The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘William Shakespeare’

Take the Throne, and Other News

April 20, 2016 | by

Maurizio Cattelan’s mock-up of his solid-gold toilet, debuting in a bathroom at the Guggenheim this May.

  • For years, I’ve implored the management here at the Review to install a gold toilet—it would raise morale and the magazine’s profile. I’m sad to report that the Guggenheim has beaten us to the flush. And their gold john is designed by Maurizio Cattelan, no less, who came out of retirement to make it: “You could go into the restroom just to bask in its glow, Mr. Cattelan said, but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call … Guggenheim officials said that they anticipated lines for the Cattelan bathroom and added that a guard or attendant might be placed near the door to ensure orderly waiting—and also to make certain that no one tries to abscond with a piece of the toilet. They added that eighteen-karat gold was chosen for its solidity, though they acknowledged the possibility that the sculpture still could be scratched or damaged.”
  • Shakespeare teaches many things to many people. He taught me, for instance, how to kill kings by pouring poison in their ears. But he taught Jillian Keenan something even better: the joys of spanking. She writes of a pivotal moment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I could find a huge spectrum of sexualities reflected in its characters. I saw passionate monogamy in Hermia and Lysander, confident polyamory in Oberon and Titania, playful anthropomorphism in Titania and Bottom, and loving bisexuality or homosexuality in Oberon and Puck. But in Helena and Demetrius, I just saw assholes. The problem was that damn scene … My Helena is kinky. In Midsummer, she chooses the love she wants. It doesn’t matter what we think of Demetrius or whether we approve of their dynamic. Helena loves him unflinchingly, and for that she deserves our respect. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about consent, and its message is clear: not only can we consent to sex, we can consent to love. It only demands our honesty.”
  • Last year, we featured “Big, Bent Ears,” a documentary from the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Alex Ross attended this year’s festival—which “might be,” he writes, “the most open-minded music gathering in the country … At Big Ears, the sounds are the stars, free of the tyranny of categories … At Big Ears, composers serve as a center of gravity, a point of reference. Riley, Reich, and Glass have visited in past years, as have Pauline Oliveros and members of Bang on a Can. This year, the composer-in-residence was John Luther Adams; the Knoxville Symphony, under the direction of Steven Schick, kicked off the festival with the ominous surge of Adams’s ‘Become Ocean.’ Such pop-classical agglomerations have happened before, not least in late sixties and seventies New York, when everything merged in a haze of droning tones. But the total map of music has seldom been unrolled on the scale that Big Ears has achieved.”
  • Satanists have long been regarded as creepy occultists—but really they’re just a voting bloc. The Satanic Temple, a religion-ish thing that doubles as a political movement–ish thing, has taken the national stage: “TST chapters across the country have launched campaigns demanding the same religious rights and privileges afforded to Christianity. These have included the creation of satanic coloring books for distribution in schools in Florida and Colorado; bids to erect satanic ‘nativity scenes’ on government property in Florida, Michigan, and Indiana; offering prayers to Satan at a high school football game in Seattle; and demanding that a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol be accompanied by a monument to Baphomet (a goat-headed idol associated with witches’ sabbaths).”
  • David Szalay, who won our Plimpton Prize this year, has a new novel out, All That Man Is—excerpted in the Review. Jude Cook sees in Szalay a new approach to masculinity: “Insufficiency is a favorite David Szalay word. The narrator of his previous novel, Spring, suffered from ‘insufficiency of feeling’; in this new collection of carefully juxtaposed tales, a Scottish ne’er-do-well adrift in Croatia decides his smile is ‘insufficient.’ Szalay’s dissections of masculinity can produce wonders from such banal anxieties. Over 400 pages, he goes to town on nine specimens of the male gender, only surfacing to spit out the bones … Nobody captures the super-sadness of modern Europe as well as Szalay. The atmosphere is stained yellow with a Mittel-European ennui.”

Shakespeare in the Park

April 6, 2016 | by

Meryl Streep and John Cazale in a poster for Measure for Measure.

