August 16th, 2012
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Welcome to our blog!

nyrblit:

This will be a blog for news about NYRB Lit. In order to describe the goals and aims of this new e-book series, we’ll begin with an interview that our editor, Sue Halpern, did with Barbara Hoffert at Library Journal’s Prepub Alert blog:

“As a writer and a reader, Halpern understands that with the multiplicity of books out there‚ and with the struggles of libraries and indie bookstores, historically the two institutions that offer big support for book culture, as Halpern observed‚ it’s getting harder for many of us to decide what to read. One of her goals, then, is to reposition literary fiction in the market. I’d like to be involved in making literary fiction a genre. One thing that’s clear in the social media world is that people love genres, and one thing that publishers love about genre readers is that they are highly identifiable because they identify themselves.

Halpern sees the distinction between literary and commercial fiction as questionable; obviously, plenty of literary fiction is juicy good and sells like hotcakes. But literary fiction does stand out for its allegiance to language, in her felicitous phrase, as well as its commitment to ideas, to a larger sense of where we are. To find authors who rivetingly deliver that one-two punch of gorgeous words and gorgeous thought, she’s been actively soliciting agents both here and abroad‚ and shaking off the illusion that if we get a book Monday, we can publish it Tuesday. With ebooks, there’s not the physicality, but the rest of the process is the same.

NYRB Lit will publish monthly ten times a year (skipping February and August), and the books Halpern has found so far are richly promising. September brings us Whitbread Award winner Lindsay Clarke, whose The Water Theater won the 2011 Fiction Uncovered Award in the UK. Its protagonist, reporter Martin Crowther, is fighting a personal battle as he tries to convince the estranged children of his dying mentor to visit him one last time.”

Welcome, welcome! Friends, if you’ve an interest in contemporary literature, you’re going to want to follow NYRB Lit.

Reblogged from NYRB Lit
June 25th, 2012
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Health Care and the High Court

As the nation awaits the forthcoming Supreme Court verdict on the healthcare mandate, let’s take a moment to look at what, exactly, has been deliberated, and what’s at stake. From May of this year, Ronald Dworkin writes on the importance and constitutionality of the healthcare law for the New York Review of Books.

The plaintiffs have asked the Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The political and social stakes are enormous. But the legal issues, most analysts think, are not really controversial: the Constitution’s text, the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and basic constitutional principle seem obviously to require upholding the act. Analysts at first predicted a 7–2 decision rejecting the challenge. But they apparently misjudged the dedication of the ultraconservative justices, whose questions in the oral argument have now convinced many commentators that on the contrary, in spite of text, precedent, and principle, the Court will declare the act unconstitutional in June, by a 5–4 vote. That prediction may be too swift. There is still reason to hope, as I discuss later, that Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between liberals and ultraconservatives, will have sufficient respect for congressional authority to save the act.

The prospect of an overruling is frightening. American health care is an unjust and expensive shambles; only a comprehensive national program can even begin to repair it. One in six Americans lacks any health insurance, and the uninsured of working age have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who are privately insured. Insurance is often unavailable even for those willing and able to pay for it: according to the Government Accountability Office, an average of 19 percent of individual applications for insurance are declined for a variety of reasons including the applicant’s being on a prescription medicine or being overweight.

If the Court does declare the act unconstitutional, it would have ruled that Congress lacks the power to adopt what it thought the most effective, efficient, fair, and politically workable remedy—not because that national remedy would violate anyone’s rights, or limit anyone’s liberty in ways a state government could not, or be otherwise unfair, but for the sole reason that in the Court’s opinion our constitution is a strict and arbitrary document that denies our national legislature the power to enact the only politically possible national program. If that opinion were right, we would have to accept that our eighteenth- century constitution is not the enduring marvel of statesmanship we suppose but an anachronistic, crippling burden we cannot escape, a straitjacket that makes it impossible for us to achieve a just national society.

Read the full article here.

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May 30th, 2012
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Nothing So Beautiful

For most of my life, I have found whales to be utterly fascinating. Their size, grace, and intelligence ignite in me a child-like curiosity and enchantment. I have thus far not indulged this interest on RTNT, but in celebration of our six months in existence, I want to share this small part of myself with you.

Here, I offer a few pieces that illuminate the foundations of my interest in our brothers of the deep, whose minds and lives are at once unknowable and familiar. 

