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Posts Tagged ‘King Lear’

Denigrate Your Enemies, Shakespeare Style

February 6, 2014 | by

Lear BAM

Photo: courtesy of BAM

Last night I saw Angus Jackson’s King Lear, now at BAM, with a spry, sturdy Frank Langella in the title role. Langella was astonishing—he does high dudgeon, he does piss and vinegar, he does grief, perplexity, and weariness. His rimy, bellowing voice belies a surprising range, especially in the later acts. Lear dodders around, benighted, mad, machinating and fulminating to no one.

I haven’t read Lear in a while, and I’d forgotten that it has some tremendous insults in it—as befits a play about a graying, cantankerous head of state. I have a thing for archaic insults. They carry all the rancor of their modern-day counterparts, and with the added advantage of unfamiliarity—you called me what? The result is pure, clean-burning rage. It’s not unlike seeing someone mouth off in a country where you don’t speak the language.

Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, really knows how to deliver a good tongue-lashing—the theater has always been an ideal venue to see people go off on one another, and accordingly his plays are zested with putdowns. These are, I think, great fun to try on your friends. (And then, later, once you’ve mastered them, on your enemies.) Read More »

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The King of Queens

July 11, 2013 | by

hillsidesigns

Squatting behind a bookshelf with a stolen cup of coffee, I tilted my head like a dog at a shadow. Ear to shoulder, eyebrow raised, I mouthed the title of a book I’d never seen before.

K-I-N-G L-E-A-R.

Huh. Must be some Knights of the Round Table type-a-thing, I figured.

Typically, when I cut classes, I was stealing away for a smoke, not Shakespeare. At sixteen, I was already a pack-a-day smoker. My brand was Marlboro Menthol, as opposed to Newport, that likely being the subconscious way Queens white girls differentiated themselves from Queens black girls—a thought I had much later in life. But on this day my caffeine addiction must have trumped my nicotine addiction, because I skipped the smoke, took a cup of coffee from the teacher’s lounge, and hid in an empty classroom to drink it.

Straightaway I pulled the book from the shelf and split it in half, a gesture that tells me now I was not looking to read it, but to perform an autopsy. Maybe there would be pictures, or some chivalric bit of nonsense to help me pass the time. But there on the page was line after line of language as beautiful as it was bizarre, and I was mesmerized. I threw myself back, falling from my feet to my haunches, crossed my legs on the cold linoleum and turned to the beginning. Act 1. Scene 1. I had never read a book on my own. But I kept on, in a fury, cutting one class after the next after the next, until I was done. Read More »

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Our Twilight Lands

March 26, 2012 | by

Argentinian journalist Leila Guerriero wrote this article, translated by Sarah Foster, based on her interview with Chilean poet Nicanor Parra at his home on the coast of Chile. It was published in the Spanish newspaper El País after Parra was awarded the Cervantes Prize last December. The prize, given by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, is the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world. Parra’s poem “Defense of Violeta Parra” appeared in our two-hundredth issue, on newsstands now.

Reaching the house where Nicanor Parra lives, on Lincoln Street in Las Cruces, a coastal town two hundred kilometers from Santiago de Chile, is easy. The hard part is reaching him.

Nicanor Parra Oiundo de San Fabian de Alico is the first-born son out of a total of eight children brought into the world by Nicanor Parra, a high school teacher, and Clara Sandoval. He was born in 1914, was twenty-five during World War II, sixty-six when John Lennon was shot, and eighty-seven when the planes hit the towers. Last September, he turned ninety-seven. Some people don’t even know he’s still alive.

Las Cruces is a town with two thousand inhabitants, shielded from the Pacific Ocean by a bay that embraces several towns: Cartagena, El Tabo. Parra’s house is on a cliff, overlooking the sea. In the garden, a staircase comes down to the front door, where local punks have painted graffiti so that no one will dare touch the house; it says, “Antipoetry.” In the foyer, he has written the names and telephone numbers of his children.

Nicanor Parra’s hair is white. He has a long beard and no wrinkles, only furrows in a face that seems to be made of earth. His hands are tanned, no spots or creases, like two roots rinsed in water. Lying on a table is the second volume of his complete works, Obras completas y algo (1975–2006). In its preface, Harold Bloom writes, “I firmly believe that, if the most powerful poet produced by the New World until now is still Walt Whitman, Parra joins him as an essential poet in our Twilight Lands.” At the end of the eighties, when Parra was still living in Santiago, he stopped giving interviews, and, although there have always been exceptions, he often objects to direct questions in unexpected ways, so that a conversation with him is subject to uncertain diversions, into topics that he repeats and brings up for whatever reason: his grandchildren, the Laws of Manu, the Tao Te Ching, Neruda. Read More »

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Václav Havel: Outtakes from an Interview

December 20, 2011 | by

My first memory of Václav Havel is of watching the news as a kid, after the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and seeing pictures of Havel in his living room: a prison of stuffed bookshelves. For me, Havel was the image of a literary hero, an ideal of literature as integrity.

