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Desperate Measures: An Interview with David Gordon

October 27, 2014 | by

David Gordon_Credit Michael Sharkey

Photo: Michael Sharkey

David Gordon’s fiction doesn’t fall comfortably into one category. Depending on what you’re reading and who you’re talking to, he might be a mystery writer, a postmodernist, a satirist, or a hybrid. His new collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain, runs an impressive gamut. Its cast is large and varied—there are gunmen, grad students, investigators, vampires, struggling writers, Internet sex trolls, and men named David Gordon. (One of these stories, “Man-Boob Summer,” first appeared in The Paris Review’s Fall 2012 issue.) Gordon’s sentences are crisp and often jarring. His plots unspool in strange, sometimes disturbing ways. There’s little to be gained in trying to situate yourself according to generic conventions; better just to enjoy the disorientation and to trust that you’re in the hands of an earnest storyteller.

I met with Gordon, who has also published two novels, on a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. School was letting out next door, but Gordon’s booming voice carried over the two-thirty hysteria. We spoke over the course of the afternoon about repurposing genres, literary stardom in Japan (the Japanese translation of his first novel, The Serialist, was a major success), the risks of first-person storytelling, and the publishing-industry controversy swirling around him.

White Tiger on Snow Mountain is your first story collection. Did you approach the stories differently than you would a novel?

In conceptual terms, I do think there’s a difference, at least for me. A story usually comes into my mind like a three-dimensional object—something I can see and feel and rotate. I’m often completely wrong about what the object is, but it’s still there. Whereas a novel is more like a set of directions for a road trip to California, with a planned stop in, say, Colorado and a visit to the Grand Canyon. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen along the way or whether I’ll even get there, but I have this general sense of direction and an end I hope to reach.

Now that the stories are completed and assembled, are you surprised at any of the themes or images that crop up?

I wrote these stories over a period of years, so some of the thematic echoes that people point out seem fairly straightforward for somebody who’s been writing for a long time—you deal with certain recurring ideas and problems. But then there are very specific echoes that I wasn’t aware of, and those are really interesting to me. My protagonists eat a lot of Chinese food and go to a lot of cafés. People tend to have cats in my stories, and the women have long fingers. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. I have no lost love with long fingers. I guess these things just leak out of my subconscious. Read More »

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When Softcore Had Style, and Other News

August 7, 2014 | by

Lickerish_Quartet

A still from Radley Metzger’s Lickerish Quartet, “the enigmatic tale of a decadent family’s seduction,” from 1970.

  • Peter Mendelsund, who designs book jackets, asked people what they see when they read. They “felt that when they read a book they loved, they saw every aspect of it. Not only that, but they felt that the greatness of a book was predicated on the fact that they were able to visualize it. ‘That character was so real,’ they’d say. That myth of the little homunculus sitting in the back of your skull, watching the author’s movie being projected onto the front of your skull—that’s really important to people. But the whole edifice crumbles when you start to ask questions about it.”
  • Was John Hancock’s signature really too big? “Did Hancock know that fifty-six men would ultimately sign the document when he put pen to paper? Or might he have assumed fewer signatories, and thus more space for signing? We know this much: You can’t fit fifty-six Hancock-sized signatures onto the parchment … the document would have needed approximately 5.5 more inches of vertical space to accommodate all the names—even with crammed spacing and slim margins.”
  • Good news for underemployed babysitters: Taking your kids to a gallery is a “total waste of time,” according to the artist Jake Chapman. “He says that standing a child in front of a Pollock is an ‘insult’ to the American who pioneered the abstract expressionism. ‘It’s like saying … it’s as moronic as a child? Children are not human yet,’ the father-of-three declared.”
  • Questioning Shakespeare’s conservatism: “Rebels and usurpers in Shakespeare's plays are always the bad guys … Rebellion against one’s superiors is presented as a matter of misguided jealousy and intrinsic spite.”
  • A maestro of aspirational porn, Radley Metzger populated his soft- and hard-core films of the 1960s and ’70s with Continental swells whose luxe dwellings and vast expanses of land made for optimal prime pleasure domes … [he] elevated his randy projects with sumptuous production values, his meticulous decor and mise-en-scène long outmoded in today’s quickie online porn.” (For the curious, eight of Metzger’s films are coming to Lincoln Center.)

