Elif Batuman (author of the best-selling [for real. -ed.] book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them) and Eli Evans (author of, among other things, “Tiger, Alone”) will be reading this evening (Friday) at BookCourt in Brooklyn. Both of them live in California, and Eli in fact lives in a barn, so this is not something you’ll see every day. Come by if you can.
William John Scott is a freshman at Drew University. He studies political science. He plays defense on the lacrosse team. He describes himself on Facebook as a night person who likes to party.
But federal prosecutors say he is something else: a busy archives thief who stole famous letters written by a founder of the United Methodist Church and world leaders, including Abraham Lincoln and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
Mr. Scott pilfered the letters while working part time at the university archives, the prosecutors said. He sold some of them for thousands of dollars, and left others sitting in a dresser drawer, where F.B.I. agents found them after executing a search warrant of his dorm room on Saturday. (On Facebook, Mr. Scott says he likes to keep the room “not a complete mess.”)
Mr. Scott was arrested on Sunday as the bus bringing his lacrosse team back from spring break rolled into Drew’s campus in Madison, N.J.
“He looked utterly surprised, like we were,” said Tyler Morse, a junior on the team who saw Mr. Scott escorted off the bus by the university’s head of public safety, into the car of F.B.I. agents.
On Monday, he was still wearing a blue hoodie when he was led handcuffed into United States District Court in Newark for a bail hearing. He was charged with one count of knowingly stealing an object of cultural heritage from a museum. He faces as much as 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Looking down as he was brought into the courtroom of Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo, he twice replied, “Yes, ma’am,” when asked if he understood his rights and if he had retained a lawyer. The judge authorized an unsecured $50,000 bond, on the condition that he surrender his passport and agree to be supervised by pretrial services while remaining in the custody of his parents, who live in Longmeadow, Mass.
I get it, T. Mercer, I really do. Last year I received a Kindle as a gift from my heroic and technologically savvy Webman (who has over the years carried several suitcases containing the works of our great historical graphomaniacs to and from the Stanford library on my behalf); today I, too, am loath to carry around any book with a thickness greater than 0.36 inches—or to wait five days to read a book that God clearly intended for me to receive instantaneously at 4AM in the bath, when I really need it.
But listen, T. Mercer, have you really considered all the angles? For example: whereas a new release on Kindle costs $9.99, The Possessed now sets you back only $9.00! $9.00! What will $9.00 get you these days? An eight-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken? A five-pack of Gillette Mach replacement razors? A quarter of a tank of gasoline? A regular or Kindle edition of Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang? No! None of the above! But it does get you The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them: a remarkably lightweight paperback with not only front and back cover art by Roz Chast—Roz Chast!—but also a clearly marked list price of $15.00.
Classy readers! With International Women’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Lent either just around the corner or already upon us, think of what a great gift The Possessed would make for that special someone on whom you wish to appear to have lavished $15.00!
I wrote a long article on the jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, here. Since this happened people have had occasion to ask me how to pronounce it. As with most Russian names, however you pronounce it is really just fine. It’s not like people don’t know who you mean. And trying to indicate pronunciation always ends badly—for example when the Times Magazine published their otherwise informative article on Khodorkovsky, they actually gave an incorrect pronunciation. Anyway, to make a long story short, just stress the first syllable, keep your o's flat, and try to roll the r as best you can.
SHUT THE FUCK UP TO ANYONE CRYING ABOUT “TUMBLARITY”
HAVE YOU NO SELF WORTH? PATHETHIC.
good morning tumblr :)
what a great morning gift,
tumblarity is gone. HUZZAH!
In cooking on the computa on tumbla heheheh
no tumblarity? whoooooo
Man, I keep looking over at my tumblarity.
