Posts Tagged ‘morality’
July 11, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On February 3, 1974, Philip K. Dick was minding his own business—just recovering from dental surgery as you or I might, maybe with a pint of rum raisin Häagen-Dazs and some trashy daytime television—when a divine spirit had the nerve to interrupt his solitude, altering his life forever: “The doorbell rang, and when Dick opened the door he was stunned to see what he described as a ‘girl with black, black hair and large eyes very lovely and intense’ wearing a gold necklace with a Christian fish symbol. She was there to deliver a new batch of medications from the pharmacy. After the door shut, Dick was blinded by a flash of pink light and a series of visions ensued. First came images of abstract paintings, followed by philosophical ideas and then, sophisticated engineering blueprints. Dick believed the pink light was a spiritual force which had unlocked his consciousness, granting him access to esoteric knowledge.”
- Imagine a world without billboards. I can’t do it, either. But an earlier generation, their synapses blessedly unfried by constant advertising, had the creative wherewithal to mount an assault on the whole industry. Erica Berry writes, “Billboards are democratic invitations, tickets to Dionysian adventure and Hedonistic romps … Taking a cue from the English Society for Checking the Abuses of Public Advertising, American anti-billboard reformers quickly organized against this assault, with the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., helming early efforts. The signs concealed piles of litter, blocked sunlight, distracted from the scenery, and ‘obtrude[d] all sorts of sordid ideas upon the mind,’ Olmsted wrote in 1900. Beyond moral objections, anti-billboard activists seized on the practical effrontery of the signs, as when wooden boards atop San Francisco’s buildings helped conduct the city’s disastrous 1906 fire, or when a ‘bloodthirsty billboard’ tipped and injured pedestrians in Kansas City in 1905, as reported by the Kansas City Journal.”
- Come to Catullus for the hunger and heartache, stay for the dick jokes: “The verses Catullus addressed to male rivals, or to friends who he felt had let him down, often pullulate with rage and obscenity. Paedicabo ego vos et irrumabois his gloriously defiant reply to two companions, Furius and Aurelius, who had criticized the indecency of his writings: ‘I shall fuck you in the ass and I shall fuck you in the mouth.’ His fearless attacks on his enemies, even revered public figures, teem with anuses, penises, stinking armpits—one man, a certain Rufus, is said to have a wild goat living beneath his—and graphic sex acts either given or received. The saltiness of these poems has thrilled many a beginning Latin class, but their power extends beyond mere shock value. With his freewheeling aggression, his willingness to let fly at the slightest provocation, Catullus evokes the modern Beat poets; the ‘neoteric’ school to which he belonged was just as daring as theirs in breaking with literary tradition.”
- Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, reviews Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, which finds Matar returning to Libya for the first time in thirty-three years, after Qaddafi’s fall: “His memoir is set in this honeymoon of the revolution, the brief window between the dictatorship and the current civil war. ‘Anything seemed possible,’ Matar writes of this hopeful interim, ‘and nearly every individual I met spoke of his optimism and foreboding in the same breath.’ In the memoir’s most rapturous passages, which recall Albert Camus’s essays on his Algerian childhood, Matar evokes his rediscovery of the Libyan landscape, the luminous Mediterranean coast and the austerity of the interior, where the earth ‘stood as all the unpeopled landscapes of Libya stand, clean and witnessing.’ ”
- In which James Wolcott sits down with a group of memoirs looking back at the golden age of magazines, including Terry McDonell’s The Accidental Life: “The twilight melancholy that creeps through the book is due not only to the ghosts of those now gone … but also to the waning of an entire way of life, the shrinking power, prestige, glamour, and advertising clout of glossy print in the Digital Age beneath the Death Star of Silicon Valley hegemony and the loss of journalistic comradeship. Everything McDonell writes rings sad and true, but the marvel is (as I’m sure he’d agree) that so much superb, adventurous work is still being done in magazines in the encroaching void of such adversity. If you’re going to go down with the ship, might as well go down swinging.”
May 5, 2016 | by Max Nelson
John Cleland wrote his (very) erotic novel, Fanny Hill, in prison. What did he mean by it?
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Merle Haggard and the long tradition of the outlaw poet, here.
John Cleland’s sentences often resemble the sexual encounters he imagined in his best-known book—a two-volume novel called Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Fanny Hill, published when he was in debtor’s prison between 1748 and 1749, reissued in a censored edition the following year, and presented in both cases as an autobiographical letter by a former courtesan named Fanny Hill. A typical Cleland sentence goes on past any moderate end point, “wedging [itself] up to the utmost extremity.” It makes unexpected, spasmodic, sometimes baffling detours, “exalted by the charm of their novelty and surprise.” It drifts so far into the ridiculous that sometimes it seems “that on earth”—as Cleland’s heroine comments in one passage about the “women of quality” she and her colleagues once wanted to resemble—“there cannot subsist anything more silly, more flat, more insipid and worthless.” But then it keeps going, escalating until it seems to have been “driven forcibly out of the power of using any art.” Read More »
May 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Marisol, the mononymic pop-art sculptor known for her carved wood figures and legendarily long silences, has died at eighty-five. “Marisol was a star of the New York art scene in the 1960s, breaking through with a 1962 solo show at the Stable Gallery that featured her bright, boxy sculptures of people representing a range of American life—everyone from the Kennedys to a dust-bowl farm family to the artist herself. The works, which combined painted and minimally carved wooden figures with found objects like shoes and doors, were funny but incisive, simple-looking but expertly made. They helped launch a career that included great artistic success and stardom, followed by decades of obscurity and, more recently, a revival and renewed appreciation of her exceptional work.” (Marisol designed a print for The Paris Review in 1965.)
- While we’re on sculptors: Liene Bosquê works in souvenirs. As Sarah Gerard recalls, “I first saw her work in the MoMA PS1 show ‘Greater New York,’ where she was showing a piece called Recollection, comprising dozens of hand-sized souvenirs from her travels, laid out on a plain, wooden table in a grid pattern resembling Manhattan’s. Though the souvenirs are found objects, she also uses them to make molds for other small sculptures in clay or plastic. With a background in architecture and an interest in history’s relationship to memory, Bosquê gives equal consideration to mathematical precision and sensory stimulation in her pieces—she has a rule that all of the souvenirs she uses in her work must be hand-sized, small enough to carry in her pocket as she picked them up on her travels over fifteen years. ‘Something that’s close to you,’ she explains.”
- Hold the phone, everybody. Paul Simon’s dancing again. He’s dancing and using cuss words. He’s limbering up. “In June,” Kelefa Sanneh writes, “Simon will release his thirteenth solo album, Stranger to Stranger, which is friskier and funnier than its recent predecessors—his most danceable music in decades. He meets his old nemesis near the end, in a song called “Cool Papa Bell,” named for the great Negro League center fielder. ‘Motherfucker,’ Simon mutters … Simon doesn’t apologize for his conviction that music should be easy on the ears. He has shown little interest in the grit and grunge that often signal rock-and-roll authenticity, and even now, at seventy-four, he sings in a voice that is boyish and clear. More than any other musician of his age and stature … he seems unburdened by the years, and by his own reputation. He has managed to become neither a wizened oracle nor an oldies act, and his best songs convey the appealing sensation of listening to a guy who is still trying to figure out what he’s doing … Not long after Simon’s fiftieth birthday, on an episode of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, Beavis referred to him as ‘that dude from Africa that used to be in the Beatles.’ ”
- You know that old saying, “It’s always the inveterate masturbators who try to censor the mail”? Well, that’s true. It’s true now, and it was true in the 1870s, when Anthony Comstock, an intrepid dry-goods salesman whose diaries reveal that he liked to jerk off a lot, began his crusade to suppress erotic materials through the postal service. “As Comstock told it, a fellow employee at the dry-goods store became afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease after developing an interest in erotic literature. Comstock went to the bookstore where his friend made his purchases, bought some illicit reading material, and returned with a police captain who arrested the dealer … In February 1873, Comstock asked [Morris] Jesup to send him to Washington to plead for a more stringent federal postal law. Jesup bought him a ticket and Comstock boarded the train with an assortment of offensive items from his trove … Republican leaders gave Comstock an enthusiastic welcome. [Schuyler] Colfax allowed Comstock to set up an exhibit of his unspeakable wares in his Senate office.”
- In closing, let us meditate, as we are wont to do, on the role of hedgehogs in Slavic folktales: “These adorable animals are predominantly found in Russian movies and fairy stories but they appear, also, in tales from neighboring countries. The Bulgarians have two particularly interesting accounts of the hedgehog, both of which point to his wisdom. In one tale, he advises God on how to use the sky to cover the earth, while in another he is the only animal not to attend the wedding of the Sun and the Moon. When asked for the reason, he says that he’s busy learning to eat rocks, for if the union takes place and the Sun has lots of little sun children, all the plants in the world will dry up … In the Soviet animated film Ezhik v tumane (Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975), Hedgehog is the bridge between the conscious and the dream world, evoking sympathy from the audience as they watch him lost in a thick mist, chasing after the mirage of a white horse in the clouds.”
March 10, 2016 | by M. G. Zimeta
The language of debt and ethics.
When E. E. Cummings wrote “i am never without it (anywhere / i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done / by only me is your doing, my darling),” he was talking about a lover, but he may as well have been talking about a debt. For we are wracked with debt, especially with student debt, which last month the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported to be the second largest household debt category after mortgages. It’s also the debt category with the highest delinquency rate—perhaps because its balances are unpayable, given the way the global economy is stacked against the young. But still creditors wonder: How can they make their debtors pay up? The key may be in asking with the right words, and for the right reasons. Read More »
November 17, 2015 | by Max Nelson
Before she was guillotined, the inscrutable Madame Roland wrote a remarkable memoir.
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Abdellatif Laâbi’s poems, here.
It could be said that the men with the greatest influence on Marie-Jean Phlipon’s life and legacy were two she never met. She rarely let herself depend too heavily on the male figures she knew: her husband, whom she respected and discretely controlled; the lawyer François Buzot, whom she came to love; and the many men of power whose authority she defied. It was Rousseau who provided “exactly the nourishment I needed,” she wrote, having read his La Nouvelle Héloïse in the wake of her mother’s death. “He showed me the possibility of domestic happiness and the delights that were available to me if I sought them.”
Phlipon—a well-read engraver’s daughter who went on to become a martyr of the French Revolution—defined “domestic happiness” differently than most. Two years after Rousseau’s death, she married Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, whose political rise and fall she explores in the thrilling Memoirs she wrote from Paris’s Saint-Pélagie prison in the months leading up to her execution. Thomas Carlyle, the second man who shaped her reputation, was born two years after her death. When he gave his account of her in his 1837 history of the Revolution, it was left to others to decide whether he “interpreted feelings” that she had had herself: Read More »
September 16, 2015 | by Damion Searls
Nietzsche on education, inequality, and translation.
When I went off to college, it wasn’t, as far as I could tell, the result of any decision. The assumption—the fact—was simply there, in my family or high school or race and class or wherever it was, that there was more to come after twelfth grade. I didn’t appreciate the privilege nearly enough, but I also felt no need to justify to myself or anyone else how I planned to spend the next four years. There must still be such eighteen or nineteen year olds out there, never expected to explain themselves, but it is harder to imagine them. Nowadays, education is fraught and embattled and debated and doubted down to the core.
I feel like I’ve read the same essay half a dozen times recently—here are two good examples—an essay insisting that the true value of education is not calculable in monetary terms. Education is moral, philosophical: a process of creating and becoming better people. You can make the argument that a liberal-arts education is “valuable” in the narrow sense, since it is, but even if that argument wins some battles—and it rarely does—it will lose the war. Once you concede that economic striving takes priority over artistic or humanistic goals, then arts funding and English degrees and even pure science are never going to withstand the juggernaut of business and technology. You have to fight under a higher standard.
I agree with this line of thought and am happy enough to see the point made half a dozen times over. I’ve read it recently in Friedrich Nietzsche, too, whose little-known 1872 lectures On the Future of Our Educational Institutions are appearing this fall in my new translation under the snappier title Anti-Education. Even in Nietzsche’s day, the state and the masses were apparently clamoring for
as much knowledge and education as possible—leading to the greatest possible production and demand—leading to the greatest happiness: that’s the formula. Here we have Utility as the goal and purpose of education, or more precisely Gain: the highest possible income … Culture is tolerated only insofar as it serves the cause of earning money.