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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

“We Want You to Eat More Pies,” and Other News

December 4, 2014 | by

orwellwigan

The Orwell in Wigan, a town in Lancashire.

  • In the sixty-five years since Orwell’s death, his reputation has only grown, spawning a cottage industry for Orwell tourism. “The strangest place associated with Orwell is Wigan, the town in Lancashire where he stayed in February 1936 … one of the warehouses by the canal, opposite National Tyres and Autocare, has been converted into The Orwell, which offers weddings and civil ceremonies from £900. The local specialty is meat pies. Outside the pub a poster shows Uncle Sam holding out a pie, with the slightly Big Brotherish message: ‘We want you to eat more pies.’ ”
  • “Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.” The long-awaited winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
  • A bunch of prominent scholars are bickering about the possibility that Shakespeare was gay. “Such figments of the critic’s imagination not only produce quantities of waste paper but … are inimical to the proper reading of poetry,” one wrote.
  • And while we’re being litigious: the Maurice Sendak estate is embroiled in a debate about his will, which stipulates that his house in Ridgefield, Connecticut—where, two years after his death, his slippers still sit next to his bed—become a study center and museum. “I really don’t know who’s going to go there,” his longtime British editor said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
  • A new book of photographs “reveals the British West Indian experience of death in all its pathos, occasional comedy, and life-affirming sense of the funeral as essentially a fun-for-all … In [Charlie] Phillips’s moving and often beautiful images, dating from 1962 to the present, the bereaved are seen to face the mystery of the end of life in stush black suits, spidery hat veils, Rastafari head-ties, spiffy trilbies and strictly-come-dancehall white socks.”

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“A Mosaic of Filth,” and Other News

November 26, 2014 | by

hirsch

Steven Hirsch, Rhode, 2014, color photograph. Image via Lilac Gallery

  • A new copy of Shakespeare’s first folio—only the 231st known to exist—has been discovered in France. “It probably crossed the English Channel in the hands of English refugees fleeing from Anglican persecution in France.”
  • The unlikely rise of the thrift store: the Goodwills and Salvation Armies of the world were not always looked upon so kindly in America. In “The Blue Silk,” an 1884 short story in the Saturday Evening Post, “the protagonist, Louisa, buys a pre-owned dress from the ‘Jewess behind the counter’ of a resale store. When she wears it to a party, not only is she is socially ostracized for wearing the old dress of another girl, but she comes down with smallpox because of contamination from the resale store.”
  • The photographer Steven Hirsch has a new series on the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site in Brooklyn: “The images are solely concerned with the surface of the water—the gonorrhea, coli, and putida bacteria that cling to one another there in a mosaic of filth. These microorganisms and pathogens create a kind of membrane on the surface of the canal, ‘like an acetate,’ says Hirsch. In the illusions of light and liquid they look like a solid substance, but when, out of curiosity, Hirsch tried to scoop them up they immediately dissolved.”
  • An entire cottage industry of malfeasance and predation has erected itself” around academic research journals, including a popular pay-to-play scam that asks scholars to pony up for inclusion in such bogus publications as the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. Recently, a researcher sent that “journal” an abstract; it just said “Get me off your fucking mailing list” over and over again. “To his mild surprise, not only was this groundbreaking study accepted—with fraudulent peer reviews and everything!—it was put into layout, and a PDF was generated for his ‘perusal,’ along with, of course, a humble request for $150, to be submitted by wire transfer, as all legitimate scholarly transactions are.”
  • The writer Jörg Fauser was an essential part of the German counterculture, but English-language readers know almost nothing about him. A new translation of his novel Raw Material is coming: “To foist a genre on it, it’s a picaresque, but what a crazed, leaping, unmoored and hilarious voyage it is.” I particularly like its take on booze: “Drink is an immersive, highly social drug that can often lead to new friendships and interesting sexual adventures. It also leads to weight gain and bloat, which is not a good look for a revolutionary.”

