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Insure Yourself with Faulkner

September 25, 2014 | by

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From December 1921 until October 1924, William Faulkner enjoyed a famously disastrous tenure as the University of Mississippi’s postmaster. He’d arrive late, leave early, play bridge, and work on his fiction—all while losing mail or simply throwing it away. (“I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp,” he wrote in his brief, pungent resignation letter.)

During these years Faulkner wrote regularly for The Mississippian, the school newspaper. Of his contributions, the strangest and most apocryphal is the mock-advertisement above, for the Bluebird Insurance Co., which offered to indemnify students “against professors and other failures.” It goes on to discuss feet, heartbreak, and hollow logs, none of them very coherently.

Faulkner, minus the u, is listed as one of the company’s three presidents, and apparently it’s never been clear whether he helped write the ad or was named without consent. Whatever the case, in the weeks and months to follow, more ads for Bluebird appeared in The Mississippian and the Ole Miss annual. One of them took a (self-deprecating?) jab at Faulkner’s job performance: “It is a gross injustice to say that President Falkner has permanently retired in the Post Office. He merely takes temporary naps—during business hours.”

Carvel Collins tells the story more completely in the introduction to his William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry (1961): Read More »

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Studio Visit

Hovering Hippie: In the Gallery with Gary Panter

September 25, 2014 | by

Gary Panter

I’ve twice visited Gary Panter’s studio, a large room tucked away on the third floor of his house in Brooklyn; the table at which he works—he lays his canvases flat to paint—sits roughly near the center of the room and is surrounded on all sides and from above by evidence of his many and various areas of work: painting, drawing, comics, music, design, printmaking, and sculpture. All of his art is of a piece, so in his studio it’s especially difficult to get a sense of just one aspect of it. Rather than report on Panter’s recent paintings from there, I proposed we meet at Fredericks & Freiser, where “Dream Town,” his show of new work, went on view earlier this month. Most of the paintings depict figures excerpted from their original sources and painted flatly, as though collaged, onto either monochromatic or expressionist backgrounds. The pristine walls of the gallery make it easy to focus on individual paintings and to see the connections between them. Still, in his paintings, as in much of his art, Panter converses with an estimable range of cultural subjects and styles, so, naturally, we ended up talking about far more than just painting. Read More »

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On the Shelf

Poems as Animals, and Other News

September 25, 2014 | by

Roeland

Roeland Savery, Paysage de forêt avec animaux, seventeenth century.

  • I suppose I’ve read more dirty books than any man in New England, and I could make the biggest collection of erotica in this country if I wanted to.” An interview from 1930 with the censor for all of New England.
  • Christopher King, whose essay about Alexis Zoumbas appeared here on Monday, has a cameo in the Times Magazine: “King had invited me to visit him at his home in Faber, Virginia, where he keeps his own massive collection of 78 r.p.m. records, decaying discs that could only be experienced there, in person. He asked me what I might like to hear, and when I hesitated, he suggested Zoumbas … in Epirus, King said, these songs live and die in the looks and handshakes and embraces exchanged in their presence.”
  • When Freud, who died seventy-five years ago, was diagnosed with a very malignant form of cancer, he said he wanted to “disappear from the world with dignity,” which meant enlisting his doctor, Max Schur, to euthanize him. “All this was said without a trace of emotionality or self‑pity, and with full consciousness of reality.”
  • “Ted Hughes didn’t just write a lot of poems about animals—about pikes and jaguars and thought-foxes. He thought of poems as animals. ‘They have their own life,’ he wrote in an essay in 1967, ‘ … and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them.’ ”
  • An Arizona law against “revenge porn” has the state’s booksellers concerned: it “could be applied to any person who distributes or displays an image of nudity—including pictures that are newsworthy, artistic, educational, or historic—without the depicted person’s consent, even images for which consent was impossible to obtain or is difficult to prove … ‘There are books on my shelves right now that might be illegal to sell under this law. How am I supposed to know whether the subjects of these photos gave their permission?’ ”

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Look

The Opposite of Icarus

September 24, 2014 | by

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The wreck of the Mayfly, 1911.

