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Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Epstein’

8, rue Garancière

May 7, 2012 | by

On April 3, Robert Silvers accepted the Paris Review’s Hadada Prize for a strong and unique contribution to literature. These were his remarks.

When something like this evening happens, you ask how you got here, and I thought back to the autumn of 1954, when I was a soldier at NATO military headquarters—called SHAPE—near Paris. One of the best things about working there was that, by some international understanding, practically everyone had Wednesday afternoon off—you could go to the Louvre, you could go to the Café de Flore. And there, one Wednesday afternoon, at the kiosk in front of the Flore, I bought a copy of The Paris Review and took it back to our international barracks at Rocquencourt and read it in my bunk. I thought I should know more about it.

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The Wizard of West Fifty-seventh Street

March 29, 2012 | by

Robert Silvers in the New York Review offices.

Our Spring Revel will take place on April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.

My first encounter with Robert Silvers was with his sonorous and elegant voice, with its precise, slightly British diction. It must be said that most of my encounters over the years have been with the voice rather than the man, as we’ve met in person only a few times.

I first heard the voice in the summer of 1988. Back in the States after my first year of graduate school at Cambridge University, I somehow landed a job in the advertising department at The New York Review of Books. I can’t imagine I came by it entirely honestly, but I have no recollection of whose kindness may have opened the door. This was at the old address, 250 West Fifty-seventh Street, where entering the offices felt somehow like slipping in a back door, because you were immediately dwarfed by books. Mountainous, heavily laden shelves overhung the narrow, dark corridors, and people scurried quietly among them as if in fear—fear, I always thought, that like Leonard Bast they would be crushed by knowledge.

In the several months I worked in those offices—in the domain of Catherine Tice, at the elbow of a brassily confident assistant named Kim—I never laid eyes on either Bob or Barbara. (I had, on the other hand, many mad and wonderful conversations with the late Bob Tashman, who roved the office with apparently much time on his hands and who, although balding, had an impressive corona of hair emerging from his shirt collar. His long-worked-upon American Decameron, alas, we will never now see.) Bob and Barbara’s offices were down long tributaries of the book-lined hallways, unenterable by the likes of me. But I did, upon occasion, hear the magical voice. It was like hearing the Wizard of Oz. Whether he was speaking on the telephone or to an assistant, his interlocutors were inaudible, the authority of his inflections absolute, and his physical presence purely notional. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Hilton Als, Part 2

August 12, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Als’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


DAY FOUR

I finished watching There Will Be Blood, hours after I'd returned from visiting an actor friend in Brooklyn. She had a terrible accident while filming an episode of SVU (or SUV—I never know what that show's called). An actor shook her too hard, hurting her neck, so, in order to see my friend, I have to go to her. Despite her pain, my friend was herself, which is to say a real raconteur, one of the last of the best. She punctuates her story-telling with peals of laughter, knowing pauses, and concern. Her presence is part of what makes New York itself, a city filled with jumpy and funny and paranoid people—particularly in the summer. Before I left my friend's house we talked about how scary we both find Hemingway's short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

Then I got on the subway, which is far from my house; I had to walk past the Brooklyn Hospital to get there, perhaps my least favorite walk in the world, since my mother spent a great deal of time in that hospital when I was a kid, thus instituting my continual anxiety about separation, and my need to be alone so it doesn't happen. No one leaves if no one is invited in.

After I got home, I saw gothic everywhere—such was There Will Be Blood's continuing sway over my imagination. Paul Thomas Anderson in no way obscures the gothic tone in Upton Sinclair's book, Oil!—the source material for his movie. Indeed, I started thinking about one of my favorite American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, during Blood's end credits. Is Hawthorne not one of the architects of our American interest in a world peopled, say, white-collared, circle girls screaming twice-told tales from a morally divided heart?

DAY FIVE

Back to the issue of time. One way to measure it's passing is by watching porn. Before you know it, yesterday's semi-twink is today's suited, inscrutable Daddy. While gay porn actors generally make the transition less disfigured by cosmetic surgery than female actors in straight porn, for instance, one sometimes senses what plastic surgery can, at least in part, disguise: exhaustion.

Take Zak Spears for instance. While Spears often took on the “butch,” role in early films—the Spears character has always been critical, hard to read, slow to commit to the action but, once engaged, insatiable—one never got the sense that his interest in his partner was diminished by performing scripted sex. Now, in his latest movie, Unsuited, Spears is in full Daddy mode. But behind the gruff instructions to his young “boy,” during their table top assignation, one senses Spears' boredom with the entire enterprise. Does time erode our ability to find surprise in most situations? As we grow older, do we spend more and more time sitting in craters of boredom?

This is the kind of exegesis—porn as a metaphor about time connection—that one could express without a qualm to the late and lamented editor, Barbara Epstein. As one of the founders of The New York Review of Books, Barbara's profound gift—among many—was for seeing what her writers could not, and not insisting on a change during the editing process that would derail your thought, but enhanced it. She was a real world saint who was familiar enough with this common place that she knew humor was not a character trait, but a saving grace. And among the graces, she was the most graceful. Read More »

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