Posts Tagged ‘Morgan Meis’

More than eulogies: new book considers the dead – famous and infamous

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

deadpeople“Why should we celebrate these dead men more than the dying?” T.S. Eliot asks in “Little Gidding.” And we’re all dying, hour by hour. One new book shares Eliot’s fascination with the dead.

We’ve been following the successes of the New Yorker‘s Morgan Meis (here and here, for example) – now here’s another one. He’s teamed up with Stefany Anne Goldberg to write a book Dead People (Zero Books), that’s getting critical acclaim. It is about what the title says it is, including studies of Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens and Eric Hobsbawn; musicians like Sun Ra, MCA (Beastie Boys) and Kurt Cobain; writers like David Foster Wallace, John Updike and Tom Clancy; artists like Thomas Kinkade and Robert Rauschenberg; and controversial political figures like Osama bin Laden and Mikhail Kalashnikov.

The two conduct a self-interview over at The Nervous BreakdownAn excerpt:

Morgan Meis: Well, when I started writing about Christopher Hitchens he had literally just died. I became very emotional as I wrote. The whole thing was written while crying, to be honest. I realized two things. One, that I had a lot of anger and resentment toward the man and two, that I actually loved him, in the non-romantic sense of the term. I realized that this love was generated by something other than the usual regard for his writing and argumentative skill. In fact, upon reflection, I realized that his writing and argumentative skill were, to my mind, overrated. That made my deep feeling of connection to the man all the more mysterious, a fact that pleased the hell out of me the more I thought about it. I tried to capture some of that in the essay, which, if it has any virtue at all, has the virtue of mostly refraining from restating the well-worn Hitchens clichés. The more I wrote about Hitch, the more I realized that I have no idea why he was such a powerful person.


Teamwork: authors Morgan Meis and Stefany Anne Goldberg

Stefany Anne Goldberg: I had an overall negative feeling about Mikhail Kalashnikov when I first heard that he died. I considered it one of those mild, everyday ironies that the man who invented one of the killing machines of the 20th century, the AK-47, was now, himself, dead. But when I started to read more about the man, and read the letter he had written to a priest near the end of his life, something changed. I started to see him as a tragic figure. That would be an interesting enough change in perception and might make for a good eulogistic essay. But then a third thing happened. I started thinking about Mary Shelley, which is something I do more often than not. I started to see Kalashnikov as involved in the struggle that faces all inventors, which is the struggle, as I see it, between nature and culture. I started to see Kalashnikov as a Dr. Frankenstein figure. This made Kalashnikov scary again, but in a better way. Now, he was no longer, for me, simply the guy who mechanized killing or the tragic figure caught up in historical events that were over his head. Instead, I started to see Kalashnikov as a monster and in being a monster of sorts, to see his specific humanity. Because the gun he invented was, after all, supposed to solve problems. It is in trying to solve problems that the trouble starts, for all of us. And yet, who would ever suggest that we should stop trying to solve problems? The are infinite knots you can get tied up in trying to resolve all the conflicting thoughts and emotions around a figure like Kalashnikov. My little essay was an attempt to get the ball rolling on that.

Read the whole thing here. And go here for Image Journal’s excerpt from the book on Leszek Kołakowski.

Necessary praise for 3QuarksDaily! “To be terribly corny, love has always held it together.”

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Running a blog ain’t easy. It’s time-consuming, it exposes you to nasty comments, and it pays (for most of us) diddly squat. So it’s nice when a blog gets kudos and sometimes, even a little cash. My friend Abbas Raza started 3QuarksDaily a dozen years ago … well, actually, our friendship began on 3QD, though I have yet to visit him in his idyllic village in the Italian Alps, where I will be able to sample some of his exquisite North Indian and Pakistani cooking.


Abbas Raza & poet Robert Pinsky – wife Margit Oberrauch looks on.

That will be a future pleasure. The past pleasure is that Humble Moi and the Book Haven have been regularly featured on 3QD, just as we’ve regularly featured 3QD gleanings on our pages. We’ve always been pleased as punch about it, but we must say that it’s been taken to a new level with Thomas Manuel‘s article, “Why the Web Needs the Little Miracle of 3QuarksDaily,” in The Wire today:

The need for filters, aggregators and curators to navigate the web isn’t new. Arts and Letters Daily, the inspiration for 3QD, was founded by the late Denis Dutton way back in 1998. It in turn was inspired by the news aggregator, Drudge Report, which started in 1995. But each of these had their own niche (literary humanities and conservative politics respectively) while Raza envisioned something more all-embracing – which ironically turned out to be a niche of its own. His plan was to “collect only serious articles of intellectual interest from all over the web but never include merely amusing pieces, clickbait, or even the news of the day… to find and post deeper analysis… and explore the world of ideas… [to] cover all intellectual fields that might be of interest to a well-educated academic all-rounder without being afraid of difficult material… [and to] have an inclusive attitude about what is interesting and important and an international outlook, avoiding America-centrism in particular.”

