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Posts Tagged ‘Soho’

Insurrection: An Interview with Rachel Kushner

April 3, 2013 | by

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I filled up half a notebook preparing for my interview with Rachel Kushner, whose second novel, The Flamethrowers, arrives this week. [It was excerpted and served as the inspiration for the portfolio in our last issue.] The notes are wide-ranging and imprecise, a record of the experience of reading this intellectually voracious book and trying to keep up with it. There are descriptions of American land art, scraps of World War I history, digressions on Italian counterculture in the late seventies. There are facts about those same years in New York, sometimes appreciating a particularly lovely observation, sometimes just noting what has changed (“on the Manhattan side, the Williamsburg Bridge had steps”). There are names, so many names: Aldo Moro, Virginia Tusi, Grifi and Sarchielli, Robert Smithson, and a hundred more. There are isolated flashes of pop-culture ephemera, like an otherwise blank page with “Jane Fonda wins an Oscar” written in the middle. That these elements, incoherent in my notebook, not only connect in Flamethrowers but create a dense and beautiful and polyphonic Bolaño-esque harmony meant that Ms. Kushner, by the time our interview rolled around, had started to seem somewhat miraculous.

Perhaps appropriately for an author concerned with the self-conscious production of ideas and images, Ms. Kushner spoke to me on Skype from LA, where she lives, as she put it, “incognito.” Her disguise on this particular day consisted of a black sweater and a few auburn highlights in her brown hair. When she answers questions, she has a habit of looking down past the camera, and her elaborate, delicate responses—complete with qualifications and footnotes—make it seem that she must be consulting a notebook propped open in the corner of the room. She isn’t.

The Flamethrowers spans a hundred years and follows multiple sets of characters across two countries, but I think it can be separated into three strands. Reno moves from Nevada to New York in the late seventies to be an artist, Italy is upended during the Years of Lead, Italian motorcyclists form a gang in World War I. Did you start out looking for a large and polyphonic book?

I like the way you divide up the three strands.

Is that not how you would divide them?

Well, at first there were two spheres—New York in the seventies and Italy in the seventies. And I knew they may have had some kind of en-tissuing or overlap, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to reduce it by linking them in forced or artificial ways. The only viable manner of figuring out how they were connected—and weren’t—was to write the novel. Read More »

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Part 2: The Offer

October 25, 2011 | by

Steve Lowe and the Mugwump. Photograph by Michael Childers.

A story in three parts. Previously: Part 1, The Amanuensis.

I met Steve the first time I stayed at the Lautner Motel, in August of 2000. I was in California to do research for a book about trailer parks, and there was an anarchist trailer park, a place called Slab City, in an abandoned military base about sixty miles south of Desert Hot Springs. I’d brought my girlfriend and wanted to stay somewhere nice to make up for the 120-degree temperatures, so we wound up at the Lautner. It was late when we finally arrived, but almost as soon as we’d gone inside and put our luggage down, Steve knocked on the door. Read More »

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Part 1: The Amanuensis

October 24, 2011 | by

Photograph by Michael Childers.

A story in three parts.

Karl, the Beat Hotel’s ex-meth-addict handyman, stood at the top of a thirty-foot ladder, squirting a translucent goo with the brand name “Tanglefoot” onto one of the Hotel’s air-conditioner units. I held the ladder so that Karl did not pitch off into the sand and gravel below. The goo represented a new phase in our boss’s war with the pigeon population of Desert Hot Springs, California.

Our boss was Steve Lowe. Before starting the Beat Hotel, he’d performed with Laurie Anderson and read poetry with Allen Ginsberg. His gallery showed the best work Keith Haring ever did, and he made art with Richard Tuttle. Steve had also been William Burroughs’s amanuensis, a position that combined the duties of researcher, artist’s assistant, gallerist, and Official Writer’s-Block Breaker. Steve could tell stories about hanging out with William and Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith. He also recalled that, at Burroughs’s wake, he and Grant Hart, who was the drummer for Hüsker Dü, were the only people sober enough to be horrified when somebody threw up in the swimming pool. Read More »

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Good-Bye to All That: Deitchland

September 24, 2010 | by

When Jeffrey Deitch opened his gallery in Soho in 1995, his program had promise. He exhibited the great Japanese artist of sound and light Mariko Mori, Chen Zhen’s installation of street latrines from Beijing (a tribute by the late artist to the old ladies tasked to clean them), and the African-American performance artist Jocelyn Taylor, who took over the windows of a whole Soho block to create an ironic red-light district—the highpoint in a career that would dissipate thereafter. Read More »

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