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Posts Tagged ‘Lisa Cohen’

What We’re Loving: Eccentrics, Cult Figures

August 3, 2012 | by

All month I’ve found myself recommending Perry Anderson’s series in the London Review of Books on the birth of modern India. Anderson is hardly a well-kept secret; he is about as renowned as a Marxist historian can be. Still, his in-depth articles—on China, Russia, Italy, et cetera—are like nothing in any other magazine. Imagine the old Encyclopedia Britannica as written by the God of the Old Testament. He lays about him with a mighty hand. —Lorin Stein

I like biographies for beach reading. (And by beach I mean the roof of my building.) Lisa Cohen’s All We Know—a joint study of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland, and a vivid portrait of between-the-wars bohemia—is just the thing: substantive, thoughtful, and juicy enough that you’ll risk a burn to find out what happens next. —Sadie O. Stein

If you are an eccentric, you will be thrilled to know that there is a club for you. It’s called, rather plainly, The Eccentrics Club. It’s based in London, was founded in 1781, and still exists. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t—it’s patronized by the Duke of Edinburgh, no less. The club’s stated mission is to promote, presumably just among eccentrics, “Good Fellowship” and “True Sociality”—“virtues which,” according to the club's rules and regulations of 1808, “are now getting rare and eccentric; but which it is the wish and intent of this Society to cherish within their narrow circle to the utmost of their power … in the occasional enjoyment of  ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul.’” If you aren’t quite sure whether or not you qualify, do not fret, as the Society has a useful page to help you diagnose yourself. If you discover that you are in fact an eccentric, don’t get too excited: admission to the club is by interview only. —Arthur Holland Michel

Searching for Sugar Man—the story of Detroit cult singer-songwriter Rodriguez and his unlikely second act—is a solid, pleasurable documentary that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys crying alone at movies (I do). But even if you don’t catch it, check out the sound track: composed entirely of the subject’s own music, it makes a strong case for his place in the early-seventies canon. I’ve had Cold Fact on repeat for the past week. —S.O.S.

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Postscript: Celebrating Sybille Bedford

May 23, 2011 | by

Aliette Martin, at left.

There are writers who speak several languages proudly, ostentatiously. There are novelists who pen stories in loud, colorful italics about coming from one country and moving to another. There is a fetishizing, even in our globe-trotting culture—web-linked, multiscreened, and simultaneously translated though it is—of nationality, its hold and its reach.

Then there is the grace and subtlety of Sybille Bedford. To read Bedford’s work is to bask in the presence of someone at once German, French, and English—at the very least—who knew these countries from deep within herself and was able to enjoy their distinctions without ever belittling or simplifying them. If the word cosmopolitan had been coined with a particular literary figure in mind, it might have been Sybille Bedford.

In a piece included in a volume published to honor Sybille after her death, her French friend and literary executor Aliette Martin recalled lines from Sybille’s last book, Quicksands: “To remain monolingual reduces the mind to the confines of a tramline. The civilized mind needs alternatives for its expression.” Though Sybille chose to write in English, she routinely included quotations or phrases from other tongues, along with amiable translations—so that the reader could hear the music or humor of the original, but needn’t feel excluded if his or her mind happened to be more tramlined than the polyglot author’s.

Ms. Martin was among those sipping wine or soda water in the elegant offices of The Paris Review not so long ago, at a gathering to celebrate Sybille Bedford’s centenary with readings from various of her books.

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Sybille Bedford at One Hundred

March 16, 2011 | by

This is Sybille Bedford’s centennial year—she would have been one hundred years old today—and The Paris Review is marking it with a reading on Thursday, March 24. To learn more, click here. If you are interested in attending, please e-mail us.

Sybille Bedford, 2004. Photograph by Luciana Arrighi.

I have been reading and rereading Sybille Bedford’s work for the past twenty-five years, and I was lucky to get to know her fierce, vulnerable, inimitably vibrant self late in her life. I am writing from London, where I’ve come to attend a birthday dinner in her honor, tonight, in the cellars of the wine merchants Berry Bros. and Rudd. The evening, planned by her friend and literary executor, Aliette Martin, opens with Sybille’s favorite champagne, Pol Roger, and the five-course menu pairs excellent wines with elegant but unfussy food, beginning with a 1998 Gewurztraminer (Hommage à Jean Hugel, Maison Hugel) and foie gras mi-cuit, toasted brioche, and onion confit.

Sybille—she disliked the epithet “Bedford”—was born in Germany and spent much of her life in Europe, but she chose to write in English and was one of the language’s great twentieth-century stylists. Much of her work, including her best-known novel, A Legacy, moves freely between fiction and memoir, exploring the pleasures and traumas of her upbringing between the wars in Germany, Italy, England, and the south of France. She is known, too, for her sensual writing on travel and as a connoisseur of food and wine. She had “a genius for living,” an admiring ex-lover told her; she called herself “a sybarite with a political conscience.” Her legal reporting bears out that mixture: covering the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in London, of Jack Ruby in Dallas, of the Auschwitz guards in Frankfurt, and more, she produced crystallized essays about character, justice, and the rituals of law. She has been dubbed a modernist and a traditionalist; her cool, staccato dialogue has been compared to Quentin Tarantino’s. She published her last book, Quicksands, in 2005.

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