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Posts Tagged ‘René Magritte’

Staff Picks: Mandolins, Meaning, Mr. Cui

October 7, 2016 | by

René Magritte, photographed by Duane Michals.

The Surrealist painter René Magritte apparently dressed like a banker (dark suit, tie) but under these “innocent allures,” a friend recalled, he “was a very revolutionary personality.” That makes him rather like the subject in his 1964 painting Le fils de l’homme, in which an apple obscures the visage of a man dressed in a suit and bowler: we see him but do not see him. Such is the sense I have of him throughout the newly published Selected Writings, a collection of unpublished bits and bobs written between 1922 and 1967. Of his own paintings, he observes, “What I paint does not imply that the invisible is superior to the visible: the visible is rich enough to create a poetic language, evoking the mystery of the invisible and the visible.” Though he withholds full meaning, his meaning is there. And when he writes, “It is difficult to think while thinking of nothing,” I know exactly what he means. —Nicole Rudick

Yesterday, after Rita Dove was named a finalist for this year’s National Book Award for Poetry, I read her 1986 collection Thomas and Beulah, a harrowingly gorgeous book that traverses the earlier half of twentieth-century America by way of Dove’s maternal grandparents. Comprising two parts—Mandolin, for Thomas, and Canary in Bloom, for Beulah—its forty-four elegiac poems reimagine the couple’s past, beginning on a Mississippi riverboat and moving effortlessly through the years from courtship to curtains, kneading in the somber truths of the era: the suicides of the Great Depression, the lynchings of black Americans. We see Thomas sleeping in his work barracks, wooing Beulah with his tater-bug mandolin, walking under the viaduct where men have jumped. Of all the poems, though, I find Beulah’s to be the most beautiful, her sorrow subtle yet profound. From “Daystar”: “Later / that night when Thomas rolled over and / lurched into her, she would open her eyes / and think of the place that was hers / for an hour—where / she was nothing, / pure nothing, in the middle of the day.” (You can listen to Rita Dove read from Thomas and Beulah here.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

That Was Not a Very Nice Thing to Do, and Other News

October 3, 2016 | by

From the cover of My Brilliant Friend.

  • Now, let’s divert our attention to a much less controversial story from the NYRB: Nathaniel Rich on George Plimpton. “The quintessential Plimptonian anecdote comes near the end of Paper Lion when, a year after leaving the team, he wistfully follows his old squad from afar. We find him in Bellagio, on Lake Como, chasing down a box score in a Paris Herald he has found at a waterside café. ‘When I read that the Lions had lost a game,’ he writes, ‘I rose in anguish out of my chair, absolutely stiff with grief, my knee catching the edge of the table as I came up, and toppling it over in a fine cascade of Perrier bottles’ … Philip Roth, in the extended appreciation of Plimpton that appears in Exit Ghost, identified the issue of social class as ‘the deepest inspiration for his writing so singularly about sports’ … But the technique only works because Plimpton hides this knowing quality from his readers. There is never a wink or nod in the direction of the premise’s artifice. A consummate straight man, he emphasizes how seriously he is taking matters.” 

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Operation Keep Faulkner Sober, and Other News

March 3, 2015 | by


William Faulkner, in 1954, in a portrait by Carl Van Vechten.

  • After Faulkner won the Nobel Prize, he was a hot commodity abroad—he traveled to many foreign lands to bang the drum for the U. S. of A., which would’ve been fine, had he not been such a lush. The State Department circulated a memo called “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad,” designed to help agents curb Faulkner’s drinking. Their advice ranged from the obvious (monitor his liquor cabinet) to the subtle: “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up.”
  • Twenty-five years late, a novelist has at last completed and delivered her tenth-grade term paper on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Her (perhaps convenient) conclusion: it’s about shame. “Like Tess, I spent a lot of time waiting to be found out: I worried that my adolescent failures would be exposed and that people would lose respect for me. Or love me less … Shame depends on an audience, and those who are ashamed become overly self-conscious. I’m aware, even now, of compensating for past mistakes.”
  • Why are there so many more aspiring writers than aspiring readers? “I try to take a philosophical, and I hope empathetic, view of it all. I mean, we’re all going to die, and we have a short time here on earth, and we all want to achieve distinction of some sort while we’re here. Meanwhile, we all have Microsoft Word installed on our desktops. We all already spend a lot of time typing. One way to leave one’s mark would be to, say, write a great symphony, but most people don’t know how to read music. Whereas more or less everyone does have the means to put down words on a page and save them and share them. That’s a great thing—I’m all for technology eliminating barriers to communication and expression—but it can lead to delusions. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it worth reading. And it’s depressing when people forget that you can’t be a good writer without first being a good reader.”
  • Paul Beatty has an enviable gift: he “can turn a sacred cow into hamburger with just one sentence.” His new novel The Sellout takes on race in America, sparing “no person or piety”: “The only tangible benefit to come out of the civil rights movement,” he writes, “is that black people aren’t as afraid of dogs as they used to be.”
  • René Magritte, comedian: “It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes … relying upon a simple (almost mathematical) function, like reversal or negation.”


Magritte Shaving

November 21, 2014 | by


René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952, oil on canvas. Image via SFMOMA

René Magritte was born on this day in 1898. Louis Simpson’s poem “Magritte Shaving” appeared in our twenty-fifth anniversary issue in Spring 1981.

The houses look at one another,
a language of windows.
The violin stands above the collar ...
sleigh bells in a blue sky.

How calm the torso of a woman
like a naked statue.
Reclining in an alcove
with curtains, the window gives
a view of earth ... yellow fields.
She has a blue leg and a green arm,
red arm, and leg painted saffron.

The orange sphere floating in space
in front of the blue canyon
has a face like a mask
with fixed brown eyes.
Directly underneath, on the parapet,
stands a shirt with a tie
in a dark, formal suit.

He has left his shaving brush
on top of the cabinet with doors of glass
that is merging with a cloud.


The Unlikely Event

November 28, 2011 | by

Because I do not want to die in the brawny arms of an industrial-kitchen-fixtures salesman from Tulsa—at least, not one I’ve only just met—I don’t much care for airline travel. During a recent trip from Salt Lake City, my Boeing 757 began to lurch and heave and make dreadful noises. At times we seemed to be in free fall. I caught the look on our veteran flight attendant’s face as she rushed by: it was genuine fear. During one particularly terrifying plunge, I felt the brawny fingers of that kitchen-fixtures salesman inching toward me, tugging at my sleeve. I needed an escape. I reached into the seat pocket in front of me.

At 33,000 feet, and falling, we are presented with roughly the same options as on earth. First, we get the in-flight magazine’s glossy parade of petit bourgeois distraction. But, face it, when your plane is going down, what good is a recipe for a quick and easy hake with hazelnuts and capers? For those seeking something more directly relevant, there’s the Sartre-esque barf bag. But for those of us who occupy that metaphysical middle ground between the in-flight magazine and the barf bag, there’s the airline safety card.

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