Art-Science Calendar of Events NYC


This calendar is an initiative of the Art Science Observatory, in collaboration with SciArt in America, Beautiful Brain, Ligo projects, Dactyl Foundation and other art/science organizations.

Latest from Dactyl Review

Errata by Jacob Smullyan

To describe a book as unclassifiable is, of course, to classify it, but that fact is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Jacob Smullyan’s Errata (Sagging Meniscus, 72 pages). Comprising thirty short chapters of mini-essays, stories and philosophical aperçus, it straddles numerous genres and grapples with the process of making sense.

If that sounds rather serious, it is—but Errata is also playful, not afraid of a joke or calling into question its own premises. To the extent that Errata has a plot, it circles around coffee-drinking. Overlapping characters share this ordinary act which is also of a piece with extraordinary possibilities, as coffee drinkers variously find themselves in a café or lying in a ditch or pushed out of an airplane.

If that sounds rather serious, it is—but Errata is also playful, not afraid of a joke or calling into question its own premises. To the extent that Errata has a plot, it circles around coffee-drinking. Overlapping characters share this ordinary act which is also of a piece with extraordinary possibilities, as coffee drinkers variously find themselves in a café or lying in a ditch or pushed out of an airplane.

Smullyan embraces contradiction. Continue reading

Tenth of December by George Saunders

In a recent rant I wrote on the sad state of the contemporary American short story, I railed against what is sometimes known as ‘The New Yorker story,’ that all-too-common pedestrian thing called “domestic literary fiction.” Happily, there are always exceptions to egregious trends, and George Saunders (Tenth of December, Random House,  272 pages), who is a contributor to The New Yorker, is a big one. Exception, that is.

How is his fiction different from the normal, run-of-the-mill domestic stuff—the kind of fiction I can’t stand? A good place to begin would be with a comparison between his Tenth of December and another book of short stories recently published, The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I picked up Nguyen’s book with high expectations, having read his novel, The Sympathizer, which has great writing, wonderful sentences on every page.

How is his fiction different from the normal, run-of-the-mill domestic stuff—the kind of fiction I can’t stand? A good place to begin would be with a comparison between his Tenth of December and another book of short stories recently published, The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I picked up Nguyen’s book with high expectations, having read his novel, The Sympathizer, which has great writing, wonderful sentences on every page.

I found one good sentence in the whole of The Refugees, “his beautiful and heartrending new story collection” [Joyce Carol Oates editorial review in The New Yorker; beware, beware, o ye readers, the editorial review].  Here is the one good sentence: “Floating in his teacup on the patio table was a curled petal from a bougainvillea, shuttling back and forth.” Why would Nguyen, who is certainly capable of writing good, literary sentences, decide that such sentences are unnecessary in his short stories, that he can get away with the pedestrian and insipid style of The Refugees? Probably because his proximity to the great American boondoggle of the creative writing industry [he is Professor of English at the University of Southern California] has conditioned him to believe that stories need no stylistic verve or panache. “Just the humdrum, dreary facts, ma’am.” As for me, I believe that short story collections, like products in a grocery store, should have expiration dates. For me, The Refugees has already expired. Continue reading

The New Yorker short stories

THE GREAT AMERICAN BOONDOGGLE
(The Sad State of the American Short Story)

The situation has been the same for years. Nothing ever seems to change and practically no one deems it necessary even to talk about it. Almost forty years ago a colleague at the university where I taught, a lifelong reader of The New Yorker and a person whose intelligence I respect, said to me, “I love The New Yorker, but I never read the fiction. ‘The New Yorker story’ does not appeal to me.” In a visit to my general practitioner a month ago, the doctor, an avid reader of classical literary fiction—the canonical literary works of the world—remarked, “I love the articles in The New Yorker, but I never read the fiction. Most of it is a total bore.” Over a period of forty years how many other intelligent readers of fiction have said the same thing? Repeatedly. Why is nobody listening?

Over the past ten years I have subscribed to a variety of American literary journals. Someone advised me to try reading Agni, where, so they said, some of the best fiction in the country was being published. I subscribed to Agni for two years and never found a single short story of genuine literary merit. With few exceptions the same was true of the other “literary” journals I read. Continue reading

Infinite Summer by Edoardo Nesi

Edoardo Nesi’s new novel, Infinite Summer, translated from the Italian by Alice Kilgarriff (Other Press, 320 pages), takes place in Tuscany between August 1972 and August 1982, right in the middle of the period known in Italy as the “Years of Lead,” a period of social and political turmoil marked by left-wing and right-wing killings and bombings. Knowing a bit of this history gives the novel a feeling of unfolding in an alternate Italy, an Italy of booming growth, expanding global markets for Italian goods, and limitless possibilities.

Nesi is a translator, writer, filmmaker, and politician. He has translated Bruce Chatwin, Malcolm Lowry, Stephen King, and David Foster Wallace, among others. He’s written a dozen books, one of which, Fughe da Fermo, was made into a film that he directed. In 2013 he was elected to the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies.

Infinite Summer weaves together the stories of four characters: Ivo Barrocciai, the expansive, optimistic son of a modest Tuscan textile manufacturer; Cesare “The Beast” Vezzosi, a small-time building contractor; Vittorio, Cesare’s young son; and Pasquale Citarella, “a hard-working foreman and house painter from the South.” In other words, representatives of the upper, middle, and lower classes. Continue reading

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

The Second Mrs. Hockaday, (Algonquin Books, 272 pages) is an epistolary novel that moves seamlessly between letters to court documents to diary entries. There are chapters that end in the middle of a scene, a diary entry interrupted, leaving the reader to hold his/her breath. The scene continues at the beginning of the next chapter. It is an amazingly effective technique, one that makes us want to race through the pages. The ending of the book?

Inspired by the true story of a woman who bore an illegitimate child while her husband was away, Rivers has taken this sparse bit of Civil War history and turned it into a tale of an enduring love that triumphs over the devastation wrought by the war. In doing so, she exposes the hardships faced by the women who were left behind when their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons went off to fight against the North.

Seventeen-year-old Placidia Fincher Hockaday has been a bride for just 36 hours when her husband, Major Griffith Hockaday, leaves to rejoin his unit. Placidia is left to care for the Major’s 18-month-old son and his 300 acre farm. Two years later, when the Major returns, he learns of the unspeakable things that have occurred in his absence. His beautiful young wife, Placidia, is either unwilling or unable to share with him the circumstances of the birth and death of her child. The Major seeks an inquest. Placidia is arrested. Continue reading

 

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