The Daily

Brushes with Greatness

The Immutable Laws of Starfuckery

July 21, 2016 | by

In Brushes with Greatness, Naomi Fry writes about her relatively marginal encounters with celebrities.

Painting by Lucien Rudaux, ca. 1920–30.

Painting by Lucien Rudaux, ca. 1920–30.

In Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s oral history of punk, Please Kill Me, the ’70s LA groupie Sable Starr recounts the excitement she felt the first time she slept with David Bowie:

Upstairs at the Rainbow they have just like one table. Me and David were sitting there, with a couple of other people. And to have all your friends look up and see you—that was cool. That was really cool ... Back in the hotel we were sitting around. I had to go to the bathroom, and David came in and he had a cigarette in his hand and a glass of wine. And he started kissing me—and I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, because there had been Roxy Music and J. Geils, but David Bowie was the first heavy. So we went to the bedroom and fucked for hours, and he was great ... I became very famous and popular after that because it was established that I was cool. I had been accepted by a real rock star. 

I’ve always loved this description because its sexiness sits very comfortably alongside its bluntness toward power grubbing. It’s really the perfect teenage fantasy: you’re having what appears to be very enjoyable sex with an extremely attractive person while simultaneously rising in the eyes of your peers thanks to the immutable laws of starfuckery. An inextricable part of sleeping with famous people is the encounter’s visibility to others, and the higher the celebrity’s rank on the fame totem pole, the better. It’s only science. Read More »

Prison Lit

Troubler of the House

July 21, 2016 | by

The McLean Asylum for the Insane.

McLean Asylum for the Insane.

On September 14, 1838, the precociously gifted twenty-three-year-old poet Jones Very was removed under mysterious circumstances from his post as a Greek tutor at Harvard. The previous day, he had visited the Unitarian minister Henry Ware Jr., a prominent opponent of the radical new school of religious thought associated with Very’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and his Concord-based intellectual circle. Unprompted, Very started reciting a heated, controversial commentary on the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. “To Mr. Ware’s objections,” his fellow divinity student George Moore would later relate, 

he said he was willing to yield, but that the spirit would not let him—that this revelation had been made to him, and that what he said was eternal truth—that he had fully given up his own will, and now only did the will of the Father—that it was the father who was speaking thro’ him. He thinks himself divinely inspired, and says that Christ’s second coming is in him. 

Read More »

On the Shelf

Tension Minus the Genitals, and Other News

July 21, 2016 | by

From the cover of Exquisite Masochism.

  • If there exists, as Susan Sontag once insisted, a “terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things,” nobody seems to have warned John Gruen. Born in France, in 1926, Gruen (né Jonas Grunberg) fled Hitler and then Mussolini before landing in New York in 1939, where he learned English by watching movies. Gruen, who died on Tuesday, spent his seventysomething years on this continent as a book buyer at Brentano’s, a publicity director at Grove Press, a composer, a photographer, and, in his words, a “writer, critic, journalist, bon vivant, gadfly, busybody, father, husband, queer, neurotic workaholic,” as well as a “handmaiden to the stars, reveler in reflected glory and needy intimate of the super-famous.” In a 2008 interview, he told Time Out: “One of the big problems is that I never really settled on one thing ... I kept them all going, like a juggler, but none of them really took hold in a way that would catapult me as this one creature.” At the same time, he said, “As Miss Piaf sang, ‘Je ne regrette rien.’ ”
  • I’ll claim any person who dies with “Renaissance Man” in the headline of his obituary as an instant culture hero. But after learning that Charles Dickens turned his deceased cat into a letter opener, I'm beginning to feel a terrible, mean American resentment toward artists who try to make their dead pets do too many things. I can believe, for instance, that Le Corbusier loved his schnauzer Pinceau, just as I can believe that he loved Cervantes’s Don Quixote with all his heart. What I cannot bring myself to believe is that the adequate response to both loves was to bind the latter book in the former’s tanned and hairy hide. And yet.
  • But what do I know? Love is strange like that. Sex is even stranger, especially in Victorian novels, where it often isn’t sex at all. In her new book, Exquisite Masochism, Claire Jarvis suggests that for many of the fictional characters who had the bad luck to be stuck in a Victorian marriage plot, “withholding sex … is a perverse way of having it. In a novelistic milieu where illegitimacy or adultery can be the motives for serious tragedy, a fully developed sexual life presents a frightening threat. By describing erotic life in ways that avoid depicting sexual intercourse in favor of nongenital tension or intensity, novelists can render the frisson of sexual desire without the attendant plot risks.”
  • Andrew O’Hagan, reporting from the Department of Overlaps, finds a shared lesson in Joyce’s Ulysses and The People vs. O.J. Simpson: “the tendency of reality to give way to the fiction-maker’s abuse.” And yet, he notes, that abuse is also the guarantee of a certain immortality (what was that about exquisite masochism?), which helps explain why “Dubliners lining up at Sylvia Beach’s shop in Paris in 1922 were desperate to see if they’d been included, or, Holy Mother of God, left out ... In a way, Ulysses is like the greatest ever newspaper—all that was fit and unfit to print in one day—and its abundance depends on the idea that nobody is nothing.”
  • If nobody is nothing, does that mean that everybody is something? And if so, what? Or better yet: Who? At New York, Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger visit Whoville, a social-media limbo that often appears more insubstantial than the one Dante devised in the fourth canto of the Inferno: “Now that we’ve all been thrown together on—and get our news from—enormous social platforms with seamless, instantaneous sharing, it’s more likely than ever that we’ll be confronted with stories about people who sound made up. The traditional A-list-to-D-list hierarchy no longer makes sense when people whose names you’ve never heard before are trending on a social networks with hundreds of millions of users. Instead, the subjects of gossip coverage can be divided into two categories: Whos (as in: *furrows brow* Who?) and Thems (as in: ‘Oh, them.’)”