1. Watching Whales Watching Us
A fascinating look at the evolving relationship between man and whale in Baja California Sur, and research into the highly evolved brains of whales.
Charles Siebert, The New York Times, July 2009

2. On the Minds of the Whales
A history of the hunting and scientific investigation of whales across the twentieth century.
Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books, February 2012 

3. The Fall and Rise of the Right Whale
On the (very slowly) increasing population of right whales in the Atlantic and the efforts put forth to protect and study them.
Cornelia Dean, The New York Times, March 2009 

4. Of Man and Whales and Apes
Cetaceans can recognize themselves, use tools, and communicate in structurally complex ways - are they more like us than we have ever considered?
Brandon Keim, Wired, June 2009 

5. The Auditory Life of Sperm Whales
One of Arvind’s early posts from the RTNT vaults, this piece looks at how acoustic imaging is used to investigate the relationship between sperm whales and that other, mythical giant of the deep, the giant squid.
Eric Wagner, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2011 

6. Seeing Whales
A beautiful poem that invokes (among other things) the breathtaking sight of a whale.
Michael Dickman, The New Yorker, January 2008 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whales (politically, scientifically, spiritually, or otherwise), if you have any to share. At the very least, I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the largest creatures in our world, and perhaps you’ll find yourself as enchanted by those kings of the sea as I find myself.
- Atom Vincent, Managing Editor 

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May 21st, 2012
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Is Public Education a Threat to National Security?

Diane Ravitch, for the New York Review of Books, utterly dismantles “US Education Reform and National Security,” a recent report on the condition of public education from the Council on Foreign Relations.

If there is no national security crisis, as the task force has vainly tried to establish, what can we learn from its deliberations?

Commissions that gather notable figures tend not to be venturesome or innovative, and this one is no different. When a carefully culled list of corporate leaders, former government officials, academics, and prominent figures who have a vested interest in the topic join to reach a consensus, they tend to reflect the status quo. If future historians want to see a definition of the status quo in American education in 2012, they may revisit this report by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations. It offers no new directions, no new ideas, just a stale endorsement of the federal, state, and corporate policies of the past decade that have proven so counterproductive to the genuine improvement of American education.

Read the full article here.

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March 14th, 2012
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The Heart of Corruption

Today’s guest submission is from Eric Hornbeck.

For the New York Review of Books, Ezra Klein argues that money isn’t the corrupting influence we assume it is. Relationships are actually what drive lobbying, but even that doesn’t fully explain the ” headline clashes” in Congress, he says. “You need a theory of general relativity to explain the big stuff. And that theory is partisan polarization.”

And the gifts are, if anything, better than the cash. Because the gifts do more than the cash. If someone walks up to you with a bag full of money and asks you to vote to make coal companies more profitable, that’s not a very persuasive argument. Even if you take the money, you’re going to feel dirty the next day. And most people don’t like to feel dirty. But if one of your smartest, most persuasive friends, a friend you agree with on almost everything, is explaining to you that those environmentalist nuts are going too far again—they’re always doing that, aren’t they?—and they have sneakily tucked a provision into a bill that would make it more expensive for your constituents to buy electricity, that’s very persuasive. And if it’s also in your self-interest to listen to him—and lobbyists are good at nothing if not making sure it is in a politician’s long-term self-interest to listen to them—then all your incentives are pointing in the same direction. You’ll listen.

Read the full article here

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February 20th, 2012
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Our Democracy, Bought and Sold

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew examines Super PACs, the war on voting rights, and the whimpering end of our democratic process at the hands of moneyed interests.

By any objective standard Santorum had no business being in the presidential race. His mediocre Senate record and his scratchy intolerance of opposing views on social issues were bound to get him in trouble. Santorum not only opposed abortion without the federally required exception for rape or the life of the mother, but he even opposed contraceptives, saying that the states should regulate them.

Having come triumphantly from Iowa, where he was first announced to have nearly tied Romney (only to have it announced more than two weeks later that he had won), Santorum found himself facing less sympathetic audiences in New Hampshire, particularly young people, and he was often met with boos. Santorum’s dismal vote in New Hampshire (he came in fifth) would ordinarily have sent a candidate home. But he was able to fight on in South Carolina thanks to the generosity of Foster Freiss, a billionaire mutual fund tycoon in Wyoming. Freiss gave the Santorum Super PAC the Red, White, and Blue Fund $1 million to keep going. According to Politico, Freiss issued instructions on the types of ads it should run while traveling in Santorum’s entourage.

Read the full article here.

February 2nd, 2012
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On Patti Smith
Writing for the New York Review of Books, Luc Sante look sat the fearless career of Patti Smith, who rose over the last 40 years from poet to rock star to icon.

