Posts Tagged ‘Rome’
June 10, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in simulacra, simulation, and other heavy Baudrillard-type shit: Why are so many tech bros convinced that reality is an illusion created by our futuristic descendants? “Many people have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high. But recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists—people who share a near-religious faith in technological progress—have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable … ‘Maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation,’ [Elon] Musk concluded, last week, since ‘either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.’ If you hope that humanity will survive into the far future, growing in power and knowledge all the while, then you must accept the possibility that we are being simulated today.”
- Fun pretentious dinner-party trick: ask if anyone has read Byron’s memoirs and mock anyone who answers in the affirmative, because those memoirs don’t exist, duh. “Byron’s memoirs—which might have finally provided the ‘truth’ about his life—were destroyed soon after his death. The story goes that three of his closest friends (his publisher, John Murray; his fellow celebrity poet, Thomas Moore; and his companion since his Cambridge days, John Cam Hobhouse), together with lawyers representing Byron’s half-sister and his widow, decided that the manuscript was so scandalous, so unsuitable for public consumption, that it would ruin Byron’s reputation forever. Gathered in Murray’s drawing room in Albemarle Street, they ripped up the pages and tossed them into the fire. The incident is often described as the greatest crime in literary history. It has certainly served to fuel curiosity and conjecture about Byron’s personal life for another couple of centuries. What was the damning secret his friends needed to protect? Domestic abuse? Sodomy? Incest? Probably all three, we imagine.”
- “Starchitects” like the late Zaha Hadid present themselves as benevolent aesthetes, designing public works that revitalize moribund cities around the world. But really they’re just helping rich people and promoting globalization: “Many leading architects, and most architecture critics, fail to acknowledge the basic reality that architecture isn’t just a vacuum of aesthetic virtues and vague adjectives—it is a product of its political, economic, and social context … Because architects are largely beholden to their clientele, their predilection for designing luxury lodging is partly attributable to changes in the housing market and the global economy. But we shouldn’t let them off the hook that easily. By and large, elite architects have disengaged from efforts to make the most fundamental unit of architecture available to all … Prime movers in gentrification, Hadid and her fellow starchitects have deployed their talents in service of an urban development model that erects symbolic monuments for elites rather than improve the lives of ordinary people.”
- Contrary to popular belief, Milan in the sixties was no place to wear a miniskirt. Just ask Valentina Rosselli—she’s fictional, but she’ll tell you anyway: “Inspired by American silent screen star Louise Brooks, Valentina Rosselli is the heroine of illustrious Italian comic book artist and graphic novelist Guido Crepax, who started drawing the famous character in 1965. Through his outstanding technique, cinematic compositions, and subtle use of ink and line, Crepax created an introspective and consciously sensual character, a photographer living in the midst of a feminist revolution, that would become his trademark. Through Valentina, Crepax unhinged the sexual taboos of Italian society dominated by the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”
- Finally, let’s talk about history’s oldest cuss words: “Latin obscenity was in some ways much like our own, being based around sexual and excretory taboos. The Roman sexual schema was quite different from ours, however, leading to some distinctive swearwords. It was socially acceptable for a Roman man to have sex with anyone of any gender, in any way, as long as he was the active partner. To insult someone, then, a Roman would not use futuo (the Latin f-word)—he would more likely say ‘Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,’ as the poet Catullus does to critics who have accused him of effeminacy. He threatens them with oral rape and anal rape, basically—he will humiliate them by putting them in the passive position. The worst insult you could throw at a Roman man was that he practiced cunnilingus—this was to be passive with respect to a woman, a shame almost not to be borne.”
