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Posts Tagged ‘Slate’

Anne Hollander, 1930–2014

July 9, 2014 | by

seeing through clothes

Anne Hollander, whose acute writing on fashion, costume, and style infused those subjects with a new intellectual energy, died on Sunday at eighty-three. As the Times reports, “She argued that clothing revealed far more than it concealed—about art, about perceptions of the body and ourselves—and her interests spanned centuries and mediums.”

Hollander conducted—or co-conducted; she shares the credit with John Marquand—The Paris Review’s first Art of Theater interview, with Lillian Hellman, published in 1965. Back then, her contributor’s note read modestly, “Anne Hollander designs costumes, paints, and translates occasionally.”

A little more than a decade later, in 1978, she published her first book, the brilliant (and brilliantly named) Seeing Through Clothes, a history of clothing and a study of representations of the body in Western art. The book was full of offhand wisdom about what you could call our philosophy of dress: “People seem always actually to know,” Hollander wrote, “with a degree of pain that has required the comfort of fairy tales, that when you are dressed in any particular way at all, you are revealed rather than hidden.” The book took a while to find its audience, but, as one critic noted, it “pushes erudition to the point of originality. The thoroughness with which she examines Western art and clothes has precipitated a new subject: how painting, sculpture and photography mediate between bodily ideals and what we wear.”

Over the next decades, her reputation grew and she published a succession of well-received books, including Moving Pictures and Sex in Suits; she wrote essays for a number of magazines, including The London Review of Books. Not much of Hollander’s writing is available online, but she was, for a time in the late nineties, the fashion columnist for Slate, which has curiously yet to publish a remembrance. Her pieces there have aged well; a column from February 1997—“A Loss for Words: Why there’s no good writing in fashion”—is just as true nearly twenty years later:

Fashion journalists and sensational fictioneers like Danielle Steele have co-opted the field, and other writers are scared off. Fashion now seems like a club with a private jargon that leaves no room for the play of sensitive literary exposition. And good critical writing about clothing hardly exists at all. There is no tradition of clothes criticism that includes serious analysis, or even of costume criticism among theater, ballet, and opera critics, who do have an august writerly heritage. This fact may be what makes the fashion journalist hate her job—the painful sense that real work cannot be done in this genre, that it would be better, more honorable, to be writing about something else.

But Hollander didn’t write about something else, thankfully. She expanded the rhetoric and insight of criticism about style, engaging where most writers thought there was nothing to engage with.

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Meghan O’Rourke on ‘The Long Goodbye’

April 25, 2011 | by

Photograph by Sarah Shatz.

In 2008, on Christmas Day, Meghan O’Rourke’s mother, Barbara, died after a two-and-a-half-year battle with advanced colorectal cancer. O’Rourke was lost in her grief, which she found overwhelming and unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her book, The Long Goodbye, is her attempt to understand her grief, documenting the years before and after her mother’s passing. In reading The Long Goodbye, I braced myself for the tears (which, yes, did come) but, by its end, discovered that O’Rourke had written a beautiful memoir about a daughter’s love for her mother. We spoke recently about her book; an edited version of our conversation appears below.

How did this book come about?

I started writing things down, for myself, before my mother died. It was a private recording of what was happening. Writing has always been the primary way I make sense of the world. My mother was going through this really intense experience: she had been sick, she had been diagnosed with advanced cancer two years before she died, and she went into a remission that was unusual. Then the cancer came back—it went to her brain, which again was not common for the cancer that she had. It was bizarre to see someone change so radically and so quickly; I had to write it down in order to not go crazy with the strangeness of it all.

After my mother died, I was supposed to be writing my column at Slate, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t read. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had thought of grief as being sad, but instead it was like being suddenly aware of all the luminous, fragile elements of existence. It was also lonely in its way. My editor at Slate said, “Why don’t you write about what you are going through.” I didn’t think what happened to me was extraordinary. But it was what I was obsessed with, and so I started to shape what I was experiencing into a piece.

I was very unprepared for grief. It was isolating. There was no language for it, and no language around it—but I felt that I was in contact with all of these deeper realities; even the sky seemed strangely bluer. But there is a discomfort that surrounds grief. It makes even the most well-intentioned people unsure of what to say. And so many of the freshly bereaved end up feeling even more alone. I came across a quote of Iris Murdoch’s: “The bereaved have no language with which to speak with the unbereaved.” I thought, What if you could find a language that would describe the experience, with all its mysteries?

