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Arts & Culture

All the News Not Fit to Print

October 23, 2014 | by

NTNYT

“Sounds as if they emptied the back room at Elaine’s for this one.” —Calvin Trillin, in 1978, speculating on the character of those behind Not the New York Times.

The New York Times has seen surprisingly few interruptions in its 163-year history. The paper took five holidays in the early 1850s; a strike in 1962–3 led to nineteen days of silence; another, in 1965, caused four “joint” publication dates, which combined the Saturday and Sunday papers. And then there was 1978, when, from August 10 to November 4, a multiunion strike shuttered all three of New York City’s major newspapers. No editions of the Times were printed for a record-setting eighty-eight days.

Two and a half months into the ’78 strike, though—and thirty-six years ago today—New Yorkers awoke to find the Times unexpectedly back on newsstands, kind of. This was Not the New York Times, a one-off parody rife with satirical news stories, faux advertisements, and farcical editorials. Among the items on the front page were an exposé on an exotic new drug (“pronounced ko-kayne” and “generally ingested nasally”), a tedious seven-paragraph report written entirely in bureaucratese (“Carter Forestalls Efforts To Defuse Discord Policy”), and Mayor Koch’s recipe for chicken curry. There was a weather notice, too: “Mostly present today, still there tomorrow.”

The spoof, it turned out, was the brainchild of Paris Review founder George Plimpton and a handful of his friends, including Christopher Cerf, Tony Hendra, and Rusty Unger. Among those enlisted as “journalists” were Carl Bernstein, Nora Ephron, and Terry Southern—though none was exactly forthright about his or her contributions.

“I had nothing to do with this,” Cerf quipped. “I can give you a list of other people who weren’t involved as well. It’s also not true that we used the Plimptons’ apartment to put the paper together. I ought to know. I was there all week.” Plimpton himself was unavailable for comment—presumably tidying up after playing host to the editorial debauchery. (Incidentally, The Paris Review—also run out of Plimpton’s 72nd Street apartment—failed to meet its deadlines that fall; the staff was forced to merge its final two issues into a single Fall-Winter edition.) Read More »

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Our Daily Correspondent

Sharing Economy

October 23, 2014 | by

tools

From a Dutch election poster, 1981.

I had never used one of those Web sites in which you list an odd job and ordinary people vie to do it for you. The arrangement seems almost too good to be true. So when I was faced with a household repair, I decided to make a go of it: I started a profile and posted a request.

“Small Welding Job” I titled it. “I have an old brass bed with a shaky frame that needs to be soldered. I think it will be a straightforward job if you have a welding machine/iron. Thanks so much!”

Within minutes, I had received a notification: I had a match! The young woman in question looked omnicompetent and had a bunch of glowing reviews. We arranged a time and I gave her my address, feeling very pleased with the whole business.

That night, I got a message. “Please call me by 10:30 P.M. or this task will be canceled,” it said ominously. I called. We reconfirmed our appointment. I gave her my apartment number.

At five A.M., I was awakened by an incoming text message. It was my handywoman. “There is no trace of the existence of your apartment online,” she wrote. “I do not feel safe with this situation. Thank you for understanding.”

I wasn’t sure how to defend myself against this. “I swear it’s real,” I wrote back lamely. Read More »

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On Travel

Above the Ice

October 23, 2014 | by

Grief and adventure on the path to the North Pole.

Biard_magdalena_bay

François-Auguste Biard, Magdalenefjorden, 1840.

For two weeks in the summer of 2013, I traveled around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard as part of the Arctic Circle Residency, proceeding up the west coast of the main island, Spitsbergen, and making landfall at tiny settlements and untrammeled beaches at the edge of the known world. At one point, our course took us into a small fjord where we sailed past an abandoned mining town called Blomstrandhalvoya; a research station, Ny-Ålesund, on the opposite shore; and, farther in, two massive glaciers, Kongsvegend and Kronebreen, twin ice masses sliding slowly into the fjord.

The glaciers hug a promontory butte that stands in defiance to these ice sheets, though they are both slowly wearing it away. In a struggle imperceptible to human eyes, the glaciers grind relentlessly against the rock face, carving their inexorable history into its striated face. They could win against this rock, wearing it down over eons into a plain or even a valley, but instead they’re ceding the battle, retreating backward. At some point in the future the promontory will be an island, as the glaciers recede and allow water to spill in behind them.

The sound you hear when you put ice cubes into warm (but not hot) water—that subtle but quick crackling—is the sound all around you in the summer fjords near glaciers. There is ice everywhere in the water, the size of your fist and the size of small islands, and because the water is only a few degrees above freezing, the ice cracks slowly, abundantly. It takes a moment to understand what you’re hearing, because it’s so constant and so low in the air—this soft crackle, like static over a radio.

Next to the noise, there is the wind. Strong, persistent, a wall of bitter blue. Constant: no slack, no gusts, as if from an electric fan. It is utterly cold and utterly fierce. You gaze into the white at the edge of the glacier that gives way slowly to its interior blues, blues of a depth for which there is no word, buffeted by the wind, which streams steadily and directly into you. Read More »

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On the Shelf

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”

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The Print Series

The Brain of the City

October 22, 2014 | by

Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled, 1965, lithograph, 25" x 21".

I once heard Jasper Johns say that Rauschenberg was the man who in this century had invented the most since Picasso. What he invented above all was, I think, a pictorial surface that let the world in again. Not the world of the Renaissance man who looked for his weather clues out of the window; but the world of men who turn knobs to hear a taped message ... electronically transmitted from some windowless booth. Rauschenberg’s picture plane is for the consciousness immersed in the brain of the city.
—Leo Steinberg, “Reflections on the State of Criticism,” Artforum, March 1972

Since 1964 The Paris Review has commissioned a series of prints and posters by major contemporary artists. Contributing artists have included Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, and William Bailey. Each print is published in an edition of sixty to two hundred, most of them signed and numbered by the artist. All have been made especially and exclusively for The Paris Review. Many are still available for purchase. Proceeds go to The Paris Review Foundation, established in 2000 to support The Paris Review.

This print is by Robert Rauschenberg, who died in 2008; he would be eighty-nine today. His print came in an edition of 150 that has, alas, sold out, but there are many others available here.

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Books

Material Objects

October 22, 2014 | by

Lessons from Rare Book School.

Edward Collier, Trompe l'Oeil of Newspapers, Letters and Writing Implements on a Wooden Board, 1699.

Four stories underneath the stately Georgian campus of the University of Virginia, I was with a group of rare-book experts scrutinizing a five-hundred-year-old Italian woodcut of two chubby infants. They framed a capital letter L. One, with a look of insouciant concentration, was thrusting his butt over the downslope of the L to defecate on it.

“The woodcut accompanies Andreas Vesalius’s discourse on the muscles of excretion,” Roger Gaskell, a rare-book dealer based in Cambridgeshire, told the group. It turns out that Vesalius, the Renaissance physician remembered today as the father of modern anatomy, had an intensely strained relationship with his publishers. “This initial letter differs from the others in the book—despite the fact that the printing house had a perfectly good L already cut,” Gaskell said. “So I rather suspect this shitting putti was a message to his publisher.”

Over a coffee break, the members of Gaskell’s seminar mingled with three others led by such luminaries as Mark Dimunation, the chief of the rare-book division at the Library of Congress. They were gathered in a warren of windowless basement rooms for an annual rite of passage in the world of antiquarian texts: Rare Book School. Read More »

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