Staff Picks: Self-regard, Strokes of Color, Stchoopidity


This Week’s Reading


Friedel Dzubas, Procession, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 9′ 6″ x 24′ 6″.

“ ‘Don’t be stchoopid. It was just a one-night stand. We’re not in love or anything!’ ” Remember when people used to talk that way? Neither do I, which is one reason I’m grateful to Ben Lerner for making me read Helen Garner’s novella The Children’s Bach, about a marital crisis in early-eighties Melbourne—at that giddy moment when sexual liberation and women’s lib were still inextricably part of the same deal. —Lorin Stein

In 1975, Friedel Dzubas made a monumental painting for the Shawmut Bank in Boston. Crossing was fifty-seven feet long and thirteen feet tall and was executed on a single canvas. It hung in the bank’s lobby for some twenty years, until the bank closed and the painting disappeared. There is no record of its sale. A study for Crossing is on view at Loretta Howard Gallery, in New York, as part of their centennial exhibition of Dzubas’s work, and it’s a lovely thing in and of itself. On a long orange rectangle, Dzubas made dozens of variously sized, wide black marks that could be a kind of writing were it not for a pair of human figures penciled in at the side of the sketch, for a rough sense of scale (the figures are, in fact, too tall in relation to the enormous painting). The German-born Dzubas once studied with Paul Klee and was the summer roommate, in 1948, of Clement Greenberg; he falls into the Color Field camp with artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. His paintings on view at the gallery are all from the seventies and are great examples of his big, loose strokes of color that seem, despite their girth, to race across the canvas with Futuristic velocity. Art, for Dzubas, was about moving outside of ourselves and experiencing something larger and being affected by that experience—a feeling, he thought, that was “almost as good as making love.” —Nicole Rudick

You’ve found me at AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs: a fine place to discover new magazines, but also to witness every possible form of literose peacocking. (Panels, to give you some idea, include “Microaggressions in the Workshop,” “Melancholy and the Literary Uses of Sadness,” and “I Am We As You Are Me: Exploring Pronouns in Experimental Poetry.”) Amid the rampant self-promotion and nine-dollar gyros, I’ve dipped into Tim Parks’s Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books, which offers a much-needed corrective. For the past few years, Parks has contributed regular columns on writing and reading to the New York Review of Books, carefully rebutting the notion that there’s anything ennobling about life as a writer. Taken as a collection, these pieces amount to a fortifying reassessment of literature’s place in the culture. “Perhaps in the end it’s just ridiculous,” he writes, “the high opinion we have of books, of literature. Perhaps it’s just a collective spell of self-regard, self-congratulation … we may be going to hell, but look how well we write about it.” —Dan Piepenbring 

It is rare these days to see any twitch in Don Draper’s swagger—yet the midseason premiere of Mad Men’s final season gives us just that. “Severance” centers on Don’s discovery that a former mistress—the woman he famously told that love didn’t exist, that “what you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons”—has died of cancer. His queries about her recent life are met with the curt response from her sister that “she lived the life she wanted to live”—obviously an impossible thought for Don, who, despite having gotten away with the exposure of his stolen identity, his infidelities, his alcoholism, remains as morose and detached as ever. In perhaps the most moving moment of the episode, he enters his apartment, turns on the light, looks around, and turns it off again. His state of mind recalls one of his brilliant sales pitches from bygone years: “You are hungry even though you’ve just eaten.” Having shown us how essential a good anticlimax can be, Mad Men is now the subject of endless speculation: What do the final episodes have in store? This is a promising start. —Kit Connolly

The Franklin Park Reading Series, held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on the second Monday of every month, always includes an impressive lineup. The focus, according to the founder, Penina Roth, is “language-driven, innovative literature and stories told in unconventional ways”; the venue is a spacious, dimly lit, wooden bar hidden behind an old-fashioned burger joint. You have to come early to get a seat, but when the whispers die down, the readings never fail to impress—last month’s featured Matt Sumell, and next Monday, Colson Whitehead and Amelia Gray are among the authors to take the stage. —Alexandra Rezvina