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Staff Picks: Lunar Landscapes, Washerwomen, File Formats

February 5, 2016 | by

Peter Hujar, William Burroughs, reclining, 1975.

Of all the things I’ve read about Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, the most poignant has to be Elif Batuman’s essay in this week’s New Yorker—about Houellebecq’s novel, but also (and mainly) about her experience as a woman and journalist in Turkey, unexpectedly drawn to the idea of leading an observant Muslim life: “Houellebecq’s vision of an Islamic state, for all its cartoonishness, has a certain imaginative generosity. He portrays Islam not as a depersonalized creeping menace, or as an ideological last resort to which those disenfranchised by the West may be ‘vulnerable,’ but as a system of beliefs that is enormously appealing to many people, many of whom have other options.” —Lorin Stein

Dan has already covered the Peter Hujar show that’s up at Paul Kasmin, but I can’t resist talking about it again. Hujar’s portraits, particularly the close-ups that are on view here, are compelling: looking at faces that are, often, looking back at us; rarely do we have such an opportunity to study the details of another’s visage, and the longer I look, the more foreign they appear, like lunar landscapes instead of human faces. Maybe that’s why the subjects I recognize easily—Warhol, Sontag, John Waters, Quentin Crisp, Burroughs—are less captivating than those I don’t: Paul Thek, whose head is cocked curiously as he stares agape into the camera; John Heys in Lana Turner drag in 1979 and then again, in 1985, as himself; Rene Ricard, naked, his legs pulled to his chest, head in hand. Of the two portraits of David Wojnarowicz in the show, I spent the most time in front of the one in which his hand obscures most of his face, so that, instead, I examine the tidy curve of his fingernails and the length of his collarbone (and think of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ram’s Head with Hollyhock). —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: Bears, Bellies, Blackmail

January 29, 2016 | by

Mickalene Thomas, Lovely Six Foota, 2007, color photograph.

Mickalene Thomas, Lovely Six Foota, 2007, color photograph.

The first entry in New York Review Books’s new comics series is Mark Beyer’s Agony, a graphic novel about two regular working people just trying to get by and the ceaseless horrors visited on them. Amy and Jordan endure acid baths, bear and monster attacks, unemployment, boring friends, prison beatings, armed robbery, an apartment flooded with blood, and deaths in the family, among other cataclysms; they bear it all with the same gaunt, anxious expressions, and usually they speak only in affectless expository sentences. E.g.: “I’ve been swallowed by the same fish that ate Amy’s head, and my legs have been bitten off. I’ve got to get out of here!” As Colson Whitehead writes in the introduction, how hard you laugh at all this depends on “how you feel about relinquishing the logic of realism in favor of the logic of undying despair.” I couldn’t get enough of their misery: I finished it in one sitting and flipped back to the beginning. —Dan Piepenbring

My traveling companion these days has been the late poet Frank Lima and his newly collected Incidents of Travel in Poetry. The book, beautifully culled by editors Garrett Caples and Julien Poirier, comprises the breadth of Lima’s work, from his early poems written as a heroin-addicted New York School outsider to his later surrealistic ones informed by freewriting. Many are autobiographical, making this one of the heavier, more affecting collections I’ve read in a while. His poems are laced with incest and smack and guns: he writes of his stay on Hart’s Island, where he tries to get clean, and of his mother who, “when I awoke … was a warm mist hovering, suspended over me, / naked, / … sweeping my body away / into the cumulus clouds / of black pubic hair.” Lima’s verse is uninhibited and unafraid; he writes with pungent frankness. My favorite lines, though, are the playful, tender ones. From “morning sara”: “I am hungry and go thru your underwear / give me some hot soup or / I’ll suck on the curtains!”; from “Mi Tierra”: “When I touch you / I see Utah / your flat white sandy belly / the powdered dust devils in your navel / the white nipples of the Rocky Mountains.” —Caitlin Youngquist
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Staff Picks: Dissent, Deprogrammers, Dogs

January 22, 2016 | by

Raymond Pettibon.

“This isn’t so much bad literature as boring literature. After all, what’s more exhausting than reading, time and again, experimentation you’ve come to expect?” This is Maggie Doherty in the latest issue of Dissent opining the commercialization and political equivocation of much contemporary literature. Her complaint stems from the gutting, over the past four decades, of federal arts agencies, namely the NEA and the NEH; as a result, artists and writers now must rely for their livelihoods on stultifying, increasingly corporatized universities and must heed the demand for marketable works of art. That the U.S. government doesn’t prioritize its citizens’ cultural life is hardly new information. But Doherty makes the significant argument that the contraction of patronage limits both the possibility for avant-garde work and the diversity—“racially, politically, and aesthetically”—of the artistic world. —Nicole Rudick

