The Daily

On the Shelf

Be Bold with Bananas, and Other News

April 27, 2016 | by

Go on.

Don’t Worry, R. Crumb Is Still Weird, and Other News

April 26, 2016 | by

An R. Crumb illustration from Art & Beauty No. 2. Courtesy the artist, Paul Morris, and David Zwirner, New York/London

  • To celebrate the reissue of George Plimpton’s sports oeuvre (Paper Lion, Out of My League, et cetera), you’ll probably want to see these pictures of him doing one of the things he did so well: getting in over his head with very athletic men.
  • Crumb has a new exhibition at a London gallery—a surprisingly reputable turn for an artist who prides himself on his ill repute. But don’t worry: he’s the same old glorious pervert. “I was always a contrarian. My wife says sometimes I’m too much so—born weird. I always felt there’s something odd and off about my nervous system. If everybody’s walking forward, I want to walk backwards. During adolescence I couldn’t fit in, and it was very, very painful. But it fired me to develop my own aesthetic. I was very much in pain about being this outcast, but it freed me to drop that Hollywood ideal and pursue the people that I thought attractive … My work is full of anger toward women. I was sent to Catholic school with scary nuns and I was rejected by girls at high school. I sort of got it out of my system, but anger is normal between the sexes. Okay, it can go to the top and men can harm women, but if anyone says they are not angry I don’t believe it, especially while your libido is still going. The men who are most charming are often the most contemptuous.”
  • In which Eileen Myles gets paid for—can you believe this?—writing poetry. “A poem is my money … My poem is my property. Like my lawn. I get a thousand dollars for a poem in Transparent … I think The New Yorker gave me something like $600 for the poem ‘Dissolution.’ It had been the most I had ever gotten for a poem I think. Sometimes now when I am asked to write a catalogue essay for an artist I realize I could do a poem and I propose that or simply send it. In those cases I have gotten $1500 for the poems which is the most. Yet it is low for an art catalogue so in a way writing a poem is a kind of complaint. Here take a fucking poem for that price. I mean it doesn’t literally feel that way but I’m always looking for the easiest way for language to pour. Especially in relationship to cash.”
  • Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident, the Zone remains a strange kind of literary center: “the Zone has spawned a literary genre of its own. Indeed, it seemed instantly to pass into myth, even possessing its own poetic language. The soldiers and firefighters who cleaned up the site—many of whom died from exposure—are referred to as the liquidators. Reactor Four remains encased in a concrete-and-steel shell known as the sarcophagus. In the Zone, there is a Red Forest; there was black rain … Through three decades of literary response, Chernobyl has undermined the sort of authoritative depiction that might bring closure. But something closed can be forgotten. The finest works express profound doubts about the power of language to absorb a disaster of this magnitude, and so continually reopen it to new ways of being remembered.”
  • Midcentury British boarding-school novels—sensible, stuffy, strict—wouldn’t seem to offer much in the way of contemporary ethical guidance. But Nakul Krishna, reading Edith Blyton’s school stories, begs to differ: “The schoolgirl’s hell is not, as a character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (1944) memorably puts it, other people; her hell is the isolated self, incapable of getting outside itself. Time and again, the girls must be brought to their lowest ebb (ostracism, betrayal, near-fatal illness or, worse, near-expulsion) before they are offered a glimpse of self-knowledge and the chance to get back on their moral feet. Sometimes an apology will do it, or an acknowledgement, or some gesture of recompense to those harmed. But Blyton, like life, can be brutal: not every character is redeemed by the end of the series, and no character is straightforwardly rid of her vices. There is only the lifelong challenge of acknowledging the reality of other people.”

