The Daily

On the Shelf

Life After the Bench, and Other News

August 19, 2014 | by

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Garry Winogrand, World’s Fair, New York City, 1964

  • Catching up with two subjects from a 1964 Garry Winogrand photograph—that one, up there—fifty years later: “I never saw a photographer, or anyone taking our picture. It was not like today, when people are taking pictures every minute. We were just a bunch of girls out having fun. Why would anyone take our picture?
  • Whither the book jacket? “If, for the majority of books, the jacket no longer serves a protective function, it still shields the subcutaneous narrative metaphorically. As we spend more of our reading time in digital, disembodied, notional environments where texts lack differentiation and may easily leach into one another unconstrained, covers (and physical books in general) remain part of an anxious cultural effort to corral and contain the boundless.”
  • Humor is dead, subtlety is dead: Facebook is now proposing to append a “satire” tag to any shared article with a comic bent—the equivalent of winking after every joke.
  • Sensory deprivation used to be a form of torture; the CIA thought it could help with brainwashing. Now it’s a form of therapy.
  • “Escaping into video games is something that people have been doing since video games were first invented … Traditional media cannot provide the amount of hours of entertainment that games can, exercise and sports are limited by physical exhaustion and most other hobbies or activities would be impractical if pursued to the same extent … It could be argued that the last two decades or so through which the video game has risen to prominence have created a boondoggle of incalculable proportions.”

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Look

Its Light Was Prodigious

August 18, 2014 | by

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Paul Sandby, The 1783 Great Meteor, as seen from the East Angle of the North Terrace, Windsor Castle

As evidenced by its name, the 1783 Great Meteor was, yes, great and meteoric. At the time, not much else could be said about it with certainty—indeed, when it graced the skies of the British Isles 231 years ago today, it prompted a scientific (or pseudoscientific) crisis. Experts rushed to answer that burning—pun intended—question: What the hell was that?

On the night in question, Paul Sandby, a landscape painter, happened to be with Tiberius Cavallo, an Italian philosopher, hanging out on the terrace of Windsor Castle, enjoying the summer night, taking in the solemn spectacle of the sky, when, as Cavallo later wrote,

some flashes of lambent light, much like the aurora borealis, were first observed on the northern part of the heavens, which were soon perceived to proceed from a roundish luminous body, whose apparent diameter equaled half that of the moon, and almost stationary in the same point of the heavens … This ball at first appeared of a faint bluish light, perhaps from appearing just kindled, or from its appearing through the haziness; but it gradually increased its light, and soon began to move, at first ascending above the horizon in an oblique direction towards the east. Its course in this direction was very short, perhaps of five or six degrees; after which it directed its course towards the east … Its light was prodigious. Every object appeared very distinct; the whole face of the country, in that beautiful prospect before the terrace, being instantly illuminated.

I like the blend of specificity and awe here: Cavallo takes pains to describe the event as accurately as he can, but his account is suffused with the kind of wonder that only comes from confusion. How exciting it must’ve been, not knowing what was happening, not having the rote assurance of a scientific explanation. This was a time, after all, when one could still refer to the skies as “the heavens” without the slightest trace of irony.

In what amounts to an early example of crowdsourcing, artists and scientists came together to corroborate and dispute various accounts of the meteor. Sandby turned in an excellent watercolor of the phenomenon, and a schoolmaster named Henry Robinson made the engraving below. The meteor became the subject of wide speculation in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society; London Magazine ran an absurd account from a British lieutenant who claimed to have seen the meteor reverse its course, “moving back again, the contrary way to which it came.”

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Our Daily Correspondent

You Belong to the City

August 18, 2014 | by

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A still from 1986 Mets: A Year to Remember.

1986 Mets: A Year to Remember is quite possibly the most amazing video yearbook for any professional sports team … ever.” That’s a comment from someone named the Wright Stache, who’s done God’s work by putting most of said video yearbook on Vimeo. But it could be anyone who grew up a Mets fan. There’s the series itself, of course—Game Six, Buckner, Jesse Orosco on the mound—but anyone with an ESPN subscription and a memory can tell you about that. A Year to Remember—known in our house simply as “The Mets Video”—is something different. 

“I watched that video,” said a friend of mine recently. “I don’t really get what’s so great about it.” I didn’t even know how to respond to this. Is the Mets video tied up for me with my brother and my childhood and past glories and the pain of defeat and the entire nature of youth, life, and maybe death? Obviously. But it’s also pretty obvious that it’s just objectively awesome. 

It’s an official Major League Baseball video; I remember that it came in a blue plastic case. Why we had it, I don’t know. I guess it was just what you did in the eighties. Because we weren’t the only ones; a bunch of my friends also owned it, and we can all recite the narration and replicate the “routine double play” from the play-offs and, of course, do a hotfoot in a pinch, as demonstrated by Roger McDowell and Howard Johnson. Indeed, the Mets video occupies a place of honor in a certain varietal of NYC psyche: for those of us who were really young in 1986, that long-ago triumph was symbolized by the video. And scored by Duran Duran. Read More »

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On History

Illinois Jesus

August 18, 2014 | by

A forgotten Midwestern religious sect and the strange novel it inspired.

An illustration from Six Years in Heaven.

