The Daily

On the Shelf

Clouds Are the New Fireworks, and Other News

July 1, 2016 | by

Marketing materials for Khmer Cloud Making Service.

  • The poet Geoffrey Hill has died at eighty-four, “suddenly, and without pain or dread,” according to his wife. “The word accessible is fine in its place,” he told the Guardian in 2002. “That is to say, public toilets should be accessible to people in wheelchairs; but a word that is perfectly in its place in civics or civic arts is entirely out of place, I think, in a wider discussion of the arts. There is no reason why a work of art should be instantly accessible, certainly not in the terms which lie behind most people’s use of the word. In my view, difficult poetry is the most democratic, because you are doing your audience the honor of supposing that they are intelligent human beings. So much of the populist poetry of today treats people as if they were fools.”
  • Hilton Als tells the long, harrowing, ecstatic story behind Nan Goldin’s The Ballad: “The Ballad was Goldin’s first book and remains her best known, a benchmark for photographers who believe, as she does, in the narrative of the self, the private and public exhibition we call ‘being.’ In the hundred and twenty-seven images that make up the volume proper, we watch as relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women, and women and themselves play out in bedrooms, bars, pensiones, bordellos, automobiles, and beaches in Provincetown, Boston, New York, Berlin, and Mexico—the places where Goldin, who left home at fourteen, lived as she recorded her life and the lives of her friends. The images are not explorations of the world in black-and-white, like Arbus’s, or artfully composed shots, like Mann’s. What interests Goldin is the random gestures and colors of the universe of sex and dreams, longing and breakups—the electric reds and pinks, deep blacks and blues that are integral to The Ballad’s operatic sweep.”

We’re Both Dippy Over Him, and Other News

June 30, 2016 | by

Gee whiz!

  • If you’ve been listening to pop music your whole life, you might think that love is a many-splendored thing, subject to the vicissitudes and vagaries of the human condition. You would be wrong. Love has exactly seven stages—no more, no less. Stendhal said so: “In 1818, Stendhal—then an unsuccessful writer in his midthirties named Henri Beyle—met one of the loves of his life, Méthilde … But Méthilde kept Stendhal at arm’s length, and even limited their interactions, only allowing him to visit her once every two weeks, which, in turn, gave Stendhal time to develop and nurture his fantasy of her, to exaggerate his love and admiration to truly grandiose proportions. ‘This is a love that lives only through the imagination,’ Stendhal recorded in his journal … Stendhal kept track of his emotions, and began to think about love with an almost scientific scrutiny. The result of this project was called De l’Amour, in which he described his famous concept of the stages of love. There are seven stages in all—which could conceivably follow like episodes on a season of The Bachelor—evolving in a form of crystallization: ‘a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.’ ”
  • While we’re talking love—David Rees found his grandma’s diaries, and they are full of it. Mainly the object of her affection is ice cream; sometimes boys, too. “My teenage grandmother’s great genius was flirting,” he writes: “Those amazing boys! The peachy, dandy, charming boys of Gloversville, anointed with adjectives now reserved for Yelp reviews of bed-and-breakfasts. I can barely keep up with her crushes, or their fluctuations in status: ‘But what do you suppose [Peggy] told me? That Bill was mad at me because he thought I was mad at him because he talked to Velma Thorne! And there I didn’t even know he’d been talking to her! Wasn’t it funny. ... So I told [Ralph] to tell [Bill] I wasn’t mad and it didn’t bother me how much he talked to Velma!’ It turns out poor Bill, being ‘stout’ and a cigarette-bummer (‘I hate to see a fellow smoke when he’s with a girl on the street, don’t you?’) was no match for Grant. Or Jonsey. Or the mysterious ‘Sunshine,’ who, if my grandmother is to be believed, was, for one summer in 1911, the most alluring young man in the universe: ‘one grand rower, fisher and sportsman. Really I never saw anybody like him. Emma & I are both dippy over him!’ ”
  • So like imagine you’re a young Karl Ove Knausgaard and you get on the elevator in a fancy midtown building and hey now, it’s some hotshot publisher and you’ve got about thirty seconds to pitch My Struggle: “Ah, hello. Yes, going up. I haven’t chosen a floor yet. You may know me. I’m a writer. Imagine: A young man boards the bus to his grandparents’ flat in Elvegaten. He usually sits on the left side of the aisle, a few rows from the back, by the window, if the seat is available. It is: He sits there. He—there’s more to it, actually, but—yes, have a nice day.”
  • Marianne Moore revised her poems restlessly, constantly—and sometimes publicly. In her willingness to let her readers see a poem in different iterations, she anticipated the Internet, Ali Pechman writes: “Particularly with respect to the way she changed her work, Moore has always struck me as more of a digital-age artist than any of her contemporaries. Her poems were as malleable as something written online … Her process gives a hint of how a poetic mind might use the Internet. In poems such as ‘An Octopus,’ she collages together text from newspapers, guidebooks, and overheard remarks at the circus in a shimmering representation of Mount Rainier. ‘Marriage’ contains roughly thirty sources from Francis Bacon to Ezra Pound to the inscription on a statue in Central Park. Such poems are a reflection of the hours she spent scouring countless books at the library and attending lectures. Her democratic sphere of influence apes the Internet—and, to follow, her aggressive self-editing reads like a symptom of that kind of capacity. One wonders what she would have written if she had had references at her fingertips.”
  • Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, an Oulipo project, tells a love story without ever referring to gender—a feat that’s all the more impressive in French, which has gender baked into its grammatical constructs.To get around these rules, Garréta digs deep into the French language. Instead of the passé composé she uses the literary form of the past tense, the passé simple, which does not employ participles that require agreement, and relies heavily on the imparfait, which describes continuously-occurring past actions. Sometimes Garréta uses sentence fragments to avoid the verb altogether. She describes A***’s body indirectly, taking advantage of the fact that, in French, an arm (un bras) is masculine even if it belongs to a female and a leg (une jambe) is feminine even when it belongs to a male. No primary or secondary sex characteristics are ever mentioned, of course: in the sex scenes thighs and crotches end up doing the erotic and narrative heavy lifting. And in one important instance a genderless English noun stands in for its gendered French equivalent.”