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Scenes Not Included in Henry James’s The Ambassadors (NSFW)

May 16, 2013 | by

Victorianalarge

Part First

In the evening of his first day in Europe, Lambert Strether anxiously imagines sucking his friend Waymarsh’s cock. He hasn’t ever sucked anyone’s cock, and doesn’t want to. It’s just something he imagines when he is anxious. Waymarsh, meanwhile, is thinking about the young receptionist at the hotel. He’d like to fuck her standing up. From behind. Since his wife went mad, he only ever imagines fucking women from behind. Downstairs in her room at the same hotel, Maria Gostrey wonders if Lambert Strether is a homosexual. When they met, he couldn’t stop glancing at her breasts, but later, when they went for a walk in the public garden, he seemed positively afraid of her. Now Strether is alone with Waymarsh, that brute. Could they be fucking? How sad, she thinks, that two Americans should travel so far just to fuck. Don’t they fuck in America? she wonders.

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On the Shelf

December 7, 2011 | by

Raymond Chandler.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Bad sex.
  • Bad numbers.
  • Good books.
  • Children’s books.
  • A visit to St. Mark’s.
  • “Confessions of a Plagiarist.”
  • Unrest at the Eliot Prizes.
  • Upheaval at the NYPL.
  • Tensions over Civilization.
  • The case for porn.
  • The case for gossip.
  • Gossip Girl has always had an especially soft spot for scribblers—and not just for fleeting appearances.”
  • Jane Austen?
  • It’s not TV, it’s ... Faulkner?
  • “The very nicest thing Hollywood can possibly think of to say to a writer is that he is too good to be only a writer.” —Raymond Chandler
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    The Road to Harburg

    May 12, 2011 | by

    Mom Smoking, C- Print, 30’ x 40’, 1969. Courtesy of Marilyn Minter.

    The passenger looked down at the map in his hands, printed on the back of an exhibition invitation. “I haven’t seen her in more than ten years,” he said, referring to the artist Marilyn Minter.

    “That’s really nice of her to invite you,” I replied while downshifting and turning off the autobahn.

    “She didn’t.”

    We’re thirty minutes late, driving to Minter’s first exhibition in Germany, an ambitious survey of her work over the past two decades, as well as early photographs she took—while still an undergraduate art student—of her mother, a drug addict. (These photographs caught the eye of Diane Arbus when she visited the class.) Their portrayal of Minter’s mother, surrounded by instruments of vanity, would set the precedent for the artist’s critique of glamour, artifice, and the cult of beauty.

    I first saw Minter’s work on billboards around Manhattan in 2006, when Creative Time commissioned the campaign. The painting Stepping Up (2005), a close-up of a woman’s dirty ankle and blackened sole, balancing on a bejeweled Dior heel, was among the most memorable for me: it was a feminist hijacking of high-fashion marketing and lifestyle propaganda. That same year, a work by Minter was selected as the coveted cover image for the Whitney Biennial catalogue. Minter’s art, both glamorous and gruesome, portrays the trappings of a particular elite milieu. It’s both seductive and self-destructive, decadent and voracious—a mix of high society, profane beauty, and eroticism in today’s culture of consumption.

    Spiked, 8’ x 5’, enamel on metal, 2008. Courtesy of Marilyn Minter.

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    Nan Goldin

    April 21, 2011 | by

    “Nan one month after being battered, 1984” © Nan Goldin.

    Nan Goldin is running late. On a Thursday evening in the Theresa Lang Center, in a New School building on West 13th Street, the crowd—close to a hundred people—is growing restless. At the front of the room at a long plastic table, the other panelists have assembled: Benjamin Walker, the moderator and host of WFMU’s “Too Much Information”; author Lynne Tillman, whose petite frame is overwhelmed by an explosion of dark curls; French philosopher Ruwen Ogien, whose wisps of gray hair are messy and front-swept; French professor of aesthetics Carole Talon-Hugon, whose jet-black hair is combed back and secured with a leopard-print scarf; and a neatly dressed woman who is later revealed to be Talon-Hugon’s translator. A laptop on the table is connected to a large projection screen hanging above the stage. A folder is open on the computer, and file names are visible; the JPEGs have titles like “skinheadshavingsex.”

    Goldin is probably best know for The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a collection of her photographs documenting her life and the lives of her friends—homosexuals and junkies, the poor and the marginalized—in the New York of the late seventies and early eighties. In one, titled “Nan one month after being battered,” Goldin faces the camera straight on; she’s wearing bright red lipstick, and her left eye is filled with blood, the area below it bruised a sickening brown. When Goldin arrives around 6:40 P.M., I find myself checking the face of the woman now walking toward the front of the room against my memory of the photograph. Her career is both remarkable and frightening for having provided everyone in the audience with that image as a point of comparison. She sits down and is immediately, endearingly apologetic.

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