“The Quiet American” – David Remnick

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The Quiet American  – Gaby Wood – The Observer, Saturday 9 September 2006

It’s a magazine that runs 10,000-word articles on African states and the pension system, has almost no pictures and is published in black and white. So how does the New Yorker sell more than a million copies a week? Gaby Wood meets David Remnick, its big-brained editor, and talks speed writing, 30-hour days and meeting Little Ant and Little Dec

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‘Everybody has a cartoon of themselves,’ suggests David Remnick, the editor of a magazine famous for them. ‘Mine is: I write very fast, and I’m ruthlessly efficient with my time.’As New Yorker cartoons go, the image wouldn’t appear to hold much promise of a punch line, but Remnick doesn’t mind it, and it contains, after all, a certain amount of truth. ‘I’m not the slowest writer that you know,’ he admits, adding with characteristic wryness: ‘For better or for worse, by the way. AJ Liebling, one of my heroes, used to say that he could write better than anyone who wrote faster, and faster than anyone who could write better. I’m one nine-hundredth as good as Liebling, but that principle may slightly apply.’Remnick, who was for many years the New Yorker’s star reporter, covering – in the tradition of AJ Liebling – an almost alarming range of subjects with grace and dexterity, has edited the magazine for the past eight years and quietly, seriously, changed its fortunes. He is the fifth editor in the New Yorker’s 81-year history and, by reputation – as his thumbnail self-portrait implies – its least eccentric.

So many memoirs have now been written about the distinguished publication that Harold Ross, its founder and first editor, has gone down in history as a maddening, well-connected workaholic who sacrificed three marriages to his literary invention. It is widely known that his successor, William Shawn, was neurotic, nuanced, almost pathologically shy, and that Robert Gottlieb, a gifted interloper, possessed a museum-worthy collection of plastic purses. In more recent memory, Tina Brown hired big-name writers at vast expense, threw celebrity-strewn bashes to promote the magazine (all of which resulted in a rumoured loss of up to $20m annually) and was supposed to have rejected any story that couldn’t hold her attention on the StairMaster.

It could be said that Brown’s methods were not eccentric but merely attuned to the demands of Eighties and Nineties culture. Equally, Remnick’s non-partying ethic and commitment to world affairs might be thought the only appropriate way forward for a post-9/11 magazine. Remnick, who was hired by Brown, has never been critical of her tenure, and is inviolably modest about his own contribution. ‘My background is as a reporter and foreign correspondent, but it’s hard to separate what one’s natural inclinations are from the times,’ he tells me. ‘My time as editor has been overlapped by a crisis – a prolonged, labyrinthine, tragic, seemingly non-ending crisis – that involves the prehistory of 9/11, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, fraught histories between the United States and almost everyone.’ Remnick’s colleague Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling books The Tipping Point and Blink, says, similarly, that ‘we live in a suddenly serious time, where people have an appetite for intelligent, thoughtful explanations of consequential topics’.

Yet how can Remnick’s editorial strategy be considered inevitable when no one else is doing what he does? However frequently Graydon Carter may address the bungles of the Bush administration in his letters from the editor in Vanity Fair, he feels compelled, more often than not, to feature a cover star in a bikini. Meanwhile, on another floor of the Conde Nast building, the New Yorker puts Seymour Hersh’s investigations of national security on the cover and has the highest subscription renewal rate of any magazine in the country. It has a circulation of over 1m, and although it is privately owned and such figures are not publicly available, it is thought to be turning a profit of around $10m.

Celebrity culture is far from over; if you wrote a plan for a magazine and said you thought you could make a profit by publishing 8,000-word pieces on the future of various African nations, hefty analyses of the pension system and a three-part series on global warming, hordes of people would laugh in your face. So how has Remnick done it? Before I met him, I asked this of an acclaimed New York journalist, who said: ‘If you can work that out, you will have the scoop of the century. No one knows.’

Remnick is well aware of the apparent mystery, which is why no focus group is ever involved in an editorial decision. As he puts it, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that one hundred per cent of his readers are not going to get home from work, put their keys down and say: You know, honey, what I need to do now is read 10,000 words on Congo. ‘So you throw it out there, and you hope that there are some things that people will immediately read – cartoons, shorter things, Anthony Lane, Talk of the Town. And then, eventually, the next morning on the train, somebody sees this piece, and despite its seeming formidableness, they read it.’

You might say that what looks at first like common sense is David Remnick’s most winning eccentricity.

We meet at the New Yorker offices in Times Square on an obscenely hot day in August. Remnick extends a courtly, ironic offer of rehydration: ‘Coffee? Water? Drip?’ His glass box of an office is decorated with original cover art and scattered photographs – a portrait of AJ Liebling sitting under an apple tree; Dean Rohrer’s wonderful image of Monica Lewinsky as the Mona Lisa. On his desk is a rare book about Jean-Luc Godard, in French.

He has just returned from Arkansas, where he met Bill Clinton for a long profile he is writing, and he spent the end of last week editing a cover story on Hizbollah by John Lee Anderson with an exceptionally fast turnaround. Another reporter calls from the Middle East as I arrive. Yet here is Remnick, blithe and witty as anything, behaving more or less as Fred Astaire would, if only a role had been scripted for him by Philip Roth.

Reporting, a new collection of Remnick’s writing from the New Yorker, has just been published. It reveals not only the scope of his interests – he is as lucid about the PLO as he is touching about Solzhenitsyn, as excruciatingly accurate about Tony Blair as he is compelling on the subject of Mike Tyson’s trainer – but also the deceptive straightforwardness of his style.

