Jean Rhys was born in Dominica, an island among the British West Indies. Though she spent most of her life in England, her time in the Caribbean left her with a distinctive, lilting accent. It sounds beautiful to me, but in 1909 it got her kicked out of the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she was supposedly “slow to improve” it. In this minute-long clip, she dispenses some dour wisdom about writing and happiness. (The rumors are true: they’re inversely related.) If you don’t have a pair of headphones handy—or if you’re just paralyzed with fear at the thought of hearing a deceased person’s voice—here’s a rough transcript: Read More
- Most of us struggle to interest our friends in our vacation photos, even in real time. (My Instagram of Six Flags only got two likes.) But in the midthirties, George L. K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, the so-called Park Avenue Cubists, traveled to such exotic locales that their photos and home movies are still of interest some eighty years later. As Hilary Reid writes, “the Frelinghuysen Morris Home & Studio is a window into the artists’ lives: their books, clothes, midcentury modern furniture and even their liquor bottles and Frelinghuysen’s hair dryer … This summer, visitors can view never-before-seen sixteen-mm color films taken by Morris and Frelinghuysen during their travels to Latin America and Switzerland between 1936 and 1938 … In Switzerland, we watch as Frelinghuysen hops in a convertible with Morris’s younger brother Steve and their friend Natalie Merrill, all wearing driving goggles and masks. The Russian avant-garde artist Esphyr Slobodkina joins them in one shot; and in another, they shimmy and laugh their way out of an ice tunnel.”
- Not unrelatedly: twelve years after he left Buchenwald, Elie Wiesel took a relaxing trip to Disneyland. He loved it—so much so that he dedicated a whole column to it in the Forverts, a Yiddish newspaper. “Several times in the article, Wiesel reflects on his appreciation of Walt Disney—‘the person who created this land, this universe, must be a genius, a rare genius’—and then shares the anecdote that he was told of how Walt Disney often walks around Disneyland in disguise. Wiesel understands why: ‘If one wants to calm his nerves and forget the bitter realities of daily life, there is no better-suited place to do so than Disneyland. In Disneyland, the land of children’s dreams, everything is simple, beautiful, good. There, no one screams at his fellow, no one is exploited by his fellow, no one’s fortune derives from his fellow’s misfortune. If children had the right to vote, they would vote Disney their president. And the whole world would look different.’”
- Brexit raises plenty of unanswerable questions, chief among them being, What the fuck? More fruitfully, we might ask: What effect will this have on the English language? “In 2012 a report found that 38 percent of the EU’s citizens speak it as a foreign language … A sort of Euro-English, influenced by foreign languages, is already in use. Many Europeans use control to mean ‘monitor’ because contrôler has that meaning in French. The same goes for assist, meaning ‘to attend’ (assister in French, asistir in Spanish) … Many nouns in English that don’t properly pluralize with a final s are merrily used in Euro-English, such as informations … Britain may be a polarizing, unusual EU member, but English has become neutral, utilitarian; it is useful because others understand it. Its association with Britain is already weak and set to weaken … Dreamers have long hoped for a neutral auxiliary language that is common to all. Some have even gone to the trouble of inventing such languages. Who knows? English might one day fulfil the destiny intended for Esperanto.”
- Black Flag played their last show thirty years ago, and our ears are still ringing: “Doesn’t it all sound like another world? It probably was. To foist your bohemia on an indifferent public, to harrow the complacent, to shake it up … Joe Carducci, the outsider intellectual who helped run Black Flag’s label, SST, takes the long view: ‘Our closing frontier,’ he writes in his 2008 memoir, Enter Naomi, ‘was the sixties cultural revolution as it died out in the seventies and early eighties. In retrospect the Black Flag/SST story looks like a cultural analogue to the Manson-Weathermen-S.L.A.-Black Panther-Nixon White House-People’s Temple endgame—art just had more life in it than crime or politics or religion.’ ”
- “Must not forget to commit suicide,” the poet Alejandra Pizarnik wrote in her diary—a decade later, she died of a barbiturate overdose. “She was known for working long and obsessively on a little chalkboard, typically on a single poem at a time, exhausting its possibilities before moving on, erasing a word one day, replacing it the next, rearranging the lines (about a dozen at most, presumably all that would fit on the slate) of her small, lapidary poems with an obsessive care that has been obscured by their obvious debts to surrealism and automatic writing … Nothing has colored the reception of Pizarnik’s work more than her death by her own hand.”
Now I am thinking about jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and about other places where people have jumped to their deaths for many years. I think I should find out more about this, for I have an idea that there is some sort of collection of spirit strength or power or love in them that says no, or yes, or now.
