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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Elizabethan Warts and All, and Other News

July 2, 2014 | by

L0023521EB Arzneibuch. Western Manuscript 990, page 84, detail

Detail from “Treatment for lachrimal fistula performed on a nun,” an illustration from a seventeenth-century surgical guide. Via Wellcome Library.

  • A report by British dermatologists makes the audacious claim that Shakespeare is responsible for Western society’s obsession with clear skin. “Shakespeare’s works have survived the intervening centuries; has his success led to the perpetuation of Elizabethan negativity toward skin disease?” Apparently, too many of his plays feature insults about skin disease—poxes, boils, carbuncles, moles, blots, blemishes, plagues—an excess of abscesses, a sebaceous surfeit.
  • “One of the most intriguing questions I get from readers of my movie reviews is: ‘But did you like the film?’ … The binary scale of good and bad, like and dislike, is essentially pointless. Movies are complex experiences—even those that are simplistic or clumsily made are rich in substance—and sometimes criticism is like the science of medicine, with advances coming from diagnoses of some dread disease that you wouldn’t want to have.”
  • A linguist’s cri de coeur: death to Whorfianism! “What Whorfianism claims, in its strongest form, is that our thoughts are limited and shaped by the specific words and grammar we use”—but linguists have found only “fairly negligible differences … between language speakers.”
  • These hand-painted posters from Russian cinemas make movies like Shrek 2 and 50 First Dates look like surrealist masterworks.
  • You can live in the house from Twin Peaks. (Leland Palmer not included. Or is he?)

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What We’re Loving: Lovers, Lizards, Lowry

May 9, 2014 | by

jliz

The Jesus Lizard, in a photograph from The Jesus Lizard Book.

I don’t usually go in for collections of letters; it’s hard to imagine sitting down and reading one cover to cover. But I couldn’t resist picking up a volume of love letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, in large part because it’s titled The Animals. It sounded sweetly romantic, and it is. Isherwood, some thirty years older than Bachardy, is Dobbin, an old workhorse; Bachardy is Kitty. Though they discuss all manner of subjects in the body of the letters—dinners, friends, business, and art—they are topped and tailed (no pun intended) with joyful, intimate love: “I feel a need to tell Kitty today how dearly Dobbin loves him and how faithfully he waits and guards the stable until Kitty’s return. Dub has been quite off his feed since Kitty hasn’t been there to tempt him with morsels held by those pure paws.” Bachardy sometimes even includes cutouts of fluffy white kittens in his missives. Apart from the adorableness, there is, of course, other great stuff here: not least, Isherwood’s coining of the word psychofiesta. —Nicole Rudick

“You’re eighty-two years old. You’ve shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh forty-five kilos yet you’re still beautiful, graceful and desirable. We’ve lived together now for fifty-eight years and I love you more than ever. I once more feel a gnawing emptiness in the hollow of my chest that is only filled when your body is pressed next to mine.” That’s the beginning of philosopher André Gorz’s Letter to D, written to his dying wife. A year later, the couple took their own lives, together. The book itself is slim—as the friend who sent it to me wrote, you can read it on the crosstown bus—but it contains a fully realized true love story. —Sadie Stein

Nothing grates like a self-mythologizing coffee-table book, but in the case of the Jesus Lizard’s new tome—called, simply, The Jesus Lizard Book—you can forgive any aura of congratulation. These guys deserve to pat themselves on the back. One of the finest, most primal rock bands of the nineties, they drew a cult following in that they seemed to be, in fact, a cult, with David Yow the deranged high priest and David Wm. Sims his brooding voodoo-deacon. If the spectacular photography in The Jesus Lizard Book is to be believed, their shows resembled nothing more than that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where some poor dude has his still-beating heart removed in an elaborate ritual. (In the world of the Jesus Lizard, everyone is in the Black Sleep of Kali Ma.) Granted, Yow could be an oblique shock-jock—“I had a tendency to pull my balls out and hold them glistening up to the microphone,” he says—but at his best, he was as compelling a frontman and lyricist as anyone in music. In, say, “Karpis” (“Alvin’s feelin’ restless, cellblock H / A carton of smokes for ten minutes of pleasure”) his lyrics have a gritty economy, telling an unmistakably terrifying story without having to spell anything out. —Dan Piepenbring

While reading through an interview—blind item!—that’s running in our upcoming issue, I was led by a series of Google searches to a would-be epitaph written by Malcolm Lowry:

Malcolm Lowry
Late of the Bowery
His prose was flowery
And often glowery
He lived, nightly, and drank, daily,
And died playing the ukulele

The “Death by Misadventure” tag in his coroner’s report calls the ukulele bit into question (or does it?)—and Lowry’s actual tombstone, it turns out, isn’t quite so literarily engraved—but the verse did remind me of another of my favorite would-be epitaphs, that of W. C. Fields. When asked by Vanity Fair, in 1925, to contribute to a piece called, fittingly, “A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs,” he came up with this, a riff on his running (and playful) disdain for the City of Brotherly Love: “Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
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Warhol via Floppy Disk, and Other News

April 25, 2014 | by

warhol floppy

Andy Warhol, Andy2, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

  • Shakespeare: playwright, poet, armchair astronomer. “Peter Usher has a very elaborate theory about Hamlet, in which the play is seen as an allegory about competing cosmological worldviews … Claudius happens to have the same name as Claudius Ptolemy, the ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer who we now associate most closely with the geo-centric Ptolemaic worldview.”
  • From the mideighties: Andy Warhol’s rediscovered computer art.
  • New research by the University of California-San Diego’s Rayner Eyetracking Lab—nobody tracks eyes like the Rayner—suggests that speed-reading apps might rob you of your comprehension skills.
  • I have been surreptitiously scrutinizing faces wherever I go. Several things have struck me while undertaking this field research on our species. The first is quite how difficult it is to describe faces … We might say that a mouth is generous, or eyes deep-set, or cheeks acne-scarred, but when set beside the living, breathing, infinitely subtle interplay of inner thought, outward reaction and the nexus of superimposed cultural conventions, it tells us next to nothing about what a person really looks like.”
  • In Germany, business is booming. The secret: pessimism. “German executives are almost always less confident in the future than they are in the present.”
  • Discovered in an archive of the LAPD: more than a million old crime-scene photographs, some of them more than a century old.