Remnick won a Pulitzer Prize for his first book, Lenin’s Tomb, in 1994, and the great pleasure of that book, which gives a kaleidoscopic account of the fall of the Soviet Union, was that you felt party to the open mind of a reporter (originally at the Washington Post) who followed his instincts at every turn. He didn’t mind telling you, for instance, that his wife’s family had been interned in camps in the country to which they were now returning; if he saw someone handing out flyers in the street, he would delve deeply into their purposes; he was not shy of doorstepping ancient members of the KGB. In that first book, as in his others – a follow-up about Russia called Resurrection; a collection of pieces entitled The Devil Problem; a story about Muhammad Ali called King of the World; and Reporting – simply turned sentences open up vistas of complication. Yet the quality that Remnick shows most in conversation is his capacity for self-deprecation. He opens a profile of Katharine Graham, the imperious proprietor of the Washington Post and his sometime boss, with a story about his own involvement in the Post’s historic interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in 1988:

‘As the junior man in the bureau, I was given the task of finding the hairdresser. I would not insist that Moscow was short on luxury in those days, except to note that I did not so much find a hairdresser as create one. At one of the embassies, I found a young woman who was said to own a blow-dryer and a brush. I rang her up and explained the situation. Gravely, as if we were negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, I gave her an annotated copy of Vogue, a mug shot of Mrs Graham, and a hundred dollars.

“You’re on,” she said.

‘Apparently, the interview went well. It was featured, with a photograph, in the next day’s edition of Pravda. Mrs Graham looked quite handsome, I thought. A nice full head of hair, and well combed. I felt close to history.’

In a piece about Tony Blair written just before the last election, Remnick witnesses, behind the scenes, the Prime Minister’s utter humiliation at the hands of Little Ant and Little Dec. In a profile of Al Gore he reveals that Gore employs a private chef who still addresses him, years after his presidential defeat, as ‘Mr Vice-President’. He gets to hang out with the famously publicity-shy Philip Roth in his most feverishly creative period; he visits Solzhenitsyn and his wife as they prepare to return to Russia. Yet in a preface to the book, Remnick alerts the reader to the fact that most of his subjects are public figures who do their best not to let their guard down. Why offer the warning? To suggest we’ll never find out about them?

‘No,’ he replies, ‘so that you’ll find out about them in a different way.’ With politicians, ‘you’ve got press secretaries, and you’ve got a very, very self-conscious actor, who’s performing in public and the course of whose career is dependent on how he’s going to appear to some degree. And he’s very experienced at it. And any question you ask him, he’s heard, and he has a little tape loop in his head. So when something like Ant and Dec comes along,’ – Remnick grins broadly and looks up to the skies in gratitude – ‘Happy birthday. The gods of non-fiction have provided an unscripted scripted moment!’

Remnick pauses for a moment to tell a story about the glorious predictability of journalism. ‘There was a wonderful thing Slate did years ago, when it was just getting started, called the Hackathlon. It was Michael Specter, Malcolm Gladwell and I forget who else.’ (Specter and Gladwell are both old friends of Remnick’s from the Washington Post, and both now colleagues at the New Yorker.) ‘Each day there would be an event. You had to write a 500-word lede [an American term for an article’s opening paragraph] in the Vanity Fair style to a Richard Gere profile: Ready, begin. Then you had to do an Economist situationer on Tanzania – first 400 words. Then maybe a Rolling Stone lede to a … you know: Mick Jagger is angry. Period. Paragraph. Very Angry. Period. The limo is late. You know, one of those. And then maybe a New Yorker thing on the history of sand. I don’t remember the specifics.’

Remnick leans in with a smile of utter glee, and goes on: ‘Specter beat Gladwell. He came from behind, but his lede on the Richard Gere, comparing the colour of his hair to his grey cashmere sweater, was just so brilliant that he overwhelmed him in the Hackathlon. I mean, he could do nothing else in his career and his New York Times obituary would read: “Michael Specter, winner of the 1997 Slate Hackathlon, died today of complications of a hernia operation. He was 98.”‘

David Remnick was born in 1958 and grew up in Hillsdale, New Jersey, where his father was a dentist and his mother an art teacher. The extent of his early gifts, to hear others tell it, borders on the embarrassing. Richard Brody, a close friend Remnick met at Princeton, remembers a story Remnick told him at the time about his activities in high school.

‘He was interested in journalism already, and in literature and poetry,’ Brody tells me. ‘So he interviewed poets, and put together a collection of those interviews for a small literary magazine, and I think some of them were collected in a book. So even in high school he had not only the idea, but let’s say the lack of false modesty to go ahead and do something which many people much older would not have dared to do. ‘

Brody and Remnick found that they shared a love of Bob Dylan, a Jewish upbringing in the suburbs, and ‘a literary school of sorts’. As Brody puts it: ‘There was a whole generation of Jewish American writers – when Saul Bellow won his Nobel Prize, I guess when we were all freshmen or about to enter school. There were people like Philip Roth and Norman Mailer and Bernard Malamud and Joseph Heller. We sort of had a canon of fathers. I think we weren’t postmodernists, temperamentally. We had read our Thomas Pynchon and our John Barth, but that wasn’t what excited us. We were excited by the late flowering, among the children of Jewish immigrants, of the late 19th-century novel.’

(Remnick, still an enduring fan of Roth, tells me that he would have published Roth’s latest novel, Everyman, in its entirety in the magazine, but Roth’s agent wouldn’t allow it.)

When he left Princeton with a degree in Comparative Literature, Remnick got a job at the Washington Post, where his early days were occupied by covering the night-cop beat, or doing celebrity interviews for the Style section, or writing about sport. In 1987, the Post decided it needed a second person in Moscow, and, as Remnick now recalls, ‘Nobody else wanted to go. It’s cold, in those days if you wanted a box of coffee, you had to order it from Denmark. Nowadays there are rich people and stores and all kinds of stuff. (It’s still cold – pace global warming.) So I got to go – I was 28, 29 – and it was the best kind of foreign story: really exciting, constantly changing, intellectually fascinating, ethnically various. It was heaven for a reporter.’ Before he left he married Esther B Fein, a reporter for the New York Times, who also filed stories from Russia.

