The Daily

Arts & Culture

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Design a Cover for the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of Infinite Jest

August 13, 2015 | by


There are two routes to literary immortality:

  • Slave for years—if not decades—over a work of fiction so searingly sui generis, so well and truly fused with an authentic zeitgeist, so deeply attuned to life’s vicissitudes and the mysteries of the soul, that establishment and nonestablishment figures alike have no choice but to revere you and send you soaring toward the firmament, never to be forgotten.
  • Hitch your wagon to David Foster Wallace’s star.

For the less ambitious among us, option number two has never been more desirable. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Infinite Jest, Little, Brown is hosting a contest: you can design the cover for the new edition, thus earning one thousand dollars and suturing your memory to Wallace’s own. Read More »

I Think I Would Rather Be a Painter

August 10, 2015 | by

At the Guggenheim, writers and artists cross-pollinate.

Carol Bove, Vague Pure Affection, 2012, wood and steel shelves, paper, brass, concrete, and acrylic, 85" x 35 1/2" x 16". © Carol Bove, photo courtesy Maccarone Inc., New York

Writers have always been in love with the visual arts. Just think of Frank O’Hara’s sly poem “Why I Am Not a Painter,” which is actually all about the creative entanglement of the two forms—tinged with yearning and a wry bit of envy:

I am not a painter, I am a poet.

Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

And it isn’t just poets. Hemingway, that great champion of muscular prose, credited Cézanne as one of his masters—a guy who painted pictures of rooftops. More recently, Don DeLillo has haunted the outer edges of the art world in novels such as The Body Artist, Falling Man, and 2010’s Point Omega, which begins and ends with a description of Douglas Gordon’s video installation 24 Hour Psycho. Read More »

Vermeer in Manhattan

August 4, 2015 | by

Johannes Vermeer, A Maid Asleep, oil on canvas, 1656–7, 2' 6" x 2' 10".

“Imagine you lost everything that really mattered to you, and then you had a dream, and in that dream you found out that you never really lost it, because it can’t be taken away from you. That’s how Vermeer makes me feel.”

The poet Michael White was trying to explain to me his obsession with Johannes Vermeer—with his psychologically charged interiors and enigmatic female figures. Michael’s fascination arose from a chance encounter with the artist’s work in Amsterdam, where he had gone to distract himself from a divorce so destructive that it had left him deeply depressed, feeling as if he would live out the rest of his life alone.

Though I was working with him at a university in North Carolina, I didn’t know him well enough at the time to understand the emotional hardship he was going through—or that his experience in the Rijksmuseum with Vermeer’s quietly ambiguous images had led him to travel the world on a quest to see every one of the master’s paintings. In fact, none of that was clear to me until I read his new memoir, Travels in Vermeer, a book that’s part travelogue, part meditation on the meaning of art. Read More »

Naptime with Mrs. Melville

July 30, 2015 | by


A portrait of Maria Gansevoort Melville by Ezra Ames, ca. 1815.

Yesterday we posted Rick Moody’s introduction to Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, a searching 1965 novel by Paul Metcalf in which he grapples with the influence of his great-grandfather, who so happened to be Herman Melville.

Metcalf makes liberal use of Melville throughout the novel, often quoting his work for paragraphs or pages at a stretch. He also inserts his own asides, and one of these in particular I’ve found striking. “I think, for a moment,” he writes,

of Maria Melville, Herman Melville’s mother, who, it is reliably reported, would require her eight children to sit on little stools around her bed, motionless, while she took her daily nap, that she might keep track of them.

Read More »

Thinking Like a Mountain

July 30, 2015 | by

How Aldo Leopold came to conservationism.


Aldo Leopold on a trip to the Rio Gavilan, ca. 1936. Photo: U.S. Forest Service

On the first day of April 1944, Aldo Leopold sat down at his desk to craft a confession. Leopold’s reputation was already growing across the country—a champion of modern wildlife management and the father of the Gila Wilderness, he was known as a good man and great teacher—but this would be something new and strange from a figure many would come to revere as the patron saint of American conservation. Leopold had recently received a letter, one in a long series of correspondence with his friend, Hans Albert Hochbaum, critiquing the essays Leopold was slowly producing for a book. Hochbaum mentioned the wolf, an animal that remained conspicuously absent from Leopold’s drafts: “I think you’ll have to admit you’ve got at least a drop of its blood on your hands.”

Hochbaum was talking generally, but the comment reminded Leopold of an incident that dated back to 1909, when he was just twenty-two. Read More »