 

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Shakespeare, Heartthrob

April 23, 2014 | by

Reclaiming the Bard for the common man.

hiddleston coriolanus

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus in Josie Rourke’s production at Donmar Warehouse.

There was a time when attending a motion picture was not an occasion but an event. Most of the great movie houses that might remind us—the Roxy in Times Square, Fox Theater in San Francisco, the Loews Palace in DC—are long gone, but the Music Box remains. A local landmark on Chicago’s North Side, the theater still has its Austrian curtains, house organ, and even a hoary legend: the ghost of Whitey, the house manager who ran the theater from opening night in 1929 until Thanksgiving eve, 1977, when he lay down for a cat nap and passed away in the lobby.

The Music Box is an 800-seat theater, more than three times the size of Donmar Warehouse, another theater nearly four thousand miles away in London. What brought the two houses together was Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. A recent performance at the Donmar was beamed live, and later rerun, to cinemas all over the world as part of Britain’s National Theatre Live series. It was the first time the Music Box telecasted a production that completely sold out.

In Shakespeare’s canon, Coriolanus sits somewhere between rarely remembered plays like Pericles and Two Gentlemen of Verona and stock selections like King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. A story of pride and political intrigue plucked from Plutarch’s Lives, the play is a little like an olive: a bitter fruit from Rome and something of an acquired taste. Its title character is one of Shakespeare’s great creations—for an accomplished actor, a role almost as inevitable as Iago or Macbeth. T.S. Eliot called the play “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success;” he admired it so much he wrote two “Coriolan” poems with an eye toward an unfinished tetralogy.

It’s unlikely enough that an art-house movie theater would sell so many tickets to a telecast of Coriolanus—but I should add that this was a morning matinee in Chicago on a frigid Sunday in February. When I arrived, then, I wasn’t exactly worried about finding a place to sit—but I was bewildered to discover a packed house where I expected an acre of open seats. Read More »

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The Cosmonaut Survival Kit, and Other News

April 22, 2014 | by

1980._Интеркосмос_(1)

Почтовая марка СССР, 1980. Интеркосмос

  • Have booksellers discovered Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary?
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder collaborated with her daughter on many books in the Little House on the Prairie series, and it wasn’t always a cooperative arrangement. A letter from 1938 suggests the scope of their creative frictions: “Here you have a young girl,” Wilder’s daughter wrote to her about one character, “a girl twelve years old, who’s led a rather isolated life with father, mother, sisters in the country, and you can not have her suddenly acting like a slum child who has protected her virginity from street gangs since she was seven or eight.”
  • What was in your average Soviet cosmonaut’s survival kit circa 1968? Among other specialties: three balaclavas, a tripartite rifle/shotgun/flare-gun, and a pistol intended to frighten “wolves, bears, tigers, etc.” in the event of a crash landing.
  • A new app called Cloak helps you “avoid exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat—anyone you’d rather not run into.” Which makes life a bit more miserable, it turns out: “‘All Clear: There’s nobody nearby’ reads like such a strange, sad message, such a lonely thing to have achieved through technological control of our social environments. Looking at that screen makes me want to place my phone face down on my desk, go out into the street, and walk around until I bump into someone I know.”
  • Christian Montenegro, an Argentinean illustrator, makes arresting drawings that look like eclectic contemporary woodcuts.

 

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Hoarding Shakespeare, and Other News

April 17, 2014 | by

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps lived like a tramp, but he had a huge collection of "Shakespearean rarities." Photo via the Guardian

  • On Vijay Seshadri, the poet who won this year’s Pulitzer: “The combination of epic sweep … and piercing, evocative detail is characteristic of the contribution Seshadri has made to the American canon.”
  • Next week at Lincoln Center, Rachel Kushner introduces Anna, a seventies documentary that will be familiar to readers of The Flamethrowers: it “centers on the titular pregnant, homeless sixteen-year-old whom the filmmakers discovered in Rome’s Piazza Navona.”
  • “In a small series of sheds in Sussex a nineteenth-century joker and eccentric hoarded the evidence that reconciles Shakespeare the playwright with Shakespeare the man.”
  • Heaven Is for Real “is based on the mega-bestseller by a pastor whose four-year-old had major surgery, after which he knew things he couldn’t possibly have known, and also claimed to have met Jesus … The intended audience appears to be people in medically induced comas who enjoy Nebraska-themed screensavers and who think that Michael Landon had a little too much ‘bad boy edge’ on Highway to Heaven.”
  • What’s this? Just the average story of a doctor-buccaneer who lived among the natives of Panama in the seventeenth century: “It took almost an hour for his shipmates to recognize him. Then one started backwards in shock. ‘Why! Here’s our doctor!’ the man cried, and a crowd gathered around him, trying to rub off the geometric paint that obscured his features. It was Lionel Wafer, the pirate surgeon.”
  • In 1951, when the sociologist C. Wright Mills published White Collar: The American Middle Classes, “an entire society was being white-collarized. Status and prestige, emotional games and office politics: These were leaking out of the workplace and into the world, coloring the entire way people interacted and organized their time and leisure. The frankly confrontational style of blue-collar work and industrial unions was disappearing.”

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