‘When we were at the Post he was a kind of legendary figure and I was a little underling,’ remembers Malcolm Gladwell. ‘People have forgotten that – and this is not by any means an exaggeration – David was the great newspaper reporter of his generation. And had he never been anything but a newspaper reporter he would be, right now, the best. At the Washington Post there was one day when he had three stories on the front page, which I don’t think has ever been repeated. He was in a league by himself. So the idea that he would have a second act where he would outperform his first act is kind of unbelievable.’

When Remnick was offered the editorship of the New Yorker, he had never edited anything before – with the exception, as he likes to remind people, of his school magazine. The decision to abandon writing – which, for the most part, he has (he now only writes two long pieces a year, plus commentary in the magazine) – was made on the basis of ‘a very simple calculation’: ‘I had about two days – a day – I had seconds to decide, actually. Where could I make the bigger contribution? The ability to affect this magazine and its place in the culture – now, I may cock it up as an editor, I don’t know, but the capacity for potential was greater doing this.’

Tina Brown left on a Wednesday in 1998. Remnick, who had written over 100 pieces for the magazine in the six years he’d been there, and who was, as Brown put it, ‘a key member of my dream team’, consulted on all kinds of editorial matters, was offered the job the following Monday, and took over straightaway, rallied by a five-minute ovation from his colleagues. ‘And then Tina was gone and the magazine had to come out the next week – and the week after that, and on and on,’ says Remnick now, looking amusingly baffled. ‘And I was an absolute novice. And the only saving grace is that there were these people around who were so good.’

It wasn’t easy. There have been times, even recently, when his instinct has failed him. He came out in favour of the war in Iraq, for instance, on the grounds of concern about weapons of mass destruction, and says now that ‘I was wrong about that, totally wrong, as events proved very quickly.’ The job, as Robert Gottlieb once memorably described it, is ‘like sticking your head into a pencil sharpener’. To make matters worse, in some quarters Schadenfreude kicked in early; a profile of Remnick in the New York Times took offence at his choice of interview venue – a formica-topped table in a coffee shop, which was seen to suggest that the ‘buzz’ of the Tina years had fizzled out on the spot.

Michael Specter, Remnick’s close friend of 20 years, tells me that a couple of months after Remnick took over, they went to Paris. ‘We took a walk and he said, “The worst thing is, everybody comes up to me and says: ‘Oh my God! You must be enjoying it so much!’ And I just want to say: ‘Yeah, it’s like enjoying cancer!'” Because it was really scary, and I think it was a lot to take on that job, never having been an editor, when the magazine was financially in trouble. ‘

In a profile he wrote many years ago of the legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee, Remnick remarked: ‘Generalship is not about fighting the battle; it’s about inspiring the enlisted.’ It’s a notion Remnick has clearly kept in mind in his own work as General. Asked to illustrate his editorial methods, Remnick reaches for a baseball analogy: Joe Torre, the manager of the Yankees, ‘gives players the confidence they need to play their best, then he gets the hell out’. He adds: ‘I don’t believe in swagger. I think it’s infantile.’

The magazine’s editorial director, Henry Finder, says drily that Remnick ‘has something very scarce in this city: an aura of sanity. He exudes a sort of calm that most New Yorkers get to experience only with prescription medication. As an editor, I think that aura of equipoise turns out to be very helpful, because you have so many people here who are professional neurotics, always acting out, drama queens, who have one form of craziness or another. And I think he sees it as his job to be… sane.

When I ask Malcolm Gladwell what he thinks the legend of Remnick’s tenure will be, he says: ‘How exactly things got so effortless.’

Specter says he’d like some sort of atomic clock so he could ‘divide 24 by Remnick time’ and work out how he fits everything in. (Remnick himself has minted the immortal dictum: ‘There are only 30 hours in the day – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to change time zones.’) It’s not just the work: he has a family too. Remnick and Esther Fein have two teenage sons and a seven-year-old daughter. He does his fair share of ferrying to music lessons and little league games. Asked to explain how he manages to balance these things, Remnick shrugs and says he doesn’t do anything other than spend time with his family and work. ‘It’s not like I build toy ships, or travel to Tahiti. I don’t go surfing. I don’t know: what do people do?’

He admits that certain pleasures have largely fallen by the wayside. ‘My son said to me – we were reading one night, he his book for school and I a stack of manuscripts – and he said: “You don’t read anything with covers any more.”‘ Remnick cringes. ‘Dombey and Son immediately came down from the shelf!’

Yet there are other things he seems to make time for, somehow. Specter says the only person he knows who watches more television than Remnick is his own ex-wife, Alessandra Stanley, the TV critic for the New York Times. He remembers calling Remnick when one of their old favourites, the BBC version of John le Carre’s Smiley’s People, came out on DVD. ‘I said, “Are you watching it?” He said, “Yes.” He was writing a piece. He said: “I’m giving myself three hours of writing, one hour of Smiley.” And I just thought, Jesus Christ. I watch three hours of Smiley, then I have lunch, then I write for a couple of minutes. ‘

I tell Specter how proudly Remnick told me of his triumph in the Hackathlon, and that I wondered afterwards what he meant by extolling such bare-faced bad writing. ‘If you do it to change the world, you can get really bummed out,’ replies Specter. ‘The Hackathlon was a celebration of the fact that it’s a day job.’ He thinks for a second and laughs. ‘I think he’s happy when we do well. But he was much more excited about the Hackathlon than he was about any science writing or global health award I’ve ever received.’

‘The things about him that I wish …’ Specter goes on, a little awkwardly. ‘He’s an incredibly good friend. I mean, he’s a better friend than he is an editor. And he’s very funny. My daughter thinks he’s hilarious. She said: “You know, David’s the coolest of your friends, Dad.” Then she said: “Actually, he’s not cool, but he’s the best of them.”‘

· Reporting by David Remnick is published by Macmillan at £18.99

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The Antigone Poems – Book Review

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A book review of:

The Antigone Poems

by Marie Slaight

Drawings by Terrence Tasker

2013, Altaire Production and Publishing

Potts Point, Australia

 

December 4, 2013

 

Poets do not know this terrain. Yet they may meditate on its being, one that is multiplied by galaxies yet named. And here she claims a sun, it is hers. 
 
