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On Film

Still Slacking After All These Years

July 30, 2014 | by

Everyone’s talking about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood at the moment—as well they should; it’s a remarkable film—but in honor of the director’s birthday, you should revisit his first feature, Slacker, which is freely available on YouTube.

The Criterion Collection’s site has a few insightful essays on Slacker, too. There’s “Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Do,” by Chris Walters, which was written in and about 1990, but feels right at home in 2014:

The all-but-total decay of public life has atomized others into subcultures of which they are the only member, free radicals randomly seeking an absent center as the clock beats out its senseless song.

The movie buries its treasure here, in the crevasses of its drollery and craziness. Nothing in the current climate is more permissible than mocking or reducing such people; Slacker celebrates their futility as a sign of endurance and mourns the passing of time by marking it with emblems of affection and empathy, the only prizes worth having.

Or Ron Rosenbaum’s “Slacker’s Oblique Strategy,” originally published in the New York Observer, which makes a seemingly outlandish but ultimately shrewd claim:

Slacker is at heart a very Russian film. Not just in its obvious kinship to Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov’s great nineteenth-century Russian novel, the classic celebration of the luxuriant pleasures of lethargy and the sensual delights of the contemplative life. There’s another Russian link, to Turgenev and his novels of the “superfluous man.” (And, to make a cross-cultural comparison, there’s a link as well to the seventeenth-century British pastoral “poetry of retirement” tradition, whose varieties are best limned in a volume with the lovely title The Garlands of Repose by the scholar Michael O’Loughlin.)

But on a deeper level, the true Russian kinship is less with Goncharov or Turgenev than with Dostoyevsky, to a novel like The Brothers Karamazov: the kind of novel that is unashamed in its preoccupation, its obsession, with ultimate philosophical and metaphysical questions.

And remember, in closing, the wise slogan proffered by one of Slacker’s many hitchhikers: “Every single commodity you produce is a piece of your own death!”

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Arts & Culture

Emily Brontë’s Boring Birthday

July 30, 2014 | by

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Emily’s portrait by her brother, Branwell.

It’s Emily Brontë’s birthday, and wouldn’t you know it—of her famously scarce surviving documents, several are letters written on and about the anniversary of her birth. Imagine! Rare glimpses into the thoughts of the most inscrutable Brontë sister! As Robert Morss Lovett wrote in The New Republic in 1928, Emily “was the household drudge … the ways by which her spirit grew into greatness and by what experience it was nourished, remain a mystery.”

And her biography at the Poetry Foundation deepens the mystique:

She is alternately the isolated artist striding the Yorkshire moors, the painfully shy girl-woman unable to leave the confines of her home, the heterodox creator capable of conceiving the amoral Heathcliff, the brusque intellect unwilling to deal with normal society, and the ethereal soul too fragile to confront the temporal world.

Let us turn, then, with not undue trepidation, to the letters themselves, precious reflections from one of English fiction’s brightest luminaries. A note from July 30, 1845 begins: Read More »

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Our Daily Correspondent

Repent at Leisure

July 30, 2014 | by

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Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Une noce chez le photographe, 1879

My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.

“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.

“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”

“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »

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Books

I Remember Georges Perec

July 30, 2014 | by

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“I remember that Stendhal liked spinach.” Stendhal, Olof Johan Södermark, 1839, oil on canvas.

I remember reading Joe Brainard’s accumulated aphoristic memories for the first time. I remember the way each entry built on the one that preceded it, even when they had little to do with each another, and I remember the texture of the entire enterprise: a pointillist portrait of a man by way of his internal dialogue; his observations, at one time absorbed as impressions, sent back out into the world, now shaped by a unique river of associations.

I can only imagine the extent to which Brainard’s I Remember has influenced writers since he penned his flowing juxtapositions forty-four years ago. I had long thought Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait the most obvious example—a seemingly endless sequence of declarative sentences that coolly relate both trivialities and intimacies. But I’ve now discovered that Georges Perec got there first.

In 1970, Perec met Harry Mathews; Mathews introduced Perec to ideas then circulating in the New York art scene, including Brainard’s “serial autobiography,” which was then on the cusp of publication. The French writer likely never saw Brainard’s book, but tale of its concept—each sentence beginning with the phrase “I remember”—was enough to inspire him. Next month, the fruits of Perecs efforts, also titled I Remember, will be published in English for the first time, by David R. Godine.
Read More »

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On the Shelf

Give the Heimlich in Style, and Other News

July 30, 2014 | by

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The artist Lara Antal’s custom-designed choking poster for Sunshine Co. Image via MICA

  • At the New York Public Library, a copy of Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (1926), once known as “the best-selling sex manual of all time,” was returned nearly fifty-four years late. Carnal knowledge takes time.
  • New York City requires its restaurants to “have posted in a conspicuous place, easily accessible to all employees and customers, a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver,” but the city’s official poster isn’t exactly pleasing to an aesthetic eye. “Restaurants citywide are increasingly turning to boutique posters to blend in with their overall look, so far without drawing the ire of health inspectors.” Graphic designers sell these for as much as eighty bucks.
  • The paranoid logic of the censoring mentality” makes sense only if one believes that readers are morons.
  • “The Internet has been the most dramatic change in the lives of blind people since the invention of Braille. I can still remember having to go into a bank to ask the teller to read my bank balances to me, cringing as she read them in a very loud, slow voice … tech-savvy blind people were early Internet adopters. In the 1980s, as a kid with a 2400-baud modem, I’d make expensive international calls from New Zealand to a bulletin-board system in Pittsburgh that had been established specifically to bring blind people together. My hankering for information, inspiration, and fellowship meant that even as a cash-strapped student, I felt the price of the calls was worth paying.”
  • In 2008, a seventeen-year-old changed the Wikipedia entry on the coati, a kind of raccoon that he claimed is also known as “a Brazilian aardvark.” References to this fabricated nickname “have since appeared in the Independent, the Daily Mail, and even in a book published by the University of Chicago … [The claim] still remains on its Wikipedia entry, only now it cites a 2010 article in the Telegraph as evidence … This kind of feedback loop—wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood—is a documented phenomenon. There’s even a Wikipedia article describing it.”

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Look

Incident / Resurrection

July 29, 2014 | by

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Roxy Paine, Incident / Resurrection, 2013; 6' 9 9/16" x 15' 11 1/4" x 10"; neon. On display through August 15 at Paul Kasmin Gallery.

My commute takes me past Paul Kasmin Gallery, at the corner of Twenty-seventh and Tenth, less than a block from The Paris Review’s offices. Every morning for the past month, I’ve paused there to stare at an installation through the window, a pair of illuminated silhouettes. I watch as one red neon man thwacks another with a red neon two-by-four. Every time, the second red neon man falls to the ground; every time, he rises again, on hands and feet, retracing the ungainly arc of his fall; and every time, the first red neon man thwacks him again.

Thwack, fall, rise, repeat. Like many forms of suffering, this one goes on ad nauseam—and like many forms of suffering, it burns itself into your retinas. I watch the cycle four or five times and then walk the two-thirds of a block to the office carrying an afterimage of neon trauma. I find this strangely buoyant.

Only today, after more than a month of doing this, did I decide to find out what exactly I’d been seeing. It’s Roxy Paine’s Incident / Resurrection (2013), which the artist’s website characterizes as “a visual loop of pure narrative movement”: Read More »

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