Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Parker’
April 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Need a morning pick-me-up? Say it with me: “I am full of impulses to shove animal matter into my poorly designed facial rot hole … I must endlessly defecate. I need to fuck. I need to be fucked. It’s fantastic and terrifying. Fascinating. Pointless, swirling molecules. But, yeah, having a fun time. I spent $300 on a T-shirt last week … People are horrible. People are cruel. People are abused. Social circles, especially in small towns, can get fucking nasty. I just write what I see and what I’ve experienced. I don’t deliberately set out to aggravate or shock. I don’t censor myself. You need to be honest. You need to not hold back. I hate twee art. I find it dishonest; a false, privileged construct. Life is not nice. Existence is sad and cruel.” That’s Simon Hanselmann, the author of the cult comic series Megg, Mogg and Owl and a dealer in hard truths.
- If you prefer your truths a little softer, or maybe just leavened with bons mots, you could try Dorothy Parker. Or maybe not. Robert Gottlieb reminds us that her quips and flair concealed an enormous sadness: “Death and suicide are never far from her thoughts—she titled her collections Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, Death and Taxes, and Not So Deep as a Well … Was her poetry just rhyming badinage dressed up as trenchant, plaintive ruminations on love, loss, and death? Her subjects are serious, but her cleverness undercuts them: there’s almost always a last line, a sardonic zinger, to signal that even if she does care, the more fool she. Even her most famous couplet—‘Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses’—bandages a wound, although plenty of men made passes.”
- Paintings look great in galleries, but I find that they really shine, in all their subtlety, when they’re hanging behind politicians at podiums. As Kelly Grovier writes, “The silent stare of a poised portrait gazing at you over the shoulder of David Cameron or Vladimir Putin is often more loaded and more deliberately orchestrated than you might think … Obama’s decision to hold a press conference announcing his determination to close Guantanamo once and for all in the shadow of a swashbuckling portrait of Obama’s forebear, Theodore Roosevelt, was hardly accidental. After all, Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1898 led a legendary cavalry of so-called ‘Rough Riders’ to victory against Spanish overlords in Cuba, helped establish U.S. control over Guantanamo Bay in the first place. By placing himself visually alongside a heroic portrait of the galloping leader, who is credited with the credo ‘speak softly and carry a big stick,’ Obama hoped to bask in the reflected testosterone of America’s most macho president.”
- Bad news: most book reviewers do their jobs hastily and carelessly. Good news: Edward Copleston’s 1807 satire “Advice to a Young Reviewer, with a Specimen of the Art” really holds up, because book critics are still using the same set of shortcuts and white lies. “In the art of reviewing I would lay down as a fundamental position,” Copleston writes, “which must be the mainspring of all your criticisms—write what will sell.” He also recommends perusing the table of contents and the index: “Here then is a fund of wealth for the Reviewer, lying upon the very surface; if he knows anything of his business, he will turn all these materials against the author, carefully suppressing the source of his information, and as if drawing from the stores of his own mind, long ago laid up for this very purpose. If the author’s references are correct, a great point is gained; for, by consulting a few passages of the original works, it will be easy to discuss the subject with the air of having a previous knowledge of the whole.”
- Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids is more than twenty years old now. Moira Weigel blew the dust off her old VHS and took another look: “At the time, the press hailed Kids as ‘raw,’ ‘frank,’ ‘honest,’ and ‘gritty’—all adjectives that boasted of its fidelity to the realities of kids just a little older than me. I couldn’t judge for myself since I never got around to seeing it. Watching it now, at thirty, those words still seem apt for describing something important about the film. But that something is not its realism … What I feel most, watching Kids in 2015, is that it is shallow. I mean this partly as praise. The shallowness is the key to the film’s ability to transport us into the world of its characters, as if participating in their refusal to think of consequences, to look beyond the here and now … The problem is that Kids reproduces the superficiality that makes it so stylistically compelling in its approach to its subject matter. Watching it today, I was hoping for an account of the ways that the fear of AIDS shaped how young people in that time and place learned about desire. Instead the film recasts the virus into the threat lurking in the background of a kind of nightmare fairy tale. The role that HIV plays is to give a sense of momentum to what is basically an observational essay.”
