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Posts Tagged ‘men’

The Wrong Scent

April 20, 2016 | by

From a vintage Bienaimé advertisement.

When I rejoined my husband, the first thing he said was, “I love that perfume!”

“That’s just as well,” I said shortly.

Here’s what had happened: I’d taken refuge from the weather in a shop. Guiltily aware that I wouldn’t be buying anything, I sniffed at a series of perfume stoppers. Some customer in a fishing hat, a pair of white socks with sandals, and a bag with a picture of Liza Minnelli on it was chattering with the saleswoman about the exorbitant price of neighborhood tea and his depression. “Maybe some cologne will help your day,” said the saleswoman. Read More »

Your Every Wish for a Home, and Other News

April 8, 2016 | by

The cover of a Cinderella Homes sales brochure, 1955–1957. From Barbara Miller Lane’s Houses for a New World. Via The New York Review of Books.

  • Did you know? Heterosexual men tend to enjoy sexual intercourse—so much so, in fact, that even when they’re not having intercourse, they sometimes wish they were. Undone, a new novel by John Colapinto, explores this fecund quadrant of the male psyche, because no one’s set foot there in a while and someone needed to mow the lawn: “By exploring heterosexual male lust, Mr. Colapinto has written the kind of novel that has gone way out of fashion. The classics of the genre—Portnoy’s Complaint (Roth), An American Dream (Mailer), and Couples (Updike), among them—are many decades old … Many critics and civilian readers would say—and have said—good riddance to priapic literature. In a 1997 essay, ostensibly a review of the late-period Updike novel Toward the End of Time, David Foster Wallace slammed the previous generation of ‘phallocrats’ for its sex-obsessed narcissism … Colapinto said he had read the Wallace essay and largely agrees with it. But on the subject of the sex-drenched novels of Updike, Roth and the other bards of the male libido, he said, ‘I couldn’t deny that I had a lot of fun reading those books when I was younger.’ In his view, there was an overcorrection.”
  • Our Spring Revel was earlier this week, and though you might have expected some kind of superficial tribute to the wonders of the written word, you should know that our writers got real. They also described “their less-photogenic days at the desk”: “Even after thirty years, Lydia Davis said she has her off days. In accepting this year’s Hadada Award at this year’s annual gala at Cipriani 42nd Street, the author admitted throwing out the written version of her speech was a big mistake, and one that left her ‘scrawling little notes in very small handwriting on a jiggling train’ en route to New York … David Szalay and Chris Bachelder, respective winners of the Plimpton Prize for Fiction and the Terry Southern Prize for Humor, also didn’t exactly sugarcoat their career choice. In fact, pretty much every table had a writer in the midst of a one-person battle with the printed page. For novelist Adam Wilson, that means having a safe to lock up his cell phone in his Brooklyn home office.”
  • A reissue of Marianne Moore’s 1924 Observations reminds of its “infectious devotion to everything small”: “A fresh reading of Observations suggests that, while Moore’s descriptive powers are formidable, she is primarily a poet of argument, which is to say that she is most primarily a poet of syntax—the convolutions of her long, charismatic sentences seduce us into agreement long before we’ve had time to consider the substance of the argument at stake … Read as a whole, as it was designed to be, Observations emerges as one of several books that in the 1920s created our lasting sense of what constitutes the modernist achievement—books that court chaos through exquisite artistry: Eliot’s The Waste Land, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Pound’s A Draft of XVI Cantos, Joyce’s Ulysses.”
  • Time to ask again—what were the suburbs? Two new books, Houses for a New World, by Barbara Miller Lane, and Detached America, by James A. Jacobs, look back at the era of Levittown and the postwar suburban-housing boom, which we’re struggling to make sense of. As Martin Filler writes, “Both new books remind us of a time when a popular American middle-class weekend pastime was to pile the kids and in-laws into the family car and drive around looking at model houses, whether or not you were actively shopping for a new place. Lane has found newspaper advertisements and promotional materials for subdivisions that were clearly aimed at wives (who wielded huge influence about housing decisions even though their husbands were the breadwinners) and stressed the transformational nature of life in these up-to-the-minute dwellings. A revealing example of that appeal to women can be found in a 1955–1957 sales brochure for Cinderella Estates, a new Anaheim, California, subdivision not far from the recently completed Disneyland. This booklet depicts a princess-like figure and regal coach next to a rendering of a sprawling ranch-style house and the words ‘your every wish for a home … come gloriously true.’ ”
  • On the poet Ocean Vuong, born in Saigon and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, whose work is “influenced by both the plainspoken ironies of Frank O’Hara and the exotic folklorism of Federico García Lorca”: “Reading Vuong is like watching a fish move: he manages the varied currents of English with muscled intuition. His poems are by turns graceful (‘You, pushing your body / into the river / only to be left / with yourself’) and wonderstruck (‘Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade. / Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn’). His lines are both long and short, his pose narrative and lyric, his diction formal and insouciant. From the outside, Vuong has fashioned a poetry of inclusion.”