Thirty-nine years ago last July (that’s thirty-nine steps on your Fitbit), I arrived in New York City from London to spend a postgraduate semester at Columbia. On the first morning, I went into Tom’s Restaurant (later the Seinfeld place) on 112th and Broadway and was immediately overwhelmed by the multiple-choice menu. London, in those days, was not a place of gastronomic variety for breakfast. A waitress of generous proportion came over to my table, “Whaddya want?” she asked. I was speechless, then mumbly, then speechless gain. The waitress waited patiently then said, “Talk to me baby, I’ll listen to you.” This is how I began my American education. Read More »

Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth, and Other News

April 6, 2016 | by

A 1773 engraving by W. Byrne, after Edward Edwards, of Macbeth’s three witches and their concoction

  • Last night, we hosted our Spring Revel, and our guests came away with a special, unexpected treat: a Lydia Davis story on a bottle of mouthwash. “It hasn’t exactly been my dream to see my work printed on a bottle of mouthwash,” she told T Magazine. “I wasn’t even aware there was such a plan in the works … I was very surprised and amused … I actually had to go back and forth a few times with everyone to get the spacing of the story right—it makes a difference with those very short stories. They have to be read slowly, with pauses in between the lines, otherwise they go by too quickly. So I gave some revisions to the people at The Paris Review, and they went back to Aesop, and in the end we got it just right—it was tricky working in such a small space … So, if someone had asked me what I was doing that day, I would have had to say I was working collaboratively to revise a mouthwash label.”
  • Today in books of photos of other people’s mirrors: try Mirrors, which is just that. It comprises pictures of mirrors advertised on Craiglist—a difficult prospect for the sellers, who always ends up showing more than intended. The photographs, as Rebecca Bengal writes, “innocently intrude into strangers’ bedrooms and trespass into their backyards. Unwittingly, the would-be sellers reveal themselves in bizarre and beautiful ways—a phantom hand, a pair of feet, a swath of wallpaper, a drawn curtain, a gaudy, overdressed living room, another one totally lacking in decoration or feeling. The sheer presence of the reflection interrupts reality, creating new graphic worlds, transforming even the most plain surface into an optical illusion. They invite a casual voyeurism; that lack of self-awareness is at the heart of their allure … A vase of flowers regards its reflection; a computer screen stares down its echo; a dog pauses before a reverse of itself. In these images, the mirror becomes a character, too, a palpable observer in the room, quietly enhancing and regarding everything in sight.”
  • Look, normally I don’t go in for this type of thing, but come on: this is John Milton made of Stilton. Show a little respect, people. “I fell in love with John Stilton,” his maker, Christian Kjelstrup, says. “In Norway, Milton and Stilton are treated the same: both are enjoyed only by connoisseurs. The difference between John Milton and John Stilton is the latter is fat, greasy and sticky. I had a hard time making him. The fridge in my office now serves as his temporary mausoleum; I suspect his odor will survive him, perhaps even the fridge.” 
  • Shakespeare’s plays are full of lots things: murder, royalty, cheap penis jokes … and drugs, of course. It’s these that captured the interest of Meghan Petersen, who’s curated an exhibition called “Shakespeare’s Potions” at the Currier Museum of Art. It’s not about drugs, per se, but poisons and elixirs: “Titania, the fairy queen of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has four followers named for household remedy ingredients: Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, and Moth. Oberon also sees Titania sleeping on a ‘bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, / Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.’ The aromatic language precedes Oberon placing a love potion in her eyes. Petersen noted that while herbals relayed cures, they additionally included herbs ‘for provoking lust,’ such as sea holly, mustard, and peas. ‘Shakespeare’s Potions’ also explores perhaps the most famous of the Bard’s brews: the witches’ cauldron of Macbeth … While some of the components are outlandish, hemlock was a poison well-known in herbals, the “digged i’th’ dark” emphasizing, as Petersen stated, “the belief that plants harvested in the dark — without the light of the moon—took on evil and villainous powers.” The toxic plant also appears in Hamlet with this emphasis: ‘Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected.’”
  • Note to historical novelists: the Stalinist era is severely underrepresented in fiction, even though it was a demented hellscape whose horrors practically beg to be dramatized. Saul Austerlitz makes the case: “Life under Joseph Stalin was often brutal, dramatic, and short, so it’s curious that the period is still given such short shrift by fiction writers. Hitler’s Germany, by contrast, is very well-trod ground, and even the post-Stalinist era is a more regular fictional backdrop. Yet neither of these periods can match the mixture of paranoia, longevity, and callousness that marked the dictator’s three decades in power … In the West, the Soviet purges of the late 1930s or the gulag aren’t discussed with the same authority or regularity as Kristallnacht or the concentration camps. The fundamental illogic of the USSR, hellbent on consuming its own, is as hard for outsiders to explain as it is to understand. And the complexity of Stalinism’s impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe remains underexplored, literarily speaking. Lithuanian-American historical novelist Ruta Sepetys, author of the World War II refugee novel Salt to the Sea, is hoping to expand the frame of stories told about forgotten places and forgotten times: ‘I’d love to see more fiction about countries like Hungary, Armenia, and Ukraine. Through characters and story, historical statistics become human.’”

The Commuter’s Lament Goes On, and Other News

January 29, 2016 | by

From “A Commuter’s Lament.”

  • When the book and even the e-book have exhausted their charms, turn instead to the blook, an ersatz kind of book that offers many of the same bookish qualities without all that fatiguing text. Mindell Dubansky, the preservation librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has about six hundred blooks, “made from stone, wax, straw, wood, soap, plastic, glass and other materials … There is, for example, a 1950s intruder alarm called the Informer, which was activated by a sensor behind two rather noticeable holes cut in the spine … an album of early 19th-century Grand Tour souvenir medallions and a tastefully bound women’s vanity set labeled, a bit perplexingly, Vol. XVII.”
  • The past few years have seen booksellers and publishers embracing guerrilla marketing tactics—spreading the gospel of literature on subway cars, vending machines, and Chipotle bags, among others. But is the outcome a more literate culture or just more advertising? “Literature has what’s referred to in the marketing business as ‘high stopping power,’ meaning it’s able to effectively capture people’s attention … While projects like Coffee Sleeve Conversation, Ticket Books, and Poems While You Wait have idealistic intentions, they reflect literature’s power as a marketing tool, even when it comes to products you wouldn’t find in a bookstore … Marketers have learned that by pairing their products with art and literature, customers tend to see them in a better light, a tactic called priming.”
  • Relatedly: Of all the public poems New Yorkers have seen over the years, Norman B. Colp’s “Commuter’s Lament” remains the bleakest. Installed in the Times Square subway station, it asks, “Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home. / Do it again.” The poem has been up since 1991; it’s based on “the Burma-Shave roadside ad campaigns plastered across the country for some forty years. Starting in the 1920s, the brushless shaving cream brand started advertising with signs strung along American highways.”
  • Robert Greene was one of the first people to refer to Shakespeare, in writing, as a playwright. As Ed Simon tells us, though, the reference was far from flattering: “Greene’s chief target was ‘an upstart Crow,’ who ‘supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you’ … simply a ‘Johannes factotum,’ that is, a ‘Johnny Do-It-All’ … He has appropriated the ‘mighty-line’ of Marlowe’s unrhymed iambic pentameter with blustery confidence (though he is a mere technician). He has a ‘tiger’s heart, wrapped in a player’s hyde,’ unable to fully escape the stigma of first playing on the stage before he would write for it.”
  • You heard it here first—or, well, okay, second: the next volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle may or may not feature a scene in which our hero drunkenly vomits in Björk’s toilet. I won’t offer further spoilers except to say that the phrase “spewed up a magnificent yellow and orange cascade” comes into play.

First Folios on the Loose, and Other News

January 6, 2016 | by

Folger Library.

