In a November 1920 letter to her husband, John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield describes a dream in which she met Oscar Wilde. Read more of her correspondence in The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield.
In a café, Gertler met me. “Katherine you must come to my table. I’ve got Oscar Wilde there. He’s the most marvelous man I ever met. He’s splendid!” Gertler was flushed. When he spoke of Wilde he began to cry—tears hung on his lashes but he smiled. Read More
Lou Pearlman, the slippery impresario behind the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Aaron Carter, and about a half dozen other agreeably vacuous late nineties pop acts, has died in prison. Yes, the Lou Pearlman. The guy practically invented boy bands. I mean, he didn’t—he just ripped off New Kids on the Block—but he invented the most lucrative boy bands, and as he’d be the first to tell you, that’s the more major achievement. You couldn’t turn around in 1999 without seeing one of his acts: massively telegenic, deeply ordinary, somehow memorable. They had branded lip balms, bobbleheads, and throw pillows for sale. I know this because I spent a lot of time hating them. Read More
- Today in the gender binary: using data collected from e-book readers, a start-up called Jellybooks (inspires confidence, no?) has decreed that “men decide much faster than women if they like a story or not.” The company’s founder, Andrew Rhomberg, spoke to the Guardian: “If an author wants to hold on to a male reader, they have ‘only twenty to fifty pages to capture their attention,’ according to the research. ‘No room for rambling introductions … The author needs to get to the point quickly, build suspense or otherwise capture the male reader, or he is gone, gone, gone.” (I didn’t make it to the end of the article.)
- On her mother’s side, Alex Mar is descended from Juan Ponce de León: yes, Mr. Fountain of Youth himself, conquistador extraordinaire, slaughterer of innocents. Mar has taken a hard look at her ancestor: “The currency of his name, I guess, has made him the only distant ancestor who warrants mention. I’ve heard him spoken of in two registers: in the Grimms’-fairy-tales voice reserved for children, a tone that says, Oh yes, it’s all true and isn’t it incredible?; and in that faux-modest way of adults, that way of deliberately sounding lighthearted about a thing that makes you proud—a thing you’re convinced gives you an edge … Most historians seem to agree that Juan Ponce de León is one of the more humane of these European settlers, treating the locals he absorbs into his enterprise more like indentured servants than slaves. But what does that mean? How thinly do we have to slice these moral distinctions to see the difference? … Do we inherit darkness, even at a few centuries’ remove?”
- At the Guggenheim, Francine Prose looks at the work of the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, whose mural How to Work Better you may have seen at the corner of Houston and Mott Streets in New York: “The kind of humor captured in the How to Work Better mural—simultaneously playful and sincere, mingling the banal and the profound, attentive to the contradictions, ironies, and accidental beauties of the world—pervades the Guggenheim show … The two- and three-dimensional works, videos, and films manage to be rebellious without being strident, to be witty and cerebral without ever seeming pretentious or coy, to challenge traditional notions of what art is and can do, and to comment on the society in which we live without making us feel that their principal focus is provocation or attacking our politics and social order.”
- The Bristol Old Vic, a British theater, dates to 1766, and it has the special-effects technology to match. To summon the sound of thunder, for instance, they roll a bunch of wooden balls down a pine-pitch chute built into the rafters. This “thunder run” had been out of commission since 1942—but now it’s back: “Theater historian David Wilmore was enlisted to carry out test runs, and over three days the Bristol Old Vic technical team learned how to use the old-fashioned sound device … Most thunder runs disappeared with the advance of new technology, and other theaters used less cumbersome methods from the start, like metal thunder sheets rattled offstage. These were often joined by rain boxes, which consisted of dried peas rolling through a long structure with ledges nailed inside, and a wind machine, featuring a rotating cylinder of wooden slats covered with fabric.”
- What if critics dropped the whole burdensome critical apparatus—the long ledes, the cool authority, the markers of taste—and told us about their dreams? Reviewing Rebekah Rutkoff’s The Irresponsible Magician, one critic sees a way of casting off the constrictions of the book review: “I dream, sometimes, that I am reading—just reading—and as I approach the lower pages of a long PDF, my computer’s battery flashes an urgent red. My more exciting dreams lead me on quests to find some precious object or escape some nefarious force. It’s the normal sort of dream-stuff, but for one crucial thing: my dreams always unfold in cavernous and deserted buildings. In my dreams I navigate endless corridors, traverse indoor gardens, and paddle through underground canals. The landscapes I dream up resemble nothing more than malls. Rundown, or even abandoned malls … Commerce snakes its way into each dream-mind’s working—snakes in, loops round fragments of sensation and assembles them as sense. It urges us—as do family, society, language, and law—toward an inner consensus.”
