Phil May, Oscar Wilde and Whistler, 1894.
- Where 7Up is the uncola, poetry is the “un-Trump,” Eileen Myles says: “Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary … I think it would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think men should stop writing books. I think men should stop making movies or television. Say, for fifty to one hundred years.”
- Last week, I sang the praises of Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel, a 1953 heist novel about a seedy couple on the lam. It should have been turned into an excellent movie by now—but we’re lucky because it hasn’t, and that means we have no choice but to read it as Chaze wrote it. Writes Christian Lorentzen: “On a technical level, it is possible to write a perfect crime novel. You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection … [It’s] the sort of love story in which either lover might turn in or murder the other at any moment until its last desperate pages … They stick with each other when everyone’s against them, knowing that neither of them is really fit for the straight and narrow. When the surprises arrive, Chaze makes no false moves, and none of the plot’s mechanics creak. There’s a shoot-out, cigar-involved police brutality, and a jailbreak.”
- Oscar Wilde faced accusations of plagiarism for most of his career—he was clever enough to know he’d sound more clever if he borrowed some choice phrases here and there. James McNeill Whistler, the American painter, was especially dogged in his efforts to bring Wilde’s appropriated bons mots to light: “Many observers dismissed the idea that Wilde’s youthful identification with his Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poetic idols was so strong that his devotion to them—and not a desire to steal from them—resulted in his apparent copying of their writings … Toward the end of 1886, Whistler’s temper flared up once more when he detected Wilde’s flagrant appropriation of some of his phrases. ‘What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables, and picks from our platters the plums for the pudding he peddles in the provinces.’ ‘Oscar,’ Whistler’s barbs continued, ‘has the courage of the opinions … of others!’ ”
- There’s a popular myth about “Paris Syndrome,” an affliction of disillusionment that apparently strikes about a dozen Japanese tourists a year when, arriving at last in storied France, they find it to be startlingly imperfect beside their fantasies of it. Harriet Alida Lye called bullshit and visited the Japanese Embassy to set things straight. “The man in the press office cut short my efforts,” she writes. “ ‘This so-called Paris Syndrome,’ he said, ‘is not recognized by any officials in either Japan or France, and there is no specific group within the Embassy that deals with any kind of health problems.’ The embassy had ‘no information and no statistics’ on Paris Syndrome … What is it about Paris that creates the possibility for unrealistic expectations in the first place? … Why are people like my dentist unable to perceive that life in this city could be anything other than a dream?”
- What do Roger Angell, Diana Athill, and Ann Burack-Weiss have in common? They’re all old; they all have new books about being old; their new old books are all good. Athill, who led an “unconventional love life,” recalls in her book “how a memoir she wrote on that subject distressed her genteel mother. Their solution to this disagreement was to simply not talk about it, which Athill at first found ridiculous, then comic, and then, finally ‘a very successful way of dealing with a difficult problem. You have a daughter whom you love, she does something you wish very much she hadn’t done, but you want to go on loving her in spite of it.’ The essay ends with Athill observing that this strategy really works. ‘My mother and I grew closer and closer. There are no memories that I value more than that of the almost flame of love which lit her eyes when she opened them and saw me bending over her deathbed.’ ”