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‘Bin Laden may not exist’: Did Thomas Pynchon give this 9/11 interview to Japan’s Playboy… or not?
06.20.2014
08:29 am

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Books
History
Media

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon
Osama bin Laden

Pynchon & Bin Laden
 
Novelist Thomas Pynchon has a slightly overstated reputation as a literary recluse. After three ambitious novels between 1963 and 1973—the last of which, Gravity’s Rainbow, has a pretty strong claim as the best and most important U.S. novel written after 1970—Pynchon took a break from publishing new work that lasted 17 years. There are only a handful of existing photographs of Pynchon, and they’re all grainy black-and-white shots from early in his life. Despite living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for many years, not many people know what he looks like.

But he’s no J.D. Salinger. Since 1997 he’s published four novels; measured by number of pages, his post-1997 output must far outstrip the three novels and handful of short stories that established his reputation. He pops up here and there, lending liner notes to Nobody’s Cool, an album by the indie rock band Lotion, or Spiked!, a collection of tunes by Spike Jones, whom Pynchon has cited as a key influence on his work.

Pynchon’s cult of personality is strong enough that the question of his extra-fictional writings is no casual matter. So when a brief piece by Pynchon pops up in, of all places, the Japanese edition of Playboy a few months after 9/11 urging readers to regard Osama bin Laden as a “symbol,” that’s the kind of thing that sets the Pynchon obsessives to speculating. There’s not any obvious reason to believe that the article was faked, save Pynchon’s track record of pranks and the unlikely venue. It’s just barely mysterious enough that you might see it referred to as Pynchon’s “interview about bin Laden”—complete with skeptical quotation marks. Its very existence is a bit of a puzzle.
 
Japanese Playboy
 
The item exists, for English readers, in translation only, one executed by the diligent “Naoki” of the Pynchon-L newsgroup. It’s important that the piece is billed as an “interview,” because only that would explain the relatively pedestrian quality of the words. (Try to imagine James Joyce translated into Japanese and back into English again. The original text and the outcome might not be all that similar.) The text does seem tolerably Pynchonian. He remarks that he’s afraid to use the subway; there’s more about anthrax than you would find in a remembrance of 9/11 written today; he says that he can’t trust the New York Times anymore; he discusses the anomic qualities of the CNN newscasters.

Most interesting is his plea to stop taking Osama bin Laden so seriously. It’s one of those insights that’s obviously correct but also functionally useless: we were always going to take Osama bin Laden very seriously. As he says, “Even if the United States succeeds in killing him that would mean that there are still 19 bin Ladens left. Even if there is only one, there are probably many people who would take his place once they kill bin Laden. ... If we look at this from a different point-of-view, we should look at bin Laden as a symbol rather than a man. Bin Laden may not even exist.

Here’s Naoki’s translation of the “interview,” with a few typos corrected:
 

Most News Is Propaganda. Bin Laden May Not Exist.

All people who live in New York today have been talking about recently is whether they have been to the site of the World Trade Center. This is because it has become a “trendy” topic. Personally, I still cannot find myself wanting to go see the site.

The main thing that has changed in my life-style recently is the fact that I do not ride the subway anymore. Before, I got on the subway wherever I went but today, I never ride the subway in fear of biological weapons. After all, there was the case with the Tokyo Sarin Gas. I believe that the damage that can be caused by the biological weapon called anthrax is increasing and we are in a situation where someone could use biological weapons at any time.

The media station that is consistently giving reports on this terrorist case is CNN. Because everybody watches CNN, it would be safe to say that the news being watched by all of the citizens is the same. However, it is dangerous when people start to believe that what they see is real news.

For the television stations this kind of situation should be a great chance to express their individuality. However, the only thing the newscasters do is read the news in a monotonous voice or when the news comes on during the report, all they do is spit out the words they receive. In any case, they talk with the mere intention of filling up the time they have on air.

The adjective “affect less” best fits the way the newscasters talk. It is a way of expression that has no connection to the human being and no emotional power at all. I deprecate this way of expression. If you listen closely to those words, it doesn’t sound like real news. It sounds more like propaganda.

