The Daily

Arts & Culture

Here Comes the Moon

October 17, 2016 | by

The hopeful dystopia of Pushwagner’s Soft City.

From Soft City.

Where does art begin? In the case of Soft City, the straightforward answer is this: it began in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 1969, in a sea captain’s house converted into a writer’s retreat by the novelist Axel Jensen, after Pushwagner had ingested Sandoz LSD. He doodled a man in a car, whom he intuited was called “Mr. Soft”—five years before Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel would have a hit song of that name—and, along with Jensen, envisioned a day-in-the-life narrative structure for the character, along the lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and James Joyce’s Ulysses. And then?

A hiatus of some three years (hardly the only sharp left turn in Pushwagner’s tumultuous life), during which time he lived on virtually nothing in London (subsisting by selling drawings on trains for pennies) and Oslo, went back to his mother’s, was arrested for trying to board a flight to Madeira on his hands and knees, was institutionalized, walked back to Fredrikstad, escaped a hotel in Paris, sojourned in Lisbon, returned to London, and became a father. After these adventures, he once again began Soft City, with, he’s said, his beloved baby daughter, Elizabeth, on his lap, and with thoughts of the future in mind. Mr. Soft now had a family of his own, and a fearful projected dystopia to live in. Pushwagner finished the book, or rather the 269 bleak yet blackly comic ink drawings that would comprise it, in 1975; and then, after a few luminaries of the London music world had admired it (including Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood), he lost it. Read More »

On the Shelf

A Nice Soak in the Office Bathtub, and Other News

October 17, 2016 | by

Relax: bathe at work.

  • When one thinks of rugged outdoorspersons, one’s mind does not usually summon Simone de Beauvoir. But it turns out Beauvoir was an avid hiker, and her writing about the activity stands in powerful contrast to the “wilderness memoirs” of more recent years. Emily Witt writes, “Pages of her memoirs are taken up with descriptions of the hikes she took in her twenties and thirties: in the Maritime Alps, the Haute-Loire, in Brittany, in the Jura, in Auvergne, in the Midi. Since the publication of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or even Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, it has become commonplace to see the solo excursion in the wilderness as a possible experience of feminine catharsis. Beauvoir abhorred sentimentalism in her writing and seemed constitutionally incapable of contriving a sudden epiphany after cresting a peak, but it turns out that in addition to all of her philosophical contributions she is a forgotten pioneer of this genre of memoir … Beauvoir hiked alone … She saw her colleagues’ warnings that she would get raped as ‘a spinsterish obsession,’ and wrote, ‘I had no intention of making my life a bore with precautions of this sort.’ ”
  • Today in productivity concepts: your start-up office might have standing desks, exercise balls, a Ping-Pong table, and a formidable organic pantry, but none of it means shit without a bathtub. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., credits his imaginative success to Nintendo’s tub, and he makes a strong argument: “Thank goodness we had a company bathtub! … At that time, our office was in Tobakaido, which also housed the hanafuda [playing-card] factory … There was a water boiler that was used to make the hanafuda, and the water from this boiler was also used for a bathtub. The employees making the hanafuda could wash their sweat away in the bath after work, and at night when nobody was around, you could hang out there for a long time. It totally saved me … It was really effective at letting me put my ideas in order.” (Reader: if you’re interested in arranging for a claw-foot tub to be installed in the offices of The Paris Review, please be in touch.) 

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In Memoriam

Dario Fo, 1926–2016

October 14, 2016 | by

Dario Fo, sweater game on fleek.

If you’ve exhausted the Internet’s rich store of Bob Dylan think pieces, you might turn your attention to another Nobel laureate: Dario Fo, the Italian playwright, who died this week at ninety. The Vatican once declared his play Mistero Buffo, a kind of one-man political-satire revue, to be “the most blasphemous show in the history of television.” (If you’re confused, this was in 1977, well before the undeniably satanic Pretty Little Liars hit the airwaves.) As the New York Times has it, Fo and his late wife–collaborator, Franca Rame, did more to upend the art of political theater than anyone in their generation: “Basing their art on the tradition of the medieval jester and the improvisation techniques of commedia dell’arte, Mr. Fo and Ms. Rame thrilled, dismayed and angered audiences around the world. Together they staged thousands of performances, in conventional theaters, factories occupied by striking workers, university sit-ins, city parks, prisons and even deconsecrated churches.” Read More »

First Person

Jar Watch

October 14, 2016 | by

Photo: TheStarmon, Wikimedia Commons.

I first arrived in LA in the dark. On crutches. I’d been bitten by a dog the week before, that was the reason, but by the time we got from LAX to our temporary digs in Laurel Canyon, having almost thrown up in the car, I was definitely worse for wear, as if I’d walked the whole way. The next morning—though I felt like the sister from another planet (I’d never been to California)—I had to admit it was beautiful here: morning glory blooming up the side of the house in the middle of winter; all those flowering trees. But the rest of the city turned out to be ugly, so I thought: too much stucco; everything short and squat, brown or beige, bleached out and overexposed. I couldn’t see the forest for the palms, bearded and rootless, coming straight up from the pavement.

