Staff Picks: Modernist Journals, France Gall


This Week’s Reading

France Gall.

I’ve spent several hours poking around the Web site of the Modernist Journal Project, a wonderful archive of magazines—The Egoist, The Little Review, The Tyro—from the heyday of modernism. It’s always bracing to read Wyndham Lewis’s BLASTS in their original typography, but I’d never heard of Le Petit Journal des Réfusées (published in 1896, in San Francisco). Its single issue was printed on wallpaper cut in the shape of butterfly wings. All the poems are presented as having been written by women—though in fact they’re probably the work of the editor, James Marrion—and rejected by more famous magazines. “We know of two copies of this journal,” the site’s editors write, “and they are not identical.” —Robyn Creswell

I keep watching France Gall sing her 1965 hit “Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son” over and over and over again. The refrain means “I’m a wax doll, I’m a stuffed doll.” It could also mean “I’m a doll made out of records, I’m a doll made out of sound.” In later life, Gall claimed that she had been too young to understand the lyrics, by Serge Gainsbourg (or to understand the doubles entendres in another hit he wrote for her, “Les Sucettes”). I love Gall’s girlish dignity. Somehow the joke just isn’t on her. —Lorin Stein

I watched Robert Altman’s 3 Women over the weekend and was transported—by the film’s gauzy surrealism and also by Sissy Spacek’s preternatural woman-child. When her character Pinky uttered the line “I wonder what it’s like to be twins … do you think they know which one they are?” I couldn’t believe that I’d also been thinking of watching Persona. —Nicole Rudick

Sarah Levine, when asked about the unlikeable narrator of her novel Treasure Island!!!, replied, “There is a moral center to the book—and she doesn’t inhabit it.” But what the protagonist lacks in compassion and modesty, she makes up for in wit. I found myself smiling—nay, giggling—at her seemingly endless (and endlessly entertaining) capacity for egotism. —Emily Cole-Kelly

I recently revisited Evelyn Waugh’s controversial imperialist satire, Black Mischief, in which the oblivious Oxford-educated emperor of an island off Africa’s east coast returns home to modernize his empire and, of course, fails catastrophically. It’s bitterly funny. —Emma del Valle

In New York, it’s sometimes hard to imagine living city life on the cheap. Anatole Broyard’s remembrances of 1940s West Village bohemia in Kafka Was the Rage are a wonderful corrective, portraying longings of the heart, rather than the pocketbook. —Josh Anderson