"jonathan lethem"

Jonathan Lethem talks about 'The Ecstasy of Influence'

Rick Kleffel and the Agony Column have a long podcast interview with Jonathan Lethem commemorating the publication of his new essay collection, The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc., a discussion about how art builds on other art and how writing is done:

An interview about 'The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.' with Jonathan Lethem is, for this book reviewer, something between therapy and a session with one of those gurus you see in cartoons sitting on a mountaintop, dispensing the wisdom of the ancients.

Informative, but a bit on the intimidating side, seeing as to how you're talking to a gentleman paid highly and handsomely, who is actually asked to review books by the world's premiere editors and publications. You can find them in 'The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.'

It helped then, that I've spoken with Lethem before, and that the thesis of his book, the sweet surprise center, is an argument that I tend to agree with and have been seen bandied about for the last few years now. It's the cornerstone of what makes the Internet so powerful.

12-26-11: A 2011 Interview With Jonathan Lethem

MP3 link

(Thanks, Rick!) Read the rest

Jonathan Lethem on writing under the influence

In this interview with the literary journal AGNI, MacArthur-prize-winning author Jonathan Lethem discusses originality and the way that "influence" and copying from other writers are part of the creative process. Lethem's previous essay on this, The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, is a masterwork (I'm also a big fan of his novels, e.g. this one and this one).

I’ve always been a consciously influenced writer. I usually have some models in mind for anything I’m writing, whether it’s other novels, or some films, or sometimes even a comic book. In terms of prose style, I am almost always open to writing some degree of homage, or trying to adopt or import a part of another writer’s style into what I’m doing. Usually it’s more than one author, and/or it’s in combination with some radically different influence on the narrative strategy, or on the kind of motifs, characters, or situations that I’m writing about. I never think that this is going to simply seem like writer X, because I’m always colliding that influence with a number of other elements.

I’ve come to believe that there is something innate in my method, my sentences, and my approach to narrative and characters that’s inalterable, and that transforms these influences even when I’m not conscious of it. So I don’t ever think in terms of embarrassment or hesitation or reservations about being influenced or working with models. I pretty much assume that’s how it works for me.

I understand that a lot of other people are much more deflective or diffident or uncertain or unconscious about these processes, but I believe strongly that they’re what’s going on in making narratives for anyone.

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History's shadow

David Maisel photographs the forgotten, the unseen, and the invisible. In 2006, he captured the unclaimed copper canisters containing the ashes of patients who died at a state-run psychiatric hospital, originally known as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, between 1883 and the 1970s. The result was Library of Dust, a gorgeous oversized book and exhibition. Then in 2008, Maisel collected a series of "Black Maps," huge aerial photographs of strip mines, lake beds, and other large features that aren't easily recognizable out of context but reveal curious and provocative patterns and topographies. His latest project is History's Shadow, an exploration of memory and excavation through x-rays of artifacts from San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. History's Shadow is on display at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco until June 4. Later this year, Nazraeli Press will publish the series as a monograph, including a short story by Jonathan Lethem. We are thrilled to present Maisel's ghostly images and his commentary on Boing Boing.

Criterion Collection: Top 10 Lists

I love film and dig dates to the art house but I'm woefully lacking in my knowledge of classic and "important" cinema. Of course, a terrific curriculum in film history can be found in the Criterion Collection. My recent faves include the essential creep-outs of Peeping Tom (1960) and Carnival of Souls (1962). In fact, I watched the latter with Rob and Dean last weekend and those two fellas "read" that film like my UC Berkeley Survey of Film professor reincarnated as Joel Hodgson. But I digress.

While Criterion is an excellent filter on film, there are hundreds of movies in their catalog. My local video store has an entire shelving unit dedicated to Criterion, and just scanning the beautifully-designed DVD cases makes me feel cultured. I want to see them ALL but, alas, that isn't realistic. For one, subtitles in the evening are like a typographical diazepam for me. That's why I was delighted to find Criterion's "Top 10 Lists," in which they invite interesting folks like Ricky Jay, Jonathan Lethem, Seth, Paul Morrissey, Diablo Cody, Allison Anders, and a slew of other artistic provocateurs to list their picks from the Criterion collection. Most of the Top 10 Lists include brief comments on each film, but Beastie Boy Adam Yauch instead talked about friends who work at Criterion and ended with this kicker:

Sometimes I get free DVDs from Criterion, but not always. I wanted to get one of each, you know, like the whole collection, but they said, "No, Adam, we don't do that."

