New York City’s skyline should be familiar to most readers, a vertical city, slender shafts of steel and glass erupting from a jostling street culture, with an occasional verdant hamlet lurking in its shadows, courtesy of Jane Jacobs and Frederick Law Olmsted. At its core the city is a ferocious machine, churning through money and real estate. But at its periphery in places like Ridgewood, New York City remains riddled with shelters, and slightly strange.
The spark that lit the tinder was a series of what began as peaceful protests followed by disproportionate – and uneven – countermeasures by the Tunisian government. Protests began after the public self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor left destitute after harassment by local authorities. Early media coverage was stifled and word of the protests leaked out through social networks and satellite television. Tunisian authorities reacted violently, then backpedaled and granted elaborate concessions (for example Pres. Ben Ali visited Bouazizi in his hospital bed shortly before the latter died and former fled.) The government seemed weak, arbitrary and cruel. People quickly lost confidence.
As is customary with beginnings of semesters at Columbia University a wintery mix has decided to accompany me this afternoon. (And yes that is a jangled sentence, but the weather is jangled, therefore my choice is apt, and I declare this with 3/4ths of graduate degree in writing standing – looming, towering, soaring! – behind my words.)
Writers are risk-averse. Necessarily so, because writing is really a sort of willful blindness, each sentence depending on all the ones preceding it, the way digging a tunnel depends on each shovel scoop. Experimentation is potentially catastrophic (or worse, embarrassing)… [LINK]
As legions of cool-hunters trawling the Internet and bohemian sectors of cities are well aware, given that most subcultures are spun around a kernel of hoodlum glamour and guilt-free rutting, selling youth culture is not exactly hard. Youth movements are appropriated and neutralized at such a ferocious rate, that no musical subculture since “Gangsta Rap” has been subversive enough to resist the American mainstream for long save for one: the juggalos (sic) – the off-brand soda flinging, hatchet-wielding followers of The Insane Clown Posse… [LINK]
TOM MCCARTHY’S 2005 debut, “Remainder”, managed what the jackets of so many first novels promise: a fresh and—in this case—unsettling take on contemporary life. It is about a brain-damaged man who marshals millions of pounds and a troupe of actors, consiglieres and forensic experts to reconstruct a memory. It is an intentionally confusing and difficult book that manages to draw on both Proust and Beckett, yet remain intoxicatingly readable…
This month editorial control of the Paris Review, a pre-eminent American literary magazine, changed hands from Philip Gourevitch to Lorin Stein, now a former senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and an occasional contributor to this magazine). While at FSG, Stein made his name finding and refining such authors as Elif Batuman, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, Sam Lipsyte, Richard Price and James Wood. He also worked on FSG’s recent translations of fiction by Roberto Bolaño and personally translated from the French “The Mystery Guest” by Gregoire Bouillier… [LINK]
Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Couch For a Long Time, 2009
Sleet spattered over VIPs queuing outside for the opening of the Whitney Biennial on February 23rd. We suffered in silence, in darkness, our conversations drowned by the monastic groaning of an outdoor installation that cast an eerie blue hue. Dumpling trucks prowled and rogue cameramen interviewed some on a scrap of red carpet. We inched along as the storm intensified, sentries sifting us into various purgatories….[link]
As an X-certificate actress, Sasha Grey perfected a thrashing sensuality far more cathartic and psychologically fraught than her moaning, grunting contemporaries. Her smouldering looks and unapologetic public appearances snared millions of mostly male fans and turned the teen porn performer into a cult figure.
BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT – Myrtle Ave.
Not every nexus needs glamour but where Myrtle and Wycoff Avenues meet there is – of a seedy sort. Where the M- and L-lines cross, where Ridgewood, Queens slopes down to meet Bushwick, Brooklyn, lies the densest concentration of beauty supply stores in New York City. Here, for the discerning consumer of polyvinyl wigs or discount hair dyes, is a bonanza of buying opportunity; but for the rank amateur choking on fragrant ketone contrails, these are a rare opportunity to spot postmodern potions shorn of marketing magic. Row after row, they reduce to bare bottles stacked on stamped steel.
Reasonable prices diluted through volume. Cash accepted gladly. Cards keyed reluctantly in on a gooey pad, the line behind chitters and taps booted toes.
North. Transverse. Traverse, bags of swag rustle and crinkle. What had been predominantly white semaphore extends bluing, vanishing in a blurred dot of cars, people and buying opportunity. Primary colors appear. Discount department stores become big box banks; taco stands become Taco Bell; bodegas become 7-11s; Food Dimensions, A&P; arm-linked families of Puerto Ricans give way to jostling Italian teens who seem threatening until they clamber into cars, leased, but luxury marquees all the same.
A triangle square; benches for resting, inset, a World War I memorial hemmed in by fluttering flags (billings, not battle colors). Christmas lights coil around railings, cycles streak by, Teutonic surnames carved on columnar base, symbolic squad teeters on top, its perimeter observed by crenulated balconies; the gothic script stamped but fading on the apartment awnings below.
Then up, past Pizza Hut, and the porn store, to another transverse, Freshpond Road, marking the end of the BID, the beginning of Maspeth and a hypotenuse back to the beginning of Myrtle.
~JAMES MCGIRK (Group II)