On the Shelf
August 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- An early manuscript of The Sun Also Rises finds Hemingway getting all metafictional: “Hemingway breaks into the narrative to address the reader directly, and, in so doing, calls out the artifice implicit in the writing and reading of fiction. It is a wink at the marketplace—readers want lively, lighthearted tales from abroad—and alludes to the novel’s central dark, repeated joke: that everything awful in life, in all of its sadness and melancholy, is better laughed at.” That’s so po-mo!
- It took E. M. Forster eleven years to write A Passage to India—why? Even his diary is cagey.
- A wealthy Brazilian businessman wants to own and catalog every vinyl record in the world. (Don’t worry. He has interns.)
- “During the First World War, advertisers seemed to be responding to people’s needs relatively quickly … In Country Life, one of the things I noticed, being a woman, was that there were a lot of ads for guard dogs. It’s things like that that start appearing throughout the war—obvious and terribly poignant things, such as identity bracelets—that start to be advertised very widely, as casualty lists mounted … Many of the manufacturers who produced the most eye-catching ads are still in business today. The ads worked.”
- Seduce and Destroy: dissecting Tom Cruise’s potent performance in Magnolia, fifteen years later.
August 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- James Wolcott on the scourge of nineties nostalgia: “Mostly a white people’s pastime, nostalgia used to be a pining for an idealized yesteryear, for a prelapsarian world tinted in sepia … the Internet and cable TV have colonized the hive mind and set up carnival pavilions. Now every delight is obtainable and on display at an arcade that never closes … This anxious, ravenous speedup of nostalgia—getting wistful over goodies that never went away—is more than a reflection of the overall acceleration of digital culture, a pathetic sign of our determination to dote on every last shiny souvenir of our prolonged adolescence, and an indictment of our gutless refusal to face the rotten future like Stoic philosophers.”
- With the Open Book project, two professors held “experimental book workshops … to help define what the classic book—and the new book—could be.” Now there’s the Open Book book, “an amalgam of essays on and artwork made from books. ‘Not all of these books are made from and with paper-based books … We purposely sought book-like work for the Open Book exhibition that transcended paper media.’”
- What does a minute feel like? Sixty seconds. What does sixty seconds feel like? A minute. “I was a lab rat in a performance-art piece on the High Line. The artist, an Argentinian named David Lamelas, arranged forty-odd people—friends, tourists, commuters, passersby—shoulder to shoulder, like an extra-long police lineup. ‘The time is now six-thirty-five,’ he announced, looking at his phone. Starting at one end of the queue, we were each supposed to wait for what we estimated to be one minute and then call out the time.”
- In the UK, a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a remarkably creepy cover. “It features a cover photograph of a young girl in make-up and marabou feathers, perched on her mother’s knee with the blank-eyed expression of a doll.”
- Eighteen months ago, Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking. Now he’s made The Knick, a grisly TV drama series about a hospital in the earliest days of the twentieth century: It’s “a gritty glimpse of Gilded Age New York … The first ten minutes of the premiere are among the most gruesome I’ve seen this year, as [the doctors] attempt an emergency C-section on a woman with placenta previa, an operation they have already failed at twelve times before.”
August 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Peter Mendelsund, who designs book jackets, asked people what they see when they read. They “felt that when they read a book they loved, they saw every aspect of it. Not only that, but they felt that the greatness of a book was predicated on the fact that they were able to visualize it. ‘That character was so real,’ they’d say. That myth of the little homunculus sitting in the back of your skull, watching the author’s movie being projected onto the front of your skull—that’s really important to people. But the whole edifice crumbles when you start to ask questions about it.”
- Was John Hancock’s signature really too big? “Did Hancock know that fifty-six men would ultimately sign the document when he put pen to paper? Or might he have assumed fewer signatories, and thus more space for signing? We know this much: You can’t fit fifty-six Hancock-sized signatures onto the parchment … the document would have needed approximately 5.5 more inches of vertical space to accommodate all the names—even with crammed spacing and slim margins.”
- Good news for underemployed babysitters: Taking your kids to a gallery is a “total waste of time,” according to the artist Jake Chapman. “He says that standing a child in front of a Pollock is an ‘insult’ to the American who pioneered the abstract expressionism. ‘It’s like saying … it’s as moronic as a child? Children are not human yet,’ the father-of-three declared.”
- Questioning Shakespeare’s conservatism: “Rebels and usurpers in Shakespeare's plays are always the bad guys … Rebellion against one’s superiors is presented as a matter of misguided jealousy and intrinsic spite.”
