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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

The Solar Anus

September 10, 2014 | by

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Photo: Steve Kollis, via Flickr

Happy birthday to Georges Bataille, connoisseur of Eros, born on September 10, 1897, a simpler time he took it upon himself to complicate. Actually, to call him an erotic connoisseur grossly understates what so many readers find, uh, gross about him. Suffice it to say his work revels in varieties of sexual expression that remain taboo today; a given Bataille text presents you with a veritable cavalcade of the debauched and the proscribed, and, worse still, makes all of it seem terribly worth investigating. Even his fellow Continental philosophers—not exactly vanilla adherents of the missionary position—thought he was something of a degenerate. Jean-Paul Sartre said Bataille “incarnated human sexuality in its most degraded form”; André Breton described him more succinctly as a “sick and dangerous pervert.”

But history teaches us that perverts make fine litterateurs, and Bataille is no exception. (Not to say there aren’t exceptions. There are plenty.) In Paris, he worked as a librarian and at night went drinking and whoring on the rue Pigalle. His first novel, 1928’s L’Histoire de l’oeilStory of the Eye, which he published under the pseudonym Lord Auch, or aux chiottes, or “to the shithouse”—was hailed not as a transgressive surrealist masterwork but as pornography, plain and simple. Its reputation has improved since then: it’s still regarded as porn, just the good kind. (John Wray wrote about it for the Daily a few years ago.)

Here, for your edification and titillation, is a bit from The Solar Anus, a short something-or-other published in 1931. I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s metaphysics. It’s a taunt. It’s a series of aphorisms. It’s an extended metaphor that stops shy of allegory. It’s a hymn; it’s a rant. And what it lacks in logical validity it makes up for in images. Among the lines of inquiry pursued: the passage of energy, heliophilia, heliophobia, fecundity, decay, volcanoes, the phallic, the Sapphic, the erect, the supine, excretion, intake, and many other things besides. Have at it: Read More »

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Visible Man

September 4, 2014 | by

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Richard Wright in a 1946 photograph by Carl Van Vechten.

Richard Wright was born on this day in 1908; he wrote Native Son and Black Boyamong dozens of other books, and his often controversial work helped to change race relations in the twentieth century. Wright hailed from North Carolina and in 1946 moved to Paris, where he befriended Sartre, Camus, and a number of expatriate writers, including Max Steele, one of The Paris Review’s founding editors. In our fiftieth anniversary issue, from 2003, the late Steele wrote “Richard Wright: The Visible Man,” a remembrance. Below is an excerpt from the essay.

I do not remember what month I saw him for the last time. He was strolling slowly in the light rain toward his flat on Monsieur Le Prince. He, in his double-breasted English raincoat and new beret, was walking upstream against the French with their umbrellas rushing down from the Comedie Française toward the Metro at Odéon.

I remember more vividly the first time I had met him at the Monaco (quite casually, even though I had arrived with a letter of introduction to him from our editor at Harper’s). When he learned I was from Chapel Hill he assumed immediately that I knew Paul Green, with whom he had written the play Native Son. He said, “The sleepiest man I ever saw.” He laughed and talked and laughed that laugh which he later admitted was his first line of defense, though it felt that afternoon like offense. He claimed that Green would go to sleep when they were writing dialogue for the most exciting moments in the play. “I’d say a line and look over and there Paul would be asleep.”

Five years later when I was again in Chapel Hill, teaching, I met Hugh Wilson, a cousin of Paul Green’s, who told me how exciting and dangerous those weeks were when Wright was in town working with Green on the play. “Of course he couldn’t stay at the Carolina Inn and there was no other place, so we got him a room down on Cameron Avenue in that big Victorian house behind those two giant magnolias. When the Ku Klux got wind he was there in a white neighborhood, they put out word they were going to kill him. Wright never knew that. Night after night Paul and I walked shotgun on that block. Paul would go up Ransom and I’d go down Cameron for a block or so and then we’d walk back and stand on the corner awhile, then patrol again. All night. I don’t know how Paul could write the next day. I didn’t care for Native Son. But Black Boy, that was one helluva book!” We admitted it had changed Wilson’s attitude and mine.