May 17, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Most people see the Pantheon and think, What a neat-looking old thing. Others look at it and can only wonder how and when they’ll get to the top. “Although it may come as no surprise that the Pantheon’s roof is off-limits in our highly litigious times,” Matt Donovan writes, “groups of scholars and artists from the American Academy in Rome climbed the dome on a regular basis as recently as the 1970s. One visitor described the short walk as a straining and vertiginous affair, ‘a bit like rock climbing up a slope on a hike in the Appalachians.’ He also told me that once those exterior stairs end, a climber feels utterly precarious. Differences in temperature between the building’s cool interior and the sun-warmed roof created downdrafts that could literally suck someone through the opening. In what might be read as a blurring of prudence, humility, and reverence, visitors needed to creep toward the roof’s opening on their stomachs in order to peer through its oculus—a full twenty-seven feet across, and known as the ‘eye of god’—down into the space below.” (There are pictures.)
- The appeal of Jane Austen’s novels to young women should be no mystery, Mikita Brottman writes, because Austen’s books are full of hidden pain, just like teens: “The world of Jane Austen’s heroines—that ‘two inches of ivory’—is so small that everything matters almost too much, which is precisely what the world can feel like to an eighteen-year-old girl … The tiniest breach in teenage etiquette could have all kinds of terrible repercussions, but the pain it caused couldn’t be expressed. Responses had to be regulated at all times. At eighteen, most girls live in a world of secret anguish. This is why young women such as my students can identify with Austen’s heroines—because they live, for the most part, in a similarly limited world … My students loved talking about the grand country houses, the balls with half-hour-long dances, the old-fashioned courtship rituals, the families, the dresses, the weddings. I tried to tell them Jane Austen was all about pain, but, unsurprisingly, they refused to listen. ‘I myself prefer a novel that gives me an escape from the sometimes crude realities of this world,’ wrote one girl. Another claimed: ‘Reading Jane Austen’s work simply makes me happy.’ ”
- Today in writers who should be more widely read: Albert Murray’s name was “never household familiar,” Thomas Chatterton Williams writes, but “he was one of the truly original minds of twentieth-century American letters. Murray, who died in 2013 at the age of ninety-seven, was an accomplished novelist, a kind of modern-day oral philosopher, a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the writer of a sprawling, idiosyncratic, and consistently astonishing body of literary criticism, first-rate music exposition, and cunning autobiography. In our current moment of identity politics and multicultural balkanization, the publication of any new Murray text would serve as a powerful reminder that his complex analysis of art and life remain as timely as ever—probably more so … Murray’s name still functions as a sort of password, announcing to like-minded souls a particular willingness to look further and stay longer, to dig a little deeper through the crates in pursuit of hidden treasures. That the broader culture hasn’t held on to Murray reveals far more about it than him.”
- Audrey Munson was, in the Gilded Age, the preferred nude model of the American Beaux Arts movement. As Allison Meier writes, Munson appeared “in countless early twentieth-century statues, from the seated figures that once guarded the Manhattan Bridge and are now installed outside the Brooklyn Museum, to the gilded lady on the top of the Manhattan Municipal Building, to a duo of marble sculptures by Daniel Chester French in the atrium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her neoclassical beauty, with her strong silhouette and raised brow, along with feminine curves, made her a favorite among the bohemian artist community of Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Alley, where she went door-to-door looking for work after being discovered on the streets by a photographer.” She became a household name—a new biography, James Bone’s The Curse of Beauty, argues that modernism was her undoing. “Bone describes Munson’s visit to the studio of avant-garde French-Cuban painter Francis Picabia, one of New York’s first modernist transplants from Europe, who asked Munson to walk around rather than hold a static pose. Munson derided the resulting painting as ‘an incongruous collection of color splotches.’ ”
- I think it’s nice that you’re reading this post on a glowing screen. I’m happy you’re here. But if you’re a big picture kind of person, you should probably stop and print this out before you keep going, environmental repercussions be damned. A new study “offers evidence we process texts differently if we are reading them on paper, as opposed to an electronic device. It finds we remember concrete details better if we’ve read a work on a laptop or tablet. We grasp the larger inferences of a story more thoroughly, however, if we’ve read it in print … Seventy-seven participants filled out a survey designed to indicate whether they were thinking in small-bore or big-picture terms. They were given the category ‘Joining the Army,’ for example, and then asked which of the following phrases ‘best describes the behavior for you’: ‘signing up’ (concrete detail), or ‘Helping the nation’s defense’ (big-picture). Forty participants filled out the survey on a digital screen, while the other thirty-six did so using pencil and paper … Those who used the classic paper-and-pencil method ‘exhibited a significantly higher level of preference’ for the more abstract of the two choices, compared to their counterparts who used a touch screen.”
