Posts Tagged ‘America’
July 7, 2016 | by Wei Tchou
Two trees grow in Brooklyn.
Lately I’ve come to love the empress trees that stand at either end of the Union Street Bridge, which crosses the Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn. The pair aren’t much in winter, but come spring their canopies grow heavy with grand cascades of lavender flowers. The display is especially remarkable because the canal that flows beside the trees is polluted by heavy metals, pathogens, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other suspiciously unpronounceable toxins. Whatever perfume might drift from the purple blossoms is instantly overpowered by the rot that wafts from the canal’s murky, iridescent waters. Read More »
June 29, 2016 | by Max Nelson
The memoirs of an imprisoned suffragette.
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on John Cleland’s very erotic prison novel, here.
In 1908, when she was thirty-seven, Lady Constance Lytton took a vacation by the sea in Littlehampton. She’d accepted a friend’s offer to spend the summer at the Esperance Club, a charity meant to teach working-class women traditional English dances and folk songs. During a walk through town one day, she found a crowd gathered around “a sheep which had escaped as it was being taken to the slaughterhouse.” Watching the animal stagger around to the crowd’s amusement, she wrote,
A vision suddenly rose in my mind of what it should have been on its native mountain-side with all its forces rightly developed, vigorous and independent. There was a hideous contrast between that vision and the thing in the crowd.
The vision of the sheep comes at the start of her 1914 autobiography, Prisons and Prisoners, in a chapter titled “My Conversion.” “It seemed to reveal for me for the first time,” Lytton continued, “the position of women throughout the world.” Read More »
May 19, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Three Little Ghosts, from 1922, was one of Hitchcock’s earliest films—but it survives only in a Soviet edition, with Russian intertitles. It fell to Anna Aslanyan to translate those titles back into English, whereupon she noticed that some editorial liberties had been taken: “The Russian intertitles have little in common with the lost originals. ‘The film treats of the consequences of the World War in a positively dangerous and unacceptable manner, promotes friendship between socially antagonistic classes, and should therefore be banned,’ the Soviet censor concluded in 1925. But it wasn’t banned; it was re-edited instead … He found the film too complacent: ‘The World War is a negligible episode in the eternal and indestructible bourgeois prosperity of the English.’ The display of solidarity between class enemies made the censor predictably angry … ”
- Vinson Cunningham, reading John D’Agata’s new anthology, asks: What makes an essay American? “The essay, in its American incarnation, is a direct outgrowth of the sermon: argumentative, insistent, not infrequently irritating. Americans, in my observation—and despite our fetish for the beauties of individuality and personal freedom—are always, however smilingly, trying to convince somebody, somewhere, of something, and our essayistic tradition bears this out … D’Agata speaks of his desire to ‘divorce the essay from being read exclusively as a form that’s tied to its subject matter, or that is propelled by its subject matter.’ But what, really, can this mean? Writing is communication, and form is only meaningful—only artful—insofar as it aids and inflects the travel of a thought from one mind to the next. What is literature without the propulsion of a subject: fallen king, Grecian urn, eaten plums, or national travesty? What D’Agata describes, and what The Making of the American Essay presents—form unbothered by the roilings of the world, the essay untethered from its fiery American roots—is a beautiful house, unfurnished forever.”
- Remember that scene in The Squid and the Whale where the pretentious Jesse Eisenberg character says that a novel is “very Kafkaesque,” and his classmate says, “That’s because it was written by Franz Kafka”? In real life we have the opposite problem: the word Kafkaesque risks total meaninglessness. “The dictionary defines the adjective, incidentally, as ‘of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality’ … But Merriam-Webster also admits that the word, which saw its first recorded use in English in 1946, ‘is so overused that it’s begun to lose its meaning,’ a word that a columnist for Toronto’s Globe and Mail argued is ‘tossed around with cavalier imprecision, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a petty bureaucrat to the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich.’ ”
- Today in geodesic domes: try to tell me we couldn’t use a few more of them. The designer Dror Benshetrit has been eyeing Buckminster Fuller’s dome from the ’68 world’s fair in Montreal, and he “wants to pay homage to the legacy of the structure and help reinvigorate year-round usage of the site with a proposed project that is a riff on the original. After touring the site with the Buckminster Fuller Institute, the designer said in a project description that he came up with the idea to build a second larger aluminum dome planted with a ‘vegetated sound buffer’ that would serve as a twenty-first-century event space for concerts, festivals, and other activities.”
