The Daily

Arts & Culture

The Blue-shirts

September 29, 2015 | by

Xi Jinping at the China Victory Day Parade in Beijing earlier this month. Photo via Jalopnik

China’s president Xi Jinping has just left the U.S. after his first state visit, though you’d hardly know it to read the papers; his stay was overshadowed by a certain pontiff. Americans, if they know Xi at all, have likely seen a certain image of him from earlier this month in Beijing: he’s standing in a sleek open-roofed black car, riding past a huge crowd of people waving tiny Chinese flags. He looks almost sheepish, or bored, or, more likely, hot. The weather that day pushed ninety degrees, and Xi is wearing a high-collared black jacket that toes the line between a traditional Chinese tangzhuang and a Western-style suit.

The occasion was a massive military parade (perhaps better translated as a showing of the troops) in Beijing, in early September, which marked the seventieth anniversary of the Chinese defeat of invading Japanese forces, known in the West as the end of the WWII and here as the “Anti-Japanese War.” There were two main articles about the parade in the English-language China Daily at the time, one about the “beautiful lady” troops (with a special photo spread of smiling young women in uniform) and one a feature on a pair of older generals who had lost more than ten kilograms each in their effort to get into fighting shape for the parade.

The Chinese coverage was more along these lines: “On the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the victory, we commemorate the heroic and indomitable Chinese people, fighting bloody battles and making tremendous sacrifices, defeating ferocious Japanese invaders and safeguarding China’s independence and national pride.” (That’s from the People’s Daily.) Read More »

At Work

A Polar Wind: Robert Kloss and Matt Kish in Conversation

September 29, 2015 | by

A detail from Matt Kish‘s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

A detail from Matt Kish’s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

On the relatively short list of authors and artists who have collaborated on multiple books, there are few who so perfectly mirror one another’s sensibilities that it becomes difficult to imagine art and word as separate entities. I’d place Aleksei Kruchenykh and Olga Rozanova, A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake in that select group. And now I’d add author Robert Kloss and artist Matt Kish. The pair have, to date, worked together on two novels (Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator), a hybrid novel written with Amber Sparks (The Desert Places), and an ongoing project they call the “Bestiary.”

The two have published work independently—Kish, notably, has illustrated every page of Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness—but their joint efforts are of a different order, primarily because, being of like minds, one’s work influences the other’s in the course of making. The Revelator, which was just published this month, is a psychologically brutal tale about an itinerant zealot in nineteenth-century America. In the opening paragraphs, a group of forlorn sailors, “their faces blistered and their minds bleached and weary,” espies a mountain: “some named it the ‘Finger of the Evil One,’ and some called it a tower of soot, dreamed it an ancient citadel misshapen by flame, the horror of all trapped within.” Kish’s illustrations, sprinkled throughout, are correspondingly prophetic, alien, and apocalyptic.   

Kloss recently moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado; Kish lives in Ohio. The two have never met. Earlier this month, they conducted a conversation via online chat about the nature of collaboration and working in the shadow of Melville.  

—Nicole Rudick

Kish: I’ve been thinking about this conversation for some time, alternately veering between excitement and intimidation. Aside from our numerous e-mails, this will probably be the most in-depth communication we’ve shared, at least on a sustained level.

Kloss: Let’s start with Melville then, since I don’t think we would be having this conversation without his work. Read More »

On the Shelf

Like, Everything’s Connected, Man, and Other News

September 29, 2015 | by

An illustration from the Rhode Island Historical Society depicting 1815’s Great September Gale.