- “A maestro of aspirational porn, Radley Metzger populated his soft- and hard-core films of the 1960s and ’70s with Continental swells whose luxe dwellings and vast expanses of land made for optimal prime pleasure domes … [he] elevated his randy projects with sumptuous production values, his meticulous decor and mise-en-scène long outmoded in today’s quickie online porn.” (For the curious, eight of Metzger’s films are coming to Lincoln Center.)
August 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “The image of a syphilitic Joyce is one that few scholars have wanted to conjure in print”—but evidence suggests that Joyce did indeed suffer from syphilis. It’s not just in his medical history but in Ulysses, where two scholars “found syphilis everywhere … Their journal article for Archives of Internal Medicine includes a two-page table listing apparent references to syphilitic symptoms throughout Ulysses … ‘The letter s hisses throughout the book as a reminder of the s in syphilis (a word that not only begins but also ends with s, as does the novel).”
- In Greece, a new museum reconstructs the inventions of the ancients, “including Archimedes’ screw, the robot-servant of Philon, the automatic theatre of Heron, ancient war machines, and the famous analogue ‘computer’ of Antikythera.”
- The Paris Review’s art editor, Charlotte Strick, discusses her process in designing the jacket for Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t. “ ‘The Cows’ is the longest story in this collection, and cows by nature ‘can’t and won’t.’ They typically require a lot of waiting around. This sparked an idea early on in my design process … I tried an all-over wallpaper pattern of tiny cows that I imagined as a pre-printed case.”
- A photo of brawling Ukrainian parliamentarians has all the beauty and compositional fluency of a Renaissance painting.
- Scrabble has expanded its dictionary, adding some five thousand words—most of them are expectable neologisms like frenemy and bromance, but others are more novel: e.g., quinzhee, a shelter made by hollowing out a snow pile, and qajaq, an Inuit precursor to the Kayak.
August 5, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Virginia Woolf loathed the concept of the middlebrow—“If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm dares call me middlebrow … I will take my pen and stab him dead”—but she should’ve gone easier on it. “Middlebrow is a name you would never call yourself, but rather a semantic shoe that belongs on someone else’s foot. It is also, however, a workable synonym, in the sphere of art and culture, for democracy.”
- Need a quick, cheap tutorial in plotting? Watch sitcoms without the jokes …
- And while you’re working out your plot, you might want to avoid scenes set in restaurants. “That tense guy who ‘stabs his potato’ or ‘saws at his filet’ … I see what you’re doing there. Please don’t.”
- Presenting Western history’s most seminal typos: There’s 1612’s “Thou shalt commit adultery,” and 1830’s Peeface instead of Preface, and the Chilean coin that misspelled Chile…
- “What’s so great about adults? Classic-age Hollywood is full of movies for and about adults that are dull, stodgy, and uninventive—writerly and actorly, honoring traditional values with a secret whiff of piety and an eye on the cash box, rather Mantovani than Beethoven, rather Don Sebesky than John Coltrane. That kind of movie isn’t gone; it now occupies screens in art houses. It’s the rule to the exception.”
August 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Curmudgeons avow that the text message, with its relentless abbreviations and disdain for punctuation, is vandalizing our language. But that loose style has been around for centuries: “modern text-speak bears a striking resemblance to the system of abbreviations and shorthand present in medieval manuscripts.” (Haha, for instance, made an appearance on vellum as early as 1000 AD.)
- Also appearing in medieval manuscripts: illustrations of flatulent monks, killer rabbits, an ogre with an anal fixation, and a nun plucking penises from a phallus tree.
- In which Geoff Dyer attends an academic conference devoted to Geoff Dyer. “‘When speaking about the work, use Dyer,’ urged Dr. Bianca Leggett, the convenor of the conference, in her opening remarks. ‘When speaking about the man in the room, use Geoff.’ ”
- “Partisan Review is remembered for the editorial vision of two of its founders, William Phillips and Philip Rahv … but a third founder of the magazine, poet and thriller-writer Kenneth Fearing, has been largely forgotten, in part because he was suspected of being a Communist, and in part because he wrote thrillers.”
- Paris Review contributor Kristin Dombek turns her advice column into a meditation on political economy: “You have been trained from childhood to think that labor, in and of itself, is both a right and one of the most important goals of your life; you have been told that your ‘career’ is the same thing as ‘who you are in the world.’ Yet like most employed people in the United States, you work jobs that you consider to be banal, brutal, or both. For this labor you are supposed to be grateful, since work is increasingly hard to get: if you lose your shitty job, you’ve got only a one-in-five chance of finding a new one … ”