A sun giving strength and light and one to energize the daemon –  the lust in her, in him, in being used and using.
 
She and he had it in a way, they were gods of being with experiences that defined depth and height and horizons that cannot be other than what they are. 
 
And then we witness a woman encased in myth and having lived in the mythical reality of surrender and loss, trying to describe in words that which has always eluded language and will continue to do so. The death masks see what we do.
 
 This is the realm of, the caldron of being that takes all in its spheres – bodies, emotions, strengths, polarities, extreme pain and pleasure mixed and shows how they may be one at times and respective of duality at other times. 
 
Loss and aloneness, seeking, mourning the being that is transcendent – mocking everyday life in its wake – torrential as a fierce hurricane with no direction – chaos unleashed in full view – and what do humans do with this? 
 
Witness.
 
There is nothing to learn, to teach. It is and it allows what it does. Here, this being is seen and experienced in total freedom, not under the rule of a king, nor a prince nor a law in a province. There is no country, nor city, nor landscape. 
 
All the physicalness – wind, air, water, fire, cold, heat –  is used just now, just a felt world that existed and left a world with chasms of space in its wake and the wake leaves little to deal with – nothing to look at or sense.
 
Screams, blood, silence, ultimately loss of the greatness of being. Left a few words, she lives on such and such street, have some children. What.

 

r.l. wallace

greenbank, wa, usa

 

http://www.theantigonepoems.com

New Yorker Article – MARCEL REICH-RANICKI (1920-2013) – German Literary Critic – by Sally McGrane

Polish-born German literary critic Marce

 

On the cover of this weekend’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungs feuilleton, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Germany’s “Literary Pope,” gazes out from the center of the page. The table at which he sits, alone, is set for a formal dinner; his silk tie is rakishly askew. His expression is sovereign but kind, thoughtful, knowing. Below the photo—taken three years ago, when Reich-Ranicki was ninety—in nearly two-inch bold font, is the word “DANKE.” Thank you.

Reich-Ranicki, Germany’s most important contemporary literary critic, died on Wednesday. The next day, Germany’s two most important daily papers put his portrait on their front pages—tributes to a man who, having survived the Warsaw ghetto, would go on to have an unparalleled impact on postwar German writing. He was famous for his rapier wit, his telegenic charm, his passionate championing of the writers he loved, and his very public excoriation of new books—even from his favorite writers—when he felt they did not deliver. “No one,” in the words of the F.A.Z., “did as much to impart, to an entire society, the importance of literature.”

The man who, as one author put it, “ruled the literary world from a fifteen-square-metre office” led a life more full of pain, wonder, and irony than most literary heroes. Born in Poland in 1920, Reich-Ranicki was sent to Berlin to study as a boy. “With every year that he discovered more joy in, and love for, Thomas Mann and Brecht and Gründgens and Goethe, there also grew hate,” wrote Frank Schirrmacher, publisher of the influentialF.A.Z., where Reich-Ranicki headed the literature section in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. “The hate of an entire nation and all its bureaucracy for the young Jewish man who just wanted to go to the Deutsche Theatre.”

After being denied a university spot in Berlin, Reich-Ranicki was arrested and deported to Poland. (As he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “My Life,” “I had a ticket for [a] première that evening. I wouldn’t be needing it.”) He and his family were sent to the Warsaw ghetto, where, at nineteen, he became a translator for the Judenrat (the Jewish council, the ghetto’s administrative body) because his German was impeccable. There, he also met Teofilia, or Tosia, his future wife, when her father hanged himself. “My mother told me, ‘Look after the girl,’ ” said Reich-Ranicki, in an interview filmed shortly before Tosia’s death in 2011. “I’m doing that to this day.”

Reich-Ranicki’s acute sense of literary judgment was always active. Describing an incident in which he had to transcribe an order that all inhabitants of the ghetto were to be sent to the death camps, he said, “As I sat there … and the order was dictated, through the open window I heard a Viennese waltz. Down below, the soldiers must have been playing a gramophone. Even as I wrote, I had to think, What a literary situation! What a monstrous symbol! I knew I was writing something that meant death for my parents, for my girlfriend, whom I immediately married, even my own death. But I couldn’t stop thinking, This is actually theatre.”

Despite overwhelming odds, he and Tosia managed to escape. “Remember the Dostoyevsky anecdote,” says the Reich-Ranicki character in a 2009 film based on his autobiography. Tosia nods, and they run for it. In a later scene, the Reich-Ranicki character explains what he meant: “Just before the execution of Dostoyevsky, when his eyes were already blindfolded, came the sudden cry, ‘Stop!’ The Czar had ordered a more lenient sentence. I wanted to tell Tosia, ‘Don’t give up too soon.’ ”

In hiding, too, literature played an existential role. Every night, while Tosia and the poverty-stricken Polish tobacco sellers hiding them rolled cigarettes, Reich-Ranicki entertained them by recounting stories from classical literature. Like Scheherazade, he helped insure their safety with his tales of Hamlet and young Werther.

The couple survived the war, but were not out of danger. After joining the Polish diplomatic corps, where he worked for Polish intelligence, Reich-Ranicki and Tosia were sent to London. There, their son, Andrew, was born. On their return to Poland, Reich-Ranicki was arrested, as part of an internal purge. In his cell, he read Anna Seghers’s 1942 novel about a prison break, “The Seventh Cross.” It was a turning point: “I decided, if I’m going to get out of here, I will dedicate my life to literature. If possible, to German literature.”

Ejected from the Communist Party, Reich-Ranicki embarked on a career as a literary critic, writing in Polish. In 1958, he and his family fled to West Germany, bringing Chopin scores as gifts for their hosts. With the help of writers like Heinrich Böll and Erich Kästner, Reich-Ranicki soon found work as a literary critic at Die Zeit, where his colleagues included former S.S. men. He became a fixture at the literary meetings of the influential Gruppe 47—a group of postwar writers who had nearly all been in the Wehrmacht. They talked literature, not the past.

