Posts Tagged ‘books’
October 24, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The history of books bound in human skin is tied, as so many terrifying things are, to the history of medicine. As Megan Rosenbloom writes, doctors in eighteenth-century France had a nasty habit of serving as arms of the state: “Doctors sometimes removed the skins of infamous murderers and used them to bind books about their deeds—a fact well known enough to serve as a kind of deterrent … The increase in the number of patients doctors saw regularly gave them a greater body of clinical experience to draw upon, but it also pulled focus away from individual patients, their stories, and how those stories shaped the clinical encounter. Michel Foucault wrote in The Birth of the Clinic that this structure led to the development of the clinical gaze, where diagnostic science and stresses of the job contributed to doctors viewing patients as disembodied symptoms, diseases, and organs instead of as fellow human beings. The book bound in human skin could serve as an example of that tendency. Patients’ skins became raw material for binding a doctor’s prized books instead of the thin membrane between a human’s internal workings and the outside world—an erasure of individuals with families and inalienable rights.”
- As a fan of early web art, I browse the Internet exclusively on a 1996 Packard Bell PC running Windows 95 and Netscape Navigator 2.0, thus guaranteeing that I see these works as their artists intended them to be seen. But evolving software and infrastructure is making it harder and harder to preserve the web art of the nineties and aughts—so much so that an ambitious archival project is in order. Frank Rose writes, “In the early days of the web, art was frequently a cause and the internet was an alternate universe in which to pursue it. Two decades later, preserving this work has become a mission. As web browsers and computer operating systems stopped supporting the software tools they were built with, many works have fallen victim to digital obsolescence. Later ones have been victims of arbitrary decisions by proprietary internet platforms—as when YouTube deleted Petra Cortright’s video ‘VVEBCAM’ on the grounds that it violated the site’s community guidelines. Even the drip paintings Jackson Pollock made with house paint have fared better than art made by manipulating electrons.”
October 21, 2016 | by The Paris Review
When the paleologist Christopher de Hamel first conceived Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, he wanted to call it Interviews with Manuscripts, but his publisher wouldn’t let it fly. His pitch, eccentric though it may be, was that encountering texts like The Copenhagen Psalter and The Hours of Jeanne de Navarre in their original forms, deep in the bowels of the world’s most esoteric and inaccessible libraries, is not unlike interviewing famous celebrities in their current homes. “The idea of this book, then,” he writes in the introduction, “is to invite the reader to accompany the author on a private journey to see, handle and interview some of the finest illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.” For how seriously De Hamel takes the premise—and he takes it, like, aggressively seriously—Meetings can feel, somewhat hilariously, like big-league manuscript porn: “As you sit in the reading-room of a library turning the pages of some dazzlingly illuminated volume,” he says, “you can sense a certain respect from your fellow students on neighboring tables consulting more modest books or archives.” Each of the book’s twelve studies is meticulously researched, and De Hamel showcases them with such self-evident joy that they’re irresistibly immersive. —Daniel Johnson
We featured a portfolio of the artist Marc Yankus’s “Secret Lives of Buildings” series in our Winter 2014 issue. Last week, Yankus packed the newly relocated ClampArt gallery for his fifth solo show, up through November 26. His new work furthers his obsession with New York’s architecture; once again, Yankus plays with geometry, texture, and ornament, tricking the eye with his masterful and often painterly attention to brick and mortar—obsessively blurring the lines between photography and illustration. Yankus seems to bring out the very best in these buildings, some that we’re so familiar with that we have ceased really seeing them. His work asks us to take a second look—and the images are imbued with optimism and splendor at a time when it’s often difficult to feel uplifted. Yankus has left behind the sandpaper tones and textures from his last body of work, introducing more light through a whitewashing effect. The sheer scale of some of the prints gives the impression that you could easily step, like Alice through the looking glass, from the gallery floor into one of Yankus’s deserted streets. —Charlotte Strick Read More »
October 19, 2016 | by Alex Cocotas
Sven owns thirty thousand cookbooks. Why does Sven own thirty thousand cookbooks? He could not tell you.
He will tell you that he likes to cook, that he can taste a recipe by reading it, that he likes going to flea markets, that he started buying cookbooks when he was twenty-two, but nothing he tells you will really explain how he came to own thirty thousand of them. He is a collector, and that’s all you can say. If you are also a collector, this impulse needs no further explanation. If you are not a collector, you sit with Sven for three hours trying to tease out the secret of this impulse in vain. I am not a collector. Read More »
October 14, 2016 | by The Paris Review
The first thing—maybe the only thing—we all learn about art history is that standards of beauty change. The ideal body gets fatter or thinner, different body parts get emphasized or flattered away—and the fashions of the time serve this ideal. At least, that’s how we usually think. Recently I’ve gone back to Anne Hollander’s 1978 masterpiece Seeing Through Clothes, which turns that way of thinking on its head. When we look at a nude body, Hollander argues, we are always seeing the clothes that aren’t there, whether we know it or not. The big pregnant-looking belly on an early Renaissance Eve is meant to support the heavy woolen gathers of a gown. The “unaccountable hummocks of flesh” on a Rubens nude evoke the satin she doesn’t have on. Whether Hollander writes about dresses or men’s tailoring or classical drapery, she leads us, like no other historian I’ve read, into the erotic imagination of the past. Seeing Through Clothes blew my mind when I first read it twenty years ago, and now it’s keeping me up late all over again. —Lorin Stein
One day during Salvador Dalí’s first visit to New York City in 1934, he woke “at six in the morning … after a long dream involving eroticism and lions.” He was surprised by the insistence of the lions’ roars—the savage cries of his dreams, which were so different than what he expected in a “modern and mechanical” city. Reading this, I thought of the Surrealist master dreaming of great orange cats roaring in his ears. But the roars weren’t in his imagination: he and his wife, Gala, were staying near the Central Park Zoo, and he discovered at breakfast that the sounds were real. It’s amusing to read Dalí’s impressions of the city, which he gives in his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. During his stay, he hops from one cocktail party to another, drinks in a Harlem night club, attends a “surrealist ball,” visits an exhibition of his works, and does a fine bit of walking “all alone in the heart of New York.” Here’s his take on the city’s skyscrapers: “Each evening [they] assume the anthropomorphic shapes of multiple gigantic Millet’s Angeluses … motionless and ready to perform the sexual act and devour one another, like swarms of praying mantes before copulation.” —Caitlin Love Read More »
October 11, 2016 | by Robert Polito
Readers of The Paris Review will remember Kristin Dombek’s essay “Letter from Williamsburg,” one of our perennial favorites. In August, Dombek published her first book, The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, a diagnosis of our attention-starved culture and its fixation on self-absorption. The book covers everything from Bram Stoker to My Super Sweet 16; the New York Times calls it “sharply argued, knottily intelligent, darkly funny cultural criticism.” Dombek spoke to Robert Polito, the poet, biographer, and critic, about “the mysteries of ethos, when and why we trust and distrust who we do, in life and in writing.” —The Editors
When I talk to fellow nonfiction writers, I’m always interested in how they locate themselves along the prose or argument continuum. When you sit down to write an essay, are you primarily thinking prose—sentences, words, tone—or are you thinking argument, what you might wish to say about a subject? And are you the sort of nonfiction writer who plans, or even outlines, or is the writing more improvisatory and about discovery for you ?
Usually an essay begins with an argument, for me. Not a linear argument, in the sense of a line of reasoning, but an argument as in two people or groups shouting at each other, but in my head. The dumber the disagreement, the more I want to kind of explode it and discover what it covers up, find better language for what life is really like. In this case, the disagreement was narcissism is the opposite of human—i.e., a total lack of warmth, empathy, “human” feeling—versus narcissism is everybody. Usually, what’s next is scene, where the language of the essay gets discovered, and the idea. Often an editor helps to lay bare the structure that will let the idea happen, rather than being told to the reader.
But in this book, at least in its final version, I wasn’t working in scenes but rather channeling kinds of Internet and academic language that aren’t really my own, and kind of sculpting that language like material. So there is so much telling, summary, which is painful for me to read. There wasn’t a reasonable progression of ideas, but on one axis, a progression of kinds of language, and then on the other, a slow panning out from the trapped, limited perspective of fearful, solitary, listicle-fueled diagnosis to a broader view, and poetry. Read More »
September 16, 2016 | by The Paris Review
In place of our staff picks this week, we’ve asked five contributors from our new Fall issue to write about what they’re reading.
After a long dry spell, my interest in reading renewed recently when I read the opening lines of Rachel Cusk’s forthcoming book, Transit: “An astrologer e-mailed me to say she had important news for me concerning events in my immediate future. She could see things that I could not: my personal details had come into her possession and had allowed her to study the planets for their information. She wished me to know a major transit was due to occur shortly in my sky.” As readers of Outline will know, Cusk absorbs other people’s stories, letting them rest in her mind and retelling them as her own. In one section of Transit, the narrator has a student over to her house. The student is in her late thirties, and has three hundred thousand words of notes about the painter Marsden Hartley, whose work she saw once in Paris. Marsden Hartley and the student are, the student says testily, the same person. After asking a few questions about the student’s research, the narrator asks her what happened the night before she saw the paintings. The next sixteen pages are the story of that night. I admire and envy Rachel Cusk for her maturity and her shameless intelligence, and her coldhearted willingness to steal stories from her students. —Amie Barrodale (“Protectors”)
I’ve been (very slowly) reading and enjoying Richard Brody’s Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard after a recent rewatching of Pierrot le Fou. My girlfriend and I were actually trying to watch a Rohmer movie, but the Internet stream kept cutting out, so we turned to our scattered DVD collection. The low-key charm of Full Moon in Paris gave way to the hyperactive extravagance of Pierrot, and neither of us was at all sure how we felt about the change in tone. We were simultaneously overstimulated and a little bit bored. We wondered how seriously we were supposed to take any of it; somehow it had all made a lot more sense when we first saw it in college. An incident described early on in Everything Is Cinema presages our viewing experience. Before either Godard or Rohmer had made a full-length film, Godard directed All the Boys Are Called Patrick, a short film based on a script of Rohmer’s. “Little in the film suggests that Godard had any particular devotion to the story,” Brody writes. “Eric Rohmer was surprised and dismayed by the changes Godard had wrought upon his script and ended their collaboration.” —Andrew Martin (“No Cops”)Read More »