The Casual Optimist

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Something for the Weekend

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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins is out next month. The launch party is at Gosh in London (but I just wanted to post the cover because it is fantastic).

Belief in the Writer — Mark Danner talks to Robert Silvers, founding editor of the New York Review of Books, at New York Magazine:

I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.

Consternation — Renata Adler, whose novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark have just been reissed by NYRB Classics, in conversation at The Believer:

it used to be one way a young writer made it in New York. He would attack, in a small obscure publication, someone very strong, highly regarded, whom a few people may already have hated. Then the young writer might gain a small following. When he looked for a job, an assignment, and an editor asked, “What have you published?” he could reply, “Well, this piece.” The editor might say, “Oh, yeah, that was met with a lot of consternation.” And a portfolio began. This isn’t the way it goes now. More like a race to join the herd of received ideas and agreement.

But, too mean versus too nice? I don’t know. Nice criticism is good when it tells you something. A lot of negative “criticism” isn’t criticism at all: it’s just nasty, “writerly” cliché and invective.

Isolation — Antonia Quirke reviews the movie Oblivion for the Financial Times. The movie itself sounds immediately forgettable, but this is spot on:

It’s the sense of isolation in good science fiction that we really dig. Studios refuse to get it into their skulls, but audiences have tremendous patience for the sci-fi blues – long lonely sequences with things feeling a bit lost or off, followed by a little bit of tension and action. We don’t really need much more.

And finally…

Who can resist academic hoaxes? When Dickens Met Dostoevsky:

It is not only that the apparent practice of submitting articles under fictitious names to scholarly journals might well have a chilling effect on the ability of really existing independent scholars to place their work. Nor is it just the embarrassment caused to editors who might in an ideal world have taken more pains to check the contributions of Stephanie Harvey or Trevor McGovern, but who accepted them in good faith, partly out of a wish to make their publications as inclusive as possible. The worst thing here, if they are fictitious, is a violation of the trust that remains a constitutive element of the humanities. There is, it seems to me, a fundamental difference between posting partisan, anonymous reviews on Amazon, where there is no assumption of proper evaluative standards or impartiality, and placing similar reviews or hoaxing articles in academic journals, which are still the most hallowed sites for the development and transmission of humanistic ideas. The former is a cheap act of virtual graffiti; the latter may be the closest a secular scholar can come to desecration.

The whole thing is bonkers.

(Next you’ll be telling me Sherlock Holmes didn’t meet Sigmund Freud).

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