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Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Northern Powerhouse

February 11, 2016 | by

David Storey’s classic rugby novel, This Sporting Life, speaks to an enduring schism in English culture.

From a Penguin paperback edition of This Sporting Life.

“I went straight for the full-back,” the up-and-coming rugby star of David Storey’s 1960 novel, This Sporting Life, tells us: “and when he came in I gave him the base of my wrist on his nose. The crack, the groan, the release of his arms, all coincided with a soaring of my guts.” Crucially, the sport here is Rugby League, the fast and furious sister of Rugby Union—the latter being what most people would recognize simply as “rugby.” Save for a few rule differences, the two are similar, yet in a thousand intangible ways, many of them to do with the inescapable pall of class that covered English life throughout the twentieth century, they’re worlds apart. Much of the unique power of This Sporting Life, crafted straight from Storey’s personal experience, is in how it shows us these ways. Read More »

Mystery

February 5, 2016 | by

With all the controversy surrounding the renaming of problematic buildings, it seems fitting to draw attention to another bit of suspicious rebranding. Perhaps you’ve seen the BBC miniseries previewed above. “Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None,” is, of course, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians—which was originally, notoriously, released serially in the UK under the title Ten Little Niggers. (This was the British music-hall version of the minstrel song.) Even in 1939, this title was considered too offensive for American publication. Read More »

Poe’s Only Best Seller, and Other News

December 17, 2015 | by

An illustration from Wyatt’s Conchology. This and other beautiful illustrations were omitted from Poe’s much cheaper abridged edition.

  • Edgar Allan Poe had only one best seller in his lifetime. It wasn’t The Raven and Other Poems. Nor was it The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel. It was The Conchologist’s First Book: Or, a System of Testaceous Malacology, Arranged Expressly for the Use of Schools, in Which the Animals, According to Cuvier, Are Given with the Shells, A Great Number of New Species Added, And the Whole Brought Up, as Accurately as Possible, to the Present Condition of the Science. The first edition sold out in two months. And Poe wasn’t even its original author; the book was an abridgment of Thomas Wyatt’s Manual of Conchology. “Poe re-ordered the plates, arranging the organisms from simplest to most complex, and contributed a new preface and introduction. Though the book was intended ‘expressly for the use of Schools,’ the author appears to have done little calibration of his writing style for a young audience. Poe biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes: ‘Poe’s boring, pedantic and hair-splitting Preface was absolutely guaranteed to torment and discourage even the most passionately interested schoolboy.’ ”
  • Sōtatsu, a seventeenth-century Japanese artist, found fame for his screens, the most popular of which depicted roiling waves and rocks. (NB: I’ve refrained, with some difficulty, from deploying a “making waves” joke here, but the link you’re about to follow has no qualms about wave jokes.) Sōtatsu’s name faded from memory, but now he’s due for a comeback, courtesy of the Smithsonian: “The six-fold screen at the center of the exhibit, Waves at Matsushima, with its shimmering gold and silver tones, is believed to have been created about 1620 … Likely originally commissioned for a temple by a wealthy sea captain, Waves at Matsushima only became wider known after a pair of exhibitions in the early twentieth century.”
  • What does Rodin’s Thinker teach us about violence? “In the original 1880 sculpture, the thinker actually appears kneeling before the Gates of Hell … Sat before the gates, the thinker appears to be turning away from the intolerable scene behind. This, we could argue, is a tendency unfortunately all too common when thinking about violence today … In the original commission the thinker is actually called ‘the poet.’ This, I want to argue, is deeply significant for rethinking the future of the political. The Thinker was initially conceived as a tortured body, yet as a freethinking human, determined to transcend his suffering through poetry. We continue to be taught that politics is a social science and that its true command is in the power of analytical reason. Such has been the hallmark of centuries of reasoned, rationalized, and calculated violence, which has made the intolerable appear arbitrary and normal. Countering this demands a rethinking of the political itself in more poetic terms.”
  • It’s settled! Here’s what you should buy Dad this Christmas. “I had cufflinks made out of World War II history books ripped out of his favorite old baseball stadium. Headphones made out of whiskey stone drillbits. It tracks your fitness barbecues. Dads love it. Wireless meat suitcase. A watch made out of more expensive watches. Steve McQueen is here, and he named a star after you. I want to give you something, but your hands weren’t made to accept anything.”
  • You’ve seen Michael Mann’s Heat, right? Al Pacino? Robert de Niro? Val Kilmer? Come on! Heat! It’s got that famous scene in it, you know, where de Niro and Pacino meet for a cup of coffee even though they’re mortal enemies? Anyway, it came out twenty years ago, and now Michael Mann has some critical information about that scene: it’s based in life. “Heat began really with a friend of mine named Charlie Adamson, who killed the real Neil McCauley in Chicago in 1963; he’d been telling me about how interesting this guy was. Charlie had great admiration for Neil as a thief, because he was very professional, very disciplined, and very, very smart … Charlie was dropping off his dry-cleaning at a little shopping center in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue, and he saw McCauley, who he had already been surveilling, getting out of his car to go in for a cup of coffee … Adamson says, ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.’ They went in, sat down and had coffee at the Belden Deli, which is no longer there. They had kind of a version of that same dialogue scene that I wrote and put in the movie, but it was very personal—the kind of intimacy you can only have with strangers who think in ways that are not dissimilar to the way you think.”

