The Daily

On the Shelf

American Grotesque, and Other News

December 1, 2014 | by

William Mortensen’s L’Amour (1932) doubles as the cover of a new book about him, American Grotesque.

  • Don DeLillo rereads his own opus, Underworld, seventeen years after its publication. (“Great fucking line,” he’s written next to “The subway seals you durably in the stone of the moment.”)
  • In the thirties, William Mortensen was one of the most celebrated photographers in the nation—his pictures were “unabashedly theatrical, bizarre, and often louche.” What sank his reputation: a critical tiff with Ansel Adams.
  • The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has moved to ban wordplay “on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public—especially children.” (An example of the now forbidden fruit: “replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned ‘brook no delay’ into ‘coughing must not linger’ for a medicine ad.”)
  • While we’re on censorship: In the quest for G-rated moon landings, NASA used to go to great lengths to scrub astronauts’ profanity from its transcripts. In the case of one particularly salty spaceman, they went further—they had him hypnotized. “A psychiatrist put the idea in his head that he would rather hum when his mind wandered.”
  • On the history of fairy tales: “In the coded language of symbol and metaphor they chart the journey from childhood to adulthood. The Russian commentator Eleaser Meletinksji wrote, ‘It is even possible to say that the fairy tale begins with the break-up of one family and ends with the creation of a new one.’”

NO COMMENTS

Meet the New Black Friday (Same as the Old Black Friday), and Other News

November 28, 2014 | by

Shopping_cart

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • The mystery novelist P. D. James is dead at ninety-four. “‘When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall,’ she was fond of saying, ‘I immediately wondered: Did he fall — or was he pushed?’ ” (James was interviewed for The Paris Review’s Art of Fiction series in 1995.)
  • Black Friday is hell. But now there is a new hell, for there is a New Black Friday. (It involves Walmart and money.)
  • “In recent years, not just in novels but in movies, television, poetry, video games and the visual arts, drones have taken on a life of their own. As a character, they are menacing, melancholy or gallant; beastly, blind, snub-nosed, noisy and fast—Predators and Reapers in real life, ‘Helicarriers’ in Hollywood. They are the oversize hook at the end of a joystick, a militarized, antiseptic video game characterized by precision; or they are a weapon system proliferating at a breathtaking rate, and leaving a trail of destruction behind. They show off the military talent of their users, or they are an expression of unbridled hubris. They represent protection or extermination—and they carry out both things at once.”
  • In 1948, an eleven-year-old girl named Sally Horner was abducted—and the details of the case bear more than a passing resemblance to Lolita.
  • Something to ponder over leftovers: the literature of Thanksgiving. (From Mark Twain: “In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.”)

NO COMMENTS

“A Mosaic of Filth,” and Other News

November 26, 2014 | by

hirsch

Steven Hirsch, Rhode, 2014, color photograph. Image via Lilac Gallery

  • A new copy of Shakespeare’s first folio—only the 231st known to exist—has been discovered in France. “It probably crossed the English Channel in the hands of English refugees fleeing from Anglican persecution in France.”
  • The unlikely rise of the thrift store: the Goodwills and Salvation Armies of the world were not always looked upon so kindly in America. In “The Blue Silk,” an 1884 short story in the Saturday Evening Post, “the protagonist, Louisa, buys a pre-owned dress from the ‘Jewess behind the counter’ of a resale store. When she wears it to a party, not only is she is socially ostracized for wearing the old dress of another girl, but she comes down with smallpox because of contamination from the resale store.”
  • The photographer Steven Hirsch has a new series on the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site in Brooklyn: “The images are solely concerned with the surface of the water—the gonorrhea, coli, and putida bacteria that cling to one another there in a mosaic of filth. These microorganisms and pathogens create a kind of membrane on the surface of the canal, ‘like an acetate,’ says Hirsch. In the illusions of light and liquid they look like a solid substance, but when, out of curiosity, Hirsch tried to scoop them up they immediately dissolved.”
  • An entire cottage industry of malfeasance and predation has erected itself” around academic research journals, including a popular pay-to-play scam that asks scholars to pony up for inclusion in such bogus publications as the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. Recently, a researcher sent that “journal” an abstract; it just said “Get me off your fucking mailing list” over and over again. “To his mild surprise, not only was this groundbreaking study accepted—with fraudulent peer reviews and everything!—it was put into layout, and a PDF was generated for his ‘perusal,’ along with, of course, a humble request for $150, to be submitted by wire transfer, as all legitimate scholarly transactions are.”
  • The writer Jörg Fauser was an essential part of the German counterculture, but English-language readers know almost nothing about him. A new translation of his novel Raw Material is coming: “To foist a genre on it, it’s a picaresque, but what a crazed, leaping, unmoored and hilarious voyage it is.” I particularly like its take on booze: “Drink is an immersive, highly social drug that can often lead to new friendships and interesting sexual adventures. It also leads to weight gain and bloat, which is not a good look for a revolutionary.”

NO COMMENTS

When Art Got Expensive, and Other News

November 25, 2014 | by

Retrato_de_Juan_Pareja,_by_Diego_Velazquez

Diego Velázquez, Portrait of Juan de Pareja (detail), 1650.