Talking of propaganda, what changed the most due to the terrorist incident is The New York Times. Until recently, I would wake up an hour early to go buy this newspaper but now, there it isn’t even worth the time to sit down and read it. Even before I place my hips in the seat, I am already finished reading it by flipping through the pages. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that there is hardly any useful news. It is mostly propaganda.

The news on how there are more antibiotics to anthrax other than cipro was a little useful, but that kind of useful news has become a rarity. The New York Times is usually known to be the most reliable source of media when doing research on something that happened twenty to thirty years ago. However, that is no longer the case. The most reliable newspaper that is read by educated people today is probably England’s The Guardian. Everyone is reading it on the internet. I also believe that a lot of the information coming out of the White House is also propaganda.

The problem is that common people cannot make a distinction between news and propaganda. On the contrary, the news sent out from Israel is extremely reliable.

In any case, once a war happens, the war for media becomes a great significance and even the newspapers that look decent at first glance, you can no longer trust. About a hundred years ago, the man who started publishing the Daily Mile said the following: “News is something somebody wants to suppress. Everything else is propaganda.”

Therefore, all information that can be obtained without difficult coverage, even though it may be from the White House, you can think of as propaganda.

Bin Laden should be looked upon as a symbol

The United States has always had a tendency to look for an enemy. It is a country that cannot stand not having one. Even for this terrorist incident, it is already determined that the villain behind all of this is bin Laden, but in reality they are saying that because they cannot stand not doing so. I believe that bin Laden is someone’s clown for a rodeo.

Although my thoughts are always paranoid, I believe that I’m the only one who feels this way. It is said that NSA is on a lookout for him but I think that like an onion, new layers will be discovered. No matter how I look at the situation, it doesn’t seem like bin Laden is doing this independently. The only impression that I get is that he is some kind of star actor.

Honestly speaking, we cannot even tell if the face that comes out on television and on the newspapers is his real face. I remember someone saying right after the terrorist incident, “Come on, you want bin Laden? We’ll give you 20 of him.” Even if the United States succeeds in killing him that would mean that there are still 19 bin Ladens left. Even if there is only one, there are probably many people who would take his place once they kill bin Laden.

If we look at this from a different point-of-view, we should look at bin Laden as a symbol rather than a man. Bin Laden may not even exist.

The other day when I was surfing the net, it said that the punishment that suits bin Laden the best is to catch him alive, bring him to a hospital, give him a transexual operation, and send him back to Afghanistan. He would then understand the disservice done to the women in Afghanistan.

We cannot forget that many of bin Laden’s brothers were partners with George Bush Jr. for the purpose of oil ventures in the past. The doctor who is known to be at bin Laden’s side at all times was a member of the group who killed Sadat. When that assassination happened, Egypt became involved and there must have been people who fled to Afghanistan.

What is often said is that it is the United State’s wealth that is the cause of the terrorists’ hatred. I can understand their feelings well. When I see a wealthy person, I instinctively feel anger deep in my stomach. If you think about how Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, it is only natural for them to feel hatred toward the wealthy United States. They have no other choice but to detest them.

Even if the United States stops their support for Israel, I don’t think that everything will become peaceful. However, from their point-of-view this is the origin of all Israel’s mistakes.

On a final note, if I were to vigorously invest in something right now, I would invest in the tobacco industry. After that incident, people who had stopped smoking before have started it again.

 

On the Pynchon Wiki, two presumably well-informed commenters offer their opinion that the bin Laden piece is authentic. The reasoning of commenter “Bleakhaus” is fairly persuasive.
 

I for one am inclined to believe its authenticity. It expresses many of Pynchon’s longest- and deepest-held thoughts:

Paranoia - afraid to ride subway.
Extended thoughts on his distrust of news media - mentions CNN in particular (same station that tracked him down at one point).
He suggests that he used to like the New York Times - in fact, he wrote numerous articles for the Times.
Bin Laden as a symbol - 9/11 is treated symbolically in Against the Day.
sense of humor - consistent with Pynchon’s sense of humor in Against the Day.
The Playboy Japan article also quoted John Updike, Thomas Friedman and others. It would be odd that a bogus Pynchon interview would end up mixed in with those legitimate interviews.
Hating the rich - a very strong theme in Against the Day.

Finally, like Pynchon’s Simpsons appearance, the whole thing is just too unusual to be invented. Playboy Japan, of all things?

 

Obviously, 9/11 is an ideal subject for a writer who plumbed the subject of paranoia so thoroughly in The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. What “Bleakhaus” couldn’t have known when he or she wrote this is that, while Against the Day (2006) may touch on 9/11 symbolically, his 2013 book Bleeding Edge deals with it literally—it’s part of the book’s plot.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Susan Sontag in a bear suit is probably more incriminating than Susan Sontag’s FBI file
06.19.2014
11:34 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
FBI
Susan Sontag


Obviously one of Sontag’s espionage-related disguises
 
Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag is usually remembered more for her cultural criticism than for her political activism., Although I eventually grew to find her pretentious as hell, I can honestly say her “Notes on ‘Camp’” may have validated my dirtbag tastes early on. Her anti-Vietnam War activism was actually fairly tame, but combined with a characteristically sober article she wrote on Vietnam for Esquire, her lefty resume earned her an FBI file.

It appears however, that the Bureau was seriously grasping at straws in trying to assess her threat to national security. A New York intellectual protesting the war in the 1960s? Columbia teach-ins? Signing petitions? International travel?!? Even the Esquire essay, “Trip to Hanoi” is hardly an impassioned call for revolution, but rather a reserved account of her own experience mired in (arguably egotistical and naval-gazing) self-reflection. Though more radical anti-war activists like Students for a Democratic Society were present, Sontag states plainly in the piece that, “I was a writer and Vietnam was ‘material.’”
 

 
The FBI never questioned Sontag, saying in the file that “an attempt to interview her could result in embarrassment to the Bureau.” I have to agree with that one. Fear of intellectuals is one thing, but it’s easy to imagine what sort of New Yorker article Sontag would have penned should the FBI have tried to recruit her! Furthermore, Susan Sontag was never more threatening than a fountain pen and the FBI should definitely be embarrassed to have ever “feared” her in any way. Below is a sampling from Sontag’s FBI file of her notorious political activities:

Records of the New York City Police Department reflect that during Anti-Draft Activities, December 4-8, 1967, in New York City, Susan Sontag, white female, born January 16, 1933. and a resident of 346 Riverside Drive, New York City, was arrested on December 5, 1967, on a charge of disorderly conduct. The records further reflect that Sontag is single, a citizen of the United States and is a writer by occupation.

On March 7, 1968, the records of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Bureau of Special Services, were reviewed by Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) August J. Micek, and no information pertaining to the subject was reflected.

On February 21, 1966, a source who has furnished reliable information in the past advised that Susan Sontag attended a “Read-In For Peace In Vietnam” held at Town Han, 123 West 43rd Street, New York on February 20, 1966.

The “New York Post” of November 18, 1967, reflected that Susan Sontag spoke at a program “From Dissent To Resistance” at a Vietnam Teach-In at Columbia University in November, 1967.

The’Village Voice” of January 18, 1968 on page 11, column 1 reflected that Susan Sontag signed a scroll pledging to counsel aid and abet any young man who wished to refuse the draft.

The’New York Times” of January 31, 1968, reflected that Susan Sontag signed a protest advertisement in the New York Times concerning the surtax. The advertisement was sponsored by the “Writers and Editors War Tax.”

During March and April, 1968, informants cognizant of some Communist activities in the New York City area were contacted and could furnish no information concerning the subject.

As an added bonus, I’ve added my absolute favorite video of Sontag, in which she claims unfamiliarity with the work of notorious libertarian feminist troll, Camille Paglia. (Paglia is incensed beyond belief.) Susan Sontag did not lead revolutions, she destroyed your composure with passive-aggressive barbs.
 

 
Via The Hairpin

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Screwed in Times Square with Josh Alan Friedman


 
Vanity Fair’s Mike Sacks is one of the world’s great comedy nerds and he’s got the published bona fides to prove it. Funny in his own right (his book of comic essays, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason had me laughing out loud on nearly every single page) Mike’s proven himself incredibly adept at getting top humor writers to open up about what they do and how they do it. His 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker featured interviews with the likes of Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Dick Cavett, Larry Gelbart, Merrill Markoe and even Marx Brothers writer Irving Brecher (which floored me, because I am fascinated by the man who Groucho called “the wickedest wit of the West”). The book is filled with gem after gem of good advice on how to write funny and how to think funny. If you are at all interested in the craft of comedy, it’s an absolutely indispensable book.

In just a few short days, Mike’s new book of interviews, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers will arrive (June 24 to be exact) and this nearly 500 page volume features contributions from Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Adam McKay and even the great Mel Brooks. The Irving Brecher equivalent for me—there had to be a Brecher this time, too, of course or the reader would be disappointed—well, he got several Brechers this go round (I’m talking about other unexpected leftfield participants, to be clear). There’s a fascinating interview with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, for starters. He’s also got Daniel Clowes, WFMU’s Tom Scharpling and Bob & Ray’s Bob Elliott. That’s some pretty rarified company, right? But that’s what you’ll find here. [As an aside fellow comedy buffs, my beloved pal Philip Proctor of the Firesign Theatre once told me that his extremely distinct comedic delivery was more influenced by Bob & Ray than anyone else. Once you know that, it provides a fascinating lens with which to view Phil’s contribution to “the Beatles of comedy.”]

One of the interviews that was cut for space from Poking a Dead Frog was a conversation with Josh Alan Friedman, co-creator with his brother Drew (the one who draws) of the all-time, until the end of time classic Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental and on his own of the classic in a different way anthology of his Screw magazine essays on the 42nd Street milieu, Tales of Times Square. To say that I am a big, huge, unabashed fan of those books is no exaggeration. I even gave out copies of Tales of Times Square for Christmas presents back when Times Square was still a sleaze pit. I found a stack at The Strand bookstore and bought all of them. I put plastic wrappers on my own copy of the first edition and it sits in a place of pride on the bookshelves behind me as I type this. When Mike offered us the opportunity to run the Josh Alan Friedman interview on Dangerous Minds, I was only too happy to accept.
 

Josh Alan Friedman, right, with his brother illustrator Drew Friedman, late 1970s

Mike Sacks: When I first asked if you were willing to be interviewed, you said that you “find nothing funny about anything, anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Josh Alan Friedman: That might have been off-the-cuff, but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Most of the time, what strikes me as funny doesn’t strike others as funny. And vice versa.

When did you publish your first cartoon with your brother Drew? What year was this?

It was in 1978, but we had been recording reel-to-reel audio sketches and doing comic strips for ourselves over the years. I would kind of write and produce, Drew did voices and illustrations. We never thought about publishing or releasing them.

Drew began to draw constantly. He would draw his teachers naked on school desks. When I went to visit him during his freshman year at Boston University, the public walls of the entire dormitory floor were densely illustrated. Maybe I imagined this, but I seem to remember finding him upside down, like Michaelangelo laboring under the chapel. He spent months doing this, and although the frat boys loved it, Drew hadn’t been to class in months. So I wanted to focus the poor boy’s talent on something, and I began writing heavily researched, detailed comix scripts.

What was that first published comic called?

“The Andy Griffith Show.” It ran in Raw Magazine. Drew illustrated the entire script very quickly. I loved how it looked. I said, “This is an amazing piece of work you’ve just done here,” and he told me he could do better. He ripped up that first version and then re-drew it—that’s the version that now exists. When I saw how startling the strip looked after the second pass, I knew we were onto something exciting.

