Posts Tagged ‘biography’
February 1, 2011 | by James Atlas
Douglas Coupland is the author of Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, a pithy biography of the Canadian professor and communication theorist. McLuhan, who was born in 1911, is perhaps best known for coining the phrase “the medium is the message” and for anticipating the Internet decades before its arrival. Earlier this month, Coupland answered a few questions about his work as a biographer and what drew him to McLuhan.
You used an unconventional form for your biography of Marshall McLuhan such as MapQuest, an autism assessment test, use of Wikipedia as a source.
Was this innovative method a deliberate reference to McLuhan’s own idiosyncrasies? Or is it the reflection of a personal quirk?
Since starting the project I’ve felt like an unwitting manifestation of McLuhan’s beliefs about the effects of media: born 1961, TV child, Photoshop user, and so on. Having said that, I think I started the book at the crisis point in the history of biographies, and it’s a happy coincidence it happened to be Marshall.
Twofold. First, if I want to know about Marshall or anyone, I can YouTube them, hear their voice, see them in action, read capsule biographies and dissertations on them—you name it. You can get a subjective and highly factual dossier on most anyone in the public realm almost instantly. It’s why publishers don’t worry about author photos any more; people just google a person and get on with things. Second, we’ve obviously entered the age of near total medicalization of personality. To write a biography of anyone, let alone someone so neuroconnectively fascinating as Marshall, seems like a gross abnegation of duty to truth. The biography has begun to morph into the pathography. Note: Marshall McLuhan’s left cerebral cortex was vascularized in a way only ever before seen in mammals in cats. He wasn’t just different; he was very different.
January 28, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
I love books, like Nicholson Baker’s U & I and Ian Hamilton’s In Search of J. D. Salinger, that are as much explorations of one writer’s obsession with another as the critical studies or biographies they purport to be. Can you recommend anything else in this vein? —Anonymous
Can I ever! First, if you haven’t read it yet, get hold of Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence. A sample:
Looking back it seems, on the one hand, hard to believe that I could have wasted so much time, could have exhausted myself so utterly, wondering when I was going to begin my study of D. H. Lawrence; on the other, it seems equally hard to believe that I ever started it, for the prospect of embarking on this study of Lawrence accelerated and intensified the psychological disarray it was meant to delay and alleviate.That is sentence one. Things go, hysterically, downhill from there. Read More »
December 20, 2010 | by Sam Stephenson
Since January 1997, I’ve been studying the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith. I was thirty years old when I started, and now I’m forty-four. If this wasn’t my calling, God help me.
In 1998, while researching a freelance magazine assignment on Smith’s 1950s Pittsburgh photographs in his archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, I stumbled on 1,740 dusty, moldy reels of mysterious tape made in a New York City loft building. What became known as the Jazz Loft Project at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, where I worked, began that day.
Smith’s strange, obsessive achievement between 1957 and 1965 in an after-hours jazz haunt in Manhattan’s flower district—forty thousand photos and four thousand hours of audio recordings—spurred me to visit twenty-one states and interview more than four hundred people. I’ve made 115 trips to New York City over a span of time that can be measured by telephones and storefronts: I called Robert Frank from a cold, indestructible pay phone at the end of Bleecker, near CBGB; Roy Haynes on a Motorola StarTAC from a brownstone on 9th Street, a few doors from Balducci’s; and, a few weeks ago, Mary Frank on my iPhone from Spoon in Chelsea.
Smith is often portrayed as a classic midcentury male artist-egotist, and not without reason. But there was something selfless about his work in this old Sixth Avenue loft building. The people that passed through that space—some famous, most obscure—have sustained me all these years. Perhaps it’s this perpetually unfolding documentary quality that makes the loft work his greatest.
November 23, 2010 | by Dan Nadel
Woke up in Providence, Rhode Island, but as I write this I’m zooming back to NYC on the Amtrak listening to an exquisite bootleg of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Budokan, in Tokyo, on March 11, 1976. I arrived in Providence less than twenty-four hours ago for the local launch of Brian Chippendale and C.F.’s (a.k.a. Christopher Forgues) new books If ‘n Oof and Powr Mastrs 3 (both published by my own PictureBox) at Ada Books. The Ada event was packed and quite merry. I bought used copies of Jimmy McDonough’s Russ Meyer biography and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.
McDonough’s biography of Neil Young, Shakey, is one of my favorite books, and so while I have little interest in Meyer, I figure I better read whatever is on McDonough’s mind. Shakey, for the uninitiated, is about as good a book about an artist as can be imagined. There’s Nick Tosches’s Hellfire, about Jerry Lee Lewis; Lawrence Weschler’s Robert Irwin–obsessed Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees; and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage on D. H. Lawrence. And there are more. But Shakey is the most important to me because it is as much about the field of humans and emotions around an artist as it is about Young, and this includes the author himself, who is conflicted and outraged as he tries to deal with Young on an aesthetic, intellectual, and moral (this last bit being the trickiest) level. McDonough wanted too much from his idol/subject, but in a way that is perfectly understandable. The problem, as Christopher would say, is that sometimes you have to turn your back on your life in order to make art. That doesn’t always make for nice human moments.
In any case, Shakey beats the hell out of the recent Keith Richards autobio, which is fucking brutal. I’m amazed he published it. Usually with these kinds of books, there’s some kind of arc to it, some realization or redemption after all the action. Not here. It’s mostly unremitting destruction: of himself, of the people around him, of his talent. It is, as Keith might say, a fucking bummer, man. At least Richards doesn’t really pretend there is romance there. But the level of unself-consciousness reaches staggering levels. What Richards leaves out (apologies, regrets, sadness) is as telling as what he leaves in (blow jobs, heroin, death). Then again, the descriptions of music-making are top notch and moving, in the sense that if you believe him, you believe this beast sometimes finds grace in open-tuned guitars and groovy chord sequences. But he’s a beast nonetheless.
July 23, 2010 | by The Paris Review
What we’ve been reading this week.
I was keen to catch a glimpse of what is being called the “last comic” of Harvey Pekar, which is a collaboration with Tara Seibel, a Cleveland cartoonist and graphic designer. Seibel’s story of her final moment with Pekar is comforting in its ordinariness: she dropped him off at the public library, where he had parked his car. —Thessaly La Force
Jackson Lears’ marvelous review of Alan Brinkley’s less-marvelous dual biography of Henry Luce and Time, Inc. The book has been a strange mirror for reviewers: when The New Yorker handled the book, it did so as a shadow portrait of Eustace Tilley; when The New York Times did, it became a book about the challenges facing newspapermen in the digital era. But Lears sees something bigger than himself reflected in the story of Luce and his mid-century behemoth. “Few men have more fully embodied the tense alliance between the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” he writes. “He preached a civil religion for an emerging affluent society.” —David Wallace-Wells
It’s douche bag, not douchebag, according to a former New York Magazine copy editor. But my favorite testimony from the trenches is still this Q&A with The New Yorker's Mary Norris. Some tidbits: she will always regret making Oliver Sacks spell sulfur the American way (instead of sulpher); there’s a staff writer who consistently spells annihilate with one “n”; and even the best are confused by the difference between “lie” and “lay.” —T. L.
Also, the ever-serious Jeffrey Rosen on the punishing frivolity of life on the Internet; theologian David B. Hart on theologician Marilynne Robinson; and a charming Esquire feature on gamesmanship and The Price Is Right. —D. W. W.
For my sins I've been reading Seymour Krim’s 1970 collection Shake it for the World. Krim was what used to be called an “underground” critic. He wrote for the Voice and the New American Review; I read him to remember how dead that world is now. Half this collection is a sustained rant against James Jones and Norman Mailer (“... now this hip young literary snatch was carrying on about Barbary Shore in a way that would have offended Mailer himself. I lost my trick of the evening because of the stone I turned to after this Mailer-infected preacherette thrust him at me like the sacrament . . . ” etc., etc., etc.) Nowadays I suppose he'd be a blogger, like the rest of us. Every once in a while, though, Krim gets off a zinger. For instance when the New Yorker theater critic John McCarten calls Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf “a vulgar mishmash.” Writes Krim: “What Irishman is kidding what Jew?” One misses that kind of thing, a little. —Lorin Stein