Arts & Culture
December 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Why are some people artists while others are not? Was Joseph Beuys an idiot when he said everyone is an artist? Do artists think they are a cut above the rest of us? Are the arts a good in themselves, or is it much, much, more complicated than that?
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Art: It’s had a good run.
You know, there was the Venus of Willendorf. And the Dutch Masters—remember them?—and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, all with some very nice work. And Picasso! Who could forget Picasso?
But we’ve come to the end of the line, more or less. The art world may continue apace, with its Jeff Koonses and its Damien Hirsts, but most artists know only suffering. And to these artists, Bob and Roberta Smith have issued a clear message: go home, clean off your paintbrushes, and do something meaningful with your lives.
“The personal journey for most artists starts with enthusiasm and joy,” Bob and Roberta have said, “and ends, if the artist does not have huge success, in embarrassed children taking their dead parents’ work to the dump.” Read More »
December 4, 2014 | by Walter Benjamin
From 1927 to early 1933, Walter Benjamin wrote and delivered some eighty to ninety broadcasts over the new medium of German radio, working between Radio Berlin and Radio Frankfurt. These broadcasts, many of them produced under the auspices of programming for children, cover a fascinating array of topics: typologies and archaeologies of a rapidly changing Berlin; scenes from the shifting terrain of childhood and its construction; exemplary cases of trickery, swindle, and fraud that play on the uncertain lines between truth and falsehood; catastrophic events such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the flooding of the Mississippi River, and much more. Now the transcripts of many of these broadcasts are available for the first time in English—Lecia Rosenthal has gathered them in a new book, Radio Benjamin. Below is one of his broadcasts for children, including thirty brainteasers. (Want the answers? They’re here.)
Perhaps you know a long poem that begins like this:
Dark it is, the moon shines bright,
a car creeps by at the speed of light
and slowly rounds the round corner.
People standing sit inside,
immersed they are in silent chatter,
while a shot-dead hare
skates by on a sandbank there.
Everyone can see that this poem doesn’t add up. In the story you’ll hear today, quite a few things don’t add up either, but I doubt that everyone will notice. Or rather, each of you will find a few mistakes—and when you find one, you can make a dash on a piece of paper with your pencil. And here’s a hint: if you mark all the mistakes in the story, you’ll have a total of fifteen dashes. But if you find only five or six, that’s perfectly alright as well.
But that’s only one facet of the story you’ll hear today. Besides these fifteen mistakes, it also contains fifteen questions. And while the mistakes creep up on you, quiet as a mouse, so no one notices them, the questions, on the other hand, will be announced with a loud gong. Each correct answer to a question gives you two points, because many of the questions are more difficult to answer than the mistakes are to find. So, with a total of fifteen questions, if you know the answers to all of them, you’ll have thirty dashes. Added to the fifteen dashes for mistakes, that makes a total of forty-five possible dashes. None of you will get all forty-five, but that’s not necessary. Even ten points would be a respectable score.
You can mark your points yourselves. During the next Youth Hour, the radio will announce the mistakes along with the answers to the questions, so you can see whether your thoughts were on target, for above all, this story requires thinking. There are no questions and no mistakes that can’t be managed with a little reflection.
One last bit of advice: don’t focus on just the questions. To the contrary, keep a lookout for the mistakes above all; the questions will all be repeated at the end of the story. It goes without saying that the questions don’t contain any mistakes; there, everything is as it should be. Now pay attention. Here’s Heinz with his story. Read More »
December 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
How would you define fantastic, then?
I wonder if you can define it. I think it’s rather an intention in a writer. I remember a very deep remark of Joseph Conrad—he is one of my favorite authors—I think it is in the foreword to something like The Dark Line, but it’s not that …
The Shadow Line?
The Shadow Line. In that foreword he said that some people have thought that the story was a fantastic story because of the captain’s ghost stopping the ship. He wrote—and that struck me because I write fantastic stories myself—that to deliberately write a fantastic story was not to feel that the whole universe is fantastic and mysterious; nor that it meant a lack of sensibility for a person to sit down and write something deliberately fantastic. Conrad thought that when one wrote, even in a realistic way, about the world, one was writing a fantastic story because the world itself is fantastic and unfathomable and mysterious.
You share this belief?
Yes. I found that he was right. I talked to Bioy Casares, who also writes fantastic stories—very, very fine stories—and he said, “I think Conrad is right. Really, nobody knows whether the world is realistic or fantastic, that is to say, whether the world is a natural process or whether it is a kind of dream, a dream that we may or may not share with others.”
—Jorge Luis Borges, The Art of Fiction No. 39, 1967
Since it’s Joseph Conrad’s birthday, I went in search of his foreword to The Shadow Line—it was an author’s note, actually, appended to the novel’s second edition in 1920. And Borges’s memories of it are largely accurate: Conrad uses it to mount a defense of “the world of the living,” which “contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is … I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural.”
The Shadow Line, which is now in the public domain, was first published in 1916, when it appeared over the course of two months in Metropolitan Magazine. It tells the story of a young man who assumes the captaincy of a ship in “the Orient.” The ghost of the ship’s previous captain, Mr. Burns, lurks: “His face in the full light of day appeared very pale, meagre, even haggard. Somehow I had a delicacy as to looking too often at him; his eyes, on the contrary, remained fairly glued on my face. They were greenish and had an expectant expression.”
Here’s the author’s note Borges mentions: Read More »
December 2, 2014 | by Sarah Moroz
Two centuries after the Marquis de Sade, a French exhibition traces his influence.
