12.14.2008 New York Times Digest

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1. “Consider the Philosopher”

“He was perpetually on guard against the ways in which abstract thinking (especially thinking about your own thinking) can draw you away from something more genuine and real. To read his acutely self-conscious, dialectically fevered writing was often to witness the agony of cognition: how the twists and turns of thought can both hold out the promise of true understanding and become a danger to it. Wallace was especially concerned that certain theoretical paradigms — the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever trickery of postmodernism — too casually dispense with what he once called ‘the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community.’ He called for a more forthright, engaged treatment of these basic truths. Yet he himself attended to them with his own fractured, often-esoteric methods. It was a defining tension: the very conceptual tools with which he pursued life’s most desperate questions threatened to keep him forever at a distance from the connections he struggled to make.”

2. “The Films Are for Him. Got That?”

“To Mr. Eastwood being able to play 78 is just one of the benefits of a long career. ‘It’s ridiculous when you won’t play your own age,’ he said. ‘You know when you’re young and you see a play in high school, and the guys all have gray in their hair and they’re trying to be old men and they have no idea what that’s like? It’s just that stupid the other way around.’

3. “Kate! Leo! Gloom! Doom! Can It Work?”

Revolutionary Road is a novel cherished by a passionate and protective coven of admirers (including, incidentally, Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men) who pass it along, the novelist Richard Ford has said, like a secret literary handshake. They cherish its honesty, its uncompromising exactness, the austere beauty of its prose.”

4. “Redefining the Pajama Hour”

“In the heyday of late night, the era of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, people even smoked on TV and drank from coffee cups stuff that might not have been coffee. Late-night shows are actually as ritualized as opera: there’s the opening monologue, the visiting guest, the comic or musical performer, the host’s signature bits — David Letterman’s ‘Top 10 List,’ Conan O’Brien’s ‘If They Mated,’ Mr. Leno’s ‘Headlines’ and ‘Jaywalking.’ But somehow they feel looser and more unscripted than most television, and unpredictable things still happen. Guests are sometimes boring, but sometimes antic. There is always a chance Drew Barrymore will take her shirt off. And animal visitors, who still turn up on occasion, can be relied on to misbehave or urinate inappropriately.”

5. “Picture This”

“The author clings to a belief … that still photographs, which invite contemplation, can even now compete with ‘the barrage of images on television.’”

6. “Walk This Way”

“Wordsworth walked more than 180,000 miles in his life; Norwegians have more than 50 words for walking; roughly 40 percent of pedestrians killed in car accidents are drunk. Private security guards keep what is called the Hollywood Entertainment District Public Urination Map to record instances of this unlawful act. Erik Satie liked to write his music while walking. ‘Before I compose a piece,’ he once said, ‘I walk around it several times, accompanied by myself.’ World War I hurt his productivity, because he could not write down his ideas under the blacked-out streetlamps of Paris. Mrs. Dalloway could have covered the distance in the famous walk in the eponymous novel in the time frame the book allows only by taking a taxi. There was a man who twice walked naked across England, from one corner to the other. In 1974, Werner Herzog walked from Munich to Paris because he believed it would cure the film historian Lotte Eisner, who was gravely ill. After his arrival she lived another nine years.”

One response to “12.14.2008 New York Times Digest

  1. A good walking story, Paul Auster writing about a visit with Charles Reznikoff:

    “There were also a number of stories about his walks — in particular, his journey from New York to Cape Cod (on foot!), which he undertook when he was well past sixty. The important thing, he explained, was not to walk too fast. Only by forcing himself to keep to a pace of less than two miles per hour could he be sure to see everything he wanted to see.”

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