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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Digressions, Disappointments, Delicious Kisses

March 21, 2014 | by

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William N. Copley, Untitled, undated, hand-painted Marie Brizard glass bottle, 8 x 3 x 3 inches. Image via Paul Kasmin Gallery.

Paul Kasmin Gallery has a show up about the Iolas Gallery, which was open from 1955 to 1987 and was helmed by Alexander Iolas. He’s best remembered as the dealer who (along with William Copley, in California) helped introduce the Surrealists to the American art world; the work on view, which he originally showed, is worthy of a museum exhibition—paintings by Magritte, de Chirico, Ernst, and Man Ray. But Iolas championed art that suited his taste, rather than art that was trendy, which means he liked what was, at the time, very weird stuff—such as Joseph Cornell, Copley, and Takis. He gave Warhol his first gallery exhibition when the artist was eighteen, and he was the first to show Ed Ruscha in New York. In Paul Kasmin’s showcase, there’s a wonderfully big, ethereal painting by Dorothea Tanning and a bronze toilet in the shape of a fly (the paper is dispensed through the fly’s mouth, and you can store reading material in a bin under its thorax) by Les Lalanne. My favorite, though is a hand-painted glass bottle by Copley covered with tiny blue nudes, a modern take on the Grecian urn. —Nicole Rudick

In our recent interview with Matthew Weiner, the Mad Men creator states, “To me … digressions are the story.” César Aira’s wildly funny novel, The Conversations—recently translated by Katherine Silver—is one long digression: two friends discussing an action movie argue over the inconsistency of a Rolex watch on one of the film’s goatherd characters. This seemingly small error sets off an exploration of, among other topics, the reinterpretation of memory, reality vs. fiction on film, and storytelling in our “technological state of globalized civilization.” As Aira writes, “What had seemed about to come to an end had, in fact, just barely begun.” —Justin Alvarez

I realize I’m 993 years late to this party, but Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, as centuries of scholars and readers know, is one of the richest and soapiest books ever written—not bad for what’s arguably the first novel ever. The story follows Emperor-spawn Genji as he navigates his way through the Imperial Court of eleventh-century Japan, marrying, political-intriguing, philandering, marrying again, and predating Freudian psychology by nearly a thousand years. The Penguin edition, translated by Royall Tyler, retains the high language of the original Japanese while situating the modern reader in a world in which poetry could make policy—would that it could today!—and the intricacies of court hierarchy could make even a Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade Left Officer’s head spin. —Rachel Abramowitz

I’ve just received a new translation of Louise Labé’s love sonnets and elegies. Labé wrote during the French Renaissance; after her death, her poems fell into obscurity until they were rediscovered in the nineteenth century. Earlier today, I flipped through its pages and landed on Sonnet 18, which brought an immediate smile to my face. It begins,

Kiss me, rekiss me, & kiss me again:
Give me one of your most delicious kisses,
A kiss in excess of my fondest wishes:
I’ll repay you four, more scalding than you spend.

You complain? Well, let me ease your pain
By giving you ten more honeyed kisses.

What it lacks in subtlety it recoups in passion. No need to compare your love to a summer’s day: just bring on the kisses. —Dan Piepenbring

This week I reread The Journal of a Disappointed Man & A Last Diary, by W.N.P. Barbellion (real name Bruce Frederick Cummings), who was crippled by multiple sclerosis and kept a journal from 1903 until his death in 1919. Aware that he is dying—and angry that he can’t find an outlet for his ambition or his amorous feelings for beautiful London women—the diarist manages to be fascinated by all things in life—the tines of a fork, head lice, “the bare fact of existence.” This book is a little heartbreaking, but better than that, it’s also very funny. Open it up on just about any page, read any sentence, and it’s bound to be gold. —Anna Heyward

Thanks to 50 Watts, I stumbled upon the Times art critic Ken Johnson’s comic, Ball and Cone. Johnson describes the premise: “Ball and Cone encounter a series of metaphysical (and often comical) conundrums—and remain side by side as they face these challenges together.” For a better grasp on the philosophical playground Johnson has created with these two characters, read this great interview, conducted by Claire Donner. “Despite their inadequacies,” Johnson writes, “Ball and Cone have some pretty interesting adventures.” —J.A.

 

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