Stiliana Milkova reviews Ties by Domenico Starnone


As the title says, today’s needull is a review of the Italian book – Domenico Starnone’s Ties, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri.

But let us turn to the novel itself. The title, Ties, is suggestive: it’s a text about the making and breaking of bonds and about the baggage (physical and psychological) accumulated in the process. A cheating husband leaves his wife and children only to return years later to his family. After almost five decades of married life, the couple’s apartment in Rome is ransacked while they are on vacation and the past emerges from the debris of hoarded objects. Thus the past acquires material and spatial form, and husband, wife, and children must reckon with it as they sift through the physical reminders of suppressed traumas. Ties, as the Italian scholar Daniela Brogi writes, is “not simply a novel about marital crisis, it is a text which enacts on its pages the imagined scenarios of failed self-realization upheld by the indestructible pillars of marriage.” Ties, then, is a novel about marriage as an institution and its relationship to self-perception and self-fulfillment, whether through the wife’s meticulous documentation of marital life, through the husband’s selfish pursuit of professional and sexual gratification, or through the children’s witnessing of the dissolution and eventual reconstitution of the family.

The complete review

Stiliana Milkova — Asymptote

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A guide to close reading


A gift for readers of Needull.

  1. Who is the text written by and what do you know about the author(s) and their context?

  2. What type of text is this (a philosophical treatise, an autobiography, a poem, a lecture, sermon etc)?

  3. Who is the author writing for, and how might their intended audience shape the kind of text they are writing?

The complete article

Marika Rose — An und für sich

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‘No Amount of Screaming Would Have Helped Us’


Today’s needull is review of two novels based on apocalypse like scenarios. The authors use this scenario to look at some philosophical questions.

The novel really becomes remarkable when Helle extrapolates philosophical debate from the dire situation. The conversion of matter into fundamental particles, as the men face their own deaths, is hinted at obliquely when the narrator watches the blazing chair: ‘You can no longer tell that the thing that is burning there was once a chair’, giving him hope that his essence may survive somewhere in the universe. The book ultimately questions why mankind shoulders on in the face of such futile odds: ‘All in all, we don’t much care for this world any longer. But still we continue diligently to take one step after another into it.’

The complete article

Jude Cook — Review 31

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The Moon, the World, the Dream

No doubt, having trophy wives, fancy cars, and other cliché trappings of midlife crises are not themselves what aging sufferers seek so much as seeing themselves with the wives and the cars; discovering what they themselves are like under these new and different circumstances; finding out at last, in this big, endlessly mystifying world, who they are. By shaking things up and seeing what remains in place, we hope to discover what in us is permanent, and what we’ve merely never bothered to toss away. If that is the real question, maybe I found part of the answer as a small boy. In a moment when the world around me suddenly seemed as scary, crazy, and unpredictable as any movie, as ill-intentioned as any conspiracy, as unfathomable as any dream, I went running toward my family, and I wanted to describe what I’d seen. At the moment when a long-standing mystery was introduced, a small area of darkness turned to light.

The complete article

Clifford Thompson — The Threepenny Review

The Age of Em review – the horrific future when robots rule the Earth


A book review for today.

But there is plausibly a show-stopping problem here. If someone announces they will upload my consciousness into a robot and then destroy my existing body, I will take this as a threat of murder. The robot running an exact copy of my consciousness won’t actually be “me”. (Such issues are richly analysed in the philosophical literature stemming from Derek Parfit’s thought experiments about teleportation and the like in the 1980s.) So ems – the first of whom are, by definition, going to have minds identical to those of humans – may very well exhibit the same kind of reaction, in which case a lot of Hanson’s more thrillingly bizarre social developments will not happen. But then, the rather underwhelming upshot of this project is that fast-living and super-clever ems will probably crack the problem of proper AI – actual intelligent machines – within a year or so of ordinary human time. And then the age of em will be over and the Singularity will be upon us, and what comes next is anyone’s guess.

The complete article

Steven Poole — The Guardian

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The defiance of an ‘untouchable’ New York subway worker


The memoir of an Indian woman who was born a so-called untouchable and now works as a conductor on the New York City Subway has been hailed by critics for its unflinching account of caste and family in India. Journalist Sudha G Tilak spoke to Sujatha Gidla about her life story and how it became Ants Among Elephants. – BBC

An excerpt

My mother would hire another woman, named Ruthamma, to do chores in our house. She was washing dishes in a bucket on the kitchen floor when I walked in, eating a piece of apple. It was the day after Christmas. We could afford apples only at Christmas. A couple of apples for the whole family. Ruthamma looked at the piece of apple in my hand with such a stupid, lustful grin, salivating openly, that I could not eat it anymore. I knew that she had never in her life tasted an apple. I can’t remember if I gave it to her.

Experiences like this made me wish there were no poor people in the world. But how could that be achieved?

The complete article

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Notes on a Foreign Country


Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad In a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen.

By then, New York had morphed, thanks to the Internet, into a cocaine-and-steroids version of itself. Only a few years after September 11, we had in fact become less introspective. The compassionate efforts to understand our new, uncertain world were replaced by an ever more certain set of ways to manage it—money, marriage, brownstone, children, organic market, Pilates—all of it fueled by a sleazily exuberant stock market. September 11 had been just another dip in the market. During the most catastrophic years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, New York threw a giant party.

The complete article

Suzy Hansen

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