April 12, 2016 | by Edward Gauvin
How Blutch’s graphic novel Peplum shatters the Satyricon.
In an interview after Peplum’s first publication in book form, Blutch tells of a reader who asked him why he was such a difficult author. “But I don’t feel like I’m difficult at all!” he exclaimed. “I don’t understand why I get asked that. What I do is fairly simple, and not at all intellectual. In my stories, I try to favor action.” And in action, Blutch’s book abounds: stabbing, stoning, amputation, eye-gouging, sex, seafaring, Attic dance, pirate attacks. Yet these sequences are as artificial as they are visceral, feral, and formal at once. Taking as its title the European term for the sword-and-sandal cinematic subgenre, Peplum offers a decidedly different take on the toga epic—one of aporia and ambiguity, a fractured tale of antiquity in all its alien majesty. Read More »
March 29, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- New York’s alright if you like saxophones, but it’s no place for existentialists: “When a boat carrying Albert Camus sailed into New York Harbor in March 1946, he was hailed as a moral emissary from war-ravaged Europe and the glamorous embodiment of a newfangled philosophy known as Existentialism … But a year later, Camus recalled his three months amid the city’s ‘swarming lights’ and frantic streets with a mixture of awe and bafflement. ‘I have my ideas about other cities but about New York only these powerful and fleeting emotions,’ he wrote in 1947. ‘I still know nothing about New York, whether one moves among madmen here or among the most reasonable people in the world.’ ”
- If you think there’s no possible way for a painter to take a unique approach to the Roman ruins—because who hasn’t painted them?—look at the work of Francis Towne, whose color washes the city in eerie light: “Towne was forty-one, no stripling, when he arrived in Italy in October 1780. Born a Londoner, he had begun his career as a coach-painter, moving in his twenties to Exeter. There, he became a respected drawing master and painter of West Country landscapes, of scenes of the lakes and of North Wales. His work was admired, yet the London art establishment dismissed him as a provincial drawing teacher—while he, on the other hand, was equally disdainful in return, adopting the habit of his Exeter patrons of praising rural retirement and virtue in contrast to the vanities of city life … Towne’s paintings suggest a wariness about approaching the great city. He began with views from without, pacing the countryside … Towne preferred the back of things, the uncommon view, high walls, old Roman gates, suggesting a life beyond. He ignored modern Rome; he gives no hint of grand Papal processions, of high-life, of the color and glamor that wowed the young men on their Grand Tours.”
- A casual reminder that spending time with Salvador Dalí was statistically all but guaranteed to yield a great story: “Dalí broke his silence. ‘My fisherman-Christ,’ he announced with a toss of the head. Before I had time to register surprise he added in a loud voice, ‘Now it is time to swim.’ Without a glance in my direction he made his way very precisely across the rocks and into the water. I decided that since I was the required audience the only course of action was to strip down to my underpants and follow him into the sea. Dalí began to utter, as though he was in a trance. As he did so he gave me my own surrealist moment, as his head appeared to be floating disembodied on the water, his eyes huge and staring past me towards the open sea, with the moustachios raised a little above the surface like twin periscopes … He launched into a declaration: ‘Every morning upon waking I experience the supreme pleasure of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí?’ ”
- Then again, meeting Hilary Clinton can make for a great story, too, if you’re Terry Castle: “I haven’t rehearsed any jokey badinage to cast in HRC’s direction on being introduced; nor even tried out possible facial expressions in the mirror. The moment has arrived and I simply don’t know what to do. Thus it unfolds that even as Her (Mostly) Incorruptible Majesty reaches appreciatively for my hand, I am mortified to hear myself squeak out—like a dying baby bat mewling helplessly for its mother: ‘SORRYMYHANDISSOCOLD.’ Just that—all in a rush, all in a preternaturally silly little voice … Hillary Clinton—two-term First Lady, former New York Senator, US Secretary of State, legendary Iron Woman and all-around Smiling yet Fearless Maker of Executive Decisions on which our Great Country’s Future Depends—takes my frozen mitt in her own, enfolds it Don Giovanni–style, and now regards me with a rakish and appraising eye: ‘Well, Terry [she says]: We’ll Just Have to Do Something (heh heh) to Warm It Up. Won’t We? (Heh heh heh)’ Love-impaled Sappho, help me in my discombobulation! Did you hear that? HILLARY CLINTON IS FLIRTING WITH ME! She’s got my hand and she is warming it up! Bejeezus! (It’s getting positively toasty!) Not only that—my god! She’s giving me the Look! (What look?) The Look You Can’t Mistake! The Nanosecond Too Long Look! The Look you get when someone shows you her trowel for the first time! The Look you get when contemplating the Mysteries of Rosicrucianism!”
