Is the science fiction writer R. A. Lafferty due for a comeback? “Lafferty’s most accessible and widely read novel, ‘Space Chantey,’ is a psychedelic, Homeric odyssey in which space captain Roadstrum leads an expedition to the pleasure planet Lotophage, where the immortal houri Margaret tells him, very wisely, that ‘there are worse places to live than in tall stories.’”
For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.
by Nachoem M. Wijnberg (translated by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei)
Compared to other nationalisms atheistic Zionism is one of the most reasonable.
It would be even easier to call it reasonable if the Palestinians were offered serious reparations, financed by a levy on the value of the land that used to be the Palestinian’s and the Jew acquired too cheaply and collected among the Jews in the diaspora who want to have somewhere to flee to.
Like in the blue-white metal collection box of the Jewish National Fund that was put on the table when other Jews would visit that you didn’t see often, for example on a day in the week of mourning – the money was used to buy land anyway.
And now that we’re at it, how much for the rest of the world?
But if land remains the problem, when, under which circumstances, can you start a state, is it necessary for a state to have its own territory?
Couldn’t the Zionists have started without a territory?
There have been enough states with a territory, but without private land ownership, so why not the opposite: private land ownership but a state without territory, except the land that is owned by its citizens?
But a state that a Jew can flee to when he no longer knows what else to do, is that possible without that state having a territory that he can point at on the world map?
That doesn’t have to be a problem if the Jew can say: where I live has now become part of the Jewish state, even though I leave it when I enter the street, but I don’t mind having my passport on me all the time.
Home is where the heart is and the Jewish state can be where a Jew is, if the other states would be so kind to recognize that.
The current Palestinian state comes close to a state without territory, although the recognition by other states is still incomplete – not only by Israel, it would also be nice if a man with a Palestinian nationality were allowed to become a dentist in Lebanon.
That’s also why it can be said that Zionism has turned the Palestinians into those who can hardly be distinguished from non-atheistic Zionists.
Before you forget, there also should be a simple way in which a Jew can indicate that he doesn’t want to be a citizen of the Jewish state, for example by saying that he’d just as gladly be proud eine Fahne zu haben, ein Kriegsschiff zu sein. (“das stolze Kriegsschiff…”)
My father told the story of a mourning visit to the home of a man with five sons: they were standing side by side and said kaddish – with that man I disagreed about nearly everything, but that looked great.
Now send on a mourning visit or go to someone whose five sons are all dead: you live in his house now, but you know where to find him.
 From Kurt Tucholsky, “Worauf man in Europa stolz ist” (1932). – Trans.
—Simon Leys, “Memento Mori,” the last essay in The Hall of Uselessness. Simon Leys was the pen name of celebrated Sinologist Pierre Ryckmans, who died yesterday.
This September, NYRB Classics will be publishing Leys’ translation of Simone Weil’s On the Abolition of All Political Parties.
by Oliver Farry
Mood Indigo (L’écume des jours) (Michel Gondry – France/Belgium) 125 minutes
I wrote a few weeks ago about how my neighbourhood is becoming increasingly popular with filmmakers (mostly French, though it did also appear in Brian de Palma’s Femme Fatale over a decade ago). Now it is featuring in what is likely to be the biggest French film of the year; last Spring, a number of fantastical customised cars appeared on the streets around where I live, with the announcement that filming was afoot for Michel Gondry’s adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’écume des jours (translated, though little known, in English as Froth on the Daydream). The film has now made it to the screen. The result – a third adaptation of the novel – is a mixed bag, visually resplendent and inventive but ultimately rather empty. That said, it is definitely worth a look.
Vian’s novel is a French counterpart to On the Road or Catcher in the Rye, a mid-century novel that has been devoured by generations of teenagers. It is also, crucially, very different in nature and mood from Kerouac or Salinger’s novels. It tells of the wasting away of Chloé, the wife of the main character, Colin, after she ingests a water lily in her lungs while on their honeymoon. The novel is shot through with the existentialism of the day, even having as a peripheral character, a celebrated philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (the real Sartre would see the funny side and was an early champion of the novel, published when Vian was only 27). Jazz is also a key motif – Vian was a talented trumpeter, and close friend of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and many of the other greats of the era – and L’écume des jours is the literary embodiment of the zazou, a type of French student beatnik that surfaced during the German Occupation and which now lives on only in the Monaco, a sickly-sweet grenadine shandy confection popular among French students.
Gondry, not surprisingly, emphasises the fantastical aspect of the novel and picks and chooses for the film’s visual and aural texture. The soundtrack is the very jazz that Vian would have listened to (and played) while the costumes and sets are very much of the 1940s, though it is clearly set in some type of parallel universe of present-day Paris. Every frame of the film is filled with some type of disjointed surreal gadget or scenario – a TV chef instructing Colin’s manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy) as he cooks, a doorbell that crawls all over the apartment as it rings, a pair of two-tone loafers that growl and have a life of their own. My own favourite trope was the assembly-line typing pool located in the belly of Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party HQ. You imagine early on that it will all soon wear thin, but the visuals are actually the most enduring thing about the film. They are constantly inventive and have a gauche charm; they are a box of analogue delights found in the attic, an old hokey train-set resurrected by CGI.
Romain Duris, a man who doesn’t look to be getting any older, is well cast as Colin, even if he has very little in the way of a real character to grapple with. Audrey Tatou does the bare minimum as Chloé – neither good nor bad, she is rather a presence in a film, reassuring for audiences and financiers alike (in much the same way as Tom Hanks is in Hollywood). Better are Aïssa Maïga and Gad Elmaleh as Alice and Chick, the couple whose own travails pad out the subplot. Gondry himself also turns in a surprisingly effective comic performance as Chloé’s doctor.
While the film’s visual inventiveness never wanes, the narrative does. At just over two hours, it is about half an hour too long; what starts off like a sprightly, technicolor Guy Maddin film ends up like an actual Guy Maddin film. The final half-hour is a real slog and whereas Gondry ably captures the style and mood of Vian’s novel (as referenced in the film’s English-language title), his repackaging of its ideas and themes leaves a lot more to be desired. In a way, you can trace the film’s problems, like many of Gondry’s recent films, to the lack of a Charlie Kaufman, who wrote his first two, Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman doubles up, folds and contorts plot, time and space in his scripts in much the same way Gondry mangles visual information – in the two early films, they complemented each other well. Without Kaufman though, Gondry is really back to where he started out as – a talented director of music videos with a flair for the imaginative but lacking the structural discipline necessary for a full feature (though you might also say that Kaufman without Gondry or Spike Jonze is himself adrift – his Synecdoche, New York, plays out in an equally plodding way to this film). Mood Indigo is ultimately a thin undertaking that fails to really do justice to the source text. Still, the film is visually exciting enough to recommend, and it is likely to do well internationally, even if its posterior success is set to be as motion-picture wallpaper projected on the walls of hipster bars and clubs.
Just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.
— Jon Stewart
"IT’S THE STORY YOU ENTER, NOT THE CHARACTER."
An Interview with Aimee Bender About Her Syllabus
This is part of a series of conversations with writers who teach, where we discuss how they develop an idea for a course, generate a syllabus, and conduct a class. Read the full syllabus here.
Aimee Bender is the author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Her most recent short story collection, The Color Master, includes two retellings of fairy tales. Her work has been published in The Paris Review, Harper’s, and Granta, among other places. She teaches at the University of Southern California.
I. THE ECONOMY OF THE TALE
STEPHANIE PALUMBO: Tell me about the background of this class.
AIMEE BENDER: I’ve only taught this as an undergraduate class, and the people that have taken it are not necessarily English majors—they’re science, pre-med, communications. It’s changing now, but the general education program had a template of things you had to include in a class: a certain amount of writing, emphasis on critical thinking, and pages of reading per week. You got to take those factors and stir them in a pot and come up with an idea. I knew I would naturally lean toward doing something with fairy tales. They’re perfect little nuggets to talk about.
SP: So many books have been influenced by fairy tales. How did you narrow down the reading list?
AB: I split it into two halves. One part was direct influence: stories taken from a specific tale. So for “Snow White,” we’d first discuss the tale and all different kinds of Snow Whites from various countries, then look at a new telling, like Donald Barthelme’s Snow White, which is radically different but uses the story as a base. There aren’t an endless amount of these direct retellings. The other part, which is super flexible, is indirect influence. I switch those readings a lot more, because so many things can fit. For years, we read José Saramago’s Blindness, but a lot of the students would argue that they didn’t feel it had fairy tale elements, just certain craft similarities, like very little internal reflection and characters without names. What makes a fairy tale a fairy tale is pretty debatable.
SP: How would you define a fairy tale?
AB: There are various definitions, including a great one by Bruno Bettelheim. I think fairy tales are usually quite short, have archetypes, include very little internal experience of the characters, involve an element of magic, and often objects and animals participate in some way. Bettelheim says they have to have a happy ending to qualify as a viable fairy tale, but I don’t know if I agree with that, because Hans Christian Andersen writes beautiful fairy tales, and they’re extremely melancholy.
Something I love most about writing them is the direct and immediate connection to other people. This is partly a product of writing for the internet, of course, but there’s something else, too. The space in my head where I go to write horoscopes is different from the space in my head where I go to write fiction; in the same way, I imagine that a person can be a reader of horoscopes in a really different way than they are a reader of fiction or poetry.
Thistle Mag talks to this beloved friend and writer, Claire Comstock-Gay, a. k. a. Madame Clairevoyant.
“Think about it: Have you ever seen a cat driving a cruiser? Have you even once seen a cat with a badge? These animals want Friskies, not frisking.”