The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘William Blake’

Being a Bumpkin

October 10, 2016 | by

Three new books try to untangle the Gordian knot of white-trash identity.

From the cover of Hillbilly Elegy. 

Scan the headlines and you’ll find that everyone’s talking about how the white trash have made their presence felt. The white trash support Trump; the white trash are losing ground; the white trash should be honored by the government for their hard work and sacrifices; the white trash are continuing to redirect their aggression at other racial minorities instead of the robber barons who exploit them.

But who exactly are these people, these trashy whites who have found themselves, in the words of sociologist C. Wright Mills, “without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power?” Read More »

Fun in Hell, and Other News

February 17, 2016 | by

Cover of “Maigret hesitates,” by George Simenon

From the cover of Maigret Hesitates, by George Simenon.

  • It is possible that Radiohead was inspired by William Blake in the writing of OK Computer. It is probable that Thom Yorke donated a copy of Songs of Innocence to a local Oxfam thrift store and it had “Airbag” lyrics in it. Either way: good score.
  • Ruth Goodman, who lately taught us how to be Victorian, has undertaken Tudor living for her new book—including hygiene. In the interests of verisimilitude, she duly avoided unwholesome baths and donned linen underthings. The results? “No one noticed! It helps, of course, if you wear natural-fibre clothes over the top of your linen underwear. I used a fine linen smock, over which I could wear a modern skirt and top without looking odd, and I wore a pair of fine linen hose beneath a nice thick pair of woollen opaque tights (these, of course, did contain a little elastane). I changed the smock and hose daily and rubbed myself down with a linen cloth in the evening before bed, and I took neither shower nor bath for the entire period. I remained remarkably smell-free—even my feet. My skin also stayed in good condition—better than usual, in fact. This, then, was the level of hygiene that a wealthy person could achieve if they wished: one that could pass unnoticed in modern society.”
  • Georges Simenon: enigmatic, prolific, and seemingly nihilistic. But was the creator of Maigret as grim as all that? Writes John Gray, “It is true that he holds out no prospect of redemption, whether for his characters or for humankind. Yet there is nothing in Simenon’s work of the horror at the human condition that is expressed in some of the stories of Guy de Maupassant—in other respects a comparable writer. Those of Simenon’s protagonists who are not destroyed in the course of attempting to escape their lives return rid of their illusions and readier to enjoy what the world has to offer.”
  • On the other hand, László Krasznahorkai isn’t called apocalyptic for “letters; then from letters, words; then from these words, some short sentences; then more sentences that are longer, and in the main very long sentences, for the duration of 35 years. Beauty in language. Fun in hell.”

Distant Hammers

February 4, 2016 | by

Notes on art and apocalypse.

From Patrick Reed’s “Distant Hammers.”

How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.

The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »

Short Stories Are the New Snickers Bars, and Other News

November 17, 2015 | by

This (apparently married) person is getting ready to read some complimentary short fiction.