- Last week I reported in this space, perhaps with a bit of alarmism, that artificial intelligences are now writing award-winning novels and that the entire human storytelling tradition is doomed. I may have been wrong. “As Japanese publication Asahi Shimbum explains, the research team first wrote a novel of their own and then broke it down into its component parts. Only then did the A.I. involve itself, arranging the parts it had been given to create ‘another story similar to the sample novel,’ building it from words, phrases, characters, and plot outlines that had been fed to it. The Los Angeles Times claims that this means that the computers ‘did the hard work,’ which is true only if you consider plagiarism ‘hard’ … Literary algorithms almost always seem to work best when they’re producing the kind of texts such as contemporary poems in which we expect to find confusing elements.”
February 23, 2016 | by Michelle Stacey
The enduring mystery of Keats’s last words.
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
For skies Italian ...
—John Keats, “Happy is England! I Could Be Content,” 1817
Among the dozens of fountains in Rome, the Trevi may be the most famous, but the Barcaccia in the Piazza di Spagna arguably has a lock on the most poignant. Commissioned in 1629, it sits at the foot of the Scalinata, or Spanish Steps, swarmed by hordes of tourists in high season. Boat shaped to commemorate the spot where, in the historic flood of 1598, the Tiber River reached its highest level and improbably deposited a river barque in the square, the Barcaccia now seems a light-hearted way station, an oasis on a hot Latin day.
But nearly two centuries ago, the fountain played a far different role for one particular admirer, a transplant from England who roomed in an apartment above the steps and listened incessantly to the murmurings of its waters. To this visitor, the Barcaccia was a temporary lifeline during a few dark winter months at the turn of 1821, as he coughed and spluttered his way to a tragically early death. That doomed young man, as devotees of English Romantic poetry know, was John Keats, and the apartment where the poet, barely twenty-five, breathed his last from tuberculosis, on February 23, 1821, is now the Keats-Shelley House, a meticulously kept museum and scholarly library founded in 1909. It’s there, in the room where Keats died, that you will find the key to a misapprehension—one could almost say a lie—about his life and death that has been promulgated, literally written in stone, since 1823. Read More »
June 26, 2015 | by Jhumpa Lahiri
In memory of James Salter, who died last week, the Daily is republishing a series of essays from 2011, when Salter received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. In today’s piece, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Light Years.
To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.
For over half my life, I have returned repeatedly to Light Years. It was the first of James Salter’s books I discovered; it has since led me to all his others. Light Years is the one I know best. The first copy was borrowed. It belonged to my college roommate and was among the handful of books she’d brought with her from home, having nothing to do with our classes. It was a beautiful paperback published by North Point Press: yellow border, rough edges, thickly woven pages, a Bonnard painting on the cover. It was 1985. The book was ten years old; I was eighteen. I was new to New York, a freshman at Barnard College. I was unsophisticated, unmoored, bewildered by college and by the city. Reading the novel was like opening a window for the first time in spring, after a long winter has passed. Something worn out was set aside, something invigorating ushered in. Read More »