I feel very strongly that this is true about the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, I heard that people are trying once more to build a kind of suicide-prevention railing along its side, which would keep us from seeing the bay and the beautiful view of the city. I haven’t read much about suicide lately, but I believe that almost 98 percent of such deaths leave more evil than good after them. Even my husband Dillwyn’s death, which I feel was justified, left many of us with some bad things. And when my brother died, about a year after Timmy did, my mother asked me very seriously if I felt that Timmy’s death had influenced David to commit his own suicide, which to me remains a selfish one, compared to the first. I said, “Of course, yes! I do think so, Mother.” And I did think then that Timmy’s doing away with himself helped my young brother David to kill himself, a year later. But there was really no connection; we don’t know what the limit of tolerance is in any human being. Read More
- Today in fancy Russian plagiarism scandals: upward of a thousand prosperous Russian bureaucrat types, all with doctoral degrees, stand accused of having bought their dissertations on the black market. Leon Neyfakh reports: “The alleged fraud was exposed by members of a volunteer organization that calls itself ‘Dissernet’ … Started in early 2013 by a handful of scientists and journalists, the group has undertaken the task of identifying and publicly shaming government functionaries, academic administrators, and members of Russia’s so-called elite who allegedly hold advanced degrees they did not earn through legitimate means … Some of the intellectual theft Dissernet has identified is comic in its brazenness and absurdity. Duma member Igor Igoshin allegedly earned his economics degree by turning someone else’s paper on the Russian chocolate industry into a thesis on meat; the dissertation replaced every mention of ‘chocolate’ with ‘beef,’ ‘dark chocolate’ with ‘home-grown beef,’ and ‘white chocolate’ with ‘imported beef.’ ”
- Finally, it’s back in print: the unforgettable story of an alchemical marriage and the horny old coot who watched it happen! Johann Valentin Andreae’s 1616 story, The Chemical Wedding, “opens as a winged woman, ‘so bright and beautiful, in a sky-coloured robe,’ invites Christian Rosencreutz—the real-life founder of the philosophical secret society of Rosicrucianism—to a ‘Royal Wedding.’ ‘If God Himself decree it, Then you must to the mountain wend Where three stately temples stand. From there you’ll know Which way to go. Be wise, take care, Wash well, look fair, Or else the Wedding cannot save you,’ says a letter which sends Christian on a seven-day journey to serve the Bridegroom and the Bride, in [John] Crowley’s new version of the text … ‘When Andreae confessed late in life to writing it he called it a ludibrium—a Latin word that can mean a joke, a skit, a jeux d’esprit, or a hoax. I don’t think he was trying to disown it, but he certainly didn’t seem to want it taken with full seriousness. And it’s the fun, the outlandish incident, the surprises, and the wonderful main character—Christian Rosenkreutz, an old self-doubting, curious, kindly, horny guy—all that’s what I wanted to bring to new readers.”
- American sitcoms have a congenital, national defect: they’re too optimistic to be really funny, because life is pain. But Willa Paskin sees a turn in the road: “There’s another way to understand what has happened to American comedy in recent years: it has become more British. The hallmark of the British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him … U.K. sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same. To become a hit in the United States, The Office not only had to transform the tragic, grating boss into a less tragic, less grating, more well-meaning boss; it had to cast off the message, central to the British original, that work is where you go to waste your life.”
- Late last year, debate simmered about Primo Levi’s 1987 death: Was it a suicide? Now Tim Parks, firmly in the yes camp, makes a compelling argument based solely on the height of the handrail Levi may or may not have “fallen” over: the rail, “as building regulations required, was 3’2″ (96.5 cm). Present building regulations in Europe require that handrail height be between 90 and 100 cm. In the U.S., handrail height is given as between 34 and 38 inches (86 to 97 cm). Levi was a small man (5’5″), hence the rail was proportionally high for him, well over half his height. Indeed, a handrail at navel height is a high handrail. Readers wishing to experiment without anxiety can try such a rail at ground level. They will find, as I did, that one has to climb to get to the other side. It is impossible to ‘fall’ over it.”
- William Gibson brings his cyberpunk sensibility to a new comic, Archangel, which of course features a time machine with an ominous name: “Described by its author as a ‘Band of Brothers [meets] Blackwater’ sci-fi conspiracy thriller, Archangel follows two clashing groups vying for the control/survival of the future through the conquest/alteration of the past … The year is a (thankfully alternate) 2016, a world ravaged by unseen nuclear devastation, with the human race hanging on the edge of survival. Junior Henderson, the power-hungry vice president to his despotic father, has just undergone facial reconstructive surgery. He and an expedition team of private military contractors travel to 1945 via The Splitter, a quantum teleportation device capable of creating tangent alternate timelines, to stop this reality—and ultimately shape the future in his own image.”
The other day, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, drew our attention to a really interesting recent episode of the BBC’s History Hour. It was a program dedicated in part to the death of Virginia Woolf, who took her own life on March 28, 1941.
Now, here in the northeast, it’s a particularly dreary day: damp and drizzly, and—after a brief tease of spring—cold. It’s also a Monday. And perhaps, you’re thinking, listening to a discussion of someone drowning herself is not precisely what you need. Read More
Game Theory’s Lolita Nation, thirty years later.
This month, Omnivore Recordings rereleased Lolita Nation, the 1987 double album by the San Francisco pop band Game Theory, who were dissolved in 1990 by their leader, Scott Miller. (Obligatory note: he’s not the Scott Miller from the V-Roys). It’s the latest and most prized offering in Omnivore’s reissue of Game Theory’s complete catalog, long out of print—original pressings of Lolita Nation sold for more than a hundred dollars on eBay.
Lolita Nation checks off all the boxes of the sprawling, ambitious double album: its twenty-seven tracks, mostly of Miller’s knotty but grabby songs, are interspersed with outbursts of experimental noise, rash new musical ideas, a backward-masked Beatles crib, and references to the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Joyce, and Kubrick. There’s a song in 5/4 time, loosey-goose instrumental interludes, and self-referential snippets of other Game Theory songs—a trademark Joycean habit of Miller’s—all of it marshaled into an apparent concept album about the anxious transition from youth to adulthood. But Lolita Nation defies thematic pigeonholing, just as its songs resist easy listening, and it still sounds fresh and compelling almost three decades after its release. Mitch Easter, who produced it along with five more of Miller’s albums, told me, “Scott was always modern in a way that took me a minute to say, Are you sure?” Read More