- “Sorry, not sorry!” This little rhetorical slip—a dead hashtag, really—is analyzed by David Lehman as a poetic structure at The American Scholar. The non-apology, Lehmann explains, pits the poet against the crazed angel of language. “Our tendency to lie, distort or revise,” Lehman writes, “follows from the inability of the language to discriminate between truth and falsehood: Language is not self-verifying. Fiction is based on just this discrepancy between language and the duplicitous and calculating writer. Is it a discrepancy—or a struggle? Writers often describe their writing as a kind of wrestling match with language, as T. S. Eliot does in ‘Four Quartets.’ ”
- We can all agree that nothing is more debauched than a five-hundred-year-old drawing of a hand. That’s why we’ve consciously chosen Facebook as the arbiter of our shared morality. Facebook will first find the image of the hand, and then Facebook will do something about it—it will eliminate all traces of the hand. And it has done this very thing with a drawing by Holbein. Thankfully, too, an exemplary moral human (read: not an algorithm) was responsible for removing Holbein’s hand from the social network, Jonathan Jones writes at the Guardian: “It would be more reassuring if computer error were to blame, yet according to Facebook this is no algorithmic accident. An actual conscious human brain honestly thought a Renaissance drawing of a hand was obscene. Or did the curator think it was being published without proper copyright permission? That would open a huge hornet’s nest, but Holbein’s drawing is about 500 years old so fair use surely applies.”
- It has been eighty years since James Agee was offered the assignment of his life by Robert Ingersoll, his editor at Fortune magazine. It turns out, too, that this assignment—a piece on the works and days of white sharecroppers in the South—saved Agee from crushing boredom and despondency. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Christopher Knapp retells the tale: “Agee had been on sabbatical from the magazine for seven months, recovering from his self-disgust. But the time off had been enough to restore his natural enthusiasm. As ambivalent as he was about the slick brand of magazine journalism that the Henry Luce publishing empire was built on, he was not only broke, but also desperately bored.” I wonder if Fortune will run an anniversary special!
- At The New Yorker, Daniel Wenger visits with the poet Bernadette Mayer, who has changed her writing method in the wake of a stroke. It now takes her a full four minutes to mentally compose a poem! “When I suggested to Mayer that her poetry had always been rather unbalanced,” Wenger writes, “she pretended to be dumbfounded, and then explained that the attack had forced her to alter her writing method. Without the use of her right hand, she cannot type quickly enough to transcribe her thoughts as she has them. She must now work out the poem in her mind, which she calls ‘actually thinking.’ I asked how long in advance she composes her poems before writing them down. ‘About four minutes,’ she said—both ribbing me and suggesting that even this obstacle has been made into an object of study.”
- Holbein’s hand may be morally objectionable, but a band named Penis is fine by me. At Bomb, Penis the band offers its “Penis Tenets.” They seem fairly reasonable: “We adjust our expectations and check in with ourselves: ‘Do I like this? Is this fun?’ WE decide whether or not Penis has value in our lives.”
- It may surprise you that literary history could frown upon Seth Grahame-Smith, the “mash-up novelist” famous for his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Grahame-Smith is now being sued by Hachette, his publisher, for breach of contract. Alison Flood explains the case at the Guardian: “The complaint says the Grahame-Smith delivered the second manuscript in June 2016, but alleges that the work was ‘not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work,’ that it ‘materially varies from the 80,000–100,000 word limit’ agreed on, and that it ‘is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original best seller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ ” Maybe this will put an end to Jane Austen rewrites not penned by Whit Stillman.
- Hatred, they say, loves company—especially the company of artists and writers. Well, it’s getting worse: before we know it, hatred may become the dominant critical school of the century! Consumed with hatred, by that time, you will fail to remember that it all began with The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner’s book-length essay. More recently, though, Lerner’s hatred has infected Hal Foster, respected critic and historian of visual art. The two spoke at Frieze New York, and the conversation has now been transcribed. Here is Foster reminiscing about his early years, when he hated painting and tried to kill it: “Well, I was part of a critical clique that, at an early point in the debate over postmodernism, wanted to put painting to death. There is a revolutionary rush to the declaration of any end. The history of modernism is punctuated by the thrill of the fini!”
Sebastian Blanck’s new exhibition, “That’s Why We’re Running Away,” opened last week at Wetterling Gallery. Blanck, known for his intimate portraits of family and friends, has focused his latest work on landscape. The exhibition closes October 1.
Judith Leyster and the overlooked women painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
In 1892, a painting that had been attributed to Frans Hals for more than a century became the subject of a dispute between two English art dealers. The 1630 painting, known at various times in English as The Happy Couple or Carousing Couple, was typical Hals and Dutch Golden Age territory—a genre scene of a couple making merry in a tavern. Pink-cheeked, bemused, the woman raises a glass while her male companion sings and plays the violin. When the painting changed hands for forty-five hundred pounds, the buyer sued after discovering a signature other than Frans Hals right below the violinist’s shoe. It was a monogram nobody seemed to recognize: a conjoined J and L, struck through with a five-pointed star.
As a result of the court case’s publicity—the media has always loved it when art experts get it wrong—a Dutch collector and art historian, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, recognized the monogram as belonging to Judith Leyster, one of the first women painters to be admitted to a Guild of Saint Luke in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century. Though she’d been praised by the observers and historians of her era, Leyster had essentially been erased from art history since her death in 1660. In 1648, when Leyster was not yet forty, the Dutch commentator Theodore Schrevel had noted, “There also have been many experienced women in the field of painting who are still renowned in our time, and who could compete with men. Among them, one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called ‘the true Leading star in art.’ ” Since leyster means “lodestar” in Dutch, Schrevel enjoyed a pun to underscore his point. Read More
A vision of Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” at its centenary.
When “Sunday Morning” was first published in the November 1915 issue of Poetry, just over a hundred years ago, Wallace Stevens was thirty-six; the poem was one of his first major publications. He’d recently moved to the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would spend the rest of his life insuring people against the hazards of sudden change. His professional and poetic lives converged on that fact: everything changes.
A spiritual meditation for a secular era, “Sunday Morning” glows with the ripe colors of late summer and early autumn, brief arc segments of the seasonal cycle whose rhythms Stevens celebrates.
In 2007, my mother, Diane Szczepaniak, a lifelong abstract painter and sculptor, began to memorize “Sunday Morning.” She was unaccustomed to memorization; it became a kind of ritual for her. She kept Stevens’s book by her bed and worked through the poem line by line. As she built each stanza in her memory, she began to paint her experience of the images, music, and emotions carried by the language. The paintings became her “Sunday Morning” series. Read More