I heard later that Ellen [Wright’s wife] had placed a copy of Black Boy on Wright’s chest before the coffin was closed.

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Le Pater

July 24, 2014 | by

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In 1899, Alphonse Mucha, a progenitor of Art Nouveau, published Le Pater, an illustrated edition of the Lord’s Prayer embellished in his sinuous, faintly occult style. Mucha, who was born today in 1860, made only 510 copies of the book, which he considered his masterwork. According to the Mucha Foundation,

Mucha conceived this project at a turning point in his career … [he] was at that time increasingly dissatisfied with unending commercial commissions and was longing for an artistic work with a more elevated mission. He was also influenced by his long-standing interest in Spiritualism since the early 1890s and, above all, by Masonic philosophy … the pursuit of a deeper Truth beyond the visible world. Through his spiritual journey Mucha came to believe that the three virtues—Beauty, Truth and Love—were the ‘cornerstones’ of humanity and that the dissemination of this message through his art would contribute towards the improvement of human life and, eventually, the progress of mankind.

Whether or not you buy into Mucha’s spiritual ambition—and I must admit that I don’t—his illustrations are striking in their depth and detail, with a certain haunted, diaphanous quality that would be imitated, if never duplicated, throughout the twentieth century, right on up to those ponderous Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” black-light posters that continue to grace all too many dorm rooms. As the artist Alan Carroll explains,

in the 1870s and 1880s, so many American artists went to study in Paris (e.g. Sargent, Whistler, Cassatt, Eakins, Homer) because American academic training at the time was generally considered so inadequate. Combine this with a mesmeric American fascination with the Old World, and we can begin to see why Mucha’s early trips to the States were so rapturously received. And yet Mucha seemed reluctant to lap up the attention that the gentry and grandes dames of American Society were determined to bestow. Indeed, he was sick and tired of his obligations, as evidenced in a hilariously melodramatic letter he wrote in 1904: “You’ve no idea how often I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

Something of that crushed-to-blood quality comes through in Le Pater, whose fascination with the otherworldly is predicated on a kind of desperation: There must be something more, right?

You can see more of Le Pater on Carroll’s blog, Surface Fragments.

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The Making of an American

May 14, 2014 | by

Carl Van Vechten shaped and burnished the legend of Gertrude Stein.

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Carl Van Vechten’s iconic 1935 portrait of Gertrude Stein

This year marks the centenary of the publication of Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein’s collection of experimental still-life word portraits split into the categories of objects, food, and rooms, and which—excluding a vanity publication in 1909, which she paid for herself—was the first of Stein’s work to be published in the United States. Stein had hoped that this enigmatic little book would be her big break, the thing to convince the American people of her genius. That was not to be. Tender Buttons left critics bemused and made barely a dent on the consciousness of the wider reading public. There was no great clamor for more of her writing; Stein would have to wait another twenty years to become a household name. Nevertheless, the publication of Tender Buttons is now widely regarded as a landmark in American literary modernism, the moment when one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century first unfurled her avant-garde sensibilities before the American public.

That moment would never have arrived had it not been for the work of Stein’s most important champion, Carl Van Vechten, the man who arranged for the book’s publication. Little remembered today, Van Vechten was a pioneering arts critic, a popular author of tart, brittle novels about Manhattan’s Jazz-Age excesses, an acclaimed photographer, and a flamboyant socialite whose daring interracial cocktail parties were a defining part of Prohibition-era New York’s social scene. But his greatest legacy is as a promoter of many underappreciated American writers, artists, and performers who went on to gain canonical status. Names as diverse as Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and Herman Melville all felt the effects of Van Vechten’s boost. His first great cause was Gertrude Stein. He did more than anyone else to carve her legend into the edifice of the American Century, arranging publishing deals for her, photographing her, and publicizing her work, a task he continued long after her death.

Stein knew how crucial Van Vechten was to her career—not merely in the practical aspects of getting her work into print, read, and discussed, but in helping create and disseminate the mythology that surrounds her name. “I always wanted to be historical, almost from a baby on,” Stein freely admitted toward the end of her life. “Carl was one of the earliest ones that made me be certain that I was going to be.” Van Vechten and Stein were strikingly different, led wildly different lives. Hers was rooted in the domestic stability she enjoyed with her partner Alice B. Toklas; his was an exhausting whirl of binges, parties, and pansexual escapades. But they had two crucial things in common: the conviction that Gertrude Stein was an irrefutable genius and a love of mythmaking, an obsession with re-scripting reality until they became the central actors in the fantastical scenes that unfolded in their heads. When Stein played fast and loose with the facts in her memoirs, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, many were furious over her distortions. But Van Vechten understood that telling the literal truth about her life—or anybody else’s—was never Stein’s concern. Read More »

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All the Colors in One Convenient Location, and Other News

May 7, 2014 | by

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From A. Boogert’s Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, 1692. Image via Colossal

  • In the late seventeenth century, long before the age of Sherwin Williams and Pantone, a Dutch artist known as A. Boogert (!) compiled Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, an eight-hundred-page compendium of paint and color.
  • The literary critic Randall Jarrell also wrote five children’s books—several of them illustrated by Maurice Sendak. “The Bat-Poet is the sweetish story of a bat who longs to stay up during the day and sing the song of the mockingbird; to his delight, he discovers that he himself can be a songster … ‘on the willow’s highest branch, monopolizing / Day and night, cheeping, squeaking, soaring / The mockingbird is imitating life.’”
  • Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has acquired Harlequin, whose romances offer “empathetic insight into contemporary cultures.”
  • EBay is launching a “digital magazine” at “the intersection of retail and publishing.” The president of eBay marketplaces, Devin Wenig, says, “We’re now in the content business … for the first time, eBay has a voice. We’re telling stories. We have an editor. We have curators. And we have writers on-staff.  You’ll see that evolve to some longer-form stories, some really beautiful pictures... It’s media-like.” He adds: “We’re entering a post-mobile age now,” he said. “Mobile is so important that it’s almost silly to talk about mobile.” (By the way, did you know The Paris Review has recently unveiled our new mobile site?)
  • In Paris, to “lock in their love,” tourist couples put locks on the Pont des Arts and other bridges—which would be an innocuous tradition, as far as these things go, except it makes the bridges ugly and dangerous. Two unlikely Americans are trying to end the practice.

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Solitude & Company, Part 2

April 22, 2014 | by

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Márquez in 1984. Photo by F3rn4nd0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the second of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.

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JOSÉ SALGAR: Gabo came to El Espectador with a bit of fame, but when he arrived it was the same as any ordinary reporter. He was a bit uncouth; he was from the coast, a hick, and very shy. He would arrive with bags under his eyes and his hair uncombed because he had been writing that thing. I told him we couldn’t work like that. I would tell him to wring the swan’s neck—that literature was a hobby and what he needed to do was incorporate those things that he was making up into real journalism.

JUANCHO JINETE: He wrote something about the wreck of a ship that belonged to the navy, which was carrying smuggled goods and threw one of the young sailors overboard. He wrote an article that no one dared to write in this country, because it dealt with the armed forces.

GUILLERMO ANGULO: It must have been around 1955, I went to El Espectador looking for him and they told me he had left to be one of their correspondents in Europe and was going to study film at Centro Sperimentale in Rome. He has always had a love affair with film. It’s been disastrous. There isn’t even one great film or script by Gabo. His ideas are wonderful, but his writing cannot be used to make movies. It seems to me a bit much to ask Gabo to be a great filmmaker in addition to a great author. I was going to study at the same place, so when I arrived there I went to look him up. He had left me a letter in which he explained where to get a hold of him: I should go to the second floor and I would run into a lady who sings opera wearing a towel wrapped around her head. So I went there and sure enough the lady showed up and I laughed and she got angry. I laughed because she came out singing opera with her head in a towel. Then I asked her about Gabriel García Márquez. She said, Who knows him? And she was right. Who had ever heard of him? Then Gabo sent me a letter telling me that he had left Rome for Paris. He was at 16 rue Cujas. I wrote him that I was going to be in Paris for six months and that we would see each other there. Read More »

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