Posts Tagged ‘graffiti’
November 12, 2015 | by Scott Beauchamp
In wartime, the walls of the latrine provide a rare opportunity for self-expression.
“It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech,” as a patriotic poem by Charles Province has it. That presumption is a point of pride among service members, who defend civilian rights and privileges they’re often not afforded themselves. You don’t have the right to foment a strike in the military. You don’t have the right to a trial with a jury of your peers. You can’t sue the military. You don’t have the right to peacefully assemble. There is no such thing as freedom of speech. But self-expression is like hydraulics: plugging one hole only builds more pressure somewhere else. In my own experience as an infantryman in Iraq, the only place where the stress of combat found unfettered freedom of expression was on the walls of the latrine.
You begin to notice it as soon as you hit the staging area in Kuwait. At places like Camp Buehring, a crossroads where battalions came and went on their way to different operating areas in Iraq, American troops are sheltered under the anonymity of massive logistical bureaucracies. A port-a-potty next to a chow hall could be used by any number of soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines passing through. Unlike a permanent duty station, where bathrooms are assigned to specific companies and any defacement is easily traceable, there simply wasn’t any way to catch someone scrawling on the walls of a well-trafficked latrine. The situation wasn’t very different once one finally got to Iraq, where the bases were just as large and sprawling, and combat outposts were constructed in the half-destroyed hovels of what had been private residences. In the former, the anonymity was conducive to getting away with latrine graffiti; in the latter, no one cared if you wrote on some walls. Read More »
August 29, 2014 | by The Paris Review
John Swartzwelder has written more Simpsons episodes than any other writer (fifty-nine in total). He’s also one of the most eccentric writers in the business: one story goes that “when he could no longer smoke in restaurants, he bought his favorite booth from his favorite diner and had it installed in his home.” Since leaving The Simpsons in 2003, he has self-published a novel each year, all of which are available on his Web site. After reading his first novel, The Time Machine Did It, I’m not surprised that Swartzwelder is the same person who introduced now-classic Simpsons characters such as Cletus Spuckler, Stampy the Elephant, and the three-eyed fish Blinky (who has now become a symbol among pundits for nuclear waste and wildlife mutation). The novels are pure screwball, honoring the comedies of the Marx Brothers and Preston Sturges as Swartzwelder dismisses any narrative rule for laughs. In The Time Machine Did It, a private detective named Frank Burly (“to give prospective clients the idea that I was a burly kind of man ... and who would be frank with them at all times”) finds himself traveling through time for a supposed multimillionaire who wakes up one day to find that everything he owns is gone. The plotline includes a homemade time machine and a town taken over by criminals, but why the novel works is the simple fact that it never takes itself too seriously. “On an impulse I mooned most of the 1950’s as I went by. I don’t know what makes me do these things. I guess it’s just part of my charm.” —Justin Alvarez
In outline, it reads like something made up by Roberto Bolaño: an Austrian writer crosses America, wracked by nightmares and visions and pursued by his mysterious, estranged wife. Peter Handke’s 1972 novella Short Letter, Long Farewell helped inspire the American “road movies” of Wim Wenders, and if Bolaño didn’t know the book, there is a strong family resemblance. As the critic Wayne Koestenbaum put it, the two writers share an “ability to sound sane (though vacant-souled) about insane circumstances,” whether these involve a desert sunset or a restaurant serving bear hock à la Daniel Boone. —Lorin Stein
That Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” is, in part, a transmutation of birdsong into lines of music has oddly come up several times over the past month, in the course of putting together the Fall issue and elsewhere. At the same time, I’ve found myself returning periodically to Music & Literature’s impressive fourth issue to gaze at the work of British composer Barry Guy, whose graphic scores are translations of sensory experiences relating to literature, painting, and architecture and visual reflections of movement, energy, and pitch. So it felt like the stars had fully aligned when I read Christian Wiman’s “translations” of Osip Mandelstam, from a small collection called Stolen Air. Instead of faithfully translating Mandelstam’s poems, Wiman has created versions of them: though some closely resemble the originals, others, he says, are “liberal transcriptions” and “collisions and collusions” between the two poets. Wiman sought to get at the sound of Mandelstam’s language, its music, without having any knowledge of Russian but feeling buoyed by Mandelstam’s notion of a poet’s “secret hearing.” And so we get silvery, jostling lines like “I love the early animal of her, / These woozy, easy swings” and “Better to live alluvial, / Better to live layered downward, / To be a man of sand, of hollows, shallows / To cling to sleeves of water / And to let them go—” —Nicole Rudick Read More »
June 14, 2012 | by Witold Gombrowicz
Should I tell or not? A year ago, more or less, the following happened to me. I stopped in a café on Callao Street to use the bathroom … All kinds of drawings and scribblings were on the walls. Yet the unconscious urge would never have assailed me, like a poisonous dart, if I hadn’t accidentally fumbled across a pencil in my pocket. The pencil turned out to be an ink pen.