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A decade of Wikipedia: lesser-known miracles

Image: a few of the remixable design elements, via Wikimedia Commons

It's no secret that I love Wikipedia, which I consider one of the grandest and most radical social experiments of our time, and the very best example of what the free culture movement offers for the world's future. I even love Wikipedia critics. There's nothing I love more than to improve an article after some whiny-baby complains about its quality with a copypasta example. For instance, novelist Jonathan Lethem was bagging on "the infinite regress of Wikepedia [sic] tinkering-unto-mediocrity" the other day. Too bad The Atlantic has no way for readers to fix that typo in the way I updated the article on Blake Edwards' cult classic The Party, which was the object of Lethem's scorn. He seems to miss the point that an encyclopedia article, even one about a screwball comedy, is supposed to be dry, factual, and not especially screwball. Just the facts, ma'am. I also love that his snapshot of the page is no longer that relevant.

In the past I have discussed Wikibumps (like the spike of a million readers who checked out the Salvia article in the week after the Miley Cyrus bong video) and the Click to Jesus game, where you see how few links it takes to get from a random Wikipedia article to the Jesus article. Here are a couple of other good reasons to love Wikipedia and its sister projects which you may not have seen:

Best of Wikipedia Tumblr page • Raul's Laws, possibly the best and wonkiest explanation of how Wikipedia works

Commons Picture of the Year contest winners2006200720082009

I hope you'll swing by, learn some things, maybe improve something (they even have a secure server option). Read the rest

People use Happy Foot / Sad Foot sign as fortune teller

This is a rotating sign for a foot clinic in Los Angeles. If the happy foot is facing you when you see it, you will have a good day. But a sad foot means you will experience bad luck.

Kelly Coyne of Homegrown Evolution has more:

The podiatrist's sign above marks the entrance to our neighborhood. It charmed us the first time we saw it: It's a foot -- with feet!  And we immediately named it the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign. Soon we learned that other people called it The Happy Foot/Sad Foot Sign as well. The name seemed predestined and universally applied, and it was recognizable enough that we could pinpoint our location off of Sunset Blvd. by saying, "You know the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign?"

The Foot rotates slowly, unless it's broken, which it often is of late. But when it's rotating, you are always tempted to check out which side is facing you when you first come into sight of it.  A happy, smiling foot is portends a good day, or at least a general thumbs up from the universe. We've always thought so, and come to find out, many other people also practice this form of primitive divination.

It's even immortalized in fiction. Our friend, Anne, resident of this same 'hood, tipped us off that The Foot is featured in You Don't Love Me Yet  by Jonathan Lethem (2008):

Lucinda's view took in a three quarter's slice of the sign as it turned in its vigil over Sunset Boulevard: happy foot and sad foot suspended in dialog forever.

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Walking On Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age student documentary

Elizabeth Stark sez,

Several students in my Intellectual Property in the Digital Age at Yale recently made this kickass Creative Commons-licensed film on remix culture and appropriation.

The film features interviews from DJ Earworm, Jonathan Lethem, DJ Ripley, Eclectic Method, Joy Garnett, Michael Cunningham, and others.

"Walking on Eggshells" is a 24-minute documentary about appropriation, creative influence, re-use and intellectual property in the remix age. It is a conversation among various musicians, visual artists, writers and lawyers, all sharing their views on why and how we use and create culture, and how intellectual property law, originally designed to provide people with incentives to create, sometimes hinders creative production far more than it enhances it.

Walking On Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age

(Thanks, Elizabeth)

Previously: Remix culture: not just creativity, also social play Gibson on remix culture Video's Remix of "RiP: A Remix Manifesto" Lawrence Lessig scares a room of liberals DJ Spooky and Chuck D remix "By the Time I Get to Arizona" in ... Read the rest

Jonathan Lethem's Perkus Tooth comes to Second Life for an interview

Wagner James Au sez, "Jonathan Lethem's latest novel Chronic City includes a virtual world inspired by Second Life, so fittingly, this Sunday Lethem is promoting his book *in* Second Life on the Copper Robot show, using an avatar named PerkusTooth Riddler, based on the character Perkus Tooth from the book. If you don't have an SL account you can watch on the web ."

