Over the next few weeks, I will be tweeting Hugh G. Evelyn-White’s 1914 translation of Batrachomyomachia, of The Battle of Frogs and Mice, a comic epic sometimes attributed to Homer. If the idea of reading a fairly short text over a few weeks seems insanely stupid to you but you want to read this parody, read it here.
Yesterday on Twitter, Teju Cole shared a series of definitions—some ironic, some
hilarious funny, all perceptive.
The series of definitions immediately reminded me of Ambrose Bierce’s sardonic work The Devil’s Dictionary, but Cole later tweeted that he had Gustave Flaubert’s Le Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues (The Dictionary of Received Ideas) in mind as a model.
Cole reiterated Flaubert’s influence again when he published the tweets today at The New Yorker under the title “In Place of Thought“—a little sample:
AMERICAN. With the prefix “all,” a blonde.
CHILDREN. The only justification for policy. Always say “our children.” The childless have no interest in improving society.
HILARIOUS. Never simply say “funny.”
HIP HOP. Old-school hip hop, i.e., whatever was popular when you were nineteen, is great. Everything since then is intolerable.
HIPSTER. One who has an irrational hatred of hipsters.
INTERNET. A waste of time. Have a long online argument with anyone who disagrees.
JAZZ. America’s classical music. The last album was released in 1965.
LITERALLY. Swear you’d rather die than use “literally” as an intensifier.
POET. Always preceded by “published.” Function unknown.
Bonus—from Flaubert’s Dictionnaire:
BLACK – Always preceded by “pitch”.
CHILDREN – Affect a lyric tenderness towards them, when people are about.
INTRODUCTION — Obscene word.
LITERATURE — Idle pastime.
METAPHORS — Always too many in poems. Always too many in anybody’s writing.
OPTIMIST — Synonym for imbecile.
POETRY — Entirely useless; out of date.
THINK (TO) — Painful. Things that compel us to think are generally neglected.
If you follow Teju Cole on Twitter, you’ve likely already read many of his small fates, tweets he composed over two years drawn from Nigerian newspapers. The project follows the spirit of Félix Fénéon’s faits divers, three-line tragedies collected from the news.
Cole has written about the project in detail at his site, as have a number of other sites, but I can’t recall seeing the small fates put together in one place before The New Inquiry published 45 today under the title I don’t normally do this sort of thing. Cole’s small fates operate on a wonderfully strange axis of comedy and horror; they are brief but rich, ironic but intensely real.
Like many (maybe most) Americans, my first impulse when I have to wait somewhere is to pull out my smart phone and dick around. I like to dick around on Twitter, which often leads me to stuff that I scan or gaze or graze through, with a kind of distracted, even half-hearted, attention. Because I’m also attending to something else—the waiting.
I had to wait, or be patient, or be a patient, or what have you several times last month, and each time I brought with me the newest or forthcomingest issue of theNewerYork—issue 3 (or III, depending on press materials). It fits neatly in my pocket and most of the pieces are a page at most—a perfect alternative to my iPhone, with none of the eye-deadening numbness that so often happens with long binges on a tiny screen.
theNewerYork describes itself as
a weird sort of literary mag. Our rule: no short stories, no poetry, no essays. We want to play around with literary form and narration, we want to screw with your mind! There will be personal letters, flash-fictions, glossaries, aphorisms, manuals, lists and other absurdities. We received over 600 submissions from all over the world. We’ve got flash fictions of sex and drugs, teenage romances, philosophical treatises, pretentious definitions, web forums, silly, sappy, scary stuff.
That’s a pretty apt description. To hijack and cannibalize my write-up of the last issue, theNewerYork’s “willingness to showcase experimentation in what goes on paper for people to look at and read is both a strength and a weakness.” This third issue sees an all-around increase in quality, from the production design, to the art, to the writing.
Highlights include Panayotis Pakos’s “Les Innumerables (A Binary Tale),” a Calvinoesque flash that imagines the dream-life of numbers, and Shane Jesse Christmass’s “My Delicate Response to a Child’s Writing Prompt Website” (quick sample: “If there were no television I’d beach my television set down within the dunes…”). Zach Davidson’s “Unstandardized Testing” claims (truthfully?) to present a set of scrambled questions from a trash bin; the testtaker is tasked with creating proper order (sample: “too lazy to do lazy something you are if you are still?”)
