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Robert Stone, Tabloid Writer

August 21, 2014 | by

I think cultural undergrounds develop in the void left by the abdication of the official culture. During the sixties, so many august institutions seemed to have no self-confidence. The universities, corporations, the very fabric of the state. Everything you pushed just seemed to fall over. Everything was up for grabs. For me, the counterculture was like a party that spilled out into the world until one had the odd feeling in society that one was walking around looking at the results of a party that had ended a few years before—a big experiment. But there was no program, everybody wanted different things. I think Kesey wanted a cultural revolution, the nature of which was uncertain; he was just making it up as he went along. Other people were into political reform. Others thought the drugs would fix it all. Peace and love and dope.
—Robert Stone, the Art of Fiction No. 90

Happy birthday to Robert Stone, who turns seventy-seven today. Prime Green, his 2006 memoir, features more of his thoughts on the sixties—and he is very good, and often very funny, on the sixties. In the clip above, he reads an excerpt from the book about his time as a writer at a supermarket tabloid, an unsavory publication he calls the National Funder. Stone worked under a guy called Fat Lou “in the dank basement of hackdom,” at an office not far from the Flatiron Building. His forte: headlines. His compunctions: myriad. But his work as a yellow journalist: impeccable.

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The Art of Marbling

August 19, 2014 | by

From Oguz Uygur, a Turkish filmmaker, comes this video on ebru, or marbling, a design style in which artists create intricate patterns using floating, vividly colored inks and then transfer them to paper. Uygur’s parents are skilled marblers—they’re the ones you see here—and his video gives a sense of the patience and precision required to bring off such impressive patterns as “the nonpareil marble,” “the peacock marble,” or “the entwined comb marble.”

In order to make the colors “float,” you’ll need a bed of viscous mucilage, known as size. You can make this from moss or seaweed extracts—you know, whatever you have lying around the house. Once that’s in place,

The colors are then spattered or dropped onto the size, one color after another, until there is a dense pattern of several colors … Each successive layer of pigment spreads slightly less than the last … Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes, combs, and styluses are often used in a series of movements to create more intricate designs.

Rookie has a helpful guide to do-it-yourself marbling (no viscous mucilage required—just turpentine). For truly dedicated autodidacts, there’s Josef Halfer’s The Progress of the Marbling Art: From Technical Scientific Principles, an 1894 manual that goes into exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting) detail on every facet of the art. Its distinctions are fine: Halfer reminds that the gray snail marble is not to be confused, for instance, with the common greenish-gray snail marble, or the grayish-green snail marble. They’re different.

PaperMarbling003France1880Detail

Marbling from an 1880 French book.

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Birthday Burger

August 6, 2014 | by

Happy birthday, Andy Warhol. Go on, have that Whopper! You’ve earned it. Ketchup? Sure! Ketchup! Have the whole bottle!

No, no, take your time. We’ve got all day.

This clip is from the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth’s 66 Scenes from America (1982). He said of the performance:

[Warhol] is told that he has to say his name and that he should do so when he has finished performing his action, but what happens is that the action takes a very long time to perform; it’s simply agonizing. I have to admit that I personally adore that, because it’s a pure homage to Warhol. It couldn’t be more Warholesque. That’s of course why he agreed to do it.

But we don’t know this. Maybe he was just hungry.

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Solitary and Authentic Deep Readers

July 11, 2014 | by

In his Art of Criticism interview from our Spring 1991 issue, Harold Bloom tells of a kind of literary conversion experience:

I was preadolescent, ten or eleven years old. I still remember the extraordinary delight, the extraordinary force that Crane and Blake brought to me—in particular Blake’s rhetoric in the longer poems—though I had no notion what they were about. I picked up a copy of the Collected Poems of Hart Crane in the Bronx Library. I still remember when I lit upon the page with the extraordinary trope, “O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits / The agile precincts of the lark’s return.” I was just swept away by it, by the Marlovian rhetoric. I still have the flavor of that book in me. Indeed it’s the first book I ever owned. I begged my oldest sister to give it to me, and I still have the old black and gold edition she gave me for my birthday back in 1942. It’s up on the third floor. Why is it you can have that extraordinary experience (preadolescent in my case, as in so many other cases) of falling violently in love with great poetry … where you are moved by its power before you comprehend it? In some, a version of the poetical character is incarnated and in some like myself the answering voice is from the beginning that of the critic.

A few years later, in 2000, Bloom appeared on C-Span’s Booknotes in support of How to Read and Why. In the excerpt above, the host, Brian Lamb, gets him on the subject of teaching; and Bloom, who’s been a member of the Yale faculty since 1955, becomes visibly moved as he vacillates on the degree of isolation he feels:

Do I feel isolated in America? Yeah, I guess in a way I do. It does seem to me … I’m a somewhat outspoken old monster. You know, why not, at my age—what can they do to me? One wants to tell the truth. And I think the truth is pretty dreadful nowadays, culturally speaking and intellectually speaking … I guess I can feel kind of isolated. Isolated, maybe, in the profession. Isolated in terms of the media … But not isolated with the reading public … Clearly there are a vast number of what I would call solitary and authentic deep readers in the United States who have not gone the way of counterculture, and they are of all ages, and all races, and all ethnic groups.

