Photo: Director Terrence Malick and actor Christian Bale at Austin City Limits. Courtesy of Daily Motion.
“Now more than ever, it seems we still can’t conceive of a famous person who doesn’t want to be famous, and even caricatures are more satisfying than a note reading “not pictured” in the celebrity yearbook.”
Lisa Levy takes on self-help books and the “pseudo-intellectual” in her discussion of Alain de Botton’s series published by The School of Life:
Is the very idea of an intelligent self-help book a paradox? It is certainly trying to serve two demanding masters: philosophical speculation and practical action. After all, readers don’t pick up self-help books just to ruminate on life’s dilemmas, but to be guided to solutions. The new series of self-help books published by, co-founded by the Swiss-born popular philosopher Alain de Botton, echoes the school’s lofty approach to problems, claiming to be “intelligent, rigorous, well-written new guides to everyday living.” Yet to peruse the School of Life’s calendar of classes is to fall into a vortex of jargon pitched somewhere between the banal banter of daytime talk shows and the schedule for a nightmarish New Age retreat.
Colin Marshall interviews Anna Stothard, author of The Art of Leaving, about her latest novel, The Pink Hotel.
I lived in Thai Town and Little Armenia, in this apartment block full of just all different sorts of people. And I found that, not driving — I have never driven — I just found that I walked this version of Los Angeles that none of my friends seemed to know anything about. And I’d walk out of my apartment and there would be a huge Armenian wedding going on, and then you’d pass through the crowds of these Armenians and you’d get Thai children peeling oranges on a street corner for a Thai altarpiece. And the Armenian men never whistled at me, the Armenians never seemed to talk to the Thai people. There were all these different layers of the city that nobody seemed to cross over. And then a porn star would jog by and the Thai people wouldn’t notice the porn star. And I like this idea that everyone says that LA is all these suburbs looking for a city. But actually in every little bit of Los Angeles there are so many different layers. And you just have to look beyond the cliche of Los Angeles.
— — — —
Rebecca Liao reads Niall Ferguson’s gay-baiting career:
During a Q&A session last Friday at the Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, California, noted economic historian Niall Ferguson asserted that John Maynard Keynes did not think long-term because he was homosexual, childless and effete, preferring to read “poetry” to his wife rather than procreate. Outrage came swiftly, and Ferguson responded Saturday morning with an unreserved apology for his “stupid and tactless” remarks.
As far as public apologies go, many have noted the skillful completeness of Ferguson’s. Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian went so far as to say that it was too good to be true. He turned out to be right: Ferguson lambasted those who were unsatisfied with his first apology as “insidious enemies of academic freedom” in an open letter to the Harvard community (Link).
Trouble is, Ferguson has made the same sort of bigoted, non sequitur argument before about Keynes. In his 1999 book The Pity of War, he had this to say of the economist’s (wrong) prediction in late 1915 that Britain’s economy would collapse if WWI did not end soon:
Though his work in the [British] Treasury gratified his sense of self-importance, the war itself made Keynes deeply unhappy. Even his sex life went into a decline, perhaps because the boys he liked to pick up in London all joined up.
The suggestion is that Keynes had a particular hankering for the war to be over so that his pool of homosexual partners could be replenished.
Still, Ferguson should not be further punished for apologizing only after a public storm. Apology accepted. But no amount of contrition can close the door he had just opened to what were once merely disconnected and silent musings about the exaggerated masculinity of his work.
When a heterosexual man uses “gay” as a criticism, especially when leveled against a dead man, he is putting down another’s manliness as a means of beating his own chest. It does not help that the word “effete” would not make any sense in this context except to underscore how unmasculine gay people are. Ferguson therefore eliminated any chance to claim that he had meant for “gay” and “childless” to be redundant.
