July 30, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “Ellen Auerbach: Classic Works and Collaborations,” an exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery through August 14. Auerbach, who died in 2004, worked in Berlin in the time of the Weimar Republic; she’s remembered for her work with ringl + pit, an advertising studio she started with her friend Grete Stern. The pair found recognition for their photography in what was then a field dominated by men; their pictures vacillated between genres, using surrealism and montage to blur the line between commercialism and fine art.
July 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
In 1967, while he was a poet-in-residence at the California Institute of Technology, Richard Brautigan wrote “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” a gamboling techno-utopian vision that reads, nearly fifty years later, as farcically, hauntingly naive:
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
And that’s just the first stanza. Brautigan goes on to imagine “a cybernetic forest / filled with pines and electronics”; “it has to be!” he writes of “a cybernetic ecology.” One imagines he was not too gung ho on Blade Runner. Read More »
July 22, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Head to St. Augustine, Florida, north of the Mission Nombre de Dios and south of the Vilano Bridge, and you’ll find it, as advertised—the Fountain of Youth. It’s open to the public from nine to six daily. Children’s admission is cheaper than senior citizens’, which seems cruel—what need have the young for more youth? T. D. Allman sets the scene in his illuminating history, Finding Florida:
You’ll know you’ve almost reached your destination when you find yourself peering up at an ancient-looking arch. Across the top you’ll see displayed, in Ye Olde English–type lettering, an inscription. It reads: FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. The lettering is meant to evoke long-vanished times of chivalry and derring-do, but one detail marks it as indubitably Floridian: the sign is made of neon tubing. In the gathering subtropic twilight, the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH sign glows and sputters like the VACANCY sign on a state highway motel. According to press releases provided by the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which is what this venerable tourist attraction currently calls itself, this is the very spot where “Ponce de León landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth.”
There is one minor hiccup, though. “Juan Ponce de León never visited and never could have visited St. Augustine: St. Augustine was not founded until forty-one years after his death, in 1565.” Read More »
July 21, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
As part of its new Project REVEAL (not an empty acronym: it stands for Read and View English and American Literature), the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin has digitized the papers of writers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among them is Hart Crane, born on this day in 1899, the man who gave us The Bridge and who, according to Malcolm Cowley, enjoyed hurling furniture out the window when he was soused.
He and I have that in common. But our approach to writer’s block, suggests a lost poem from the Ransom Center collection, is entirely different. When Hart Crane gets writer’s block, he invokes the muses with a torrent of absurd, white-hot prose poetry that wouldn’t be out of place on the bathroom wall of a Haight-Ashbury flophouse circa 1967. Read More »
July 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Nicole’s staff pick from earlier today reminded me: I’ve been meaning to draw attention to the riches of archive.org’s Magazine Rack, a clearinghouse for defunct, forgotten, and abstruse periodicals from decades past. Anyone interested in media and design will find something diverting here. They’ve amassed a stupefyingly diverse collection, including such celebrated titles as OMNI (once the best sci-fi magazine around) and more … specialized fare, like The National Locksmith, Railway Modeller, and, of course, Sponsor, the magazine for radio and TV advertising buyers. All of these have been carefully digitized, and they’re free.
The best discovery I’ve made so far is Desert Magazine, a monthly dedicated to everyone’s favorite Class B Köppen climate classification. A journal of the Southwest with a conservationist bent, Desert dates to 1937 and ran for nearly fifty years, ceasing publication in 1985. Its founder and longtime publisher, Randall Henderson, died in 1970, well before I was born, but I like the cut of his jib. (Probably the wrong metaphor—few occasions for sailing in the desert.) In any case, he sounds like a copywriter from the J. Peterman Company: Read More »
July 15, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Iris Murdoch, who would be ninety-six today, thrilled to paintings of every stripe, but she was compelled by one work in particular: Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas, from the late sixteenth century. She mentions it in her 1990 Art of Fiction interview:
Do you see a painting you are particularly interested in and think, I might be able to use that some day in a novel, or I’d like to use it because it attracts and interests me?
The novel often indicates a painting during the process of creating the characters. Somehow the character will lead to the painting. A great painting that I have only recently seen—it lives in Czechoslovakia—is Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas. He was over ninety when he painted it. This painting gives me very much, though I have only referred to it indirectly.
Elsewhere, Murdoch has called the painting the greatest in the Western canon. It makes prominent appearances in her novels A Fairly Honourable Defeat, The Black Prince, and Jackson’s Dilemma; she even went so far as to include it in the background of her portrait, which hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Flaying of Marsyas has “something to do with human life and all its ambiguities and all its horrors and terrors and misery,” she told the BBC, “and at the same time there’s something beautiful, the picture is beautiful, and something also to do with the entry of the spiritual into the human situation and the closeness of the gods … I regard Dionysus in a sense as a part of Apollo’s mind … and want to exalt Apollo as a god who is a terrible god, but also a great artist and thinker and a great source of life.” Read More »