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This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Crayoned Cartoons and Computer Corruption

December 19, 2014 | by


James Hoff, Stuxnet No. 1, 2014, chromaluxe transfer on aluminum, 30" × 24". Image via BOMB

I caught Susan Te Kahurangi King’s exhibition at Andrew Edlin Gallery before it closes this weekend, and I’m glad I did. I'd never heard of her, but her cartoony, figurative drawings have affinities with work by some of my favorite artists: Gary Panter, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Barry McGee, and Peter Saul. King hails from New Zealand (her middle name is Maori), and has drawn prolifically since childhood. The show contains work she made when she was only about a decade old; these drawings aren’t notable for their technical prowess but because their imagery and composition carry over into the drawings she made when she was older. That is to say, these are forms and arrangements that have preoccupied King for much of her life. Tightly packed configurations of Bugs Bunnies and Donald Ducks and other figures—sometimes colored with bright crayons, other times left as outlines—are frequently cloistered on one side of the paper, resembling fragments of ancient tablets. Most works in the show are from the sixties and seventies; King mysteriously stopped drawing in the eighties and has only now taken it up again. Here's hoping this is only the first of many exhibitions to come. —Nicole Rudick

For a few months now I’ve been irritating my friends, colleagues, and loved ones by using one of the artist James Hoff’s contaminated ringtones. Call me up and anyone nearby will hear a version of Apple’s standard iPhone Marimba ringtone infected with the ILOVEYOU virus, a computer worm from 2000. This sounds like exactly what it is: broken. A familiar motif corrupted with static, screeches, and squelches, and so rendered at once annoying and unsettling. (“Your phone is fucked,” a guy once told me on the street, his voice suggesting that a close relative of mine had just died.) The infected ringtones are part of Hoff’s vast, viral canon: he’s reduced a stunning variety of images and songs to code and then reconstituted them with corrupt code inside. “My newer work definitely draws from everyday phenomena inside the background noise of pop culture,” Hoff told BOMB earlier this year: “computer viruses, ear-worms, and syndromes. All of these are illnesses, broadly speaking. Viruses, like art, need a host, preferably a popular one … Like traditional illnesses, computer viruses travel through networks of communication or trade … A few years back I felt the need to try and to reconcile my creative process with the language of code, which is touching everything these days. It’s to the point where I don’t even know if you could say that this table right here (knocking on table) doesn’t have code underneath it.” It’s hard to think of an artist today engaging more profoundly with the seamy underbelly of our technocracy—and as hacking scandals continue to make headlines, his work only becomes more relevant. —Dan Piepenbring

Blanche McCrary Boyd was my creative-writing advisor at Connecticut College. For more than twenty-five years, she’s collected scores of young writers—many of us inattentive, hungover, and horny—vying for a seat in her twelve-person fiction seminar. To call her a deft storyteller would be an understatement; Blanche would routinely fill our three-hour sessions with tales of addiction, recovery, and everything in between. I picked up her second novel, The Revolution of Little Girls (1991), in an attempt to recapture the awesome terror of her voice—and it did not disappoint. Blanche’s familiar tone is unavoidable, especially so in her protagonist, Ellen Burns. A delightfully wry and impulsively adventurous southern belle, Ellen stumbles headlong into an affair with another woman. But not before spending her early years stealing fish, getting drunk on spirits of ammonia, and hypnotizing a dean or two at Duke. Ellen is charming when graceless and wonderfully nasty when need be. A definite mainstay in lesbian literature, Blanche’s novel is a wild trip of insight, uncomfortable giggles, and old-fashioned wisecracks. —Alex Celia


Our Daily Correspondent


December 19, 2014 | by


From the cover of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl.

The past, as we know, is another country, and from the age of four or so, I wished passionately for dual citizenship. What old-fashioned meant, I couldn’t even have told you. But for most of my early life I worshipped the idea devoutly. To me it meant inheritance, placement, being part of something larger. 

I think I envisioned this vague past as a world where I belonged. Other children were kind and wholesome; clothes were strange and modest; I was not ridiculous. Paradoxically, my communion with the past made me wholly ridiculous. Sporting bloomers to the third grade has rarely been a road to modern popularity. 

As might be clear, my family had no particular veneration for ritual, but I still cleaved to the idea of holidays as a tradition-steeped idyll. I baked and decorated and played carols, and my homemade gifts were very strange. The primary reason for this is that I got all my ideas from a series of vintage books with names like Let’s Make a Gift! and Fun and Thought for Little Folk, and the youngest of them dated to the late 1930s. As a result, my parents were treated to pen wipers and blotters, a pipe cleaner “embroidered” with the word Father (my dad did not smoke a pipe), and, on one particularly lackluster occasion, a “brush for invalids” that involved wrapping a stick in a piece of flannel so the bedridden individual did not need to wash her hair. Read More »

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Arts & Culture

Ghosts on the Nog

December 19, 2014 | by

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories.