February 18, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
At the time of this interview, Mrs. Parker was living in a midtown New York hotel. She shared her small apartment with a youthful poodle that had the run of the place and had caused it to look, as Mrs. Parker said apologetically, somewhat “Hogarthian”: newspapers spread about the floor, picked lamb chops here and there, and a rubber doll—its throat torn from ear to ear—which Mrs. Parker lobbed left-handed from her chair into corners of the room for the poodle to retrieve—as it did, never tiring of the opportunity. The room was sparsely decorated, its one overpowering fixture being a large dog portrait, not of the poodle, but of a sheepdog owned by the author Philip Wylie, and painted by his wife. The portrait indicated a dog of such size that if it were real, would have dwarfed Mrs. Parker, who was a small woman, her voice gentle, her tone often apologetic, but occasionally, given the opportunity to comment on matters she felt strongly about, she spoke almost harshly, and her sentences were punctuated with observations phrased with lethal force.
That description comes from the introduction to Dorothy Parker’s 1956 Paris Review Art of Fiction interview, a document of unusual (sometimes harsh) honesty, and great humor. I've always tried to envision that scene: the writer, battling depression and alcoholism, her career (to her eyes) in twilight—and so was fascinated to run across this snapshot in the New York Public Library’s digital archive. It pictures Parker—petite, with signature chignon and bangs—in a distinctly midcentury room, seated on a dun-colored sofa with two poodles. Before her on a marbled coffee table is a fairly hideous arrangement made up at least in part of dried eucalyptus stems, which puts the viewer in the unusual position of being able to imagine the smell of the scene: eucalyptus and dog, with hints of coffee. (I assume coffee, rather than tea, although feel free to disagree.) The only real mystery—besides where she is, and who took the picture—concerns the pink plush thing on the stack of magazines. Hat? Chew toy? Lamb Chop? But then, as Parker herself wrote in Esquire in 1959, “In all reverence I say Heaven bless the Whodunit, the soothing balm on the wound, the cooling hand on the brow, the opiate of the people.” Update: a colleague feels strongly that it is a bedroom slipper “filled with either dog food or gold coins,” possibly the chocolate Hanukah kind.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
September 25, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of the best quotes in history: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Like many such quips, it’s hard to find the original source—although in this case, we can safely assume that life was certainly the direct inspiration.
It’s not just that hams are big—they were even more massive in Parker’s day than they are now—or that a little of the salty meat goes a long way. It’s also the fact that a ham goes immediately from a thing of festive beauty (cue pineapple rings, scored surfaces studded with cloves, glistening patina) to a professional leftover. It goes very gentle into that good night. And, because it is cured, and because it can be used in so many ways, and because you can always, always scrape more meat off that bone—well, you’re really never justified in throwing it away. It’s with you for eternity. Read More »
May 11, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
One of the few remaining bastions of character on New York’s Upper West Side is its smattering of sidewalk booksellers. Up and down Broadway—displaying wares by American Apparel, blasting Bach, and hawking signed Roth novels in front of Zabar’s, dressed in velvet by the Eighty-Sixth Street Uptown 1—these are the folks who keep the neighborhood alive.
Over the weekend, I was perusing the stall of a certain bookseller when another customer—a “character” in a many-pocketed fishing-tackle vest—strode up and began barraging the mild-mannered proprietor with questions. Read More »
August 22, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
If you wish to celebrate Dorothy Parker’s birthday with a small gift to yourself, you have many options. An Etsy search of the writer’s name will give you letterpress prints and pillows and pins; a locket; earrings, several flasks; a bracelet; a range of portraits, including a cat in a cloche; a sampler; and a choice of two dolls. And the tote bags! Ah, the tote bags. Need I even mention the tote bags? I am not immune; yesterday, I treated myself to a Dorothy Parker cocktail, made with Dorothy Parker gin. At the Algonquin, no less. (There is also a certain charm to “what fresh hell” spelled out in Morse Code.)
Dorothy Parker’s Art of Fiction interview, from 1956, has always been among my favorites. She has no interest in glamorizing her reputation. She has scant regard for her much-vaunted wit. From the interview’s introduction: “Readers of this interview ... will find that Mrs. Parker had only contempt for the eager reception accorded her wit.” “Why, it got so bad,” she had said bitterly, “that they began to laugh before I opened my mouth.” I can’t think of an interview more honest, or more generous. She refuses to call herself a serious writer, saying:
There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.
And on the vaunted Round Table: “I wasn’t there very often—it cost too much. Others went. Kaufman was there. I guess he was sort of funny.”
Say what she will, no one can take away from the body of her quotables—or, for that matter, an easy cultural shorthand that reduces her to bons mots. But for my money, there’s no quote that sticks with you quite so much as the final lines of that interview:
It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—don’t you, honey?
February 7, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.
The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”
At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »