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Posts Tagged ‘The New Yorker’

Into the Woods

September 23, 2016 | by

What should I bring on my writing retreat?

Arthur Bowen Davies, Hudson Valley Landscape, 1914-18.

Arthur Bowen Davies, Hudson Valley Landscape, 1914–18.

I’m off to the woods to live deliberately! Or, just to live, as it were—all I can do is hope that my deliberateness (and discipline and patience) will kick in eventually, since my destination is an artist’s colony upstate, on the border of Massachusetts, in a forest-locked village called Austerlitz.

In an effusive piece for The Morning News, Alexander Chee once described the writerly boons of retreating to a solitary enclave like Austerlitz, where time and space seem to bend in one’s favor—more pages written, delightful colleagues, and bucolic settings. “Imagine, if you will, the Umbrian countryside in May,” he wrote of a particularly idyllic residency. “Hills and fields, forests, etc. You feel like you’ve wandered into a Merchant Ivory adaptation.” But I flinch each time I consider disrupting what is a perfectly fine routine in Brooklyn: I like my run-down apartment! I like the shitty folding chair I sit in every day to write! I like having to remember to spray down my roach-infested sink with borax while the minutes tick down to a deadline!

My irrational nervousness has to do, in part, with how wild it seems that everything will be taken care of for me: groceries replenished in the communal kitchen, dinners cooked by a chef named Donna. There are free linens and a cleaning person. Even distractions are warded away—a five-page Microsoft Word document explaining colony rules enforces headphones and bans visitors from overstaying their welcome or even using the kitchen or dining rooms. “Studios are private and require a personal invitation,” warns the guide, protecting residents even from each other. Read More »

You Won’t Get Anywhere Taking the Stairs, and Other News

September 15, 2016 | by

Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel, in a rendering by Forbes Massie-Heatherwick Studio.

  • The Paris Review’s offices are in Chelsea, where we attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every day. (What, you thought all those people were here for the High Line?) But now there’s a new attraction in town: stairs. Lots and lots of stairs, beautifully arranged, and going nowhere. It’s part of an ambitious new sculpture that some have dubbed “the social climber”: “Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, Vessel, stands fifteen stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, forty-six, an acclaimed and controversial British designer … Mr. Heatherwick said Vessel was partly inspired by Indian stepwells, but he also referred to it as a climbing frame—what Americans would call a jungle gym—as well as ‘a Busby Berkeley musical with a lot of steps.’ ”
  • If you’re not into steps, just visit the city for the pavement. There’s a lot of it—and if you squint a bit or take the right drugs or just give it a good long think, you’ll see how interesting it is. Edwin Heathcote argues that “the pavement is the skin of the city, a membrane that separates the veneer of civilization from the darkness of the earth … The pavement is a paradoxical thing. It begins as a symbol of civilization and liberation but also becomes a kind of final resort, the domain of the homeless, of beggars and of defecating dogs. A city’s attitude to its street surface reveals much about its ideas of civic space, of ownership and generosity … ‘I think that our bodies are in truth naked,’ wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves. ‘We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.’ ” 

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The Fine Art of American Small Talk, and Other News

July 6, 2016 | by

George Ameal Wilson, Friendly Conversation.

  • Today in poetry as panhandling: Rowan McCabe pitches himself as “the world’s first door-to-door poet.” (An insult to the many lyrically inclined encyclopedia salesmen who once roamed this earth.) McCabe is based in the UK and will likely never make it to the U.S., where poets are routinely shot. But maybe you’d like to pay him a visit: “McCabe is more usually found on the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, writing bespoke verse for whoever happens to answer the buzzer when he calls. He’s penned poems about birds and love and parenting; one to remember a couple’s first date, another for someone’s dog. He composed the piece ‘To Amy, Sitting Her Final Policing Exam’ for a future constable and Gospel for a woman he nicknamed ‘Agnostic Ana.’ ”
  • The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is host to one of the biggest races in America, which means that its parking lot is, at least one day a year, a very good place to sell shit. And what shit it is, as John Paul Rollert discovered on his trip to the Indy 500: “Among the more ingenious entrepreneurs were Kyle and Scott, two men I discovered lugging enormous duffle-bags stuffed with homemade t-shirts. Kyle wore one featuring the disembodied heads of Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and an uninspired pun involving suck. Scott, however, wore the shirt that elicited endless commentary from all who passed. It read simply: DONALD FUCKIN’ TRUMP. With its ambiguous modifier—does it mark enthusiasm, amazement, horror?—the shirt was a hot item among race fans, which was a good thing for the itinerant salesman, as between the two shirts, they had 2,700 to sell. While Kyle attended a car-full of boys trying to resolve whether to buy one shirt for $20 or take the two-fer deal at $35, I asked Scott why he thought people were so drawn to the shirts. He shrugged. ‘They like cuss words,’ he said.”
  • In which Karan Mahajan comes to America and learns that we all pretend to be bosom buddies for no apparent reason: “American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies. This makes it a land of small talk. Two people greet each other happily, with friendliness, but might know each other for years before venturing basic questions about each other’s backgrounds. The opposite is true of Indians. At least three people I’ve sat next to on planes to and from India have asked me, within minutes, how much I earn as a writer (only to turn away in disappointment when I tell them). In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.”
  • Twitter deletes inactive accounts after a certain period of time, which means that Prince, David Bowie, and other recently deceased celebrity users will have their tweets vanished forever. Sonia Weiser asks: “Should famous artists’ social-media profiles be saved? Archiving their digital materials would follow the tradition of old-school paper archives, the ones that are responsible for maintaining collections like hundreds of Emily Dickinson’s letters, notes from Mary Shelley that show her succumbing to a brain tumor, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s working drafts and photographs. If journals, sketchbooks, letters, and scribbled-on napkins are venerated and kept for insights into great minds, there seems to be a case that tweets should be held onto, too … Archivists now have the challenge of working through the kinks of determining digital material’s place among artists’ greater estates and settling on a feed’s value.”

Staff Picks: Snails Eating Snails, Sailboat Lust, DISSS-CO!

April 15, 2016 | by

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany.

I’ve been impressed by Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, especially the faithfulness with which it renders the buzzy dread of parenthood: not the fear of begetting but the fear that begetting occasionally begets. To see the world through Schiff’s poems is to see it magnified by motherhood and aswarm with potential menace. The collection includes poems about anthrax and swine flu, “unbearable / supercolonies of ants,” even the slow-motion spectacle of a snail eating another snail. (“Wolf snail rewinding / common snail up its trembling spool, // the wheeling / of the whelk / inside the whelk.”) The poems’ forms are often as relentless as their subjects—it’s the rare stanza that ends on a full stop—but they have their purpose: “The lyric makes me sing,” she writes “what I did not even / want said, to get to stop having / to keep thinking // it.” —Bobby Baird

I was just extolling the artistic virtues of Niki de Saint Phalle to a friend on Monday, complaining about how she’s discussed so infrequently and exhibited so rarely in the U.S. So Ariel Levy’s essay in the latest issue of The New Yorker was a welcome surprise. Levy’s focus is Saint Phalle’s fourteen-acre Tarot Garden in Tuscany, which she worked on for decades. It’s a site I’m keen to visit, especially given Levy’s apt description: “It is as if a psychedelic bomb had exploded in the most picturesque part of Tuscany.” Saint Phalle’s interest in the Tarot, her expression of an overt, joyful eroticism, and her assertion of her own creative value and purpose—especially in relation to intense, passionate affairs with male artists—remind me of her contemporary, Dorothy Iannone, who is likewise under-recognized in this country. Yet Saint Phalle, like Iannone, was never in doubt of her power: “If I didn’t want to be a second-class citizen,” she said, “I would have to go out into the world and fight to impose myself as an artist.”—Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Naming Miss Rumphius, and Other News

February 19, 2016 | by

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A detail of the cover of Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.

  • This account of Georg Eberhard Rumpf, a seventeenth-century botanist, is fascinating enough. But can we talk about the fact that he was manifestly the inspiration for one of the greatest characters in all picture-book literature, Barbara Cooney’s Lupine Lady? Rumpf, Atlas Obscura tells us, “preferred to go by Rumphius, the Latinate spelling of his name.” Miss Rumphius, which won the National Book Award for Childrens Picture Books in 1983, is about a woman who adds beauty to the world by sowing lupines far and wide. 
  • Other stealth children’s-lit news: FURIOUS GEORGE, reads the headline. Seeing the Year of the Monkey in with a bang, a capuchin of Paraíba, Brazil, quaffed some cachaça in a bar and chased patrons around with a knife. “It was a bar staff oversight that ended with the monkey drinking some rum and taking the knife,” said fire-department Lieutenant Colonel Saul Laurentino. So they put him in a nature preserve. But George was furious! Narrates Laurentino, “We had to recapture him because he was causing problems and threatening children living near the reserve.” In other news, he punched the Man with the Yellow Hat and robbed an armored car.  
  • In which The New Yorker applies its famously rigorous copyediting process to Donald Trump’s statement on the Pope. 
  • As fans of Soul Mining and proud bearers of the word the—it’s in all Paris Review e-mail addresses—we have complicated feelings about the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’s new logo. Primarily among them: this does nothing to elucidate the age-old confusion between the museum and the opera. Vulture has not hesitated to term the bold, new design a “graphic misfire,” but, while some of us may mourn the passing of the art-nouveau M that graced their buttons for decades, it’s always good to see the humble article getting its due. 
  • Andreas Huyssen defines the written miniature for the LA Review of Books: “Modernist miniatures are short prose texts written for little magazines or newspaper feuilletons (arts supplements) by major German, French, and Austrian modernists. Always published in groups, they reflect on the fleeting experiences of modern city life, especially as it was shaped by the arrival of photography and early cinema. As such, they register the resulting historical transformation in perceptions of time and space in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. These feuilleton texts, which we now read in book form—for example, Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris or Benjamin’s One-Way Street—sought to capture the visceral feeling of acceleration and compression, social conflict, and cultural upheaval that defined urban existence. In their focus on dream images, ghostly appearances, surreal memories, and urban phantasmagorias, they largely shunned the realistic description, typical of older urban sketches like those of Louis Sébastien Mercier in the 18th century. The miniature did not merely imitate visual media — it absorbed them, condensing objec­tive and subjective perceptions into the very structure of language and text and asserting the aesthetic specificity of literary language and its own power to capture visual experience. In their compressed form, miniatures also accommodate the short attention spans of urban readers, but in their conceptual ambition and complexity, they sit like foreign bodies in the feuilleton, a section of the newspaper mainly geared toward easy consumption.”