Staff Picks: Philosophical Falconry, Monologuing Masseuses


This Week’s Reading


A still from the video for Holly Herndon’s “Interference.”

NH477_GAndrés Barba’s August, October starts off full of charm: a teenage boy from Madrid ditches his family and the beach club to hang out with the local kids in a seaside town. Slowly the atmosphere darkens as he tries to adopt their code of violence. Although Barba has translated Melville, Conrad, and Defoe into Spanish, the writer whose ghost haunts August, October unmistakably is Harold Brodkey, with his deep interest in adolescent sexuality and his ability to conjure the last frontiers of childhood. Like Brodkey, Barba inhabits his young hero with a clarity that is both sympathetic and unflinching. —Lorin Stein

On Game of Thrones last Sunday, Stannis Baratheon won the hearts of grammar dorks everywhere when he corrected a soldier of the Night’s Watch who had made a fewer/less mistake. (Stannis is a stickler: he made the same correction in season two.) Though he is sometimes boring and occasionally creepy, Stannis pays attention to detail in a way that is not niggling but noteworthy, indicative of someone comfortable with power. Honestly, at that moment in the episode, I thought for a moment of Mary Norris, a “page OK’er” at The New Yorker and a self-proclaimed “comma queen,” who tells a story in her memoir, Between You and Me, about the surprising power she wields: “when [a young editorial assistant] heard I was a copy editor she jumped back, as if I might poke her with a red-hot hyphen or force-feed her a pound of commas.” But Norris isn’t Stannis—she’s far too entertaining and modest and candid; she devotes whole chapters (paeans, really) to pencils, commas, and hyphens. (Maybe she’s Sam? He did kill a White Walker, but he’s far more interested in scouring the library to figure out how he managed to do it.) —Nicole Rudick 

9781590172490Best known for his Arthurian novel The Once and Future King, T. H. White also wrote a short, playful book about falconry called The Goshawk, wherein White retreats to a small cottage in the country, orders a young Goshawk from Germany, and armed with nothing but a few outdated field guides on falconry, attempts to tame and train it. A mix of how-to guide, diary, and tangential musing on man’s supremacy over the wilderness, the book is aware of its pompous philosophical digressions, and is all the funnier for it—though there are moments of sad realization, where White’s a priori assumptions about his status in the natural world dissolve, leaving him with wanting. Unbeknownst to me, Helen Macdonald’s recent New York Times best seller H is for Hawk is also about the attempted training of a Goshawk, which is the hardest falcon to train; she references White’s book throughout. (Sure enough, White’s publisher has already changed the jacket copy to read, “The predecessor to Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk”: good marketing for an old, largely forgotten book.) —Jeffery Gleaves

“You really deserve it. You work so hard, I don’t know how you do it. I’m going to touch you now. Can you relax your shoulders for me? Great. And from what you’ve told me, so many people depend on you, and it’s not just because you’re good at what you do, it’s because you’re a great person.” Among the skittering, glassy electronica on Holly Herndon’s new album, Platform, there’s “Lonely at the Top,” a four-minute monologue by a masseuse. In a seductive, sycophantic whisper, she tells you how magnificent you are; you hear her typing, squeezing lotion on her hands, and rubbing your shoulders, all of it in disturbingly high fidelity. The track finds Herndon putting the principles of ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response, which contends that certain ordinary sounds produce a pleasant tingling in the scalp—to a frightening, political new use. Her vision of consumer solipsism is so complete, so narcotic, that it actually made my skin crawl. It rides the same funny-creepy line as the final scene in Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge, where an impotent Jack Nicholson goes in for a massage-cum pep talk from a beautiful woman: “Who is better, more beautiful, more powerful, more perfect … you’re getting hard … more strong, more masculine, more extraordinary, more … irresistible. It’s up, it’s in the air … ” —Dan Piepenbring

Baptized by Norman Mailer as the “Robespierre of feminism,” Valerie Solanas has had her literary merit and revolutionary intentions eclipsed by her attempted murder of Andy Warhol. In the recent biography Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (And Shot Andy Warhol), Breanne Fahs seeks to contextualize her relationship with Warhol rather than allow her to be defined by it. She focuses on Valerie’s vision for the future of feminism (the eradication of all men from Earth) and her contentious position within the radical feminist movement. “She considered her manifesto the last word on feminism,” her friend Donny Smith says, “and any further discussion was either plagiarism or bullshit.” Solanas glibly dismissed the National Organization for Women and other women’s organizations as “civil disobedience luncheon clubs.” Her story is a strange mix of audacity and tragedy. Where revolutionaries tend to possess a brand of danger that is edgy and appealing, Solanas’s passion was always too volatile. People knew she was trouble long before she proved it. Fahs’s unsentimental biography grants us the space to draw our own conclusions. —Kit Connolly 

img_2427Why would you suppose that painting a black dot is easy? Jonathan Horowitz’s 700 Dots project at the Frieze Art Fair proves otherwise. In one of the stands, visitors are given the opportunity to sit and paint an eight-inch black dot as perfectly round and plain as possible. Some supervisors wander around to make sure that you’re not trying to inject some of your own eccentricity into the dot-making project—but in vain. Outsize dots, square dots, dots outside of the framework (mine was worryingly off-center) now upholster the walls of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise stand. Even so, most of the novices I saw ended up much more committed to their art than they could have expected; little by little, they fell into a mute state of concentration. But this wasn’t art for art’s sake. Perfect dots are rewarded with a twenty-dollar check signed by Horowitz himself. —Charlotte Groult