And then I realize it’s not there anymore, would I be a hypocrite if I said I kinda want it back?
hopefully this is only temporary . maybe theyre remaking an accurate system of tumblarity , so that it doesnt go up and down .. whatever it is ,
IT BETTER FUCKING BE BACK BY TOMORROW .
without tumblarity i feel lost and without purpose…
…i will forever be a tumblr nobody.
bitch, bring it back! please and thank you. =]
“We’re about to totally overhaul the Directory, along with the Activity page and Tumblarity which power it. In preparation, we’ve taken both of these pages offline while we make changes. More soon!”
Honestly you all should have read it because then you would know that Tumblarity and Activity will be back. It’s just offline for now.
Thank god Tumblarity isn’t really gone, I was about to rip somebody’s head off.
I don’t give a shit tbh.
No tumblarity means Kyle no longer loves me. I just know it. XD
milyen parfümöt használsz?
tényleg, ha olyan volt, hogy mi a csengőhangod, akkor hadd legyen már ilyen is. én szeretnék valami férfiasabbat, mint ezt a versace dreamer, amit ezer éve használok (nem minden nap, csak alkalmanként), mert kezdem buzisnak, cikinek tartani meg unom is már. meg a tumblarity-m is alacsony.
I spoke a little while ago on this tumblr about the internet’s annoying inferiority complex and, well, I sort of believe that (that it has one). But today I was reading this Times article about Robert Caro and Robert Moses from 2007 and was taken aback by this sentence:
Unusual in an age when sentence fragments on a blog pass for intellectual argument and “definitive” accounts have half-lives measured in months, Mr. Caro’s 1,246-page tome has for three decades dominated our understanding of modern New York.
First I thought, “Is he talking about *my* blog?” But in 2007 I didn’t have a blog. OK. But what about my fellow bloggers? What do my fellow bloggers have to do with Caro’s 1,246-page book? Didn’t the author mostly want to say—“Caro’s book is long, exhaustive, and authoritative”? So it is. But what on earth do blogs have to do with it??
And then I shook my head and thought: We print people really haven’t handled all this very well.
The question of whether to link to Amazon when you’re making a book recommendation is a vexed question. Not long ago a reader of this blog chastised me and said I should link to Powell’s instead. Powell’s is a physical bookstore and buying books from them helps keep them physical, over there in Portland. But I am a cheapskate, and my readers are also cheapskates, and Amazon has cheaper books. And while I think Powell’s is really remarkable—it’s the Fairway of bookstores—their phone system is impenetrable and we can never get them to restock their n+1s. Finally, I really like the customer reviews on Amazon. And the various algorithms. Say what you will, but Amazon has done a great job with that.
Then today someone sent me a book recommendation via Better World Books. “Mm?” I thought. And clicking through I saw that they *don’t charge for shipping*, do discount books, and also they have customer reviews! I love customer reviews, and maybe these would be better customers than the Amazon customers, and would review my books better? Also these guys give money to charity, to create a better world.
But I am a suspicious man, and so I looked at a book whose Amazon page I know well—this one, or at Powell’s if you prefer—and discovered that the customer reviews on Better World Books had been lifted from Amazon. I didn’t know how I felt about this. Plagiarizing from Amazon to make a better world? Well… And so then in order to get a second opinion I went and read an article about Better World Books on TechCrunch—here. TechCrunch was very positive about Better World, but off I went into the comments. Some of the commenters raised legitimate concerns, but a librarian who works with Better World defended the store, and she seemed to be winning, until the very final comment, from “Adam”:
Well i know a guy and his wife who both work for this company. The guy beat his 3 year old daughter and put her in the hospitol. He is back in court again for punching her in the ear
And on and on it went! Holy shit! So now I have to figure out if this Adam is telling the truth, what the deal is with this violent employee (if Adam *is* telling the truth), and figure out if he still works at Better World. Man. And then I’ll finally know who to link to when I make my book recommendations on this Tumblr.
When they came for the travel agents, I said nothing, because I am not a travel agent. When they came for the music industry, I said nothing, because I am not a music industrialist. And when the internet came for Lee Siegel, I also said nothing, because I am not Lee Siegel.
