Arts & Culture
April 20, 2016 | by Carson Vaughan
A brush with the Sage of Baltimore.
For better or worse, I am a child of the Plains, and so my first experience with H. L. Mencken was less an introduction than a confrontation. I first learned of the Sage of Baltimore during his cameo appearance in a Great Plains history course, at the University of Nebraska. Henry Mencken considered us part of a large and ever-growing species he called homo boobiens, my professor explained. Wedged between the Omaha race riots and the Agricultural Marketing Act of ’29, Mencken showed up during the Scopes Monkey Trial to wield his pen against William Jennings Bryan, whom he described as “one of the most tragic asses in American history.” What a dick, I thought. I liked him immediately.
I liked him so much that I bought The American Language, the pillar of his bibliography, and never touched it again. Unaware of my purchase, my girlfriend gave me a copy of the same book as a gift, but not before gluing the pages together and carving out the middle to camouflage my secrets. Later I purchased a used copy of The New Mencken Letters and schlepped that 635-page tome around wherever I went, reading a letter or two here and there, recklessly quoting from it in term papers.
From the letters, I became smitten with Mencken’s verbal gymnastics, his apparent refusal to say something plain when it could be said with the cocksure verbosity of a Southern lawyer. Perhaps, too, I was charmed by that most convenient of facts: he was dead. Had Mencken still been alive, I have no doubt I’d have raised my guard, but that is the gift of hindsight. Instead I accepted him the way he accepted himself, disregarding the imperfections—of which, I would later find out, there were many.
April 19, 2016 | by Daniel Kehlmann
In this conversation—first published last month in the German magazine Cicero—Daniel Kehlmann and the Nabokov scholar Michael Maar discuss one of Maar’s most unlikely discoveries about Lolita.
In your book The Two Lolitas, you made an intriguing discovery—it started to obsess me a bit. What’s equally interesting, and kind of outrageous, is that most Nabokov scholars ignored your finding. Maybe they felt they ought to shield Nabokov from charges of plagiarism. So let’s get this out of the way first—is this about plagiarism?
Of course not. The word came up in the press when I published my first article about the discovery, but that’s not what this is about at all. Read More »
April 18, 2016 | by Shelley Salamensky
In the early sixties, Don Wilen had just one tax client—Mrs. Sheftel, who ran the candy store on his corner. When Paul Krassner, radical prankster and editor of the satirical journal The Realist, printed an interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder, Wilen wrote in to complain.
“I said,” Wilen recently recalled, “ ‘I’m a Jewish accountant, and respect your right to free speech, but hate—’ ”
Krassner rang him up. “An accountant! I need an accountant.” Now Wilen had two clients.
One day Wilen’s mother, babysitting, picked up the phone. “Some friend of yours, making believe he’s the famous poet Allen Ginsberg.” Wilen now had three. Read More »
April 11, 2016 | by Henry Giardina
Chaplin’s trip abroad.
In the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.”
Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old mustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before. Read More »
March 24, 2016 | by Seth Gannon
A brief survey of fictional books.
I’m soon to move across the country, and surveying my bookcases—the three in the living room and the three in the bedroom, plus the unshelved piles that crop up from any flat surface—fills me with dread. The only cure, I’ve found, is to let my thoughts wander to another, even larger literary collection, a kind of underworld reflection of the one all around me. The books in this second collection are not all fiction, but they are all fictional. I’m imagining a place the late Umberto Eco might appreciate: the Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books. Read More »
March 9, 2016 | by Marissa Grunes
A vision of Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” at its centenary.
When “Sunday Morning” was first published in the November 1915 issue of Poetry, just over a hundred years ago, Wallace Stevens was thirty-six; the poem was one of his first major publications. He’d recently moved to the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would spend the rest of his life insuring people against the hazards of sudden change. His professional and poetic lives converged on that fact: everything changes.
A spiritual meditation for a secular era, “Sunday Morning” glows with the ripe colors of late summer and early autumn, brief arc segments of the seasonal cycle whose rhythms Stevens celebrates.
In 2007, my mother, Diane Szczepaniak, a lifelong abstract painter and sculptor, began to memorize “Sunday Morning.” She was unaccustomed to memorization; it became a kind of ritual for her. She kept Stevens’s book by her bed and worked through the poem line by line. As she built each stanza in her memory, she began to paint her experience of the images, music, and emotions carried by the language. The paintings became her “Sunday Morning” series. Read More »