But the past was not always possible to avoid. Shortly before he started his job at theF.A.Z., Reich-Ranicki was invited to a party for a new book about Hitler. The host failed to mention that Albert Speer would be there (“It did not occur to him that I did not feel like sitting and talking to the murderer of my mother and my father,” recounted Reich-Ranicki). At the time, he said nothing. “A fight with [F.A.Z. publisher Joachim Fest] was inopportune,” wrote the literary critic Volker Weidermann. Instead, “he found his salvation in literature. As always.” Later, in his autobiography, in interviews, and in speeches like the one he gave last year to the German Parliament, he did describe the crimes of the ghetto—a place where he and Tosia read poems, not novels, because they did not know how much time they had.

Over the next decades, his reviews would help make writers like Günter Grass and Martin Walser household names. But from the beginning, Reich-Ranicki’s critiques drew blood. Böll, for example, was not pleased when Reich-Ranicki, by then a personal friend, wrote a scathing review of his new book. When they met at a cocktail party, Böll approached and, while publically embracing him, whispered in his ear, “Asshole.”

“From Böll’s perspective, if he didn’t like it, couldn’t he have at least have remained silent?” wrote the literary critic Volker Weidermann. “After Böll had been so friendly to him? He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. Böll was too important to him, to say nothing. Literature was too important.”

While Reich-Ranicki’s falling-outs were legendary (Martin Walser created a scandal with his 2002 book, “Death of a Critic,” a thinly veiled revenge fantasy), he also encouraged his favorite writers, calling on the phone and even sending money if he felt it had been too long since the German reading public had had a chance to get their hands on a new work.

With the “Literary Quartet,” a television show launched in 1988, in which he and three other critics spiritedly defended or condemned new books, Reich-Ranicki set out to interest a larger public in reading. “It was for people who have nothing to do with literature,” said Reich-Ranicki, whose exuberant style, which involved much finger shaking and smacking of the arms of his chair, made for great TV.

“Marcel Reich-Ranicki achieved something astounding: turning critical literary cogitation into a popular pastime,” wrote Heinrich Detering, president of the German Academy for Language and Literature. The show, which ran until 2001, reached millions.

Reich-Ranicki continued to agitate for literature, with passion, humor, and arch, comprehensive erudition, to the last. A column where Reich-Ranicki answered readers’ letters ran in the F.A.Z. until this year. One asked why Philip Roth had been ignored for a Nobel Prize. “I would also like to know the answer to that,” responded Reich-Ranicki, who considered Roth a great novelist. “It was said of Graham Greene, that he never received a Nobel Prize because he had slept with the wife of Stockholm academician. With whom has Philip Roth slept? If you would like to know the answer, I suggest you address yourself directly to him, or to his agent.” To a reader who suggested changes to “Doctor Faustus,” he wrote, “Perhaps you have heard that [Thomas Mann] is taken to be the greatest stylist of the German language since Goethe’s death? I must say, you’re gutsy.” “Can a man like Gottfried Benn, who sympathized with Fascism, also be a good poet?” “Unfortunately, yes.”

In the remembrances broadcast and published in the past week, joy that this man existed runs through sorrow at his loss. “That a Polish Jew, who went through the hell of the Warsaw ghetto, would go on to become the most important literary critic in the German-language world, is in itself a Jewish fairy tale,” wrote the Austrian writer Robert Schindel, who, born in 1944 to Jewish Communists, narrowly escaped Auschwitz. “What a man, in his contradictions! Where he is now—will he be preaching Thomas Mann to the heavenly hosts? May he have a good journey!”

Sally McGrane is a journalist based in Berlin.

Photograph by Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Artist & Advocate

A literary man of immense importance in the twentieth century. Many consider his address to Harvard graduates to be his masterpiece. The speech surprised many in the West since it took aim at Western culture’s fundamental problems. Reading this speech today, it remains a dramatic probe into the West’s psyche, both conscious and unconscious, and societal practices.  Solzhenitsyn was more astute at seeing and articulating cultural proclivities and problems rather than necessarily having solutions to the problems. Perhaps his keenest insight is the fact that the West sees humanity as the measure of all things and that all things are here for us. This arrogance and self centeredness continues to drive us to destroy our planet at the behest of our cumulative self interests and disregard for their effects. 

 Whether you agree or disagree with Solzhenitsyn’s views, he more than any other writer since has stimulated the heady development of literature  that changed the international worlds of prose, history, politics and philosophy. rlw

Louise Gluck – Poems 1962-2012

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photo : Katherine Wolkoff

What Gluck learned from Williams, and from George Oppen, is Pound’s sense that ” the natural object is always the adequate symbol”. She marries William’s objectivism, that “moral commitment to the actual, which meant the visible, ” with an Eliotic sense of the hidden. She has written that Eliot, of the great poets, is the ” least consoled by the physical world” and like Plato, like Gluck herself, is on a hunt for the immutable, wants “to see through the material to the eternal.”

Nick Laird – The Triumph Of the Survivor

The New York Review

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/mar/21/louise-gluck-triumph-survivor/?pagination=false

———————————–

I cannot go on
restricting myself to images
 
because you think it is your right
to dispute my meaning:
 
I am prepared now to force
clarity upon you.