The Most Mysterious Hyphen in Literature, and Other News

December 14, 2015 | by

“The Voyage of the Pequod,” 1956. One of twelve literary maps based on British and American literature produced by the Harris-Seybold Company.

  • Punctuation was once the stuff of radical experimentation; today it tends to be the site of tired grammatical debates, the kind that feel antiquated a mere decade or so after they first got people riled up. David Crystal’s book Making a Point hopes to assuage our punctuation anxiety: “In Old English manuscripts, punctuation is idiosyncratic; to denote word divisions, writers tried a variety of strategies: dots, spaces, ‘camel case’ (that is, using capital letters rather than spaces ToMarkTheBeginningsOfNewWords). Then the rise of printing created the demand for a standardized system … A 2007 Daily Mail article titled ‘I h8 txt msgs’ had declared that ‘SMS vandals’ were ‘pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.’ Crystal rebuffed these drastic claims: the supposed ‘innovations’ of texting, he notes—abbreviations, omitted letters, ideograms, nonstandard spellings—have been features of the language for centuries.”
  • Melville must’ve been an intimate of punctuation anxiety; Moby-Dick has a hyphen that seems to disappear and reappear at will. Where did it come from? What does it mean? Did he intend to put it there at all? “Thomas Tanselle writes that Melville’s brother, Allan, made a last-minute change to the title of the American edition. ‘[Melville] has determined upon a new title,’ his brother wrote. ‘It is thought here that the new title will be a better selling title … Moby-Dick is a legitimate title for the book.’ The American edition went to press, hyphen intact, despite the fact that the whale within was only referred to with a hyphen one time … It’s still unclear whether Melville, who didn’t use a hyphen inside the book, chose a hyphen for the book’s title or whether his brother punctuated the title incorrectly. Whether you chalk it up to typographical error, long-obsolete custom or authorial intention, the hunt for the true story behind Moby-Dick’s hyphen continues.”
  • Living life on the Gregorian calendar is okay—the days go by, the weeks go by, the months go by, the years go by. Break up the tedium by overlaying some other markers on your worldly existence: by reading fiction, say. “Memorable novels have a way of affixing a secondary story to themselves, a plot that touches tangentially, if at all, upon the plot of the book. Sometimes you recall a novel chiefly for the circumstances under which it was absorbed … It’s one of the keenest and least replaceable pleasures I know—the sense, native to a capacious novel, of existing simultaneously inside two calendars. One plot steadily proceeds and it is called Your Life; it’s the old, ongoing, errand-filled business of your datebook. The other plot is new; it’s called The Novel You’re Reading, and it unfolds with its own errands, its own weather and its own zodiac.”
  • Today in cover judging: hats off to our art editor, Charlotte Strick, whose design for the reissue of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge is among the New York Timestwelve best covers of the year.
  • China’s approach to film ratings (it doesn’t have them) and censorship (plenty of that, though) reflects a nervous ideological tension—and it results in some programming choices that feel frankly bizarre to a Western audience. “Its constraints on what may appear on screen represent a laundry list of the state’s anxieties. Content must not ‘endanger’ China’s unity, security or honor. It also should not ‘twist’ history, feature explicit sex or gambling, advocate ‘the supremacy of religion’ or ‘meticulously describe fortune-telling.’ Playing up violence is prohibited, in theory … A Chinese film released in 2006, Curse of the Golden Flower, was given a rating in America that required those under seventeen to be accompanied by an adult because of its violent scenes. But these scenes were left uncut when it was screened in China. Viewers were given no warning about them. On TV The Patriot (Yue Fei), a popular historical drama, commonly features long fights with bloody swords, arrows through the heart and dripping corpses. It currently airs on one channel in the early afternoon.”

