“I remember the moment I first became aware of aging,” says the novelist Kate Christensen, now 46, at a rooftop cafe near her house in Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I was 30. I looked down at my knees and the skin above them had become a little loose. And I thought, 'And so it begins'!” Probably the swiftest way to trivialize the work of a woman writer is to make a big to-do about how sexy she is in person. But Christensen, wearing no make-up and a fitted gray dress, has the easy and direct confidence of a person who feels good in her own skin. Her last novel, “The Great Man” (which won the PEN/Faulkner award), was about three women in their 70s and 80s — two widows and an embittered lesbian painter — who rediscover love, lust and ambition after the death of the “great man,” an artist who had always towered over them all.
In her latest, novel, “Trouble,” two college best friends in their mid-40s, Josie, a Manhattan psychotherapist, and Raquel, an indie rock star, meet up in Mexico City for a “Thelmita and Luisa”-style adventure. Josie has just informed her professor husband, Anthony, and her adopted daughter, Wendy, that she is moving out. Raquel is hiding out from the paparazzi (her most virulent pursuer is a Latina lesbian blogger known as Mina Boriqua) after having been vilified for dating an HBO star half her age, who also happens to have a pregnant girlfriend. The two spend five days in Mexico drinking sangrita and mescal, eating chorizo tacos and chilaquiles, hanging out with artists, and getting reacquainted with a new adult version of their younger selves. But while Josie is coming out of hibernation and reclaiming a sexuality she didn't feel in her 20s, she doesn't realize that Raquel may be going in a very different direction.
Bit by bit, shpiel by shpiel, the musical is being re-explored if perhaps beyond Broadway. One of the first great musicals of the 21st century was not a play but a film: Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. The movie was a revelation in the musical form, using the disintegrating experience of its main character, Selma — slowly going blind and withdrawing further into an internal fantasy world — as an excuse to have some great song and dance numbers inside an otherwise bleak Dogme script. It solved the problem of cheesy musical music by featuring original songs all written and composed by Björk (and whose music is more relevant and more directly connected to popular culture?). Dancer in the Dark took another interesting step by having Björk perform the songs largely alone, unheard of in traditional musical theater, unless you’re watching a one-woman show. The result is startling: stylized artifice that is completely at one with stark realism. Dancer is consciously weird, and yet it’s impossible not to be absorbed by its internal logic. When we are absorbed by a musical in this way, we experience wonder. Wonder, though, is not escape, something separate from our lives. In fact, it’s the opposite. The way that a big song and dance number disrupts a seemingly straightforward story — just like someone bursting into song on the subway — opens up a space to reflect on the incoherency of life. It sparks our imagination and curiosity, creating possibility out of babble. Wonder is horrifying and unnerving but also liberating and thrilling. “From wonder into wonder existence opens,” wrote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. And so it does, whether we like it or not. Louis Armstrong was right. The world is indeed wonderful, just like a musical.
more from Stefany Anne Golberg at the Smart Set here.
“The essential American soul,” wrote D.H. Lawrence in a celebrated description, “is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” Of course, he was talking about Natty Bumppo and similar rough-and-tumble frontier spirits. By contrast, the amoral Tom Ripley—novelist Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character—is easygoing, devoted to his wife and friends, epicurean, and a killer only by necessity. By my count, necessity leads this polite aesthete to bludgeon or strangle eight people and watch with satisfaction while two others drown. He also sets in motion the successful suicides of three friends he actually, in his way, cares about. Yet aside from an occasional twinge about his first murder, Ripley feels no long-term guilt over these deaths. (Tellingly, he can never quite remember the actual number of his victims.) He was simply protecting himself, his friends and business partners, his home. Any man would, or at least might, do the same. Tom, as his indulgent creator tends to call him, first appeared in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). This was Highsmith’s fourth published book, preceded by three highly original novels. In Strangers on a Train (1950)—later filmed (and softened) by Alfred Hitchcock—two men, hitherto unknown to each other, “exchange” murders, Bruno agreeing to kill Guy’s estranged wife in return for Guy doing away with Bruno’s hated father. Each will consequently possess a perfect alibi. In The Price of Salt (1953, published under the name Claire Morgan) the nineteen-year-old Therese falls in love with the married Carol—and perhaps for the first time a novel about lesbians ends happily.
