Arts & Culture
November 25, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
Canto 8 is perhaps the most exciting we have encountered so far. The story alone is a harrowing prelude to a great adventure: it’s like the first few minutes of a Bond movie, right before the theme song and titles start rolling. Canto 8 ends just as Dante and Virgil arrive at the edge of the Styx, where the wrathful are punished. Dante spots two towers (not to be confused with those from Lord of the Rings). These towers appear to be communicating with one another—as one launches a flame into the air, the other responds. A curious Dante asks Virgil what this signifies, and Virgil doesn’t really address his question. By now Dante has learned not to press such an issue, and knows that if he allows himself to get derailed by a mystery like two flaming towers, he’ll never get anywhere.
Phlegyas, who operates the little stygian skiff, arrives at the bank of the river. As noted in canto 7, the wrathful sinners are here hurled into the muddy Styx and are left to bob there as punishment; indeed, the Hollanders point out that Phlegyas’s job probably isn’t to carry sinners from one side to the other—like Charon—but rather to keep the sinners in the mud. As he arrives and greets Dante and Virgil, Phlegyas seems thrilled to have a fresh pair of sinners to toy with, but Virgil takes particular pleasure in announcing that he and Dante are, in fact, on a quest and as such are exempt from the punishments of hell. Phlegyas is as disappointed as “one who learns of a deceitful plot.” Read More »
November 25, 2013 | by Sam Sweet
When the United States Postal Service finally expires, what will you remember? When the last ornate post office is sold off for “mixed-used development” and all postage is reduced to digital printouts, what will you tell future generations about the way it was? If all philately disappeared into private collections, what would you want your grandkids to know about the strange pockets of paper we called letters and the tiny stick-on paintings we used to send them?
Bill Gross—one of America’s wealthiest bond traders and the only stamp collector with a net worth of two billion dollars—hopes you’ll make a visit to the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery in Washington, D.C., which he funded with a portion of his fortune. The grand opening of the gallery, on September 22, was intended as a celebration of the depth and splendor of philatelic culture at a time when the postal service is facing certain extinction. It was probably the biggest party anyone has ever thrown for the American postage stamp. It was also, undoubtedly, its first memorial. Read More »
November 22, 2013 | by Edward McPherson
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. With all eyes on Dallas, it seemed fitting to re-run one of our favorite pieces from 2012, an ode to the city and its complicated legacy.
Between 318 and 271 million years ago, the ancient continental core of North America butted against what would become South America. Land folded and faulted; mountains were born. Then what would become the Gulf of Mexico opened, and inland seas washed the peaks away. It pays to remember there are mountains beneath Dallas. The tops may have eroded, but the roots remain buried deep.
Some 165 million years later—in 1841—John Neely Bryan built a shelter on a bluff and called the area Dallas.
One hundred and twenty-two years later—in 1963—John F. Kennedy was shot on that bluff, now named Dealey Plaza.
Seventeen years later—in 1980—J. R. Ewing was shot on TV. Read More »
November 20, 2013 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
My mother was not a regular reader of Vogue when I was girl in the 1960s, but my friend Diane’s mother—a cool, soignée blonde with an alluring French twist and a lily of the valley–infused cloud of Diorissimo hovering perpetually about her—was, and whenever I visited, Diane and I would pore over the magazine’s slick, bright pages together in a companionable reverie that needed no words. Veruschka’s Slavic exoticism held us deeply in thrall; the preternatural perfection of Jean Shrimpton’s full, exquisitely lipsticked mouth was like a valentine. We longed to look like them, but we knew these girls—and they were, after all, girls—would always remain at some poignant and unattainable remove from us, or anything we could ever aspire to be. With their sinuously lined eyelids, thick manes of hair, and aloof, worldly posturing, Shrimpton, Veruschka, and their ilk had already assumed the lacquered and impermeable gloss of fully grown women, and had left us far, far behind.
