Posts Tagged ‘The nineties’
April 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Should we be surprised that so many writers have doubled as spies? It seems a shame to put all their observational prowess to waste when there’s a great way to monetize it—and writing is most assuredly not that way. Plus, the connection speaks to deeper truths about both art forms: “Writers create plots; spies uncover them … ‘Everything is useful to a writer,’ [Graham] Greene insisted. ‘Every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.’ Writers are obsessed with plot and character, motive and perspective, and with the space between interior and exterior worlds, between what people think and what they say. Le Carré has suggested that espionage is a kind of metaphor; we all live undercover and mask our private selves with projected social personalities. ‘Most of us live,’ he said, in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage.’ ”
- Authors are great voyeurs, too, of course, so it comes as some surprise that Gerald Foos, who rigged up his motel so he could watch his guests going at it, didn’t end up a novelist or something. But he was a writer of sorts: he kept an exhaustive journal of his observations, and Gay Talese has reported on it. “As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word I, and sometimes he’d refer to himself as ‘the voyeur’ … The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, ‘You son of a bitch!’ ”
- If writers are voyeurs and spies, poets at least get in on the action. To Garth Greenwell, cruising is itself a kind of poetry: “The two phenomena, as I experience them, can serve as similes for each other. Cruising carves out intimacies in public space in the same way poetry carves out intimacies in public discourse; and cruising is also itself a kind of discourse, with codes that have to be secret in plain sight, legible to those in the know but able to pass beneath general notice, like one of Wyatt’s sonnets. Both poetry and cruising have a structure that is essentially epiphanic, offering the sudden, often ecstatic revelation of a meaning that emerges from the inchoate stuff of quotidian life. As poetry declares a system of value incomprehensible to the world of Yeats’s ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,’ a value different from that of commerce and instrumental usefulness, so cruising depends on an idea of the value of human interactions shorn of the usual institutions that mark that value. And, maybe most profoundly, both poetry and cruising are arts of loneliness and the assuagement of loneliness.”
- A new festival celebrating Beckett’s years in Paris must ask what turns out to be a complicated question: What did Beckett really think of the place? The devastating answer: a shrug. “During those years in Paris, he lived fully in the city; he drank at the Falstaff or the Rosebud and played billiards at the Les Trois Mousquetaires. He visited casinos with Thomas MacGreevy and in his trusty Citroën he once drove a stunned Harold Pinter from bar to bar at breakneck speed. Beckett was also of course a great walker, he crisscrossed Paris time and time again. In his younger days he accompanied James Joyce in walks along the Seine; the older Beckett strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens with the philosopher Emil Cioran … And therein lies the fascination of Beckett and Paris, he’s there but ever so subtly. As he was with people—reticent, gracious—so he was with the city … Not all writers of course are obsessed, like Joyce or Dickens, with the minutiae of a particular city; there are some who, based on their work, barely seem to have walked this earth at all. With Beckett, not surprisingly, the reality is more complex, more elusive.”
- As The People v. O. J. Simpson reaches its inevitable finale (spoiler alert: he’s acquitted), Nicholas Dames sees in it something more than a dramatization of a sensational trial: “The show’s job, as its creators seem to have understood it—and at which they succeed remarkably well is not fidelity to historical detail, but evocation of a vanished era in its most intimate aspects: the moment-to-moment feeling of being alive then, the sensory and affective horizons of a time still within living memory, seen through the slight parallax of the present. Big narrative resolutions, like guilt and innocence, are beside the point. Instead, small things get magnified … What this means is that, allowing for all of its early-21st-century savvy and its very different medium, The People v. O. J. Simpson bears a surprising resemblance to a Victorian novel. It was one of nineteenth-century fiction’s most subtle inventions: the idea that realism’s gaze was sharpest when focused on the recent past, neither beyond living memory nor quite like contemporary world.”
January 14, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
This week, I started obsessively revisiting the 1997 album Closed on Account of Rabies, which features Edgar Allan Poe poems and stories interpreted by the likes of Jeff Buckley, Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Walken, and Debbie Harry. (David Bowie, in case you’re wondering, was not involved, although I think some Bowie-related rabbit hole led me back to it.) Read More »
October 15, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The Million Man March, twenty years later.
