There are five methods of making a stony expression break. These include 1) to enrage, 2) to surprise, 3) to humiliate, 4) to sadden, and 5) to give pleasure. The experts at impassive and fierce expressions, however, are not so vulnerable to sadness, rage, or humiliation: it is precisely these feelings that they have practiced steel looks against over many years, testing their own faces always against their own afflictions. For every affliction they endure they might think “And how may I use this affliction to sharpen my mien of impassivity?” For what is a humiliation if the humiliator does not succeed in casting the eyes of the other downward? And what is sadness with no tears? Or rage with no flashing eyes? Those humans who are attractive for the primary reason of the impenetrability of their faces are attractive for the rigor with which they self-cultivate their impenetrability. These are the hard-scientists of themselves.
Excerpt from Anne Boyer’s prose in our Masculinity issue.
"The Day" by Ferdinand Hodler, our Masculinity cover artist.
Zhmerinka was a large agricultural village, formerly a market town, as could be deduced from the huge central square, of trodden earth, with numerous parallel rows of iron bars to which beasts could be tethered. It was now wholly empty; but in a corner, in the shade of an oak tree, a tribe of nomads had encamped, a vision stemming from distant millennia.
It must have been true that groups of Allied ex-prisoners had embarked at Odessa months before, as some Russians had told us, for the station of Zhmerinka, our temporary and scarcely intimate residence, still bore the signs: a triumphal arch made of branches, now withered, bearing the words “Long live the United Nations”; enormous ghastly portraits of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, with phrases extolling the victory against the common enemy. But the brief season of concord between the three great allies must now have been drawing to its end, for the paintings were discoloured and faded by the weather, and were taken down during our stay. A painter arrived; he put up scaffolding along the wall of the station, and covered the slogan “Works of the world, unite!” with a coating of whitewash; in its place we saw, with a subtle sense of chill, another quite different slogan appear, letter by letter: “Vpered na Zapad,” “On towards the West.”
The repatriation of Allied soldiers had now finished, but other trains arrived and left for the south before our eyes. These were also Russian trains but quite distinct from the military ones, glorious and homely, which we had seen passing through Katowice. They were trainloads of Ukrainian women returning from Germany; only women, because the men had gone off as soldiers or partisans, or else had been killed by the Germans.
Their exile had been different from ours, and from that of the prisoners of war. Not all of them, but the majority, had abandoned their homes “spontaneously.” A coerced, blackmailed spontaneity, distorted by the subtle and heavy Nazis lies and propaganda, both threatening and enticing, blaring out from the radio, newspapers, posters; nevertheless, a demonstration of free will, an assent. Women aged sixteen to forty, hundreds of thousands of them, peasant women, students, factory workers, had left the devastated fields, the closed schools and bombarded factories for the invaders’ bread. Not a few were mothers, who had left to earn bread for their children. In Germany they had found bread, barbed wire, hard work, German order, servitude and shame; now under the weight of their shame they were being repatriated, without joy and without hope.
Victorious Russia had no forgiveness for them. They returned home in roofless cattle trucks, which were divided horizontally by boards so as to exploit the space better: sixty, eighty women to a truck. They had no luggage, only the worn-out discoloured clothes they were wearing. If their young bodies were still solid and healthy, their closed and bitter faces, their evasive eyes displayed a disturbing, animal-like humiliation and resignation; not a voice emerged from those coils of limbs, which sluggishly untangled themselves when the train stopped at the station. No one was waiting for them, no one seemed aware of them. Their inertia, their fugitive shyness, their painful lack of pudency, was that of humiliated and tame beasts. We alone watched their passage, with compassion and sadness, a new testimony to, and a new aspect of, the pestilence which had prostrated Europe.
From Primo Levi’s Daphne Award nominated memoir of his travel home to Italy after the liberation of Auschwitz, The Reawakening
Two hours before the Daphne Award shortlists were to be announced, and our fiction list was still not finished. Fiction chair Austin Grossman and I were squabbling over a few of the honorees, and we were trying to finalize the damn thing while I was making deviled eggs and he was on a plane. But finally, we got a shortlist we would not throttle each other over:
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Grifters by Jim Thompson
The Clown by Heinrich Böll
Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
Dreambook for Our Time by Tadeusz Konwicki
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Austin Grossman is one of my favorite American novelists alive, his book Soon I Will Be Invincible is a gem, and we loved the heck out of You, and so he seemed like a natural choice to head up the fiction panel, being so good at fiction himself. I asked Grossman to answer a few questions about what got left out of the fiction category (like um all of the women but one, whoops), why the novel that actually won that year, John Updike’s The Centaur, was not in contention, and how 1963 was for fiction.
The 1964 National Book Award winner was John Updike’s The Centaur, and you read it in order to determine whether it should be considered for the Daphne fiction award. You ultimately chose not to include it. Why not? I mean, besides the fear that I would throw The Centaur at your head.
I read The Centaur because Updike has too much talent to ignore even in a lesser book. His palpable joy at playing with language, his eye for detail in the social world of his characters, these are things you find in everything he touches (except, mysteriously, in his execrable poetry).