To this day, the “Andy Griffith Show” comic strip remains slightly shocking. It features a black man wandering into Mayberry, North Carolina, and getting lynched by Sheriff Taylor and some other locals. This was not your typical misty-eyed look back at small-town life in the 1960s.

That cartoon has since been reprinted many times—and we caught a lot of flak at first. Certain people accused us of being racists.

If anything, you were mocking the nostalgia that surrounds a time and place that was anything but happy and perfect—at least for many people.

Yes, of course. I wanted to provoke the heady sensation of fear, and also get some laughs. That, to me, was—and still is—a potent combination. The so-called comic nightmare. It’s like mixing whiskey with barbiturates. It becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Over the years readers have told me that they can’t remember whether they actually read some of our cartoons or dreamed them. People have asked, “I might have been dreaming, but did you once work on a comic strip about such and such?”

You were writing about television shows and celebrities that no one else seemed to care about in the late ’70s, early ’80s.

I’ll confess that during childhood I never realized I Love Lucy was supposed to be a situation comedy. I thought it was a drama about the misadventures of this poor New York City housewife, which happened to have a surreal laugh track that made no sense. Years later, I was stunned to learn it was considered comedy.

I was always riveted by the lower depths of show business and sub-celebrities, maybe as an alternative to the dumbing down of American culture. The common man had higher standards in, say, the 1940s. And Drew’s fascination went even deeper, as he depicted fantasies of Rondo Hatton, the acromegaly-cursed actor who starred in several freak horror flicks in the ’30s and ’40s. And, of course, Tor Johnson, the giant wrestler turned actor, from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959], who practically became Drew’s alter ego.

There was something about The Three Stooges, after their stock had taken a dive in the ’70s, that became more compelling than ever—even deeper than when we were children. Three short, ugly, but really beautiful, middle-aged Jews who slept in the same bed together, refused to separate, yet beat and maimed each other senselessly without end. It almost ceased being comedy, but you couldn’t stop watching. 
 

 
What fascinated you about sub-celebrities at the nadir of their careers?

If I were to speculate, I would say that worship of America’s celebrity culture was becoming a mental illness without a name. It was the sickness of celebrity. It’s only gotten worse: the false icons, the obsession with celebrity over substance. It demeans all of humanity. It’s terribly unhealthy. So why not take it a quantum step lower—to its natural resolution—and worship Ed Wood, Joe Franklin, Wayne Newton, or Joey Heatherton, a Rat Pack–era actress in the ’60s? Or serial killers posing with celebrities?

When Drew and I were doing this in the late ’70s and ’80s, there was no Internet. Information about old shows and movies and celebrities were difficult to come by back then. Now there are hundreds of websites devoted to The Three Stooges or The Andy Griffith Show or Rondo Hatton. You can now look up [the actress and model] Joey Heatherton’s name and immediately find that her first husband, the football player Lance Rentzel, was arrested in 1970 for exposing himself to a child. Or that Wayne Newton once threatened to beat the shit out of Johnny Carson for telling jokes about Wayne being effeminate.

You had to search out arcane clippings’ files in local libraries or newspaper morgues back then. For years, I kept accumulating photos and news clips on numerous subjects like Newton, Joey Heatherton or Frank Sinatra, Jr.

More of Mike Sacks’ interview with Josh Alan Friedman after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Ernest Hemingway’s reading list for a young writer, 1934
06.16.2014
09:55 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Ernest Hemingway
Arnold Samuelson

0001hemern.jpg
 
In 1934, a young student Arnold Samuelson read Ernest Hemingway’s short story “One Trip Across.” Inspired by what he had read, the 22-year-old decided to travel across America to visit the author and ask his advice about writing.

Samuelson had just finished a journalism course at the University of Minnesota and had ambitions to become a writer. He packed a bag and hitch-hiked his way down to Key West. When he arrived, he found the place, like the rest of America, in the grip of the Depression. He spent his first night sleeping rough on a dock, and was woken during the night by a policeman who invited Samuelson to sleep in the local jail. He accepted the offer, and the next day, Samuelson ventured out in search of his hero’s home.