Crunching Christie, and Other News

August 3, 2015 | by

MPW-55661

The poster for Murder Most Foul.

  • Data analysts have descended on the corpus of Agatha Christie—to celebrate the 125th anniversary of her birth, they’ve crunched some numbers and honed a formula “that they claim will enable the reader to identify the killer before the likes of Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple have managed the feat,” thus taking the fun out of what had been formerly known as “reading.” The formula examines factors like setting, gender of culprit, number of culprit mentions per chapter, and sentiment of culprit mentions; in some cases its findings are surprising. “They found that if the victim was strangled, the killer was more likely to be male … if the setting was a country house—not uncommon for a Christie novel—there was a 75% chance the killer would be female. Female culprits were usually discovered thanks to a domestic item, while males were normally found out through information or logic.”
  • At Stanford, meanwhile, new software called ePADD will change the way researchers process e-mail collections. Archivists who’d been “grappling with more than 150,000 e-mails in the archive of poet and author Robert Creeley” used ePADD to separate the wheat from the chaff: e-mails “accumulate like dust … A mountain of ‘See you at eight o’clock.’ Every now and then, there must be significant ones but the sheer volume is very great.”
  • An old lecture by Shirley Jackson looks at two of a writer’s most necessary tools—memory and delusion: “The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were. I am, this morning, endeavoring to persuade you to join me in my deluded world; it is a happy, irrational, rich world, full of fairies and ghosts and free electricity and dragons, and a world beyond all others fun to walk around in. All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing.”
  • This is your periodic reminder that it’s okay, or even laudable, to pursue “difficult” fiction: “Think back on our country’s rich literary traditions in fiction: from Hawthorne to Melville, through Poe to James, Stein, ­Ellison, and Faulkner, just to cite a few. Their books make use of circularity, fragmentation, and elision, and at their most extreme reject coherence in an effort to produce new meaning. Their wildness has played an important defining role in our culture’s literary identity … If we want to make sure this important tradition continues, we have to sustain the curiosity to care about work that, at first glance, might seem difficult … Let’s not give up on the intricacies of ambitious fiction. Let’s not stop reading the kind of books that keep teaching us to read.”
  • Marie Darrieussecq’s first book, Pig Tales, published in 1996, is “narrated by an unnamed young white woman who aspires to a higher class, but in turn, is becoming a pig. As her body undergoes this great metamorphosis, she attracts increasing acts of sexual violence … The narrator, who works at Perfumes Plus as a perfume seller and prostitute, doesn’t seem to know that she is abused, let alone deceived about her pay.” But in all its grotesquerie, the book’s formalism offers an effective way of depicting violence against women: “Darrieussecq, in Pig Tales, rigorously insists on visibility—form is light. Her formal rigor, her careful and caring arrangement, her tactic, bares her comment. I want all writers, if they want to take the female body out of their tool kit, and hurt it, to work hard. Mostly, so hard they don’t bother.”

They’re Fucking Skulls

June 3, 2015 | by

Leon Golub’s haunting “Riot” and the aloof politics of the art world.

Leon Golub, Napalm I, 1969, acrylic on linen, 117 1/4" x 213".

Wounded Warrior, 1968, acrylic on linen, 76 1/4" x 111 1/4".

In a discussion at Hauser & Wirth, Hans-Ulrich Obrist told of the time he and Leon Golub were discussing a book of the artist’s collected writings; they discovered afterward that Clement Greenberg had died during the conversation.

It’s a morbid art-world joke—but so are Golub’s canvases, which hang, as he referred to them, like “flayed skins” around the gallery. They complicate the sweet bedtime story of American postwar art, passed down for generations, in which power is an inner force wielded by artists, and art self-consciously demanded attention for its physical materials: paint and the square of the canvas. Written with Greenberg’s theory, this tale established art as an alternate reality, without mimetic or social context.

Golub, who died in 2004, was a staunch and consistent critic of Abstract Expressionism, calling it “bad for the artist. These painters were essentially turning away from the world in their work,” he said, “giving up on the idea that an artist might have a social role.” As Pollock’s last drips dried on his studio floor, the country was pounding the pavement and bodies were hitting the ground. For the artists of that era, as of this one, the realities beyond canvas were merciless. Friends were being shipped off to shoot guns in Vietnam, police batons and dogs brutalized black protesters in bright, American daylight, and the dark of black-and-white newscasts too often signified blood. Read More »