- Today in audiobooks: recordings of erotic novels are selling like love muffins. And why not? What better way to spice up a long drive or a boring Saturday night than with a good story and some professionally stylized heavy breathing? But according to two popular vocal talents, Jennifer Mack and Soozi Cheyenne, the work can be taxing: “The explosion of sex-infused books (much of it self-published) and the popularity of MP3 downloads have combined to produce a vast universe of fictional aural sex. The books range from fantasy romance with rose petals on the bed to raunchier fare with lots of rough sex … Reading the raunchy stuff requires stamina. ‘After your fifteenth sex scene, it becomes exhausting,’ Mack said. ‘You can only do so many.’ ‘Sometimes I go, This is too early in the day for this,’ Cheyenne chimed in. ‘Sometimes the descriptions of the genitalia, like love muffin and throbbing manhood, send me into fits of giggles. So you take a break. You have a cigarette. You buy a salad.’ ”
- In the fifties, a cultural anthropologist named Bert Kaplan undertook a massive effort to capture and store people’s dreams on Microcards: “This vast catalogue of intimate details was assembled in the service and spirit of early twentieth-century social science, with its aspirations to produce a comprehensive account of the human mind, both within and across cultures … With the aid of the most advanced technologies for extraction and storage, they aimed to gather together testimonies of subjectivity from as many parts of the world as they could and largely leave to others the work of drawing conclusions about the whole. This was not a digest of confessional poetry or a narrow selection of case studies or personal histories.”
- The artist Aurel Schmidt’s new show, “The Blast Furnace of Civilization,” features ceramic geese with candles shoved down their throats (Foie Gras Candelabra), a pair of Converse sneakers outfitted with the Campbell’s Soup logo, and a Santa with the body of a yoga-toned young woman. “I am interested in the strange, mutant, man-made objects we buy, we touch, we orbit our identities around,” Schmidt says. “How they are presented to us, the way they are sold, the images of the objects online—flat and bright—or in stores, pretending to be things they are not … I am just fascinated by the process, it’s very dark but very interesting and it touches us every day—we interact with it every minute.”
- Being a crate-digging, record-collecting jazz aficionado is all well and good if you’re a guy. But if you’re not … “Record collecting, as the foremost practice through which relics of jazz history circulate and accrue value, reinforces in material culture the gender-based misrepresentations of the culture at large … Only by confining his collection within limits can the collector achieve the mastery he seeks. Logistical constraints, necessarily producing exclusions, make the collector’s mission possible … Women are pressured to inhabit male practices of appreciation, only to regularly be doubted and shamed for trying to impress men.”
- Today in trolls: hats off to jeremy1122, a Redditor who spent the better part of a year perfecting the style of a prolix, snobby David Foster Wallace fan, leaving a spoor of pretension and lit-bro entitlement wherever he went. “David Foster Wallace, I think, wrote sex scenes better than any other author,” jeremy1122 wrote once. “Everything in Infinite Jest tends toward infinity, like a great cosmic orgasm, and in the end, reading the text itself is the real sex. A coital bond between Wallace’s mind and ours.”
- First published in London in 1684, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is “one of the best-selling books ever produced in English on sex and making babies.” Aristotle, at the time, had assumed a role in the popular culture as an ancient sex expert; “his” sex guide reads in parts like the Kama Sutra in cheeky British doggerel, and it’s complete with a woodcut of a woman in dishabille, so teenagers probably masturbated to it. “But the book also provided a solid framework of contemporary knowledge about the basics of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant health, detailing topics such as the signs of pregnancy, how to tell false labor from true, the various positions the baby might present in, et cetera. Not surprisingly, since it was plagiarized from another midwifery book, this information was largely unexceptional.” It makes a cameo in Ulysses.
- “I attend a diplomatic soiree and as I am leaving my pants fall down (Is it desire?) … Cannibals. You were on an island and some black cannibals jumped out and they put you on the grill and poured oil on you. You, so peaceful. They ate you and they reported saying that the meat was hard and had to fatten more.” Santiago Ramón y Cajal discovered the neuron and hypothesized the function of synapses—which was a boon for science and all—but more important, he kept a dream journal, and it is piquant.
- Art has come to valorize depression, clearly, and to see genius in melancholy—but in the culture at large, thanks to pharmacology, depressives are still stigmatized. “Stigmatization and sanctification come with real ethical dangers. On the one hand, there is the danger that hidden in the wish for the elimination of depressive symptoms is a wish for the elimination of other essential attributes of the depressed person … On the other hand there is the danger of taking pleasure in the pain of the melancholic, and of adding the expectation of insight to the already oppressive expectations the melancholic likely has for herself … The language used in both discourses bears a striking resemblance to the language the depressed person uses in her own head.”
- Considered as a text, the Nashville music industry’s collected lyrics have one clear idée fixe: adultery. Even in the twenties, tunes like “The Jealous Sweetheart” and “The Mountaineer’s Courtship” wept over the wayward heart; by the time “Jolene” came around, the style had become an archetype, if not a formula. “Cheating songs have a lot of moving parts. All of them have at least three characters, each of which can be the narrator or the person being addressed … Country music has a somewhat limited palate, and adultery is one its primary colors. ‘To say something fresh and literal is the hardest thing’ … But if you have a mess of variables to slot into your tried-and-true story structure, it gets a little easier.”
- The refined songcraft of one James “Jimmy” Buffett, meanwhile, focuses its talents almost exclusively on epicurean pleasures. “Food and drink are central to the ethos of Jimmy Buffett, and even the most casual fan can rattle off a handful of songs that orbit around seaside eats. There are lesser known gems like 1994’s ‘Fruitcakes’ (Half-baked cookies in the oven / Half-baked people on the bus / There’s a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us) and 1970s classic ‘Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit’ (Grapefruit, a bathin’ suit, chew a little Juicy Fruit / Wash away the night).”