An unapologetic display of machismo has always been integral to Ferguson’s ideas. His gleeful provocation of leftists (i.e. the insufficiently strong and individualistic) began while a student at Oxford in the 80s with a Thatcherite hatred of “wet” Tories. He then strong-armed his way into intellectual legitimacy with a pro-imperialist economic history of the British Empire. His most recent book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, reaffirmed his paternalistic belief that British colonialism had a largely beneficial effect on the colonized countries, not least because it civilized them through economic development and brought them under the wing of British humanitarianism. As author Pankaj Mishra and many before him have pointed out, Ferguson has made these points while rationalizing the great loss of life, culture, and national resources in former colonies. Not to mention that the inherently debilitating effects of subjugation barely register in his assessment. His faith in the inherent benevolence of robust, muscular intervention in less developed countries has attracted many accusations of white-male solipsism.
He more or less carries on that mantle in his current preoccupation with the decline of the West. The geopolitical threat of the Middle East had him lamenting the West’s “pusillanimity,” though he denies that he is a hawkish neoconservative. On the other hand, despite expressing concerns with the stability of its authoritarian regime, he has looked on China with admiration, especially when it comes to the country’s economic success. Never mind the threat that also poses to Western supremacy.
It is not surprising that Ferguson would favor China since he confesses in Civilization that he left Britain for America because that is where “the money and power actually were.” Among his many talents is a knack for finding an amenable home for an aggressive instinct. He stated in an interview in 2011 that he took his current position at Harvard because the American intellectual culture glorified his brand of “excessive vehemence” whereas the British would not tolerate it. He made the right bet with America, and his broad-sweeping ideas and unshakeable confidence have made him a star on the Davos-TED-Aspen circuit.
It remains to be seen whether last week’s remarks will dull the popularity of his intellectual output among that glamorous circle. Of all possible hints Ferguson has offered over the years of a source for his many ideological loyalties, there has never been one so visceral, and therefore with the same ring of truth. To finally blurt such strong evidence of a powerful urge to assert his masculinity in his ideas is the crack of vulnerability he’d been trying to avoid all along. Without that crutch of authority, one wonders if, from now on, he will be searching for a new hint of indifference from his audiences.
— Rebecca Liao
May 11, 2013
Ever wonder what editors really think when they receive submissions? Curious about MFA programs but not sure what to expect? Feel like the state of publishing is so bleak you may just slowly Tweet your next novel? Writers’ Program student Clarissa Romano is here to help! As a Senior Editor at Los Angeles Review of Books with an MFA in creative writing and work published in The Los Angeles Review, South Carolina Review, and Wisconsin Review, among others, she brings a uniquely diverse perspective to the table. Here she discusses the value of writing education and shares her tips on getting published.
We are excited to invite you to HoopLA, a new kind of variety show that fuses story, song and spectacle! HoopLA is hosted by Erika Schickel and features performances by Amy Simon, Weba Garretson, Ralph Gorodetsky, and more.
Writing songs together since 1993, Weba Garretson and Ralph Gorodetsky have consistently explored the intersection of popular and contemporary musical ideas. They have written Woody Guthrie inspired songs for the Los Angeles Poverty Department’s production of “Utopia/Dystopia” at the Redcat in 2008; created contemporary arrangements of theater songs by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht as members of the Eastside Sinfonietta; combined deconstructed rock songs by AC/DC and the Rolling Stones with spoken word narratives in “Welcome to Webaworld;” and in “Puttanesca” they collaborated with guitarist Joe Baiza to manifest a surreal dreamscape in Punk Jazz.
