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How to Be Ourselves

Stefan Collini: Mark Greif

19 October 2016
Against Everything: On Dishonest Times 
by Mark Greif.
Verso, 304 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 78478 592 5
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... there was no talking down, no faux-democratic bonhomie, no embarrassed disguising of the sometimes recondite intellectual sources on which it drew. Although its founding editors – Keith Gessen, MarkGreif, Benjamin Kunkel and Marco Roth – have also been prolific contributors, the journal has never had a single voice. But it has had a recognisable character or style: East Coast urban (its home ...
23 October 2008
Mad Men: Season One 
Lionsgate Home Entertainment, £29.99, October 2008Show More
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... Last month, the television show Mad Men won the Emmy Award in the United States for best drama series, putting it in the company of The Sopranos, Lost and 24. Like those other programmes, Mad Men has a long, unfolding storyline, costs millions of dollars per episode to make, and seems largely intended for home-recording or DVD viewers, who will trouble to watch it in sequence. It is on billboards and ...

The Sound of Cracking

Pankaj Mishra: ‘The Age of the Crisis of Man’

26 August 2015
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-73 
by Mark Greif.
Princeton, 434 pp., £19.95, January 2015, 978 0 691 14639 3
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Moral Agents: Eight 20th-Century American Writers 
by Edward Mendelson.
New York Review, 216 pp., £12.99, May 2015, 978 1 59017 776 1
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... MarkGreif’s​ book is a bracingly ambitious attempt at a ‘philosophical history’ of the American mid-century, a chronological account of writers and their ideas. It begins in 1933 with an apparently ...

Black and White Life

Mark Greif: Ralph Ellison

1 November 2007
Ralph Ellison: A Biography 
by Arnold Rampersad.
Knopf, 657 pp., $35, April 2007, 978 0 375 40827 4
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... the whole enterprise works). Throughout Ellison’s later teaching life, as a professor at NYU and elsewhere, he made a point of instructing his students in those rare white American writers, such as Mark Twain, who had recognised that there could be no white American culture without black culture. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson were both on his syllabus.) Rampersad also ...

Alzheimer’s America

Mark Greif: Don DeLillo

5 July 2007
Falling Man 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 246 pp., £16.99, May 2007, 978 0 330 45223 6
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... does not lose. It is a ritual of submergence. He sleeps in tall hotel towers, which will not be struck by planes, in the non-space of Las Vegas, a smoky mirror of Wall Street. Here capital flow will mark only a circular game of chance. Both the mass antiwar protests which changed nothing and the endlessly televised poker tournaments of the early 21st century are undigested phenomena of the American ...

Tinkering

Mark Greif: Walt Disney

7 June 2007
Walt Disney: The Biography 
by Neal Gabler.
Aurum, 766 pp., £25, May 2007, 978 1 84513 277 4
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The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney 
by Michael Barrier.
California, 393 pp., £18.95, April 2007, 978 0 520 24117 6
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Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson 
by Tom Sito.
Kentucky, 440 pp., £19.95, September 2006, 0 8131 2407 7
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... At an early point in his career, probably no later than 1930, Walt Disney lost the ability to draw what he wanted his cartoon characters to look like or his animations to do. So he began to act his cartoons out. In story meetings with his growing staff of animators – some of whom he had trained in Los Angeles at his studio on Hyperion Avenue, others whom he’d poached from the great New York studios ...

The Right Kind of Pain

Mark Greif: The Velvet Underground

22 March 2007
The Velvet Underground 
by Richard Witts.
Equinox, 171 pp., £10.99, September 2006, 9781904768272
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... Equinox is publishing a series of books called ‘Icons of Pop Music’. The volumes will be designed for ‘undergraduates and the general reader’. Ordinarily, I couldn’t think of anything less auspicious. Everyone likes the autobiographies of even the most inarticulate musicians; at least they can explain how they make the songs. But pop criticism can’t seem to escape the thrall of these biographies ...

Still Superior

Mark Greif: Sex and Susan Sontag

12 February 2009
Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-64 
by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 318 pp., £16.99, January 2009, 978 0 241 14431 2
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... One of the most appealing things about Susan Sontag was that she didn’t ask to be liked. Other postwar American writers who cut the same sort of public figure pleaded with you to love their outsized faults, embrace their dumb enthusiasms, and cast in your lot with theirs through recounted divorces, nervous breakdowns, lusts. Sontag’s persona was not personal. It was superior. Sontag made you acknowledge ...

Degoogled

Joanna Biggs: Keith Gessen

22 May 2008
All the Sad Young Literary Men 
by Keith Gessen.
Heinemann, 242 pp., £11.99, May 2008, 978 0 434 01848 2
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... Grosvenor Square, but what if you had the misfortune to be sad young and literary in 1998? This terrible moment in the history of being young is where 33-year-old Keith Gessen begins his first novel. Mark, Keith and Sam, our three sad young literary men, are just out of college. They gather at the apartment in Queens Mark shares with his girlfriend, Sasha, they temp, go to second-run movies and eight ...

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