The Age of Innocence, and Other News


On the Shelf

Edith Wharton’s baby rattle.

  • Today in profligacy: for a cool $16,500, you could own Edith Wharton’s one-of-a-kind sterling-silver baby rattle, which she gave to the only child of Leon and Germaine Belugou on her christening in 1920. It’s got a whistle at one end with EDITH engraved on the lip. Oh, and it’s decorated with three bells. Oh, and it has a piece of coral at the end, which was apparently used for teething. Oh, and it’s housed in a custom-made black-cloth clamshell box lined with purple velvet with a black leather gilt-stamped label on the spine.
  • You know that famous photograph of Eve Babitz, the one Julian Wasser took of her playing chess in the nude against Marcel Duchamp? If you’re wondering, it was taken on October 7, 1963, at the Pasadena Art Museum, and she’s finally willing to talk about it: “I’m sitting there, smoking like crazy, pretending to be bolder than I am, and then Marcel shows up. He’s wearing this beautiful suit, and he has this gay little straw hat on that he must’ve bought in Las Vegas, and he has these charming eyes that were very detached. Julian says he’s ready and I drop the smock, and Julian must’ve been afraid that I was going to have second thoughts, because he kicked the smock way across to the other side of the room. Marcel and I sat down in front of the chess board, and he says, ‘Et alors,’ which means, ‘You go.’ And so I did, and he checkmated me in a single move. It’s called fool’s mate. And I was upset because I thought I had a chance because of my tits, but I didn’t.”
  • In last week’s staff picks I mentioned Mark Davis, who collected years and years of prerecorded in-store “Kmart Radio” tapes and then put them all on the Internet. Someone got the full story from him: “I was sixteen years old and Kmart was my first job, which lasted for ten years … When working in a retail store with a looping program, you hear the same songs over and over. And then you hear the same songs when you stop in to get your paycheck. And you hear them when you go to the store to visit friends when off the clock. Whether you initially like a song, artist, or genre or not, it really grows on you after hearing it over and over. That’s what happened to me at the store, and I started liking the songs as they were predictable and helped the day along. I loved Kmart as a company … I decided to go behind the service desk and look at the store’s sound system. I saw the October 1989 tape sitting next to the cassette deck and a reel-to-reel deck, which was decommissioned but still present. I thought to myself—why not take this tape as a keepsake for the first month at my first job?”
  • Why is it that the same people who drone on and on about the future of “digital storytelling” are the ones who pay no attention to video games as a vehicle for said storytelling? Don’t these people have eyes? “The forums, summits, breakout sessions and seminars on ‘digital literature’ [are] run by exceedingly well-meaning arts people who can talk for hours about what the future might be for storytelling in this new technological age … without apparently noticing that video games exist. And they don’t just exist! They’re the most lucrative, fastest-growing medium of our age. Your experimental technological literature is already here … Games often manage to be both great art and an economic powerhouse; we’re doing ourselves and the next generation a disservice if we don’t take that seriously.”
  • It’s never too late for a takedown. Here’s a broadside against Henry David Thoreau, 153 years after his death—because what was with that guy, anyway? “The most telling thing he purports to abstain from while at Walden is companionship, which he regards as at best a time-consuming annoyance, at worst a threat to his mortal soul. For Thoreau, in other words, his fellow-humans had the same moral status as doormats … The poor, the rich, his neighbors, his admirers, strangers: Thoreau’s antipathy toward humanity even encompassed the very idea of civilization … Why, given Thoreau’s hypocrisy, his sanctimony, his dour asceticism, and his scorn, do we continue to cherish Walden?”