When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, he came out and stood squarely in front of me, squinty with annoyance, waiting for me to speak. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t recall a word of my prepared speech. He was a big man, tall, narrow-hipped, wide-shouldered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hanging at his sides. He was crouched forward slightly with his weight on his toes, in the instinctive poise of a fighter ready to hit.

Hemingway didn’t hit the young fan, but asked what he wanted. Samuelson explained how he had read “One Trip Across” in Cosmopolitan, and wanted to talk with him about it. Hemingway thought for a moment, then told Samuelson to come back the next day at one-thirty.

Samuelson returned at the appointed time to find Hemingway sitting on his porch. They started talking and Hemingway gave the following advice:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”

They then started talking about books, with Hemingway asking:

“Ever read War and Peace? That’s a damned good book. You ought to read it. We’ll go up to my workshop and I’ll make out a list you ought to read.”

Inside the house, Hemingway wrote down a list of fourteen books and two short stories, which he suggested a young writer should read:

“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James

 
001yawgnimehelist.jpg
 
He then gave Samuelson a collection of Stephen Crane’s short stories, and a copy of A Farewell to Arms. When Hemingway heard Samuelson was sleeping at the town jail, he invited him to sleep on his 38-foot cabin cruiser Pilar, and keep it in good condition. Over the next year, Samuelson worked for Hemingway and traveled with him on trips to the Florida Keys and Cuba. He later published a memoir based on his experiences, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.

Below a brief news item on Ernest Hemingway, looking back to the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s life in Key West.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Today in 1816, Mary Shelley first dreamt of ‘Frankenstein’
06.16.2014
09:44 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Frankenstein
Derek Marlowe
Mary Shelley


 
In the wee small hours of the morning, 16th June 1816, Mary Shelley had a terrifying “waking dream” that inspired the creation of her novel Frankenstein. As she described it in her journal:

When I placed my head upon the pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.

The cause of this haunting reverie had been a discussion between Mary’s lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover and half-sister Claire Clairmont (who was then pregnant with his child), and Byron’s doctor John Polidori. They had all traveled to spend a summer together at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary was the daughter of radical political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and was the teenage lover of firebrand poet Shelley—with whom she had eloped to Switzerland to visit his friend and fellow poet, Lord Byron. 

It was the year without summer, when the skies were grey with the volcanic ash that had erupted from Mount Tambora the previous year in the Dutch East Indies—it was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, and led to floods, food shortages, and cold, inclement weather across the world. A suitably ominous year for the birth of literature’s monstrous creation—Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s creature—the “Adam of [his] labors.”

Unable to spend time outside, the menage sat late into the evening reading ghost stories to each other. These were taken from Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German and French horror tales. Then one evening by the flickering log fire, Byron suggested that each member of the group should produce their own tale of horror. This they did, mainly Gothic tales of ghosts and the undead. However, Doctor Polidori surprised the company with The Vampyre, which was eventually published in 1819, and is said to be the first of the vampire genre. But it was Mary Shelley—or Godwin as she was then—who had the greatest and most enduring literary success.
 
01yellehsyram.jpg
 
Having struggled to come up with an original tale, Mary was inspired one evening by a discussion on “Galvanism,” the scientific phenomenon discovered by Luigi Galvani, whereby muscles (originally on frogs legs, later corpses) twitched and moved, and seem to come alive, when jolted with an electric current.

As author Derek Marlowe described it in his book A Single Summer With L.B.:

The earlier talk of reanimation and the rekindling of dead matter spun in her mind until without realizing it, she herself experienced in her sleep a grotesque nightmare that was so vivid that she felt it was happening within her very room. She saw a manufactured corpse stretched on the floor, a thin figure kneeling beside it, and then she witnessed the corpse stirring, moving, coming to life.

He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes: behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery but speculative eyes.

Starting up in terror, she was no more comforted when she saw the familiar room, the closed shutters, the dark parquet flooring, the patterned walls, for the vision haunted her still. In vain throughout the night Mary attempted to banish the images from her mind, but they returned constantly, until dawn she realized at last that there was only one thing she could do.