We’re All on Location, and Other News

June 29, 2016 | by

From the set of Intolerance.

  • D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance is a hundred years old. Its lavish sets—replete with plaster elephants, ornate ten-story walls, and all manner of Babylonian spectacle—testify to a creepy brand of movie magic that has long since leaped from the screen: “Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future … Even though it’s largely vanished from movies, the attraction of a reality that is recognizably phony and yet honest-to-gosh exists has hardly vanished from our culture … Increasingly, shopping malls, hotels, and the like do their best to emulate the same effect. We’re all on location, baby, even when we’re just shopping or hunting for a bite to eat. Intolerance anticipated many things, and one of them was Disneyland. In turn, Disneyland anticipated a lot of the modern environment we live in—not just at the multiplex or while on vacation, but full time.”
  • The journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a teacher in North Korea and wrote a book about what she witnessed there—but her publishers decided to call it a memoir, thus exposing one of the industry’s many fault lines. She writes, “As the only journalist to live undercover in North Korea, I had risked imprisonment to tell a story of international importance by the only means possible. By casting my book as personal rather than professional—by marketing me as a woman on a journey of self-discovery, rather than a reporter on a groundbreaking assignment—I was effectively being stripped of my expertise on the subject I knew best. It was a subtle shift, but one familiar to professional women from all walks of life. I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?

Cubists on Vacation, and Other News

June 28, 2016 | by

Suzy Frelinghuysen, Steve Morris (younger brother of George Morris), and their friend Natalie Merrill wearing driving masks and goggles in the Swiss Alps. Courtesy of Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio. Image via T.

  • Most of us struggle to interest our friends in our vacation photos, even in real time. (My Instagram of Six Flags only got two likes.) But in the midthirties, George L. K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, the so-called Park Avenue Cubists, traveled to such exotic locales that their photos and home movies are still of interest some eighty years later. As Hilary Reid writes, “the Frelinghuysen Morris Home & Studio is a window into the artists’ lives: their books, clothes, midcentury modern furniture and even their liquor bottles and Frelinghuysen’s hair dryer … This summer, visitors can view never-before-seen sixteen-mm color films taken by Morris and Frelinghuysen during their travels to Latin America and Switzerland between 1936 and 1938 … In Switzerland, we watch as Frelinghuysen hops in a convertible with Morris’s younger brother Steve and their friend Natalie Merrill, all wearing driving goggles and masks. The Russian avant-garde artist Esphyr Slobodkina joins them in one shot; and in another, they shimmy and laugh their way out of an ice tunnel.”
  • Brexit raises plenty of unanswerable questions, chief among them being, What the fuck? More fruitfully, we might ask: What effect will this have on the English language? “In 2012 a report found that 38 percent of the EU’s citizens speak it as a foreign language … A sort of Euro-English, influenced by foreign languages, is already in use. Many Europeans use control to mean ‘monitor’ because contrôler has that meaning in French. The same goes for assist, meaning ‘to attend’ (assister in French, asistir in Spanish) … Many nouns in English that don’t properly pluralize with a final s are merrily used in Euro-English, such as informations … Britain may be a polarizing, unusual EU member, but English has become neutral, utilitarian; it is useful because others understand it. Its association with Britain is already weak and set to weaken … Dreamers have long hoped for a neutral auxiliary language that is common to all. Some have even gone to the trouble of inventing such languages. Who knows? English might one day fulfil the destiny intended for Esperanto.”
  • Black Flag played their last show thirty years ago, and our ears are still ringing: “Doesn't it all sound like another world? It probably was. To foist your bohemia on an indifferent public, to harrow the complacent, to shake it up … Joe Carducci, the outsider intellectual who helped run Black Flag's label, SST, takes the long view: ‘Our closing frontier,’ he writes in his 2008 memoir, Enter Naomi, ‘was the sixties cultural revolution as it died out in the seventies and early eighties. In retrospect the Black Flag/SST story looks like a cultural analogue to the Manson-Weathermen-S.L.A.-Black Panther-Nixon White House-People’s Temple endgame—art just had more life in it than crime or politics or religion.’ ”