  • Finally available, after forty-one years: Gravity’s Rainbow, the audiobook. It comprises thirty CDs and is performed by a superhumanly patient soul named George Guidall. “How on earth, I wondered as I stripped the wrapper, is poor Mr. Guidall going to render the sudden outbreaks of crazed capitals, or librettos in which stoners with guitars pastiche Rossini, the instructions helpfully stating ‘(bubububoo[oo] oo [sung to opening of Beethoven 5th, with full band])’? He turns out to do it in a slow and deep-voiced manner, beneath whose calm avuncularity you can detect anxiety, even mania, bubbling but never quite erupting.”
  • New York has fewer used bookstores than ever before, and yet the Strand continues to thrive. How? It’s certainly cheerier than it used to be, which doesn’t hurt—before it was renovated in 2003, it was pretty bleak. “Like a lot of businesses that had hung on through the FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD years, it looked broken-down and patched-up. The bathroom was even dirtier than the one in the Astor Place subway. You got the feeling that a lot of books had been on the shelves for years. The ceiling was dark with the exhalations from a million Chesterfields. There were mice. People arriving with review copies to sell received an escort to the basement after a guard’s bellow: ‘Books to go down!’ ”
  • Meghan Daum on suffering: “ ‘The culture is obsessed with the idea that if you go through a crisis, you’re going to come out of it a better person,’ Daum says, explaining her frustration with ‘the pressure we put on people ... to have epiphanies where suddenly it all makes sense.’ This ‘redemption pressure’ is sentimentality’s aggressive shadow, a way of forcing people in terrible situations to make us feel better about what they’ve been through. But as she demonstrates in her essays, ‘sometimes you don’t learn anything. It is what it is, and there is no closure.’ ”
  • On November 27, 1970, Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja became the first painting to sell for more than a million pounds. “It was finally knocked down for a staggering £2,310,000, almost tripling the previous world auction record for a painting. Even the most hardened dealers sitting in the audience breathed gasps of disbelief. Then there was a spontaneous burst of applause. The auctioneer left his rostrum, the painting was hastily removed, and sheer pandemonium broke out.”
  • A new service, Deathswitch, allows you to communicate from beyond the grave: “Subscribers are prompted periodically via email to make sure they’re still alive. When they fail to respond, Deathswitch starts firing off their predrafted notes to loved ones. The company now has thousands of users and effectively runs itself. Among the perks of a premium Deathswitch account is the ability to schedule emails for delivery far in the future: to wish your wife a happy fiftieth wedding anniversary, for example, thirty years after you left her a widow.”

1 COMMENT

Studies in Latrinalia, and Other News

November 24, 2014 | by

lead

Photo: Conway L, via Flickr

  • A 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac—“16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words” that inspired Kerouac to rewrite On the Road in a more breathless vein—is up for auction.
  • A chat with William Gibson: “I’ve always embraced the fact of any imaginary future becoming archaic. Imaginary futures are about the moment of their creation, they aren’t about the real future. Ultimately every imaginary future will be read as an artifact of the moment of its creation.”
  • The language of poker: Today’s players are the strong, silent types, “But many of the earliest tournament pros … were famous for blustery speeches, part of an aggressive style of banter meant to put their opponents ‘on tilt.’ And while these players were haranguing their opponents, they would watch closely to see what clues—‘tells’—leaked out under pressure.”
  • What’s the meaning of the writing on the bathroom wall? “The most common type of graffiti was ‘presence-identifying’ (just scrawling your name, for example), but men were identifying their presence more than women. Women, on the other hand, wrote more insults … When a woman goes into a women’s restroom and finds herself surrounded by only women (in a room full of mirrors, no less), she may very well become hyper-aware of the fact that she is a woman. People might be putting on makeup, performing their gender, and behind closed doors, they’re dropping their pants. Meanwhile, next door in the men’s room, dudes are standing next to each other at the urinal, aggressively not making eye contact, trying to ignore the miasma of testosterone that I assume hangs in the air like a fog.”
  • Are the British simply too polite to be any good at surrealism?

NO COMMENTS

Books Stop Bullets, and Other News

November 21, 2014 | by

bookbullet

Photo via Reddit

  • At Florida State University, a student’s life was saved when the books in his backpack stopped a bullet. (Insert joke about e-books, importance of print here.)
  • On Boston’s David R. Godine, a publisher who “specializes in books nobody buys … Godine has a knack for nurturing Nobel Prize recipients; he was the first in the United States to publish Modiano as well as 2008 Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio. He is renowned for producing—if not always selling—eclectic and fastidiously assembled and designed books.”
  • “Like eros, wonder was once considered a dangerous passion. Much of the traditional intellectual ambivalence surrounding wonder derived from its affinity to the passions of horror and terror … Modern wonder, like many of the traditional passions, has faded from the saturated hues of blood red and lapis lazuli blue to baby pink and blue pastels. ‘Baby’ is used advisedly in this context: modern wonder has become infantilized, the stuff of children’s entertainment, whether in the form of cartoon fairy tales or science museum exhibitions.”
  • The first-ever weather forecast, from 1861: “North—Moderate westerly wind; fine. West—Moderate south-westerly; fine. South—Fresh westerly; fine.” (It was mostly accurate.)
  • … And today there are, apparently, commercial meteorologists, who “work behind the scenes to provide companies with customized weather data and analysis. On some days, like last Wednesday, that can entail cooling unfounded fears, while on others it means assisting corporate clients in prepping for a natural disaster. Whatever the weather throws at stores and shoppers, it’s the job of commercial meteorologists to help stores and their emergency management teams put a plan in place.” (Leaving their customers to make do with good old network-television meteorologists.)

NO COMMENTS