I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.

 
22nekranf22.jpg
 
The shy, eighteen-year-old Mary started writing her story that very day and developed it into a novel during 1817:

It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost mounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light I saw the dull yellow eyes of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a conclusive motion agitated its limbs.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in an edition of 500 copies of three volumes in January 1818. It proved an immediate success, with a second edition published in 1822. The following year a stage production based on the novel, Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein was first produced, which greatly popularized the story, as Mary’s father William Godwin excitedly wrote in this letter:

My dear Mary

I write these few lines, merely to tell you that Frankenstein was acted last night for the first time, & with success. I have therefore ordered 500 copies of the novel to be printed with all dispatch, the whole profits of which, without a penny deduction, shall be your own. 

I am most impatient & anxious to see you, and am ever most affectionately yours

W Godwin

195, Strand,
July 29, 1823.

 
03nekranf33.jpg
 
A revised, more conservative version of Frankenstein was eventually published under Mary’s own name in 1831.

The first movie version of Frankenstein was made in 1910 by Edison Studios. Filmed over three days, the creature was a snaggle-toothed monster with Russell Brand hair. It proved successful, but not as successful as James Whale’s classic film version starring Boris Karloff as the monster in 1931.

From one dream were these wonders so created.

Thomas Edison’s 1910 version:
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Ayn Rand ‘objectively’ explains to ‘Cat Fancy’ that cats are awesome, 1966
06.16.2014
05:47 am

Topics:
Animals
Books
Thinkers

Tags:
Ayn Rand
cats

Ayn Rand
 
It’s difficult to think of something—anything—that could endear Ayn Rand to me, but the news that she was a cat person certainly would be in that unlikely ballpark.

That said, I’d peg this curious missive she sent to Cat Fancy magazine on March 20, 1966, as an obvious hoax if it wasn’t right there in the volume dedicated to her correspondence.
 

Dear Miss Smith,

You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular.

You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the carter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. (“Objective” does not mean “disinterested” or indifferent; it means corresponding to the facts of reality and applies both to knowledge and to values.)

I subscribed to Cat Fancy primarily for the sake of the picture, and found the charter issue very interesting and enjoyable.

 
It’s especially great that even when writing Cat Fancy about her fondness for cats, she still can’t help getting into a nitpicky semantic debate over the word “objective”! Cat Fancy apparently set out the bait, and she went for it, like, well, a cat goes after a sardine…...
 
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand swooning over the heroic properties of the American industrialist with an especially adorable Objectivist pal
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Thurston Moore discusses the No Wave scene, 2008
06.12.2014
11:42 am

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
No Wave
Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore
 
In 2008 Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore and music journalist David Browne stopped by the McNally Jackson bookstore to promote their new books, No Wave: Post Punk, Underground, New York, 1976-1980 (coauthored with Byron Coley) and Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth, respectively. Moore and Browne talk expansively about those halcyon years of 1976-1981, when the No Wave scene sprouted up right alongside NYC’s punk scene. Indeed, Moore mentions that the inclusion of “Post Punk” in the title of his book annoyed some of the original No Wave musicians, because after all, the movement didn’t really start any later than the punk movement. McNally Jackson is located on Prince Street, just a few blocks away from where the No Wave scene was active—Moore makes a couple of sardonic comments about how hard it is to believe that it’s the same place.
 
Thurston Moore and David Browne
Thurston Moore and David Browne
 
Moore describes very clearly how strange the No Wave scene was—they had no media echo outside of the Village, and they regarded artists like Patti Smith and Television to be waaaaay too beholden to such bourgeois notions like “songs” and “solos.” Indeed, even Moore was alienated by the No Wavers’ chilly approach: “I wasn’t attracted to No Wave at the time. At the time I was really put off by it. I thought these people were really kind of offensive. I was like, Patti Smith’s great, Television’s great.” As he says, at the time he’d be far more likely to spend four bucks to see the Ramones than pay three dollars to see these local artists who half the time hardly seemed to be playing intelligible music. It wouldn’t be until Moore encountered recordings of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, and so on that he warmed up to what they were doing. He cites a hostile review of a Teenage Jesus record by Ed Naha in Hit Parader that had such choice verbiage as “This is the worst-sounding record ever made, it sounds like a cat being murdered” that filled Moore with a determination to hear this stuff.