I’ve always, in other words, been a sucker for the questions of Pragueespecially Prague in the era of Soviet Communism, probably because these questions all relate to a larger problem: a writer’s responsibility and resistance to political life, the serious business of being flippant. In the setups of his farcical plays andfollowing his imprisonment in 1977 for involvement in a human-rights charterthrough the patient linguistic analysis of his essays, Havels subject was always the same: how language can be made to connive in unreality. But he also believed that words could be renovated, that a politics was possible. And this hope led him, for instance, to the courage of the following statement in his 1977 trial: there were certain words, he said, “which recur continually in the indictment and which one would describe as loaded, words like subversion, lies, malice, illegal organizations, anticommunist centers, vilification, hatred and so on. However, when one looks closely at these words, one finds that there is nothing behind them.” Just as it made him read Bellows libertine Herzog, in prison, in these dissident terms: “A professional with ‘words’ goes mad in a situation where words have no weight. He clearly lacks what we do not, which is to say a situation in which words have so much weight that you must pay quite dearly for them.”

This was why, in the summer of 2010, I found myself proposing a Paris Review interview to Havel. I wanted to ask him my own series of Prague questions, about his love of Bohumil Hrabal’s stories, the cinema of the Czech New Wave, his intuition of farce ... These questions, basically, were one big question: What was it like for a writer, as he did, to end up in the Presidential Palace?

The Interview, however, turned into a melancholy comedy of its own. Read More »

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Staff Picks: The Unseen Bestiary, The Avoidance of Love

August 26, 2011 | by

From ‘Monstrorum Historia,’ by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1642.

Just in time for Borges’s birthday, Lindsey Carr is curating a collaborative art project documenting creatures that have never been seen. The project, The Unseen Bestiary, a sort of DIY Book of Imaginary Beings, is soliciting brief descriptions to accompany Carr’s drawings. —Mackenzie Beer

I’m rereading Stanley Cavell’s great essay on King Lear (and everything else), “The Avoidance of Love,” in preparation for what I’m told is another great essay, by Mark Greif, in the new issue of n+1. (Some lifetime subscription that turned out to be!) —Lorin Stein

I’ve been slowly working through the strikingly lyrical essays in City Dog this summer, so I was excited to see new poems by W. S. di Piero in the fall issue of ZYZZYVA. Something about them reminded me of the end of summer. “Starting Over” perfectly evoked that late-August feeling of everyone coming home: “here you are the nothing / that is the place, / and all the places are you, / none of them yours to keep.”  —Ali Pechman

I just learned everything I know about Batman from intern Cody, who puts the super back in superheroes. —L.S.

Since I realized that Spotify has such a great collection of Alan Lomax recordings, I’ve been totally hooked. —Sadie Stein

Moving books around in my house, I rediscovered my copy of Boulevard Transportation, a collaboration between Rudy Burckhardt and Vincent Katz. The former’s photographs—framing and juxtaposing country and city streets, architectural elements, faces—and the latter’s poetry—casual glances and delighted observations—are perfectly suited to each other. On one spread, Burckhardt’s closeup of reeds waving against sun-dappled water is set opposite this from Katz: “I put bare / feet to Terra / swim in the lake / all day long / there is nothing / to do / listen to wind in the trees.” —Nicole Rudick

I was one of those lame kids without a rock collection, but Léonard Rosenthal, famed 1920s Parisian jeweler and author of The Kingdom of the Pearl, has reformed me. If you aren’t sold on reading about rocks, check out the Edmund Dulac illustrations that originally accompanied the text. —M.B.

I’ve always felt more like a New Yorker than a Californian, but this video is amazing. — A.P.

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A Week in Culture: Wesley Yang, Writer, Part 2

January 20, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Yang’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

Bach Organ Works.

One of my many collegiate affectations was to play old records on a plastic turntable that I purchased at a garage sale. I had a bunch of classical LPs from my parent’s living-room bureau that I brought with me, including the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major and Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in E-flat Major. The poor fidelity of those enormous sounds pressed through that tinny speaker gave the music an abstract and deconstructed quality that made it somehow purer.

My best friend at the time was Hoon, who was only four feet, eleven inches tall and very slight. We both shaved our heads totally bald in the summer between freshman and sophomore year in emulation of Michel Foucault. “I have a good head,” Hoon assured me in advance of shaving it. He was right—it was a very elegant ovoid shaped like a coconut that you could hold in the palm of your hand. I doubted I would have a good head, and after spending an evening trying to depilate it with a disposable Bic razor (I had to go to the barber the next day to finish the job, as there were impacted clumps that would not come off), I discovered that, in fact, I have a grossly oblong, egg-shaped head.

During my sophomore year at Rutgers, I fell into a desperate and unrequited passion for a Colombian girl who lived a floor above me in the river dorms (where I had moved after feeling alienated in Brett Hall, the honors dorm where 95 percent of the students were Orthodox Jews from South Jersey), and then had something like a minor breakdown. I would spend hours staring at the record player as it spun out this strange celestial music that induced a cold rapture that was intense in its longing but inhumanly remote. It seemed the aural manifestation of an austere and exacting God. I never quite enjoyed it, but everything else felt irrelevant.

I never really got over that record of Bach. I carried the little plastic record player with me throughout the rest of college, until finally my roommate during senior year snapped the record in half in a passive-aggressive fit. He had reason to be upset with me: I had made out with his sixteen-year-old sister who had visited us for a week after refusing to return to school that January. We stayed together, on and off, for the next seven years.

Very recently, I downloaded a complete set of Bach organ works by another performer and assembled a playlist of the tracks that made up the original record. The tonalities do not compare in beauty and strangeness to the ones recorded on the LP, and now I think I hear what the roommate must have heard. At the time, he confessed to me that he believed I played that record specifically for the purpose of tormenting him, and that was the reason he broke it.

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