Anyway. Not so long after, within the year or so, a famous comet was scheduled to show up in our skies, a once-in-a-lifetime event—not to be missed—and the best place for us to get a glimpse? The Mojave. How astonishing if you hail from New England, to find yourself living on the lip of the Mojave. As recommended, we left after midnight and drove until ours was the only car on a two-lane road, nothing but sand and scrub as far as we could see. We pulled over, turned off the high beams, and stepped outside. It was freezing. And the Joshua trees—wizened, arthritic—seemed to fold in on themselves as if they disapproved of our being there; no moon in the sky that night, much less a comet, and not many stars. Cold, disappointed—a little scared of the quiet and the dark—I gave up. Sat hunched in the car, like one of those pissy little trees, while Fred (my boyfriend) shivered and scanned the sky. Read More »

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Murderous Teens, Mechanical Cities, Message Boards

October 14, 2016 | by


The first thing—maybe the only thing—we all learn about art history is that standards of beauty change. The ideal body gets fatter or thinner, different body parts get emphasized or flattered away—and the fashions of the time serve this ideal. At least, that’s how we usually think. Recently I’ve gone back to Anne Hollander’s 1978 masterpiece Seeing Through Clothes, which turns that way of thinking on its head. When we look at a nude body, Hollander argues, we are always seeing the clothes that aren’t there, whether we know it or not. The big pregnant-looking belly on an early Renaissance Eve is meant to support the heavy woolen gathers of a gown. The “unaccountable hummocks of flesh” on a Rubens nude evoke the satin she doesn’t have on. Whether Hollander writes about dresses or men’s tailoring or classical drapery, she leads us, like no other historian I’ve read, into the erotic imagination of the past. Seeing Through Clothes blew my mind when I first read it twenty years ago, and now it’s keeping me up late all over again. —Lorin Stein

One day during Salvador Dalí’s first visit to New York City in 1934, he woke “at six in the morning … after a long dream involving eroticism and lions.” He was surprised by the insistence of the lions’ roars—the savage cries of his dreams, which were so different than what he expected in a “modern and mechanical” city. Reading this, I thought of the Surrealist master dreaming of great orange cats roaring in his ears. But the roars weren’t in his imagination: he and his wife, Gala, were staying near the Central Park Zoo, and he discovered at breakfast that the sounds were real. It’s amusing to read Dalí’s impressions of the city, which he gives in his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. During his stay, he hops from one cocktail party to another, drinks in a Harlem night club, attends a “surrealist ball,” visits an exhibition of his works, and does a fine bit of walking “all alone in the heart of New York.” Here’s his take on the city’s skyscrapers: “Each evening [they] assume the anthropomorphic shapes of multiple gigantic Millet’s Angeluses … motionless and ready to perform the sexual act and devour one another, like swarms of praying mantes before copulation.” Caitlin Love Read More »

On the Shelf

Some Ghoulish Stained Glass for You, and Other News

October 14, 2016 | by

Harry Clarke, Our Lady of the Sorrows (detail), 1917. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

  • I know you have plenty to worry about, but Sam Kriss is here to warn you about the fabulously rich tech bros who really, honestly, actually believe that we may be living in a simulated reality generated by some hyperadvanced species of the future: “Ignore for a moment any objections you might have to the simulation hypothesis, and everything impractical about the idea that we could somehow break out of reality, and think about what these people are trying to do. The two billionaires … are convinced that they’ll emerge out of this drab illusion into a more shining reality, lit by a brighter and more beautiful star. But for the rest of us the experience would be very different—you lose your home, you lose your family, you lose your life and your body and everything around you. Simulation or not, everything would disappear. It would be the end of the world. Comic-book movies, in their own sprawling simulated narrative universes, have been raising the stakes to this level for years: every summer we watch dozens of villains plotting to blow up the entire universe, but the motivations are always hazy. Why, exactly, does the baddie want to destroy everything again? Now we know.”
  • It’s never a bad time to think about Dada. (Please don’t put that on a T-shirt. I call dibs. I need the money.) In the wake of six new Dadaist exhibitions around the world, Alfred Brendel reconsiders the slipperiest movement of the modern era: “Dada relished contradictions. A famous Dada saying claimed that whoever is a Dadaist is against Dada. In his Dada manifesto of 1918, Tzara informs us that, as the editor, he wants to emphasize that he feels unable to endorse any of the opinions being published since he was against manifestoes in principle. But also against principles. Theo van Doesburg called Dada the ‘art form on account of which its producer doesn’t take a stand for anything. This relative art form is accompanied by laughter’ … Traditionalists see Dadaists as silly people. To a degree, they are right. Silliness was liberating from the constraints of reason. Silliness has the potential to be funny, to provoke laughter, and make people realize that laughter is liberating. Raoul Hausmann mentioned the sanctity of nonsense and ‘the jubilation of orphic absurdity.’ To Dadaists, Charlie Chaplin was the greatest artist in the world.” 

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