The Daily

On the Shelf

More Public-spirited Pigs, and Other News

May 27, 2016 | by

Eliot (not pictured) disapproves.

  • As an editor at Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot had the chance to publish Animal Farm. He declined. And he had sound porcine reasons for doing so, according to a newly digitized letter he wrote Orwell in 1944: “the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing … after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm–in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
  • Memorial Day has only been around for about 150 years, meaning it’s not terribly old as far as memorials go. Consider instead the Bayeaux Tapestry, which likely dates to the 1070s. Alison Kinney writes: “It’s a seventy-by one-half-meter length of linen panels worked in crewel, its madder-, mignonette-, and woad-dyed yarns still as vivid, after a thousand years, as the tints of the Art Nouveau comic strip Little Nemo … the medievalist Valerie Allen writes about the Bayeux Embroidery’s ‘dynamic things grounded in space and time,’ ‘from kitchen utensils to war gear…. [O]bjects acquire a kind of agency by exerting their inherent “virtue,” wearing down conventional distinctions between human and non-human to the point that a hand, a sword and a relic can all share in the same phenomenal luminosity.’ The Embroidery itself is just such a luminous agent: a war memorial—a Normandy Beach war memorial, no less. In this place occupied by hundreds of memorials, planned and incidental, fleeting and obdurate, from funerary sculpture to the bunkers that, after seventy years of coastal weather, still bear flamethrowers’ char marks, memorials develop unpredictable, unaccountable vibrancies that can shape the conflicts, even the topography, of later battles. That is, if they can first escape violence, neglect, and ordinary wear and tear.”
  • Because your day needed the phrase “intravaginal hardware for the pregnant body” in it, here is Sasha Archibald on a thrilling development in consumer electronics: “A company in Spain recently released a new product, the Babypod. The device entails a small roundish speaker … The idea is to insert the speaker inside one’s vagina, like a tampon, and connect the auxiliary jack to an iPhone, from which the mother-DJ selects a playlist. The music is piped in directly where it can be heard best … Women have presumably always enjoyed the utility of an interior pocket, though no one has written this history. The nineteenth-century spirit medium Eva C. had a trick of producing ectoplasm from her vagina, and police report finding jewels and drugs, money and handguns, stolen phones and credit cards. In these cases, the vagina is treated as a secret lock box—a hiding place no one will think to look, the corporeal equivalent of a buried treasure chest. The Babypod inhabits the woman in a totally different fashion. The very purpose of the device is to announce itself and broadcast sound. It makes the vagina speak. The Vagina Monologues didn’t need to get more literal, but they have.”
  • While we’re in the vicinity of the genitals: “When reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers … In ninety-six articles, totaling a little more than 50,000 words, groin was used 148 times across headlines, body and photo captions. Of course, in sports, groin injuries can mean something very different from your basic knee to the crotch. So at best, this creates unnecessary ambiguity in order to demur from coarser language. The next most frequently used was some form of ‘below the belt’ with seventeen appearances, followed by ‘nuts’ with fifteen, ‘low blow’ with fourteen, a few variations of ‘private parts’ totaling twelve, ‘between the legs’ with ten, and balls with nine.”

Arts & Culture

Take Me to the Burger King Spa

May 26, 2016 | by

One way to spend your free time.

I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.

I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second-largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

New York Values

May 26, 2016 | by

O’Hare International Airport. Photo: Cory W. Watts

The same day I ate the hot dog—indeed, the same layover—I found myself in conversation with a group of other travelers. One commented on the crowds, and another said, “Tampa’s not a small place but it’s nothing like this,” and they all talked about the energy of the city versus the pleasures of having moved to Florida. It was very friendly. Then one woman said, “Not New York, though. I hate New York.” Then they all piled on with gusto, discussing the general crumminess that is New York, the rudeness, the filth, the overwhelming pace, and all manner of other clichés. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to jump in and defend my hometown.

I didn’t even have a defense, as such. People from other places seem to feel New York is a thing they need to have strong opinions about, like the election, or cilantro. And the truth is, most of us really, really don’t care. At least, those of us who are from here. Never having made the choice to move here, it’s akin to the affection and irritation one feels for a family member. Especially since our families are, you know, here. Read More »

From the Archive

Jumping from Bridges

May 26, 2016 | by

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction.

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction.

This essay by M. F. K. Fisher appeared posthumously in our Spring 1995 issue. Fisher died in 1992. Her previously unpublished novel, The Theoretical Foot, was released earlier this year.

Now I am thinking about jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and about other places where people have jumped to their deaths for many years. I think I should find out more about this, for I have an idea that there is some sort of collection of spirit strength or power or love in them that says no, or yes, or now.