“All the expansive elaborations on old age in Laura—involving flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, foot odor, and prostate tumors—strike a downright grim, masochistic note. Nabokov, who once described his life as “fresh bread with country butter and Alpine honey,” with Laura brings to mind Tolstoy’s comparison of life to a tartine de merde, which one is obliged to eat slowly.”—Michael Maar shorts the new Nabokov novel. “Tartine de merde” is French for shit sandwich.
Hi, are you Russian? It’s not easy, right? I know. But once in a while, something comes along, and it makes it all worthwhile. To wit: The great Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is coming to town in connection with Penguin’s publication of her new book, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. (*The* literary event of Halloween, incidentally.) But, rather than killing your neighbor’s baby, she’ll be performing a cabaret at the Russian Samovar on 52nd Street at 8 pm next Friday, November 6. I’ve seen her do this in Moscow and it’s amazing—she “translates” cabaret classics from German and French and Polish into what she thinks they ought to mean, in Russian. It’s really something. There’s also a reading at McNally Jackson on the 9th, but if you’re Russian you should really try to make this. No cover charge. Press contact Bela Shayevich (office: 718 210 3639, cell: 847 494 9011, firstname.lastname@example.org)—but otherwise just come.
“If Bloomberg’s New York doesn’t have civilization, it’s unreasonable to expect it of Putin’s Russia. So it ought to be understandable that Russians are only too glad to see more of fraud and subversion, in order to feel less compelled by force. They feel sorry for New Yorkers who think the only racketeers they will ever see perform are between the advertisements in replays of The Sopranos.”—More from John Helmer on RICO and the Nets.
Like everyone else, we at n+1 have been trying to figure out how to keep a print publication viable without becoming a ward of the state or spending all our time trying to sell ads to BMW. So here’s an experiment. We’ve posted three of the eighteen pieces from Issue 8 online; the others are available for download in their handsome original format for between $1 and $3 at Scribd.com. Like iTunes. Full list below and also here.
Sometimes writers worry that invoking any kind of technology in their work is like inserting a ticking time bomb of obsolescence. Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) opens with the adulterous bond trader Sherman McCoy accidentally dialing his wife from a pay phone when he meant to dial his mistress. Having given himself away, he hangs up in a panic.
Sherman stood by the telephone, breathing rapidly, almost panting. What was he to do now? He felt so defeated…
He dug out another quarter and summoned up Maria’s number into his brain. He concentrated on it. He nailed it down. Then he dialed with a plodding deliberation, as if he were using this particular invention, the telephone, for the first time.
Ha ha, Tom Wolfe you retrograde sucker! Your book is barely twenty years old and most kids these days don’t even know what a pay phone is!
And yet it’s interesting… what he describes, misdialing from a pay phone, it’s actually a little hard to believe. Seven digits, dialed separately, is a lot of digits—about halfway through you’d probably sense that something was wrong. You’d sense you’d made a mistake and retrieve your quarter and start again. Whereas with a text message—that’s just one button. And no stopping it.
The technology is almost gone but the technology that’s replaced it has actually *increased the danger*. Amazing. Wolfe wins again.
We have our winners for the Foucault caption competition. This year in fact there are two:
Sangwon Yoon informs us that the caption under Foucault in TimeOut Tel Aviv reads: “Not the world, radical/extremist criticism of the world.”
This makes sense—in the pamphlet one of the participants says he was unable to read Foucault in college because he was still trying to figure out the world as it was, and wasn’t yet ready to read a wholesale radical critique of it.
Winner #2, SRolph, recalling Foucault’s reflections on the death of the human subject, argues that the caption actually reads: “When I become the subject of a caption competition, then you will know the end of man is at hand.”
That too makes sense. We congratulate the winners of this year’s competition!
“We, The Blue Mist, the devoted fans of Kentucky basketball, have been watching The Door for twenty-four hours. A Memphis TV station has trained a web-cam on The Door, which leads to the University of Memphis athletic department. The video stream currently registers 12,611 views. There’s also sound, and so The Mist can hear cars passing, the camera operators tittering. They must find it funny that we want to watch The Door.”—This is awesome. How a magazine primarily devoted to sports can raise so many hackles is beyond me, to be honest.