Raymond Pettibon is a longtime favorite here at the Review; his studio occupied the loft directly beside us at our old office on White Street, and a portfolio of his dog-themed art, “Real Dogs in Space,” was featured in (and on the cover of) issue 209. After attending the opening of his recent show at David Zwirner Gallery, I was intrigued, and very much surprised, to find a video of Pettibon discussing and reacting to the work of J. M. W. Turner, my all-time-favorite visual artist. In the video, part of the Met’s Artist Project series, Pettibon is measured, articulate, and engaging—which sits in stark contrast to his famously absurd social-media persona. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner Read More »

Give Your Valentine Our Special Box Set

January 19, 2016 | by

Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. Started that love letter yet? You could be forgiven for putting it off: even Roland Barthes felt that “to try to write love is to confront the muck of language.” Luckily, The Paris Review’s archive is full of writers—more than sixty years’ worth—who have already gotten their hands dirty.

That’s why we’re offering a special Valentine’s Day box set: it features two vintage issues from our archive (you choose from five), a T-shirt, and a copy of our new anthology, The Unprofessionals—all packaged in a handsome gift box, including a card featuring William Pène du Bois’s 1953 sketch of the Place de la Concorde. (You may have seen it on the title page of the quarterly.) Your significant other will also receive a one-year subscription, starting with our Winter issue.

We’ve been given to know that this box set yields results. Just ask this satisfied customer:

You can order your box set here—purchase your gift by February 8 to guarantee delivery before Valentine’s Day.

Staff Picks: Continentals, Cocoons, Comics

January 15, 2016 | by

Paul Rudolph’s Walker Guest House, as pictured in The Florida Houses.

Don’t let the breezy title put you off. At the Existentialist Café, Sarah Bakewell’s group portrait of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and the other “Continental” philosophers who flourished before and after World War II, is chatty, irreverent, gossipy, unabashedly personal—as far from the existentialist tone as it’s possible to get—but it’s also a work of deep intelligence and sympathy, reminding us how exciting those thinkers can be. And it’s a page-turner. I was so sorry to finish the last chapter that I almost—almost—ran over to the Strand to see what they had by Merleau-Ponty. —Lorin Stein

“They worked / They worked / They worked / and they died / They died broke / They died owing / They died never knowing / what the front entrance / of the first national city bank looks like.” Pedro Pietri wrote “Puerto Rican Obituary” in 1969, after having served in Vietnam. There’s no mention of that war in the poem, but there’s a strong sense of futility, death, and disaffection that must have been informed by witnessing the violence of war and then coming home to unfulfilled dreams. “Obituary” is the first poem in City Lights’ new collection of the late poet’s work, much of which is otherwise only available in out-of-print or photocopied editions. I hadn’t heard of Pietri before reading this collection, which is a shame because he strikes me as the Ginsberg of the post-Vietnam era—combining politics, race, and the personal in performative poetry. His lines are propulsive and witty, especially in the playful “Telephone Booth” series, which reads like a flirtatious midnight conversation: “because I do not / want to make / future generations /  lose sleep I / will do my very best / not to influence / anyone regardless / of what a nice ass / they seem to have.” —Nicole Rudick 
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Staff Picks: BMX, BBQ, Brutes

January 8, 2016 | by

From an early edition of Black Wings Has My Angel

Dying is an experience that biographers tend to pass over in silence. That’s why Katie Roiphe’s forthcoming book The Violet Hour is a revelation, at least to me. Her case studies—of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, and Maurice Sendak—focus on the last months of life, using each writer’s final struggle as a key to his or her character. This is the best book Roiphe has written. She shows that our interest in dying is not just an interest in endings, or in final things, or in posterity. Instead, it has to do with how we get along, how families and friendship work, in short, how we live. —Lorin Stein 

I spent Christmas on the beach in ninety-degree heat, so I wanted something pulpy to read. I took along Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel, a 1954 noir, just reissued. Its plot doesn’t break the mold: a lowlife dude busts out of the clink, picks up a gorgeous hooker, and embarks with her on a life of crime in big-sky country. But Chaze has a strange eye for details, ones that set him against the grain of most crime writers. (Seldom do you hear a hard-boiled guy extol the potato salad at a roadside BBQ joint or tell you about his hernia exam.) Black Wings gathers a bizarre, often comical head of steam that reminded me of Denis Johnson or Wild at Heart. What kept me turning the pages was the easy, blunt wit and endless disdain: “Both had the terrible conceit of little men,” he writes of his employers, “who through fortune or persistence had landed in positions where there were even littler men for them to boss around. I’m sure it never occurred to either of them that they were stupid.” And Chaze gave his hero an excellent nom de guerre: Timothy Sunblade. “I picked that name,” Sunblade tells us, “because it is a name that smells of the out of doors.” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »