Posts Tagged ‘bodies’
February 10, 2016 | by Hannah Tennant-Moore
On the merits of disturbing literature.
In a letter to a reader who was disturbed by his novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If [Malte] contains bitter reproaches, these are absolutely not directed against life. On the contrary, they are evidences that, for lack of strength, through distraction and inherited errors we lose completely the countless earthly riches that were intended for us.”
Faced with a reader like Rilke’s, it can be hard for a writer to defend the need for “bitter reproaches”—to uphold the disturbing above the merely distasteful. After all, some “disturbing” books do nothing more than shock. Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands, for instance, is a litany of gross and obscene bodily functions that never adds up to more than grossness and obscenity. But good books disturb for good reasons. To disturb is, among other things, to guard against complacency: to make the reader face the underbelly of dark thoughts and actions, see how circumstances can make even good people go astray if they are not vigilant in honoring the best in themselves and in the outside world. Disturbing passages, when skillful, make a vital inquiry into the subtle causes and effects of human behavior. Read More »
April 28, 2015 | by Ian MacDougall
Knausgaard’s fecal fixation.
“I’ve been reading Knausgaard,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion, over this Scandinavian-grade winter, from a friend across a barroom table. And a few minutes into the conversation, almost inevitably: “There’s this part in the third book about taking a shit … ”
It came as no surprise that my friends wanted to talk My Struggle, the Norwegian novelist’s opus on the everyday in six volumes. (The fourth is out in English translation today.) But the number of those friends who zeroed in on Knausgaard’s excretory musings was another matter.
And it’s not just My Struggle. The subject reemerged earlier this year when The New York Times Magazine published “My Saga,” Knausgaard’s two-part North American travelogue, in which a jaunt on the john in a Newfoundland hotel leaves him with a hopelessly clogged toilet. He recounts the aftermath at length. The episode was at the center of Knausgaard talk.
Lest readers think this focus is a factor of the company I keep—that I surround myself with prudish types offended by bathroom scenes, fetishists attracted to them, or the scatological-humor crowd—I direct them to James Wood, a critic at a venue no less proper than The New Yorker. In an interview with Knausgaard published in the Winter 2014 issue of The Paris Review, Wood says, Read More »
January 27, 2014 | by J. Mae Barizo
It started with an ear. My right ear, to be exact, which the artist Alvin Booth had encased in a pale purple alginate. The material reminded me of blueberry yogurt, and out of the corner of my eye, I watched him scoop the stuff into my ear. We were in Booth’s Manhattan studio, where he lives with his wife, Nike Lanning. I was lying on an antique chaise longue, the type one sees in movies featuring French bordellos. Since my left ear was against the upholstery and my right was swathed in gelatinous goo, Booth’s words were hardly discernible, and at best he sounded like he was speaking from a distant room. I looked up and saw his mouth moving, a wild tousle of hair rising as he spoke.
For the last twenty years, Booth has been amassing a reservoir of work that revolves, capriciously, around the human body. I say capriciously because Booth doesn’t concern himself with the clinical characteristics of form, but rather with the corporeal aspect of the flesh, which is to say, the body erotic. His earlier work in photography has a nostalgic patina; through labor-intensive darkroom techniques, he produced sepia-toned gelatin-silver prints of nudes slathered in oil and gold powder, sometimes bound in latex. The close-ups are at once intimate, almost jarringly so, lending the photos a voyeuristic quality. In his digital works, geometric patterns are superimposed on the bodies of men, women, and sometimes children; his models often posed within a kaleidoscopic mirrored enclosure. The results are highly stylized compositions of natural forms, startling and disturbingly beautiful. Read More »
May 21, 2013 | by Henry Giardina
Like everyone else on the planet, it took me no time at all to read and form an opinion about Angelina Jolie’s recent New York Times op-ed about her preventative double mastectomy, a heartfelt piece out of which one phrase in particular struck me: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
Well of course you don’t; of course it doesn’t! I said to myself, Why on earth should it? Then I remembered the rest of the world, that vast population of people who don’t think exactly like me. It has always fascinated me to know that there are people—quite a few, in fact—to whom gender appears such a slippery property, able to be driven away by an initiative taken in the interest of physical health. What a fickle thing gender must seem to the people who actually like it!
I remembered a piece on the same subject, detailing a writer’s inability to find comfort in books after undergoing a preventative mastectomy. I’d read it a couple months before I had my own double mastectomy performed, and returned to it after the procedure was done, surprised on the second read to find how strongly and almost guiltily I still identified with it, despite the crucial differences between the author’s case and mine: that my procedure was not preventative, but elective, therefore less invasive; that I had no cancer to speak of; that my postsurgical period of aversion to books was not due to the pain of new absence, but a realization that most of the books I loved were written by people who couldn’t have comprehended or anticipated me, a person who had breasts but didn’t want them—and that suddenly this was important. In the druggy, dazed few weeks after surgery, it was extremely important to me to be anticipated, to be taken into account by the literature of the past. It was important for there to exist a body of work dealing with the peculiar sensation of waking up after a much dreamed-of, longed-for procedure and seeing the faces of one’s family, peering down into the frame of one’s vision like Terry Gilliam characters, and wearing a uniform expression that could not be farther removed from the joy of one’s own. It was important to read something about the strange problem of being approached, in the months before the surgery, by others for whom breasts had taken on a significant, largely symbolic meaning and who as such felt entitled to express their concern and disdain at the pending loss of my own. (“You have to understand,” I was told during some family fight or other, “that it’s a radical action.”) It was an urgent problem that nothing related to the exact moment I was living, that I had instead to content myself with Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male with its descriptions of persecution, pain, and delirium, which I read during recovery, somewhat defeatedly, and while delirious.
But the person for whom Angelina Jolie’s piece was doing more than stating the obvious was a person I had never really anticipated. And very likely, they are just as unaware of me. We are moving around in the same world, as close to opposites as two groups of people can be, and the fact of it seems almost absurd: that there are women who fear that something will happen in life to make them forcibly lose their gender, while those of us who are desperate to lose it can’t give it away with a set of china. Read More »