Louise Gluck – The Wild Iris

The Underside of Silicon Valley – Rebecca Solnit

Solnit is a San Francisco native and has written about the town from many perspectives including art, photography and geography. This article appears in “Tom Dispatch” and is part of a dark take on the current explosion of revelations on government spying and recently the FBI’s admission that it is using drones domestically. From both a literary and journalistic standpoint, exaggeration to make a point seems to be warranted. – rlw
 
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Welcome to the (Don’t Be) Evil Empire 
Google Eats the World 
By Rebecca Solnit

Finally, journalists have started criticizing in earnest the leviathans of Silicon Valley, notably Google, now the world’s third-largest company in market value. The new round of discussion began even before the revelations that the tech giants were routinely sharing our data with the National Security Agency, or maybe merging with it. Simultaneously another set of journalists, apparently unaware that the weather has changed, is still sneering at San Francisco, my hometown, for not lying down and loving Silicon Valley’s looming presence.
The criticism of Silicon Valley is long overdue and some of the critiques are both thoughtful and scathing. The New Yorker, for example, has explored howstart-ups are undermining the purpose of education at Stanford University,addressed the Valley’s messianic delusions and political meddling, andconsidered Apple’s massive tax avoidance.
The New York Times recently published an opinion piece that startled me, especially when I checked the byline. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the fugitive in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, focused on The New Digital Age, a book by top Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen that to him exemplifies the melding of the technology corporation and the state.  It is, he claimed, a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of our leading “witch doctors who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the twenty-first century.”  He added, “This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley.”
What do the U.S. government and Silicon Valley already have in common? Above all, they want to remain opaque while making the rest of us entirely transparent through the capture of our data. What is arising is simply a new form of government, involving vast entities with the reach and power of government and little accountability to anyone.
Google, the company with the motto “Don’t be evil,” is rapidly becoming an empire. Not an empire of territory, as was Rome or the Soviet Union, but an empire controlling our access to data and our data itself. Antitrust lawsuits proliferating around the company demonstrate its quest for monopoly control over information in the information age. Its search engine has become indispensable for most of us, and as Google critic and media professor Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it in his 2012 book The Googlization of Everything, “[W]e now allow Google to determine what is important, relevant, and true on the Web and in the world. We trust and believe that Google acts in our best interest. But we have surrendered control over the values, methods, and processes that make sense of our information ecosystem.” And that’s just the search engine.
About three-quarters of a billion people use Gmail, which conveniently gives Google access to the content of their communications (scanned in such a way that they can target ads at you). Google tried and failed to claim proprietary control of digital versions of every book ever published; librarians and publishers fought back on that one. As the New York Times reportedlast fall, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, summed the situation up this way: “Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of U.S. authors continues.”
The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog wrote to the attorney general on June 12th urging him “to block Google’s just announced $1 billion acquisition of Waze, developers of a mobile mapping application, on antitrust grounds… Google already dominates the online mapping business with Google Maps. The Internet giant was able to muscle its way to dominance by unfairly favoring its own service ahead of such competitors as Mapquest in its online search results. Now with the proposed Waze acquisition, the Internet giant would remove the most viable competitor to Google Maps in the mobile space. Moreover it will allow Google access to even more data about online activity in a way that will increase its dominant position on the Internet.”
The company seems to be cornering the online mapping business, seems in fact to be cornering so many things that eventually they may have us cornered.
In Europe, there’s an antitrust lawsuit over Google’s Android phone apps.  In many ways, you can map Google’s rise by the litter of antitrust lawsuits it crushed en route. By the way, Google bought Motorola. You know it owns YouTube, right? That makes Google possessor of the second and third most visited Websites on earth. (Facebook is first, and two more of the top six are also in Silicon Valley.)
Imagine that it’s 1913 and the post office, the phone company, the public library, printing houses, the U.S. Geological Survey mapping operations, movie houses, and all atlases are largely controlled by a secretive corporation unaccountable to the public. Jump a century and see that in the online world that’s more or less where we are. A New York venture capitalist wrote that Google is trying to take over “the entire fucking Internet” and asked the question of the day: “Who will stop Google?”
The Tipping Point
We ask that question all the time in San Francisco, because here Google isn’t just on our computers, it’s on our streets. I wrote earlier this year about “the Google bus — the armadas of private Wi-Fi-equipped luxury buses that run through our streets and use our public bus stops, often blocking city buses and public transit passengers while they load or unload the employees taking the long ride down the peninsula to their corporation of choice. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Genentech run some of the bigger fleets, and those mostly unmarked white buses have become a symbol of the transformation of the city.
Carl Nolte, the old native son who writes a column for the (dying) San Francisco Chroniclesaid this month of the future inhabitants of 22,000 high-priced apartments under construction, “These new apartment dwellers will all be new San Franciscans, with different values. In a couple of years we’ll think of the progressive politicians, circa 2012, as quaint antiques, like the old waterfront Commies your grandfather used to worry about. This is already a high-tech city, an expensive city, a city where middle-class families can’t afford to live. It is a city where the African American population has dropped precipitously, where the Latino Mission District is gentrifying more every day. You think it’s expensive here now? Just you wait. These are the good old days, but it won’t last. We are at a tipping point.”
Mr. Nolte, you can tell, doesn’t particularly like this. A guy named Ilan Greenberg at the New Republic popped up to tell us that we must like it — or face his ridicule. He writes, “Ironically, the anti-gentrifiers themselves undermine San Francisco’s liberal ethos. Opposed to newcomers? Wary of people whose values you don’t understand? Critical of young people for not living up to an older generation’s ideals? It all sounds very reactionary and close-minded.” The problem is that we understand Silicon Valley’s values all too well, and a lot of us don’t like them.
Adding newcomers might not be so bad if it didn’t mean subtracting a lot of those of us who are already here. By us I mean everyone who doesn’t work for a gigantic technology corporation or one of the smaller companies hoping to become a global monolith. Greenberg (who is, incidentally, writing for a publication quietly bought up by a Facebook billionaire) sneers at us for defending middle-class people, but “middle class” is just a word for those of us who get paid decently for our work. People at various income levels in a diversity of fields here in San Francisco are being replaced by those who work in one field and get paid extremely well.  Small, alternative, and nonprofit institutions are also struggling and going down. It’s like watching a meadow being plowed under for, say, Monsanto genetically modified soybeans.
Speaking of meadows, one of Silicon Valley’s billionaires, Napster founder and Spotify billionaire Sean Parker, just threw himself a $10 million wedding on environmentally sensitive land in Big Sur. In the course of building a massive fantasy set for the event, “including grading, change in use from campground to private event, construction of multiple structures including a gateway and arch, an artificial pond, a stone bridge, multiple event platforms with elevated floors, rock walls, artificially created ruins of cottages and castle walls,” he reportedly did significant environmental damage and violated regulations.
