theNewerYork, a Worthy Alternative to Your iPhone

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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).”

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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. 

“Indifference” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Son of a Gun (Book Acquired, 8.5.2013)

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Son of a Gun, Justin St. Germain’s memoir, explores the life and death of his mother, who was killed by her fifth husband. Here’s publisher Random House’s blurb:

Tombstone, Arizona, September 2001. Debbie St. Germain’s death in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder mystery,” the local TV announcers intone before the commercial break, while barroom gossips snicker cruelly. But for her twenty-year-old son, Justin St. Germain, the tragedy marks the line that separates his world into before and after.

Justin decides to confront people from his past and delve into the police records in an attempt to make sense of his mother’s life and death. All the while he tries to be the type of man she would have wanted him to be. Brutally honest and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a brave, unexpected and unforgettable memoir.

Here’s Publishers Weekly’s write-up:

A young man wrestles with his heartache over his mother’s murder in this lacerating memoir of family dysfunction. St. Germain was a 20-year-old college student when his mother Debbie was shot to death in 2001 by her fifth husband in a desolate trailer in the Arizona desert, a disaster that threw into sharp relief the chaos of his working-class background. St. Germain revisits Debbie’s unstable life as an Army paratrooper and businesswoman, the string of men she took up with (some physically abusive), and his own boyhood resentment at their presence and at incessant domestic upheaval. Intertwined is a jaundiced, somewhat self-conscious meditation on St. Germain’s claustrophobic hometown of Tombstone—all sun-bleached ennui, arid hardpan, and tourist kitsch—and its presiding spirit, Wyatt Earp, archetype of the violent, trigger-happy machismo that he blames for killing his mother, yet feels drawn to as a touchstone of manhood. St. Germain makes harsh judgments of the men in his past (as well as of his sullen, callous adolescent self), but as he seeks them out later, he arrives, almost against his will, at a subtler appreciation of their complexities. At times his trauma feels more dutiful than deeply felt, but his memoir vividly conveys the journey from youthful victimization toward mature understanding.

 

Eight Notes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

  1. Would it not be wiser for people to rejoice at all that they now sorrow for, and vice versa? To put on bridal garments at funerals, and mourning at weddings? For their friends to condole with them when they attained riches and honor, as only so much care added?
  2. If in a village it were a custom to hang a funeral garland or other token of death on a house where some one had died, and there to let it remain till a death occurred elsewhere, and then to hang that same garland over the other house, it would have, methinks, a strong effect.
  3. No fountain so small but that Heaven may be imaged in its bosom.
  4. Fame! Some very humble persons in a town may be said to possess it,–as, the penny-post, the town-crier, the constable,–and they are known to everybody; while many richer, more intellectual, worthier persons are unknown by the majority of their fellow-citizens. Something analogous in the world at large.
  5. The ideas of people in general are not raised higher than the roofs of the houses. All their interests extend over the earth’s surface in a layer of that thickness. The meeting-house steeple reaches out of their sphere.
  6. Nobody will use other people’s experience, nor have any of his own till it is too late to use it.
  7. Two lovers to plan the building of a pleasure-house on a certain spot of ground, but various seeming accidents prevent it. Once they find a group of miserable children there; once it is the scene where crime is plotted; at last the dead body of one of the lovers or of a dear friend is found there; and, instead of a pleasure-house, they build a marble tomb. The moral,–that there is no place on earth fit for the site of a pleasure-house, because there is no spot that may not have been saddened by human grief, stained by crime, or hallowed by death. It might be three friends who plan it, instead of two lovers; and the dearest one dies.
  8. Comfort for childless people. A married couple with ten children have been the means of bringing about ten funerals.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Arranged — Jim Hodges

August in the City — Edward Hopper

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List with No Name #35

  1. Achebe
  2. Bolaño
  3. Carter
  4. DeLillo
  5. Ellison
  6. Fitzgerald
  7. Gaddis
  8. Houellebecq
  9. Ishiguro
  10. James
  11. Kertész
  12. Lispector
  13. McCarthy
  14. Nabokov
  15. O’Connor
  16. Pullman
  17. Quincey, de
  18. Rousseau
  19. Shakespeare
  20. Tolkien
  21. Uris
  22. Vollmann
  23. Wallace
  24. X, Malcolm
  25. Yates
  26. Zweig

Heretic/Hanging (Books Acquired, Sometime Last Week)

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I was out of town when these showed up last week.

First, Susan Ronald’s Heretic Queen: Publisher St. Martin’s Griffin’s blurb:

Acclaimed biographer Susan Ronald delivers a stunning account of Elizabeth I that focuses on her role in the Wars on Religion—the battle between Protestantism and Catholicisim that tore apart Europe in the 16th Century

Elizabeth’s 1558 coronation procession was met with an extravagant outpouring of love. Only twenty-five years old, the young queen saw herself as their Protestant savior, aiming to provide the nation with new hope, prosperity, and independence from the foreign influence that had plagued her sister Mary’s reign. Given the scars of the Reformation, Elizabeth would need all of the powers of diplomacy and tact she could summon.

