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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Sublime, Subversive Sappho, and Other News

March 9, 2015 | by

Sappho_and_Erinna_in_a_Garden_at_Mytilene

Simeon Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, 1864.

  • How does contemporary literature derive meaning in the age of big data? “The rise of corporate capitalism, and the astonishing, almost exponential rate of its recent acceleration, I would argue, present a huge challenge to the writer, forcing him or her to rethink their whole role and function, to remap their entire universe. There is no space outside this matrix … Western literature may have more or less begun, in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, with a lengthy account of a signal crossing space, and of the beacon network through whose nodes the signal’s message (that of Troy’s downfall) is relayed—but now, two and a half millennia later, that network, that regime of signals, is so omnipresent and insistent, so undeniably inserted or installed at every stratum of existence, that the notion that we might need some person, some skilled craftsman, to compose any messages, let alone incisive or ‘epiphanic’ ones, seems hopelessly quaint.”
  • “KAYO IN THE LUNA PARK / FREEZE FRAME ON A DRUNK IN THE PIAZZA / THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE FOR PIGEONS / LUMBERING ON ASPHALT FACEDOWN / LEAPSICKNESS THE LAW OF LIQUIDS.” Basquiat’s notebooks “variously sound like song lyrics, slogans, mantras, fragments of scenarios, of ‘routines’ like those of William S. Burroughs.”
  • Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, said that he’s sometimes cut “unfortunate anti-Semitic things” from Shakespeare—should we censor plays like The Merchant of Venice?
  • Who was Sappho? Scholars and readers have been bickering about her for the better part of three thousand years: “about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her ‘sublime’ style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works … Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage.”
  • Part two of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel’s essay “on Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights.”

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You Talk Your Book

February 25, 2015 | by

Looking rather Führer-ish, Anthony Burgess appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, where he was in rare form throughout—charming, funny, instructive, gently eccentric. The conversation ranges from England as a kind of bland utopia to Shakespeare’s “showbiz” skills and possible venereal disease, the perils of teaching writing (“The kids who want to write are usually very young, and their desire to write is usually a symptom of pubescence”), the insincerity of Milton’s Lycidas, and the distinction between pubs and bars:

A bar is not a pub. There are one or two pubs I think in New York … a real pub is a place where all the social barriers come down. You can drink with a member of the aristocracy or the local dustman. You play darts, you drink, you talk, and by this means you generate an atmosphere of genuine democratic society. You get ideas, you hear stories, you talk. And this is useful for a writer. The only pubs you must not, if you’re a writer, go to are the pubs in Dublin. Because in Dublin you talk your book. You say, I’m writing a darling book. Ah, tell us about it, they say. Then you tell them about it. And by the time you tell them about it, you’ve spent the desire to write it … The book is finished. You close it.

That Shakespeare book he mentions early on, by the way, received one of the most comically underdone blurbs I’ve ever seen, from Country Life, a magazine for which Burgess himself often contributed. “Of all the books about Shakespeare that 1964 will bring forth,” they wrote, “none is likely to make livelier reading than Anthony Burgess’s historical novel, Nothing Like the Sun.” There are small daggers in that “1964,” that “is likely to”: the most damning of faint praise.

Dan Piepenbring is the Web editor of The Paris Review.

“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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