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842.

I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The well wishes. The trip to the Home Depot. The seasonal ales.

This is the Fezziwig side of Christmas, that portion that makes you look up the word wassail when you encounter it and think, Ah, that would be fun. But what of the darker elements of Christmas—and what of Christmas for those people who enjoy making merry most years but may have hit upon a bit of a tricky patch? What succor of the season might they find at the proverbial inn?

Having experienced both sides of Christmas, there is but one constant I am aware of that serves you well both in the merriest of times and in the darkest: the classic English Christmas ghost story. You’d think Halloween would be the holiday that elicits the best macabre stories, but you’re going to want to check that opinion and get more on the Snow Miser side of the equation. Time was the English loved to scare you out of your mind come December, but in a fun way that resulted in stories well afield of your typical ghost story outing. Read More »


On Film

Made in Hollywood

December 19, 2014 | by

Budd Schulberg’s centennial.

Budd Schulberg (center) at the Watts Writers’ Workshop, ca. 1965.

Budd Schulberg (center) at the Watts Writers’ Workshop, ca. 1965.

“My problem,” novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg told Kurt Vonnegut at the close of a 2001 interview published in these pages, “is that I’m not going to live long enough to do all the different things I want to do. My time is beginning to run out a bit.” Then eighty-seven years old, Schulberg—whose credits include the Oscar-winning script for On the Waterfront (1954), a handful of widely acclaimed novels, a Hollywood memoir, a collection of short stories, a biography of Muhammad Ali, and volumes of essays and magazine articles on boxing—was working with Spike Lee on a screenplay about the epic 1930s battles between heavyweight world champions Joe Louis and Max Schmeling and collaborating with Ben Stiller on a film adaptation of his best-known novel What Makes Sammy Run? (1941). Eight years later, he bid his final farewell before either of these projects could be realized. He would have turned one hundred this year.

Early last month, I attended a two-day celebration of his centennial in Hanover, New Hampshire, at Dartmouth College, from which Schulberg graduated in 1936 and whose Rauner Special Collections Library holds his papers. The event began with the unveiling of a library exhibition—“Budd Schulberg and the Scripting of Social Change,” which runs through the end of next month—charting the writer’s numerous engagements with political events that spanned much of the twentieth century. As editor of The Dartmouth, the college’s daily paper, in 1935, he covered a quarry workers’ strike in Proctor, Vermont, anticipating the preproduction research he would undertake on the mafia infiltration of the dockworkers’ union for On the Waterfront. Read More »


On the Shelf

The Hattifatteners at Bedtime, and Other News

December 19, 2014 | by


Tove Jansson‘s Hattifatteners.

  • On a new biography of Tove Jansson: “She discovered lesbian love … Biographies invariably contain a section on her sexuality and this one is no exception. Its insight that the creatures in Moominland called the Hattifatteners ‘resemble a wandering flock of penises or condoms’ is a point to ponder when reading aloud at bedtime.”
  • What are the most important questions to ask ourselves when we read? “What is the emotional atmosphere behind this narrative? That’s the question I suppose I’m asking—and what is the consequent debate arising from that atmosphere?”
  • The Chinese term for “effortless action” is wu wei. You’ll soon see it in self-help texts—and why not? Striving to try less hard may, in fact, be very self-helpful. “Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”
  • “A raucous, Sherlock Holmes–themed pantomime called ‘Mrs. Hudson’s Christmas Corker’ might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently.”
  • Matisse’s cutouts are now—and not for the first time—the toast of the art world. But when he made them, he wasn’t so sure: “Matisse worried that working with cut paper was cheating—a shortcut to painting—and he kept it a secret. ‘It is necessary not to say anything about this,’ he wrote to his son Pierre, in 1931.”



Happy Haneke

December 18, 2014 | by


A still from Haneke’s The White Ribbon, lovingly altered by Luisa Zielinski.

Three simple facts:

1. It’s the third night of Hanukkah.

2. Our new issue features the Art of Screenwriting No. 5, an interview with Michael Haneke.

3. Haneke and Hanukkah are pronounced in very nearly the same fashion.

A disinterested observer might chalk this up to mere coincidence. That observer would be correct. Still, you may consider, during these eight nights of gift-giving, capitalizing on the Haneke/Hanukkah near-homonym and presenting your loved one with a subscription to The Paris Review, starting with our Haneke issue—just forty dollars for a year’s supply of fiction, poetry, interviews, and art, including a postcard announcing your gift with a personal message. They make a great present for aspiring writers, who should, in the words of William Kennedy, “read the entire canon of literature that precedes them, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review.”

And our thanks to our interviewer, Luisa Zielinski, for sending along the highly appropriate greeting above.