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Posts Tagged ‘Diane Arbus’

Finding the Question That Hasn’t Been Asked: An Interview with Lynne Tillman

September 11, 2014 | by

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Lynne Tillman, Second Avenue, New York City, 2013. Photograph: Mark Alice Durant.

Writing a short introduction about Lynne Tillman isn’t easy; her singular and visionary writing covers a great deal of territory. The author of twelve books, she is adept at fiction, short and long essays, cultural critique, and interviews. A sampling of just three of her books conveys the scope of her work: her novel American Genius: A Comedy follows the obsessive inner monologue of a single character for almost three hundred pages; This Is Not It is a compendium of twenty years of witty and risky novellas and short stories, some as short as a paragraph; and Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. weaves together the voices of Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, Paul Auster, Calvin Trillin, and many others to tell not just the story of the rise and fall of the iconic, well-loved Books & Co. but that of the changing landscape of publishing.

Her new book, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, is a collection of recent essays—on Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, on the lives and work of Paul and Jane Bowles, and on Edith Wharton and architecture, to name just a few—and interviews with Harry Mathews, Paula Fox, Lebanese-American writer and visual artist Etel Adnan, and German painter Peter Dreher. Each piece, whether essay or interview, is illuminated by Tillman’s wit, intellect, and curiosity. When the book was released earlier this year, Jason Diamond of Flavorwire declared 2014 to be “the year of Lynne Tillman.”

I spoke with Lynne Tillman at the New School, as part of the university’s Summer Writers Colony. Fiction and nonfiction students had spent three days reading What Would Lynne Tillman Do? and the questions I posed reflected their curiosity, as well as my own, regarding the processes and practices that allow her to transition easily between genres. Tillman was eager to answer, and the qualities that characterize her writing shone through in her answers.

In your 2009 essay, “Doing Laps Without a Pool,” you write, “I don’t want to take a position. Not taking a position is a position that acknowledges the inability to know with absolute surety, that says: Writing is like life, there are many ways of doing it, survival depends on flexibility. Anything can be on the page. What isn’t there now?” All those interesting negatives—“not taking a position,” “the inability to know,” “what isn’t there now”—reminded me of Keats’s famous letter in which he used the term negative capability. When you begin to build an essay, do you feel as if you’re exploring what you don’t know, precisely because you don’t know? Or do you begin with a firm idea or a mystery that you want to explore more deeply?

I begin nonfiction essays in a similar way to fiction. I have some questions in my mind, things that I’m interested in writing about, and in fiction I find a voice through which to do that. On the other hand, in an essay, I assay some of what I think I know, and then, as I go along, I realize that I don’t know what I thought I knew. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Sundry Practices, New Order, Flower Power

June 1, 2012 | by

The enthusiasms of our Southern editor (plus a fact-checking query from issue 201) have sent me back to Urne-Buriall, Sir Thomas Browne’s 1658 essay on the “sundry practises, fictions, and conceptions, discordant or obscure” surrounding funerals and the afterlife: “Why the Female Ghosts appear unto Ulysses before the Heroes and masculine spirits? Why the Psyche or soul of Tiresias is of the masculine gender; who being blinde on earth sees more than all the rest in hell; Why the Funerall Suppers consisted of Egges, Beans, Smallage, and Lettuce, since the dead are made to eat Asphodels about the Elyzian medows? Why since there is no Sacrifice acceptable, nor any propitiation for the Covenant of the grave; men set up the Deity of Morta, and fruitlessly adored Divinities without ears? It cannot escape some doubt.” —Lorin Stein

“If beauty is defined as a composite quality encompassing both extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior, then possibly the most beautiful flower shop in the world is located in Vienna’s low-key-but-hip 4th District.” So begins The Flower Shop: Charm, Grace, Beauty & Tenderness in a Commercial Context, which is a little hard to describe to those unfamiliar with the work of author Leonard Koren. It’s a profile of Vienna’s Blumenkraft, told through sepia-toned photographs and text, but it’s also more than that. You learn how a flower shop functions, from the selection of the wares to caring for flowers to arranging, and you get to know the staff and experience the challenges and triumphs of running a small business and of trying to bring something beautiful, unique, and ephemeral into the world. It ends up being a much bigger story than that of one florist, however lovely. —Sadie Stein

New Order, “Leave Me Alone.” I’m not sure how I’ve never discovered this masterpiece of new wave mellow-dee. Perhaps it’s been sitting on the toadstool of my mind, elbow on knee, hand on chin, waiting for the perfect moment to ring out. As a fan of New Order’s calmer music—“Regret,” “Love Vigilantes,” “Ceremony (Single Version)”—“Leave Me Alone” ranks high in its moody solitude. Bernard Sumner rolls the song along slow at first, but the urgency in his voice picks up as his “character” becomes more frustrated in his inability to escape the company of others. The lyrics keep in line with New Order’s usual sexual despondence:

From my head to my toes
To my teeth, through my nose
You get these words wrong
You get these words wrong
Everytime
You get these words wrong
I just smile.

—Noah Wunsch

There are so many reasons to be excited about art this year—great gallery and museum shows all around the country. Lucky Chicagoans are catching the tail end of a Claude Cahun exhibition and are a month into the Art Institute’s display of their newly acquired Dawoud Bey collection. The twenty-five black-and-white photographs are comprised by Bey’s “Harlem, U.S.A.” series, which was first shown more than thirty years ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem. If you’re not in Chicago, I recommend the handsome catalogue—the photographs are worth extended viewings, and his images of the Manhattan neighborhood’s denizens stand alongside the work of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and James Van Der Zee as definitive American portraits. —Nicole Rudick

My favorite movie of the last five years is probably Reprise, by the Norwegian director Joachim Trier. I loved its sense of humor and its sense of possibility. Trier used the devices of the nouvelle vague, not with irony or nostalgia, but as if they were brand new—as if Oslo today were Paris circa 1964. Most of all I loved Anders Lie’s performance as a brilliant writer in the grip of a life-threatening depression. Oslo, August 31, which was released last week in New York, has all of these things, too, including Lie as a recovering addict who thinks he will never piece his life back together. Despite the similarities, Lie’s performance in Oslo is full of surprises. I can’t think of a movie actor my age who is more fun to watch. —L.S.

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What We’re Loving: Sake Bars, Met Balls, and Rhubarb

May 4, 2012 | by

I’m hooked on The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami, a sentimental novel about the friendship, formed over late nights at a sake bar, between a Tokyo woman in her late thirties and her old high school teacher. It’s interesting enough to read about an aging woman drawn to an older man; when this attraction comes wrapped up in Japanese nostalgia for old fashioned inns, mushroom hunting, refined manners, and Basho, how can a person resist? I can only imagine what wizardry must have gone into Allison Markin Powell’s translation. —Lorin Stein

There are so many intriguing events associated with the PEN World Voices Festival this week. One I’ll be catching for sure is this little-seen documentary on Diane Arbus, actually a taping of the photographer discussing a slide show of her work in 1970. The viewing will be followed by readings from Diane Arbus: A Chronology by Francine Prose, Michael Cunningham, and Arbus’s daughter, Doon. —Sadie Stein

The PULSE Contemporary Art Fair is here! Today through Sunday at the Metropolitan Pavilion, galleries from around the world are exhibiting the best of contemporary art. Whether your interest and pockets are shallow or deep, you could easily be held captive for hours, lost in the endless spectacles and hidden nooks. It’s an adventure, so may I suggest comfortable shoes? —Elizabeth Nelson

Two years ago I started reading (and devouring) the Smitten Kitchen blog. I have since made more than thirty of her recipes and have been waiting for her forthcoming first cookbook. This week she posted a sneak peek, so time to start some seasonal cooking—especially as farmer’s markets everywhere have the first spring produce, like asparagus and rhubarb! —Emily Cole-Kelly

Most people will eat fifteen hundred PB&Js before graduating high school. I’ve easily consumed twice that since then. I love peanut butter. I love the taste of it mixed with a good jam. Statistics about the sandwich are always fascinating: women prefer creamy and men crunchy (I only eat crunchy); the vast majority of people put the peanut butter on first (I do, too, but it just makes sense, right?). Leave it to Ruth Reichl to make a great thing even better. Who knew that a little salt and heat could improve upon perfection. —Nicole Rudick

My invitation to the Met’s Costume Institute Ball seems to have been mysteriously lost in the mail, but reading through the gorgeous companion volume to the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition is (I’m sure) every bit as interesting, and nearly as glamorous. —S.S.

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