Apparently paying $2.5 million in fines after the fact didn’t bother him. Napster and Spotify are, incidentally, online technologies that have reduced musicians’ profits from their recordings to almost nothing. There are tremendously wealthy musicians, of course, but a lot of them are at best, yes, middle class. Thanks to Parker, maybe a little less so.
Teachers, civil servants, bus drivers, librarians, firefighters — consider them representatives of the middle class under siege, as well as the people who keep a city viable and diverse. Friends of mine — a painter, a poet, a filmmaker, a photographer, all of whom have contributed to San Francisco’s culture — have been evicted so that more affluent people may replace them. There’s a widespread tendency to think that defending culture means defending privileged white people, but that assumes that people of color and poor people aren’t artists. Here, they are.
Everyone here understands that if a musician — hip-hop or symphony — can’t afford a home, neither can a janitor and her family. And competition for those apartments is fierce, so fierce that these days no one I know can find a rental on the open market. I couldn’t when I moved in 2011; neither could a physician friend earlier this year. The tech kids come in and offer a year in cash up front or raise the asking price or both, and the housing supply continues to wither, while rents skyrocket. So while Greenberg might like you to think that we’re selfishly not offering a seat at the table, it’s more like old people and working families and people whose careers were shaped by idealism are objecting to being thrown under the, well, bus.
Like Gandhi, Only With Guns
Enough minions of Silicon Valley’s mighty corporations could arrive to create a monoculture.  In some parts of town, it already is the dominant culture. A guy who made a fortune in the dot-com boom and moved to the Mission District (the partly Latino, formerly blue-collar eye of the housing hurricane) got locals’ attention recently with a blog post titled “Douchebags Like You are Ruining San Francisco.” In it, he described the churlish and sometimes predatory behavior of the very young and very wealthy toward the elderly, the poor, and the nonwhite.
He wrote, “You’re on MUNI [the city bus system] and watch a 20-something guy reluctantly give up his seat to an elderly woman and then say loudly to his friends, ‘I don’t know why old people ride MUNI. If I were old I’d just take Uber.’” Yeah, I had to look it up, too: Uber.com, a limousine taxi service you access via a smartphone app. A friend of mine overheard a young techie in line to buy coffee say to someone on his phone that he was working on an app that would be “like Food Not Bombs, to distribute food, only for profit.” Saying you’re going to be like a group dedicated to free food, only for profit, is about as deranged as saying you’re going to be like Gandhi, only with guns.
“An influx of techies will mean more patrons for the arts,” trilled an article at the Silicon Valley news site Pando, but as of yet those notable patrons have not made an appearance. As a local alternative weekly reported, “The tech world in general is notoriously uncharitable: According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, only four of 2011’s 50 most generous U.S. donors worked in tech, despite the fact that 13 of Forbes 50 Richest Americans in 2012 had made some or all of their fortunes in tech.” Medici in their machinations, they are not Medici-style patrons. There is no noticeable trickle-down in the Bay Area, no significant benevolence toward the needy or good causes or culture from the new tech fortunes.
Instead, we get San Francisco newcomer, Facebook CEO, and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pursuing his own interest with ruthless disregard for life on Earth. This year, Zuckerberg formed a politically active nonprofit, FWD.us, that sought to influence the immigration debate to make it easier for Silicon Valley corporations to import tech workers. There has been no ideology involved, only expediency, in how FWD.us pursued its ends. It decided to put its massive financial clout to work giving politicians whatever they wanted in hopes that this would lead to an advantageous quid pro quo arrangement. Toward that end, the group began running ads in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline (that will bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast) to support a Republican senator and other ads in favor of drilling in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to support an Alaskan Democrat.
The takeaway message seemed to be that nothing is off limits in pursuing self-interest, and that the actual meaning and consequences of these climate-impacting projects was not of concern at least to that 29-year-old who’s also the 25th richest person in the United States. (To give credit where it’s due: Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk, Paypal cofounder and electric car mogul, quitFWD.us.) Zuckerberg and his Valley associates were pushing things they didn’t care about and demonstrating that they didn’t care about much except what makes their corporations run and their profits rise. Here, where the Sierra Club was founded in 1892 and many are environmentally minded, this didn’t go over well. Protests ensued at Facebook headquarters and on Facebook itself.
Rising hostility to the tech surge in San Francisco is met with fury and bewilderment by many Silicon Valley employees. They tend to sound like Bush-era strategists dumbfounded that the Iraqis didn’t welcome their invasion with flowers.
Here’s something else you should know about Silicon Valley: according toMother Jones, 89% of the founding teams of these companies are all male; 82% are all white (the other 18% Asian/Pacific Islander); and women there make 49 cents to the male dollar. Silicon Valley female powerhouses like Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg get a lot of attention because they’re unusual, black swans in a lake full of white swans. As Catherine Bracy, on whose research Mother Jones based its charts, put it, “The current research I’ve seen shows that wealth creation from the tech industry is extremely unequally distributed, and current venture capital is going overwhelmingly to a small, homogeneous elite.” That’s what’s encroaching on San Francisco.
That Pando article chastises us this way: “San Francisco can become a world capital.  First it needs to get over itself.” But maybe we don’t want to be a world capital or more like New York and Tokyo. The logic of more-is-better seems unassailable to San Francisco’s detractors, but inside their more is a lot of less: less diversity, less affordability, less culture, less continuity, less community, less equitable distribution of wealth. What’s called wealth in these calculations is for the few; for the many, it’s impoverishment.
The Armada of the .0001% 
If Google represents the global menace of Silicon Valley, and Zuckerberg represents its amorality, then Oracle CEO Larry Ellison might best represent its crassness. The fifth richest man in the world, he spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win the America’s Cup yacht race a few years back. The winner gets to choose the next venue for the race and the type of boat to be used. So for this summer’s races, Ellison chose San Francisco Bay and a giant catamaran that appears to be exceptionally unstable. Last month, an Olympic-medal-winning sailor drowned when a boat he was training on capsized in San Francisco Bay, pinning him under its sail.
Part of Ellison’s strategy for winning again evidently involves making the boats so expensive that almost no one can compete. A race that once had seven to 15 competitors now has four, and one may drop out. Business Insider headlined a piece, “Larry Ellison Has Completely Screwed Up The America’s Cup.” It went on to say, “Each team, with the exception of New Zealand’s, is backed by an individual billionaire, and each has spent between $65 million and $100 million so far.” In typical Silicon Valley-fashion, Ellison also figured out how to stick San Francisco for a significant part of the tab and in the process even caused the eviction of a few dozen small businesses, though in the end the city did not give him a valuable stretch of waterfront he wanted.
Here’s what San Francisco is now: a front row seat on the most powerful corporations on Earth and the people who run them. So we know what you may not yet: they are not your friends and their vision is not your vision, but your data is their data, and your communications are in their hands, and they seem to be rising to become an arm of or a part-owner of the government or a law unto themselves, and no one has yet figured out what we can do about it.
Rebecca Solnit is just winding up several months as a research fellow at Stanford Libraries and Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West. Her work there will lead to a book about California history, but her new book, out this month, is The Faraway Nearby.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175717/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_how_to_act_like_a_billionaire/#more

Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies – Paul E Nelson

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Paul is a poet and a tireless advocate for Cascadia. He has written a description of what he calls “Organic” poetry and shows its refractions and its heritage in a poetic flow of references. Paul’s focus is on the west coast and talks about how it is influenced more by the east than the west, as Rexroth advocated. – rlw

Organic in Cascadia:  A Sequence of Energies
A presentation for UW Bothell Convergence on Poetics, September 30, 2012

Duncan, Levertov

Use of term Organic, stems from its use in the early 60s correspondence of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. I use it interchangeably with Projective and use it because of the implications to/affinities with a shift in models from the materialistic (reductionist) to the organismic. Cascadia is this bioregion.

Jewel Net of Indra

The theory that would serve as the philosophical underpinning of this approach is Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, though Hua-yen Buddhism (exemplified by The Jewel Net of Indra) also works well, as do many aspects of indigenous thought and cosmology.

That theory would have occasions of experience as the foundation of its explanation of how reality works. The poem is an occasion of experience, linked to past occasions and influencing future occasions. In the Hua-yen view, future occasions influence the present. This suggests field theory, as used in quantum physics (WCW and Olson alluded to this) and to the work of people like Rupert Sheldrake. It also has parallels to animism and other modes of indigenous thought.

I came across an old essay by Sunn Shelley Wong, her Masters Thesis, done at Simon Fraser University. Robin Blaser, Roy Miki and Peter Quartermain served on her graduate committee. It had this great line: At every moment in a life or in a poem, the formal choice is between answering to that which is alive, or attempting to enslave it.

Robin Blaser

Organic predecessors include Whitman, Williams, Olson and those already mentioned. The title of this presentation is a nod to a Robin Blaser line in the forward to The Holy Forest, his life-long serial poem about the serial poem itself. The inherent spirituality suggested in different ways by these poets is critical to an understanding of what I see as the best way forward to make the poem, in Olson’s words, a high-energy construct. Humility, generosity and an ongoing sense of revelation (Oppen called for Noopoeia) are some qualities of such a poetry. Who’s Cascadia’s Lorine Niedecker? How translate power of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, beaches &c into a high-energy construct?

Whitman’s Do I contradict myself notion (I am large, I contain multitudes) is a wonderful prophecy for such a poetics: multiple individuals

Lorine Niedecker

contending with multiple individual agents of consciousness operant in mind. (& Mind being understood as non-local.)

Williams use of the imagination (especially in Spring & All) as the entity engaged in such a practice of outside. Only the imagination is undeceived… the imagination freed from the handcuffs of ,, ,, art “ “ takes the lead… the inevitable flux of the seeing eye toward measuring itself by the world it inhabits can only result in himself crushing humiliation unless the individual raise to some approximate co-extension with the universe. This is possible by aid of the imagination. Only through the agency of this force can a man feel himself moved largely with the sympathetic pulses at work.

Of note: Olson referring to the single intelligence and the stance toward reality he implies (organismic) his recognition of the energetic force of humility and his likening of poetry that does not evoke that force – to sprawl. When most think of that word, sprawl, the word suburban usually goes before it, no offense to our Bothell hosts.

The Spicer/Blaser notion of the practice of outside and how Blaser’s practice could be described as a new way of entering the holiness of the everyday. (Charles Bernstein.)

Bowering tells kids to “get out of my field!”

It is clear to me a way forward IS that approach, the serial poem, and key practitioners for me are Blaser, Nate Mackey, Michael McClure, Jose Kozer, George Stanley and George Bowering. It is no accident that all but one of these are West Coast writers, two of the five are in the region some call Cascadia, one of the rest with formative years spent here. The serial poem, as it unveils the sequences of moments, the trail of entelechy. Not so much as transcendence as much as it is intensification of the moment. Mackey: Serial form lends itself to andoumboulous liminality, the draft unassured extension knows itself to be. Provisional, ongoing … moving forward and backward both, repeatedly…

If the organismic is closer to what reality is than other methods (and this can be contested, but it’s my suspicion) than the serial poem, a life-long dedication to the poem as revelation of content (Levertov) seems to me to be its highest manifestation in poetry.

Cascadia’s proximity to Asia and its debt to Asian wisdom cultures moreso than European ones (as Rexroth knew about the West Coast 70 years ago) along with the notion that indigenous cultures here were not totally obliterated (Coastal Salish art as one example, described as the most celebrated art from any of the world’s hunter/gatherer cultures) suggest that the field here is fertile for such a gesture which builds on what these poets have done.