Extravagant, witty, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth was the ultimate tyrant. Yet at the outset, in religious matters, she was unfathomably tolerant for her day. “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith,” Elizabeth once proclaimed. “All else is a dispute over trifles.” Heretic Queen is the highly personal, untold story of how Queen Elizabeth I secured the future of England as a world power. Susan Ronald paints the queen as a complex character whose apparent indecision was really a political tool that she wielded with great aplomb.

And: The Hanging of Samuel Ash by Sheldon Russell, from Minotaur. Publishers Weekly blurb:

A compelling lead compensates only in part for the relatively weak plot of Russell’s fourth mystery featuring one-armed Santa Fe railroad bull Hook Runyon (after 2012’s Dead Man’s Tunnel), set during WWII against a backdrop of labor unrest. When Runyon checks out a nonworking signal on a remote stretch of track, he discovers a man’s corpse hanging from the signal’s cantilever. The only clue to the dead man’s identity is a Bronze Star inscribed with the name Samuel Ash. Not wanting the war hero to be buried in a pauper’s grave, Runyon takes custody of the body and embarks on a quest to find Ash’s relatives and the truth about his death. A dose of humor lightens the gloom—pickpockets steal Runyon’s wallet and badge while he’s hunting pickpockets—but the mystery itself never picks up much steam. Fans will hope for a return to form next time.

 

“Waitin’ Around to Die” — Townes van Zandt

“Translations are always disgusting / But they brought me a lot of money” (Thomas Bernhard)

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From Thomas Bernhard’s play Der Weltverbesserer (The World-Fixer). The translation here is by Gitta Honegger and appears as an illustrating example in her fantastic essay “Language Speaks. Anglo-Bernhard: Thomas Bernhard in Translation,” collected in A Companion to the Works of Thomas Bernhard (ed. Matthias Konzett). At the time of Companion’s first publication, Der Weltverbesserer had yet to be released in an English edition; Ariadne released one in 2005.

 

Helen — Moebius

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“Von Kempelen and His Discovery ” — Edgar Allan Poe

“Von Kempelen and His Discovery ” by Edgar Allan Poe

AFTER THE very minute and elaborate paper by Arago, to say nothing of the summary in ‘Silliman’s Journal,’ with the detailed statement just published by Lieutenant Maury, it will not be supposed, of course, that in offering a few hurried remarks in reference to Von Kempelen’s discovery, I have any design to look at the subject in a scientific point of view. My object is simply, in the first place, to say a few words of Von Kempelen himself (with whom, some years ago, I had the honor of a slight personal acquaintance), since every thing which concerns him must necessarily, at this moment, be of interest; and, in the second place, to look in a general way, and speculatively, at the results of the discovery.

It may be as well, however, to premise the cursory observations which I have to offer, by denying, very decidedly, what seems to be a general impression (gleaned, as usual in a case of this kind, from the newspapers), viz.: that this discovery, astounding as it unquestionably is, is unanticipated.

By reference to the ‘Diary of Sir Humphrey Davy’ (Cottle and Munroe, London, pp. 150), it will be seen at pp. 53 and 82, that this illustrious chemist had not only conceived the idea now in question, but had actually made no inconsiderable progress, experimentally, in the very identical analysis now so triumphantly brought to an issue by Von Kempelen, who although he makes not the slightest allusion to it, is, without doubt (I say it unhesitatingly, and can prove it, if required), indebted to the ‘Diary’ for at least the first hint of his own undertaking.

The paragraph from the ‘Courier and Enquirer,’ which is now going the rounds of the press, and which purports to claim the invention for a Mr. Kissam, of Brunswick, Maine, appears to me, I confess, a little apocryphal, for several reasons; although there is nothing either impossible or very improbable in the statement made. I need not go into details. My opinion of the paragraph is founded principally upon its manner. It does not look true. Persons who are narrating facts, are seldom so particular as Mr. Kissam seems to be, about day and date and precise location. Besides, if Mr. Kissam actually did come upon the discovery he says he did, at the period designated—nearly eight years ago—how happens it that he took no steps, on the instant, to reap the immense benefits which the merest bumpkin must have known would have resulted to him individually, if not to the world at large, from the discovery? It seems to me quite incredible that any man of common understanding could have discovered what Mr. Kissam says he did, and yet have subsequently acted so like a baby—so like an owl—as Mr. Kissam admits that he did. By-the-way, who is Mr. Kissam? and is not the whole paragraph in the ‘Courier and Enquirer’ a fabrication got up to ‘make a talk’? It must be confessed that it has an amazingly moon-hoaxy-air. Very little dependence is to be placed upon it, in my humble opinion; and if I were not well aware, from experience, how very easily men of science are mystified, on points out of their usual range of inquiry, I should be profoundly astonished at finding so eminent a chemist as Professor Draper, discussing Mr. Kissam’s (or is it Mr. Quizzem’s?) pretensions to the discovery, in so serious a tone. Continue reading ““Von Kempelen and His Discovery ” — Edgar Allan Poe”

World of Books — Winsor McCay

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“The Double” — Jorge Luis Borges

“The Double” by Jorge Luis Borges (From Book of Imaginary Beings)

