The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘identity’

“A Garish Nightmare of American Annihilation,” and Other News

July 22, 2015 | by


Geoffrey Biggs’s Hiroshima cover (detail), 1948.

  • Ice cream: delicious summertime treat or agent of moral turpitude? In fin de siècle Scotland, ice cream parlors “with mirrored walls and leather seats” became “the scourge of the prudish bourgeoisie, who saw them as papist dens of vice”: “Among the more egregious crimes committed by the shops’ proprietors was that of allowing young people of both sexes to intermingle and smoke. One inspector had said that he had seen girls of ‘tender years’ smoking cigarettes in the shop. They were also seen dancing to ‘music supplied by a mouth organ’ … It was concluded that ice cream shops embodied ‘perfect iniquities of hell itself and ten times worse than any of the evils of the public house. They were sapping the morals of the youth of Scotland.’ ”
  • Frances Kroll Ring, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s longtime secretary, died last month. She had many critical tasks in his life, one of which was to rid him of his anti-Semitism: “It’s entirely possible that Frances Kroll was the first Jewish person he ever spent any time with … ‘Jews lose clarity,’ he jotted in his Notebooks. ‘They get to look like old melted candles, as if their bodies were preparing to waddle’ … As Kroll tells it, Fitzgerald displayed a great deal of curiosity about Jewishness, pestering her about Jewish characteristics and customs. He was fascinated by ‘the Passover feast’ and the practice of keeping kosher.”
  • Jack London spent his youth shoveling coal in a cannery, so he really, really, really wanted to become a successful writer and leave that hell behind. He had a good year in 1903: The Call of the Wild was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, bringing the success that allowed him to write full-time. He conveyed his newfound wisdom to aspirant writers in a piece called “Getting Into Print.” Some of it’s still true in this century: “Don’t quit your job to write unless there is none dependent on you.” Other parts are not: “Fiction pays best of all, and when it is of a fair quality is more easily sold.”
  • When John Hersey’s Hiroshima appeared in paperback, it sported a new, terrifically misguided cover, becoming what Paula Rabinowitz called “a garish nightmare of American annihilation”: “In this image, two people, not Japanese, are fleeing an explosion just beyond the frame. They are young, white, and stylish: she epitomizes New Look fashion in her loafers and gathered skirt, he sports pleated cuffs and a fitted trench coat … The cover artist, Geoffrey Biggs, wasn’t trying to be deceptive. As he says, in a note that sits just before the copyright page, he was trying to be universal: ‘I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you or me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.’ ”
  • In which the Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec dissects names, first and foremost his own: “Some years ago I had the idea of asking several writer friends if they wouldn’t care to reflect on their own surname … This task—to speak about one’s surname and to portray oneself through it—contains, I think, a touch of transcendence that brings us closer to death. We insert a mark—which is our emblem, i.e. the commentary—into an undefined series of fairly indistinct moments which is characterized precisely by the absence of marks … That common coin which is our surname, received at times like a baton, needs us so as to take on substance and, as it were, identity.”

Where We Live

May 28, 2015 | by

Atlanta, GA, 1996

Atlanta, Georgia, 1996. Photo via Laurence Miller Gallery

David Graham’s “Where We Live: Photographs of the American Home” is at Laurence Miller Gallery through June 26. Graham’s photographs span more than thirty years; he aims to “document the American home as both sanctuary and playful expression of individuality.” You can see more of his work here.
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Wack Job

May 4, 2015 | by


József Rippl-Rónai, Woman Dressed in Polka Dot Dress (detail), 1889.

Nothing can make you feel older than thrift shopping. As you walk the aisles, thumbing through the racks, young you keeps up a running monologue: That 1940s square-dancing outfit is cool! Look at those Polynesian-print slacks and the matching vest! You’d look like an awesome fifties-pulp lesbian cover model if you wore this shirt and tie! Sure, that leather dress is totally unflattering—but it’s neat! And five dollars! Have you ever worn your other five fake-fur chubbies? No, but maybe now’s the time! 