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The Fade-out Fades Out, and Other News

September 15, 2014 | by

Photo: Holger Ellgaard

  • “When John Ashbery, the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, first learned that the digital editions of his poetry looked nothing like the print version, he was stunned. There were no line breaks, and the stanzas had been jammed together into a block of text that looked like prose. The careful architecture of his poems had been leveled … That was three years ago, and digital publishing has evolved a lot since then. Publishers can now create e-books that better preserve a poet’s meticulous formatting.”
  • Today in academic tiffs: One professor tried to publish a controversial essay avowing that Shakespeare’s works were written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Another professor offered a stern rebuke: “I simply find your reasoning, and your evidence, as unconvincing as those of Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists.” Finger pointing and harrumphing ensued.
  • Stop-and-frisk is more than just a widely reviled NYPD policy: it’s an opera!
  • Has pop music bid adieu to the fade-out? “The fade-out—the technique of ending a song with a slow decrease in volume over its last few seconds—became common in the 1950s and ruled for three decades. Among the year-end top ten songs for 1985, there’s not one cold ending. But it’s been on the downturn since the nineties, and the past few years have been particularly unkind. The year-end top ten lists for 2011, 2012, and 2013 yield a total of one fade-out.”
  • On the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Charles James retrospective: “The Met seems to be telling us—showing us—that we should view [dress and fashion] as high art. This is not a new argument, of course, but in spite of past scholarly and curatorial efforts, it has never decisively taken hold … James would seem the perfect antidote, and in many ways he is: a great designer who was never a celebrity (few outside the field of fashion have ever heard of him), an inveterate craftsman who was also a genuinely imaginative artist—a sculptor of satin and silk willing to sacrifice everything including profits for the perfect seam … ”

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Staff Picks: Pop, Rock, and Bear Hock

August 29, 2014 | by

From Barry Guy's Witch Gong Game ll/l0 (1993).

From Barry Guy’s Witch Gong Game ll/l0 (1993).

John Swartzwelder has written more Simpsons episodes than any other writer (fifty-nine in total). He’s also one of the most eccentric writers in the business: one story goes that “when he could no longer smoke in restaurants, he bought his favorite booth from his favorite diner and had it installed in his home.” Since leaving The Simpsons in 2003, he has self-published a novel each year, all of which are available on his Web site. After reading his first novel, The Time Machine Did It, I’m not surprised that Swartzwelder is the same person who introduced now-classic Simpsons characters such as Cletus Spuckler, Stampy the Elephant, and the three-eyed fish Blinky (who has now become a symbol among pundits for nuclear waste and wildlife mutation). The novels are pure screwball, honoring the comedies of the Marx Brothers and Preston Sturges as Swartzwelder dismisses any narrative rule for laughs. In The Time Machine Did It, a private detective named Frank Burly (“to give prospective clients the idea that I was a burly kind of man ... and who would be frank with them at all times”) finds himself traveling through time for a supposed multimillionaire who wakes up one day to find that everything he owns is gone. The plotline includes a homemade time machine and a town taken over by criminals, but why the novel works is the simple fact that it never takes itself too seriously. “On an impulse I mooned most of the 1950’s as I went by. I don’t know what makes me do these things. I guess it’s just part of my charm.” —Justin Alvarez

In outline, it reads like something made up by Roberto Bolaño: an Austrian writer crosses America, wracked by nightmares and visions and pursued by his mysterious, estranged wife. Peter Handke’s 1972 novella Short Letter, Long Farewell helped inspire the American “road movies” of Wim Wenders, and if Bolaño didn’t know the book, there is a strong family resemblance. As the critic Wayne Koestenbaum put it, the two writers share an “ability to sound sane (though vacant-souled) about insane circumstances,” whether these involve a desert sunset or a restaurant serving bear hock à la Daniel Boone. —Lorin Stein

That Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” is, in part, a transmutation of birdsong into lines of music has oddly come up several times over the past month, in the course of putting together the Fall issue and elsewhere. At the same time, I’ve found myself returning periodically to Music & Literature’s impressive fourth issue to gaze at the work of British composer Barry Guy, whose graphic scores are translations of sensory experiences relating to literature, painting, and architecture and visual reflections of movement, energy, and pitch. So it felt like the stars had fully aligned when I read Christian Wiman’s “translations” of Osip Mandelstam, from a small collection called Stolen Air. Instead of faithfully translating Mandelstam’s poems, Wiman has created versions of them: though some closely resemble the originals, others, he says, are “liberal transcriptions” and “collisions and collusions” between the two poets. Wiman sought to get at the sound of Mandelstam’s language, its music, without having any knowledge of Russian but feeling buoyed by Mandelstam’s notion of a poet’s “secret hearing.” And so we get silvery, jostling lines like “I love the early animal of her, / These woozy, easy swings” and “Better to live alluvial, / Better to live layered downward, / To be a man of sand, of hollows, shallows / To cling to sleeves of water / And to let them go—” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

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Corpulent Coriolanus

August 13, 2014 | by

Yesterday, the Folger Shakespeare Library released some eighty thousand images into the Creative Commons, a deluge of bardic miscellany from which the Internet may well never recover. There are astrology charts, game boards, hornbooks, advertisements, illustrations, engravings, and more, all of it related, however tangentially, to Shakespeare. We’ve had TPR interns taking a fine-tooth comb to the collection for twenty-four hours now, with closely monitored breaks for water and gruel, and we present to you now the results of their exhaustive research. There’s a plump Coriolanus with a salty cheek, a lurid and seemingly shrunken Lady Macbeth, a King Lear who seems to have wandered off the Grateful Dead tour bus, and a plus-sized “Harlequin Quixote,” dressed in a modish, dance-floor-ready romper, attacking some puppets.

There is, perhaps best of all, this illustrated version of Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue, from Jaques in As You Like It. Click to enlarge:

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Oh, to be a lean and slippered pantaloon...

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The Professor and the Siren

August 9, 2014 | by

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s groundbreaking mermaid.

The-Mermaid

Howard Pyle, The Mermaid, 1910

By the side of the path around the circular, volcanic crater of Lake Pergusa, near the town of Enna in the center of Sicily, a carved stone marks the spot where Proserpina, the goddess of the spring, was seized and carried off by Pluto into the underworld. “Qui, in questo luogo,” proclaims the inscription. “Proserpina fù rapita.” This is the very place:

                                          ...that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpin gath’ring flow’rs
Herself a fairer Flow’r by gloomy Dis
Was gather’d, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world.
(Milton, Paradise Lost, IV)

I was giving a lecture in Palermo in 2011 and asked to see the entrance to Hades. My hosts from the university kindly drove me; it was early summer, the lush undergrowth was starred with flowers, and the tapestry of orchids, campion, arum, acanthus, clover, wild hyacinth, thyme, and marjoram was still green, tender, and damp. Next to the monument I found another sign, which pointed beyond the chain-link fence toward “the cave from which the god issued forth in his chariot.” Again, the use of the past historic declared the event’s definite reality. In a tangle of bushes and fruit trees, some rocks were visible, but the mouth opening on the infernal regions now stands in private grounds.

Ovid tells us, in his Metamorphoses, that the young girls who were gathering flowers with Proserpina that fatal day were turned into the Sirens—the bird-bodied golden-feathered singers with female faces of the Homeric tradition—and then went wandering about over land and sea, crying out in search of their vanished playmate. In “The Professor and the Siren,” Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, picks up these echoes when he evokes a passionate love affair unfolding by the sea in the ferocious heat of the dog days in 1887. However, in this late story, which was written in January 1957, a few months before his death, Lampedusa gives his immortal heroine the body of a fish from the waist down; in this he is following the more familiar northern folklore tradition of fish-tailed mermaids; of Mélusine, seal women or selkies; and of water spirits, called undines by the alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus. But both species share the special charm of an irresistible voice. In the case of Lampedusa’s mermaid, hers is “a bit guttural, husky, resounding with countless harmonics; behind the words could be discerned the sluggish undertow of summer seas, the whisper of receding beach foam, the wind passing over lunar tides. The song of the Sirens ... does not exist; the music that cannot be escaped is their voice alone.” Read More »

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