Jonathan Lethem Appears in Second Life This Sunday As Avatar Based on Character From His Novel, *Chronic City*

Copper Robot: Novelist Jonathan Lethem

Previously: Jonathan Lethem's CHRONIC CITY, surreal and beautiful sf explores ... Jonathan Lethem talks with Erik Davis Boing Boing Lethem on the copyfight - Boing Boing Jonathan Lethem on Philip K. Dick - Boing Boing Lethem, Vaidhyanathan, et al talk copyright and plagiarism on NPR ... Lethem wins Macarthur "genius" award! - Boing Boing David Gill interviews Jonathan Lethem about Philip K. Dick - Boing ... Read the rest

Jonathan Lethem talks with Erik Davis

I just finished reading Jonathan Lethem's fantastic new novel Chronic City, a trippy, reality-questioning tale of strange Manhattan that falls right into the genre of fiction that I gravitate to -- that of Philip K. Dick, JG Ballard, Don DeLillo's White Noise, Warren Ellis's Crooked Little Vein, and of course old-school noir. Indeed, Lethem just edited the stately Philip K. Dick Collection box set for Library of America. (In fact, if you have suggestions of other books in that realm, please post in the comments! I'm always asking people to complete the phrase, "If you love JG Ballard and PKD, you might like...") BB pal Erik Davis interviewed Lethem for the new issue of h+ Magazine. In the discussion, they talk of PKD, pot, and the novel as technology. From h+:

ED: Part of the experience I have of novels these days is that it seems like the more awake and aware and acute they are, the more they are aware of their own fragility in the face of other kinds of narrative technologies. The most obvious example is simulation -- immersive worlds that we can go into and reproduce behaviors that are more or less storylike. The fundamental character of a massive, open-ended, multi-player role-playing game is utterly different at this point than the character in a novel. How will novels stand up? We're all walking down the street conducting our self-Turning exams everytime we pass a homeless person, or greet our spouse at the breakfast table.

JL: I'm far too close to one pole to illuminate.

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Jonathan Lethem's CHRONIC CITY, surreal and beautiful sf explores the authentic and the unreal

Jonathan Lethem's extraordinary new novel Chronic City tells the story of Chase Insteadman, a washed up, grown up child actor living off his sitcom residuals in wealthy, Upper East Side New York. Chase is caught between two improbabilities: his fiancee, a dying astronaut stranded on a space-station walled off from Earth by a Chinese orbital minefield, from which vantage she commands daily headlines; and Perkus Tooth, a media-obsessed Philip-K-Dickian ex-rock-critic who lives in a weed-smoke- filled cave of a rent- controlled apartment from which he obsessively watches obscure movies and reads obscure books.

Chase's story -- magnificently told in Lethem's most poetic language -- is the quest for authenticity. An actor, Chase finds himself acting the part of the grieving widower-to-be, of the handsome beefcake at the swanky party, of the sincere sidekick to the ascerbic and unintelligible Perkus Tooth. And as Chase begins an affair with Oona Lazlo, a celebrity ghostwriter autobiography writer, he finds himself even more drawn to the questions of what is real and what isn't? Read the rest

Google Book Search and privacy for students

Parker sez, "Although the Google Books Settlement is being modified, the questions it raises are important for students to think about.

Students for Free Culture, in the interest of better informing students about the settlement, has solicited the thoughts of a variety of experts who are providing guest posts reflecting on how the settlement will likely impact students.

This is the second installment in the series, from EFF's Rebecca Jeshke, and it talks about the privacy issues involved. All of last week and this week, we'll be posting other responses from people like Google's Derek Slater, and NYLS' James Grimmelman, about different facets of the settlement."

In the physical world, bookstores and libraries have fought for strong privacy protections, requiring the police to get a warrant before getting access to your reading records. These strong positions were developed precisely to respect our private, personal relationship with reading and learning, and to block any "chilling effect" violating that privacy might have on Americans' right to explore the world of ideas. That's why Google Book Search needs a robust, enforceable privacy policy that gives readers as much privacy in online books as we already have today.

