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Author Archive

Pictures with Problems

March 31, 2015 | by

personaldisease

Peter Saul, Personal Disease, 1966, acrylic and pen on canvas, 49" x 65".

“I think I was way oversensitive as a kid, very much easily frightened,” Peter Saul said in an oral history for the Archives of American Art in 2009:

I was frightened of movies, very scared. My mother was quite a fan of film noir and mystery stories by Ellery Queen and things of that type. And she took me to these movies, which by today’s standards would be not only harmless, it would be impossible to imagine any child or human being being scared of. Dressed to Kill [1941] was the first one I remember ... The reason I was scared was because it took place in an old Victorian building like my parents rented at that time. And there was a dumbwaiter that went from the basement, where there had been some servant kitchen, up to the dining room. And in the movie, a hand comes out of the dumbwaiter with a gun and shoots somebody at the dining table.

So anyway, we come into the dining room in the evening. The maid is going to serve the stuff and everything is fine. I realize that my position is with my back to the dumbwaiter. If it were to happen, of course, you know, imagination takes over, you know. I thought, oh, my God; I could be killed this evening.

You can see the aftereffects of this fear in his work, and it’s contagious. To look at a Peter Saul painting is to think, I could be killed this evening—but, you know, I’m kind of looking forward to it. “From Pop to Punk,” a show at Venus over Manhattan featuring his work from the sixties and seventies, brims with candy-colored violence and lush, vibrant grotesqueries. Hundreds of hands (and eyes and tongues) with guns emerge from the dumbwaiters of the mind. Things writhe, stab, choke, and unravel, often simultaneously. Saul, who’s eighty now, describes these as “pictures with problems.”

“Since I’ve become old, I’ve become much more interesting to most people,” he said in his oral history. “I haven’t given up on painting. I think it has to have a good story, and I think that the story was banished from painting too quickly at the end of the nineteenth century.” And Saul is definitely a storyteller—the most interesting one at the campfire, an antic, willfully offensive bard. The narratives in his paintings hover just on the right side of inscrutability, and his fondness for labels (“combined rich and poor asshole” is a personal favorite) helps to demystify, though not, of course, to solve: these are pictures with problems, not solutions.

“From Pop to Punk” shows through April 18. Read More »

“Grammatico-political Monstrosities,” and Other News

March 31, 2015 | by

Survival_of_the_Fittest

From Puck Magazine, 1900.

  • In which Tom McCarthy, Rachel Kushner, Paul Muldoon, and other writers are photographed in their offices: “Helicopters, the L.A.P.D.’s crazy hobby, thunder overhead, chasing some guy who stole a Honda Element,” Kushner writes of her home office in LA. “The whoop-whoop of sirens comes next. I sit at my desk, less than a mile from the criminal courts and the jail, structures of human sacrifice, where people’s lives get wrecked.”
  • “I talked about the times he had slapped me and the times he had locked me in the cellar, and the point of these stories was always the same: his fury was always triggered by some petty detail, some utter triviality, and as such was actually comical. At any rate we laughed when we told the stories. Once I had left a pair of gloves on the bus and he slapped me in the face when he found out. I had leaned against the wobbly table in the hall and sent it flying and he came over and hit me. It was absolutely absurd!” A new excerpt from the long-awaited fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
  • A strain of occultism runs through Yeats’s poetry—“do-it-yourself religion,” as Seamus Heaney called it—and sure enough, “as a young man, according to the scholar Kathleen Raine, Yeats had a pack of Tarot cards among his ‘few and treasured possessions.’ In London, in 1887, he was initiated into the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, one of those secret societies that tend, as Raine remarks, ‘to relate everything with everything—letters with numbers, with cycles of months, years, and the signs of the zodiac, with parts of the body, celestial and infernal hierarchies of angels, with minerals, metals, plants, and animals.’ ”
  • On Obadiah Slope, the “calculating curate” at the center of Trollope’s Barchester Towers: “Isn’t Slope just a man seeking a better job and, into the bargain, a wife with a comfortable income? What exactly does he do, and why is he so disturbing? Ruthlessly fawning, constantly trying to wriggle his way into favor with the rich and powerful, and in the process tread on the heads of others, Slope is a particularly poisonous example of the kind of creep that haunts almost any organization or social group.”
  • Reports by the World Bank are torturing the English language like never before—these “grammatico-political monstrosities” amount to a new form of expression, “Bankspeak.” “In the world of ‘management’, people have goals and agendas; faced with opportunities, challenges and critical situations, they elaborate strategies. To appreciate the novelty, let’s recall that, in the 1950s–60s, issues were studied by experts who surveyed and conducted missions, published reports, assisted, advised and suggested programs.”

Big, Bent Ears, Part 3: A Documentary on Nazoranai

March 30, 2015 | by

A still from the Nazoranai documentary.

For the third chapter of Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Big, Bent Ears: A Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” we’re premiering their documentary on Nazoranai, an experimental improvisation trio. All the interviews and recordings come from last year’s Big Ears Festival, in Knoxville. The writer Ben Ratliff, who appears in the film, has said that “it’s good for the brain to watch this.” We wholeheartedly agree. Watch the documentary here.

Dickens’s Desk Is the People’s Desk, and Other News

March 30, 2015 | by

Samuel_Luke_Fildes_-_The_Empty_Chair_(The_Graphic,_1870)

Dickens’s desk. Samuel Luke Fildes, The Empty Chair, 1870.

  • What accounts for Jane Austen’s unprecedented posthumous success? “Tolstoy, Dickens and Proust are all remembered, and still read, but they do not have countless fans throughout the world who reread their books each year, who eagerly await the latest television or movie adaptation, who attend conventions in period costume, and who no doubt dream about the heroes and heroines of their novels.”
  • Today, in the furniture of the greats: Charles Dickens’s desk (and chair) have been preserved for posterity. Having been “hidden away” for a hundred and fifty years, during which many people who were not Charles Dickens had the audacity to use them, they’ll soon assume their rightful place at London’s Dickens Museum, where they’ve been “secured for the benefit of all our visitors.”
  • The many faces of Terrance Hayes: “When college students read Hayes, they talk about the underlying seriousness of poems about lynchings, fistfights or rape. But when poets talk about Hayes, they tend to address his invented forms: poems based on anagrams, on the Japanese slide shows called pechakucha and on puzzles.”
  • Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a 1951 mystery novel, renewed interest in Richard III, that most maligned of monarchs: “The novel was immediately popular when it first appeared … Tey’s dissection of received history prompted readers to question … everything they had been taught. This could feel like an awakening.”
  • Robert Moses is the subject of a new graphic biography—from France. “No New Yorker would mistake the book for a native product. There are editing glitches. Randalls Island becomes ‘Randall Island,’ Staten Island is rendered ‘State Island’ … Lines of dialogue like ‘You’ll stay for the dinner I’ve organized with some people from the municipality’ were probably not uttered quite like that.”

Soap

March 27, 2015 | by

Photo: Kathea Pinto

From “Soap,” by Francis Ponge, in our Summer 1968 issue. Ponge, a French poet and essayist born on this day in 1899, believed that “a mind in search of ideas should first stock up on appearances.” “Soap” is an excerpt from his Le Savon.

There is so much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is just the object suited to me.

*

Soap has much to say. May it say it with volubility, enthusiasm. When it has finished saying it, it no longer is.

*

Soap was made by man for his body’s use, yet it does not willingly attend him. This inert stone is nearly as hard to hold as a fish. See it slip from me and like a frog dive into the basin again … emitting also at its own expense a blue cloud of evanescence, of confusion. Read More »

The Rise of Slackness, and Other News

March 27, 2015 | by

General-echo

General Echo‘s 12" of Pleasure LP.

  • Luc Sante on listening to reggae in the late seventies: “General Echo, whose real name was Errol Robinson, was prominent in the rise of ‘slackness,’ the sexually explicit reggae style that began to eclipse the Rastafarian ‘cultural’ style … his songs include ‘Bathroom Sex’ and ‘I Love to Set Young Crutches on Fire’ (‘crotches,’ that is), as well as ‘Drunken Master’ and ‘International Year of the Child.’ ”
  • The Cannes Film Festival saw a lot more action in the fifties: “Of all the grueling daily rituals … perhaps the most frivolous are the combination beach party/publicity functions, where paparazzi scramble to get shots of the ‘traditional striptease by the starlet of the year standing on the rocks.’ This particular custom was spawned in part by Brigitte Bardot’s inaugural, bikinied appearance at Cannes in 1953. But disrobing actresses arguably didn’t become a fixture of the festival until the following year, when Simone Silva got banned for posing topless next to Robert Mitchum—a spectacle that caused a pile-up of frantic, injured photographers.”
  • How the Danish writer Dorthe Nors found her way to the short story: “The Swedes have that big, fearless, existential approach to literature. The Danes have an elastic, playful, anarchistic and ironic way of using language. And here was this dude telling me—the closet Swede—that I should make use of the strengths of my own language … ”
  • What does Taylor Swift have in common with Austen, Auden, Thackeray, and Shakespeare? And don’t say, She’s a storyteller of legendary talents—the answer is more mundane. She’s an adopter of they as a singular pronoun.
  • When John Updike tried to write a Jewish character—Henry Bech, who went on to star in four of Updike’s novels—Cynthia Ozick took him to task: “Updike comes and goes as anthropologist, transmitting nothing … Being a Jew is something more than being an alienated marginalized sensibility with kinky hair.”