The most confusing thing about the rural Midwest is the importance placed on being normal. Perhaps this comes from demographic homogeneity: there’s a comforting stability in being able to drive a hundred miles in almost any direction and find a landscape almost identical to the one from which you set out.

The Midwest is construed as a place where nothing happens—that being, it should be emphasized, a good thing. Native Americans once lived here, of course; but there’s no longer any sign of them aside from some low mounds and their continuing near-universal use as school mascots. When I grew up here, no one wondered why they’d left. Probably it was more exciting somewhere else. Who could blame them? It’s a fine place to leave.

But on returning, as I did recently, the effect is disorienting: this is a place where everyone is cheerfully convinced of the rationality of their insanity. I was never immune to this. In school, everyone was perplexed by race problems. We weren’t racist. How could we be when there weren’t any black people? We ignored that in Rockford, Illinois, ten miles away, desegregation lawsuits were impossibly still grinding through the court system. Likewise, we firmly believed that gay people weren’t something we had; we learned we’d had a Jewish family in our town only after they’d safely escaped. This seems ludicrous to me now, and things have undoubtedly changed since the turn of the century. With the arrival of the Internet and cable TV, the boast that newscasters were carefully trained to speak like us—because we, among all Americans, had no accents—isn’t quite as impressive.

In 1988, when I was ten, my parents moved to a five-acre farm between the rust-belt city of Rockford and the village of Winnebago. Not being from the area, they were naturally curious about the history, and one of them found a Works Progress Administration history of Illinois in the library. In that book, we discovered that the country road we lived on had once not been so somnolent. A block north of us, a large complex of buildings painted red bore the name Weldon Farm, but once it had been called Heaven. In the 1880s it had been the center of an obscure religious sect—still lacking a Wikipedia entry of their own—called the Beekmanites. A woman named Dorinda Beekman had declared herself to be Jesus, as one did in those days; she died after promising to rise from the dead in three days. Her considerable followers were disappointed until one of them, a red-headed man named George Jacob Schweinfurth, neatly solved the problem by explaining that her spirit had moved into his body. Many agreed; he and his followers, the Church Triumphant, moved into Heaven and lived communally, where he’d attracted attention as far away as the New York Times.

A block south of my parents’ place, the road dead-ended in front of a run-down house. A “bad” family lived there, and their children occasionally went to school with me. We would have called them poor white trash had we not been afraid of being beaten up. Their house, ramshackle as it appeared to be, had a history as well: it had once been Hell. Schweinfurth had lived in luxury in Heaven, arrayed with young women called Angels. Their husbands, had they any, and members of the group who’d fallen out of favor, were sent to Hell, where the work needed to keep the sect fed was done. Read More »

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Contests

Fabulous Prizes Await

August 18, 2014 | by

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R & R & TPR in Madison, Connecticut. Photo: Chantal McStay

A reminder: through August 31, we’re having a #ReadEverywhere contest to celebrate our joint subscription deal with the London Review of Books. To enter, just post a photo of yourself reading The Paris Review or the London Review of Books on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook—use the #ReadEverywhere hashtag and one of our magazines’ handles. (Those of you who have already posted photos, fear not—your work is in the running.)

Our three favorite contestants will receive these jaw-droppingly swanky prize packages:

FIRST PRIZE ($500 value)
From The Paris Review: One vintage issue from every decade we’ve been around—that’s seven issues, total—curated by Lorin Stein.
And from the London Review of Books: A copy of Peter Campbell’s Artwork and an LRB cover print.

SECOND PRIZE ($100 value)
From TPR: A full-color, 47" x 35 1/2" poster of Helen Frankenthaler’s West Wind, part of our print series.
And from the LRB: Two books of entries from the LRB’s famed personals section, They Call Me Naughty Lola and Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland.

THIRD PRIZE ($25 value)
From TPR: A copy of one of our Writers at Work anthologies.
And from the LRB: An LRB mug. (Never one to be outdone, the LRB is actually including a tote bag, some postcards, a pencil, and an issue with all of the prizes above. Retail value: inestimable.)

Hurry! August 31 is practically tomorrow, and this hashtag waits for no man.

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On the Shelf

The Erotics of Architecture, and Other News

August 18, 2014 | by

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Dig those curves: the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Rodrigo Soldon

  • In the summer of 2011, Phyllis Rose went to the New York Society Library and read one entire shelf of fiction—specifically, the shelf marked LEQ-LES. “In their obscurity, these books might be dull, bad or even unreadable; they might, in fact, be a total waste of her time. But she also felt certain that, should she embark on such a scheme, she would find herself on the readerly equivalent of virgin snow, for who else would have read this precise sequence of novels? … What followed was sometimes hard work and sometimes great fun. It was exasperating but also invigorating; deeply boring and yet surprisingly exciting.”
  • Congratulations to Louise Erdrich, who’s won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s distinguished achievement award. “The Dayton prizes are meant to recognize literature’s power to foster peace, social justice, and global understanding, and the distinguished achievement award is given for body of work.”
  • “You can’t kill e-mail! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing … E-mail is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built … Yes, e-mail is exciting. Get excited!
  • From “a guide to the sexual understanding of great buildings”: “Right an­gles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man. What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find … in the body of the woman we love.”
  • It’s a radical act of self-reference. It’s a paradigm-shattering instance of recursion. It’s … the world’s most profoundly stupid sign, a sign whose sole purpose is to warn you against hitting your head on it.

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