- Every year brings with it another armload of Brontë-related biographies and ephemera: plays, films, novelizations, tea towels. Why? “I see no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion. What are People of the Book, after all, if not irrepressible embroiderers of fetishized texts?” Judith Shulevitz asks. “The Jews have a word for the feverish imaginings that run like bright threads through their Torah commentaries: midrash, the spinning of gloriously weird backstories or fairy tales prompted by gaps or contradictions in the narratives … Some Brontë fans—reader, I’m one of them—would happily work through stacks of Brontë midrash in search of answers to the mysterium tremendum, the awesome mystery, of the Brontës’ improbable sainthood. How did a poor and socially awkward ex-governess named Charlotte and her even more awkward sister Emily, who kept house for their father in a parsonage on a Yorkshire moor far from the literary circles of London, come to write novels and poems that outshone nearly every other nineteenth-century British novel and poem by dint of being more alive?”
May 11, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Because life is a waking nightmare in which the grandees of the universe spread their sagging buttocks over our prone bodies, Budweiser has changed its name to America. Ricardo Marques, a Budweiser veep hastening the arrival of the end times, gave an interview to Fast Company: “The tagline for the entire related media campaign is meant to be incredibly sincere, even inspiring message: ‘America is in your hands.’ When I ask Marques, jokingly, if drinking Budweiser now means you’re drinking America, his reply is dead serious. ‘In a way, it is true,’ he says. ‘If you think about Budweiser as the most iconic American brand when it comes to beer, it’s probably not incorrect.’ ”
- But we mustn’t lose faith. Even as corporations coopt the nation-state and install themselves as our new gods, people are restlessly creating, inventing … turning shit into furniture. “Made out of clay and cow excrement, merdacotta—literally, ‘baked shit’ in Italian—can be fashioned into tiles, tableware, flowerpots and, fittingly, toilet bowls. An installation of items made out of merdacotta was one of the most memorable offerings at this year’s Salone del Mobile design extravaganza in Milan. Luca Cipelletti, an architect who helped to devise the exhibition, says that ‘people smile and think it’s funny to talk about caca, but behind it all we are exploring interesting and philosophical ideas about man, art and nature as well as the concept of transformation.’ ”
- Meanwhile, in Russia, the “medical and biological” costs of keeping Vladimir Lenin’s body preserved have reached $197,000 annually. “If carefully monitored and re-embalmed regularly, scientists believe he can last in this state for centuries more,” writes Daria Litvinova for the Guardian. (Note that dangling modifier: if the sentence isn’t corrected, someone might reasonably believe that we must embalm those scientists). “The first idea didn’t involve embalming at all, but deep freezing … In early March 1924, when preparations were gaining momentum, two well-known chemists, Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky, suggested embalming him with a chemical mixture that would prevent the corpse from decomposing, drying up and changing color and shape.”
- The Rich Kids of Instagram offer appalling displays of conspicuous consumption, but take a closer look and you’ll see that they’re not much different than the paintings of wealthy Europeans that preceded them: “The images and the social relations they represent recall earlier depictions of wealth, in particular oil painting popular amongst European elites during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries … Like the photographs shared on Instagram, the oil paintings of this period call attention to the subjects’ prestige and status—and illustrate the role of depiction in asserting and reinforcing social privilege.”
- Finally, a look back at history’s most ironic skeleton calendars: “At the end of the 1800s, one St. Louis company marketed their signature pain-relieving product with a series of macabre calendars featuring skeletons at work and play. Ironically, the very product they were advertising would later be shown to be fatal … Acetanilide, the coal-tar derivative, had the unfortunate side effect of producing cyanosis, meaning it turned extremities blue from a lack of oxygen … The calendars survive as a charming memento of a time when pharmaceutical advertising could be a little less saccharine, it’s hard not to wonder what the victims of Antikamnia might have made of these frolicking skeletons if they had only known what was really being advertised.”
April 6, 2016 | by Jonathan Wilson
Thirty-nine years ago last July (that’s thirty-nine steps on your Fitbit), I arrived in New York City from London to spend a postgraduate semester at Columbia. On the first morning, I went into Tom’s Restaurant (later the Seinfeld place) on 112th and Broadway and was immediately overwhelmed by the multiple-choice menu. London, in those days, was not a place of gastronomic variety for breakfast. A waitress of generous proportion came over to my table, “Whaddya want?” she asked. I was speechless, then mumbly, then speechless gain. The waitress waited patiently then said, “Talk to me baby, I’ll listen to you.” This is how I began my American education. Read More »
March 11, 2016 | by Sharon Olds
Finally they got the Singles problem under control, they made it scientific. They opened huge Sex Centers—you could simply go and state what you want and they would find you someone who wanted that too. You would stand under a sign saying I Like to Be Touched and Held and when someone came and stood under the sign saying I Like to Touch and Hold they would send the two of you off together. Read More »