Arts & Culture
June 2, 2016 | by Scott Beauchamp
How the perspective of war stories has shifted—from gods to guns.
My memories of war are fractured: faces disappear like smoke while literal plumes of smoke, their specific shapes and forms, linger on vividly for years. I remember the mesh netting, concrete, and dust smell of tower guard, but the events of entire months are completely gone. I remember the sound of a kid’s voice, but not anything he actually said. I guess that’s what Tim O’Brien meant when he wrote about Vietnam, “What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning or end.”
Memories of people, too complex to carry through the years, fall apart. It’s easier to find purchase on memories of objects. The weapon I was assigned on my first deployment to Iraq was an M249 SAW, or what we would colloquially and inaccurately refer to as the “Squad Assault Weapon.” I remember the way it felt to disassemble—the slight give of the heat-shield assembly, its tiny metal pincers clinging to the barrel. I remember the sound of the feed tray snapping shut on a belt of ammunition. And I remember the tiny rust deposits on the legs of my weapon’s bipod, which would never go away, no matter how hard I scrubbed with CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, and Protectant oil). I remember my SAW’s voice and the things it said. Read More »
May 26, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.
I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »
May 25, 2016 | by Tony Tulathimutte
Who gets to name an author’s book?
When I was readying my first novel for publication, it struck me that writers have far more control over what’s in their books than what’s on them—the cover art, blurbs, jacket copy, but especially the title, where the author’s concerns overlap with marketing ones. Deciding on a name for your life’s work is hard enough; the prospect of changing it at the eleventh hour is like naming your newborn, then hearing the obstetrician say, But wouldn’t Sandra look amazing on the certificate? It took a nine-month war of attrition to secure the original title of my book, Private Citizens.
The history of writers fighting for their book titles is extensive and bloody; so powerful is the publisher’s veto that not even Toni Morrison, fresh off her Nobel win, got to keep her preferred title for Paradise, which was War. (For her most recent book, God Help the Child, she favored The Wrath of Children.) Who knows why George Orwell’s editor thought Nineteen Eighty-Four was more commercially viable than The Last Man in Europe, or why the industry’s gerund fetish turned Helen Simpson’s Hey Yeah Right Get a Life into the insipid Getting a Life? Read More »
May 20, 2016 | by Robert Pranzatelli
When Max de Radiguès began making comics, he had never taken drawing lessons. “I loved to draw but wasn’t especially good at it,” he explains. “I quickly stopped trying to draw in a realistic way and went for an efficient one.” He wanted the reader to understand instantly what he was trying to convey, and as he pursued this goal, his drawings became simpler and simpler. Now, after more than a decade, and with a rapidly growing list of published works, he has begun, he says, “putting in more details and more backgrounds”—though nothing too elaborate; he still wants readers to be caught up in the stories rather than in intricately rendered, virtuosic panels. Here one begins to see the vital connection between his personal and formal modesty: the absence of ego that, in freeing an artist from the impulse to show off, can lead to subtler choices. In a Radiguès work, an economy of line carries, but never competes with, an abundance of empathy. His stories center on adolescents (often boys, often in balanced or opposing pairs) with a warmth, humor, and humane sensibility that occasionally sets the reader up for an unexpected jolt when harsher aspects of reality creep in. Read More »
May 16, 2016 | by Jonathan Lippincott
The art and life of Mark di Suvero
Three decades ago, long before the development of the High Line, the sculptor Mark di Suvero led an effort to transform an illegal garbage dump in Long Island City into a vast green space devoted to large-scale sculpture. Di Suvero was fifty-three years old at the time, and already a veteran of the public-art movement. During the sixties and seventies, he had taken part in several outdoor sculpture exhibitions—in Cincinnati, Houston, and Grand Rapids—and he later created citywide solo shows of his work across the United States and Europe. By 1980, he was working out of a studio in Long Island City, not far from the four-acre landfill, and it wasn’t long before he was dreaming about alternative uses for the neglected riverfront parcel. In 1986, di Suvero arranged to lease the property from the city for a dollar a year. Working with the Athena Foundation, an organization he had created nearly a decade earlier, he employed members of the community to clean up and replant the site. That fall, the newly christened Socrates Sculpture Park held its first public exhibition, which included work by Vito Acconci, Bill and Mary Buchen, Rosemarie Castoro, di Suvero, and others. Read More »