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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Procrastination, Peacocks, Prince

July 4, 2014 | by

Phil, a leucistic white peafowl from the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. Photo via Twitter.

It turns out that I was right last week (I love it when that happens) about the print version of Nautilus. It’s sharp, well-rounded, and just plain nice to look at. I could recommend any number of articles (such as Slava Gerovitch’s fascinating essay on Russian mathematician Andrei Kolmogorov), but one in particular made an impression: Alisa Opar’s short piece in the Spring 2014 issue on procrastination. I’m writing this, you see, up against the deadline that Dan Piepenbring sets for us each week. I did the same thing last week. Though I spend all week knowing I’ll write a few lines on what I’ve been reading, I wait, without fail, until the very last minute to sit down and write it. That’s because, according to Opar’s article, my future self is a stranger. That future version of me is the one who will have to deal with the consequences of my current procrastination (sucker!). Apparently, making a lengthy timeline that ends with me writing this should help me feel connected to my future self. It’s an interesting idea. I’ll get right on it tomorrow. —Nicole Rudick

Earlier this week, I took a coffee and a book to the Peace Garden at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I found myself joined by a white-feathered peacock; Phil, a leucistic peafowl, is apparently a regular there. Always followed by his flowing white train, he creates a procession wherever he goes; you couldn’t ask for a more august companion. And with Phil’s distinguished mien in mind, I point to D. H. Lawrence’s short story “Wintry Peacock,” from his 1922 collection England, My England and Other Stories. It tells of secret lovers, purloined correspondence, and a protective peacock named Joey. The narrator finds himself the unwilling mediator of a young English country couple’s marital troubles, a task he meets with equal parts fascination and disgust. As he translates a letter from the husband’s French mistress, he suppresses a gag: “I vaguely realized that I was reading a man’s private correspondence. And yet, how could one consider these trivial, facile French phrases private? Nothing more trite and vulgar in the world than such a love-letter—no newspaper more obvious.” —Chantal McStay

A few weeks ago, I discovered Richard Prince’s Instagram account. Prince, for the uninitiated, is the guy who took images of the Marlboro Man from cigarette ads, blew them up, and called them his own work. Then they sold for a bajillion dollars at auction, and he was celebrated as a deity of conceptual appropriationism. His style of appropriation—photographing and re-photographing—is perfectly suited to Instagram. He takes screenshots of posts by celebrities, prints them out on a large scale, takes photos of them with his iPhone, and then reposts them. “It was like revisiting an older system that I was already familiar with,” he explained in a post on his website, except “the photo paper was an electronic page, the source material was Google, and the re-photography was a screen-save.” In the past year, he’s posted everything from copies of The Catcher in the Rye that credit him as the author to a completely nude ten-year-old Brooke Shields re-photographed from his 1983 work Spiritual America. (That got him temporarily banned from the site.) Prince has made room for his experiments in a medium known for food porn and social one-upsmanship—quite a feat. —Teddy Lasry

The Pitchfork Review, a new quarterly print counterpart to the music criticism site, may not win many converts—it’s very much “on brand,” though Pitchfork’s trademark decimal-point ratings are mercifully absent. Still, even if you’re inclined to write off the site as a hollow tastemaker, give the magazine a look; lavishly designed and thoughtfully composed, it will be of interest to anyone who yearns for the heyday of Spin, Rolling Stone, Downbeat, or The Village Voice. Its latest issue boasts a number of excellent diversions—I was particularly impressed with Gary Giddins’s piece on Stanley Kubrick’s scores, and with Lindsay Zoladz’s “Ghost Riding: The Story of the Performing Hologram,” which examines the burgeoning use of holography and its curious intersection with hip-hop culture. —Dan Piepenbring

You’ve found me in Coral Springs, Florida, where the last brick-and-mortar bookstore, a Borders, was turned into a Walgreens three years ago. This means the largest bookseller here is Walmart—which has advantages of a sort. In honor of the Fourth, for example, one could purchase a case of Bud, and a bundle of fireworks, and a copy of Rush Revere and the First Patriots: Time Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans, all from one convenient cathedral of commerce. —Andrew Jimenez

Schopenhauer is one of history’s most potent pessimists. According to him, we’re all doomed to live a life of misery: one’s body is a slave to one’s will; one’s will is a slave to desire; and desire is a pit of infinite, insatiable want that urges the will—and the body—forward. As he writes in The World as Will and Representation, “all willing springs from lack, from deficiency, and thus from suffering.” Sunny. Still, World is a cerebral playground—Proust, for instance, was undoubtedly influenced by its metaphysics—and you may not be familiar with its less acerbic passages on art, which is, as Schopenhauer has it, the ultimate antidote: aesthetic contemplation “through the rumination of visual art” allows us to achieve a “pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.” Perhaps even more interestingly, Schopenhauer was one of the first philosophers to regard music, rather than painting, as the highest and most powerful aesthetic form. Ruminate on that! —Caitlin Youngquist

Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion is a kind of myth—Khakpour sets the novel in a rural Iranian village, where she tell the story of Zal, a boy born with such a pale complexion that his mother confines him to a birdcage. Zal has no connection to human society until he is freed from his cage and brought to New York by a behavioral analyst. The novel is a lyrical force of magical realism and cultural examinations, and it is, as Khakpour explained in The New Yorker, based on a short fable from “The Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings”—a medieval poem regarded as the national epic of Iran and the Persian-speaking world. It, too, tells of a boy named Zal, also raised by a mythical bird. Khakpour expands the story to fit the modern scale, but she celebrates the legacy of centuries past—to read both works side by side is to marvel at the Persia of then and the Iran of now. —Yasmin Roshanian

2 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Virginia Haddad | July 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I can’t think of peafowl and not think of Flannery O’Connor who surrounded herself with the 50-some progeny of a pair she’d bought by mail order in 1952 for her farm in Georgia. Their symbolism is as loud as their shrieks and plumage in her tale “The Displaced Person.” With each named after a different O’Connor story character, a few peacocks still grace her home in Andalusia, now a historic park. http://m.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/flannery-o-connor-peacocks-blog-entry-1.1640856

  2. Shelley | July 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Leucistic!

    Thanks to my inadequate vocabulary and the generosity of the Internet, I just saw a white turtle, a white squirrel, and a white alligator.

    And of course it’s impossible to think of peacocks without remembering Hunter.

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