December 16, 2013 | by Nicole Rudick
The opening to Betsy Karel’s new book of photography, Conjuring Paradise, is a poem by Kay Ryan titled “Slant.” It wonders at the randomness of loss, suspecting that its arbitrariness may be otherwise:
Does a skew
insinuate into the visual plane; do
the avenues begin to
strain for the diagonal?
Maybe there is always
this lean, this slight
Her imagining of a plan behind loss has a theatrical cant—the man behind the curtain—but the poet’s conclusion that it’s perhaps wiser to let this observation go unnamed is a subtle riff on Emily Dickinson’s “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Both poems imply that the truth of the matter is always set obliquely, and thus never fully seen. What, then, do we really understand of it?
Karel’s images follow the same principle, looking at paradise through the lens of loss. She visited Waikiki, on the island of Oʻahu, in 2004 with her husband, who was dying of cancer; he found solace and pleasure in the tropical resorts, his symptoms temporarily alleviated. After his death, Karel returned to the area to make the photographs in this book, and the images she captured reflect this uneasy enterprise. Torpid and tanned beachgoers, ocean-themed decor, gifts shops and bars, the aqua splendor of swimming pools—each scene feels caught between a facile, picturesque serenity and a jarring sense of unreality. Ryan’s impression of a “skew” in the “visual plane” is rendered literal in Karel’s photographs: the strange angle of a balcony set against the sea, of painted waves rolling over a hallway, of a flashy sports car parked, as though forgotten, in the blank corner of an entryway.
Tropical splendor is just out of reach, as when plumes of sea spray block access to the ocean or the rich Hawaiian landscape is supplanted by a painted backdrop (can those smiling tourists discern the difference?). In one image, a giant screen, partially unfurled, hangs between Karel’s camera and the promise of palm trees and blue sky. If you can only see paradise out of the corner of your eye or through a squint, Karel seems to ask, is it real?
December 5, 2012 | by Nicole Rudick
The Paris Review’s interviews have long featured single manuscript pages from among the subjects’ writings. They are meant to show the author at work, his or her method of self-editing, of revision—an illustrative supplement to the process described at length in the conversations. To me, though, they always exist first as instances of visual artistry. The particularities of each writer’s markings are immediately perceptible: the way Margaret Atwood’s handwritten lines appear impatient and vital in contrast with the prim logos of the SAS Hotel stationery on which she penned a poem; the way Yves Bonnefoy’s long, spidery insertion lines give physicality to the pallid rows of words; the way David McCullough’s xed-out typewritten phrases become so many tiny, busy intersections. In the same way, I’ve always found the looping inscriptions of Cy Twombly’s “blackboard” paintings, in particular Cold Stream, to be a kind of magic—the secret scribblings, writ large, of a mind at work. (It’s no coincidence that Twombly worked as a cryptographer in the army.)
I’m struck by the frequency, in Paris Review interviews, with which authors describe writing as being a visual activity. John Edgar Wideman imagines his drafts as “palimpsests.” Don DeLillo finds that “the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality … They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look.” Read More »
September 24, 2012 | by Nicole Rudick
In 2010, Danielle Dutton founded Dorothy, a publishing project, with the aim of producing books that appeal both to fiction readers and to poetry fans. Her own writing—she is the author of two novels, Attempts at a Life and S P R A W L—likewise embraces the slipperiness of not quite being one or the other. The covers she designed for Dalkey Archive, meanwhile, were often as minimal and tonal as the writing within. Who better, then, to shepherd formally unconventional, handsomely made little books into being? On the occasion of her third year of books—she produces a pair each year—I spoke with Dutton by phone about her one-woman operation.
How would you describe the aesthetic of the press?
Part of the idea of starting the press was that I felt that I was in two different camps. In working at Dalkey, I felt tapped into American literary fiction and translation. At the same time, my own writing was more small press, experimental, and I felt that, much of the time, there is little crossover between those two communities. The idea, then, was to publish two books each year that are aesthetically different, in order to try to develop a crossover readership.
The fiction community that my own writing was coming out of at the beginning was really loose and close to poetry, and it seemed like that there was no cross-reading going on. So I published Renee Gladman, who started as a poet. The other book I published that first year was a novel by Barbara Comyns that was out-of-print. I offered those two books together at a special discount to encourage people to buy both when they come looking for just one—to get Renee Gladman’s book into the hands of Barbara Comyns’s readers and vice versa. So the aesthetic is open, but it’s all work that is risking something, that is adventurous aesthetically or structurally.