The Thunder Runs Again, and Other News

March 9, 2016 | by

The Bristol Old Vic’s thunder run. Photo courtesy Bristol Old Vic

  • Today in the gender binary: using data collected from e-book readers, a start-up called Jellybooks (inspires confidence, no?) has decreed that “men decide much faster than women if they like a story or not.” The company’s founder, Andrew Rhomberg, spoke to the Guardian: “If an author wants to hold on to a male reader, they have ‘only twenty to fifty pages to capture their attention,’ according to the research. ‘No room for rambling introductions … The author needs to get to the point quickly, build suspense or otherwise capture the male reader, or he is gone, gone, gone.” (I didn’t make it to the end of the article.)
  • On her mother’s side, Alex Mar is descended from Juan Ponce de León: yes, Mr. Fountain of Youth himself, conquistador extraordinaire, slaughterer of innocents. Mar has taken a hard look at her ancestor: “The currency of his name, I guess, has made him the only distant ancestor who warrants mention. I’ve heard him spoken of in two registers: in the Grimms’-fairy-tales voice reserved for children, a tone that says, Oh yes, it’s all true and isn’t it incredible?; and in that faux-modest way of adults, that way of deliberately sounding lighthearted about a thing that makes you proud—a thing you’re convinced gives you an edge … Most historians seem to agree that Juan Ponce de León is one of the more humane of these European settlers, treating the locals he absorbs into his enterprise more like indentured servants than slaves. But what does that mean? How thinly do we have to slice these moral distinctions to see the difference? … Do we inherit darkness, even at a few centuries’ remove?”
  • At the Guggenheim, Francine Prose looks at the work of the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, whose mural How to Work Better you may have seen at the corner of Houston and Mott Streets in New York: “The kind of humor captured in the How to Work Better mural—simultaneously playful and sincere, mingling the banal and the profound, attentive to the contradictions, ironies, and accidental beauties of the world—pervades the Guggenheim show … The two- and three-dimensional works, videos, and films manage to be rebellious without being strident, to be witty and cerebral without ever seeming pretentious or coy, to challenge traditional notions of what art is and can do, and to comment on the society in which we live without making us feel that their principal focus is provocation or attacking our politics and social order.”
  • The Bristol Old Vic, a British theater, dates to 1766, and it has the special-effects technology to match. To summon the sound of thunder, for instance, they roll a bunch of wooden balls down a pine-pitch chute built into the rafters. This “thunder run” had been out of commission since 1942—but now it’s back: “Theater historian David Wilmore was enlisted to carry out test runs, and over three days the Bristol Old Vic technical team learned how to use the old-fashioned sound device … Most thunder runs disappeared with the advance of new technology, and other theaters used less cumbersome methods from the start, like metal thunder sheets rattled offstage. These were often joined by rain boxes, which consisted of dried peas rolling through a long structure with ledges nailed inside, and a wind machine, featuring a rotating cylinder of wooden slats covered with fabric.”
  • What if critics dropped the whole burdensome critical apparatus—the long ledes, the cool authority, the markers of taste—and told us about their dreams? Reviewing Rebekah Rutkoff’s The Irresponsible Magician, one critic sees a way of casting off the constrictions of the book review: “I dream, sometimes, that I am reading—just reading—and as I approach the lower pages of a long PDF, my computer’s battery flashes an urgent red. My more exciting dreams lead me on quests to find some precious object or escape some nefarious force. It’s the normal sort of dream-stuff, but for one crucial thing: my dreams always unfold in cavernous and deserted buildings. In my dreams I navigate endless corridors, traverse indoor gardens, and paddle through underground canals. The landscapes I dream up resemble nothing more than malls. Rundown, or even abandoned malls … Commerce snakes its way into each dream-mind’s working—snakes in, loops round fragments of sensation and assembles them as sense. It urges us—as do family, society, language, and law—toward an inner consensus.”

The Shade of Mark Twain, and Other News

March 4, 2016 | by

Emily Grant Hutchings, who claimed to commune with Mark Twain’s ghost.