Contests

#ReadEverywhere, Even When You’re Down and Out

July 20, 2016 | by

papadiaTHUMB

An entry to this year’s #ReadEverywhere competition.

For the third consecutive summer, we’re offering a joint subscription to The Paris Review and the London Review of Books for just $70 U.S. Already a Paris Review subscriber? Not a problem: we’ll extend your subscription to The Paris Review for another year, and your LRB subscription will begin immediately.

We’re also in the thick of the third edition of our popular #ReadEverywhere contest. The rules: post a photo or video of yourself reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest and use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. Venture to far and distant lands, or rest at home, reflecting on these bleak and troubling times. The winner of the contest will receive a wide selection of Aēsop products.

For inspiration, take a look at last year’s winners, or see what this year’s competition has already cooked up.

Finally: Get yourself a joint subscription, put on some tea, and hashtag your way to victory. These magazines may just help you make sense of the madness.

Our Correspondents

Dark Was the Night

July 20, 2016 | by

On the Voyager Mission.

Mozart_magic_flute

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Stage set for Mozart’s Magic Flute, 1815.

This summer, we’re introducing a series of new columnists. Up this week is Alison Kinney, whose column, Songs to the Moon, is a series on fandom and how the music, art, and artifacts of opera transform cultures and desires. — Ed.

If the inhabitants of other stars should spot the Voyager 1 interstellar probe zooming past—if they capture it and assemble its onboard audio player—and if they have ears to hear, they might puzzle over this message from the Queen of the Night (translated here from German):

The vengeance of hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair blaze around me!

Perhaps these German-speaking aliens will visit Earth to eradicate the threat posed by Mozart’s 1791 aria. Or maybe they’ll thrill to the prospect of subscribing to the Bavarian State Opera, only to discover that the soprano Edda Moser, who performed the recording they’d heard, had retired five billion years earlier, in 1999. Read More »

On the Shelf

This Picnic Is Over, and Other News

July 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Barry Haynes. Image via Hyperallergic/Wikipedia.

  • Today in wild new frontiers for the humanities: in a new book, the German sociologist Jens Beckert uses literary theory to explain economics. “Rarely do scholars explore the role of imagination in economic life systematically,” Brooke Harrington explains. “In a realm dominated by economic and financial scholarship that aspires to be ‘scientific,’ fantasy and creativity in envisioning the future are often ignored; they don’t fit well into a model of research whose aim is to reduce unknowns and to eliminate surprises as much as possible … Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, makes a thorough, exhaustively documented argument in support of what many have suspected about capitalism: It’s a castle in the air, built on fantasy shading into fraud. He makes a compelling case that no corner of the market is untouched by the process of generating imagined futures. The novelty of his work lies in offering a way to understand that process as a social system in which everyone, from individuals to institutions, is implicated.”
  • At The Paris Review, we pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about the art of the interview. But I’m willing to admit when we’re licked. And Robin Leach—of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fame—may well have licked us. He told a classroom recently, “The one piece of advice I would give you students about the art of interviewing is to listen. There is a joke about a television newscaster who asked all of her questions from a blue card that was prepared by or for her. So instead of listening to the answer to the question she asked, she would busy looking at the next question in order to ask it. I never go into an interview with questions on cards. It is a conversation, designed to elicit information, and you get information only by listening. The follow-up question is more important than the original question. And there is nothing better than eliciting a response by remaining silent.”