And toward the end of the segment, as he blinks tears out of his eyes:

Here I am about to turn seventy and maybe I am obsolete, but that’s just personal inadequacy … What I hope to represent, what I try to represent, that cannot be obsolete. If that is obsolete, then we will go down. But I’m being too emotional. I’m sorry.

Bloom is eighty-four today, and still teaching. Happily his work is no closer to obsolescence than it was fourteen years ago.

The entire episode of Booknotes is available here.

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Real Talk

July 10, 2014 | by

INTERVIEWER

Was the community you grew up in pleased about your career?

MUNRO

It was known there had been stories published here and there, but my writing wasn’t fancy. It didn’t go over well in my hometown. The sex, the bad language, the incomprehensibility … The local newspaper printed an editorial about me: A soured introspective view of life … And, A warped personality projected on … 

The Art of Fiction No. 137, 1994

Happy birthday to Alice Munro. In this 1979 clip from Take 30, a Canadian talk show, Munro—who’s eighty-two today—discusses the less-than-warm reception her collection Lives of Girls and Women received in her native Huron County, where a conservative group argued that it should be expunged from twelfth-grade syllabi. She speaks here to Harry Brown (whose three-piece suit yours truly wouldn’t mind owning) about fighting the proposed ban.

This is the kind of talk show that’s all but extinct today, in which two unadorned, ordinary-looking people have an intelligent conversation without a studio audience, or a ticker scrolling beneath them, or a host of other distracting stimuli that have come to seem normal. But what’s more eye-opening is how little has changed since then. The controversies stalking literature in 1979 are almost identical to today’s bugbears: declining readership, increasing moral turpitude. A debate, in other words, about what literature should do and who it’s for.

“Many people don’t read much and don’t think books are very important anyway,” Munro tells the interviewer. And:

As far as I can tell from the talk of the people who are against the books, they somehow think that if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their seventeen-year-old and eighteen-year-old children, protecting them. Well, biology doesn’t protect them. They don’t need to read books.

It’s not clear whether Munro succeeded in stopping or overturning the ban, but apparently the events in Huron County “inspired the Book and Periodical Council of Canada to launch Freedom to Read Week, an annual celebration of freedom of expression.”

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Originals and Remnants

June 10, 2014 | by

The poet Susan Howe is seventy-seven today. A few years ago, she and the musician David Grubbs collaborated on “Frolic Architecture,” a series of multidisciplinary performances that sprang from a book of her collage poems by the same name. Harvard has posted a video of the performance, which is quietly, insistently disruptive. As it progresses, prerecorded shards of Howe’s voice seem to fall into her live voice, and Grubbs fills the space with incidental sounds: insect chirps, gravel and snow and leaves variously underfoot. The performance seems at once to take on weight and ascend into the ether.

Howe remarked on the collage, and the process of recording it, in her 2012 Art of Poetry interview:

HOWE

I am an Americanist. There’s something that we do, a Romantic, utopian ideal of poetry as revelation at the same instant it’s a fall into fracture and trespass. Frolic Architecture cuts itself to bits. It could be that because I am a woman, bullets are more like blanks. What fuels the poems in that collection is the sense of epic breaking into shards.

INTERVIEWER

I’ve heard the recording of your performance of Frolic, and you actually speak—sound out—its fragments and phonemes, those shards. You treat your work as a score.

HOWE

Collaborating with the musician-composer David Grubbs has brought vividly home to me how acoustic a seemingly collaged and visual work can be. Several years ago our first collaboration was for a performance at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, and was based around an early poem of mine called “Thorow.” We collaborated again to produce Souls of the Labadie Tract. The work I have done with David has influenced the course of my later poetry by showing me a range of contemporary music with which I was unfamiliar. It also restored my earlier interest in Charles Ives. I love the way Ives’s musical use of quotation throws connectives to the winds. His work is Romantic and iconoclastic at once.

And in the journal Lana Turner, Ben Lerner wrote with typical acuity about the performance:

I assumed Grubbs had digitally manipulated Howe’s voice in order to mimic the fragmentation of the collages. And Grubbs did often and artfully alter her voice, but it turns out that many of the sounds I thought were digital slivers weren’t. It simply did not occur to me that Howe would be capable of reading such diverse phonemes and even smaller linguistic particles in real time with such precision. But she is: I have never heard a person pronounce “nt” or “rl,” for instance, so exactly. Howe can render even the most distressed text acoustic … Howe’s recorded voice—sometimes digitally cut up, sometimes left alone—alternated or overlapped with the live performance, and Grubbs had made sure that there was little or no perceptible sonic difference between what was digital and what was happening before us; when I shut my eyes, I couldn’t tell. This blurring of the boundary between the live and the recorded was a deft way to indicate how Howe’s poems are at once originals and remnants.

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