N1BR: Issue 10

June 2011

“Luc Boltanski’s On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation, published in French in 2009, has just come out in translation from Polity, and I’m really learning from it.” “Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette is a creepy exciting little French book.” Our summer reading recommendations keep coming, with more thrillers, biographies, and Kathleen Hanna. More…

“I’ve been reading Houellebecq’s new novel The Map and the Territory. As of about halfway through, I can report no sex.” “I’d like to propose that all American teenagers give their copies of Please Kill Me and Letters to a Young Poet a rest and instead read Alice Echols’s impressive history of American radical feminism.” Editors and contributors share their favorite memoirs, novels, and philosophical treatises for the summer. More…

But what if the intern’s gift sucks? It’s better—less thorny—to be paid a salary and maintain the distinct distance commerce imposes. In fact, the word “professional” as we tend to use it refers to exactly this personal remove. (Phoning your boyfriend from the office: unprofessional.) Then employers don’t have to pretend to compensate in attention or favors, nor can they resent such compensations. More…

The phone is on the table next to me, but it holds no allure. I wouldn’t dream of picking it up. I remember years ago—so many it seems almost quaint—when the phone was a problem. It would ring. Friends would call. To protect my time, I programmed my answering machine to pick up on the first ring. Voices—often my mother’s—would broadcast through the room. More…

Levé is hardly the only contemporary writer who seeks to rescue spontaneous engagement with one’s surroundings from the rush and emotional sterility of most daily communication. But while writers like Michel Houellebecq and Gary Shteyngart express contemporary disconnectedness through characters and plots that embody alienation and competition, Levé is concerned only with the way it feels to be bombarded by discrete facts. More…

Cercas explains that he tried for two years to write the story of the events of 23 February as fiction, as an experimental version of The Three Musketeers, but that he foundered against the fact that the reality itself had become fictional: this was an event that everyone had listened to live on the radio, and later seen on television, and saw again each subsequent year on television. More…

Ross’s books won’t make high schoolers, or anyone else, want to line up behind the barricades—but, at his best, he was as absurd and funny as Herbert Read or Lord Buckley. Yet for all his antics, Ross wasn’t just an angry clown—he was also a relentless political and literary experimenter, one whose disregard for good taste and popular opinion defined his career. More…

For Rodgers, words and ideas really are tools: not only do they help us make sense of the world, but they also help us remake the world. Of course, anyone who has been put to work in an industrial factory or at an internet terminal might reasonably quarrel with that view: those material conditions seem to be the main things shaping our world, giving us a sense of constraint or possibility. More…

When Marie NDiaye won the Prix Goncourt in November 2009, the event incited two discrete histoires scandaleuses in France. The first, decidedly smaller in magnitude, was that NDiaye refused to accept the title of “first black woman to win the prize.” “I don’t represent anything or anyone,” she told Agence France-Presse. “I grew up in a world that was 100 percent French.” More…

As a novelty, coffee was initially the object of some suspicion, as Nabil Matar shows in an inspired chapter of his Islam in Britain. While some claimed miraculous benefits from it, among its feared consequences were that it “causeth vertiginous headheach, and maketh lean much, occasioneth waking, and the Emirods, and asswages lust, and sometimes breeds melancholly.” More…

Image: Jean Etienne Liotard. Portrait of Marie Adelaide of France en robe turque (1753). Oil on canvas, 24.44 x 18.9". From commons.wikimedia.org.