  • Are you the proprietor or manager of a commuter-rail system, an office, a truck stop, or a faculty lounge? Have you found that your employees and/or customers are dissatisfied with your current vending-machine offerings? Would you like to be on the cutting edge of dispensation technology, allowing your workers to nourish not just their bodies but their minds at the touch of a button? If you said yes to any of the above, or even if you agreeably shrugged, consider investing in these short-story vending machines by Short Édition. They’re a hit in Grenoble. “The free stories are available at the touch of a button, printing out on rolls of paper like a till receipt. Readers are able to choose one minute, three minutes or five minutes of fiction … Users are not able to choose what type of story—romantic, fantastical or comic—they would like to read.”
  • By 1966, teen music magazines had phenomenal names—Disc and Music Echo, Record Mirror, Fabulous 208, Rave, Mirabelle, Boyfriend, Jackie—and, better still, they really had their fingers on the pulse: in their pages, teens could find frank, thoughtful discussions of culture and politics. “These magazines collectively sold over a million copies every week. They both reflected and shaped the messages broadcast by pop musicians to teens … Most of the writers were young—some of them even in their teens—and were, or had recently been part of the culture that they reported on … In general these magazines constituted a thorough investigation of the teenage mindset, its hopes, its obsessions, its fears and aspirations. Because, in 1966, pop was for youth: coverage in mainstream newspapers and monthlies was comparatively rare … It was the arena of the time, but not burdened with self-consciousness or filtered through an excess of opinion and ego.”
  • While we’re in the sixties: William Blake, though he’d died more than a century earlier, was a countercultural icon because of his sexual permissiveness. Leo Damrosch’s new biography, Eternity’s Sunrise, complicates that legacy: “Blake was frequently invoked as a representative of liberation and ‘positive’ sexuality. The great chorus was: ‘Everything that lives is holy.’ But in fact Blake ‘was always aware that sex can be a means of exerting control.’ He was increasingly ‘tormented’ by the subject and drew naked bodies that were ‘unerotic, and at times positively repellent,’ a term of revulsion Damrosch later repeats … Here he takes on board the new feminist criticism of Blake, citing the scholar Helen Bruder: Blake was ‘by turns a searching critic of patriarchy but also a hectoring misogynist.’ ”
  • On the long, tortured history between literature and the weather: “Our earliest stories about the weather concerned beginnings and endings. What emerged from the cold and darkness of the void will return to it; waters that receded at the origin of the world will rise at its end. It is easy, in grim climatological times, to be drawn to the far pole of these visions … But apocalyptic stories are ultimately escapist fantasies, even if no one escapes. End-times narratives offer the terrible resolution of ultimate destruction. Partial destruction, displacement, hunger, want, weakness, loss, need—these are more difficult stories.”
  • Moon Hoon, an architect based in Seoul, pours plenty of whimsy into his designs—he’s responsible for Wind House, a home boasting a large, golden tower shaped like a duck’s head—but in his doodles he really goes for broke. Hoon “creates fantastical, stunningly detailed images whose wild creativity bring to mind, among other things, 1960s Radical Futurism, Russian Constructivism, and Transformers … Just the other day, he says, his creativity was triggered by a tray of delivery food that looked like a hat. Other sources of inspiration have included cars, planes, warships, Japanese animation, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and watching movies backwards.”

The Lonely Art

October 5, 2015 | by

Robert Seydel’s visionary, genre-defying art and writing.

“The King” by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

Untitled by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

How are we to regard the artist who writes or the writer who makes art? There’s a venerable lineage of creative figures working both sides of the street: think of the poems of Marsden Hartley, the photographs of Eudora Welty, the collages of John Ashbery, among others. In almost all such cases, a hierarchy effortlessly falls into place; what’s primary and what’s ancillary are self-evident. Would we be much drawn to look at the watercolors of Elizabeth Bishop if we did not know her first as the poet who wrote “Roosters” and “One Art”? True aesthetic ambidexterity seems vanishingly rare, particularly among top-tier figures: a great artist’s side projects invariably seem secondary and marginal.

The work of the genuinely hybrid artist Robert Seydel (1960–2011) chips away at our biases about one art form always taking precedence over another. Read More »

What Happened to O?

August 27, 2015 | by

The death of an exclamation.

William Blake had me thinking about death.

I was lying on my couch, Norton Anthology in my lap, when I stumbled on Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” I’d read the poem before, and I remembered its famous opening lament: “O Rose, thou art sick!”

What follows is a compact poem built of stark imagery. An invisible, amorous worm is flying through a storm at night. It descends on a rose. A death is at hand. And the perpetrator of the rose’s death, Blake warns, is none other than the worm’s secret love.

I reread the poem, parsing its lines for meaning. Then I read it once again. The night was late, and I felt drowsy. As sleep approached, an inchoate thought began to surface.

I sat up. O Rose, I thought. O Muse. O death.

I stood from the couch and found a pen. I tore off a piece of scratch paper, and on it I wrote myself a note: “What killed O?” Read More »