Obnoxious Effluvia at Every Turn, and Other News


On the Shelf

“A London Fog” (detail), 1802, colored aquatint.

  • “I love the nuance and depth of feeling in the poems of T. S. Eliot,” you’ve probably said to yourself, sighing: “If only the man had written more erotica!” Reader, he did, and soon it will be yours to behold. A new edition of Eliot’s poems will feature several previously unpublished efforts dedicated to his second wife, Valerie, and found in notebooks. Steel yourself for such succulent similes as “Her breasts are like ripe pears that dangle / Above my mouth / Which reaches up to take them.” And while the Eliot fire sale is in progress, you might as well get your hands on his formerly unpublished volume of several works by Alfred North Whitehead. It contains the words “Foxy Grandpa.”
  • The contemporary fascination with castrati has two sources. First, we’ve never heard their music, and unheard music haunts us; second, they were people with no testicles, and we are, as a people, obsessed with testicles and wonder how they got along without them, what they did in bed, et cetera. “The very in-betweenness of castrati, their being neither women nor complete men, neither peasants nor aristocrats, having access to kings’ ears and girls’ bedrooms, allowed them to move into positions of easy privilege and influence … From this middle ground he could have a great deal of fun and wield a good deal of influence. It is also important to remember, in this context, that same-sex relations did not have the same meaning as they would later come to have.”
  • The debate surrounding appropriation has reached a fever pitch: “Questions about the right to your creation and labor, the right to your identity, emerge out of old wounds in America, and they provoke familiar battle stances … Can some kinds of appropriation shatter stereotypes? This has been literature’s implicit promise: that entering into another’s consciousness enlarges our own … What conversations about appropriation make clear is that our imaginations are unruly kingdoms governed by fears and fantasies. They are never neutral.”
  • In William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novella, The Doom of the Great City, Londoners are “choked to death under a soot-filled fog”—an unsettlingly prescient conceit, from our vantage point. Or is it just kooky propaganda for the miasmatists, who believed that bad smells meant bad air? “At their best, the miasmatists practiced social medicine that included a focus on diet, education, and forms of social uplift. At their worst, they were racist and classist bureaucrats. But whatever their scientific and ideological deficiencies, miasmatists were amazingly successful at marshaling the resources and political will (often with the important tool of disgust at their disposal) to create a compelling vision of the sanitary city.”
  • The inimitable Peggy Guggenheim came into her second inheritance in 1937 and decided to open her first gallery in London. “‘I am in Paris working hard for my gallery and fucking,’ she wrote to her friend Emily Coleman the following January; and when Coleman remonstrated, Peggy wrote back to reassure her: ‘My fucking is only a sideshow. My work comes first every time.’ ”