  • Today in exotic forms of posthumous success: In 1917, seven years after his death, Mark Twain wrote a novel called Jap Herron by communicating through a medium using a Ouija board. This led to some legal troubles (to say nothing of the metaphysical quandaries) because Twain had a deal to publish all his books with Harper & Brothers. Did his ghost have to make good on that deal, too? The New York Times gave a taste of the courtroom antics: “[I]t is possible that the Ouija Board will be made to perform in court and that the shade of Mark Twain, or what purports to be his spirit, will undertake to confound Mark Twain, the unbeliever. That Mrs. Hutchings intends to get into communications with that very important witness is an assured point.”
  • Vivian Gornick looks back at Constance Fenimore Woolson, who “was a popular American writer of the late nineteenth century whose friendship with Henry James has, among James scholars, long qualified hers as a distinctly lesser life. In all the James biographies, Woolson appears as a shadowy presence whose morbid anxieties simply echo those of the Master himself. Now, with the publication of a full-length biography and the reissue of a collection of her stories, Woolson emerges as a figure of some dimension in her own right … Turning to her Miss Grief and Other Stories is something of a shock; that’s how unexpected is the punch that much of the book delivers. There are seven stories in all, three set in Europe, four in America. The writing in all of them is remarkably good, but it is the American stories that will send the reader looking for more of Woolson’s work.”
  • Rivka Galchen envies only one thing about men, and it’s not (or not exactly) that men have traditionally been able to get away with behaving like cretins: “The first gender-envy thoughts I have had, really in my entire life, started maybe not immediately following the arrival of my daughter in my apartment, but shortly after … The envious thought was simply that a man can have a baby that his romantic partner doesn’t know about. This is a crazy thought, of course, but I find myself feeling it with such sincerity that I cannot see its edges. The thought seems a descendant of a thought I had while hoping to become pregnant, which was imagining a woman who was pregnant with twins but didn’t have the courage to confess this to her partner, whom she believes will be devastated by the news, and so she dreams up plans to come up with some ‘hysterical’ reason for not wanting her partner there for the birth, and then what? What will she do with the second child? Raise it in secrecy? I knew I wouldn’t be having a second baby.”
  • It’s Friday. Why not go on a little jaunt through Chekhov’s notebooks? That’s what they’re there for. And what do we find: “A passion for the word uterine: my uterine brother, my uterine wife, my uterine brother-in-law, etc.” “A conversation at a conference of doctors. First doctor: ‘All diseases can be cured by salt.’ Second doctor, military: ‘Every disease can be cured by prescribing no salt.’ The first points to his wife, the second to his daughter.” “A theatrical manager, lying in bed, read a new play. He read three or four pages and then in irritation threw the play on to the floor, put out the candle, and drew the bedclothes over him; a little later, after thinking over it, he took the play up again and began to read it; then, getting angry with the uninspired tedious work, he again threw it on the floor and put out the candle. A little later he once more took up the play and read it, then he produced it and it was a failure.”
  • Today in failing to follow instructions from the master: seems like we may have been playing Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” incorrectly all these decades. Specifically, our nation’s finest orchestras have made a mess of the part calling for French taxi horns to bleat: “The ambiguity stems from how the taxi horn parts are notated in Gershwin’s original handwritten score. To put it in Gershwin terms, we got rhythm: The score shows that the horns play sets of accented eighth notes. But when it comes to pitch, things are less clear. Gershwin’s score labels the four taxi horns with a circled ‘A,’ a circled ‘B,’ a circled ‘C’ and a circled ‘D.’ Those circled letters have been interpreted as indicating which note each horn should play—A, B, C and D on the scale—since at least 1945 … But the new critical edition will argue that Gershwin’s circled letters were merely labels specifying which horns to play, not which notes.”

Give Those Old Ladies a Break, and Other News

October 29, 2015 | by

Joachim Martin Falbe, Portrait of an Old Lady, ca. 1755.