And time was, you’d have bought all these things. Each would have symbolized a you you might have been, or could have been for a day—an identity you could don or pretend you’d don. At the very least, the cheap thrill of the moment would have overridden any other concern. Who cared if your closet looked like it belonged to a hoarder pied piper? Anything was good enough for class, or for the existence of a creatively inclined, sensitive young person in the urban wild. Read More »

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Glass Hat

February 11, 2015 | by

Richard Price and the evolving role of pseudonyms.


From the cover of The Whites.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, isn’t by Richard Price, except that it is. It’s by Harry Brandt, Price’s pseudonym, but it’s also not really by Brandt—Price’s name is on the cover, too, and so Price is Brandt, obviously, and it follows then that Brandt is Price, and thus, uh …

Let’s start over.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, is by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. It says so right there on the cover. Big deal, you might say; another author slumming it in genre fiction by creating a false identity for himself. But by publishing both his name and his pseudonym on the cover, Price has parted with centuries of pseudonymous convention. He hasn’t just pulled back the curtain. He’s brought up the house lights and waved to the audience. And he did it all, according to the New York Times, because he got sort of annoyed. Read More »



April 16, 2013 | by


Christopher Wallace is dead, murdered in the early hours of March 9, 1997, one block from my childhood home in Los Angeles. But exactly two weeks after his death, Wallace’s alter ego, the Notorious B.I.G., rose again with the album Life After Death. Geppetto was gone, but his Pinocchio lived on.

Like Wallace, “Biggie” grew up in Brooklyn, but in Bed-Stuy rather than Wallace’s more middle-class Clinton Hill. He dealt drugs, toted four-fours, and took falls, all of which Wallace did. But Biggie was a goddamned capo compared to his dramaturge’s small-time crook. Where Wallace was really gifted—almost preternaturally so, considering he died at twenty-four—was in the constructing and performing of a character, his character. Biggie was a fiction—not so farfetched as to court incredulity, but idealized, a romanticization of the writer. He was autobiographical to a point, but embellished into a Mitty-esque wish-fulfillment through whom his audience could vicariously fantasize about the good life: popping bottles and topping models.

In character, and within the strictures of the medium, Wallace could do and say things he’d never get away with as himself. With his heavy tongue he could probe the decay of poverty in a bouncy radio hit, or parody our nihilistic materialism with a club banger that made him millions, and never be in danger of hypocrisy.

Biggie was, his fans understood, the Flatbush Falstaff, dedicated to excess and frivolity, while Wallace was the mysterious magus who spawned him. Sadly, even magi are mortal. But, luckily for us, Big Poppa is forever.

Christopher Wallace is dead. Long live Biggie Smalls. Read More »


The Dying Sea

November 28, 2012 | by

On the road from Jericho to the beaches of the Dead Sea, there is an architectural curiosity, a yellowish abandoned building. My grandmother would tell me its story every time we passed it on our way for a day at the beach. One should bear in mind that “a day at the beach” at the Dead Sea is not “a day at the beach.” It is its evil twin. The day is spent walking on jagged rocks, falling into pits of gooey black mud, and trying to pretend that such an unearthly density of salt sticking to your body is not as painful as it actually is. The adults would further complicate my love-hate relationship with those beach days by tell us terrifying stories about the ghoul who lived in the cliffs and would eat us up if we strayed too far.

This might explain why my favorite moment was the glimpse we got of that yellowish building. I can’t remember when this place used to be a hotel, or what its name was, but I remember the description. It was prewar—pre-1948, or pre-1967, it doesn’t really matter which; we have had as many golden ages as we’ve had catastrophes. Suitably enough, the hotel was a gem of gold and velvet. The people there were rich, they spoke five languages, they were beautiful, and they knew how to waltz. Read More »