Suggested or stimulated by reflections in mirrors and in water and by twins, the idea of the Double is common to many countries. It is likely that sentences such as A friend is another self by Pythagoras or the Platonic Know thyself were inspired by it. In Germany this Double is called Doppelgänger, which means ’double walker’. In Scotland there is the fetch, which comes to fetch a man to bring him to his death; there is also the Scottish word wraith for an apparition thought to be seen by a person in his exact image just before death. To meet oneself is, therefore, ominous. The tragic ballad ‘Ticonderoga’ by Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a legend on this theme. There is also the strange picture by Rossetti (‘How They Met Themselves’) in which two lovers come upon themselves in the dusky gloom of a wood. We may also cite examples from Hawthorne (‘Howe’s Masquerade’), Dostoyevsky, Alfred de Musset, James (‘The Jolly Corner’), Kleist, Chesterton (‘The Mirror of Madmen’), and Hearn (Some Chinese Ghosts).

The ancient Egyptians believed that the Double, the ka, was a man’s exact counterpart, having his same walk and his same dress. Not only men, but gods and beasts, stones and trees, chairs and knives had their ka, which was invisible except to certain priests who could see the Doubles of the gods and were granted by them a knowledge of things past and things to come.

To the Jews the appearance of one’s Double was not an omen of imminent death. On the contrary, it was proof of having attained prophetic powers. This is how it is explained by Gershom Scholem. A legend recorded in the Talmud tells the story of a man who, in search of God, met himself.

In the story ‘William Wilson’ by Poe, the Double is the hero’s conscience. He kills it and dies. In a similar way, Dorian Gray in Wilde’s novel stabs his portrait and meets his death. In Yeats’s poems the Double is our other side, our opposite, the one who complements us, the one we are not nor will ever become.

Plutarch writes that the Greeks gave the name other self to a king’s ambassador.

 

From A Week of Kindness — Max Ernst

“Reindeer discovered again their ancient powers of flight,” and other Tunguska effects (Pynchon’s Against the Day)

FOR A WHILE after the Event, crazed Raskol’niki ran around in the woods, flagellating themselves and occasional onlookers who got too close, raving about Tchernobyl, the destroying star known as Wormwood in the book of Revelation. Reindeer discovered again their ancient powers of flight, which had lapsed over the centuries since humans began invading the North. Some were stimulated by the accompanying radiation into an epidermal luminescence at the red end of the spectrum, particularly around the nasal area. Mosquitoes lost their taste for blood, acquiring one instead for vodka, and were observed congregating in large swarms at local taverns. Clocks and watches ran backward. Although it was summer, there were brief snowfalls in the devastated taiga, and heat in general tended to flow unpredictably for a while. Siberian wolves walked into churches in the middle of services, quoted passages from the Scriptures in fluent Old Slavonic, and walked peaceably out again. They were reported to be especially fond of Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Aspects of the landscape of Tierra del Fuego, directly opposite the Stony Tunguska on the globe, began to show up in Siberia—sea ernes, gulls, terns, and petrels landing in the branches of fir trees, swooping to grab fish out of the streams, taking a bite, screaming with distaste, and throwing them back. Granite cliffs rose sheer and unexpected out of the forest. Oceangoing ships unmanned by visible crews, attempting to navigate the shallow rivers and creeks, ran aground. Entire villages came to the conclusion that they were not where they ought to be, and without much advance planning simply packed up what they had, left behind what they couldn’t carry, and headed off together into the brush, where presently they set up villages no one else could see. Or not very clearly.

And from everywhere in the taiga, all up and down the basins of the Yenisei, came reports of a figure walking through the aftermath, not exactly an angel but moving like one, deliberately, unhurried, a consoler. Accounts differed as to whether the outsize figure was man or woman, but all reported having to look steeply upward when trying to make out its face, and a deep feeling of fearless calm once it had passed.

Some thought it might be some transfigured version of the shaman Magyakan, whose whereabouts had been puzzling folks along the Stony T. No one had seen him since the Event, his izba was empty, and the magical force that had kept it from sinking, like everyone else’s dwelling in Siberia, into the summer-thawed earth, had abated, so that the cabin now tilted at a thirty-degree angle, like a ship at sea about to slide beneath the waves.

None of the strange effects lasted long, and as the Event receded in memory, arguments arose as to whether this or that had even happened at all. Soon the forest was back to normal, green underbrush beginning to appear among the dead-white trunks, the animals fallen speechless again, tree-shadows again pointing in their accustomed directions, and Kit and Prance continued to make their way through it with no idea what this meant for their mission out here.

—Another citation from Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day.

List with No Name #34

  1. Atwood
  2. Borges
  3. Calvino
  4. Dickinson
  5. Emerson
  6. Faulkner
  7. Gombrowicz
  8. Hawthorne
  9. Ibsen
  10. Joyce
  11. Kafka
  12. Lish
  13. Melville
  14. Nin
  15. O’Brien
  16. Poe
  17. Queneau
  18. Roth
  19. Sebald
  20. Twain
  21. Updike
  22. Vonnegut
  23. Walser
  24. Xenophon
  25. Yeats
  26. Zola