  • Evil, in fairy tales, often comes in the form of an old woman: the fearsome, embittered crone is a staple of the genre. What will it take for our legends to start treating old biddies with respect—and why did they get a bad rap to begin with? The answer could be psychological (“Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into ... the evil mother—who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at youand then the benevolent nurturer”) or political (“She’s usually a solitary woman. She’s already marginal. She’s angry at something—at life, or whatever—and she will ‘eat’—that’s the expression—people’s souls, in the sense that she’s going to possess people and then they die a terrible death”). Or maybe we’ve just been reading the stories wrong and failing to see that “old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.”
  • Oh, goody. We might just have, more than fifty years after her death, a new Sylvia Plath sex scandal on our hands: What was she doing the night before she gassed herself? Her biographer Jonathan Bate might know. “Andrew Sinclair, a friend of Plath and [Ted] Hughes, pointed [Bate] to a poem of Hughes’s that made reference to a final lover of Plath’s, and that a book editor in New York, Frances Lindley, met someone at a book party who told her he’d seen Plath’s last letter, which made reference to a call to said lover. Additionally, Plath’s downstairs neighbor attested that she asked for a postage stamp that last night. Next to the phone box on St. George’s Terrace, there’s also a mailbox. Bate says he’s read reports of a collector in possession of Plath’s last letter, but he doesn’t name the collector. He doesn’t name the possible final lover either.” It might be “the critic Al Alvarez, who is still living but has always denied having an affair with Plath (‘Sylvia wasn’t my style—she wasn’t my physical type,’ he told Janet Malcolm) and has expressed guilt about the whole thing.”
  • David Lynch disdains words, and that’s okay as long as you’re not having a conversation with him. Better, maybe, just to listen: “In Lynch’s own speech and in the speech patterns of his films, the impression is of language used less for meaning than for sound. To savor the thingness of words is to move away from their imprisoning nature. Lynch has said, more than once, that he had to ‘learn to talk,’ and his very particular, somewhat limited vocabulary seems in many ways an outgrowth of his aesthetic … Lynch’s aphasia is born of a protectiveness that verges on superstition. Words for him are not just reductive; they are anathema to his view of art as fundamentally enigmatic.”
  • Today in the case for misandry: men are taking photos of beautiful landscapes and allowing their exposed scrotums to creep into the frame. It’s called nutscaping. And no matter how its creator attempts to defend it—it takes “courage, vulnerability and skill to properly execute,” he says, and it’s intended to gratify “a primal urge to connect on a deeper level with Mother Nature”—it’s further proof that men should probably be wiped off the face of the Earth.
  • There’s nothing like a magic trick to restore one’s faith in good old battle-tested irrationality: “Believing in magic is generally considered a callow faith, clung to by foolish young’uns who have a long distance relationship with reality … Carl Jung opted not to explain magic away. Instead, he wrote in 1938, there’s psychological worth in how magic and religion can allow us to function effectively in society: ‘What is usually and generally called “religion” is … a substitute. … The substitution has the obvious purpose of replacing immediate experience by a choice of suitable symbols invested in a solidly organized dogma and ritual.” Magic, in short, allows us to put reality through a strainer … It is the experience itself we’re imbibing, and magic can help with the swallow … Indeed, as Harry Houdini said, ‘Magic is the sole science not accepted by scientists, because they can’t understand it.’ ” (Cue Pilot’s 1975 hit, “Magic”…)

Cherish the Poop You Are Full of, and Other News

September 11, 2015 | by

Anonymous, Cabinets d'aisances des fosses inodores (detail), ca. 1830.

  • New York in the late seventies was not exactly a utopia: crime was soaring, graffiti was ubiquitous, mace was a must-have accessory. But a certain set of novels and films has made the era something to yearn for: “This was the last moment when a novelist or poet might withdraw a book that had already been accepted for publication and continue to fiddle with it for the next two or three years. This was the last time when a New York poet was reluctant to introduce to his arty friends someone who was a Hollywood film director, for fear the movies would be considered too low-status … these works express a craving for the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic … where not even money could insulate you. They are a reaction to what feels like a safer, more burnished and efficient (but cornerless and predictable) city.”
  • Today in writing advice that isn’t total shit, even if it’s about shit: “I preach the radio. I do not preach thinking you must know what you are about. Faulkner had good drugs and a big radio. I recall having heard my own little radio at times. It is rare, yes, and it is, now, rarer. But you are young and have your juice, you’re still full of poop, which is the necessary requisite to tuning the radio. Got to be some poop out there, on the airwaves, or in there, in you, for you to tune it in. Cherish the poop you are full of, and work on excreting it with sound fundamentals.” That’s Padgett Powell, being correct.
  • On procrastination and art: might there be something heroic, or at least admirably resistant, in the idea of putting off one’s writing? “Bartleby is my hero, endlessly preferring not to, but though I find him sympathetic, he—along with all the ‘writers of the no’, writers who turned their backs on writing, Rimbaud and Walser among them—is not in the same game as me. Or if we are in the same game, I’m not playing it right. I don’t turn my back on writing. I don’t say no. I say yes and fail to follow through. I sit suspended between preferring not to and not preferring to enough—I’m hung on a peg.”
  • Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter is “a compressed, unflinching portrait of the turmoil that envelops Bird, an alcoholic, after his son’s birth.” The novel has a new champion: none but Jonathan Franzen, who adores its disturbing elements, its comic elements, its vomit elements: “I don’t know of a more compelling description of throwing up than the ones that occur in this book. He’s sweating, he looks at himself in the mirror, and there’s bad sex. It’s partly that—the really, really tight focus on Bird’s body. There’s nothing like a microscopic view of your body to evoke shame.”
  • While we’re on shame—it’s time for men to cry again. They have much to cry about, being men, and yet they shed no tears … why, when male weeping has been treated as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history? In fact, it was exalted for a while: “ancient Greeks saw it as a model for how heroic men should behave … 20,000 knights swooning from grief were considered noble, not ridiculous … there’s no mention of the men in these stories trying to restrain or hide their tears … They cry in a crowded hall with their heads held high. Nor do their companions make fun of this public blubbing; it’s universally regarded as an admirable expression of feeling.”