Posts Tagged ‘death’
May 13, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The forecast is calling for more rain this weekend. Why not stay in and curl up with a cup of organic fair-trade tea and a nice, laminated U.S. Geological Survey topographical map? Tom Vanderbilt does it from time to time: “For the past number of years, I have been collecting the U.S.G.S.’s maps, treating them as eminently affordable pieces of American art. A favorite is the 1977 map of Eureka, Calif., which contrasts, in stunning dualism, the rugged bathymetry of the Pacific Ocean against the rolling hills of Humboldt County’s redwood forests … On some gray afternoons, sequestered in my Brooklyn apartment, I will pull out, say, a map of Arches National Park, spread it over my kitchen table and trace imaginary pathways across airbrushed depictions of reddish sandstone with my finger … The beauty intrinsic to these maps is the byproduct of an entirely different mode of production, the last gasp of an antiquated way of representing the world.”
- While we’re on government-generated weekend-reading material: if you’re feeling morbid, you could try, instead, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s catalog of the ways people have died on the job. Something about its bland, administrative style makes it a chillingly effective memento mori: “Worker was crushed when tractor he was driving, pulling a bin dumper full of pomegranates, fell onto its side. Worker was possibly trying to make a U-turn while going too fast … Worker was engulfed after standing on a pile of beans at a bean plant … Worker was crushed by a rack of baked goods … Worker was eating lunch and swallowed a bee … ”
- Well before the likes of Alan Turing, the notion of artificial intelligence came alive in automata, i.e., self-moving machines. The first robots were, in a sense, waterworks. Jessica Riskin writes: “Many involved elaborate networks of siphons that activated various actions as the water passed through them, especially figures of birds drinking, fluttering, and chirping … Waterworks, including but not limited to ones using siphons, were probably the most important category of automata in antiquity and the middle ages. Flowing water conveyed motion to a figure or set of figures by means of levers or pulleys or tripping mechanisms of various sorts. A late twelfth-century example by an Arabic automaton-maker named Al-Jazari is a peacock fountain for handwashing, in which flowing water triggers little figures to offer the washer first a dish of perfumed soap powder, then a hand towel.”
- Claudia Rankine remembers facing young adulthood with Adrienne Rich as a lodestar: “As a nineteen-year-old, I read in Rich and Baldwin a twinned dissatisfaction with systems invested in a single, dominant, oppressive narrative. My initial understanding of feminism and racism came from these two writers in the same weeks and months … By my late twenties, in the early nineteen-nineties, I was in graduate school at Columbia University and came across Rich’s recently published An Atlas of the Difficult World. I approached the volume thinking I knew what it would hold, but found myself transported by Rich’s profound exploration of ethical loneliness. Rich called forward voices created in a precarious world. And though the term ‘ethical loneliness’ would come to me years later, from the work of the critic Jill Stauffer, I understood Rich to be drawing into her stanzas the voices of those who have been, in the words of Stauffer, ‘abandoned by humanity compounded by the experience of not being heard.’”
- It’s one thing to translate a dead author, who can no longer quibble with your decisions—but a living author is another matter entirely. “The few living authors I’ve translated,” Lydia Davis says in a new interview with Liesl Schillinger, “tend to be very modest and self-effacing, like Snijders and Blanchot, so they’ll say, Whatever you think is best, this is really your work, that sort of thing. I have had friends who have had very different experiences with authors, who say, No, that’s not it at all, and virtually force them to write in a way that they’re not happy writing. I’ve had times when I wished an author were still alive, especially in the case of Michel Leiris, so I could ask, What exactly did you mean? Actually, Leiris sent me a couple of postcards that I framed. His handwriting is great, black spidery old man’s handwriting. As I remember, he said something like, I’m here to help in any way I can. I don’t think I took advantage of his offer, which is something I really regret, now.”
April 29, 2016 | by Robert P. Baird
Jenny Diski died yesterday. You might have discovered that fact if you happened to visit the London Review of Books, where Diski published essays, reviews, and blog posts for nearly twenty-five years. Or maybe, like me, you learned it on Twitter, where, hours before the obituaries arrived, old tweets of Diski’s, some of them years out of date, started swirling back into circulation. They joined a tumble of appreciative links and quotations, an accumulation whose size quickly disqualified the possibility of happy coincidence. This is how death announces itself now, at least for the artists who don’t rate a breaking-news alert on our phones: a surge of mentions on social media, a collective attempt to plug up the vacuum of absence with digital abundance. For a moment you think you’ve lucked into an outpouring of spontaneous enthusiasm. Finally! you tell yourself. We’re talking about her now! But then quickly enough the rational brain reasserts itself and begins working down the checklist: Are they handing out Nobels today? A genius grant, maybe? Was someone quoted by Beyoncé? No? Oh. Oh, no. Read More »
April 21, 2016 | by Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poem “Morning Street” appeared in our Fall 1986 issue. He is considered by some to be the greatest Portuguese-language poet of all time.