Not a public intellectual! This is a dude who seriously entitled his novel “All the Sad Young Literary Men.”
Ha ha, it’s true. I’m more of an internet theorist than a public intellectual. But what’s intriguing about this is that “x is not a public intellectual” is being used to mean “x is an idiot.” (x being me, in this case.) It’s like the early 90s discourse of the death of the public intellectual colliding with the late 00s discourse of internet insult. X is honored to have been a part of this moment.
While all this was going on, the mobster Yaponchik died of his gunshot wounds. Police predicted that the gangster’s death could lead to an all-out war between Moscow’s major criminal groups. Keeping in mind that he was a very bad man who probably killed many people, does Yapnochik’s death make the video I posted of him getting shot funnier or less funny?
So now that it’s more or less passed, some thoughts on what I’ve learned from the latest internet fracas occasioned by my response to the Awl’s criticism of Mark Greif’s piece on abortion and gay marriage in Issue 8.
Careful readers will recall that last year, after a similar series of online fracases with Gawker, I formulated several handy rules, such as: Only get involved in an online debate on your work if it’s a factual matter which only you can correct (i.e. the information is not publicly available—e.g. Gawker accuses you of drinking lattes, whereas you’ve never had a latte, but who else knows that but you?). Also, try not to argue with people who are just insulting you: If the New York Times calls you a jerk, will you write a letter to the Times saying you’re not a jerk? Probably not. So don’t write a letter to the internet. In a best-case scenario you’ll find yourself in an argument where you’re saying, “You shouldn’t have insulted us,” and the other person is saying, “Yes I should have.” That’s not a very interesting argument.
In this case, I maybe violated one or both of these rules, but in the process I came up with another: Don’t try to stand athwart an internet meme. In this case the meme was, “That essay sucked!!” There are many things to object to in the essay, and some of them are in fact extremely interesting (#1: what does it mean for a straight man to demand more radicalism from the gay rights movement?) and in the coming days we’re going to post some letters at nplusonemag pointing some of those things out (not too late to write a letter to the editor, if you’re so inclined: editors at nplusonemag.com), but that is not equivalent to suckiness. But since the non-suckiness of the essay is absolutely self-evident to me, I may not be the best person to argue about it. Also I’m clearly biased. I should have consulted with Bill Wasik, author of And Then There’s This, a book that deals at least partly with memes. I think he would have counseled waiting this one out.
All that said, I’d like to add this: Dear internet! Why are you so goddamn touchy? I have to listen to people saying n+1 is this and that, that Mark Greif—Mark Greif!!—is a “pussyhound,” although simultaneously he doesn’t know what sex is, wasn’t born in the 20th century, doesn’t know history, etc. etc.—and then I call the Awl a “news aggregator” and you go apeshit. Jesus Christ! Look. Despite the fact that the majority of the posts on the Awl are, in fact, news items with short, snappy commentary, a la Gawker (though with different emphases), I am aware that the Awl is a plucky new independent magazine that also posts reportage and essays and columns—for example, the witty and useful Social A’s column by Emily Gould, who happens to be my girlfriend, and who also happens to have once called the Awl an “aggregator” (without meaning it as a dig). That’s where I got the term, even though I did of course mean it as a dig. But left to my own devices I’d have called it something more obviously insulting—a “shit-mobile,” say.
But look, internet. You’ve made great strides over the years. Your traffic is up, your type-face has improved, Wall Street is still wowed despite the trauma you inflicted on it a decade ago, the lords of the mainstream media quake in their boots when they hear the very mention of your name—you bestride the world like a colossus, internet. So WILL YOU PLEASE GET OVER THIS GODDAMN INFERIORITY COMPLEX? It just makes it impossible to talk to you.
