The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Oops, and Other News

August 17, 2016 | by

This is what happens when you touch the art.

  • Guess what, people? Your garden-variety, Norman Mailer­–style, chest-thumping, self-aggrandizing narcissist is obsolete. This is the twenty-first century, and we have newer, more sophisticated, and more popular models for self-love. Kristin Dombek writes, “The narcissist is, according to the Internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves. They take what they think are the biggest, most impressive parts of other selves, and devise a hologram of self that seems superpowered. Let’s call it ‘selfiness,’ this simulacrum of a superpowered self.”
  • Say you’re in this band—let’s call it, say Metallica—and you release four earth-shatteringly seminal thrash-metal albums in the late eighties. And then you start to suck. And you persist in sucking. For decades. This is not, by ordinary standards, a sound business strategy—but what if, as Drew Millard suggests, Metallica is playing a very long game, profiting from toying with its fans’ emotions? “I get the sense that Metallica fans wouldn’t view the band’s early material with such reverence if the band hadn’t started systematically alienating the people who got them to the top. When it comes to fandom at least, hate is a far stronger emotion than love, and it seems like the further Metallica has drifted from its roots, the more incredulous the world has become that this group of sell-outs and lame-os could have once made such perfect, untouchable music. This relationship works in reverse as well: if the first four Metallica albums hadn’t been so great, it wouldn’t be so fun to hate on every move the band has made since then.”
  • You’re not supposed to touch things in museums, which means it’s very fun to touch them. A rash of recent accidents—a kind of museum crime blotter, if you will—makes the allure of touching very apparent. There’s the guy “who wanted to take a photo of himself with a sculpture in the foreground and a painting in the background. The visitor could not frame the photo to his liking, so he wrapped his arms around the abstract sculpture, which was the size of a person, and turned it on its pedestal to get the best angle.” Or the boy who “smashed a giant Lego sculpture of Nick from Zootopia at an expo in Ningbo, China. The artist had spent days piecing it together, reports said.”
  • Governments have attempted to neuter the appeal of cigarettes by doing away with their branding, insisting on generic packages in place of subtle marketing. But this misplaces some of the allure of addiction, as Rob Horning writes: “It seems more plausible that addiction generates its own rationalizations, its own myths, its own ideology. We need to experience a physical grounding for our ideological beliefs, and we need to have ideological excuses for our physical addictions, so they tend to work in tandem, symbiotically … Brands can seem like a way to add a phony value to an otherwise undifferentiated commodity. But they also mark the entry point for consumers into some vicarious fantasy, some idea tangential to consumption. The potential value of a brand rests in the conflation of compulsion and the desire to believe. It must make you feel as though you are choosing and also have no choice.”
  • Today in fiction as prognostication: Did Daphne du Maurier’s 1972 novel, Rule Britannia, predict Brexit? “In Du Maurier’s imagined referendum the government has ‘backtracked’ on its original support for the Common Market and now opposes British membership. If this contrasts with the Conservative government’s support for the Remain campaign this year, the book still has clear parallels with political events, according to Professor Helen Taylor, of Exeter University. She cites one section of the novel, in which the prime minister bemoans the political and financial repercussions of the leave vote, saying it ‘brought great economic difficulties, as I feared would be the case and as I warned you at the time, and our political autonomy and military supremacy were also endangered.’ ”

So You’re Adapting a Philip Roth Novel, and Other News

August 2, 2016 | by

From the Indignation poster.

  • Don’t learn this the hard way: it’s likely impossible to wrest a good screenplay from the pages of a Philip Roth novel. Many (okay, like, eight) have tried, the latest being James Schamus, with Indignation. All have struggled and gnashed their teeth. Leo Robson has some thoughts on why, and also some thoughts on the most singularly unfilmable Roth novels: “Sabbath’s Theater might be read as Roth’s ultimate piece of literary one-upmanship over the movies. You can picture Roth at his desk in rural Connecticut, far from the fluorescent, multiplex-ridden metropolis, writing the scenes in which Mickey communes with his lover’s ghost, yelling, ‘You filthy, wonderful Drenka cunt! Marry me! Marry me!,’ and ejaculating over her grave—and then saying to himself, with a vindicated smile, ‘Try filming that.’ ”
  • Rarely do I use this space to bring you practical advice or instruction—but you might want to know how to read a book and walk at the same time. It’s a skill I’ve tried to master for years, and I’m sick of causing traffic accidents in my pathetic efforts at “learning.” Nell Beram tells us that “it’s actually easier than it looks”: “First (and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this), stop reading when you cross the street. Second, forgo magazines. The columns are too narrow, forcing the eyes to skid to a stop at the end of a line as soon as they’ve gotten going. Plus, magazines are floppy, and the wind gets grope-y with the broad pages. So go with a book, ideally a hardback that you can hold comfortably in one hand … Your book cannot exceed fourteen ounces or it will murder your wrist.”

Writ in Water

February 23, 2016 | by

The enduring mystery of Keats’s last words.

Keats’s grave at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
For skies Italian ...

—John Keats, “Happy is England! I Could Be Content,” 1817

Among the dozens of fountains in Rome, the Trevi may be the most famous, but the Barcaccia in the Piazza di Spagna arguably has a lock on the most poignant. Commissioned in 1629, it sits at the foot of the Scalinata, or Spanish Steps, swarmed by hordes of tourists in high season. Boat shaped to commemorate the spot where, in the historic flood of 1598, the Tiber River reached its highest level and improbably deposited a river barque in the square, the Barcaccia now seems a light-hearted way station, an oasis on a hot Latin day.

But nearly two centuries ago, the fountain played a far different role for one particular admirer, a transplant from England who roomed in an apartment above the steps and listened incessantly to the murmurings of its waters. To this visitor, the Barcaccia was a temporary lifeline during a few dark winter months at the turn of 1821, as he coughed and spluttered his way to a tragically early death. That doomed young man, as devotees of English Romantic poetry know, was John Keats, and the apartment where the poet, barely twenty-five, breathed his last from tuberculosis, on February 23, 1821, is now the Keats-Shelley House, a meticulously kept museum and scholarly library founded in 1909. It’s there, in the room where Keats died, that you will find the key to a misapprehension—one could almost say a lie—about his life and death that has been promulgated, literally written in stone, since 1823. Read More »

Old Maps

November 17, 2015 | by

Islandia, a map by Abraham Ortelius, ca. 1590.

Many years ago, on a family vacation in another country, we took an English-language tour of a medieval university. The group saw the antique telescopes and charts used by famous astronomers, and the stone-floored laboratories where philosophers had tried to turn lead into gold. And there was a room filled with maps—sixteenth-century maps, we were told. These were objects of beauty, filled with colors and sea monsters, fanciful by modern standards. Read More »

The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills

September 23, 2015 | by

The deceptively ordinary house where Coltrane composed A Love Supreme.

Coltrane’s unassuming house in Dix Hills.

In an empty corner of a modest home in suburban New York, hiding beneath a construction zone’s deposits of dirt and dust on the floor, is a patch of bright, bold, almost electrically colorful vintage purple carpet. It couldn’t be more out of place; the rest of the surroundings are just exposed old wall beams and tattered bits of plaster coming down. But it seems right at home, somehow calm and calming, in the midst of it all.

The carpet dates back to the 1960s, when John and Alice Coltrane used to live here and make their way back to the same corner room to go to sleep at night. Close by the master bedroom was the kitchen, the heart of the home in a way, and from there the hallways led out to the kids’ rooms, the den with the fireplace, and the garage out to the side. Over that was the ashram. In the basement was a recording studio. Then, up a now tenuous set of stairs, was the chamber that made this modest suburban home most famous: the room where John Coltrane composed his stirring, searching masterwork A Love SupremeRead More »

The Flexible, Forgeable American Signature, and Other News

May 1, 2015 | by


Geheime Korrespondenz, 1891.

  • On etiquette, art, and the increasing complications of public space: “Taking a selfie in a museum may be disruptive to others, and antithetical to the experience of art, yet given the option, most people will avoid walking through the line of sight and ruining someone else’s photograph … In the end, that is the fundamental paradox of art and public space: We go there both to be free and to submit.”
  • The Patriots’ tight end Shrek Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski has inspired a cottage industry—people can’t seem to write enough erotic novels about the guy. (Sample salaciousness: “Suddenly, all I wanted to do was watch Gronk do his thang-thang in the zone place there. My vagina demanded it.”) Now a couple is suing the author of A Gronking to Remember for using their image on her cover without permission.
  • “Historical fiction has become a byword for middlebrow wasteland.” But Hilary Mantel and Penelope Fitzgerald, whom critics are fond of comparing, have written novels that make a compelling case for the genre—so much so that people have started bickering about whether they’re really “historical” fiction at all …
  • “I think something happened, somewhere around Love’s Labour’s Lost and the early history plays and going into Romeo and Juliet. Either he fell in love or he just grew up, but something happened to him where he suddenly ‘got it’ about women and there was a profound shift in his writing.” In which Shakespeare gets acquainted with the female psyche.
  • The demise of the signature: a new poll suggests that very few Americans give a hoot about our John Hancocks. “While 61% of responders sign paper at least once a week or more, nearly half do so in a hurry and a full 30% just scribble something fast to get it done … 30% said they have a ‘flexible’ signature, with 64% saying it’s because of computer use. A full 81% of people admitted to faking someone’s signature three or more times a year, and a quarter said they wouldn’t be able to tell if someone had forged their own.”