Arts & Culture
October 19, 2016 | by Alex Cocotas
Sven owns thirty thousand cookbooks. Why does Sven own thirty thousand cookbooks? He could not tell you.
He will tell you that he likes to cook, that he can taste a recipe by reading it, that he likes going to flea markets, that he started buying cookbooks when he was twenty-two, but nothing he tells you will really explain how he came to own thirty thousand of them. He is a collector, and that’s all you can say. If you are also a collector, this impulse needs no further explanation. If you are not a collector, you sit with Sven for three hours trying to tease out the secret of this impulse in vain. I am not a collector. Read More »
October 17, 2016 | by Martin Herbert
The hopeful dystopia of Pushwagner’s Soft City.
Where does art begin? In the case of Soft City, the straightforward answer is this: it began in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 1969, in a sea captain’s house converted into a writer’s retreat by the novelist Axel Jensen, after Pushwagner had ingested Sandoz LSD. He doodled a man in a car, whom he intuited was called “Mr. Soft”—five years before Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel would have a hit song of that name—and, along with Jensen, envisioned a day-in-the-life narrative structure for the character, along the lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and James Joyce’s Ulysses. And then?
A hiatus of some three years (hardly the only sharp left turn in Pushwagner’s tumultuous life), during which time he lived on virtually nothing in London (subsisting by selling drawings on trains for pennies) and Oslo, went back to his mother’s, was arrested for trying to board a flight to Madeira on his hands and knees, was institutionalized, walked back to Fredrikstad, escaped a hotel in Paris, sojourned in Lisbon, returned to London, and became a father. After these adventures, he once again began Soft City, with, he’s said, his beloved baby daughter, Elizabeth, on his lap, and with thoughts of the future in mind. Mr. Soft now had a family of his own, and a fearful projected dystopia to live in. Pushwagner finished the book, or rather the 269 bleak yet blackly comic ink drawings that would comprise it, in 1975; and then, after a few luminaries of the London music world had admired it (including Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood), he lost it. Read More »
October 13, 2016 | by Alfred Döblin
The German writer Alfred Döblin (1878–1957) is best known for his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz; Bright Magic, out this month from New York Review Books, is the first collection of his stories to appear in English. In this later story, an imaginary citizenry surrenders their rights with glee.
Once upon a time there was a continent called Allbark and Nobite, and in it a country called the Kingdom of Tongue-Tied. The sun and the moon shone their light upon it, in their customary alternating fashion, but mighty rivers flowed through and rugged mountains towered above it, giving rise to a sense of the exceptional and heroic. The kingdom was named Tongue-Tied following the wishes of its own people, since there was nothing they respected as much as language. Because of their idolatrous worship of language, they used it as little as possible. Education was therefore directed primarily toward vigorous exercise, business, and sports, and also music, and noise, but with no words or meaning. Language, they taught, was not worthy of a true Tongue-Tiedian; precise thinking was likewise not held in very high esteem. People made themselves understood with looks, short nods, or hand gestures, and deaf-mutes enjoyed great honor throughout the land. Read More »
October 4, 2016 | by Fiona Stafford
Celebrating the history of the beloved ash tree.
As a small child, my mother was taken to the Lake District, in the hope that she would have a better chance of survival under the shelter of the northwestern hills than at home on the flat, overexposed coast of Lincolnshire. It was early 1940. It would have been a grand adventure, were it not for the constant reminders that things were not as they should be. It was not just the absence of fathers, uncles, brothers, but the presence in the hotel grounds of oddly damaged things: a blind cat, a broken wheelbarrow, a man who had been at Dunkirk and did not seem quite like other grown-ups. What my mother remembers most vividly is a young woman, pale in face and dress, who spent her days sitting outside, staring up into the branches of the tall ash tree and drawing what she saw. When the sun came out, her pencil lines darkened, turning the tracery of tiny branches into black lace veils. She never spoke, but day after day she looked up and re-created the impossible patterns on her large, flat sheets of paper. What did the ash tree mean to that unknown woman? Or to my mother, in whose agitated, impressionable mind it took root and has remained ever since?
The ash tree is known as the Venus of the woods, and it seems to stir powerful feelings in those who gaze on its graceful form. Whether it is standing in spacious parkland or in an unkempt, November hedge, or rising naked from a sea of bluebells, the ash’s curvy limbs taper to an end with tips pointing to the heavens. A young ash is often like a half-open peacock’s tail, not quite ready to display its beauties; the branches of a mature ash, once fully fanned out, will slope down toward the earth, before sweeping up again, as if to send the buds flying. Through the summer the boughs cascade in all directions, wave-shaped and covered in green sprays. There are no angles on a young ash tree—everything is rounded and covered in fluttering foliage, soft as the feathers in a boa or the fur of a chinchilla. The boughs gain a few inches and furrow with the passing years, but with maturity come striking attitudes. In winter their silhouettes stencil clear skies like a row of unframed stained glass windows. The ebullient black buds stand proud, as if impatient for the spring, but in fact the ash is usually the last to come into leaf and the first to shed its seasonal foliage. The uncovered form of the ash, though, is just as compelling as the full-dress splendor of more eye-catching trees. Read More »
October 3, 2016 | by Evan Kindley & Joanna Neborsky
Evan Kindley and Joanna Neborsky both happen to have new books dealing with questionnaires. Kindley’s Questionnaire, part of the Object Lessons series, charts the history of “the form as form” from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its current apotheosis in our data-crazy present. Neborsky’s A Proust Questionnaire, meanwhile, revives one of the earliest examples of quiz mania—the questionnaire filled out by a teenaged Marcel Proust in the 1880s—for a new generation of confessors.
Neborsky is an illustrator and animator who has contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review Daily, and has illustrated books by Félix Fénéon and Daniil Kharms; Kindley is a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Both live in Los Angeles. Earlier this month the two corresponded about questionnaires, using the Proust Questionnaire’s famous prompts as a basic framework.
I’ve long wondered—since we met that one time, at that party, next to the pretzel mix in a dark office courtyard—what do you consider the lowest form of misery? And why did you write this book? Read More »
September 21, 2016 | by Margaux Ogden & Hunter Braithwaite
The below is excerpted from Flooded Penthouse, a book by the painter Margaux Ogden and the writer Hunter Braithwaite, launched to commemorate Ogden’s new exhibition at Puerto Rico’s Embajada, a gallery in a former sex-toy shop. The show, “Nothing Had Yet Been Sacrificed,” takes its title from Luc Sante’s line about the young Bob Dylan—“Everything seemed possible then; no options had been used up and nothing had yet been sacrificed.”
Much as a relationship grows from a mulch of moments, these drawings are built up on a ground of notes, numbers, lists. Small bills, pocket change. Doing so causes a slight impropriety to arise, not only because it’s so decidedly un-art (or, depending on how much Rauschenberg you looked at when you were younger, too-art) but because the pocket scraps are exhibitionist. Stored in our pants, folded tight against ourselves, they reveal how we pass our days: what we plan to buy, how much we paid for it, how we check off the world. Read More »