The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Walser’

Staff Picks: Actors, Bluesmen, Showgirls

February 27, 2015 | by

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A still from Showgirls.

What’s so great about the new New York Times Magazine? Nicole already singled out the cover art. Dan linked to Gary Shteyngart’s “embedded” report on Russian TV. I like the tack of the whole thing, starting with the editorial letter. I like its transparency, its sense of humor, its confidence. I like the new typeface it unveils, the paper stock, too. (Finally, a newsmagazine that looks as good as New York!) Even the small decision to ghostwrite the “Lives” column shows head-thwacking common sense. (Writers will have to unburden themselves elsewhere.) Underneath these little changes, you can sense real thought about the strengths and limitations of a print weekly today. It’s no accident that the magazine has devoted serious articles to photography and a classic rock LP or that it includes a weekly poem. The editors are making the most of their medium, are paying attention to analogue media as such. That this week’s news features were informative, stylish, and timely comes as no surprise: the magazine has always published terrific features on a semiregular basis. But this week, the well added up to more than the sum of its parts. I’m eager to see how Jake Silverstein and his team follow it up tomorrow. —Lorin Stein

In 1907, Robert Walser wrote a squib in the form of a letter that responds to an actor’s request for theatrical advice. Walser prescribes a tour de force of anguish in which the actor must let out a lion-like roar from the top of the scenery; pull out tufts of (fake) hair, laying it “doucement on the earth”; pick his nose “intently”; produce a “fiery-green snake” from “your pain-warped mouth”; stick a knife in his eye and out through his throat (then light a cigarette “as if you were secretly amused about something”); and, for the big finish, be buried under the toppled scenery, with only a twitching arm visible before the curtain falls. All for the pleasure of the “bankers and spice traders” in the audience—you know, theatergoers. In 2010, Walser’s deadpan satire was translated by Paul North for Ugly Duckling and accompanied by illustrations by Friese Undine that play up the stilted, absurd, self-serious nature of the text, including a helpful quartet of portraits demonstrating proper nose picking. Walser is sarcastic but darkly, delightfully so; he’s mocking, but also, I’d imagine, partly earnest. It’s almost as though he’d written it while watching the Oscars. —Nicole Rudick
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This Week on the Daily

October 25, 2014 | by

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Detail from Lovis Corinth, Porträt des Malers Benno Becker, 1892, oil on canvas, 34.3" × 36.2".

Colin Dickey visits the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, where he finds grinding glaciers, errant weather balloons, and a landscape haunted by the ghosts of explorers and adventurers …

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Stephen Andrew Hiltner revisits Not The New York Times, a satirical newspaper George Plimpton helped assemble during a printers’ strike in 1978. “Among the items on the front page were an exposé on an exotic new drug (‘pronounced ko-kayne’ and ‘generally ingested nasally’) and Mayor Koch’s recipe for chicken curry.”

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In the late fifties, Calvin Tomkins, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, moved his family from New York City to a town on the Hudson. J. C. Gabel talks to him about who he met there: a couple who’d been essential to the great art created by the Lost Generation in the Paris of the twenties, befriending everyone from Picasso to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who based Tender Is the Night on them …

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The beautiful reversals in a sentence by Robert Walser remind his translator, Damion Searls, of the art of letterpress printing. “I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them … The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is.”

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Sarah Burnes is a proud reader of YA: “When I read YA and children’s fiction, I feel knit together with the person I was and who I am, still, becoming.”

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Benjamin Breen drops in at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, “a series of intensive courses that delve into every aspect of books as material objects … The Portuguese have an untranslatable word for the ineffable nostalgia of something that has passed away and perhaps never was: saudade. At Rare Book School, saudade for the world of print was in the air.”

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Plus, Sadie Stein joins the sharing economy, or tries to; and Saint Hilarion has one hell of a time resisting temptation, at least according to two troublingly affecting paintings.

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Counterpunch

October 21, 2014 | by

On a sentence by Robert Walser.

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Plantin letterpress type. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It is worth remembering that there once was a time when every letter, number, and punctuation mark printed on paper started life as a sculpture. Someone had to make the letterforms by hand, in three dimensions; the individual characters could all look alike because they were all molten metal poured into the same mold (hence: font), but someone had to make the molds. The first time this hit home for me was when I thought about changing the type size in letterpress days: rather than pressing CTRL+> or CTRL+<, the whole font—every letter, capital and lowercase and italic and roman, every number and symbol—would have to be recarved, by hand, from scratch. Redesigned, too, since different proportions work better at different sizes. Tiny furniture’s got nothing on typefaces.

They’re sculptures, not drawings, because the angle and depth of the sides affect the look of the printed letter. These can be adequately controlled along the outline of a letter, but for the inner lines and negative spaces—the triangle in an A, the near-rectangles in a serifed E—it’s hard to gouge out the cavities precisely enough. So a D, for instance, would start out as a rod of steel whose tip is carved into a semicircle: a counterpunch, tempered to be harder than the steel of the punch. Pounding this into the flat end of another rod makes a semicircle-shaped hole. Carving around the hole makes a raised D, or rather a raised . Slamming that rod into another block of metal (softer than the steel, usually copper) makes a -shaped hole, the matrix. Pouring molten metal into that and letting it cool produces the piece of type. Then the letters are set into a stick, in reverse order; clamped together; and ink is rolled onto the surface before it is flipped again onto a sheet of paper, leaving a D-shaped black mark.

By my count, that’s five turnarounds: counterpunch, punch, matrix, piece of type, printed character. There’s a strange reversal in time, too, since every other kind of counterpunch (in boxing, in debate) reacts to the punch, while here it pre-exists the punch. I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them, following the fate of a raised waning half-moon to the empty space in a printed D. The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is. Read More »

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The (Microscopic) Tracks of My Tears, and Other News

May 13, 2014 | by

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Tears of grief, photo © Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA; image via Smithsonian Magazine

  • Up for auction: an edition of The Importance of Being Earnest, warmly inscribed by one Oscar Wilde himself to Major James Nelson, the prison governor who permitted Wilde access to books during his stint at Reading Gaol in May 1895. “A trivial recognition of a great and noble kindness,” the inscription reads.
  • All this month, New York’s Elizabeth Street Garden celebrates the life and work of Robert Walser. “Much of his work and philosophies rest on the quiet magic and personal fulfillment of walking; the urban experience is full of such walks, and this is often how people discover Elizabeth Street Garden.”
  • Was Andrew Wyeth so celebrated because he was so misunderstood, or did it work the other way around? His reputation seems ill-fitting, whether you consider him one of the great American painters of the last century, as many laymen and a few professionals do, or a kitsch monger and conman, as many more professionals and a few sniffy, wised-up laymen do.”
  • In a new project called “Topography of Tears,” the photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher puts dried human tears under the microscope. She collected more than one hundred tears: tears of joy, tears of grief, onion tears, basal tears …
  • Many of our nation’s ice-cream trucks—though not, fortunately, Mister Softee—are blaring a jingle based on one of the most racist songs in American history.

 

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Announcing Our Summer Issue!

May 28, 2013 | by

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The proofs of our Summer issue just arrived at Twenty-Seventh Street from the printer. This afternoon is our last chance to catch any mistakes. You always find a few typos—and we have more names to spell-check than usual, because this issue contains more stories, poems, and interviews than any in recent memory. 

Some of these writers are regular contributors, including Lydia Davis—with her first publication since she won the 2013 Man Booker International Prize for fiction—and David Gates, whose new story is a favorite of his and ours. Others are writers we’ve been waiting to publish for a while, namely Ben Lerner, whose first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is one of the best debuts we’ve seen in the past few years, and Kristin Dombek, whose essays in n+1 electrified us. The newly translated stories by Robert Walser are from his groundbreaking 1904 collection, Fritz Kocher’s Essays. This book (which won the admiration of Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin) made me feel for the first time that I understood what all the fuss is about.

Still others, including Emma Cline, Gillian Linden, and the Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli—translated by the likes of Jorie Graham and Mark Strand—are new to us and will probably be new to you. We look forward to saying, You read them here first.

Plus, three interviews.

Two are devoted to the art of literary biography. Michael Holroyd’s lives of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, among others, revolutionized the study of Bloomsbury and Edwardian literary history.

MICHAEL HOLROYD

I am a great believer in private life, which is quite unfashionable now—to be a celebrity is the thing, or you are nothing. But I believe in private life for the living, and I think that when one is dead one should be a little bit bolder, so that the rest of us may have some record of how things actually were. Otherwise we will be left with well-meant lies, which add to the difficulties of life and lead to real misunderstanding.

Hermione Lee’s biographies of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton are just as influential.

INTERVIEWER

What is it like to write a death scene?

HERMIONE LEE

It depends how they died. Some cynical biographer said to me, Make sure it’s a good death. Make sure you’re not picking someone who just declined. 

Finally, we have an Art of Fiction interview with the Nobel laureate Imre Kertész. It is, according to Kertész, the last interview he will ever give. Luisa Zielinski’s probing, sensitive questions explore the reasons that Kertész—ten years after he survived the Holocaust—decided he had to write.

IMRE KERTÉSZ

Look, I don’t want to deny that I was a prisoner at Auschwitz and that I now have a Nobel Prize. What should I make of that? And what should I make of the fact that I survived, and continue to survive? At least I feel that I experienced something extraordinary, because not only did I live through those horrors, but I also managed to describe them, in a way that is bearable, acceptable, and nonetheless part of [a] radical tradition … Perhaps I’m being impertinent, but I feel that my work has a rare quality—I tried to depict the human face of this history, I wanted to write a book that people would actually want to read.

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Dancing with Myself

February 14, 2012 | by

In one of Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories, “In The Electric Tram,” the narrator describes the feeling of well-being that comes with sitting in a moving vehicle on a rainy afternoon: the joy of lighting a cigarette, the satisfaction of composing a tune in his head, the urge to strike up a conversation with the reticent conductor. His gaze takes in the other passengers: “the drooping mustaches, the face of a weary, elderly woman, a pair of youthfully mischievous eyes belonging to a girl,” before happily settling on his footwear. “I must say,” he confesses to his reader, “I have achieved a certain technical mastery in the art of staring straight ahead.”

The German industrial city of Wuppertal still has a functioning electric tram, which hangs from long beams like an aerial camera and which travels through Wim Wender’s new 3-D dance movie, Pina, an homage to the German choreographer Pina Bausch. It is a running joke, appearing during the movie’s opening titles as the audience grapples with their 3-D glasses and cropping up in different scenes throughout the film—suspended above two dancers performing a duet on a roundabout, or situated below a dancer who, sitting on the tram’s old fretwork, shoves his legs around as they pop up like disobedient wooden beams. Later, in the tram’s car, a male dancer wearing cardboard cut-out Spock ears takes a seat in the back row and stares straight ahead, apparently oblivious to his appendages—and to the female dancer boarding the vehicle, whose dark hair is entirely hiding her face. She heaves along with her a white pillow as if it were a live thing, making squelching sound effects, before reassuming her anonymity and sitting down. This is Bausch’s world—a little like ours, but stranger: perhaps more like Walser’s Berlin of 1905, a city of would-be actors and artists, voyeurs and dilettantes, and elderly women with lipstick on their teeth. Pina reminds us of the ways we are all performing to one another and pretending to ignore others’ performances, and it’s one of the most blissful things I’ve ever seen on a rainy afternoon. Read More »

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