  • Carmen Balcells, who died earlier this month, was “a literary superagent with a license to kill, like James Bond.” (NB: she never murdered anyone. Some also referred to her, equally outlandishly, as “Big Mama.”) She changed Spanish-language publishing, launching the careers of Gabriel García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, and Julio Cortázar, among others. “The moment … has been known ever since as the ‘Latin American Literary Boom’ … For writers coming of age during and after the Boom, invoking Balcells became de rigueur, the ultimate literary credential, because it linked them to a special kind of origin story.”
  • A couple centuries ago, in 1815, a real ballbuster of a storm swept through New England. Recollections of the Great September Gale, as it became known, suggest that meteorology then was in some ways a more holistic, if not more sophisticated, discipline than it is today: “Gales and tempests were related, many people thought, to phenomena like lightning, volcanism, and earthquakes … In the 1810s, the idea of an ‘electric fluid’ surrounding and suffusing the world—disturbances in which manifested themselves as earthquakes, waterspouts, hurricanes, and thunderstorms—was quite mainstream … For many New Englanders in 1815, it was intuitively obvious that everything in the sky, and most everything on the ground, was connected somehow to everything else.”
  • Seventy-five years after his apparent suicide, what are we to make of Walter Benjamin—or his strange end? Supposedly he took his own life in 1940, on the Spanish border, where his visa had been refused; he feared that if he returned to France he’d be handed over to the Nazis. But “there are all sorts of unanswered questions surrounding Benjamin’s death. His traveling companions remembered him carrying a heavy briefcase containing a manuscript he described as ‘more important than I am’. No such manuscript was found after his death … There has been persistent speculation that he was actually murdered, perhaps by a Soviet agent who had infiltrated his escaping party.”
  • In which William Vollmann reads a novelization of Trotsky’s assassination (The Great Prince Died) and begins to mull on grave questions of power: “Do the ends justify the means? This is one of the great questions of any time. We should consider it deeply and provisionally answer it for ourselves … ‘Then it amounts to this,’ says a Mexican official to the dying Rostov’s wife. ‘Those who use all means will win, those who reject some means will lose. There is no remedy …’ Can it be so? Trotsky believed it. Sometimes, so do I. (That is why I prefer to lose.)”
  • Today in recovered Babylonian epics: At last! A new version of the fifth tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been unearthed, perhaps illegally, from an undisclosed location in what was once Mesopotamia. It contains a whopping twenty new lines of cuneiform, rich with such narrative revelations as “Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest” and “Humbaba emerges not as a barbarian ogre but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings.”


Skirting the Issue

September 28, 2015 | by

Six paintings from Matthew Brannon’s “Skirting the Issue,” an exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery through October 24. In this series, Brannon uses traditional printmaking methods—letterpress, silkscreening—to depict the domestic and cultural trappings of America during the Vietnam War, when he was born: “I had entered a world battered from events that left the country’s identity in jeopardy,” he writes, “and Luce’s concept of the American Century shattered.” Brannon’s work is consumed with the question of “how America is its own worst enemy.” 

Matthew Brannon, Bad Check, 2015, 59" x 42".

Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

At the Whispering Gallery

September 28, 2015 | by

Photo: thenails

Last time I went to the Grand Central Oyster Bar for a quick pre-train chowder, there was a particularly large group of Italian tourists blocking the door. I couldn’t understand their guide’s monologue, but I could only assume she was instructing them on one of New York’s worst kept secrets, the Whispering Gallery.

There are whispering galleries all over the world—enclosures in which, by a trick of acoustics that I could relate but never understand, whispered words can be heard clearly from another distant point. Notable examples include Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the U.S. Capitol, the Mormon Tabernacle, and the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Reading Room in Boston.

The Grand Central gallery gets a lot of visitors because Grand Central itself is a tourist attraction, and along with the constellation ceiling, FDR’s secret train track, the Campbell Apartment, and (I guess) the clock, the gallery is a focal point of any tour. Kids love it, of course. I like that it’s in such an incongruous location, with busy lunchers and commuters forever rushing past to gobble oysters and make trains, completely indifferent to the miracle of acoustics surrounding them. Read More »

Letter from Our Southern Editor

Seeking Jagger’s Muse

September 28, 2015 | by

Mick Jagger in Clearwater, Florida, 1965.

Dear Lorin,

Did I ever tell you about the thing I did with The Ice Plant? You know them—they make oddly compelling photography books. Last year they did one about some candid “found photos” of the Rolling Stones, pictures taken in the South that had somehow turned up at a flea market or estate sale out west. I wrote a piece to go with the book. But the book wound up getting squashed, or at least suppressed. There was some kind of legal problem—a photographer’s estate claimed rights, saying their man had taken the pictures, but it couldn’t be proved, and there were other claimants. At one point the book was embargoed on a container ship, I’m not inventing. Anyway it was all a shame because the book was beautiful to look at and would have been positive for all parties, and The Ice Plant’s books are done for the love—if nobody’s profiting, nobody’s profiting off—but we are a people of the lawsuit, we like to own.

All of that is background, though, to the actual pictures (referring here only to those that have already been on the Web). There’s something sweet and sad about them (a twenty-two-year-old Brian Jones flipping playfully into the pool … ), and something unglamorous that has postwar English childhoods in it, and at the edges maybe just a trace of eerie and autumnal pre–Altamont Apocalypse vibes. Read More »