The Centaur focuses on the lives of a high school science teacher and his teenage son in a rural town in Pennsylvania. At the same time, the teacher is the centaur Chiron, in fact all the characters are figures from Greek myth living on Olympus and the narration swaps back and forth between these realities with a playful energy that’s one of the better things about the book.
The Centaur just didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to. It’s Updike’s third novel and comes after Rabbit, Run but somehow it lacked the bravado of that novel’s sinful high-wire act. In comparison, The Centaur feels like an academic exercise, drawing little correspondences of traits and types between the townsfolk and the mythological material.
It all would have been so much more exciting if no one had written Ulysses, but they did, and they did it with a playful sloppiness and electric charge running between mythic and mundane that Updike didn’t manage to tap into.
But it’s okay, John. Keep writing! 1963 looks bleak but I can’t help feeling you’ll get there.
There is a lack of women writers on our fiction list, only Sylvia Plath made it to the final round although Muriel Spark lasted into the last discussion. Is it safe to say it was an off year for women? Especially since looking ahead to next year, Marguerite Duras and Clarice Lispector look like they are going to be the ones to beat…
I don’t feel great about the numbers either — it doesn’t show the kind of corrective effect one would hope for out of an idea like the Daphnes — returning to a period with the benefit of hindsight.
Maybe it’s an off period for people publishing women in fiction, and especially in translation. However much we can do, we can’t go back and find the novels that weren’t publish and weren’t written because people didn’t have the chance or didn’t think they could be heard.
When I go back through the longlist I come up with the same choices. Muriel Spark’s Girls of Slender Means was elegaic and funny and dry, but there were times when it seemed lazy and slight. Book by book, I think our shortlist gets it right — books whose individual voice and powerful impulses leave the lasting impression. It’s the best we can do.
1963 was kind of a transition year for literature, you see the young work of writers who would come to dominate: Updike, Pynchon, Salinger. How did the year of literature in 1963 feel to you?
It feels like people still deciding what the postwar novel is going to be. Not Victorian, not high modernism, but certainly experimental. Something else.
On the one hand there’s a cohort of writers in America that feels youthful, fresh, awkwardly confessional and angry. Plath, Updike, Pynchon, people breaking out and trying their talents to mixed results, but you feel there’s something happening there, something’s starting to flow, there are talents that are going to define the next twenty or thirty years.
And there’s a slightly older group — Vonnegut, Boll, Konwicki, Cortazar, Spark, McCarthy, Salinger — who seem to know their mode of work more intimately and feel more comfortable with it.
I notice people writing with greater and lesser attention to the second world war and its aftermath. Some people who were right in it like Salinger, it only peeks in at the edges. Europeans and Mishima who are still very much living in the place where it happened, versus Americans who got to go home and write about what they felt like.
Hopscotch has become an early favorite. Is Hopscotch going to massacre the competition?
Hopscotch has shown up to a rather dour party with swagger and a winning smile, and that could count for a lot. But I’m not going to call this one early. The Daphnes fiction shortlist has a crazy amount of reach to it, and the judges have yet to take on the real dark horses here. We’ve got numinous ice caves, psychotic Japanese teenagers, cunning small-time crooks, and Sylvia Plath in the mix. This is not the event Hopscotch trained for.
The ultimate enemy of art in general and of any school of painting in particular is, of course, individualism.
—Leon Bakst, in Masculinity
He had travelled a lot, and had seen things which no one else had seen. Above all, he had seen extraordinary animals and plants, and many secrets of nature. He had seen the crocodiles of the Ganges river, which have a single rigid bone running from the tip of the nose to the tail, and which are extremely ferocious and race like the wind; but, because of this singular bone structure, they can only move backwards and forwards like a train on railway lines, and all you have to do to be safe is to place yourself by their side, at a slight angle from its axis.
He had seen the jackals of the Nile, which drink while they run so as not to be bitten by the fish; at night their eyes shine like lanterns, and they sing with raucous human voices. He had also seen Malaysian cabbages which are like our cabbages but much bigger; if you merely touch their leaves with a finger you cannot free yourself again; the hand, and then the arm, and then the rash person’s entire body is drawn inwards slowly but irresistibly, into the monstrous sticky heart of the carnivorous plant, and digested little by little. The only remedy, which almost nobody knows, is fire, but you have to act quickly; it is enough to light a match under the leaf that has seized its prey, and the plant’s grip slowly relaxes. In this way, thanks to his promptness and knowledge of natural history, Mr. Unverdorben had saved the captain of his boat from sure death. Then there are certain little black snakes which live buried in the squalid sands of Australia, and which dart out at a man from afar, in the air, like bullets; one bite of theirs is enough to knock out a bull. But everything in nature is balanced, there is no offence without a defence, every poison has its antidote, it is enough to know what it is. The bite of these reptiles is promptly cured if treated with human saliva; but not the saliva of the person who has been attacked. This is why no one travels alone in those parts.
Primo Levi’s catalog of the con men, derelicts, fantasists, refugees, and other assorted others without history or future in a camp in the final days of World War II is tremendous, but perhaps none is quite so interesting as Mr. Unverdorben, who comes off as a kind of Pliny the Elder of mysterious origins. Taken from his memoir The Reawakening, a Daphne Award nominee.