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Posts Tagged ‘auctions’

You Should Probably Buy This French Poet’s Gun, and Other News

October 21, 2016 | by

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP.

  • I’ve been keeping a close eye on the collectible handguns of emotionally unstable French poets, and I have a good idea: if you’ve got sixty thousand euros lying around, consider bidding on the pistol that Paul Verlaine used in his attempt to murder Arthur Rimbaud. It’s a handsome gun, soon to be up for auction, and it’s sure to make a great Christmas gift for the one you love. Agence France-Presse explains, “Verlaine bought the 7mm six-shooter in Brussels on the morning of 10 July 1873, determined to put an end to a torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover … It was in a hotel room there at two in the afternoon where, after the lovers had rowed, cried, and got drunk—according to Rimbaud—that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol. ‘Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!’ he shouted, before firing twice at Rimbaud. One bullet hit him in the wrist, while the other bullet struck the wall and ricocheted into the chimney. But, having been bandaged up in hospital, Rimbaud again begged the author of Poèmes saturniens not to leave him. Verlaine, who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life, pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.”
  • Hey, honest question—are you in an online cult? Think about it. The Internet is, in some ways, little more than a cult-delivery mechanism. As Linda Besner writes, “In the 1961 handbook Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, the psychologist Robert Lifton suggests that cults can be identified by, among others, the following traits: the creation of neologisms designed to reshape the adherent’s outlook, separation from family and friends, fostering cognitive dissonance, confessional pressure, and a charismatic leader. In other words, cults are about control … An online ‘cult’ would not need to kidnap you, or bring pamphlets to your door, or go to you at all; instead, you would go to them. Perhaps the greatest difference is how much of a self-starter the average follower needs to be. The onus is on you to indoctrinate yourself.” 

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It All Started with Algae, and Other News

September 8, 2016 | by


  • If I know you, reader, you were about to throw your hands up, abandon your career, move to a small town, and eke out a living as a substitute teacher. But wait! Nicholson Baker spent the first half of 2014 as a sub in Maine, and he wrote everything down, and the outlook is grim. Here’s what he took away from his time in the trenches of our public-education system: “In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-­provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-­O-­Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back. On the first page, usually, there are numbered ‘learning targets,’ and inside, inevitably, a list of specialized vocabulary words to master. In English it’s unreliable narrator, or ethos, or metonymy, or thesis sentence. This is all fluff knowledge, meta-­knowledge. In math, kids must memorize words like apothem and Cartesian coordinate; in science they chant domain! kingdom! phylum! class!, etc., and meiosis and allele and daughter cell and third-class lever and the whole Tinkertoy edifice of terms that acts to draw people away from the freshness and surprise and fantastic interfused complexity of the world and darkens our brains with shadowy taxonomic abstractions.”

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A Battery of Tests for You, and Other News

August 19, 2016 | by

“The Make a Picture Story Test,” a psychological study from 1942. Image courtesy Redstone Press, via The New Yorker.

  • Elif Batuman has been reading Psychobook, a new collection of what can only be described as vintage psychological tests. The book is designed for many things, but not to make its readers feel sane: “No less than the many tests in its pages, Psychobook is itself a kind of inkblot, certain to evoke different emotions and associations from different people. For this reader, one recurring sensation was that of a deeply American beleaguerment, with some Eastern European overtones. I thought again and again of the immigrant woman, landing like Kafka’s hero on American shores after a long and, one feels, psychically taxing boat ride, facing the first of many new puzzles in a strange new land … It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.”
  • Today in junk that might also be art—or, at least, junk that you could soon own: Tekserve, a computer-support shop not far from the Review’s offices in Chelsea, ended its twenty-nine-year run this week. As a kind of progenitor of the Apple store, the business amassed a lot of obsolete technology over the decades, and now you can buy that stuff at auction. Have you had your eye on a Philco Predicta TV? An early “magic lantern” slide projector? A Braille display processor? A Nagra 4.2 portable mono tape recorder? Or perhaps the storied “Mac Museum,” “which comprises thirty-five computers that represent the development of Apple from 1984 to 2004”?
  • Since 1982, the London Review of Books has had featured writers from all over the world for their Diary column. Until this week, no one could say which corners of the globe, exactly, had been represented in the LRB’s pages—but now they’ve gone ahead and marked all eight hundred of their contributors on a map. Note the presences, of course, but also the absences. No one has ever filed a diary from Mongolia or Indonesia, for instance—book your flights now and refine your pitches from thirty thousand feet.

Everything Is Now, and Other News

May 20, 2016 | by

A still from Kaili Blues.

