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You’ll Love the Way It Makes You Feel

Mark Greif: ‘Mad Men’, 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 ...

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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... 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 tells us that ‘Ralph deliberately set a framed photograph ...

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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... 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 culture of 2001-7. One has to give DeLillo credit for having ...

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 – Disney would get up, according to Neal Gabler’s new biography, enter his trance, and suddenly transform himself uninhibitedly into Mickey or Donald or an owl or an old hunting dog ...

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, and rarely has much to add ...

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 ...

How to Be Ourselves

Stefan Collini: Mark Greif, 20 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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... recondite intellectual sources on which it drew. Although its founding editors – Keith Gessen, Mark Greif, 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, physically and spiritually, is Brooklyn, though ...

The Sound of Cracking

Pankaj Mishra: ‘The Age of the Crisis of Man’, 27 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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... Mark Greif’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 widely perceived ‘crisis of man’ in American intellectual culture and is cut off, equally surgically, in 1973, with academic theory’s announcement of the ‘death of man ...

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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... 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-dollar plays, shop for ...

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