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Repent at Leisure

July 30, 2014 | by

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Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Une noce chez le photographe, 1879.

My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.

“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.

“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”

“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »

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Books

I Remember Georges Perec

July 30, 2014 | by

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“I remember that Stendhal liked spinach.” Stendhal, Olof Johan Södermark, 1839, oil on canvas.

I remember reading Joe Brainard’s accumulated aphoristic memories for the first time. I remember the way each entry built on the one that preceded it, even when they had little to do with each another, and I remember the texture of the entire enterprise: a pointillist portrait of a man by way of his internal dialogue; his observations, at one time absorbed as impressions, sent back out into the world, now shaped by a unique river of associations.

I can only imagine the extent to which Brainard’s I Remember has influenced writers since he penned his flowing juxtapositions forty-four years ago. I had long thought Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait the most obvious example—a seemingly endless sequence of declarative sentences that coolly relate both trivialities and intimacies. But I’ve now discovered that Georges Perec got there first.

In 1970, Perec met Harry Mathews; Mathews introduced Perec to ideas then circulating in the New York art scene, including Brainard’s “serial autobiography,” which was then on the cusp of publication. The French writer likely never saw Brainard’s book, but tale of its concept—each sentence beginning with the phrase “I remember”—was enough to inspire him. Next month, the fruits of Perecs efforts, also titled I Remember, will be published in English for the first time, by David R. Godine.
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On the Shelf

Give the Heimlich in Style, and Other News

July 30, 2014 | by

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The artist Lara Antal’s custom-designed choking poster for Sunshine Co. Image via Maryland Institute College of Art

  • At the New York Public Library, a copy of Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (1926), once known as “the best-selling sex manual of all time,” was returned nearly fifty-four years late. Carnal knowledge takes time.
  • New York City requires its restaurants to “have posted in a conspicuous place, easily accessible to all employees and customers, a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver,” but the city’s official poster isn’t exactly pleasing to an aesthetic eye. “Restaurants citywide are increasingly turning to boutique posters to blend in with their overall look, so far without drawing the ire of health inspectors.” Graphic designers sell these for as much as eighty bucks.
  • The paranoid logic of the censoring mentality” makes sense only if one believes that readers are morons.
  • “The Internet has been the most dramatic change in the lives of blind people since the invention of Braille. I can still remember having to go into a bank to ask the teller to read my bank balances to me, cringing as she read them in a very loud, slow voice … tech-savvy blind people were early Internet adopters. In the 1980s, as a kid with a 2400-baud modem, I’d make expensive international calls from New Zealand to a bulletin-board system in Pittsburgh that had been established specifically to bring blind people together. My hankering for information, inspiration, and fellowship meant that even as a cash-strapped student, I felt the price of the calls was worth paying.”
  • In 2008, a seventeen-year-old changed the Wikipedia entry on the coati, a kind of raccoon that he claimed is also known as “a Brazilian aardvark.” References to this fabricated nickname “have since appeared in the Independent, the Daily Mail, and even in a book published by the University of Chicago … [The claim] still remains on its Wikipedia entry, only now it cites a 2010 article in the Telegraph as evidence … This kind of feedback loop—wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood—is a documented phenomenon. There’s even a Wikipedia article describing it.”

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Look

Incident / Resurrection

July 29, 2014 | by

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Roxy Paine, Incident / Resurrection, 2013, neon, 6' 9 9/16" x 15' 11 1/4" x 10". Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

My commute takes me past Paul Kasmin Gallery, at the corner of Twenty-seventh and Tenth, less than a block from The Paris Review’s offices. Every morning for the past month, I’ve paused there to stare at an installation through the window, a pair of illuminated silhouettes. I watch as one red neon man thwacks another with a red neon two-by-four. Every time, the second red neon man falls to the ground; every time, he rises again, on hands and feet, retracing the ungainly arc of his fall; and every time, the first red neon man thwacks him again.

Thwack, fall, rise, repeat. Like many forms of suffering, this one goes on ad nauseam—and like many forms of suffering, it burns itself into your retinas. I watch the cycle four or five times and then walk the two-thirds of a block to the office carrying an afterimage of neon trauma. I find this strangely buoyant.

Only today, after more than a month of doing this, did I decide to find out what exactly I’d been seeing. It’s Roxy Paine’s Incident / Resurrection (2013), which the artist’s Web site characterizes as “a visual loop of pure narrative movement”: Read More »

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Our Daily Correspondent

Goodnight House?

