In November 1929, the thirty-one-year-old Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was the world’s most notorious film director. Four years earlier, Battleship Potemkin, his euphorically reviewed, highly influential tour de force about mutiny on the eponymous naval vessel, had brought him both acclaim and infamy. Infected with wanderlust, Eisenstein won permission from Stalin to leave Russia on a short research trip. He took off in August 1929, with twenty-five dollars in his pocket. He returned home, reluctantly, just under three years later.During the ensuing whirlwind—to Berlin, Paris, London, then on to Hollywood—Eisenstein met with the world’s leading intellectuals, actors, and avant-garde artists: James Joyce, Jean Cocteau and Robert Desnos in France, George Bancroft in Germany, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in the United States. His grand tour often gets overshadowed by his disastrous film collaboration in Mexico with the novelist Upton Sinclair—framed in Peter Greenaway’s 2015 movie Eisenstein in Guanajuato—but British culture was a significant and often neglected long-term source of interest.
In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.
A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”
My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone. Read More
Thinking, Fast and Slow sums up the cognitive research that won Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics (a first for a psychologist). It is also an old-fashioned work of philosophy: a series of DIY experiments that teach you how and why to doubt your intuitions about things as basic as cause and effect. —Lorin Stein
The Ransom Center has launched a curiously fascinating exhibit online, based around a door from Frank Shay’s bookshop that was signed by hundreds of the habitués of 1920s Greenwich Village, including Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis. The original shop was across the street from my current apartment and exploring the site, and the interconnected histories of the people who frequented the store, is a nifty way back in time—like a portal to twenties social networking. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
I’ve been looking forward to pulling Dalkey Archive’s new collection of stories and essays by Mina Loy off my shelf, but it hasn’t yet found it’s way into my reading cycle. I have managed to dip my toe in by way of Triple Canopy’s excerpt of her play “The Sacred Prostitute,” a very funny send-up of, among other things, men’s attitudes toward women. What’s more, some young genius at the magazine has put a handful of CF’s sublime, seductive drawings into the mix. —Nicole Rudick