The splashing rain
unearthed my father.
I never imagined
him buried thus,
to the din of trolleys
on an asphalt street
giant palm trees slanting on the beach
(and a voice from sleep
to stroke my hair),
as melodies wash up
with lost money
old papers, glasses, pearls.
To see him exposed
to the damp, acrid air,
that drifts in with the tide
and cuts your breath,
to wish to love him
to cover him with kisses, with flowers, with swallows,
to alter time
to offer the warm
of a quiet embrace
from this elderly recluse,
and a lamb-like truce.
To feel the lack
of inborn strengths
to want to carry him
to the older sofa
of a bygone ranch,
but splashes of rain
but sheets of mud beneath reddish street lamps
but all that exists
of morning and wind
between one nature and another
yawning sheds by the docks
What should a man do
(a taste of defeat
in his mouth, in the air)
in whatever place?
Everything spoken, drunk, or even pretended
and the rest still buried
in the folds of sleep,
the wet glare of streets
newspapers already white,
trying to spawn
conditions for hope
on this gray day, of a broken lament.
Nothing left to remind me
of the seamless asphalt.
my body shivers
abruptly, the walk home.
—Translated from the Portuguese by Thomas Colchie
March 10, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Trawling through eBay recently, I came across a folder of sample funeral cards from the early twentieth century. As near as I can tell, salesmen would roam from funeral home to funeral home peddling these to undertakers, who would in turn press them on bereaved families. They were standard thank-you notes, essentially—“The family of _________ will hold in grateful remembrance your Spiritual Bouquet and kind expression of sympathy”—but unattached to any death in particular, their messages were gauche, even funny. That they were framed in advertising copy didn’t help. Imagine: Someone you love dies, and before you can even pick out the announcement cards, you have to read sentences like “Genuine engraving achieves its inherent beauty from a correlation of width and depth which no other process possesses.” As a character in Terry Southern’s The Loved One says: “Death has become a middle-class business. There’s no future in it.” Read More »
February 23, 2016 | by Michelle Stacey
The enduring mystery of Keats’s last words.
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
For skies Italian ...
—John Keats, “Happy is England! I Could Be Content,” 1817
Among the dozens of fountains in Rome, the Trevi may be the most famous, but the Barcaccia in the Piazza di Spagna arguably has a lock on the most poignant. Commissioned in 1629, it sits at the foot of the Scalinata, or Spanish Steps, swarmed by hordes of tourists in high season. Boat shaped to commemorate the spot where, in the historic flood of 1598, the Tiber River reached its highest level and improbably deposited a river barque in the square, the Barcaccia now seems a light-hearted way station, an oasis on a hot Latin day.
But nearly two centuries ago, the fountain played a far different role for one particular admirer, a transplant from England who roomed in an apartment above the steps and listened incessantly to the murmurings of its waters. To this visitor, the Barcaccia was a temporary lifeline during a few dark winter months at the turn of 1821, as he coughed and spluttered his way to a tragically early death. That doomed young man, as devotees of English Romantic poetry know, was John Keats, and the apartment where the poet, barely twenty-five, breathed his last from tuberculosis, on February 23, 1821, is now the Keats-Shelley House, a meticulously kept museum and scholarly library founded in 1909. It’s there, in the room where Keats died, that you will find the key to a misapprehension—one could almost say a lie—about his life and death that has been promulgated, literally written in stone, since 1823. Read More »
February 22, 2016 | by Adrienne Raphel
Writing the SparkNotes for Go Set a Watchman.
The summer when I was eight, I read two books: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird. My copy of Mockingbird was a cheap lilac paperback. Its cover featured the knot of a tree with a pocket watch and a ball of yarn inside, a mockingbird stamped in silhouette. In the corner, a crescent moon as thin as a tea-stain rose above a clot of green trees.
I lived inside that book. I read it, reread it, and reread it again, sitting in an attic bedroom of my grandparents’ house, hunched on the green shag carpet. I remember the book in discrete images: Dill’s duckweed-like tufts of hair. Slimy Mr. Ewell leering at his daughter. Miss Maudie’s house going up in flames, like a pumpkin, and her prized azaleas frozen and charred in the aftermath. Crotchety, liver-spotted Mrs. Dubose with her perfect camellias, ivory and globular against the glossy leaves. The day when Jem, in a sudden rampage, snatches Scout’s baton and shears off all the buds and flowers on the camellia bushes. And then, when Mrs. Dubose dies, the white box that her servant gives to Jem with one pristine, waxy camellia resting inside. To Kill a Mockingbird showed me how to create a fully realized, sensory world. Read More »