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A Week in Culture: John Swansburg, Editor, Part 2

April 14, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Swansburg’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

I slip out of the office around noon and walk over to SoHo to check out an exhibition of photographs taken on the Paris Metro by Chris Marker. I am an enthusiastic straphanger—I’m known in the Slate offices as a staunch defender of the MTA—so I was looking forward to seeing Marker’s project, but the photos fail to move me. Marker has captured the drudgery of commuting and the diversity of Paris’s commuters, but the photos are almost uniformly glum; they fail to register the vitality a packed subway car can have. (I’ll never forget the time I saw a guy with Four Quartets and a critical text perched on his lap on a crowded C train. Come on, Marker, where’s the wonder?) A few of the shots juxtapose faces Marker has photographed on the subway with faces from masterpieces of painting. Some of the likenesses are impressive, but it feels like a silly trick; I don’t need to be shown that this woman looks kind of like Mona Lisa to care about her. The Marker exhibition leaves me wanting to see what Bill Cunningham would do with the assignment of spending a week riding New York’s rails.

I have dinner at the bustling John Dory Oyster Bar—yes, more oysters, I swear this week is not typical—with my friends from Port Washington, Long Island1. Among other things, I’ve learned that citizens of Port Washington harbor ill will toward the neighboring hamlet of Plandome, which, despite its tiny size (population 1,272) and proximity to both the Port Washington and Manhasset stations, for some reason has its own Long Island Rail Road stop, unnecessarily adding two to three minutes to the Port Washingtonian’s commute each morning and evening. Weary passengers have been said to exhibit countenances akin to Munch’s The Scream upon pulling into the Plandome station.

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  1. My college roommate grew up there, and I’ve since become close with several of his childhood friends and have been granted (by them) de jure citizenship in the town.

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A Week in Culture: John Swansburg, Editor

April 13, 2011 | by

The author radios an Erie Canal bridge operator to request passage for his vessel, Hulberton, NY.

DAY ONE

Uh, oh. My plan was for this culture diary to culminate six days hence in a cheeky dispatch from Charlie Sheen’s “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option” tour. I am a ticket holder to his planned stop at the Toyota Presents the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut. (Syntactically, at least, the event and the venue deserve one another.) But this morning I read A. O. Scott’s devastating report from Sheen’s opening performance, at Detroit’s Fox Theater, and I’m troubled. I’d signed on to see Sheen at the suggestion of two Connecticut-based friends who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like to. (The three of us have a tradition of dreaming up foolhardy adventures as an excuse to spend time together: A couple of years ago we sailed the Erie Canal from Rochester to Medina, New York, in a vessel with a top speed of six knots per hour, which is about the rate at which an old man jogs. Another recent trip involved us trucking up to Hartford to see what’s left of the Grateful Dead, which is not much.) Of course, I also bought the Sheen ticket because I wanted to see the wreckage up close. Scott’s essay forces me to confront the fact that there’s no way to take in the spectacle without being implicated in its tawdriness:

We [in the audience] profess dismay at Mr. Sheen’s long history of drug abuse and violence against women, but we have also enabled and indulged this behavior, and lately encouraged his delusional belief that he could beat the toxic fame machine at its own game. The price of a ticket to one of his shows represents a wager that it is impossible to lose. The audience that walked out of the Fox could feel righteously ripped off and thus morally superior to the man they had paid to see, who seemed to feel the same about them. Win-win!

What have I gotten myself into?

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Staff Picks: David Vann, Chip Kidd, James Salter

January 21, 2011 | by

Last spring our former managing editor and I spent weeks poring over David Vann’s first novel, Caribou Island, when it was in manuscript, trying to find an excerpt we could publish in The Paris Review. Caribou Island is tough, funny, sad, scary, and hard to put down. It has haunted me ever since. The bad news (for us) was that the whole novel is so much of a piece, we couldn’t tease out one strand. The good news is that now the book is out: You can read the whole thing yourself. —Lorin Stein

I love paging through Chip Kidd: Book One, a designer’s history as told through book jackets. Visually stunning, it offers the stories behind the making of some very iconic covers. One of my favorites is a rejected cover for The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, featuring a large, black square. “I thought it was kind of cute—in an angsty, despairing, Nietzschean sort of way,” Kidd says. —Kate Guadagnino

Encountering James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime for the first time is like finally springing for that Cabernet your friends have been praising for years and knowing from the first sip the bottle will disappear much too quickly. The novel unfolds in a series of seductions familiar in their outline—lovers, friends, even France itself—but in such exquisite prose that reading each page is to suffer the pleasure of an affair that must end in the morning. Witness the treatment even of a momentary character: “She has been a famous actress, I recognize her. The debris of a great star. Narrow lips. The face of a dedicated drinker. She constantly piles up her hair with her hands and then lets it fall. She laughs, but there is no sound. It’s all in silence—she is made out of yesterdays.” Wow. —Peter Conroy

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Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job

December 3, 2010 | by

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I'm everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

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