The Marquis de Sade died two hundred years ago today, on December 2, 1814. To mark the bicentennial, Annie Le Brun, a French academic and writer, has curated a sprawling show in the Marquis de Sade’s name at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibition, “Attaquer le soleil” (“Attacking the Sun”), takes its name from a snippet in The 120 Days of Sodom, and it traces “the revolution of representation” occasioned by Sade’s unbridled lasciviousness: how his ideas about desire and violence seeped into the cultural zeitgeist and into some of the most seminal art created during and after his lifetime.
It seems tenuous, at first, to link Sade to a whole host of artistic traditions—traditions that didn’t necessarily need his help to see society as a holding cell, for teeming vices, impulses, and cruelties, all barely contained by etiquette. During a conference introducing the exhibition, Le Brun clarified her premise: “We didn’t try to illustrate Sade—on the contrary, the propos of Sade illuminates the violence that exists deep within at the moment of mythological, historical, religious painting … everything that Sade addresses was there before, and will of course continue after.” What Sade tapped into, and what’s elevated in the exhibition, is what Le Brun calls the “exaltation of passions” and the “vertigo of excess”—mixed, of course, with “flagrant atheism.” Read More »
December 2, 2014 | by Nicole Rudick
Three years ago, PPP Editions published a limited-edition book called 100 Fanzines / 10 Years of British Punk 1976–1985. I have a copy and keep intending to give it to any number of friends who know more about the Clash, the Mo-dettes, or Attila the Stockbroker than I do, but I haven’t yet handed it over. I certainly wasn’t a fixture of the Thatcher-era punk scene, but I nonetheless feel nostalgic when I look through the book. The cover of Verbal Warfare no. 1, from 1981, contains the line “Beware of the serpent that twines around the cross … his body, the living dead at their production lines,” and I notice that it’s written in a script that resembles my sister’s eighth-grade cursive. I’m transfixed by the the ratty hand-drawn graphics and raw, energetic designs, not to mention the silliness and badassery of titles like Ignorance of the Unborn, Terminal Illiteracy, Surrey Vomet, and Raisin ’ell (number 10 is the special “This issue sucks!” edition). I also love the zines’ materiality: the staples in the bindings, the softly foxed corners, the smudges, visible erasure marks, and toner streaks. The idea that these are at once mass-produced publications (you can almost feel a phantom photocopier heat coming off the page) and rare objects—always already ephemeral—is fascinating.
The very notion of ephemera is curious: objects of little value that weren’t meant to be preserved but whose vulnerability, I imagine, appealed to someone. Political buttons, business cards, seed packets, and train timetables—scrappy artifacts that otherwise would have been lost to the dustheap. Even ephemera’s subcategories—like “fugitive materials” and “gray literature”—are suitably mothy and eccentric. In the art world, potential ephemera is everywhere: small-edition artist books, exhibition posters, flyers, announcement cards, invitations, press releases. The Museum of Modern Art Library, in New York, houses an extensive archive populated by such materials. A photograph of the files at MoMA QNS shows reams of folders that resemble medical records, though a bit of feathery orange fluff peeping out from one folder suggests something less sober. Through its sheer volume, the archive offers a minihistory of art and of individual artists.
David Senior, a bibliographer at MoMA Library, curated an exhibition around the archive; “Please Come to the Show” was on view last year in New York and earlier this year at the Exhibition Research Centre in Liverpool. It must have been fun digging through all the files and (re)discovering canon-adjacent materials like Claes Oldenburg’s blue, slightly stained business card/invitation to The Store; Nancy Spero’s pugnacious, textual invitation to “Torture of Women”; and an announcement, addressed to Frank O’Hara, of the premier of Warhol’s film Empire (admission: two dollars). Read More »
December 1, 2014 | by Michael Bible
Barry Gifford’s novels find a new generation of readers.
Barry Gifford’s novel Wild at Heart turns twenty-five this year. It tells the story of Sailor and Lula, two young lovers on the lam, driving their ’75 Bonneville convertible toward a better life but finding the violent reality of America instead. David Lynch saw something intoxicating in their pure, honest love. “I wanted to go on that trip,” he wrote. “It was like looking into the Garden of Eden before things went bad.” He asked Gifford to cowrite the screenplay. The film, starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and launched Gifford’s novel onto the best-seller list. Earlier this month, a sold-out audience crowded into a theater at the Anthology Film Archives to see an X-rated cut of Wild at Heart. (It was the European edition, which features some ten extra seconds of sex deemed too explicit for the U.S. audiences of 1990.) Before the screening, Gifford read from his next novel, The Up-Down, a continuation of the Sailor and Lula saga in which the couple’s son, Pace, embarks on a spiritual quest for the mysterious fifth direction, the “up-down.”
Gifford has lived a life in miles instead of years. He’s never in one place too long, but during moments of cultural upheaval, he has found himself, with an almost Forrest Gump–like serendipity, in the right place at the right time. An autodidact, he’s published poetry, fiction, memoirs, biographies, plays, and screenplays. He turned sixty-eight this year; The Up-Down will be his twentieth novel and his fifty-seventh book. Next year, a new play of his will premiere in New York and a film he wrote will begin shooting in Brazil, with Willem Dafoe as the lead.
At Sarabeth’s in Tribeca, I sat down with Gifford for breakfast the morning after the screening. He joked about the youthful audience, many of whom were younger than the book. “Millennials are discovering Wild at Heart for the first time,” he said. “I’m not quite sure they knew what they were in for.” The Up-Down is, Gifford claimed, the final chapter in the Sailor and Lula story, a story Gifford has told over the course of a quarter century. The collected Sailor and Lula saga runs nearly eight hundred pages and comprises Gifford’s magnum opus, full of recurring characters and settings that center around the titular couple. Read More »