Enclosure, isolation, the certainty that nobody would see, some sort of stillness … and the murmur of water whispered: do it, do it, do it. I took out the pencil. I wet the tip. Read More »
April 18, 2012 | by Dave Tompkins
In January 1940, a German double agent warned the FBI, “Watch out for the dots! Lots and lots of little dots.” During World War II, German Abwehr agents used microphotography to reduce classified military documents down to a dot, entrusting the period with sensitive intelligence such as tank specs and bomb sites, as well as meeting coordinates, a time and a place. Administered to the page by syringe, the dot traveled under the guise of punctuation and was then enlarged by its recipient—blown up in a world that would ultimately be reduced to rubble. The end of the line harbored secrets.
To an aerosol artist like Rammellzee, this would be the last stop on the A train in Far Rockaway, Queens, where he sprayed his first tag back in the late seventies. The letters—EG—stood for “Evolution Griller.” I once shared the dot’s steganographic past with this Queens-born rapper/letter engineer, a man once described as “micro” for his detailing of subway cars and history. Rammellzee had no time for punctuation, but all night for talking military engineering, tanks, dentistry, deep-sea bends, gangster ducks, and loaded symbols. Hunched over a beer inside the Battle Station, his Tribeca loft, he asked if I was with the Defense Department and grumbled, “Too much information in the room is not good policy.” Under his baleful watch, the only time a sentence called for a period was when declaring the end of an era. With Rammellzee, a single thought—often concerning the welfare of the alphabet—might span centuries: from Visigoth invasions to Panzer battalions to a subway tunnel beneath an African slave cemetery to a band from Buffalo called Robot Has Werewolf Hand. All between a burp and a nod, from a polymath who referred to himself as an equation.
February 17, 2012 | by The Paris Review
In you’re in the New York area, tomorrow is the last day to see the unmissable exhibition of rare Emily Dickinson manuscripts and letters at Poets House. This is the first time much of this material has been on view; who knows when it will be again. It’s also worth making the trip to see poet and artist Jen Bervin’s striking quilts, which are stitched according to the symbols and corresponding variant words in Dickinson’s fascicles. —Nicole Rudick
In the early 1930s, the young English poet Basil Bunting taught himself Farsi with a dictionary and a copy of the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh, given to him by Ezra Pound. (“It’s an easy language,” Bunting explained, “if it’s only for reading you want it.”) The translations he made are collected in Bunting’s Persia, a slim book, including excerpts from the Shahnameh and lyrics like this one by Sa’di:
Without you I've not slept, not once in the garden
nor cared much whether I slept on holly or flock,
lonely to death between one breath and the next
only to meet you, hear you, only to touch ...
I read it on Valentine’s Day. —Lorin Stein
This week I found myself fascinated by the New York City Graffiti & Street Art Project, an experiment by the library of Lewis & Clark college that charts the most interesting examples of street art across the city, sorted by neighborhood, media type, subject, and more. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
I just stumbled upon this breezy interview with cartoonist Lee Lorenz from last year. Part of The Comics Journal’s “Know Your New Yorker Cartoonist” column, the conversation is an endearing remembrance of a life in pictures, with the added pleasure of some insider gossip. —Josh Anderson
Try Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf for a healthy dose of fiery medieval homuncular misanthropy. Great reading material for long, slow queues, crowded subway rides where even the conductor is exasperated, and angry times in general. —Emma del Valle
Seventeenth-century love letters, Latin bibles, a Shelley manuscript, and English children’s stories: I’ve suddenly discovered the Morgan Library’s blog. —D.F.M.