Virginia Woolf began her publishing career the year her father, Leslie Stephen, died. She could never have been a writer, she said later, had he lived; his influence and example would have been too inhibiting. Yet she gravitated naturally towards the form he had specialized in, the literary essay, and spent a lifetime perfecting her own version of it. Though her earliest pieces were written mostly as practice and potboilers and to get a foot in the door, Woolf knew she had “some gift that way”. How extensive and idiosyncratic a gift was obvious from the first collection of Woolf’s non-fiction, The Common Reader, published in 1925, and its sequel, The Common Reader: Second series (1932), both reprinted by Leonard Woolf, with a great deal else, in a four-volume Collected Essays in the 1960s. In 1986, the definitive Hogarth Press edition set out to do scholarly justice to Woolf’s achievement as “arguably the last of the great English essayists”, but it slowed to a stop after four volumes in 1994. Fifteen years later, and with Stuart N. Clarke taking over from Andrew McNeillie as editor, the appearance of Volume Five of the projected six is a welcome sign of the project’s resuscitation. For Woolf is undoubtedly both a great essayist and supreme stylist, whose “authentic critical masterpieces”, as Rebecca West called them, emerge with conversational ease from the bookish subjects closest to her heart: the writers of the eighteenth century, the Elizabethans, the Victorians, the great novelists.
The first thing you see – bump into actually – when you enter Martin Jacques's light, roomy top-floor flat next to Hampstead Heath, north London, is a table football game. Then you trip over two violins, a sitar and a collection of other musical instruments, and find yourself staring at three teeth on a coffee-table. The owner of all these objects, Jacques's 10-year-old son Ravi, is at school, but his presence is everywhere – in the trophies he has won for music, in his numerous books and toys, and in photographs: of him as a baby, and with his late mother, Harinder, who died when Ravi was 16 months old. An interview with Jacques is inevitably a threnody for his beloved Hari and a celebration of their son.
We are here to talk about Jacques's meaty new book on the rise of China and how that country's dominance will transform the world, but Hari's tragic death in 2000 – Jacques fights back tears when he talks about her – and the years of blackness he suffered after she died initially overwhelm our conversation. What is the fate of countries beside the torments of the soul?
Jacques met Hari on the Malaysian island of Tioman in 1993. He was 47, a former history lecturer who in the 1980s had transformed Marxism Today from a dry-as-dust academic journal into a racy political must-read. Life to that point had been work and communism: a string of degrees, an unsuccessful battle to reform the Communist party, and a brilliant refashioning of the magazine – a consolation prize for not being able to wrest real power from the hardliners in the party. Hari was 26, a Malaysian of Indian descent, a lawyer from a radical family, a comet flashing across Jacques's well-ordered universe.
“I fell in love within a few minutes of talking to her,” Jacques recalls. “There was something utterly compelling about Hari. When I met her, I knew I had met the person that my life was really about.”
[S]everal dozen notable figures including Saeed Hajjarian, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Behzad Nabavi, and Abdolfattah Soltani were arrested on 16 June 2009. Hajjarian was an advisor to former president Mohammad Khatami and Abtahi was director of Khatami’s office during his presidency and is now a senior adviser to Mehdi Karroubi. Nabavi is a former member of parliament and Minister of Industry and Mining. Soltani is a leading human rights lawyer and member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center.
The detainees include numerous political figures, intellectuals, civil leaders, human rights activists, and journalists, as well as a large but unknown number of ordinary citizens who have taken part in street demonstrations since the disputed 12 June presidential elections.
“Iranian intelligence and security forces are using the public protests to engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals whose situations in detention could be life-threatening,” according to Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.
And Juan Cole notes further that demonstrations have turned into occasions for mourning, reminiscences of the funeral of Ali Shariati and more:
Iran's basij militiamen do not wear uniforms or insignia, but they are still easy to spot on the streets of Tehran and other cities. With their short hair and camouflage jackets or trousers, and armed with batons, knives, iron bars and chains, they are the shock troops of the Islamic regime as it struggles to contain the biggest wave of unrest since the 1979 revolution. Basiji have been “in action” for the last week, beating protesters without embarrassment and with impunity in broad daylight.
Basij (the name means “mobilisation”) are commanded by a senior cleric but are subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which in turn answers to the supreme leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The fatal shooting in Tehran's Azadi Square during Monday's massive protest march — the peak of the unrest so far — arose from a clash between basiji and pro-Mousavi demonstrators. Basiji are also said to have attacked students in Tehran University dormitories, along with police. Seven other people were killed, apparently also with the involvement of the militiamen.
Basiji are mostly young men from poor, religious families, but there are older volunteers too. Membership brings privileges in the form of guaranteed university places and access to certain jobs.
[S]crutiny of the data posted at Terror Free Tomorrow (www.terrorfreetomorrow.org) fails to support Ballen and Doherty’s interpretations. Their findings, from a telephone survey conducted four weeks before the election, are based on the responses of only 57.8% of the 1,731 people who were successfully contacted by telephone from outside of Iran. Among these, 34% said they would vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 14% for Mir Hussein Mousavi, 2% for Mehdi Karoubi, 1% for Mohsen Rezaie, and 27% did not know. (These figures add up only to 78% in the Ballen report.) In other words, of 1,731 people contacted, well over half either refused to participate (42.2%) or did not indicate a preferred candidate (15.6%) While we cannot guess at the political preferences of this nonresponding/ noncommitting group, we do know from these data that just 19.7% of all those contacted indicated they planned to vote for Ahmadinejad. This polling figure is very low for an incumbent – particularly for a self-described populist candidate – and cannot be responsibly interpreted as representing a clear harbinger of election victory.
In Iran the elections are supervised by the Interior Ministry. There is no independent organization for the elections. The Interior Minister, Mr. Sadegh Mahsouli, and his principal deputy for the elections, Mr. Kamran Daneshjou, are both close aids and friends of Mr. Ahmadinejad and former commanders in the IRGC. Many of the provincial governors who also play important roles in the elections are former military men. Mr. Mahsouli had actually come out in support of his old friend. Ever since General Jafari was appointed the top commander of the IRGC, he has been warning against internal dissent and internal “enemies,” clearly implicating the reformist/democratic groups. He even re-organized the IRGC to better respond to domestic disturbances.
In the last week of the campaign, signals started emanating from the high command of the IRGC that it was not happy with developments. General Javani warned on June 8 in Sobh-e Saadegh (True Dawn), the weekly published for the armed forces, that the high command of the IRGC considers the campaign of Messrs Mousavi and Karroubi tantamount to preparing for a “velvet revolution.” He warned that the IRGC “will kill it [the velvet revolution] at its inception.” Kayhan, the newspaper that acts as a public mouthpiece for the IRGC/security forces, also warned of a colored revolution. This was a clear signal something was being planned behind the scenes to prevent a victory by a reformist candidate. The leaders and ideologues behind the election coup were none other than second-generation revolutionaries, mostly from the IRGC, whose spiritual leader is Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.
This week President Obama addressed a meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA), amid media reports that the AMA will oppose the president's call for a public health insurance option.
Over the last 50 years, the AMA has stood on the opposing side of numerous positive proposals for health care improvement. As a result, AMA membership has dwindled to less than 20% of practicing physicians. Most of their members no longer represent the views of most American physicians. Unfortunately, the AMA may again stand against a reasonable approach to providing assistance to unemployed and middle class families struggling to buy health insurance — the proposed public health plan.
The AMA opposed a similar proposal introduced in the 1960's, which we now know as Medicare. The AMA spent heavily to oppose Medicare, driven primarily over concerns for physician's wages. If the AMA had their way in the 1960's most seniors would have gone bankrupt in order to get needed care.
Long time 3QD friend and brilliant musician Jay Braun puts Rush's Tom Sawyer together with The Beastie Boys' Pass The Mic. He did this without the newest fancy software and finished it, ironically, just before new sound editing technology made it possible for no talent suckas to cheat. Jay is also known for The Negatones, and Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers, among other things.
A day late Bloomsday post from our own J.M. Tyree’s new and excellent website/literary project, The Owls.
Gogarty and James Joyce met in 1903. Milling around the check-out desk at the National Library, the two young men fell into a conversation about Yeats, as one does. Both sniffed out the competition, and from then on their relationship consisted almost entirely of ball-busting and back-handed praise. Gogarty referred to Joyce as the “Dante of Dublin” and Joyce accused Gogarty of lacking sincerity. At the time, Joyce didn’t really drink. He was determined to be a rebel in his own land, but Gogarty, an accomplished drinker, took it upon himself to teach his friend about the pleasures of the national wine – stout. Joyce was a quick study. Money was often an issue with these two. Joyce, knowing that he was a genius, felt it a great injustice that he had to keep borrowing money from a hack like Gogarty. He once asked to borrow Gogarty’s rifle, for some unspecified purporse, and not long after Gogarty found out that Joyce had pawned it. Their decision to become roommates, a few months later, would prove disastrous.
At first glance, the central premise of the Hayward’s summer show seems to court too eagerly the tedious controversy around neuroaesthetics. “Walking in My Mind” aims to “transform the gallery’s unique spaces into a giant brain by bringing together large-scale installations that explore the workings of the mind in different ways … while at the same time inviting visitors to explore their own thought processes.” It’s potentially a clunky conceit, and it risks the sort of interdisciplinary pratfalls that have made for such bathetic reading in recent attempts to bring together art and brain science. It’s as yet unclear exactly what, if anything, is to be gained from the neurologist Semir Zeki’s assertion that artists “are unknowingly exploiting the organization of the brain”; nor does John Onians’s book Neuroarthistory (2007) really convince with its claim that art critics like Ruskin and Pater were actually neurologists in disguise all along. Fortunately, Stephanie Rosenthal, the Hayward’s chief curator, and Mami Kataoka, its international curator, seem to have spotted the limitations of the field early on, and deliver instead a more expansive sense of an exhibition that thinks.
“Walking in My Mind” is in part an extension of the metaphorics of architectural immersion that the Hayward’s director, Ralph Rugoff, broached in his 2008 exhibition Psycho Buildings — a similar ambition to exploit the psychological potential of the gallery’s rigid but resonant Brutalist spaces seems in evidence. But whereas Psycho Buildings (which included work by Mike Nelson, Rachel Whiteread, and Atelier Bow-Wow) was very much a show about artists’ perversions of architecture itself, the subject of “Walking in My Mind” is rather the installation as expression of inner space.
Michael Arditti takes the title of his new novel from Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.” Arditti writes with the same compassion and humanity as Voltaire, but without the biting satire. The Enemy of the Good is an engaging exploration of contemporary manners that is tragic and comic: a mild and forgiving book about the damage that vehement religious ideas do to ordinary lives. The novel is set in contemporary Britain: Gordon Brown is Prime Minister, deportation and asylum laws are draconian, and religious conviction of all varieties seems stronger than ever. There are four parts: the first and last centred on Clement Granville, a gay HIV-positive artist in his forties; and two middle sections, one devoted to Clement’s sister, Susannah, the other to his mother, Marta.
The Granville family is the unconventional kind that traditionally appears in English novels. Clement’s father, Edwin, now in his eighties, is a retired bishop with a stately home that has been passed down the generations. His wife, Marta, originally a Polish refugee and Holocaust survivor, is a retired Oxford don. Clement had a twin, Mark, who died in early adulthood, and 18 years later the family is still grieving. Mark’s widow, Clara, and two children belonging to a deceased former boyfriend of Susannah’s, are all part of the extended family circle. There are echoes of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in the way Arditti explores faith through the complicated, genteel Granville family. But whereas Waugh focused on Roman Catholicism, Arditti ranges across a wide spectrum of religious belief: Anglicanism, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are all brought into the story.
Homosexual behavior seems pointedly un-Darwinian. An animal that doesn't pass along genes by mating with the opposite sex at every, well, conceivable opportunity, seems to be at an evolutionary disadvantage. So what’s in it for the 450-plus species that go for same-sex sex? Two evolutionary biologists from University of California, Riverside, set out to answer that question in a paper published today in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. “It's been observed a lot,” says Nathan Bailey, a post-doctoral researcher at U.C. Riverside and lead study author, of same-sex sexual behavior in animals. “But it took people a long time to put it in an evolutionary context.”
After studying dozens of published articles on the topic, Bailey and his colleague Marlene Zuk concluded that, in addition to being an adaptational strategy, “these behaviors can be a force,” Bailey said. “They create a context in which selection can occur [differently] within a population.” In the Laysan albatross, for example, previous research has shown that a third of all bonded pairs in a Hawaii colony are two females. This behavior helps the birds, whose colony has far more females than males, by allowing them to share parenting responsibilities. It also gives more stability to the offspring of males, already bonded to a female, who mate opportunistically with females in a same-sex couple. Such a dynamic, then may force gradual changes in behavior and even physical appearance of the birds, the authors note.
Picture: Male chinstrap penguins, such as the famous Roy and Silo of the Central Park Zoo, have paired and even cared for eggs.
The long-standing Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Robert Fisk, is defying the government crackdown on foreign media reporting in Iran.
From ABC News (Australia):
It was interesting that the special forces – who normally take the side of Ahmadinejad's Basij militia – were there with clubs and sticks in their camouflage trousers and their purity white shirts and on this occasion the Iranian military kept them away from Mousavi's men and women.
In fact at one point, Mousavi's supporters were shouting 'thank you, thank you' to the soldiers.
One woman went up to the special forces men, who normally are very brutal with Mr Mousavi's supporters, and said 'can you protect us from the Basij?' He said 'with God's help'.
It was quite extraordinary because it looked as if the military authorities in Tehran have either taken a decision not to go on supporting the very brutal militia – which is always associated with the presidency here – or individual soldiers have made up their own mind that they're tired of being associated with the kind of brutality that left seven dead yesterday – buried, by the way secretly by the police – and indeed the seven or eight students who were killed on the university campus 24 hours earlier.
Quite a lot of policeman are beginning to smile towards the demonstrators of Mr Mousavi, who are insisting there must be a new election because Mr Ahmadinejad wasn't really elected. Quite an extraordinary scene.
There were a lot of stones thrown and quite a lot of bitter fighting, hand-to-hand but at the end of the day the special forces did keep them apart.
I haven't ever seen the Iranian security authorities behaving fairly before and it's quite impressive.