In the “Notice” at the beginning of Wītt, Smith wrote: “These ravings, observations, etc. come from one who, beyond vows, is without mother, gender, or country who attempts to bleed from the word a system, a space base.”
The system Smith bled from language was an oracular nonstop cavalcade of words hurled like sixteenth notes, powered by a rhythm imposed by force of will. While she engaged with prosody and songcraft a bit in her early years—”Death comes sweeping through the hallway like a lady’s dress/Death comes riding down the highway in its Sunday best” (“Fire of Unknown Origin”)—by the time she fronted a full band she seemed less interested in singing lyrics, preferring to chant simple refrains or to deploy her words as a discordant, wild-card instrument, a version of what the critic Lester Bangs called “skronk.” She made capital use of jukebox slang at first, but increasingly she sought biblical allusions and cadences, echoed the incantatory Rastafarian style of Jamaican talk-over artists such as Tappa Zukie, and she favored the orientalism in Rimbaud (whose father after all translated the Koran).
The sexual tension in her work naturally strove toward orgasm, the musical tension ached for release, and the punk style she helped initiate was, thanks to the Sex Pistols and others, becoming increasingly confrontational and even violent in its stance. It followed that she would be ever more inclined toward making things go boom. In song after song, yearning for transcendence, she found satisfaction in accelerating tempos and flurries of highly charged verbiage that mimed conflagration. Robert Christgau, reviewing Horses, termed her style “apocalyptic romanticism.”

Read the full article here.

On Patti Smith

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Luc Sante look sat the fearless career of Patti Smith, who rose over the last 40 years from poet to rock star to icon.

In the “Notice” at the beginning of Wītt, Smith wrote: “These ravings, observations, etc. come from one who, beyond vows, is without mother, gender, or country who attempts to bleed from the word a system, a space base.”

The system Smith bled from language was an oracular nonstop cavalcade of words hurled like sixteenth notes, powered by a rhythm imposed by force of will. While she engaged with prosody and songcraft a bit in her early years—”Death comes sweeping through the hallway like a lady’s dress/Death comes riding down the highway in its Sunday best” (“Fire of Unknown Origin”)—by the time she fronted a full band she seemed less interested in singing lyrics, preferring to chant simple refrains or to deploy her words as a discordant, wild-card instrument, a version of what the critic Lester Bangs called “skronk.” She made capital use of jukebox slang at first, but increasingly she sought biblical allusions and cadences, echoed the incantatory Rastafarian style of Jamaican talk-over artists such as Tappa Zukie, and she favored the orientalism in Rimbaud (whose father after all translated the Koran).

The sexual tension in her work naturally strove toward orgasm, the musical tension ached for release, and the punk style she helped initiate was, thanks to the Sex Pistols and others, becoming increasingly confrontational and even violent in its stance. It followed that she would be ever more inclined toward making things go boom. In song after song, yearning for transcendence, she found satisfaction in accelerating tempos and flurries of highly charged verbiage that mimed conflagration. Robert Christgau, reviewing Horses, termed her style “apocalyptic romanticism.”

Read the full article here.

January 4th, 2012
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Letters Between Giants

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey reviews the wealth of correspondence between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz and their long, varied relationship.
One might have thought that Stieglitz, with his cosmopolitan education and wide reading, would have produced more absorbing letters, but the reader is confronted on almost every page with his abstract pomposity. “I wondered what kind of a child you’d bear the world some day!” he writes O’Keeffe, “—The Glory of Dawn & the Glory of the Night—& the Glory of the Noon Sun—all combined—within that Womb of Yours.” He complains incessantly about the lousy commercial paper he’s forced to work with and the mediocre film. Laments about his declining health, his aging, and his inadequate medications are eased by momentary sexual distraction. A reader of D.H. Lawrence, he affectionately refers to O’Keeffe’s vagina as Lady Fluffy.
O’Keeffe’s letters, by contrast, are alert to the physical world, to the power of words, and to punctuation. Pages of manuscript reproduced in these books reveal that her dashes, like Emily Dickinson’s, assume all sorts of shapes, from squiggles to playful curlicues to abrupt downward slopes. These expressive dashes recall her charcoal drawings. Often, a passage in the letters will strike one as having a visual analogy to her paintings. She describes, for example, the experience of holding a piece of ritual jade in her hand during a visit to the Asian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1922. Here we can see her instinctual resistance to interpretation yielding to what she feels is an appropriate chain of associations prompted by a suggestive object:
I handled pieces of Jade—They told me it was Jade—I would not have thought what it might be—I only knew that the surfaces were fine and smooth and cold…the pleasure in the thing its self is some what dulled when you begin to wonder how that particular shape can symbolize the earth and that idea seems to take away from the pleasure one feels—just in the thing its self—So—looking up—a row of round shapes catches ones eye—round—flat—and a round hole in the center—the circle serves to fascinate—you take it in your hand…you are told that these symbolize heaven—that idea does not disturb—for the sun seems round—if you have ever stood on the prairie at night—alone and put your head way back till you look straight up so that you half way see all the horizon at once—a circle unbroken by trees or hills or houses—the heavens seem a marvelously round trembling living thing—you would like to go deep into the colors of these round shapes and be lost….