Yesterday the news-aggregator site The Awl posted a reading of Mark Greif’s piece on abortion and gay marriage from the latest issue of n+1. It’s the old complaint, which boils down to: What is this intellectual mumbo-jumbo?? Speak English! I can’t understand you!!
Typically the people making these complaints can understand just fine. The pose of incomprehension is just that, a pose. Why this pose—which for a thinking person is really a disgraceful pose, if you ask me—tends to be struck most often by writers for the New York Observer is a mystery probably someone else should solve. Having said that, and looking at it again, I see there’s a certain amount he really didn’t understand. Let me help out.
Mark Greif is the reason we started n+1. His essays really were too difficult, too knotty, and his polemical positions were too extreme. There was no place for pieces like “Against Exercise,” “Mogadishu, Baghdad, Troy,” “Afternoon of the Sex Children.” His sentences really are sometimes too long—BK says that sometimes they sound as if they’d been translated from German—and you really do have to stare at them a while sometimes before you can figure out what they mean. But they do mean something—they are the product of a mind at work, I mean really at work, right now, today, trying to figure out what’s happening, and bringing to bear on it a great deal of reading, and emotion, and thought.
The piece in question about gay marriage and abortion is part of Mark’s ongoing investigation of what happened to our modern utopia—why, when we have been freed from factory work, do we re-invent the forms of physical coercion at the gym? Why, when we have been freed of hunger, do we re-import strictures and limitations into our eating? Why, when we have so many channels, don’t we do anything with them truly worthwhile? Here is the beginning of Mark’s piece on reality TV:
The utopia of television nearly came within reach in 1992, on the day cable providers announced that cable boxes would expand to 500 channels. Back then, our utopian idea rested on assumptions both right and wrong. We assumed network-sized broadcasters could never afford new programming for so many active channels. That was right. We also assumed TV subscribers wouldn’t stand for 500 channels of identical fluff, network reruns, syndicated programs, second-run movies, infomercials, and home shopping. That was wrong.
The latest piece, on gay marriage and abortion, makes the argument that the utopian promise of those two very recent developments in American life—that is, the right to choose one’s sexual partner freely, and the right to choose whether to have a child—has been abrogated in favor of a rhetoric of piety, where too much ground is ceded to the “values voters.”
Today gay progress is in an expansionist phase under the banner of the right to marry… Feminism is reduced to pleading for abortion rights, while the common sense of three decades ago is hemmed in by a secular right wing that has adopted the extremism of orthodox religion. Abortion defenders must pretend that it is a “tragic” but necessary evil; a redoubt of “choice,” just like any other choice.
Here is marriage: The division of humanity into closed couples, when modernity has given us a chance at something much better… [and given us opportunities to have so many of the things marriage used to give *without marriage*. And so:] When marriage has as its main purpose a total and unique defense against loneliness and isolation and anomie, then it’s been saddled with a function too grand and dishonest for it ever to meet; no wonder it will seem imperfect, disappointing, not yet the right, ﬁnal marriage.
On gay marriage:
And yet if you commit to marriage as your end, you win the piety battle, or, say, the war for harmless cuddliness. To marry is the closest adult thing to making your eyes big, your forehead rounded, and your hands into adorable little paws. Look at hubby-wubby! It is so responsible. It says that your desire is not for pleasure or fun, it is for ﬁtting in. It is for the maintenance of what already is. How can you refuse these sweet-natured, utterly ordinary and gentle people—gay marriage-ists—who want to sacriﬁce themselves to this really rather miserably difficult institution, one which doesn’t even work well for straights, who have it so easy? Opposing gay marriage is like denying the wishes of people who want to feed your pets or take out your garbage. For moderates, on the fence about bigotry, it really will be too cute to deny.
And on abortion:
Abortion, unlike marriage, is unlovely. It’s a basic practical necessity of modern values, like sports medicine and hotels, but it is being sentimentalized out of existence by its opponents. Defenders seem cowed by the climate of opinion the sentimentalists have created. “Choice” worked as a rallying cry for a long time. But it’s hardly enough if you can’t also say what abortion itself is really for, and why it’s not “sad but necessary” but right and good.
