The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Francis Bacon’

Calvino Late to the Movies, and Other News

September 8, 2015 | by

Italo Calvino, no doubt pondering a film to which he has arrived in a less than timely fashion.

  • Today in strange testing procedures involving nonsense words: Oxford applicants in classics and oriental studies, among other fields, are asked to translate phrases from invented languages with names such as Dobla and Kalaamfaadi—and the sample texts are full of charmingly, aggravatingly old-world stock phrases. “The scullery-maid loves the footman.” (Pante sirar tomut.) “Does the dowager rebuke the earl?” (Clarut tikehar mage.) For their seeming silliness, though, the tests are a strong indicator of your aptitude with languages. “It’s entirely possible that the kind of intellectual agility such languages call for is a hidden strength in many students who don’t know they have it. The thing that looks most intimidating might be the thing that should inspire confidence.”
  • Fifty years after they were first published on seven-inch vinyl, rare and excellent readings from James Baldwin, John Updike, William Styron, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and James Jones have been rediscovered and reissued by Calliope Author Readings. They date to a time when (a) recording technology was still gloriously analog and (b) giving readings was still a novelty, rather than self-promotional essential: “Calliope began in the 1960s as a pioneering venture in the early days of literary recordings. With little more at their disposal than a passion for books, optimism and sheer nerve, three young entrepreneurs in Boston persuaded some of the most original twentieth century American authors to read from their works.”
  • Toward the end of his life, Francis Bacon had ascended into art-world renown; he spent most of his time drinking and seething. A new memoir from Michael Peppiatt, who became the artist’s “scribe, drinking partner, estate agent, confidante, gatekeeper and admirer, and the recipient of lavish dinners, drinks, flats, paintings and acquaintances,” captures Bacon in decline: “Dazzled by the endless procession of big-name wines in similar bars, Peppiatt seems not to notice that Bacon repeats the same maxims again and again, almost word for word—stock phrases on painting about ‘immediacy’ and the ‘nervous system’ and a rehearsed bit on the nothingness that stretches before and after life—as if prepping his initiate to write about him. Impressive once, cumulatively they are undermining, especially when heard sober.”
  • Italo Calvino loved to go to the movies. And he put forth a convincing case for arriving late, too—an argument I plan to use the next time I’m dragging my friends to a movie fifteen minutes after it started. “Italian spectators barbarously made entering after the film already started a widespread habit, and it still applies today. We can say that back then we already anticipated the most sophisticated of modern narrative techniques, interrupting the temporal thread of the story and transforming it into a puzzle to put back together piece by piece or to accept in the form of a fragmentary body. To console us further, I’ll say that attending the beginning of the film after knowing the ending provided additional satisfaction: discovering not the unraveling of mysteries and dramas, but their genesis; and a vague sense of foresight with respect to the characters.”
  • Like many of us, Dennis Cooper loves GIFs; unlike many of us, he’s written a novel in GIFs called Zac’s Haunted House, and has finished another. “Cooper finds the GIF work ‘weirdly very emotional.’ And with GIFs, he contends, ‘fictional emotional displays and “real” displays are made indistinguishable … There is also, for Cooper—and, it would, seem, much of the Internet-using public—something inherently comic about GIFs. The comedy, he says, is of a particularly physical kind. He has noted before that GIFs in which real-life people fall off bunk beds or have other accidents are often edited so that we don’t see the painful consequences. And yet, as the action is repeated indefinitely, with a ‘kind of heartlessness,’ the implications of the violence seep out nonetheless.”

The Immortality Chronicles, Part 4

September 9, 2013 | by


What have we not done to live forever? Adam Leith Gollner’s research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Every Monday for the next three weeks, this chronological crash course will examine how humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history.

During the Middle Ages, every alchemist worth his saltpeter tried to find the philosopher’s stone, the water stone of the wise, the miraculous stone that is no stone. It was the means to transmute base metals into gold and—more importantly—concoct elixirs of immortality.

