The University of Texas recently landed the archive of David Foster Wallace. It seemed like a random location to me, until I read this, by D.T. Max in The New Yorker a few years back:
The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.
There are some delightful author-related nuggets. Here’s Don DeLillo:
The painstaking nature of DeLillo’s method can be seen in his drafts for “Underworld” (2001), which began as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” composed in 1991. He goes through a dozen pages to settle on the language of the opening two paragraphs, in which a Harlem teen-ager named Cotter Martin gets ready to jump the turnstile at the Polo Grounds to see the famous 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff game. The first page in the folder already captures the agitated mentality of a hurrying city: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. The longing to be here, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, is too hard to resist—this metropolis.” DeLillo breaks off and starts again: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom, the box of forty blank faces.” He pauses, then alters the image to “the box of forty mismatched heads.” He returns to his original riff: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom and it’s not a matter of midweek blues.” Then he drops “midweek blues,” but introduces the idea of melancholy in a lovely pair of sentences: “Most longings go unfulfilled. This is the word’s wistful implication.” He transforms these two sentences into one: “Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”
Five years later, DeLillo turns to these words again, for the prologue to “Underworld.” He wants a new first paragraph to precede the earlier one. “Look at the kid with the empty pockets” becomes “Look at the kid with the lively eyes”; he then changes “lively eyes” to “glimmerglass eyes.” (Glimmerglass eyes? He amends it in pencil: “shine in his eyes.”) A few pages later, he returns to the image: “He speaks in your voice, American, and has a shine in his eyes that’s half hope, half fear.” DeLillo replaces the end of the sentence with the smoother “halfway hopeful.” After a few more tweaks, he has merged Bellow with Gershwin: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful. It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each. Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”
Red the full story here.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is all kinds of pretty. She’s an actress (the sadists among you might have seen her smashing Willem Dafoe’s scrotum to pieces in Antichrist), and she’s a singer-songwriter. She wrote and sang this:
If I had my way
I’d cross the desert to the sea
Learn to speak in tongues something
That makes sense to you and me
Honey, we have a hard time believing you need to travel anywhere to find a man willing to learn your language. Able, I suppose, could be tougher. Enjoy the song, “Me and Jane Doe”:
On Board rolls on; it needs your help.
March 9, 2010, 8:42 p.m.
B Train – Grand St. to 7th Avenue
The pretty girl with the tuft of bangs sweeping over her left eye is staring at the Budweiser ad, then out the window, then at a woman standing near the door, then at me. Her eyes dart downward. She’s holding her pen stationary, the ink pointed at a 45 degree angle toward her white drawing paper, 18×24, bound in a spiral notebook.
She starts sketching, two parallel lines at first, shading them on either side. They’re getting thicker and forming the base of a structure of sorts: a chair, a table, a thatch hut, a subway seat. An elderly woman sits next to her, none too subtly watching over her shoulder.
The artist is holding a large bottle of FIJI water and a look of concern. She picks up her pen and flips the page halfway through the drawing. There’s another blank page. She has only black ink, otherwise she might draw the lipstick red pea coat she’s wearing, or the plaid jacket on the woman to her right. She has an even bigger pad leaning against her shins, and given the blank page on her lap and forlorn stare on her face, we can only assume that pad is empty as well. The Chinese woman has opened a newspaper. The artist rides over the Manhattan Bridge without putting pen to paper.
She finally leans forward to draw, and the water bottle tilts with her. She grabs it with her empty hand just before it falls. The drawing begins with an oval; two vertical lines; a connecting curve; two more lines angled to the side of the pad, settling into short vertical stumps; a pair of curves intersecting the stumps; two straight lines plunging to the bottom of the page. She moves the pen back to the middle of the image, and starts writing in bold, dark letters: F…I…J…
Posted: March 30th, 2010
Tags: New York City
, On Board
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I have no idea whether to believe the first or second half of this two-minute YouTube video. But I salute ingenuity:
Posted: March 30th, 2010
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A bit frazzled over here this week, so we’ll quickly leave you with this David Simon profile in the NY Times magazine. If you haven’t seen The Wire, forget subscribing to HBO, put the money toward a Netflix subscription, and burn through the DVDs. By then, Treme will be out too:
Simon remembers many network notes when writing for “Homicide.” “The notes felt like they were not serving the best possible story,” Simon explained. “Jimmy Yoshimura — Eric worked as supervising producer with him, and I was a junior producer under them — Yosh used to do this notes meeting, call me in and say, ‘Come on, let’s do the antler dance.’ And I said, ‘What’s the antler dance?’ And I swear to God, he would put his phone on the floor, on speakerphone, so you’d hear the voice of the network exec. And with his voice, Jim would approximate a reasonable, ‘Well, that’s a very good note, but if we do that. . . .’ But his body language would begin with his hands up above his head as if he were wearing antlers, like some sort of drum circle, and he would dance around the phone, gesturing obscenely to it, do a little more dancing, but all the while he would be saying, ‘Oh, no, that’s a really good note, we’ll have to consider that. Let me talk to Tom [Fontana], because I think we’re going to do something in another episode.’ Meanwhile, he’d pull down his zipper and stick his thumb through it, and if the guy kept persisting on a note and he couldn’t talk him out of it, Yosh would get down on the floor, close to the speakerphone and. . . .”
Yoshimura claims that there are limits to Simon’s recall. “No, no, no, that was David!” Simon offered the following rebuttal via e-mail: “I will own the origin of this particular gesture if that is Jim’s memory, but in the event that he is trying now these many years later to whitewash his authorship of the sacred ritual of the network-note antler dance, I can only quote ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ and John Wayne’s remark to Jimmy Stewart: ‘Think back, pilgrim.’ ”
You probably saw David Mamet’s memo to the writing crew of The Unit last week, but I was socked in, and just got to it. This was the best advice, to my mind:
EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.
THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.
ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.
ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.
And, yes, the message is written in ALL CAPS.
Posted: March 29th, 2010
Tags: David Mamet
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Below, you will find the customer survey for a new restaurant chain, Happy Slappy Fun Time:
Thank you for enjoying an evening of fine dining and entertainment at Happy Slappy Fun Time family restaurant. Please take a moment to answer this short customer survey. Your feedback is extremely valuable in improving our business.
1. Please rate the food quality of your meal from one (horrible) to ten (excellent).
2. Please rate the “fun level” of our entertainment from one to ten.
3. Please rate your slap from one to ten.
4. Did you know the slap was coming?
5. Was the force of the slap to your liking?
The rest of the survey can be found here.
My favorite New Yorker cartoon, this week.
The origin of the project can be found here. Send your missives here, like others have done.
March 11, 2010, 9:41 p.m.
2 Train – 72nd St. to Bergen St.
- What is political party of the current president?
- What is the name of one branch or part of the government?
- What is the supreme law of the land?
- How many amendments does the Constitution have?
- What are two Cabinet-level positions?
These are the questions, written in bold, that a young Dominican man has pulled out of a blue folder, out of a blue satchel, resting on his blue jeans, connecting his tush to the blue subway seat. This is the third page of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services citizenship test study guide. The answers are highlighted with italics and bullet points.
He’s wearing an Under Armour mesh baseball cap and all black Converse high tops. Who needs socks? He’s easily distracted, glancing around the car. He scoots over as a neighbor exits the train, and a pretty girl takes his old seat. He’s even more distracted now. Good luck.
Posted: March 25th, 2010
Tags: New York
, On Board
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A rather stunning statement on reading, buried inside Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques:
The only phenomenon with which writing has always been concomitant is the creation of cities and empires, that is the integration of large numbers of individuals into a political system, and their grading into castes or classes. Such, as any rate, is the typical pattern of development to be observed from Egypt to China, at the time when writing first emerged: it seems to have favoured the exploitation of human beings rather than their enlightenment. This exploitation, which made it possible to assemble thousands of workers and force them to carry out exhausting tasks, is a much more likely explanation of the birth of architecture than the direct link referred to above. My hypothesis, if correct, would oblige us to recognize the fact that the primary function of written communication is to facilitate slavery. The use of writing for disinterested purposes, and as a source of intellectual and aesthetic pleasure, is a secondary result, and more often than not it may even be turned into a means of strengthening, justifying or concealing the other.
Dan Visel, who noted the passage, adds his own thoughts:
One sees on an almost-daily basis recourse to the position of Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus – technology, no matter how simple, inevitably leads to a lessening of human facilities of memory – but this is something different, and one that I think merits consideration. Periodically, I wish that someone would present a cogent argument against reading, rather than the oft-regurgitated pablum that “at least the kids are reading.”
The argument is essentially one between receiving stories and experiencing them. What good, really, does reading do? Wouldn’t it be better to go out and smell a tree than read about one? Play piano rather than read bout it? Live life rather than receive it? Maybe.
The rest of the piece talks about Tino Sehgal’s fascinating installation at the Guggenheim. The New Yorker wrote about the human installations.