The Typefaces of Blade Runner, and Other News

June 27, 2016 | by

From Blade Runner.

  • Eliot, Auden, and Yeats all praised David Jones’s 1937 In Parenthesis as a masterpiece, the best long poem to come out of World War I—so how come no one reads it anymore? “Fuelled by direct experience, but highly composed, with a frame of reference that reaches across centuries, In Parenthesis works at the level of poetry, yet isn’t verse, nor, I’d argue, a poem. Multiple narrative possibilities are deployed throughout, fragmented lyricism giving way to sections of prose, dialogue, stream of consciousness, slang and song. The flow between these modes and registers never feels anything less than organic, and yet the work is built upon a parenthetical structure of mathematical precision; a subterranean architecture of image, pace and movement that provides a governing background rhythm to the multiple transitions of voice, perspective and cadence … In the seventy years since its publication it has been too rarely read, or even known, though it has maintained an influence on writers and poets working in its wake.”

Poets Saving Parks, and Other News

June 24, 2016 | by

From a WPA poster for Yosemite.

  • When I think of the Beats, I think of drugs, of brooding nights in dens of iniquity, of casual misogyny. But it’s time to revamp their public image: they were also, as Timothy Egan writes, eloquent proponents of our national parks. “They were known as literary subversives, rebel voices in the era of Silent Generation conformity. But among their other contributions to American life are words that some of the Beats marshaled on behalf of wild places. Kerouac, inspired by Snyder’s rapture about a summer spent in the clouds, followed him as a lookout to an area that eventually became North Cascades National Park in Washington State … In this year when the Park Service is celebrating its centennial with all sorts of hand-wringing about the future, it’s instructive to remember how language can save landscape. Powerful prose has been put to good use in the cause of America’s Best Idea.”
  • Cynthia Ozick, at eighty-eight, is still a force of midcentury belletristic intellectualism—even her regular cabdriver in New Rochelle is quick to say that “the old lady” still has “all her marbles.” Giles Harvey paid her a visit: “Like her characters, a sorry gaggle of pallid shut-ins and thwarted fantasists, Ozick doesn’t get out much. She has spoken of her aversion to stages and of her impatience with what Henry James, her lifelong inspirator, called ‘the twaddle of mere graciousness.’ She writes at night, for years at the Sears, Roebuck desk she has owned since childhood, measuring her existence ‘in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail.’ When I first wrote to her to propose this article, she responded with a detailed message about her unsuitability. As far as she could tell, her life was altogether devoid of public action, public interest. ‘I once wrote that I’d flown cross-country, solo, from the Westchester County airport to the Rocky Mountains in a single-engine 180-horsepower Piper Cherokee,’ she added promisingly. ‘But that was a lie.’ ”
  • In which Emma Cline offers a glimpse into her past as a child actor: “For that week of filming, it was like I had a new team of parents … I thought the blessing would never end. And my mother must have felt it, too: she had met people who would chat with her during downtime, crew members who brought her bottles of water, other parents of kid actors who would commiserate over work permits and Screen Actors Guild dues. She belonged and so did I, marked by rare luck, sanctioned by all the busyness and effort that surrounded us. And who wouldn’t want to believe that the world took notice of you, made a space for you, fussed over your presence and wished for your success?”
  • True-crime stories are more popular than ever—and so, too, by extension, are white dudes with martyr complexes hoping to solve cold cases. James Renner’s new book True Crime Addict tells a familiar tale: “Cold cases have long attracted hangers-on like Renner, who work for years on ‘solving’ the crime but never do. In cases that broke before the advent of Internet sleuthing, they often called themselves ‘private investigators,’ which represented a shockingly diverse category. Now many of these people gather on the Internet, posting on sites like Renner’s. The result is a complicated morass of uncontrolled speculation. It certainly isn’t justice … I’m frankly surprised that a major publishing house decided to release Renner’s book.”