  • To celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Library is sending Shakespeare’s First Folio to all fifty states. Good news for his fans, yes, but maybe for enterprising book thieves, too? “The Folger has eighty-two First Folios—the largest collection in the world. It’s located several stairways down, in a rare manuscript vault. To reach them, you first have to get through a fire door ... (if a fire did threaten these priceless objects, it would be extinguished not with water—never water near priceless paper—but with a system that removes oxygen from the room). A massive safe door comes next—so heavy it takes two burly guards to open it, and then yet another door, which triggers a bell to alert librarians that someone has entered. After that, there's yet another door and an elevator waaaay down to a vault that nearly spans the length of a city block…” No word on how many armed guards and armored trucks will accompany the Folios on their cross-country tour.
  • Carlo Gesualdo died about four hundred years ago, too—but contemporary celebrations of his work tend to be overshadowed by a grisly episode from his biography: namely the allegation that he killed his spouse. “The idea of an aristocrat murdering his wife in flagrante has proved irresistible, and only very secondarily do people ask how such behavior may have been turned to creative ends. And when they do listen to the music, they very quickly find exactly what they expect: tortured, dissonant, disjointed (no pun intended) writing which obviously shows a psychopath at work … From the start the marriage was not a success, and soon there were stories of Carlo maltreating his wife. Within three months he was journeying back to Naples without her, and once back in his castle he descended into a kind of madness, which eventually extended to a court case. The records survive and give a flavor of what was under discussion: ‘Menstrual blood is a kind of poison which, if imbibed and not treated immediately, will eventually lead to a person’s death.’ ”
  • Do you have one of the thousand hand-numbered copies of Theodore Roethke’s debut collection, Open House? It came out in 1941, and the Roethke House, in Saginaw, Michigan, is conducting a census to track down all the copies. One of them may be in the clutches of the Auden estate; he gave the book a glowing review: “Many people have the experience of feeling physically soiled and humiliated by life; some quickly put it out of their minds, others gloat narcissistically on its unimportant details; but both to remember and to transform the humiliation into something beautiful, as Mr. Roethke does, is rare. Every one of the lyrics in this book, whether serious or light, shares the same kind of ordered sensibility: Open House is completely successful.”
  • When do we become adults, really? At what point can one say with certainty that one has sloughed off the last vestiges of youth? Wordsworth said the child is father of the man, which … doesn’t answer the question at all, actually. But others have tried to, even if the answer will never really come: “Steven Mintz writes that adulthood has been devalued in culture in some ways. ‘Adults, we are repeatedly told, lead anxious lives of quiet desperation,’ he writes. ‘The classic post-World War II novels of adulthood by Saul Bellow, Mary McCarthy, Philip Roth, and John Updike, among others, are tales of shattered dreams, unfulfilled ambitions, broken marriages, workplace alienation, and family estrangement.’ He compares those to nineteenth-century bildungsromans, coming-of-age novels, in which people wanted to become adults. Maybe an ambivalence over whether someone feels like an adult is partially an ambivalence over whether they even want to be an adult.”
  • There’s another thing blurring the line between childhood and adulthood: kids and grown-ups both cuss. As a kid, Mark Edmundson swore with impunity, perhaps even with grace, and he wonders why adults are so often shocked by their foul-mouthed offspring: “When a mom overhears her beloved child swear for the first time, her heart contracts until it feels like it will disappear. But imagine how she feels when she overhears a son or daughter who not only curses, but is truly adept at profanity … What if mom hears her little boy, not long out of Pampers, still in shorts, reel off a euphonious string of curses that sounds like the work of a top sergeant in rage at his recruits? … A shrill cry of ‘shit!’ from your five-year-old suggests that even with all the preparation you had and all the thought and all the love you invested, you didn’t manage to get it right this time.”

Fat Hamlet, and Other News

September 22, 2015 | by

Picture this guy, but fatter. Pedro Américo, Hamlet’s Vision, 1893.

  • If you’re like me, you spend most of your free time imagining what Hamlet might look like: the pallid cheeks, the heavy eyelids, the ruminating brow, the svelte silhouette, the dejected posture … But what if he was fat? What if the hero of the greatest tragedy of all time was a portly slob? His own mother believes he is—“He’s fat and scant of breath,” she says to Claudius—and an inspection of Shakespeare’s fat usage provides some troubling evidence.
  • Women read more crime fiction than men, supposedly because they “savor the victim role.” But Vera Caspary, a midcentury crime novelist, did just the opposite: “On the page, Caspary had almost supernatural powers of bemusement; she turned her sorrows into triumphs. She liked to joke about her attractiveness to ‘macaroni salesmen.’ Her husband, whom she met when she was forty, was a movie producer, but she earned more than he did, and he resented it. She tried to ignore his resentment, and corrected people at parties who called her Mrs. Goldsmith.”
  • My grandfather’s favorite place to walk was the mall, and in this he was not alone—shopping centers are apparently “the second most popular venue for walking in the country, just behind neighborhoods.” Mall walkers, or Mall Stars, tend to be older, and they’re admirably immune to the commercial aspects of the space, especially when they walk early in the morning: “Since nothing’s open you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to buy,” one mall walker said. “Plus, all the stores sell clothes for young people.” The Mall of America boasts some 250 Mall Stars. There is something to live for.
  • Fiction in England “flourished for centuries before that of any of its neighbors”; even so, one of its earliest practitioners, Geoffrey of Monmouth, couldn’t bring himself to admit he was making shit up. His History of the Kings of England was full of invented royalty, but “Geoffrey considered himself a historian, and presented himself as such … Even at the time there were people who thought he was taking the mickey; one commentator, Gerald of Wales, remarked that demons would flee when the gospels were read, but flock round to listen to Geoffrey’s fibs (there was, for instance, no ‘Emperor Leo’). Nevertheless, his work was hugely popular, and more than two hundred manuscripts survive.”
  • Now that the scandal surrounding Michael Derrick Hudson and Sherman Alexie has died down, let’s revisit another ruse, from 2012: that time when a guy said he was John Ashbery just because his e-mail address was johnashberypoetry@gmail.com, and a prominent lit mag believed him.