Read the full article here.

Letters Between Giants

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey reviews the wealth of correspondence between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz and their long, varied relationship.

One might have thought that Stieglitz, with his cosmopolitan education and wide reading, would have produced more absorbing letters, but the reader is confronted on almost every page with his abstract pomposity. “I wondered what kind of a child you’d bear the world some day!” he writes O’Keeffe, “—The Glory of Dawn & the Glory of the Night—& the Glory of the Noon Sun—all combined—within that Womb of Yours.” He complains incessantly about the lousy commercial paper he’s forced to work with and the mediocre film. Laments about his declining health, his aging, and his inadequate medications are eased by momentary sexual distraction. A reader of D.H. Lawrence, he affectionately refers to O’Keeffe’s vagina as Lady Fluffy.

O’Keeffe’s letters, by contrast, are alert to the physical world, to the power of words, and to punctuation. Pages of manuscript reproduced in these books reveal that her dashes, like Emily Dickinson’s, assume all sorts of shapes, from squiggles to playful curlicues to abrupt downward slopes. These expressive dashes recall her charcoal drawings. Often, a passage in the letters will strike one as having a visual analogy to her paintings. She describes, for example, the experience of holding a piece of ritual jade in her hand during a visit to the Asian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1922. Here we can see her instinctual resistance to interpretation yielding to what she feels is an appropriate chain of associations prompted by a suggestive object:

I handled pieces of Jade—They told me it was Jade—I would not have thought what it might be—I only knew that the surfaces were fine and smooth and cold…the pleasure in the thing its self is some what dulled when you begin to wonder how that particular shape can symbolize the earth and that idea seems to take away from the pleasure one feels—just in the thing its self—So—looking up—a row of round shapes catches ones eye—round—flat—and a round hole in the center—the circle serves to fascinate—you take it in your hand…you are told that these symbolize heaven—that idea does not disturb—for the sun seems round—if you have ever stood on the prairie at night—alone and put your head way back till you look straight up so that you half way see all the horizon at once—a circle unbroken by trees or hills or houses—the heavens seem a marvelously round trembling living thing—you would like to go deep into the colors of these round shapes and be lost….

Read the full article here.

December 27th, 2011
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Why the Classics Aren’t Dying

There’s a crisis brewing around the Classics - the ancient Greek and Latin texts that inform so much of Western culture. But the same crisis has been brewing for centuries, so should we be concerned? Are we tuning out our cultural ancestry? Does it matter if we do? Writing for the New York Review of Books, Mary Beard argues that the Classics aren’t likely to go anywhere and that the perpetual frenzy concerning their decline is a crucial part of our understanding of and relationship with the texts and our culture.

The truth is that the classics are by definition in decline; even in what we now call the “Renaissance,” the humanists were not celebrating the “rebirth” of the classics; rather like Harrison’s “trackers,” they were for the most part engaged in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the fleeting and fragile traces of the classics from oblivion. There has been no generation since at least the second century AD that has imagined that it was fostering the classical tradition better than its predecessors. But there is of course an up-side here. The sense of imminent loss, the perennial fear that we might just be on the verge of losing the classics entirely, is one very important thing that gives them—whether in professional study or creative reengagement—the energy and edginess that I think they still have.

To put this as crisply as I can, the study of the classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves. It is not only the dialogue that we have with the culture of the classical world; it is also the dialogue that we have with those who have gone before us who were themselves in dialogue with the classical world (whether Dante, Raphael, William Shakespeare, Edward Gibbon, Pablo Picasso, Eugene O’Neill, or Terence Rattigan). The classics (as writers of the second centuryAD had already spotted) are a series of “Dialogues with the Dead.” But the dead do not include only those who went to their graves two thousand years ago. This is an idea nicely captured in another article in The Fortnightly Review, this time a skit that appeared in 1888, a sketch set in the underworld, in which a trio of notable classical scholars (the long-dead Bentley and Porson, plus their recently deceased Danish colleague Madvig) have a free and frank discussion with Euripides and Shakespeare. This little satire also reminds us that the only actual speakers in this dialogue are us; it is we who ventriloquize, who animate what the ancients have to say: in fact, here the classical scholars complain what a terrible time they are having in Hades, because they are constantly being told off by the ancient shades who complain that the classicists have got them wrong.

Read the full article here.

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