Posts By: Justin Wolfe
The other night I finished reading Zona, Geoff Dyer’s book-length liveblog of Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker, a movie about three men travelling through an isolated wasteland to a room where it is said that their deepest wishes will be granted. One of the most beautiful and moving parts of the book (which is one of the best books I’ve read this year) is this long footnote about halfway through in which Dyer talks about how he “suspects it is rare for anyone to see their–what they consider to be the–greatest film after the age of thirty.”
This is because “usually in your late teens and twenties you start to watch the major works of the medium”; by watching such works, your “capacity for wonder” is being “subtly enlarged and changed,” your perception of the world expanded but–and here’s the rub–“also being permanently limited or defined,” so that, while at some point in your late teens or early twenties you are in a space of “maximum responsiveness and aliveness,” your “ability to respond to the medium…vulnerable and susceptible to being changed and shaped,” as time goes by, begins to diminish, so that while “you can still enjoy Tarantino after Tarkovsky, can see that he is doing something new,” at a certain point “the potential of cinema to expand perception–or at least [your] own potential to appreciate and respond to, to perceive such an expansion” becomes “so vastly reduced as to seem negligible.” He goes on to extend this argument to all the arts; “at a certain point,” he says,
even if you keep up-to-date with new releases, even if you keep broadening your horizons, even if you manage to keep up with the latest things, you realize that these latest things can never be more than that, that they stand almost no chance of being the last word, because you actually heard–or saw or read–your personal last word years ago.
Besides an essay about the death of Moammar Gadhafi that was accepted by another journal before I could accept it, by far the most exciting essays I’ve found in our slush pile so far in my tenure as nonfiction editor have been about or at least featured in some way sexual thoughts, feelings, images, or acts.
This is probably not because I’m any more interested in sex than the average person, I don’t think, but maybe is instead because writing about sex tends to push writers into aesthetic positions and modes and techniques which tend to be engaging for readers.
Here, then, is an edited copy of a guide to writing sex I found on a website called Terrible Minds. I hope that it will offer clear, direct, and helpful advice for our readers aspiring to write essays. The stuff after the jump is probably not safe for work, but really, no writing worth anything is safe.
Did you hear that the Paris Review now has its own iOS app? Here at the Indiana Review, we would also like to have our own iOS app, but, as winter approaches, we are still working on learning to make fire. Earlier this week, EIC Jen Luebbers got us really close to our goal of a warm workspace by leading group prayers to a horned god she learned about on Wikipedia and tearing up for kindling a set of felt-covered chapbooks her students had carefully bound last semester (poetry burns so well), but then a breeze came through the window and blew away the embers and now there is goat blood oxidizing across the walls of the office and nobody wants to clean it up. Recently I decided I don’t want to be an important literary figure anymore because I feel like continuing to do that “job” for the rest of my life will just involve me getting increasingly sadder and poorer and more self-involved until I die, so I’m auditioning new careers for myself now, and one thing I am maybe thinking about doing, especially in light of this new development from the Paris Review, is app designer, which seems like an important and potentially lucrative contemporary career and also still kind of “creative,” which is maybe important to my sense of self or what is left of it since my poetry collection “i noticed but it was too late and you were gone and i felt like i couldn’t do anything besides send an impotent text” was rejected by Muumuu House. Another thing I am considering being is a professional nostalgia facilitator, which is not actually a specific career yet but is only bound to become more and more important (and more importantly, lucrative) as Americans confronting the grim facts of contemporary reality retreat into nostalgia for their youth cultures (or earlier youth cultures) at younger and younger ages (I hear that Rookie is launching a new vertical for children who are preverbal but still can’t get over the fact that Freaks and Geeks was canceled after one season and Liz Phair did that album with the Matrix). Anyway, this week I “worked” on essaying both app design and nostalgia facilitation.
App that uses Google Maps API to require user, at a certain point in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of what “important” thing user is doing, to go outside for an hour. GPS functionality enables app to verify that user has gone outside; if user has not gone outside within five minutes of being asked or if user comes back inside more than five minutes before the hour time limit is up, app “takes away your toys” (randomly deletes entertainment apps from the user’s mobile device) and/or blocks access to user’s email and messaging apps (“time out” mode).
App for tablets that populates a high resolution three dimensional rendering of a beige shag carpet with a pile of Legos distributed through the weave of the carpet in randomly generated patterns of construction and deconstruction. User is not given functionality to build anything with the bricks because, given user’s age and general state of high anxiety and general state of low imagination, the pressure to build things with the digital bricks, so wonderful and infinite as a child, might seem frustrating or too much pressure or just pointless (designer does not want to inspire in user questions like “how can I monetize my lego creation?”). Instead of building, user, through multi-touch gestures and swipes, picks up the scattered bricks from the fake carpet and drags them into a large blue plastic receptacle for storage. User receives occasional achievement bonuses for particularly large drops. On having put away all the blocks, user is told by my mother’s voice, “Good job. Thanks!” and app is “put away” (locked by OS) until next day.
[“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…”]
“…because you know, that sense that they’re getting a taste of the real, that’s what the audience eats up. ‘My people’—heh, sorry—my people, your people, doesn’t matter whose people, this is a broader American thing, to need to see beneath the veneer of the public persona into some darker, messier private place that complicates the image. The idea that the average American success narrative is just the glossy cover over a writhing field of neuroses and tics and dark hidden things. In literature, unlike in public life, it’s much more complicated, though, right, because that sense, within the space of an essay or poem, of receiving a more unmediated or “real” transmission from the author, something that’s not supposed to be seen, has to be false; if anything, that “authentic moment” that thrills the reader just represents a higher level of mediation and fabrication, right?”
“Do you really think I want to talk about this right now, Barack?”
[“All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it…”]
“And I guess, kind of related to that, one of the important questions of our current literary moment—think about, say, recent work by Ben Lerner or Sheila Heti or Teju Cole—is whether it’s possible for contemporary fiction to find ways to make use of the charge of the writer’s identity and the incorporation of materials from real life and journalism, to play with textual form and markers of authorial presence to create that frisson of the real that comes naturally to poetry and the essay, or whether, as a genre, it’s become fundamentally handicapped there in relationship to the others and it just has to cede that territory for a while and focus on what it can do better than the rest of literature.”
[“And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen…”]