New York Times: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?
Vladimir Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.
Both exploitative labor and the inability to find exploitative labor make you feel ashamed. But you should not be. We have to get over the feeling of shame at having failed to find a “meaningful career,” this staggering gap between what we are supposed to want and what is possible for most of us. We have to use every opportunity to make transparent the nature of work and the real consequences of the embargoing of wealth by those at the “tippy-top,” to reveal work as being as strange as it really is: to say over and over, things are upside down.
Artist: Julie Ruin
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I recall an August afternoon in Chicago in 1973 when I took my daughter, then seven, to see what Georgia O’Keeffe had done with where she had been. One of the vast O’Keeffe “Sky Above Clouds” canvases floated over the back stairs in the Chicago Art Institute that day, dominating what seemed to be several stories of empty light, and my daughter looked at it once, ran to the landing, and kept on looking. “Who drew it,” she whispered after a while. I told her. “I need to talk to her,” she said finally.
My daughter was making, that day in Chicago, an entirely unconscious but quite basic assumption about people and the work they do. She was assuming that the glory she saw in the work reflected a glory in its maker, that the painting was the painter as the poem is the poet, that every choice one made alone—every word chosen or rejected, every brush stroke laid or not laid down—betrayed one’s character. Style is character.
Joan Didion, from The White Album
I promised my wife that I would call Dr. Song today. After putting the baby down for her nap and slipping outside for a smoke, I lifted the receiver. The sound it emitted, which I have heard without pause countless times before, seemed otherworldly to me now, like somebody’s finger playing upon the wet rim of a crystal bowl in a derelict theater before the ways. I can’t say how long I stood there listening. It may have been seconds or seasons. The rings of Saturn kept turning in their groove. For reasons I do not fully understand—my unit on Dante was not scheduled until the following quarter—I dialed 1-800-INFERNO, and before the first ring, a woman’s voice answered in heavily accented English: “Is it you?” “I think so,” I replied. Outside my window, the honey locusts sprinkled their pale spinning leaves. Focusing on one as it fell seemed to slow the general descent. “Oh creature, gracious and good / traversing the dusky element to visit us / who stained the world with blood,” the woman recited as if reading, against her will, from a prepared text. I could hear rain trickling in a gutter spout on the other end of the line. “Please remove my name from your list,” I said, placing the receiver back in its cradle.
Srikanth Reddy, from Readings in World Literature