June 11, 2012 | by Nicole Rudick
I have always been a poor visualizer. Words, even the pregnant words of poets, do not evoke pictures in my mind. No hypnagogic visions greet me on the verge of sleep. When I recall something, the memory does not present itself to me as a vividly seen event or object. By an effort of the will, I can evoke a not very vivid image of what happened yesterday afternoon, of how the Lungarno used to look before the bridges were destroyed, of the Bayswater Road when the only buses were green and tiny and drawn by aged horses at three and a half miles an hour. But such images have little substance and absolutely no autonomous life of their own. They stand to real, perceived objects in the same relation as Homer’s ghosts stood to the men of flesh and blood, who came to visit them in the shades … This was the world—a poor thing but my own—which I expected to see transformed into something completely unlike itself.
So wrote Aldous Huxley just before an afternoon mescaline trip, his first, in 1954. The psychedelic sixties would take Huxley’s message to heart, opening new doors of perception while under the influence. But for graphic designer Heinz Edelmann, Huxley’s journalistic exploration was mescaline enough. After reading the British novelist’s account, Edelmann thought, “Well, I don’t need mescaline. I can do that stone cold sober.” If you don’t know who Edelmann is, have a look at Yellow Submarine: he created the look of the film and designed all the characters.
October 11, 2011 | by Nicole Rudick
Kate Beaton makes comics about the Bröntes, Canadians, fat ponies, the X-Men, Hamlet, the American founding fathers, Raskolnikov, gay Batman, Nikola Tesla, Les Misérables, Nancy Drew, Greek myths, and hipsters throughout history. Little is spared her lively pen and waggish, incisive wit. Born in Nova Scotia, Beaton studied history and anthropology, discovering through her university’s newspaper that she could put her knowledge of people, places, and dates to work in a humor column and, later, in comic strips. In 2007, she launched Hark! A Vagrant, which now receives more than a million hits each month. Her new book, of the same name, lampoons Kierkegaard, lumberjacks, Marie Curie, Jay Gatsby, Anne of Cleves, Oedipus, and everyone in between.
Do you remember the first comic you drew in college?
It was about Vikings! Vikings invading the school campus. It was a how-to guide for dealing with this breaking news. The Vikings were very interested in biology class, apparently. In comics, everybody is an expert in their own sense of humor, so either you’re funny to someone else or you’re not. And it’s putting yourself out there quite a bit for someone who is a little bit shy, which I was. I didn’t put my name on the first comics I submitted in case people hated them. You don’t want to be that person who’s unfunny. Trying to be funny and not being funny? That’s awful.Read More »
July 18, 2011 | by Nicole Rudick
Forlorn Funnies, the title of cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier’s periodical of short prose comics, aptly characterizes all of his work: bleak subjects leavened by drollery and gags reigned-in by finely drawn anxieties. The author of the graphic novels Mother, Come Home (2003) and The Three Paradoxes (2007) and two collections of shorter work, Hornschemeier recently published Life with Mr. Dangerous, a graphic novel he began serializing in Fantagraphics’s comics anthology, Mome, in 2005. The story concluded last winter, and the novel, which tells the story of a young woman adrift in bad relationships and obsessed with a little-known cartoon show, appeared in book form last month. I spoke with Hornschemeier from his home in Evanston, Illinois.
The story was serialized in Mome over a period of five years. Was the story whole in your mind when you started, or did you create it as you went along?
With most of my stories, I have key scenes in mind and I almost always have the beginning and end done right from the start. With this one, I definitely had key emotional notes I wanted to hit, and I knew how it ended and the set up. But it was strange in that I was both writing it as I was going, and, as it was coming out in Mome, I was going back and editing the story and inserting new pages. So in the book, there are thirty pages that weren’t in the serialized format.
What was needed that wasn’t already there?
I could see there were beats I hadn’t hit that I wanted to go back and reemphasize, pacing issues and characterization issues that I wanted to resolve. I produced that graphic novel really differently than my other graphic novels. Mother, Come Home was very act 1, act 2, act 3, and they were written very much as acts by themselves. And The Three Paradoxes was as close as possible to what a full screenplay would be, because it was so complex, with interlocking narratives. But this one was just a huge, jumbled mess.