A legal settlement that would pave the way for Google Book Search to go forward without these privacy protections is pending approval from a New York federal district court. But a group of more than two dozen authors and publishers, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and others, has filed an objection with the judge. The coalition--including best-selling novelists Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem along with Anthony Romero of the ACLU and science fiction author Cory Doctorow--presents a list of privacy protections that would improve the settlement, including limiting tracking of users and requiring a court order or judge-approved warrant before disclosure of the information collected, ensuring user control of personal information stored by Google, and making the system transparent to readers.

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Free chapter of forthcoming book on the mysterious creator of Calvin and Hobbes

Nevin sez, "To drum up interest in my forthcoming book "Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip," I am offering interested readers a sample chapter from the book, which comes out on October 1 via Continuum Press. If interested readers send an email to lookingforcalvinandhobbes@gmail.com they can request their very own free copy. Here's a brief overview of the book:

For ten years, between 1985 and 1995, Calvin and Hobbes was one the world's most beloved comic strips. And then, on the last day of 1995, the strip ended. Its mercurial and reclusive creator, Bill Watterson, not only finished the strip but withdrew entirely from public life. There is no merchandising associated with Calvin and Hobbes: no movie franchise; no plush toys; no coffee mugs; no t-shirts (except a handful of illegal ones). There is only the strip itself, and the books in which it has been compiled - including The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: the heaviest book ever to hit the New York Times bestseller list.

In Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip, writer Nevin Martell traces the life and career of the extraordinary, influential, and intensely private man behind Calvin and Hobbes. With input from a wide range of artists and writers (including Dave Barry, Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Lethem, and Brad Bird) as well as some of Watterson's closest friends and professional colleagues, this is as close as we're ever likely to get to one of America's most ingenious and intriguing figures - and a fascinating detective story, at the same time.

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Books about (or at least by) weird but interesting people

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

I just raced through two novels - not because I had to finish them quickly, but because they moved so quickly.

The first, by my best friend from college Walter Kirn, is an entertaining but (for me, anyway) nightmarish reminiscence on trying to make it through Princeton called Lost in the Meritocracy, based on this essay Kirn wrote for The Atlantic. Not the academics, but the culture itself. What self-conscious public school kids like Walter and me learned at Princeton was that there really super wealthy people who control a heck of a lot of the world, and that they have institutions like Princeton to help their kids find one another and then inherit their daddies' places. Yes, I know most of you already know that - but we didn't. It was a more innocent era, and these kind of things came as big, adolescent, crises of disillusionment that required ample self-medication. And Kirn's writing, if you haven't gotten to experience it before, is the most effortlessly engaging literary literature being written today.

The second is a book by novelist Jonathan Lethem, who wrote the acclaimed Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, then went ahead and won a MacArthur genius grant which made the rest of us really jealous. It's hard to be too jealous, though, because Jonathan is a totally sweet guy and he actually is the sort of genius writer for whom such prizes were created. And, most of all, he used the time and money to create his first true work of genius, Chronic City, which - like Kirn's novel - deconstructs the hyper-competitive social landscape of eastern urbanites in a fair but viciously accurate near-future parody of manners and hermeneutics. Read the rest

Supermen! The potent, primitive four-color heroes of 1936-41

Greg Sadowski's anthology Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1939-41 pulls together some of the goofiest, most innocent, most violent superhero comics ever penned, excavating rarities from the dawn of the genre when small studios set out to reinvent pulp literature in four colors.

These are heroes from an era of cheerful immorality, when masked heroes like The Clock (apparently the first masked hero) maintained secret identities as "a small time dip and drug addict;" when Yarko, Master of Magic, kidnapped evil hags and took them to hell (beating the hell out of any demons he encounters on the way) so that she can bargain with Satan to restore the girl she killed in a jealous fit; when Fletcher Hanks's demented, idiotic hero Stardust and heroine Fantomah (the first woman super-hero) fought evil with nonsequiturs and a remarkable lack of anatomical accuracy; and when a hero called "The Face" fought crime by donning a fright mask that terrified villains into confessing their bad deeds on the spot.

The forematter (a lovely, insightful, nostalgic essay by Jonathan Lethem) and the afterword (a collection of bibliographic and historical notes on each strip) make perfect bookends for the hot stuff in the middle. This is pure and unadulterated Id, the kind of thing that inspired a moral panic about the corruption of the young. It's every bit as potent today.

Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1939-41

Previously: Banned in Canada: History of Underground Comics - Boing Boing Arf Museum: excellent comic history - Boing Boing Fanatgraphics oral history - Boing Boing A Herbie comic for you to enjoy - Boing Boing Villain in 1940s Fletcher Hanks comic book a dead ringer for ... Read the rest

Family of Crawdaddy's Paul Williams needs help

Jonathan Lethem sez,

Paul Williams, the legendary creator of Crawdaddy! Magazine, fell off his bicycle in 1995 and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which has led to early onset Alzheimer's. His family's having difficulties with his care, and so a few of Paul's friend have set up a website both as a tribute to his life and work and in order to make an appeal for help.

Apart from being a true Founding Father of 'rock writing', and Philip K. Dick's literary executor, Paul should be of special interest to Boing Boing readers for his place at the crossroads where the science fiction fanzines of the '50's gave rise to an empowered and self-aware music-fan subculture -- and helped create what we now know as 'the '60's'. For anyone with a curiosity about the formation of world-changing subcultures through grassroots media, Paul was there when blogging was a twinkle in a mimeograph eye.

The difficulties Paul's wife, the singer Cindy Lee Berryhill, and his son Alexander, now face due to Paul's need for full-time care are an opportunity for crowd-sourcing at its best. This is a rotten time to be hitting anyone up for contributions for anything, but it is simply the case that if everyone who acknowledged how Paul changed their life by his music-writing and editing -- or by his efforts propagating the writings of Phil Dick back into prominence -- were to give even five or ten dollars it would transform a very unfortunate situation. (If everyone whose life had been changed by Paul's work but didn't even know his name were to contribute, they'd build his family a castle.)

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Philip K. Dick radio tribute tonight

Surrealist science fiction author Philip K. Dick's birthday is December 16. In celebration. Total Dick-Head blogger Dave Gill will be doing a two-hour radio tribute tonight, from 10pm-midnight PT, on Pirate Cat Radio. Tune in to 87.9 FM in the San Francisco Bay Area or listen online. Dave says:

The show's called Psionic Dehiscence and I'll be playing some interviews with PKD - old ones - not from beyond the grave, some John Dowland, hopefully the VALIS opera (if you have a copy of this please email me), some Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, and other strange rock 'n rollers influenced by PKD. I even hope to have some interviews with some of PKD's friends and family (no names just yet). Maybe even some of PKD's old radio plays will find their way on the show. I promise lots of rarities, so fire up your satellite recorders, or load the transmission into your data player for later rebroadcast, but don't miss the satellite firing.

Somebody's Got a Birthday Coming (Total Dick-Head), Pirate Cat Radio (piratecatradio.com)

UPDATE: Here's a link to the archived MP3 of the show!

Previously: Philip K. Dick on Kurt Vonnegut - Boing Boing David Gill interviews Jonathan Lethem about Philip K. Dick - Boing ... Philip K. Dick 1977 video interview - Boing Boing Philip K. Dick blog: Erik Davis and Three Stigmata - Boing Boing Philip K. Dick robot - Boing Boing Read the rest

Great Books By Women

If I were ever invited to join a secret cabal of culturally wise writers - the kind of club where you'd find Erik Davis, Douglas Wolk, Jonathan Lethem, or Luc Sante all sipping absinthe while deconstructing reruns of Man From Uncle - I imagine it would also host the kinds of women who are writing the books that have ended up in my mailbox this month.

Jessica Helfand's Scrapbooks is a well-documented by highly visual history of the American scrapbook, using photos and scans from books by creative figures such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle, and Carl Van Vechten. The book is as informative as it is trippy, and chronicles an under-appreciated lineage of smart craft culture.

Columbia complit prof Jenny Davidson just wrote a young adult novel, The Explosionist, with a premise that I was going to use myself for a graphic novel: someone sets off a bomb at a boarding school. Now call it a guilty pleasure, but I like today's young adult novels better than most of what is passing for literary fiction these days. (Blake Nelson's Paranoid Park became a weird Gus Van Sant film, remember.) And in Davidson's hands, the genre transcends expectations for a safe read.

Dubravka Ugresic, the Yugoslavian exile, wrote a collection of essays I hadn't heard of before called Nobody's Home, translated recently from Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (and having nothing to do with the Avril Lavigne single of the same name). She's best known for her fiction, but this collection of essays puts her on par with Zizek or Baudrillard for observation and critique - and maybe a cut above for courage to speak the truth. Read the rest

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