The most affecting piece in the collection is Anton Nimblett’s “Show & Tell: An American Game,” an analysis posing as a chronology. I’ll share only the nineteenth century portion, and, at the risk of spoiling, let you know that the story ends with the line “Show birth certificate (again, again, again).”
The list-form, along with (or combined with) the second-person POV seems a favorite for “experimental” fiction, which can occasionally be grating (but only when it doesn’t work)—but most of the pieces here work. And if they don’t, there’s something coming up that does.
Despite the disparate tones, approaches, and geographies of its contributors, theNewerYork coheres—the little magazine has a clear (if discursive vision). Good stuff. Check out their website for more.
Tao Lin was born in Flagstaff, AZ. He had a very busy childhood that involved practicing the piano a lot. When he was 5, Tao remembers writing little books and selling them to his mother for 50¢. When Tao was small, his neighbor had a rabbit farm and sold them for money. Being near that changed Tao, and, because of it, he talks less shit about people publicly and makes fewer grand pronouncements.
Growing up, Tao played kickball and baseball and basketball in the neighborhood, but not at school. When he was 10, he was playing poker with his neighbor and bet his entire coin collection. The neighbor won and Tao picked up his coin collection and ran back to his house and locked the door. The neighbor knocked a lot and said things like this: “Just give me half. I won’t be angry.”
Tao kept practicing the piano until he no longer owned a piano that worked. Then, at New York University, he studied journalism, but he would have studied creative writing if there had been a program. His sophomore year, he broke up with his girlfriend and then decided to focus really hard on writing. After that, Tao wrote and published a few books. As Tao has noted in interviews, his writing expresses crippling loneliness, severe depression, and the arbitrary nature of the universe. Also, Tao enjoys repeatedly looking at Statcounter, Sales Rank Express, Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and Tumblr. When a number changes, he feels like something has happened. His job is to promote himself to ensure money will come to him 2-3 years from now, and then even after that.
Everything is just something Tao does. It can be either good or bad depending on the way he thinks about it. Once, Tao thought about peeing in an empty FYXX energy drink bottle and selling it on eBay. Another time, after he ran out of money, Tao sold 10% shares of his second novel to six different people for $2,000 per share. He will never get another real job for the rest of his life. Tomorrow, Tao would like to eat only raw vegan foods.
Update : Tao published some more books. He also married Megan Boyle and they later separated.
“Tao Lin” is part of Michael Kimball’s new book Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (On a Postcard), which is new from Mud Luscious Press. Interview and review forthcoming. This piece is republished with the kind permission of the author.
The Universe Within is new from Pantheon early next year. Their blurb:
From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us?
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies—our hands, heads, and jaws—and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.
University of Chicago paleontologist Shubin wrote about the fishy origins of humanity in 2009’s Your Inner Fish. In his new book, he goes farther back and further out, explaining how humans bear the markings of cosmic phenomena; as he puts it, “Written inside us is the birth of the stars.” Here, the author surveys everything from glints in “Greenlandic rocks” to the spreading signs of supernovae to reveal “deep ties to the forces that shaped our bodies.” He demonstrates how mammals owe their “high-energy lifestyle[s]” to oxygen released hundreds of millions of years ago as continents spread apart, and how color vision arose after continental drift cooled the planet, diversified flora, and resulted in biological competition that favored those organisms who could identify nutritious plants according to hue (“Every time you admire a richly colorful view, you can thank India for slamming into Asia”). Shubin is a leading proponent of the fusion of paleontology, developmental genetics, and genomics, and the result of his efforts is a volume of truly inspired science writing. Appropriately vast in scope, Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a “sublimely beautiful truth.”
Bret Easton Ellis took to Twitter last night to share some more of his profound insights.
Here, he sets the stage for us and delivers a powerful thesis (all in under 140 characters!):
And of course, some supporting details (including a bit of biology):
Mr. Ellis even replies to one of his followers! (I like the touch of self loathing):
A rousing conclusion statement:
And a fitting epilogue: