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Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’

What’s the Use?

July 21, 2015 | by

Celebrity and oblivion in the Goncourt brothers.

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Edmund and Jules Goncourt.

Few documents provide as comprehensive—or as caustic—a view of celebrity as the diary of the Goncourt brothers, Jules and Edmond. Chronicling literary Paris from 1851 to 1896, The Journal of the de Goncourts features enough searing bons mots and scandal mongering to make Gawker look like a Sunday school brochure. In one entry from 1852, the famed cross-dressing novelist and amoureuse George Sand threatens to “publish an account” of the behavior of her son-in-law, the sculptor Clésinger; he is quick to reply: “then I’ll do a carving of your backside. And everybody’ll recognize it.” The novelist, playwright, and bohemian Villiers de l’Isle-Adam is described as having “the face of an opium addict or a masturbator”; Edmond de Goncourt dismisses Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality, like his poetry, as a “plagiarism from Verlaine.”

Whether or not one is familiar with the poets, novelists, and absintheuses of Haussmannian Paris, to read the Goncourt brothers is to plunge headlong into a world of bitter rivalries and bitterer friendships, in which every gathering around a café table on the Grands Boulevards is a chance to raise one’s status in the byzantine literary hierarchy. “Here,” as Christopher Isherwood put it, “gossip achieves the epigrammatic significance of poetry.” Of course, such a cynical, self-satisfied perspective can grate. André Gide, writing on the Goncourts’ novels, excoriated their style as pathologically shallow—a Perez Hilton of the Passages des Panoramas: “It is impossible to read a page by them where that good opinion they have of themselves does not burst out from between the lines.” Read More »

Sailing with Faulkner

April 13, 2015 | by

Welty watering in her garden.

Eudora Welty watering in her garden.

A letter from Eudora Welty to Jean Stafford, September 2, 1949. Faulkner and Welty had met once before, when she presented him with the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction.

William Faulkner took us sailing on his sailboat on a big inland lake they’ve cut out of the woods there—waves and everything, big. We were late getting there—got lost and went to Blackjack, Miss.—and then when we found the lake there was Faulkner, cruising around, and headed right for us, through the dead cypresses and stumps and all, pulled down his sail and took the oar, and hollered, “You all better take your shoes off and get ready to wade,” which we did, sinking—got pulled on board and then we all sailed around, all quiet and nice—what a wonderful person he is, the most profound face, something that nearly breaks your heart though, just in the clasp of his hand—a strange kind of life he leads in Oxford, two lives really. We never, either time I’ve been with him, talked about anything bookish of course—it’s his life, not his opinions,—that seems to be with you all the time. He can do or make anything, and can sail beautifully. We got in his 20 year old Ford touring car which he hunts and fishes and goes over the farm in, with holes in the floor (“well, I know where all the holes are”) and when we couldn’t open a back door he said, “There’s a cupboard latch on it,” you ought to see that car.

Conservative Radicals

March 26, 2015 | by

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Frost on Meet the Press in 1955.

First, a general note: At what point do we stop celebrating the birthdays of the deceased? Yes, Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874, and yes, that would make him 141 today—had not death intervened in 1963, when, at eighty-eight, Frost had already been around for a good while. At a certain point, can’t we just say that today is “the anniversary of his birth”? The word birthday no longer seems to apply—in the normal range of things, it starts to feel a bit macabre. One begins to imagine cakes and party hats on gravestones. Read More »

The Year in Review (and in Orbit), and Other News

December 10, 2014 | by

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The Cocos Fire, San Diego County, May 15, captured by a DigitalGlobe satellite. Image via Slate

  • “Time and again we hear about a new desire for the real, about a realism which is realistic set against an avant-garde which isn’t, and so on … It seems to me meaningless, or at least unproductive, to discuss such things unless, to borrow a formulation from the ‘realist’ writer Raymond Carver, we first ask what we talk about when we talk about the real. Perhaps we should have another look at the terms ‘the real,’ ‘reality’ and ‘realism.’ ”
  • On David Lynch’s paintings and drawings: “Lynch has long been the American director with the most direct pipeline to his unconscious—his graphic work suggests the doodles of an extravagantly disturbed child … The implied or explicit subject of these paintings is often arson, rape, or murder, but in Lynch’s work, merely existing is a violent affair.”
  • The year in satellite images: snapshots from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 and WorldView-3 satellites captured erupting volcanoes, protests, melting glaciers, music festivals, and, most chillingly, wildfires—from 480 miles up, a landscape on fire looks more like it’s covered in blood.
  • Slava Polunin is Russia’s “best-known artistic clown,” and now he’s taking his act on the road. “His reaction to events, he insists, is best seen in his portrayal of the human condition … He thinks Samuel Beckett ‘had the human condition about right, but there is no need to be miserable about that.’ Audiences watch a mime character preparing for suicide with a noose—and end up cheering a finale involving a ticker-tape storm and giant colored balls, against a haunting, electronic soundscape.”
  • “In a poll conducted by Variety in August, the five most influential celebrities among Americans age thirteen to eighteen were all YouTube stars. Ryan Higa, KSI, Smosh, Jenna Marbles, and other YouTubers with equally absurd names were all more popular than notable old person Leonardo DiCaprio. The highest-ranking movie star, Jennifer Lawrence, lagged well behind someone named PewDiePie, a Swedish twenty-five-year-old who films himself cracking jokes while playing video games. His videos have been seen more than 6.5 billion times, making his the most viewed channel of all time—bigger than Beyoncé, bigger than Bieber.”

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Make Your Dream City a Reality, and Other News

October 6, 2014 | by

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A seventeenth-century map of Palmanova, Italy, a medieval star fort.

  • Wyatt Mason profiles Marilynne Robinson: “Somebody who had read Lila asked me, ‘Why do you write about the problem of loneliness?’ I said: ‘It’s not a problem. It’s a condition. It’s a passion of a kind. It’s not a problem. I think that people make it a problem by interpreting it that way.’ ”
  • How do outlandish ideas in architecture become reality? “The cities we live in need not have been as they are. In fact, they aren’t as they are. There’s a strange desperate hope in realizing how much of life is fiction.”
  • Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s novels—her latest, The Big Green Tent, appears in the U.S. next year—challenge the Russian state, taking on subjects that make many readers uncomfortable. “A book can be an inspiration or a murder weapon. Ulitskaya is fascinated by these transformations, but even more so by the peculiar trajectories that create fate—the travels of a person, a picture, a book. If there is a strange journey to be traced, she cannot resist the retelling.”
  • The e-book is an unstable medium: in a given edition, publishers are always swapping out advertisements, modifying content, rescinding access, or upgrading technology. So how do libraries preserve e-books? “Everyone knows that if we don’t do something now, we’ll be in big trouble later.”
  • Manufacturing stardom, then and now: “Trying to create a coherent image is always going to be the same, no matter if the star is from the 1930s or 2010s … Beyonce is producing an image using Tumblr and Instagram, which obviously stars in the thirties didn’t have, but she’s still trying to create a very specific understanding of the type of woman that she is. She’s trying to also make it seem like there isn’t a publicity campaign and that she’s not doing that, which was also done in the 1930s.”

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Dead Authors’ Homes

August 20, 2014 | by

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Salinger’s old house. Photo: Jim Mauchly / Mountain Graphics Photography

The literary real-estate market is booming. In May, Ray Bradbury’s house was for sale (Los Angeles, California; 2,500 square feet; $1.495 million). Then, in July, John Cheever’s house was for sale (Ossining, New York; 2,688 square feet; $525,000). At the time, you may have kicked yourself for failing to act on those—maybe you couldn’t scrape together the funds in time, or maybe you thought, Well, surely some other Dead Author’s Home will come along soon enough, and that will be the Dead Author’s Home for me.

You’re in luck: as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Page Six, and others, J. D. Salinger’s house is for sale, and it’s the most capacious authorial domicile yet (Cornish, New Hampshire; 2,900 square feet; $679,000).

The home’s current owner, Joan Littlefield, told the Valley News, a New Hampshire paper, that “she had been considering advertising the house, which she bought in the 1980s, in The New Yorker, in the hopes of attracting literary types.” To go by the coverage the property’s received, she has the right idea. But what does it mean to want to live in a dead writer’s house? When does fandom devolve into idolatry? 

You might suppose that an ardent admirer of Salinger’s would have much to gain by inhabiting his private space—writerly inspiration, maybe, or a deeper connection to the work, or even just a constant, salubrious mental patter. (It’s another fine morning in J. D.’s kitchen, the satisfied homeowner thought.) Read More »

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