  • Today in things to do with your extra $600,000: buy a rambling 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. It’s sixteen thousand words … it’s on paper … any more questions? “The missive, known as the Joan Anderson letter, after a woman with whom Cassady described an amorous relationship, had been known only from a fragment, apparently retyped by Kerouac, that was published in 1964. In an interview in 1968, Kerouac said he had got the idea of the ‘spontaneous style’ of On the Road from ‘seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters) … It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves,’ Kerouac said. After receiving the letter Kerouac lent it to Allen Ginsberg, who passed it along to another poet, who was living on a houseboat, who ‘lost the letter, overboard, I presume,’ Kerouac said.”
  • Everyone wears clothes, which would seem to suggest that they’re important to the whole human gestalt. And yet philosophers give them short shrift—why? “How could we ever pretend that the ways we dress are not concerned with our impulses to desire and deny, the fever and fret with which we love and are loved? The garments we wear bear our secrets and betray us at every turn, revealing more than we can know or intend. If through them we seek to declare our place in the world, our confidence and belonging, we do so under a veil of deception … Dress can bind and constrain us; its regulated repertoire is a bondage estranging us from truer, freer, more naked realities. E. M. Forster wryly cautions us to ‘Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes,’ but his own prim English Edwardian elegance was the keeper of his undisclosed confidence, sexual and otherwise.”
  • The Chinese director Bi Gan’s debut, Kaili Blues, contains among other cinematic oddities a forty-one-minute single take through the windshield of a car. (Don’t worry, the car is in motion.) “Bi, who was twenty-six when he made Kaili Blues, seems primarily concerned with developing a film language that treats memory as a tangible thing. Objects here are pieces of time. In addition to searching for the boy, Chen agrees to look up a man who had once been his elderly co-worker’s lover and present him with several remembrances—including a shirt that had long ago been intended as a gift and a tape cassette of old pop songs. Bi is hardly the first director to dramatize temporal space or to seek to replace chronology with simultaneity. Alain Resnais and Chris Marker come immediately to mind. Bi is, however, less analytical and more intuitive. Kaili Blues is prefaced with a quote from the Diamond Sutra to the effect that Everything is Now. Past thought cannot be retained, future thought cannot be grasped, and present thought cannot be held. Go with the flow. It’s a fair warning.”
  • Whit Stillman’s new film is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. And though it shocks me to report this, I’m afraid he had the audacity to make the movie without ever having read Austen’s handwritten manuscript for the novel. I know. He must’ve just read some paperback edition or something. Fortunately The New Yorker remedied that: “Stillman met me at the Morgan Library to inspect one of the collection’s treasures: Austen’s handwritten manuscript of Lady Susan, which also happens to be the world’s only full surviving manuscript of any of her works of fiction … Even among ardent Austen fans, Lady Susan is pretty obscure. Austen wrote it when she was about twenty, as a family amusement, not intended for publication. The novella is epistolary in form, which sets it apart from her later novels, as does its heroine—if ‘heroine’ is even the right word for Lady Susan Vernon, a lovely, penniless young widow who ruthlessly manipulates handsome men to serve her amorous needs and rich men to handle her financial ones … ‘There are people who are passionately admiring of her real juvenilia, but I’m not one of them,’ he said, breezily, when asked about Austen’s even earlier novella Love and Friendship, the source of his film’s title. ‘A fifteen-year-old wrote that. Great. But I think it does a disservice to Jane Austen to make a big deal about those things. I think this’—he gestured toward the pages before us—‘is when she started writing really seriously, you know, and really beautifully.’”

Letters of Note

August 13, 2015 | by


Thomas Rowlandson, A Book Auction, 1810-15.

In his late twenties, my father was a habitué of the Charles Hamilton Autograph Auctions at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, where he would snap up anything that went unsold at the end of the day; in this way he earned the nickname The Vulture. Charles Hamilton himself was a noted signatures expert who had given testimony in a number of prominent forgery cases. His auctions were known for their quality and their miscellany, and for the personality of their proprietor. ‘‘Unless you have a soul made of solid lead,’’ he purportedly said, ‘‘your pulse quickens and your eyes brighten when you look upon something that a great man actually held and into which he put his personal thoughts.’’

My father, due to his own somewhat indiscriminate buying practices, ended up with a somewhat unfocused collection of bargains. He had some good pieces of ephemera—two tickets to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, a dinner invitation from Thomas Jefferson—but he also had a single strand of John Keats’s hair. And then there were the ones that got away. There was that time Hamilton auctioned off Harry Truman’s World War I diaries, and the asking price was a bit high, and no one was allowed to inspect them before bidding, “and they might have been incredibly boring,” but still … Read More »

The King and I

February 3, 2015 | by

Auctioning off the Elvis memorabilia at Graceland Too.


Photo: Eileen Townsend

The Absolute Auction of Graceland Too was over in one fell swoop. This past Saturday morning, about a hundred warmly dressed bidders, journalists, and rubberneckers had assembled on East Gholson Avenue in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The auctioneer informed us that the sale was over not even a minute after it began. Everything available—some six hundred items of variously worthwhile Elvis memorabilia—had sold to an unnamed online buyer for the sum of $54,500.

The crowd was visibly distressed at the news. There were groans, shouts of false advertising. The auctioneer, Greg Kinard, an immaculately dressed man of considerable stature, apologized and explained: this was the way it had to be. This was how Paul MacLeod would have wanted it. Kinard thanked everyone for coming out, assured us that there had been no false advertising, and reminded us to pick up one of the pink or blue T-shirts for sale: GRACELAND TOO FOREVER!

Stripped of its lurid speculative detail and Southern Gothic charm, the story of Graceland Too and its ill-fated proprietor, Paul MacLeod, is a sad and simple one. MacLeod was seventy-one when he died suddenly this past July, a victim of undiagnosed and untreated paranoid obsession. He’d spent the last years of his life poor and without family, in a rotting house without running water. His neighbors, for the most part, disliked him, and though he had multiple visitors nearly every night, he died alone and friendless. Read More »