Morgan Meis

Morgan Meis is proud, too.

In practice, this elaborate vision looks deceptively simple. According to Morgan Meis, one of the editors of 3QD, all you had to do was “get a few reasonably smart people together, have them create links to the sorts of things they would want to read across the web, on any given day. Voila! You’ve got an interesting website. Then, don’t fuck that simple formula up. Don’t get cute. Stay the course.”

As Raza figured, an editorial team of ‘reasonably smart people’, by dint of their own diverse interests, would automatically bestow the site with a broader perspective. Currently this team, apart from Raza and Meis, consists of Raza’s old friend, Robin Varghese, his two sisters, Azra and Sughra Raza, poetry editor, Jim Culleny and assistant editor, Zujaja Tauqeer.

Varghese and Raza met at Columbia University in 1995 while they were both graduate students. Varghese, who posts much of the political content on 3QD, was pursuing a doctorate in political science while Raza had taken up philosophy after studying engineering as an undergraduate. Varghese still lives in New York and works in the development space while Raza currently lives with his wife in Brixen, a small town in the Italian Alps, where his major occupation, apart from running the website, is cooking elaborate North Indian and Pakistani style meals.

The article has a nice overview of the current predicament of the cyberspace echo chamber, and how 3QD really is different:

Today, information discovery comes in all shapes and sizes – from the New Yorker Minute that does a number on theNew Yorker, to Amazon’s book recommendation behemoth. There isn’t a doubt that the latter is a remarkable feat of software engineering, as are the algorithms employed by Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and Google. Netizens depend on these wonders – relying on them to suck in chaos and spit out order.



Yet these same sites are also examples of total moral capitulation. Underlying the logic of many algorithms is the idea that to find what people want, we need only look for what similar people have wanted. Apart from engendering near total surveillance, a mechanism built around the urgency of giving people what they want ignores the importance (or even the existence) of a responsibility to give people what they might need. This isn’t a surprising stance for profit-driven corporations to take. However, as citizens who value democratic access to resources and knowledge, it’s dangerous to allow ourselves to become complacent with gatekeepers who don’t acknowledge their own roles as stewards or see their power as weighted by responsibility to the community. It’s the logic of giving people what they want that’s made virality the metric for deciding what makes the news and triggered the current race for the bottom that has marked the new culture wars.

In stark contrast stands the purpose of 3QD as outlined by Raza in a radio interview with the National Endowment for the Arts. Laying out the three classical realms of knowledge – the realm of beauty, the realm of morality, the realm of truth, he stressed that all three were “immensely important to all human beings”. It’s a safe assumption that he didn’t learn this through a market survey.

What’s their secret? According to Morgan Meis, another 3QD friend: “It is the people and the relationships,” he said. “That’s the core of it. It is, to be terribly corny, love that has always held the thing together.”

Read the whole thing here. And go to 3QuarksDaily here.

The hidden Walter Benjamin

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Portrait of the artist as a jerk.

“It’s always disconcerting to discover a favorite writer was kind of a jerk. How does this realization affect our understanding of Walter Benjamin’s work?” Book Haven friend and writer Morgan Meis considers Howard Eiland‘s and Michael W. Jennings‘s new biography published by Harvard University Press, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life.

The resulting essay about the influential German essayist and critic in The Smart Set“Jerk Reaction,” is bound to raise hackles.  He begins:

It is hard to write a biography about a person who hides. Walter Benjamin really hid. The great critic and philosopher hid, often enough, right there in his writings. They are often elusive texts that can take years of reading, over and over again, before the mists begin to clear. What, for instance, is Benjamin really talking about in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility?” Is it a theory of art and historical change? Is it a political manifesto about the revolutionary potential of film? Is it a long lament about the loss of that magical quality “aura?” The more you read the essay (in its various versions), the harder it is to decide just what Benjamin is saying. But it is impossible to dismiss the essay altogether. The ideas contained within it have a way of staying put in your mind, festering there. That was Benjamin’s special talent, to elude and to linger.

This makes for a writer who has baffled interpreters for a couple of generations since his suicide while fleeing the Nazis in 1940. Some are convinced that Benjamin was primarily a Marxist. Some think of him as a cultural critic. Others detect the sensibilities of a religious mystic. Many see an aesthete, the last of the great European flâneurs. Not all of these interpretations are mutually exclusive. But some of them are, which makes Benjamin among that elite group of major intellectual figures about whom almost no one completely agrees. An accomplishment in itself.

Read the rest here.

Congratulations to Morgan Meis for the Whiting Award!

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Happy man … and kinda rich, too.

Congratulations to Morgan Meis, a longstanding friend of the Book Haven!  He’s one of ten winners of this year’s Whiting Writing Award for “exceptional talent and promise in early career.” The prize carries a significant cash award of $50,000 – so he’s in clover…at least for awhile.  Morgan is the author of a novel, Angelus Novus (Soft Skull Press, 1995), and has written for The Believer, Harper’s, and each week for The Smart Set We know him mostly as an editor of 3quarksdaily, a filter blog treating literature, science, and the arts. He is a previous recipient of a $30,000 Andy Warhol Foundation Award for his art criticism.