The word is Arabic in origin: al-kimia, al-khymia, or al-kīmyā. It’s how chemistry begins. Science as we now conceive it did not exist in the medieval period. (The word scientist only became commonplace in the nineteenth century, after Cambridge University historian William Whewell coined the term in 1833.) Instead, there was natural magic and philosophy—and alchemy, the experimental attempt to combine different elements and uncover the factual mysteries of nature. Read More »


Larger Than Life: An Interview with Will Self

August 9, 2012 | by

Last August, I interviewed Will Self—whose latest novel Umbrella has just been long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize—in his London home. I had been given two weeks to prepare and I was quite terrified. My terror was warranted; I had spent the last ten days immersed in his hallucinatory fictional worlds, composed of seven novels, three novellas, and countless short stories. Through these parallel and often overlapping fictions, Self has constructed a relentless critique of our institutional failings, hypocritical cultural mores, and political inadequacies. My fears, notwithstanding being intellectually dwarfed, were largely to do with the sheer madness of many of his writings. Here was the writer who, over the years, had invented:

1. A man who wakes up with a vagina behind his left knee and has an affair with his (male) GP (Bull: A Farce);

2. A parallel Earth populated by nymphomaniacal and exhibitionist apes seen through the eyes of its most prominent experimental psychiatrists (Great Apes);

3. The afterlife taking place in the purgatorial London district of “Dulston,” a suburb populated uniquely by senseless, chain-smoking dead people, haunted by their aborted fetuses and old neuroses, and living out the rest of infinity in dire office jobs (How the Dead Live);

4. A postapocalyptic London governed by a religion based on a cab driver named Dave’s insane writings to his estranged son in the 2000s (The Book of Dave).

And then there was the public figure—an acerbic satirist of towering intellect, a giant man of letters with a rhetorical bite strong enough to tear a lesser being apart. By the time I rang on the doorbell, Will Self had, to my mind, transmogrified into The Fat Controller—the Mephistophelian antihero in his My Idea of Fun—ready to shred me from limb to limb for my idiotic questions and inadequate readings.

Read More »


The Dinnerstein Variations

January 25, 2011 | by

The startling success story of pianist Simone Dinnerstein.

Photograph by Lisa Marie Mazzucco.

Earlier this month, pianist Simone Dinnerstein celebrated her latest album, Bach, A Strange Beauty, with a six-hour-long release party in her parents’ Park Slope brownstone. She set her iPod to shuffle, and at the end of the evening, as the final few guests made their way out the door, her own recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations came on. “I hadn’t listened to it in years,” she said, “I hadn’t even realized how much I had changed.”

The Goldberg Variations marked a turning point in Dinnerstein’s life story, the classical-music world’s rags-to-riches tale that’s by now familiar to many fans. Less than a decade ago, with her chances at a high-octane concert career looking dim, she had started to settle into a life in Brooklyn, a career of smaller-scale concerts, teaching, and performances in nursing homes and prisons. The discovery that she was pregnant with her son inspired Dinnerstein to work privately on the Variations as a way to mark his arrival. She went on to raise money from friends and family and recorded the piece herself, a decision that took some guts, given the many canonical recordings of Bach’s epic work out there (joined now by a pretty hilarious rendition of the aria by Stephen Dorff in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere).

Improbably, Dinnerstein’s performance became the top-selling classical album of 2007, at one point even reaching number four on Amazon’s record sales for all genres. Her success is particularly startling when you consider the number of household-name classical pianists who either won a major competition or grew up in the spotlight as child prodigies. But Dinnerstein’s playing is one of a kind. The intense conviction she communicates is so arresting that, for me, hearing her rendition of a piece makes it impossible to imagine it performed any other way. (Classical musicians often refer to the importance of playing “with conviction”; or as my pianist friend’s formidable Russian teacher would often say, “My dear, you must be convicted of every note.”)

Read More »