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Diary

Elif Batuman: Pamuk’s Museum, 7 June 2012

... In 2010, I moved from California, where I had lived for 11 years, to Turkey, where I had never stayed longer than a month or two. I had been offered a job as writer in residence at a private university in the forest on the northern edge of Istanbul. When I got there, I found out that the university had no writer in residence programme. It didn’t even have a writing programme ...

Into the Eisenshpritz

Elif Batuman: Superheroes, 10 April 2008

Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories 
by Will Eisner.
Norton, 493 pp., £18.99, November 2007, 978 0 393 06107 9
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Epileptic 
by David B..
Cape, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 0 224 07920 4
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Shortcomings 
by Adrian Tomine.
Faber, 108 pp., £12.99, September 2007, 978 0 571 23329 8
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Misery Loves Comedy 
by Ivan Brunetti.
Fantagraphics, 172 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 1 56097 792 6
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... The term ‘graphic novel’ is dismissed by most of its practitioners as either an empty euphemism or a marketing ploy. As Marjane Satrapi puts it, graphic novels simply enable ‘the bourgeois to read comics without feeling bad’; according to Alan Moore, they allow publishers to ‘stick six issues of whatever worthless piece of crap they happened to be publishing lately under a glossy cover and call it The She-Hulk Graphic Novel ...

On Complaining

Elif Batuman: How to Stay Sane, 20 November 2008

Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida 
by Elisabeth Roudinesco, translated by William McCuaig.
Columbia, 184 pp., £15.50, November 2008, 978 0 231 14300 4
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... We are certainly living in strange times’ is how Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Philosophy in Turbulent Times begins. Roudinesco’s reader, too, is in for a turbulent and strange time, starting with the introduction, a five-page polemic against the spirit of our age: Jean-Paul Sartre – for or against? Raymond Aron – for or against? … Should we take a blowtorch to May 1968 and its ideas … seen now as incomprehensible, elitist, dangerous and anti-democratic? Have the protagonists of that revolution … all become little bourgeois capitalist pleasure seekers without faith or principles, or haven’t they? … The father has vanished, but why not the mother? Isn’t the mother really just a father, in the end, and the father a mother? Why do young people not think anything? Why are children so unbearable? Is it because of television, or pornography, or comic books? … And women: are they capable of supervising male workers on the same basis as men are? Of thinking like men, of being philosophers? Do they have the same brain, the same neurons, the same emotions, the same criminal instincts? Was Christ the lover of Mary Magdalene, and if so, does that mean that the Christian religion is sexually split between a hidden feminine pole and a dominant masculine one?    Has France become decadent? Are you for Spinoza, Darwin, Galileo, or against? Are you partial to the United States? Wasn’t Heidegger a Nazi? Was Michel Foucault the precursor of Bin Laden, [and] Gilles Deleuze a drug addict … ? Was Napoleon really so different from Hitler? Do these questions strike you as ‘the absolute nadir of contemporary interrogation’? Do they articulate your sense of the ills of the present cultural moment? Do you want to hear more of them? Would you like to have a long conversation with someone who feels the same way? If so, you will enjoy the latest English translation of a book by Roudinesco, the author of Lacan & Co, Why Psychoanalysis? and, most recently, La Part obscure de nous-mêmes (not yet translated ...

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 480 pp., £25.95, April 2009, 978 0 674 03319 1
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... The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and creative writing: disciplines which differ in their points of reference (Samuel Richardson v. Jhumpa Lahiri), the graduate degrees they award (Doctor of Philosophy v ...

The paper is white

Daniel Soar: Elif Batuman at College, 14 December 2017

The Idiot 
by Elif Batuman.
Cape, 425 pp., £16.99, June 2017, 978 1 910702 69 7
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... notes. But that’s no good if what they’re saying makes no sense. Selin, the narrator of Elif Batuman’s novel, who is settling in to her first year at Harvard, understands everything she is told but still can’t help finding it all totally perplexing: ‘Everything the professors said seemed somehow beside the point.’ She applies to join a ...

w00t

Christopher Tayler: The Fabulous Elif Batuman, 17 February 2011

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them 
by Elif Batuman.
Granta, 296 pp., £16.99, April 2011, 978 1 84708 313 5
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... interpreters of the Russian spirit would not have felt at home in the intellectual world Elif Batuman comes from. A Stanford comp. lit. PhD, raised in New Jersey by Turkish parents, Batuman draws strength from Foucault and Roman Jakobson, studied with Franco Moretti and has a blog on which she uses words like ...

The Village Life

James Meek: Pushkin in English, 6 June 2019

Novels, Tales, Journeys 
by Aleksandr Pushkin, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Penguin, 512 pp., £9.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 29037 8
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... His phrases and idioms, like Shakespeare’s, are embedded in the modern language. Interviewed by Elif Batuman after the new translation was published, Volokhonsky talked about the expression Pushkin uses in the story ‘The Blizzard’, ‘smertèl’no vlyublenà’, which she and Pevear translate as ‘mortally in love’. When Volokhonsky asked ...

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