The Daily

Our Daily Correspondent

Steins

July 23, 2015 | by

steinsHere are the things you hear most often when you announce plans to marry someone who happens to have the same last name:

  • That’s convenient!
  • Guess you won’t have to change your name!
  • Are you changing your name?
  • Is he taking your name?
  • Are you hyphenating?
  • Are you related?
  • I bet you’re sick of everyone joking about your having the same name!

Not remarking on this seems to be completely out of the question. Read More »

From the Archive

Mannerism

July 23, 2015 | by

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René Ricard in a photo by Allen Ginsberg.

“Mannerism,” a poem by René Ricard from our Summer 1970 issue. Ricard was born on this day in 1946; he died last year. An obituary in the New York Times calls him “a notorious aesthete who roamed Manhattan’s contemporary art scene with a capacious, autodidactic erudition and a Wildean flamboyance.” In the eighties, his essay “The Radiant Child” helped to burnish the reputation of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Read More »

On Language

The Library of Babel as Seen from Within

July 23, 2015 | by

Reproducing Borges’s imaginary library online.

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Since I first read it in a high school Spanish class, I’ve been fascinated by the theory of language implicit in Borges’s “The Library of Babel.” The story describes a universal library containing, in 410-page volumes, every possible permutation of twenty-two letters, spaces, commas, and periods—every book that’s ever been written and every book that ever could be, drowned out by endless pages of gibberish. Its librarians are addicted to the search for certain master texts, the complete catalog of the library, or the future history of one’s own life, but their quest inevitably ends in failure, despair, even suicide.

Perhaps I was obsessed by the same desire for revelation, or haunted by the same subversion of all rational pursuit. In either case, fifteen years later the idea came to me one night of using the vast calculative capacities of a computer to re-create the Library of Babel as a Web site. For those interested in experiencing the futile hope of Borges’s bibliotecarios, I’ve made libraryofbabel.info, which now contains anything we ever have written or ever will write, including these sentences I struggle to compose now. Here, to give you a sense of the vastness and the unintelligibility of such a project, is a random page: Read More »

On the Shelf

Got Those Travel-writing Blues, and Other News

July 23, 2015 | by

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From a poster for the 1913 World Esperanto Congress.

  • Explaining the Internet’s Joan Didion obsession is a tricky thing: “In the crossover of feminism, fashion, and literary interests, there is a whole swathe of the internet where Didion is a staple reference. Her borscht recipe can be found on the website Brain Pickings, and her list of items to pack for reporting trips periodically crops up on style blogs … In 1989, she appeared in GAP ads with her twenty-three-year-old daughter, wearing black turtlenecks, and staring defiantly into the camera with only the barest suggestion of a smile. Last year, she wore huge black shades in ads for the French luxury goods brand Céline, which inspired devotion in unexpected places and in-depth analysis from the already devoted.” And yet this obsession seldom seems to extend to her political writing, which accounts for the bulk of her output—they only want her to write about herself. And what of that self? “To be so glamorously sensitive and beautiful that you have to be taken care of,” Pauline Kael once wrote, was the “ultimate princess fantasy.”
  • This is peak road-trip season. If you’re not in a car right now, lighting out for the territories and exuding manifest destiny—well, it’s not too late. But don’t be all Fleetwood Mac about it. You cannot, in fact, go your own way. You can instead follow in the footsteps (tire tracks?) of writers past: Kerouac, Twain, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Wolfe …
  • On second thought, stay home. It’s more or less impossible to be a good travel writer anyway. You risk falling into two camps: the Elizabeth Gilbert, interior psychodrama, “obnoxious white lady in brown places” camp, or the Bruce Chatwin, indomitable male, “colonialist’s baggage stuffed full with preconceived assumptions” camp. If you’re looking for role models, try Freya Stark and Dervla Murphy: “Stark was in the world with her writing, not above it, not in herself … Her writing restores humanity to people who have otherwise been stripped down to news reports, reduced to death tolls and photos of open-mouthed weeping. The secret to her success was listening to the people she visited and letting them tell the story. This shouldn’t be any secret. It should be what every travel writer does.”
  • A man who speaks hardly a lick of French has triumphed in the Francophone Scrabble Championship having apparently memorized the entire French Scrabble Dictionary in just a few days. Nigel Richards, “the Tiger Woods of Scrabble,” regards words as “just combinations of letters,” like numbers: “He has learned no language logic, just a succession of letter sequences giving rise to words. In his head it’s binary: what draw (of letters) can make a scrabble, what draw can’t.”
  • On James Purdy, who wanted to write stories that “bristled with impossibilities”: “In his novels and short fiction, possibility and potential are always compromised. There is neither transcendence nor transformation. His characters do not grow or develop; they dwindle and unravel … It’s hard to think of a contemporary writer whose work shares this sensibility, a cool elegance laid over extreme emotion. The most apt comparison may be Wes Anderson, whose films similarly feature casts of eccentrics, dialogue full of non sequiturs, deadpan humor, and unabashed farce.”

 

Our Daily Correspondent

Beauty

July 22, 2015 | by

From a 1960s Avon ad.

There are certain unpleasant life experiences that are not palliated by the fact that you know that they’re meaningless. I am speaking here of something specific: the particular horror of being pressured into spending money on things you know you do not want.

When I was seventeen and had to go to the prom with a senior in my homeroom, my mom and I went to Nordstrom so I could buy some simple makeup. Neither of us wore any. My mom entrusted me with a credit card, went to do something else, and came back an hour later to find me miserable, clown-like, clutching a tiny bag and having spent a hundred dollars, then an astronomical sum. And somehow it was very hard to explain to her that the saleswoman had had a wooden leg, and I’d felt unable to deny her anything. I used the lipstick for six years, to justify it, even though the color looked very strange, and it was quickly caked with sand and grit. Read More »

Look

Excuse Me!?! … I’m Looking for the “Fountain of Youth”

July 22, 2015 | by

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Michael Smith, Fountain of Youth State Park, Journey No. 1: Entrance, 2012, C-print, 22 1/2" x 32 1/2"

Head to St. Augustine, Florida, north of the Mission Nombre de Dios and south of the Vilano Bridge, and you’ll find it, as advertised—the Fountain of Youth. It’s open to the public from nine to six daily. Children’s admission is cheaper than senior citizens’, which seems cruel—what need have the young for more youth? T. D. Allman sets the scene in his illuminating history, Finding Florida:

You’ll know you’ve almost reached your destination when you find yourself peering up at an ancient-looking arch. Across the top you’ll see displayed, in Ye Olde English–type lettering, an inscription. It reads: FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. The lettering is meant to evoke long-vanished times of chivalry and derring-do, but one detail marks it as indubitably Floridian: the sign is made of neon tubing. In the gathering subtropic twilight, the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH sign glows and sputters like the VACANCY sign on a state highway motel. According to press releases provided by the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which is what this venerable tourist attraction currently calls itself, this is the very spot where “Ponce de León landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth.”

There is one minor hiccup, though. “Juan Ponce de León never visited and never could have visited St. Augustine: St. Augustine was not founded until forty-one years after his death, in 1565.” Read More »