The Daily

First Person

My Strange Friend Marcel Proust

October 26, 2016 | by

Marcel Proust in Cabourg, 1896.

Marcel Proust in Cabourg, 1896.

Next month, City Lights will publish Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism, a series of reminiscences and miniportraits of modernist writers and artists—Blaise Cendrars, James Joyce, Pierre Reverdy, and others—by Philippe Soupault, a Dadaist who, with André Breton, wrote Les Champs magnétique in 1919, kicking off the Surrealist movement. Soupault’s sketches in Lost Profiles were originally published in French in 1963; this translation, by Alan Bernheimer, marks their first appearance in English.

The personal impressions Soupault provides of these “great” men, who comprise his contemporaries and his heroes, elucidate their individuality, the nature of their friendship, and essential qualities that underpin their artistic reputations. He writes, for instance, that critics’ use of the terms primitive and Sunday painter in describing Henri Rousseau perpetuated a misunderstanding of the man, despite his artistic success. The cause of the misunderstanding is simply that “no one has yet tried to depict the true personality of Henri Rousseau.” In his afterword, Ron Padgett recalls meeting Soupault in the seventies, when he performs the same service for his own literary hero, observing that Soupault’s “personal manner was a reflection of the lightness of touch of his best poems, a delicacy that is so artful that it never calls attention to itself.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Collector’s Item

October 24, 2016 | by

What was the Princess Diana Beanie Baby?

In the midnineties, my older sisters and I collected Ty Beanie Babies, as most of our peer group did. When I think of Beanie Babies, I think of the piles. Big piles saturated with every color and texture of fuzz, dotted with shiny black eyes and noses. They had a nice weight to them, too, a little heavier than stuffed animals. The pile became a classic image in the Beanie Baby mythos: the collector buried in Beanies. My sisters kept their collections (numbering several dozen) safely stowed in the pockets of over-the-door shoe organizers with plastic tag protectors and careful inventory lists, while I played with mine, ripping their tags off with abandon and allowing them, despite their Ty-brand prestige, to mingle with my other stuffed animals and dolls. Not that I had any objection to them as a commodity: I enjoyed collecting them, too, lining up at Pink’s or Hallmark—the two local authorized Beanie dealers in my New Jersey town—in anticipation of new releases. I read the trade rag, Mary Beth’s Beanie World. I called my local McDonald’s answering machine to hear which Teeny Beanies they were offering with Happy Meals. I searched in vain for rare, highly sought-after defective Beanies: a Spot with no spot, an albino elephant. 

Today the Internet, with its relentless nostalgia mill, won’t let us forget how worthless our Beanie Babies have become. “Remember When Everyone Was Going to Re-sell Their Beanie Babies and Become Millionaires?” a piece on E! asked. I can’t help but feel vindicated by articles like these. My sisters were convinced that their Ty collections would be worth a lot of money someday; they had to be protected. But: a toy you don’t play with? It sounded dumb. It sounded dumb because it was dumb, and I somehow got that right—this at a time when I was wrong about many, many things. This at a time when I thought that Titanic was the most culturally important, most pornographic, longest movie ever made. (I had not actually seen Titanic, but I knew from my own careful taping that you could fit six hours of video on a VHS tape, and Titanic took up two tapes, so it had to be, like, twelve hours long.)

Still, I can’t escape some weird feeling about Beanie Babies: about the bizarre hysteria they generated and the prescience with which they foresaw the Internet as a vast archive for our personal ephemera and its emotional baggage. Read More »

Up and Down the Meadows

October 20, 2016 | by

Las Vegas before and during “Clinton-Trump III.”

Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Hard Rock Cafe, Las Vegas. Photo: Thomas Hawk.

Debate Wednesday in Las Vegas—or, as the front-page headline of the Las Vegas Review-Journal called it, CLINTON-TRUMP III. I arrived the night before from Los Angeles, determined, simply, to walk around and inhabit the rhythms of the city in the hours leading up to and during the final debate. Would I meet demonstrators in the streets? Would I hear megaphones and anthems? Would a police officer order me to go the other way? Or would this be just another day in Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows”—and if that turned out to be the case, what is “just another day” in the meadows like? Well, these meadows are sun bleached and paved, and I set out first thing to stomp about and have a look.