I feel very strongly that this is true about the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, I heard that people are trying once more to build a kind of suicide-prevention railing along its side, which would keep us from seeing the bay and the beautiful view of the city. I haven’t read much about suicide lately, but I believe that almost 98 percent of such deaths leave more evil than good after them. Even my husband Dillwyn’s death, which I feel was justified, left many of us with some bad things. And when my brother died, about a year after Timmy did, my mother asked me very seriously if I felt that Timmy’s death had influenced David to commit his own suicide, which to me remains a selfish one, compared to the first. I said, “Of course, yes! I do think so, Mother.” And I did think then that Timmy’s doing away with himself helped my young brother David to kill himself, a year later. But there was really no connection; we don’t know what the limit of tolerance is in any human being. Read More »

Look

Baxter Week, Day Four

May 26, 2016 | by

By overwhelming demand, we’re back with more Baxter. To mark the release of his new book Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings, we’re running two of Glen’s drawings every day this week. Almost Completely Baxter spans four decades of “Colonel” Baxter’s work, drawing from such books as The Billiard Table Murders and Blizzards of Tweed. “Baxter’s comic realm—the space between image and text, between perplexity and the mundane—is a locale where uncertainty emerges as weird and weirdness recedes into uncertainty,” Albert Mobilio wrote recently in Bookforum. “The funny arrives as a slow-motion detonation that seems to dissipate as quickly as it boomed.” Baxter’s short stories appeared in The Paris Review’s Winter 1972 issue; a portfolio, “It Was the Smallest Pizza They Had Ever Seen,” followed in Summer 1985.

Almost Completely Baxter txt revised final crx.indd Read More »

On the Shelf

Punk Is Dead, So We’re Burning It, and Other News

May 26, 2016 | by

Glenn O. Coleman, Election Night Bonfire, undated.

  • Raymond Carver’s fiction is good, sure, but you haven’t really lived till you’ve seen the guy’s family photos. His brother, James, has shared a few with a remembrance of Raymond: “I remember the years we shared living together in Sacramento during the midsixties … One of his few jobs in Sacramento was working at Mercy Hospital in housekeeping. He worked three or four hours in the evening but was paid for eight. We both had nothing but spare time; we continued to spend many hours hanging out together, talking, reminiscing, and drinking. We would get in the car and drive with nowhere special to go. We talked about all the moves we and our parents had made looking for happiness. We drank from a bottle of Ten High Bourbon we kept in the glove compartment. One of us would say, ‘Wait until spring.’ The other would say, ‘And things will bust wide open,’ meaning at last, everything would be better for all of us. We both would break into laughter. It was a private joke which we never forgot; Ray mentioned it a year before he died. We always had the ability to laugh at ourselves and our failures.”
  • Queen Elizabeth has declared 2016 the Year of Punk, so you know someone had to stand up and flip her the bird. Joseph Corré, the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, is doing it right: he “announced yesterday that he will set fire to his entire collection of punk memorabilia, estimated to be worth about £5 million ($7.1 million) … The bonfire is slated to take place in Camden, London, on November 26, to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols single ‘Anarchy in the UK’, off the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols … ‘The Queen giving 2016, the Year of Punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard,’ he says. ‘Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream. Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act.’ ”
  • There is but one effective way of drawing our attention to the inanity of online polls, and that is fake online polls. Jonas Lund’s new online artwork Fair Warningtakes the form of an eccentric online questionnaire or personality test. The pages invite the viewer to input their preferences. Duck or Rabbit? Window or Aisle? Idol or Douche? Apple or FBI? There are multiple-choice questions, photographs of sculptures and paintings, and news images, as well as, occasionally, solid blocks and color gradients. Each time the animated circle at the bottom of the page completes a revolution—this persistent, nagging counter mimics the buffering animations of video streaming sites and the multicolored wait cursor, aka the ‘spinning beach ball of death’ on Apple computers—there is a computerized chime. This happens every four seconds … Other than an animated ripple that appears onscreen each time you click, user input doesn’t affect the metronomic rhythm of the piece. Nor is it clear if your preferences are even being registered.”
  • With the rise of the suburbs came an almost simultaneous effort to theorize the suburbs—why had so many families marooned themselves in a new environment, and what was going on there? As Amanda Kolson Hurley writes, midcentury studies of suburbia were far from sunny: “Most strikingly, they reveal deep and widespread concern over the stability of mental and physical health in the new suburban environment … It was a social experiment unprecedented in U.S. history. The first suburbanites themselves were well aware of this. Although they felt the optimism of pioneers, they shared in the widespread anxiety that the experiment might not work, an anxiety that manifested as worries about unanticipated health effects. These ranged from the daily, cumulative frustrations of a Mary Drone to more significant problems: stomach ulcers, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and juvenile delinquency.”
  • Or you can look at perhaps the suburbs’ most successful export, the mall. Alex Cocotas, being shown around on a visit to Tel Aviv, discovered how thoroughly the mall has metastasized abroad: “We weren’t there to take a dip in the Mediterranean or to feel the sand bunch between our toes; we were not there to admire the yachts or to dream of their interior lives. We were there to go to the mall. We walked down a passageway between the boats and a row of restaurants, and entered a world that was virtually indistinguishable from its American counterparts: multistoried, brightly lit, oozing an arctic tundra of air conditioning from unseen pores, perfumes enticingly wafting from open-door oracles to the ever-confounding enigma of next season, stores bearing a familiar, supranational aesthetic, cellphone stands clotting up busy causeways between them. Everything aspired to that same ethereal timelessness, a fantasy of pure transaction … Why take a foreign traveler to a mall at all? The way I see it, the mall trip is meant to communicate a message about the local culture—who they are, their country, their standard of living. They are taking me to the mall because there is a mall.”