October 16 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March. The photographer Roderick Terry, then age thirty, was there as more than a million black men crowded Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, “transforming it,” he writes, “into a sea of blackness.” “The March still ranks as one of the greatest moments of my life,” Terry says. “It was a spiritual awakening of the highest order … Amid the crowd was an air of total calm and peacefulness unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”
May 15, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
In 1992, Eric Clapton released an acoustic version of his 1970 Derek and the Dominos classic, “Layla.” Inspired by the Persian epic The Story of Layla and Majnun—and, of course, by Clapton’s personal life—the original was ubiquitous at the height of album rock. But the relaxed, dad-friendly “unplugged” take made an instant sensation, too: it was an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the early nineties. To this day it’s a Lite FM staple—just try to visit the dentist’s office without hearing it.
When it came out, I remember hearing it was everywhere. In stores; on MTV; in the local salon, Visual Difference, where tough young women gave me terrible haircuts between cigarettes. And whenever that live cover came on in our car—as it did in the cars of countless boomers across the nation and the world—my mom would go on the same tear.
Recall, to start, that the set was recorded in front of a Brixton audience. Unlike the rest of the world, the crowd captured on tape was presumably hearing this cover for the first time.
May 13, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
In middle school, my friend Marissa and I thought it was pretty darn hilarious to give each other the most inappropriate birthday cards possible. I don’t mean those pre-snark Shoebox greetings full of foul-mouthed grandmas; that would have been tantamount to buying into the earnest Hallmark industrial complex. Instead, we’d look for cards for nephews and stepfathers and babies, and then present them with the hand-knitted scarves and mixtapes we’d made each other. It doesn’t sound funny now. But it was a different time—and I don’t just mean junior high.
In my day, we made our own irony. Without wishing to invoke the proverbial snow-walking grandparent, it’s still important to remember that greeting-card window between Spy magazine and Gawker, between Andy Warhol and someecards, between SNL and the Internet. The time, in short, when people dealt in the currency of subversion, but it wasn’t our gold standard.There’s a reason that the mom humor of fifties commercial art juxtaposed with louche captions seemed deliciously wicked then, and why it feels tame now—we were used to doing all that in our heads. Read More »
December 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Tim Parks was dismayed to find that his students were so enthralled by “the printed word and an aura of literariness” that they’d miss obvious absurdities in what they were reading. His advice? “Always read with a pen in your hands, not beside you on the table, but actually in your hand, ready, armed. And always make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical, even aggressive. Put a question mark by everything you find suspect. Underline anything you really appreciate. Feel free to write ‘splendid,’ but also, ‘I don’t believe a word of it.’ And even ‘bullshit.’ ”
- On a similar note, Oxonians are obsessed with finding marginalia in their library books: on Facebook, the Oxford University Marginalia group “now has two thousand five hundred and three members, making marginalia to Oxford something like what a cappella is to Princeton. ‘The Oxford libraries are still heavily used, and the curriculum remains relatively stable, so you have so many students reading the same texts’ … ‘The books are thrashed, basically.’ ”
- Not many people are managing to slog through literary best sellers, experts say: “A study has shown the most downloaded ebooks of the year were not necessarily ever finished by hopeful readers.” Just 44 percent of readers made it through The Goldfinch, and 28 percent got through Twelve Years a Slave.
- Crummy computer news, part one: they’re better at flirting than we are. “Women were okay, able to judge with 62 percent accuracy when a man was flirting with them. Men were worse, accurately guessing that a woman was flirting just 56 percent of the time. The Stanford guys’ flirtation-detection system, in comparison, was able to correctly judge flirting with 71 percent accuracy.”
- Crummy computer news, part two: all the seemingly horrendous dot-com ideas of the nineties were actually pretty decent. Remember WebVan? No? They wanted to use the Internet to deliver fresh groceries to your door—just as dozens of profitable companies are doing today.