July 29, 2014 | by

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121 Charles Street, in Greenwich Village.

The optimists among us may think we’re okay: the world will sort itself out, the climate will stabilize, young people will always read and dream and give us hope for the future. And yet, sometimes you see something so objectively depressing that it’s hard not to feel we’re doomed. Case in point: 121 Charles Street, in Manhattan, also known as Cobble Court.

The property, an eighteenth-century farmhouse, is noteworthy for its charm—it’s surrounded by a pretty yard on a picturesque Greenwich Village street. Peep through the fence and you can see the little white birdhouse made in the larger house’s image. Not original to the neighborhood, in 1967, it was moved from York Ave. and 71st Street to avoid demolition.

Horribly enough, it is imperiled again: a broker recently listed it as a “development site” for $20 million. Quoth they,

ERG Property Advisors is pleased to exclusively offer for sale a West Village development site located at 121 Charles Street on the corner of Charles and Greenwich. The property is directly situated in arguably the most desirable enclave in all of Manhattan, the West Village. The property’s corner location benefits from significant frontage along both Charles and Greenwich Street … creating tremendous street presence. The property consists of a 4,868 square foot corner lot in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The offering would allow a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions, from boutique condominiums, apartments or a one-of-a-kind townhouse.

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At Work

Colonized on Every Level: An Interview with Dodie Bellamy

July 29, 2014 | by

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Photo: Ugly Duckling Presse

Dodie Bellamy writes genre-bending works that focus on sexuality, politics, and narrative experimentation, challenging the distinctions between fiction, essay, and poetry. Her methods include radical feminist revisions of canonical works, as in Cunt-Ups (2002) and its follow-up Cunt Norton (2013), which appropriate the “cut-up” technique made famous by William Burroughs; and The Letters of Mina Harker (2004), an epistolary collaboration with the late Sam D’Allesandro, which reimagines Bram Stoker’s Dracula in an AIDS-plagued San Francisco. In her 2004 book Pink Steam, Bellamy explains, “I’m working toward a writing that subverts sexual bragging, a writing that champions the vulnerable, the fractured, the disenfranchised, the sexually fucked-up.”

As an active member of San Francisco’s avant-garde literary scene for the past thirty years, Bellamy is often associated with the New Narrative movement. Before moving to San Francisco in the late seventies, she grew up in the Calumet region of Indiana, studied at Indiana University, and joined a New Age cult. That experience informs her newest book, The TV Sutras, which Norman Fisher has described as “part porno, part memoir (maybe), part spiritual teaching (probably not), [and] part fiction.” Bellamy says she spent five months “receiving transmissions” from her television set, writing brief commentaries on each, which serve as the material for Part One. For example, from #5—“Do you want me to come back to your place? Man and woman in bar. Commentary: Focus on getting back to the basics/beginning anew. Establish a home base you can return to.”

Part Two, “Cultured,” switches into a more familiar form of narrative, but nevertheless refuses to explain itself. At times it seems as though it contextualizes and complicates the sutras in Part One, while at other times the connection seems hidden. In a recent correspondence with Bellamy, we discussed TV Sutras and her history with the New Narrative movement.

You refer to The TV Sutras as a conceptual piece. I’m curious about the ways you see it participating in the current trend of conceptual poetics, or conceptualism in general.

While my writing shares enough concerns with conceptual poetics to be published by Les Figues—poems from Cunt Ups are included in their I’ll Drown My Book anthology, followed by the book length Cunt Norton—The TV Sutras, like the current trend of conceptual poetry, connects with older roots in twentieth-century Conceptual art practices, procedural practices that have been employed since before the surrealists. Procedural strategies have been in vogue ever since I came to poetry in San Francisco in the late seventies—erasure poems, cut-ups, et cetera. I remember very early on going to a reading by Carla Harryman during which she said she “generated” a text, and I was shocked at her use of the word “generated” instead of “wrote.” For me, this was one of those “Dorothy’s no longer in Kansas” moments. Kathy Acker’s use of appropriation has been a touchstone, as well as her conflation of reading and writing. I “generated” the first handful of TV sutras for the Occult issue of 2nd Avenue Poetry, which focused on the intersections between poetry and divinatory practices, particularly rituals that introduce chance. In receiving my sutras through my television, I was reaching back to an ancient tradition of inspired texts—texts that arrive, bidden or unbidden, from a divine/alien elsewhere. Read More »

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