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Getting High in the Führerbunker, and Other News

September 26, 2016 | by

The official amphetamine of the Third Reich.

  • Let’s start the day by insulting some dead writers, one of the finer pastimes at our disposal. The famed editor Robert Gottlieb’s new memoir, Avid Reader, is chockablock with gossip about deceased luminaries, Alexandra Alter writes: “A highlight reel of Mr. Gottlieb’s juiciest revelations includes swipes at the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul (a narcissist and ‘a snob’), the historian Barbara Tuchman (‘her sense of entitlement was sometimes hard to deal with’), William Gaddis (‘unrelentingly disgruntled’), John Updike (‘I was disturbed that he wouldn’t accept advances’) and Roald Dahl (an ‘erratic and churlish’ author who made ‘immoderate and provocative financial demands’ and anti-Semitic remarks).”
  • While we’re at it, I’m always looking for new and novel ways to denigrate the Nazis. Norman Ohler, a German writer, has hit the mother lode—he discovered that they were all hopped up on amphetamines during the war. His book Blitzed tells a deliriously druggy tale of the Third Reich: “The Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers … At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr. Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug—and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers … It even made its way into confectionery. ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,’ went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all.” 

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To Heaven with Buraq, and Other News

September 23, 2016 | by

Buraq with Taj Mahal, a poster from Delhi. Image: Sandria Freitag personal collection/Public Domain Review.

  • As the Quran has it, Prophet Muhammad took a night trip to heaven aboard a trusty winged pony-horse-mule-ish creature called Buraq. It’s an episode that’s inspired Islamic art ever since, because few artists can resist a theologically sound reason to draw a winged horse. Yasmine Seale writes, “The friction between the historical Prophet and his fantastical mount, between the sacred and the physical, reflects a similar divide within Buraq herself: she has been perceived both as a dream-horse—mythical, sexless, emblematic—and as a creature of flesh. And Buraq as animal, especially in her more sexualized incarnations, in turn raises thorny questions about the body of the Prophet himself. Artists generally elided this problem, or creatively eluded it; early images of the Prophet tend to show him with a veil, and more recently his body has been symbolized by a white cloud, a rose, or a flame.”

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Hy-Brasil Is Wherever You Want It to Be, and Other News

September 22, 2016 | by

Hy-Brasil in Petrus Plancius’s “Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus,” Amsterdam, 1594. Image via Mapping Boston Foundation and Hyperallergic

  • Today in cartographical howlers: a new exhibition in Boston, “Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island,” chronicles the exciting centuries when no one really knew where anything was and mapmakers had carte blanche to draw whole islands anywhere they damn well pleased: “O Brazil, or Hy-Brasil as it was frequently labeled, had haunted maps since the fourteenth century, first as a mistake, then as a mythological tribute. Its size and shape often morphed, its location wandered from Ireland to North America, and its name varied, but for five centuries it endured in Western cartography … There are all sorts of legends attached to Hy-Brasil, including giant black rabbits that lived with a sorcerer, gods hidden by the mists, lost civilizations, and, more recently, UFOs. However, its greatest connection is to Irish folklore, particularly the belief in the ‘Otherworld’ and its Elysium, a ‘Land of Youth.’ When it first was illustrated on a 1325 map, Hy-Brasil was considered to only be visible once every seven years due to the heavy mists, its land housing an immortal race of people.”
  • Planning your next family vacation? Why not force your loved ones to embark on a literary pilgrimage of Russia? You can tour the places where Dostoyevsky suffered, and where Tolstoy suffered, and then you can bicker among yourselves about which one of them suffered more productively. Jacqueline Carey did it, and she makes it sound more appealing: “We had the chance to visit the place where [The Brothers Karamazov] was written—Dostoyevsky’s last apartment, now a museum … Tea was always kept hot in the samovar, and he thought only he could make it right. When he drank tea made by his wife, he would say, ‘Oh, how wretched I am.’ He died on the couch, gazing at the Bible … In the Tolstoys’ sixteen-room winter house were many objects: books, a chess set, a piano, a tiger skin, a closet of clothes. On the landing an upright stuffed bear held a plate for visiting cards. Tolstoy was a man of obsessive enthusiasms. At the back of the house was a workroom with his cobbler tools, which he used to make shoes, including a pair for his oldest daughter Tatyana’s future husband.” 

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The Literate Pigeons, and Other News

September 21, 2016 | by

He thinks he’s people!

  • I used to take such pride in my literacy. “Look at me!” I would shout, running down the street in my I’M LITERATE T-shirt. “I can read!” But now the pep is out of my step, because apparently even pigeons can learn to read: “Through gradual training, the birds moved from learning to eat from a food hopper, to recognizing shapes, to learning words … After narrowing down to the four brightest birds out eighteen, over eight months of training, the advanced-class pigeons were taught to distinguish four-letter words from nonwords. They were even able to tell the difference between correctly spelled words and those with transposed characters, like ‘very’ and ‘vrey,’ or words with different letters included to make them completely misspelled.”
  • And that means it’s only a matter of time until the pigeons will be texting, too, because that’s what everyone does now. What do you think the pigeons are gonna do, use the telephone? The phone call is dead. Don’t even bother making a friendly call, unless you’re a needy loser. Timothy Noah tells us, “The phone call died, according to Nielsen, in the autumn of 2007. During the final three months of that year the average monthly number of texts sent on mobile phones (218) exceeded, for the first time in recorded history, the average monthly number of phone calls (213). A frontier had been crossed. The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech … Calling somebody on the phone used to be a perfectly ordinary thing to do. You called people you knew well, not so well, or not at all, and never gave it a second thought. But after the Great Texting Shift of 2007, a phone call became a claim of intimacy. Today if I want to phone someone just to chat, I first have to consider whether the call will be viewed as intrusive. My method is to ask myself, ‘Have I ever seen this person in the nude?’ ” 

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There’s Always Dairy

September 20, 2016 | by

Why not?

It’s rough out there for artists and writers right now, I know. There are days when you just want to throw in the towel, say fuck it, fake your own death, give insurance fraud a go, and live out of a Winnebago somewhere in remote Ontario. That’s a good plan—that’s a really good plan—but remember, you’ve got options.

You might just need a little breather, is all. Before you go permanently AWOL, consider Reuben Kadish, the artist, who died twenty-four years ago today. After World War II, when he had a family to support and couldn’t find a cheap place to live in New York, or even on Long Island, Kadish decided to check out for a while: he bought a disused dairy farm in Vernon, New Jersey. Despite knowing nothing about the operation, he ran it, apparently with great success, for ten years. When he moved to the place, he was a painter; when he reemerged as an artist, he was a sculptor, his hands having imbibed the ways of farm life. This could be you. Read More »

Elements

September 20, 2016 | by

Dan Walsh’s exhibition “Prints and Multiples” is at Pace Prints, in New York, through October 22. “I always regarded the space in a painting as the soul of a painting,” he told the Daily in 2011. “I’m working to find a space I can interact with on a day-to-day basis, something neutral and malleable: one of the goals of minimalism was to experience qualities of materials, forms, colors and remove psychological space.”

Dan Walsh, Axis, 2016, reduction woodcut, 22" x 22".

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