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted about it! Here are a few stories for you, my reader. Tor.com has a lot of free short stories around – most of them are kind of meh, but you do get a gem or two. Here’s a pretty amusing one by Charlie Jane Anders called The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model.

Of course the big news in scifi is the Hugo awards. The City & The City tied with The Windup Girl for best novel; I haven’t read The Windup Girl, but The City & The City was excellent. The best novella was Palimpset, which you can get for free here, and the best novelette was The Island, which you can get for free here [pdf].

Searle vs. Derrida, Round 1

Here’s something entertaining. A book on Derrida, reviewed by Searle in the NYRB? I find Searle’s philosophy, um, poor, and the bits I know of Derrida to be both obscurantisme terroriste and, well, poor. But I don’t want to be all omgtheorylol like people enjoy these days. So with all those qualifications, I still found that this review gave me something to think about.

But Derrida also emerges as much more superficial than he is. He emerges as the instigator of various gimmicks for dealing with texts, and Culler doesn’t seem to understand the really deep problems that led Derrida into this. Culler seems unaware that Derrida is responding to certain specific theses in Husserl and is using weapons derived in large part from Heidegger to do it (Culler’s bibliography contains no references to Husserl and only one to Heidegger). I believe that Derrida’s work, at least those portions I have read, is not just a series of muddles and gimmicks. There is in fact a large issue being addressed and a large mistake being made. The philosophical tradition that goes from Descartes to Husserl, and indeed a large part of the philosophical tradition that goes back to Plato, involves a search for foundations: metaphysically certain foundations of knowledge, foundations of language and meaning, foundations of mathematics, foundations of morality, etc. Husserl, for example, sought such foundations by examining the content of his conscious experiences while suspending or “bracketing” the assumption that they referred to an external world. By doing so he hoped to isolate and describe pure and indubitable structures of experience.

Now, in the twentieth century, mostly under the influence of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, we have come to believe that this general search for these sorts of foundations is misguided. There aren’t in the way classical metaphysicians supposed any foundations for ethics or knowledge. For example, we can’t in the traditional sense found language and knowledge on “sense data” because our sense data are already infused with our linguistic and social practices. Derrida correctly sees that there aren’t any such foundations, but he then makes the mistake that marks him as a classical metaphysician. The real mistake of the classical metaphysician was not the belief that there were metaphysical foundations, but rather the belief that somehow or other such foundations were necessary, the belief that unless there are foundations something is lost or threatened or undermined or put in question.

It is this belief that Derrida shares with the tradition he seeks to deconstruct. Derrida sees that the Husserlian project of a transcendental grounding for science, language, and common sense is a failure. But what he fails to see is that this doesn’t threaten science, language, or common sense in the least. As Wittgenstein says, it leaves everything exactly as it is. The only “foundation,” for example, that language has or needs is that people are biologically, psychologically, and socially constituted so that they succeed in using it to state truths, to give and obey orders, to express their feelings and attitudes, to thank, apologize, warn, congratulate, etc.

I need to try to read Derrida one of these days, though I’m really dreading it.

[photo from]

Techno-dystopias are making a comeback!

I heard that The City & The City by China Miéville is supposed to be a pretty good book, so I thought I’d check it out. In the meantime, I found a short story by Miéville online at Socialist Review. It was written in 2004, but feels very 90’s corporate-fascist (a la Snow Crash).

Call me childish, but I love all the nonsense – the snow, the trees, the tinsel, the turkey. I love presents. I love carols and cheesy songs. I just love Christmas™.

That’s why I was so excited. And not just for me, but for Annie. Aylsa, her mum, said she didn’t see the big deal and why was I a sentimentalist, but I knew Annie couldn’t wait. She might have been 14, but when it came to this I was sure she was still a little girl, dreaming of stockings by the chimney. Whenever it’s my turn to take Annie – me and Aylsa have alternated since the divorce – I do my best on the 25th.

I admit Aylsa made me feel bad. I was dreading Annie’s disappointment. So I can hardly tell you how delighted I was when I found out that for the first time ever I was going to be able to make a proper celebration of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t got shares in YuleCo, and I can’t afford a one-day end-user licence, so I couldn’t have a legal party. I’d briefly considered buying from one of the budget competitors like XmasTym, or a spinoff from a non-specialist like Coca-Crissmas, but the idea of doing it on the cheap was just depressing. I wouldn’t have been able to use much of the traditional stuff, and if you can’t have all of it, why have any? (XmasTym had the rights to Egg Nog. But Egg Nog’s disgusting.) Those other firms keep trying to create their own alternatives to proprietary classics like reindeer and snowmen, but they never take off. I’ll never forget Annie’s underwhelmed response to the JingleMas Holiday Gecko.

No, like most people, I was going to have a little MidWinter Event, just Annie and me. So long as I was careful to steer clear of licenced products we’d be fine.

It’s worth a read.