Timbuktu’s Massive Book Heist, and Other News

April 25, 2016 | by

Abdel Kader Haidara in Timbuktu, 2009. Photo: Brent Stirton/National Geographic

  • Today in censored statues: in Italy, the fashionable thing to do with one’s nude statues is not to display them but to conceal them with some plywood or maybe a heavy drop-cloth or whatever else you’ve got lying around. The Capitoline Venus, which resides in the hall of the Capitoline Museums, in Rome, was boxed up last month to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the visiting Iranian president, but really this sort of thing happens all the time: “True, some discussions were had. According to one journalist, questions were raised about the conspicuous testicles of Marcus Aurelius’s horse in the equestrian statue which also graces the hall … This kind of artistic censorship is remarkably common in Italy, to the point of being frequently unreported. As journalist Giovanna Vitale has pointed out, for instance, it had been only five months since a nude by Jeff Koons in a Florentine palace included in the itinerary of sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan was concealed … And—in case you think it’s only heads of state of the Muslim faith who are reserved this peculiar treatment—it was eight months since posters of a Tamara de Lempicka exhibition in Turin ... were covered to save the Pope from certain emotional trauma.”
  • A few months ago, I used this space to hawk Saul Bellow’s ten-thousand-dollar desk, which was not, at the time, a hot seller. But things have changed. That desk is gone. As Bellow’s son Daniel explained to Atlas Obscura: “All of a sudden, everyone from famous journalists to doctors from the Mayo Clinic contacted him about purchasing his father’s desk … In the end, though, Bellow’s desk was sold to his son’s niece, who matched the top bid at the auction, and kept the desk in the family … The desk will be put in his niece’s new home in Hudson, New York. As for the money from the auction, Daniel says he is going to use it to build a kiln chimney in his new pottery studio.”
  • Faced with an al-Qaida invasion, librarians in Timbuktu oversaw a massive smuggling operation in which some 300,000 rare books and manuscripts were secreted away to safety: “The first thing we’re going to do is get them out of these big libraries. We’re going to take trunks. We’re going to pack them into trunks at night when the rebels are asleep, and then we’re going to move them in the dead of night by mule cart to these various houses—safe houses scattered around the city. And hopefully they’ll be safe for the duration of this occupation … They’re in about a dozen climate-controlled storage rooms in Bamako, the capital of Mali.”
  • In which Meghan O’Gieblyn decides to give Updike a chance, takes Couples off the shelf, and finds … many things she expected and a few she didn’t: “There was plenty in the book that lived up to Updike’s contemporary reputation: women who think things no woman would think (‘She had wanted to bear Ken a child, to brew his excellence in her warmth’) … There are many passages in which Updike’s prodigious gifts as a prose artist are given over to the effects of gravity on women’s bodies. Nobody can write the female body in decay quite like Updike. So clinical and unrelenting is his gaze, he manages to call attention to signs of aging that even I—someone in possession of a female body—had never considered. ‘Age had touched only the softened line of her jaw and her hands,’ he writes of Piet’s wife, Angela, ‘their stringy backs and reddened fingertips’ … What intrigued me most about Couples, though, was the sense of doom that undercuts the orgy.”
  • Jonas Mekas was the first film critic for the Village Voice, and a new collection of his critical writing reveals “an artistic time capsule of New York at a moment of crucial energy”: “There’s a live-wire spontaneity to Mekas’s writing, an excitement sparked by his sense of beauty, by his sheer pleasure in cinematic imagination, and it’s connected to a soulful sense of inwardness and empathy … What energizes his discussions and exhortations is the impulse behind the films, rather than the films themselves—the lives and dreams of the artists, the harsh demands placed on filmmakers by the effort to create homemade, self-financed, independent films, made by oneself and one’s friends. These are films that repudiate openly the conventions of the commercial cinema, the norms and limits on subject matter and representation, while the filmmakers submit to a horrific range of deprivations and afflictions for the sake of their art. In effect, Mekas offers, both in and as film criticism, extraordinary and enduring sketches of downtown lives.”