No Wave was so devoid of traditional structure that Browne’s provocative question “How could you tell when a post-punk band sucked?” elicits an interesting response from Moore:  “That’s a good question. The general consensus was that everything else sucked.”
 
Thurston Moore
 
For anyone who was in the Village and seeing gigs during those years, the session will represent a wonderful trip down memory lane. Moore recalls the time that CBGB raised the admission price from two dollars to three dollars, and people got PISSED. The references come thick and fast: Bleecker Bob’s, 99 Records, Rat at Rat R, Mudd Club, Mars, Tier 3….

For those who can’t abide such things, be warned that the inevitable Q&A section starts around the 34th minute (although I found it pretty interesting anyway).
 

 
Here’s a pretty great clip of James Chance & the Contortions doing “Contort Yourself” in Minneapolis, September 23, 1979:
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish’: John Steinbeck’s advice on writing
06.11.2014
12:42 pm

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Books
Literature

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John Steinbeck
Writing

kcebneitsnhoj11.jpg
 
Responding to a letter from Robert Wallsten, who was “experiencing a kind of stage fright about actually starting to write a biographical work,” John Steinbeck, author of those longtime staples of high school syllabi, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, gave the following advice.
 

Villa Panorama
Capri
February 13-14, 1962

Dear Robert:

Your bedridden letter came a couple of days ago and the parts about your book, I think, need an answer…

...let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find the reason it gave trouble is it didn’t belong there.

5. Beware of the scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Well, actually that’s about all.

I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me…

love to all there

John

 
1962 was a good year for Steinbeck, as he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At his acceptance speech, given at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1962, Steinbeck said:
 

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches—nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair. Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

 
Steinbeck’s speech can be viewed below.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Fear and Loathing in elementary school: Ralph Steadman’s ‘Little Red Computer’
06.11.2014
07:31 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Ralph Steadman
Children's books


 
Illustrator and cartoonist Ralph Steadman is synonymous with Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo antics and books, yet he has a huge body of work that has nothing at all to do with HST.  Most of the books he illustrated (and, in some cases, wrote) in the ‘60s and pre-HST ‘70s are long out of print and, thanks to his collectibility as one of the greatest contemporary British artists, fairly expensive.
 
redcomputergraduation
 
One of his first published books, after years of doing cartoons and drawings for publications like Punch and Private Eye, was a children’s book, The Little Red Computer, published in 1969 by Dobson in the U.K. (and McGraw-Hill in the U.S.), which may just be the first children’s book in literary history to feature a computer as a character. Steadman’s choice of a computer as a character was visionary, since personal computers would not be an easily recognizable common possession for over a decade. Not surprisingly, his sympathy lies with the bullied underdog, in this case a computer that doesn’t understand numbers and consequently flunks out of computer school. He is discarded in an empty field to rust, but soon the field is chosen to be the site of a rocket launch.

Kirkus Review’s brief blurb about the plot is:
 

He can’t add 2 and 2, but, spluttering directions to “where stars are born” and “where Knowledge can be found,” the little red computer leads the first expedition into outer space. Propelled by the little red engine.

 
A first edition in decent condition goes for up to $600.  It was reprinted as a limited edition by Steam Press in 2004, along with the follow-up to the story, Flowers for the Moon, originally only published in German in 1974.
 
steadmanmoon
 
With the mandated anti-bullying programs in American public schools, why not reprint Ralph’s book and make it required reading? Educational art from a master and a worthy message in one colorful, charming book.

More Little Red Computer illustrations can be found here.

The art of Ralph Steadman: a savage satirist:
 

 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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