This is a tough and risky and controversial argument because obviously those legal rights, fought for by a previous generation, are real achievements. What Mark is suggesting is that by not being fought for now, more aggressively, they are in danger of being lost and eroded. Maybe he’s wrong about that, or maybe the argument is slightly different—not that they will be lost but that we’ll settle for them, when we should be demanding more.
Elif Batuman’s long-awaited comedy traffic school piece is in this week’s New Yorker. This is, by my rough count, Elif’s fourth New Yorker piece—after Thai boxing, the ice palace, and the Lowell House Russian Orthodox stolen bells. And this got me to thinking, what if someone else were, like me, an Elif completist, and wanted to collect all of Elif’s work? You could try Elifbatuman.com, but sadly that thing is way out of date. Luckily, I’m here to help. As an Elif completist, in addition to the New Yorker pieces, you would need:
"Babel in California," n+1, issue 2
"Adventures of a Man of Science," n+1, issue 3
"Rearranging the furniture," on Victor Shklovsky, The Nation, 2005 sometime
"The Short Story," n+1, issue 4
Her piece on Akhmatova in the Nation.
Her piece on Platonov in the New York Sun.
The piece in Harper’s about Tolstoy’s murder, except we don’t talk about that, due to its being a sore subject a little bit around here (the piece going to Harper’s, that is, not the murder).
"Summer in Samarkand, pt. 1," n+1, issue 7
Her piece in the LRB on postwar French philosophy, that was awesome.
And her two things way back in the Harvard Advocate, fall 1997 and winter 1998, I think.
“But these bad guys were real, this history was real, and the feelings we have about them and what they did are real and have real-world consequences and implications. Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into “sickening” perpetrators? I’m not so sure. An alternative, and morally superior, form of “revenge” for Jews would be to do precisely what Jews have been doing since World War II ended: that is, to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them, precisely in order to help prevent the recurrence of such mass horrors in the future.”—
—Daniel Mendelsohn in Newsweek. Is this the same Daniel Mendelsohn who praised the Holocaust fantasy Everything Is Illuminated to the skies? More to the point, of course there *were* Jewish avengers, or “death squads,” after WWII, whose express mission it was to kill former Nazis. (Some of this is described in Tom Segev’s very good book, The Seventh Million. It’s also described, fictionally, in Avner Mandelman’s story collection, Talking to the Enemy, which I once reviewed here and still think is great.) Mendelsohn no doubt knows about all this. So what’s he talking about?
It’s also worth mentioning that Jewish avengers Eli Roth and B. J. Novak attended my high school. Where we grew up, there weren’t that many Nazis. Well, until you crossed Commonwealth Avenue, at which point all bets were off. Way to kill Nazis, you guys.
Quoting the original judgment, as to why Cherney should be allowed to sue Deripaska in England—
"As to the first of Mr Cherney’s concerns, Mr Stewart [Deripaska’s lawyer] submitted that Mr Cherney is no more likely to be the subject of an assassination attempt in Russia than he was in Israel or is anywhere else. I do not accept that. Whoever tried to have him killed in Israel was almost certainly Russian based. The risk of a successful assassination seems to me likely to be greater in the place where the person or persons who might wish to have him killed reside and where the requisite personnel and materiel are likely to be more readily available."
—the appellate court comments:
That assessment is based on sound reasoning and it is not for the Court of Appeal to reassess the position.
“In considering whether the English court was the proper place for the proceedings to be brought under CPR 6.21(2A)… having considered a great deal of material, he analysed the question in two stages; at the first stage he found that the “natural forum” was Russia but at the second stage he found that ‘the risks inherent in a trial in Russia (assassination, arrest on trumped up charges, and lack of a fair trial) are sufficient to make England the forum in which the case can most suitably be tried in the interest of both parties and the ends of justice’.”—English court of appeal upholding a decision to hear a dispute between two Russian oligarchs in England rather than in Russia. Via the great John Helmer.