Posts Tagged ‘Britain’
June 13, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the grim aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, Richard Kim pays tribute to gay bars as institutions: “My first gay bar was Crowbar. Like all great gay bars, Crowbar was a dump: dark, low-ceilinged, shitty sound system. It was off Tompkins Square Park and Avenue B, when Tompkins Square Park was still a place you’d go to to buy drugs. It smelled like mildew, urine, cheap vodka, and Designer Imposters body spray. It’s long gone—made extinct like too many wonders by gentrification and Giuliani—but for a hot moment in the ’90s, it was the single most fabulous place in the galaxy. Dance moves were invented there. People went in, and when they came out, they weren’t just drunk—they were different people. That’s how powerful its juju was … Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression.”
- The language of the skies is like the language of the road, but less profane … more altitudinous. Mark Vanhoenacker, a pilot, calls it Aeroese, and has a longstanding fondness for it: “We’re instructed to pronounce three as ‘TREE’ and nine as ‘NINER’, and 25,000 as ‘two-five thousand’ (more specifically, ‘TOO FIFE TOUSAND’), not ‘twenty-five thousand’, because experience has shown that these modified pronunciations are less likely to be misunderstood. Or, when a controller knows you’re waiting to speak, they won’t say, ‘go ahead’, because that could indicate approval of something they didn’t hear you ask for. Instead they’ll say: ‘Pass your message.’ If all this sounds prescriptive and rigid, it is. Our exchanges are almost purely transactional. There’s no fat in the system, because it would take up precious airtime, and at worst it might introduce confusion. ‘The excessive use of courtesies should be avoided,’ warn our dour manuals.”
- Today in British people and their zany British pastimes: let us not forget that in centuries past they pursued an obsession with follies, i.e., pointless, decorative buildings: “Follies could take many forms. An occupied hermitage, of course, but ruined castles, kiosks, cottages, pyramids, altars, temples of virtue, alcoves, sepulchers, labyrinths, pavilions, pagodas and towers were all part of the repertoire … Follies had to be eye-catching. That was the whole point … Perhaps the last great folly was built in the mid-1930s at Faringdon by Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Lord Berners … Berners understood his business: he explained to the planning inspectors, ‘The great point of the tower is that it will be entirely useless.’ Maybe not: today you can find a notice that says, ‘Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk.’ ”
- Just when you start to believe that you know what you like, you use the Internet, and come to see that your preferences are as illusive as anything else about you. Louis Menand writes about the havoc that algorithms have wrought on taste: “Taste is not congenital: we don’t inherit it. And it’s not consistent. We come to like things we thought we hated (or actually did hate), and we are very poor predictors of what we are likely to like in the future … Understanding how traffic works is made exponentially more complicated by the fact that it’s not just one person who is barely paying attention; all the drivers on the road are barely paying attention, and they’re also reacting to each other. The same is true of taste. The reason stuff you don’t like is out there is that other people do like it.”
- They made a movie about Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe, and they called it Genius? Oh, this can’t miss! Except that the film “depicts creation via furious montage. Tom stands at the refrigerator scribbling. Max jabs and plucks at pages of typescript. Bourbon and martinis are consumed. Cigarettes are smoked. Women come and go … Genius sighs with palpable nostalgia for a supposed golden age of masculine artistic potency and paints the struggle for self-expression in familiar sentimental colors. For Tom, writing is the unbridled expression of the life force, something [Jude] Law indicates by hollering and gesticulating and allowing a stray lock of hair to fall just so across his brow.”
May 19, 2016 | by Edward White
Frank Buckland wanted to save—and eat—as many animals as possible.
This is the first entry in Edward White’s The Lives of Others, a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history. He has previously written for the Daily on Carl Van Vechten and rugby.
Every now and then, even Charles Darwin was dumbfounded by the mysteries of the natural world. On those occasions, he reached out for enlightenment to a repertory cast of scientific correspondents, one of whom was Francis Trevelyan Buckland, a raffish, tousle-haired star of the natural-history craze that befell Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. The two made for unlikely pen pals: if Darwin was the dour, sincere prophet who transformed humanity’s appreciation of its place in the universe, Buckland was a professional eccentric, as much showman as scientist. Although he did groundbreaking work in pisciculture (the breeding of fish), Buckland was perhaps best known as a lecturer, beguiling huge audiences with his left-field takes on botany, zoology, and human anatomy. As a general rule, the weirder the subject, the more likely Buckland was to have something to say about it: the fighting behavior of newts, the cannibalistic propensities of rats, the best method for killing a boa constrictor, gigantism, walking fish, flea circuses, conjoined twins (he was a good friend of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins), the uses of human hair as manure, and pagan burial rites. Tellingly, it was Buckland to whom Darwin turned to verify a claim that a dog and a lion had successfully bred in rural Russia. Read More »
May 5, 2016 | by Max Nelson
John Cleland wrote his (very) erotic novel, Fanny Hill, in prison. What did he mean by it?
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Merle Haggard and the long tradition of the outlaw poet, here.
John Cleland’s sentences often resemble the sexual encounters he imagined in his best-known book—a two-volume novel called Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Fanny Hill, published when he was in debtor’s prison between 1748 and 1749, reissued in a censored edition the following year, and presented in both cases as an autobiographical letter by a former courtesan named Fanny Hill. A typical Cleland sentence goes on past any moderate end point, “wedging [itself] up to the utmost extremity.” It makes unexpected, spasmodic, sometimes baffling detours, “exalted by the charm of their novelty and surprise.” It drifts so far into the ridiculous that sometimes it seems “that on earth”—as Cleland’s heroine comments in one passage about the “women of quality” she and her colleagues once wanted to resemble—“there cannot subsist anything more silly, more flat, more insipid and worthless.” But then it keeps going, escalating until it seems to have been “driven forcibly out of the power of using any art.” Read More »
April 28, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
April 13, 2016 | by Jonathan Wilson
My week with the late Howard Marks, drug smuggler and author.
In June 1995, on a magazine assignment that never came to fruition, I flew to Palma, Majorca, to spend a week with Howard Marks. He was just out of prison then, having served seven of a twenty-five year sentence on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations charges at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Howard’s backstory was well known in the UK, but less so in the U.S., despite a Frontline documentary on his worldwide marijuana smuggling. As a young working-class Welsh philosophy student at Oxford, Howard had started out as a small-time dealer and, in his smart, amiable way, worked his way up the ladder to become a bona-fide drug kingpin, a Robin Hood to stoners across the British Isles. “Mr. Nice,” as one of his aliases had it, dealt only in soft drugs; today he might be an upstanding citizen of Washington or Colorado. To the everlasting chagrin of the British police, he beat the rap once at the Old Bailey—he’d been caught moving fifteen tons of dope from a fishing trawler off the Irish coast onto dry land—by offering the unimpeachable defense that he’d been working for MI6 at the time. He was not a drug smuggler, he said, but a narc. Read More »
April 12, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in things you didn’t know you wanted: scenes from Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, reconstructed with Legos. Throw in some gravlax on an IKEA plate and you’d have a veritable orgy of Scandinavian exports.
- Ever wondered what a corporate bookstore in the UK looks like? Well, friend, you needn’t book a flight to London just to check out a Waterstones. Alice Spawls went to one recently, and it wasn’t pretty: “Gifts now seem to take up as much space as books, at least on the tables, where the prettiest paperbacks are distributed among Orla Kiely pots and enamel cups … Something is working, because digital sales are down and those of paper and glue books are up, but the ephemera isn’t only disguising the books, it’s disguising the rise of the non-book book … Books can function as gift objects, lifestyle signifiers, thematic attributes; they can be non-book products too, word-based diversions, color-me distractions, bucket lists, how-tos, extensions of celebrity brands. Putting something between two covers doesn’t make it a book, and putting them on shelves doesn’t make a bookshop.”
- Poor Kafka. Even beer, which many German men have turned to in times of need, proved fraught for him: “His most joyous—and meaningful—memories of beer were of the drinking sessions he shared with his father. But these memories were also inextricably allied with the twin sites of his childhood humiliation … [His father] Hermann was a blustering bully. But the deeper problem was that father and son had such different personalities, they were like slapstick antagonists. Hermann the confident and coarse shopkeeper vs. the timid Franz, who worked in insurance (Hermann derided it as a Brotberuf, or ‘bread job’), wrote weird stories in his room, became a vegetarian, and showed no interest whatsoever in the family dry-goods store … The only time his father had a word of praise for him, wrote Kafka, was when ‘I was able to eat heartily or even drink beer with my meals’ … Beer made everything better.”
- Christina Crosby, a professor at Wesleyan, suffered a devastating bike accident that left her paralyzed. Her memoir A Body, Undone eschews the clichés of disability narratives; instead, as Michael Weinstein writes, Crosby lavishes “brutal detail on the pain of her post-accident body—of finding her sphere of movement and sensation contracted down to almost nothing—and on the slow, excruciating process of navigating her quadriplegic body’s new limits. She describes waking to find her frame cobbled together and held in place by a man-made exoskeleton: ‘My mouth was full of metal, arch bars that ran from side to side to keep the roof of my mouth from caving in—somehow the bits of bone that had been my chin were pinned together, as were other bones in my face—and I wore a very high, tight, and rigid cervical collar around my neck. I could not turn my body or sit up. I could not move my legs or feet. I could not lift my arms or use my hands, which were uselessly curled up into loose fists by atrophying muscles and tightening ligaments.’ An entire chapter is devoted to describing Crosby’s bowel program, while half of another chapter discusses her intestinal gas.”
- Jennifer Moxley on poetry, prizes, and poverty: “The poet needs money to live, but the poem needs only a reader. Which is more difficult to secure? In the history of the West, in some perverse way, a poet’s integrity has long been bound up with periodic privation, in love, in luck, in money. Publicare, the Latin root of the English ‘to publish,’ means also ‘to prostitute,’ to make public and ask money for what should remain private, whether your thoughts or your body. Perhaps the whiff of shame in making money from poetry comes from this etymological association, and drives poets to claim penury as their excuse.”