August 21, 2017

Jhumpa Lahiri

Protesting President Trump’s equivocal remarks about white supremacists in Charlottesville last week, his Committee on the Arts and Humanities has resigned en masse. The committee, which was created in 1982 to advise the president on cultural issues, has sixteen members. Under Trump, those members included artist Chuck Close and author Jhumpa Lahiri. In their letter of resignation, the committee stated: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,” the letter says. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.” According to Politico, the White House responsed by issuing a statement that “it had planned to disband the arts and humanities committee anyway.”

A number of writers have wondered what kind of effect Trump will have on contemporary fiction. Jonathan Freedland wondered how anyone could write a political thriller that could compete with the bizarre reality of the current presidency (“How to top an American president patrolling the late-night corridors of the White House in his bathrobe, casting aside the detailed briefings of the intelligence agencies in preference for the nuggets he can glean from Fox News?”) Others have wondered if perhaps we will now see a resurgence in the dystopian novel. Now, at the Los Angeles Times, novelist and critic John Scazli, the author of The Collapsing Empire, has this to say: “2017 is making it really hard to be a science-fiction writer.” Good sci-fi, he argues, reflects on the present, but also “breathes life into today’s anxieties and aspirations in … clever and [subtle] ways.” But, he continues, “nothing about our days today is subtle, and the challenge of making science fiction not seem like a bald ripoff of current headlines is much more of a task than it’s been in a while.”

In a letter to his unborn child, novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard dwells on what “makes life worth living.” A partial list: apples, plastic bags, loneliness, and pissing.

At Playboy, novelist and critic Tom Carson weighs in on Tina Fey’s cake-eating SNL skit. “We’ll never know how anyone could watch her stuffing her face until her lips were covered in goo as she tried to spit out anti-Trump, anti-Nazi venom while choking down another bite—even Lucille Ball was never crueler to herself for a joke’s sake—and imagine that Fey was earnestly proposing this as a good coping strategy,” he writes. “Not only was it satire, but it was pretty damn brutal satire in the bargain.”

Susan Bernofsky—who has translated Franz Kafka, Robert Walser, Jenny Erpenbeck, and many others—offers tips for aspiring translators.