Department of Tomfoolery
May 17, 2016 | by Erik Satie
Erik Satie, the composer and pianist, was born on this day 150 years ago. “There are many kinds of eccentric,” Nick Richardson wrote in the London Review of Books last year, “and Satie was most of them.” The musician’s description of his diet, comprising all-white foods, many of them inedible, is often quoted as evidence of this eccentricity. It comes from an even more eccentric whole, Satie’s book Memoirs of an Amnesiac. The relevant passage is reprinted below, with some of his drawings of imaginary buildings and busts, because why not … —D.P.
An artist must organize his life. Here is the exact timetable of my daily activities:
I rise at 7:18; am inspired from 10:23 to 11:47. I lunch at 12:11 and leave the table at 12:14. A healthy ride on horseback round my domain follows from 1:19 P.M. to 2:53 P.M. Another bout of inspiration from 3:12 to 4:07 P.M. From 4:27 to 6:47 P.M. various occupations (fencing, reflection, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, etc.)
Dinner is served at 7:16 and finished at 7:20 P.M. From 8:09 to 9:59 P.M. symphonic readings (out loud). I go to bed regularly at 10:37 P.M. Once a week, I wake up with a start at 3:19 (Tuesdays).
My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, grated bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, fruit-mould, rice, turnips, camphorated sausages, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with the juice of the Fuchsia. I am a hearty eater, but never speak while eating, for fear of strangling. Read More »
May 6, 2016 | by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
On October 22, 1905, two weeks after he’d sent his father (but not his mother!) the issue of the Annalen der Physik containing his article “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” which laid out for the first time the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein received in return a letter not from his father but from his mother, Louise Einstein née Rosenberg, the daughter of a prosperous grain trader from Württemberg, who explained to her son, a little bit bashfully but with a distinct note of reproof, that she, too, was interested in his intellectual life—all the more so because his intellectual life was his life. There is simply no partaking in my son’s life if I cannot partake in his intellectual life, she wrote, such is the nature of my brilliant but pensive son, my inward-oriented, eternally brain-dwelling son! And so, she wrote, even though the article had not been sent to her, she’d snatched it up—“Please do not reproach me for this!”—as soon as his father was finished with it and set about studying it herself. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to make heads or tails of it. Despite her deep, her profoundly deep aching to understand, she wrote, the fact remained that she did not speak the physico-mathematical language in which her husband and son were fluent. “Please, Albert, explain it to me more simply! Put it in terms so simple that even the daughter of a Württemberg corn merchant can understand it!” Read More »
February 16, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
“The only thing harder than crafting a good pun,” wrote Ted Trautman in these pages, “is finding someone to appreciate it.” But as Trautman makes clear, those people who love puns really love puns. They’re the Peeps eaters of the wordplay world: few, proud, and defiant.
The stronghold of the pun -- besides our own ingenious puzzles, I mean -- is, of course, the UK: if not king there, the pun is certainly a minor entry in Debrett’s. And so it should come as no shock that from across the pond comes—wait for it—a history of the world in visual puns. You didn’t know you needed that in your life, did you? You didn’t know you needed, say, a list of ten puns on the assassination of Julius Caesar. And maybe you hear, Why did Julius Caesar buy crayons? He wanted to mark Antony, and think, Wow, that’s really lame. But then, Peeps lovers always do claim that they’re better stale.
October 21, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The eeriest and most gravid of today’s new emoji is this guy: the so-called Man in Business Suit Levitating. In Apple’s rendition, he cuts an imposing figure, like a rich kid who’s just aced his LSATs—a simpering, dubiously pompadoured fella in polarized glasses and a natty suit. His tapered silhouette hangs above a blip of a shadow. He’s a superhuman exclamation point. He’s the floating face of capitalism. And if literature has taught us anything, it’s that he brings nothing but bad news wherever he roams.
I’m prepared to advance an entirely unfounded argument based on an hour of Googling: that this levitating businessman is the latest, most accessible form of a character who has haunted literature for more than a century. Sometimes wily, sometimes unscrupulous, and sometimes merely misguided, he’s held aloft by Adam Smith’s invisible hand only to be flung earthward again. Join me, won’t you, on an impromptu whistle-stop tour of THE LEVITATING BUSINESSMAN IN LITERATURE.Read More »
September 9, 2015 | by Dave Hill
I wrote ringtones for Donald Trump.
The year was 2004. Both NBC’s The Apprentice and really fun cell-phone ringtones had taken an unsuspecting public by storm. I had managed to elude both—I kept my phone on vibrate and I was ready to stare in bemusement at anyone even thinking of telling me I had been “fired.”
But I needed money, so when the call came to write ringtones for Donald Trump, a quiet businessman from Queens who had been reluctantly thrust into the spotlight by the seventh most popular program on network television at the time, I said yes. I had been doing some freelance writing and one of my clients was among the tangle of corporations assigned to the case. Fortunately, they decided to throw me a bone.
Of course, I knew a thing or two about Trump already. He had flawless hair; he slept on piles of money each night; given the choice between having something not gold-plated or entirely gold-plated, he chose door number two every time. Still, I wanted to do the best job possible, so I had one of Trump’s minions send me copies of two of his books, Trump: The Art of the Deal and Trump: The Art of the Comeback, as well as an anatomically correct Trump doll that would tell me all sorts of things every time I pressed its back, something I couldn’t help but do repeatedly as soon as it came into my possession. Read More »
February 9, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
At this point, we tired of it! Because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration … Then they do this whole promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, an artist, because they want commercial advertising. No, we not playing with them no more. —Kanye West on the Grammys, February 8, 2015
Every year, the stately procession of awards shows delivers us another imbroglio, and every year I wish that Thomas Bernhard, who would be eighty-four today, was still around to take the piss out of them. In a just world, our country’s glossiest magazines would pay Bernhard to attend awards shows around the world, allotting him thousands of words with which to vent his signature blend of misanthropy, contumely, vitriol, and spleen, with no paragraph breaks. “Everything is fundamentally sick and sad,” Bernhard once wrote. And: “There is nothing but failure.” If the Kanye Wests of our time were stealing the stage to say stuff like that, the state of our union would be stronger.
Bernhard was full of vinegar for just about everyone and everything, but so severe was his allergy to pomp and circumstance that he wrote a book about it. My Prizes: An Accounting describes a variety of banal ceremonies Bernhard was swindled into attending because, you know, he was being feted at them. “The Grillparzer Prize,” which opens the collection, provides a useful blueprint for anyone who hopes to disrupt the prizewinning paradigm. Some general instructions follow. Read More »