This year’s winners include: fiction writers Hanna Dela Cruz Abrams (The Man Who Danced With Dolls), Jennifer DuBois (Cartwheel) C.E. Morgan (All the Living),  Stephanie Powell Watts (We Are Taking Only What We Need), and Amanda Coplin (The Orchardist);  poets Ishion Hutchinson (Far District: Poems) and Rowan Ricardo Phillips (The Ground) and playwright Virginia Grise (Making Myth). Clifford Thompson (Signifying Nothing) received the award for nonfiction, as did Morgan, who is author of this year’s Ruins (Fallen Bros. Press), a collection of the best essays from one of America’s best and most poignant, personal and philosophical young critics, Morgan Meis Ph.D, on art, culture, politics and the transitory and illusory nature of time.”

ruins-revised-edition-morgan-meis-paperback-cover-artThe Whiting prizes were established in 1985 by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. According to the foundation, the award honors those “who have yet to make their mark on the literary culture.’’

Previous winners include Tony Kushner, who hosted the ceremony tonight in Manhattan,  Jonathan Franzen, and Mary Karr.

Afterwards?  I hear there’s some serious partying going on at the offices of the New York Times.

Postscript on 10/22:  No surprise, 3quarksdaily has its own announcement, with a pitcha, here.  It also informs me that Elif Batuman, Mark Doty, Jeffery Eugenides, Suketu Mehta, William T. Vollman, and David Foster Wallace are former winners.  Good company.

A wisdom of owls: “not a magazine and not a blog in the traditional sense”

Monday, September 13th, 2010


You never know who you will meet in the blogosphere.

Some time ago I posted about a beautiful book cover — Kierkegaard’s The Seducer’s Diary featured  at Sutura.  I had meant to top Morgan Meis of Antwerp, who had salivated over Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, which I found rather sedate for my prurient tastes.  Morgan wrote:


“There is nothing sexier than a book you haven’t read yet. Especially if it has a nice cover and nice fonts. Especially if it is by someone with an aura. The volumes of Kierkegaard’s writings put out by Princeton University Press used to drive me crazy [see left]. The block of color on top and the pure black underneath. The line drawing of Kierkegaard’s profile in an oval in the middle of the book.”

Making spaces for "talented folks"

The response, some time later, was not quite what I expected.  In short, I encountered The Owls.  It’s a website where a few Stegner fellows congregate, including Josh Tyree, who is also a former Jones Lecturer at Stanford. (He is also a writer for Film Quarterly, American Short Fiction, The Believer, The Nation, New England Review and Sight & Sound.)

He wrote to me:  “The Owls site is kind of like one of those bands that musicians form with other musicians as a project on a micro label. I created the site, I live in Ohio, and I teach creative writing classes online for Stanford. The basic plan for The Owls was to create a place where talented folks could set up online projects either as curators or writers. Curators come to the site with an idea for gathering up posts from other writers using one topic or assignment.”

Sean Hill, “a great poet I met as a Stegner Fellow” got involved via the project “A Natural History of My ________”  Josh, for example, contributed with  “A Mild History of My Asthma.”  (Wait!  That’s “A History of My Mild Asthma.”)

Sean Hill ... "a great poet"

Josh says the site has published a number of Stegner Fellows, though it’s currently unaffiliated to any institution — for now.  “If the site continues to grow I should probably try to connect it with an institution of some kind.”

Meis ... a smallish man

Where does Morgan Meis fit into all this?  He’s is another writer who is one of the Owls — not “of Antwerp,” as his tag says, but apparently from New York City.  He is a major force behind the popular 3quarksdaily site, which Josh helped edit during its first year.

Morgan’s has been described as “a smallish man who is almost constantly moving” and a founding member of the Flux Factory, a NYC arts collective, and a columnist at The Smart Set.  He participates in the Owls site via a writing project extended over a series of posts, “Doodlings from Antwerp.” Ad Hamilton also  has a series, “Single Servings.”

The site also includes art projects like Daupo’s ongoing series, “Loneliness: A Coloring Book for Adults.”

“So it’s not a magazine and it’s not a blog in the traditional sense,” says Josh, “it’s an experimental space with a messy aesthetic for creative projects that takes its character from whatever the writers and curators become interested in. Future projects might include a guide to a fake writers’ conference, serialized short stories, a series of dispatches from Peru….”

On one thing we are certainly agreed:  “I love books and print and I’m not a booster for the web, I just think these technologies and spaces should create their own mediums for expression. It’s quality that matters, not technology.”

By the by, most people think the venereal term for owls is “a parliament of owls.”  But an alternative is “a wisdom of owls.”  I rather like that better.