Triumphantly, Brilliantly Kaleidoscopic, and Other News

April 22, 2016 | by

San Francisco City Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo via Instagram: alightningrod

San Francisco City Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo via Instagram: alightningrod

It’s Time to Stop Bothering with Underwear, and Other News

April 21, 2016 | by

A pair of silk-chiffon knickers from the 1930s, on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Take the Throne, and Other News

April 20, 2016 | by

Maurizio Cattelan’s mock-up of his solid-gold toilet, debuting in a bathroom at the Guggenheim this May.

  • For years, I’ve implored the management here at the Review to install a gold toilet—it would raise morale and the magazine’s profile. I’m sad to report that the Guggenheim has beaten us to the flush. And their gold john is designed by Maurizio Cattelan, no less, who came out of retirement to make it: “You could go into the restroom just to bask in its glow, Mr. Cattelan said, but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call … Guggenheim officials said that they anticipated lines for the Cattelan bathroom and added that a guard or attendant might be placed near the door to ensure orderly waiting—and also to make certain that no one tries to abscond with a piece of the toilet. They added that eighteen-karat gold was chosen for its solidity, though they acknowledged the possibility that the sculpture still could be scratched or damaged.”
  • Shakespeare teaches many things to many people. He taught me, for instance, how to kill kings by pouring poison in their ears. But he taught Jillian Keenan something even better: the joys of spanking. She writes of a pivotal moment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I could find a huge spectrum of sexualities reflected in its characters. I saw passionate monogamy in Hermia and Lysander, confident polyamory in Oberon and Titania, playful anthropomorphism in Titania and Bottom, and loving bisexuality or homosexuality in Oberon and Puck. But in Helena and Demetrius, I just saw assholes. The problem was that damn scene … My Helena is kinky. In Midsummer, she chooses the love she wants. It doesn’t matter what we think of Demetrius or whether we approve of their dynamic. Helena loves him unflinchingly, and for that she deserves our respect. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about consent, and its message is clear: not only can we consent to sex, we can consent to love. It only demands our honesty.”
  • Last year, we featured “Big, Bent Ears,” a documentary from the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Alex Ross attended this year’s festival—which “might be,” he writes, “the most open-minded music gathering in the country … At Big Ears, the sounds are the stars, free of the tyranny of categories … At Big Ears, composers serve as a center of gravity, a point of reference. Riley, Reich, and Glass have visited in past years, as have Pauline Oliveros and members of Bang on a Can. This year, the composer-in-residence was John Luther Adams; the Knoxville Symphony, under the direction of Steven Schick, kicked off the festival with the ominous surge of Adams’s ‘Become Ocean.’ Such pop-classical agglomerations have happened before, not least in late sixties and seventies New York, when everything merged in a haze of droning tones. But the total map of music has seldom been unrolled on the scale that Big Ears has achieved.”
  • Satanists have long been regarded as creepy occultists—but really they’re just a voting bloc. The Satanic Temple, a religion-ish thing that doubles as a political movement–ish thing, has taken the national stage: “TST chapters across the country have launched campaigns demanding the same religious rights and privileges afforded to Christianity. These have included the creation of satanic coloring books for distribution in schools in Florida and Colorado; bids to erect satanic ‘nativity scenes’ on government property in Florida, Michigan, and Indiana; offering prayers to Satan at a high school football game in Seattle; and demanding that a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol be accompanied by a monument to Baphomet (a goat-headed idol associated with witches’ sabbaths).”
  • David Szalay, who won our Plimpton Prize this year, has a new novel out, All That Man Is—excerpted in the Review. Jude Cook sees in Szalay a new approach to masculinity: “Insufficiency is a favorite David Szalay word. The narrator of his previous novel, Spring, suffered from ‘insufficiency of feeling’; in this new collection of carefully juxtaposed tales, a Scottish ne’er-do-well adrift in Croatia decides his smile is ‘insufficient.’ Szalay’s dissections of masculinity can produce wonders from such banal anxieties. Over 400 pages, he goes to town on nine specimens of the male gender, only surfacing to spit out the bones … Nobody captures the super-sadness of modern Europe as well as Szalay. The atmosphere is stained yellow with a Mittel-European ennui.”