Today in history: the dreams of British steampunks and dirigible enthusiasts were sundered like so many feet of duralumin. On September 24, 1911, His Majesty’s Airship No. 1, the rigid, phallic Mayfly, met its demise. If you don’t hear of this incident as often as you do, say, the Hindenburg disaster, it’s because (1) no one died, (2) nothing caught on fire, and (3) nothing fell to the ground; the Mayfly was torn in twain before she ever left the ground. All it took was a strong gust of wind and a bit of human error. The accident happened just as the crew removed the ship from its hangar for testing, as the Airship Heritage Trust explains:

Disaster struck in the form of a sudden forceful beam-side gust, causing the ship to lurch, just clearing [its] shed but [rolling] onto her beam ends. She righted and was then pivoted so her nose would point back out to the dock when there were cracking sounds amidships and she broke in two. She started to rise in an inverted V formation, but the crew in the gondola dived overboard, and the stern flew up into the air.

The damage was extensively photographed, and there’s something heartbreaking in the images—it enables a strange form of rubbernecking. Snapped in two, the ship looks impossibly frail, almost like an elongated box spring, and of dubious airworthiness. (Though it must be said that it floats quite nicely.) It was just over five hundred feet long, and it weighed forty-four thousand pounds. Its cruising speed was only estimated at forty-two miles an hour.

The wreck widened the gulf between Britain and Germany’s airship programs—by 1913, Germany had a fleet of seventeen zeppelins and the Brits had only two. That year, Winston Churchill had a nice zinger for the House of Commons:

Altogether, compared with other navies, the British aeroplane service has started very well … I have a less satisfactory account to give of airships. Naval airship developments were retarded by various causes. The mishap which destroyed the Mayfly, or the Won’t Fly, as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious setback to the development of Admiralty policy in airships.

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Our Daily Correspondent

Admiration

September 24, 2014 | by

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Louisa May Alcott

We had typed our stories in the computer lab, and I remember thinking that mine looked professional. I was also pretty sure it was excellent. Fiction writing was not my strong suit—I would never have ranked myself up there with Travis, whose stories were universally regarded as hilarious, or Vanessa, whose imagination gave birth to miraculous plots of which I was in awe. But this one (which, despite its modern setting, bore the strong stamp of Louisa May Alcott’s influence) was better than my usual offerings, I had worked harder on it, and I was eager to see the teacher’s glowing comments.

But here is what she wrote: “This sentence does not make sense. This is not what ‘admire’ means. Find another word in the thesaurus.”

Here is what I had written: “She’d admire to have you.” I knew it was accurate because Louisa May Alcott used this exact construction in An Old-Fashioned Girl, in the course of a house-party invitation. In my story, someone was being invited to a sleepover. I was indignant. I went home, spent a long time finding the passage in question, and then brought the book into class. But then the teacher was sick, and out for a few days, and I forgot to make my point.

If you enter that particular construction into a search engine now, you will find much vindicating evidence. Read More »

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First Person

The Brothers 40K

September 24, 2014 | by

War game as money pit.

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Ork Boyz from a recent version of Warhammer 40,000.

When you’re growing up, having a brother close to you in age means you’re never alone. There’s someone to share your clothes and chores, your blame and punishment, and, as was my case, your bedroom—my brother and I were together even in a state of sleepy unconsciousness. The second of my two oldest brothers predates me by a mere ten and a half months. When we were young everyone thought we were twins; even we secretly thought so for a while. A major, if less apparent, perk of our bond was that we could partake of enthusiasms we wouldn’t have wanted others to know about—not our friends, nor the girls we had crushes on, nor anyone, really.

The summer before high school we stumbled on something unbelievably uncool. If we hadn’t had each other for company, I like to think we wouldn’t have given the endeavor a second thought. We had our reputations to uphold, after all. His was being cool—he was a drummer in a punk band whose members, including a female bass player he would later start dating, were much older than he was. My brother drank a can of Mountain Dew every morning for breakfast and wanted everyone to know about it. I had considerably less to lose: I awkwardly straddled the world of jocks and skateboarders, with mixed results. But since my brother and I had each other, we found no reason to limit our interests, however obscure, unpopular, or geeky they may have appeared, and however much they might have jeopardized us in the eyes of our peers.

The pursuit I speak of is Warhammer 40,000, a dystopian, futuristic tabletop war game set in the forty-first millennium, a combination of Risk and Dungeons & Dragons with a sci-fi twist. Read More »

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