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Affectionate, Yet Arch: An Interview with Vanessa Davis

February 2, 2015 | by


Vanessa Davis is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Los Angeles, the author of the collections Spaniel Rage and Make Me a Woman. Her father was the photojournalist Gerald Davis—last year came Strange Stories, a book commemorating his photography. Selected by the designer Todd Oldham, the images in Strange Stories make a strong case for Gerald Davis as a unique and under-recognized talent, a keen observer of mid to late twentieth-century American life with a wry, playful sensibility that falls somewhere between William Eggleston and John Waters. Late last year, in a busy, light-filled café on Sunset Boulevard, I talked with Vanessa about the book and her father’s life and work.

Your dad was born in New York City. Was he always into art?

He was born in 1940, in Brooklyn, but he grew up in the Bronx. When I was a kid, he would tell stories about growing up and it sounded like a classic 1940s Bronx-Jewish childhood. He played stickball, people called him Slim, he had a girlfriend named Cookie.

I know he went to Baruch College to study petroleum distribution—whatever that is—but at the same time he was hanging around at the New York Times photo library, where my Uncle Danny worked. And after that he took a class at The New School with the photographer Lisette Model. He went to museums all the time, but it just seemed like something that was sort of organic, part of his New York experience. He didn’t live in the world of fine art—being an artist wasn’t part of his identity in a really self-conscious way. But he was very art-minded. Like, he loved the painter Morris Louis, and he used to talk about this one time when he just sat in the Museum of Modern Art and looked at Picasso’s Guernica for an hour. Read More »


I Did Not Approve This Message

May 1, 2014 | by

David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and the trouble with public image.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel filming The End of the Tour, a movie about David Foster Wallace not authorized by his literary trust. Photo: loveleeliz, via Instagram

In 2010, just under two years after David Foster Wallace’s death, the journalist David Lipsky published Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir of transcripts from an interview he’d conducted with Wallace in 1996 for Rolling Stone. The book was well reviewed—it made the Times best-seller list—and late last year it was announced that it would become a film starring Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. The End of the Tour is already in postproduction and slated for release in late 2014, but last week, the Wallace Literary Trust issued a public statement making it “clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support” the film: “There is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”

I was struck by similarities between this situation and the case of James Joyce and Samuel Roth, which began in 1926. In his recent book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, the scholar Robert Spoo devotes two chapters to Joyce’s desperate attempts to defend his intellectual property against Roth, an infamous American “booklegger” who reprinted the entire text of Ulysses, as well as large portions of Finnegans Wake, without permission. Roth’s actions, like those of the filmmakers of The End of the Tour, were not illegal: Joyce didn’t possess the U.S. copyright on his works, which were originally published in Europe and—after a brief window during which he could have established copyright by securing American publication—fell immediately into the U.S. public domain. Read More »