Amy Simon is a 56-year-old mother, actress, playwright, humanist, improviser, published writer, online blogger, producer, and self-proclaimed Cultural Herstorian. Her fun and fabulous theatrical Los Angeles adventures include She’s History!, her solo play and school program about women who make and made history, Cheerios In My Underwear (And Other True Tales Of Motherhood)her first solo play (which holds the record as the longest running solo show in Los Angeles), and her work as a consultant on the 2008 launch of the Broad Stage Theater in Santa Monica. Amy is thrilled to be part of a variety show, having been the creative force behind Heroine Addicts, the four-year hit all-girl variety show at bang!, and co-produce, director and actor in the all-girl sketch comedy variety shows Gal-O-Rama and Ovaryaction at The Improv, The Laugh Factory, and The Upfront Comedy Theatre. Motherhood inspired Amy to create Motherhood UnpluggedandMoms Who Write,a mom written and performed story, music salon, and stage show. A frequent guest on local and national radio, her weekly segment Fabulous Female Facts can be heard on the Nicole Sandler Show Radioornot.com. Amy is proud to be a Women’s History expert for The Women’s Media Center SheSource.org, an online braintrust of female professionals, founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem. She is working on a She’s History! book, and is the mother of two daughters who can tell you all about the first woman to run for President.
Michael Kammen reflects on his friendship with Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson’s new biography The Voice is All, with a never-before-published letter from Kerouac to Kammen:
Why do we need a substantial new look at Jack Kerouac now, that largely ends late in 1951 with the completion of his best-known book, On the Road, which did not actually appear until 1957 when his oeuvre was blossoming but his melancholy decline began? Why indeed. First, because all but one previous biography are highly unsatisfactory, misleading about meanings and events, and not adequately based upon the abundant Kerouac archive.
We are excited to invite you to HoopLA, a new kind of variety show that fuses story, song and spectacle! HoopLA is hosted by Erika Schickel and features performances by Sandra Tsing Loh, Gayle Brandeis, and more.
Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young people, My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt), which won a Silver Nautilus Book Award. Her work has appeared in such places as Salon.com and The Rumpus and has been widely anthologized. Gayle teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University and lives in Riverside, CA, where she is mom to two adult kids and a toddler. She is serving a two year appointment as the new Inlandia Literary Laureate. She will be joined by Nancy Saahira Tedder, who owns the Body Temple Transformative Arts Studio in Riverside and is the director of Saahira’s Gypsy Soul Belly Dance Troupe.
Sandra Tsing Loh is the author of the New York Times notable book Mother on Fire, inspired by her hit solo show of the same name, which ran for seven months at 24th Street Theatre. During that time, she was named one of the 50 most influential comedians by Variety. Her other solo shows include “Aliens in America” and “Bad Sex With Bud Kemp” (both off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre), “Sugar Plum Fairy” (Geffen Playhouse, Seattle Rep), and “I Worry” (Kennedy Center, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville). Her short story, “My Father’s Chinese Wives,” won a Pushcart Prize in 1996, and is also featured in the Norton Anthology of Modern Literature. Loh’s previous books include A Year in Van Nuys, Aliens in America, Depth Takes a Holiday, and a novel, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now, which was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the 100 best fiction books of 1998. She has been a regular commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and on Ira Glass’ “This American Life”; currently, her weekly segment “The Loh Life”” is heard on KPCC and her syndicated daily minute “The Loh Down on Science,” is heard weekly by almost 4 million people. Excerpts from her solo piano CD Pianovision have been heard on several NPR shows, and she also scored the music for the 1998 Oscar-winning documentary Breathing Lessons. She is a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly, and is writing a new (humorous!) book on menopause for W.W. Norton.
Brian Kim Stefans reviews the art of Llyn Foulkes, on view at The Hammer Museum through May 19.
In some ways, this might leave us with a fairly simplistic message — Mickey Mouse bad, Nature (and the aging Llyn Foulkes) good — but it is rendered complex due to the very different techniques Foulkes uses to depict distinct categories of object, as if each were circulating in their own realm of being and not actually coming into contact with each other. Sure, Mickey Mouse seems to be glued to the face of George Washington in Mr. President (2006), but is it really possible to say that a portrait of Washington — whose aura, whatever it once conveyed, has long been dispelled by the ubiquity of the dollar bill not to mention paintings by Larry Rivers — stands for anything inspiring or complex these days that Mickey Mouse (who, lounging in retirement, seems rather useful as a dusty, ironic symbol of whatever stands for cultural antiquity in America) is simply getting in the way of?