So you can imagine our mutual astonishment on the day in 1967 when we turned the page and found ourselves locking eyes with the vulnerable, unvarnished, and most astonishing of all: the impossibly young face of Twiggy. From the moment I saw her boyishly cropped hair, faint spray of freckles, tremulous mouth and huge, wide-open eyes, I felt a visceral shock of recognition. Although she was not one of us—neither Diane nor I were so deluded as to imagine that—we could discern that she was nonetheless only a few baby steps ahead, and onto her fey, coltish image, we could project that of an adored babysitter or someone’s cool older sister. The vestigial childishness of her narrow hips and her pipe-stem legs only confirmed our immediate sense identification. Twiggy was the first model appearing in a women’s magazine who was not precisely a woman; instead, she embraced and exalted her at moments awkward—yet always adorable—girlishness. And since it was clear that Twiggy loved being a girl, not a woman, she gave us the heady permission to love what was still girlish in ourselves.
Quickly, Diane and I spread the word, and the fifth and sixth graders who comprised our little pack were eager to climb on board. We formed our own Twiggy fan club, and at the weekly meetings quizzed each other on tidbits gleaned from teen magazines. Real name? Leslie Hornby. Birthday: September 19, 1949. Soon we could recite the complete catechism: she attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modeling at fifteen. Her nickname—first Sticks, then Twigs—soon morphed into Twiggy; that was the one that stuck.
Those magazines yielded pictures too, and we jostled each other for the chance to see images of her riding her bicycle, sipping hot chocolate with her boyfriend-turned-manager Justin de Villeneuve or romping with a litter of puppies; clearly those dogs were as besotted as we were. Pages were roughly torn out, taped to our walls, doors, and book covers; we wanted to be Twiggy, each of us vying furiously for the right to inhabit the Cockney cutie’s persona for the duration of our “let’s pretend” games. Read More »
November 20, 2013 | by Sam Stephenson
In early March of 1955, W. Eugene Smith steered his overstuffed station wagon into the steel city of Pittsburgh. He’d been on the road all day, leaving that morning from Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where he lived in a large, comfortable house with his wife and four children, plus a live-in housekeeper and her daughter. He was thirty-six, and a fuse was burning inside him. He had recently quit Life, after a successful but troubled twelve years, and joined Magnum, and this was his first freelance assignment. He had been hired by renowned filmmaker and editor Stefan Lorant to shoot a hundred scripted photographs for a book commemorating Pittsburgh’s bicentennial, a job Lorant expected to take three weeks. On Smith’s horizon, however, was one of the most ambitious projects in the history of photography: he wanted to create a photo story to end all photo stories. His station wagon was packed with some twenty pieces of luggage, a phonograph, and hundreds of books and vinyl records—he was prepared for an eruption.
A hundred and eighty miles southwest of Pittsburgh, in Athens, Ohio, James Karales was finishing up a degree in photography at Ohio University. He had studied Smith’s work in class; Smith was a hero. While Smith was crawling all over Pittsburgh, day and night, several cameras wrapped around his neck, fueled by amphetamines, alcohol, and quixotic fevers, Karales was getting his diploma. Little did Karales know, his path and Smith’s were about to become one, and he would get an education no college could provide. Read More »
November 18, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
Canto 7 opens with Plutus, the god of wealth, babbling unintelligibly at Dante and Virgil. Pape Satàn, pape Satàn, aleppe!, he shouts, a phrase that has left readers and scholars baffled ever since it was written. Many offer their own interpretations, but there is never enough evidence for any critic to settle definitively on a single meaning. Virgil, however, responds to Plutus as though the cry is somehow intelligible to him; Plutus doesn’t want to let the pair pass because he has been tasked with keeping the living out. Again, Virgil works some Roman magic and is able to pass by.
This canto is one of the first instances in which the sinner’s condition in the afterlife begins to correspond almost unambiguously to the sin committed. Here, Dante and Virgil come across avarice and prodigality. The Hollanders note that the reason the avaricious are shown with their hands closed is as a reminder of their greed. The prodigal have their hair cropped to show inattention to property. Virgil gives Dante a discourse on fortune, and, in brief, explains to Dante that fortune is impartial, and that the unlucky are quick to revile fortune, which Virgil suggests is a misguided aggression since in fact fortune couldn’t care less what people have to say. The two carry on and stop at the Styx.
But let’s see what happens of we break this canto down. Read More »