I started the day at the Davis Funeral Home and Memorial Park. It was a cool, clear-blue morning, and the cemetery hummed in peace. Crews trimmed the trees and mowed the lawns. To the north, the Sheep Range Mountains looked chiseled and handsome. Jets came down from the east to land at McCarran Airport, right across the street, one every minute. I saw a grave decorated for Halloween, with foam skulls and signs that said DANGER! and KEEP OUT! A man in a black leather cap unfolded a canvas chair and sat to stare at a tombstone. The three-quarter moon hung out in the west, slowly fading. Read More »

Flowers for Hitler

October 19, 2016 | by

Valais, Switzerland, as depicted in the University of the New World’s Winter 1971–72 General Bulletin.

In 1973, I took a brief sabbatical from college to study in Switzerland at the University of the New World. I still have the small red course catalog somewhere. It was a school started by visionary hustler Al de Grazia, who had been a professor at Brown and … well, you should see what they offered: a faculty that included Allen Ginsberg, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Robert Motherwell, Immanuel Velikovsky, John Cage, Ram Dass, twenty-four-hour music rooms/art studios/libraries. There were stalls set up on the quad promoting it.

The university was situated in a tiny canton just outside Sion. The university was actually situated somewhere deep in the recesses of Professor DeGrazia’s mind. There was no university. It was, to be charitable, a work in progress. There were no libraries or music studios or art studios. There were no classrooms. There were no dormitories. There were no teachers. There were only a handful of students—mostly from Antioch—and we were all housed in rooms in a nearby ski lodge. From this distance I can’t tell whether it was a scam or a pipe dream. I had to humbly ask to be readmitted to Brown, and Dean Hazeltine was sympathetic but let me dangle in the wind for a few weeks just … well, just to give me time to reflect. 

It turned out to be an interesting time. Read More »

Jar Watch

October 14, 2016 | by

Photo: TheStarmon, Wikimedia Commons.

I first arrived in LA in the dark. On crutches. I’d been bitten by a dog the week before, that was the reason, but by the time we got from LAX to our temporary digs in Laurel Canyon, having almost thrown up in the car, I was definitely worse for wear, as if I’d walked the whole way. The next morning—though I felt like the sister from another planet (I’d never been to California)—I had to admit it was beautiful here: morning glory blooming up the side of the house in the middle of winter; all those flowering trees. But the rest of the city turned out to be ugly, so I thought: too much stucco; everything short and squat, brown or beige, bleached out and overexposed. I couldn’t see the forest for the palms, bearded and rootless, coming straight up from the pavement.

Anyway. Not so long after, within the year or so, a famous comet was scheduled to show up in our skies, a once-in-a-lifetime event—not to be missed—and the best place for us to get a glimpse? The Mojave. How astonishing if you hail from New England, to find yourself living on the lip of the Mojave. As recommended, we left after midnight and drove until ours was the only car on a two-lane road, nothing but sand and scrub as far as we could see. We pulled over, turned off the high beams, and stepped outside. It was freezing. And the Joshua trees—wizened, arthritic—seemed to fold in on themselves as if they disapproved of our being there; no moon in the sky that night, much less a comet, and not many stars. Cold, disappointed—a little scared of the quiet and the dark—I gave up. Sat hunched in the car, like one of those pissy little trees, while Fred (my boyfriend) shivered and scanned the sky. Read More »

Our Father Who Art in the Bronx, Our Mother Who Art Nowhere

October 12, 2016 | by

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr.

I’m standing inside the refrigerator door, playing three-card monte with the ketchup, the mustard, and one of those midget jars of tartar sauce. It’s an unoriginal con among seven-year-olds—pretending to rummage the fridge in order to eavesdrop—but it works, right up until the cold gets to be too much to bear.

In a last ditch effort to buy myself more time, I try to warm up by bouncing on the balls of my feet, leaving my hands free to continue the condiment-shuffle, but eventually I have no choice: I break down and start using my goose-bumped arms to rub my goose-bumped legs, even though I know that’ll be the tip-off.Read More »