What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 24, 2014 Issue

Nick Paumgarten’s brilliant “Berlin Nights,” in this week’s issue, reads like an excerpt from an extraordinary journal, telling, in detail after glorious detail, what he did, where he went, what he saw, whom he met, as he explored Berlin’s fascinating techno scene.  Here are some of my favorite passages:

I had no trouble getting in. Inside, an assault of pounding primal techno lured me down a corridor of smoke and strobes, into a smoky basement, figures appearing and disappearing in it like ships in fog.

I got a beer from a stern bartender and went to stand in front of a wall of old blackened safe-deposit boxes from Wertheim.

The vibe was laid-back, the look dishevelled, wild-eyed, attractive, louche. Bedhead, shaved head – intentional hair. Dark clothing, layers, leather, natural fibres, boots, scarves, piercings. The smell of tobacco and weed and sweat.

The three men hunched over laptops and mixers as though herding tiny animals with their hands.

The bass rattled the empty tin record bins behind the d.j. I sent a text to the boar hunter, wondering if he was around. He replied, “KitKatClub.”

Upstairs, the dingy gray light of another Baltic morning leaked past the edges of the louvered shutters at the windows. Soon the shades would flash open in synch with the music, to astonish the congregation with the insult of daylight.

Paumgarten loves techno (“The music was churning, hypnotic, almost psychedelic, and I abandoned myself to it”). I confess I’m not so crazy about it; the Bill Charlap Trio is more my cup of tea. What I abandon myself to is Paumgarten’s delectable prose. He could write about manure spreaders and I’d read it. “Berlin Nights” is a great piece. I enjoyed it immensely.

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