Paul Bowles in Morocco, ca. 1970.
- Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor whose novels won him the Nobel Prize, died this morning at eighty-six. “I was able use my own life to study how somebody can survive this particularly cruel brand of totalitarianism,” he told The Paris Review in 2013. “I didn’t want to commit suicide, but then I didn’t want to become a writer either—at least not initially. I rejected that idea for a long time, but then I realized that I would have to write, write about the astonishment and the dismay of the witness—Is that what you are going to do to us? How could we survive something like this, and understand it, too?”
- Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City takes David Wojnarowicz as one of its subjects. With Rebecca Mead, she looked at some of his early work: “The other day, Laing was in New York, and she stopped by the Fales Library, at N.Y.U., where Wojnarowicz’s archive is kept: photographs, diaries, recordings, and an orange crate crammed with odds and ends which he called his ‘Magic Box.’ ‘It feels like his work has this capacity for resisting all those silencings and false histories,’ Laing said, as she opened a folder containing an early series, ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York.’ The photographs, taken by Wojnarowicz in the late seventies, show a figure wearing a mask of the French poet’s face while riding the subway, masturbating in bed, wandering the decrepit Hudson River piers. ‘I can’t think of another artist who works in that same way—the more that attempts at silencing happen, the more potent they become,’ she said.”
- In 1947, Paul Bowles moved to Tangier and began writing The Sheltering Sky. Ten years later, he returned to the city to make field recordings of its vibrant music, now reissued as The Music of Morocco: “As Bowles saw it, Morocco’s sounds were forms of experience that had yet to be contaminated by Western influence … Bowles set off on his first recording expedition in mid-July 1959 in a Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to a Canadian expatriate friend, Christopher Wanklyn. He was forty-eight years old … Over the next five months, they took four separate trips—covering a distance Bowles estimated at 25,000 miles—returning to Tangier for a few days after each journey so that Bowles could check in on his wife, who was ill. Bowles recorded 250 pieces of music, in twenty-two separate locations, with an unwieldy twenty-eight-pound Ampex 601 tape recorder.”
- In midcentury Britain, where it was officially illegal to be gay, a secret language called Polari emerged as a means of clandestine communication: “Polari is a language of, in linguistic professor Paul Baker’s words, ‘fast put-downs, ironic self-parody and theatrical exaggeration.’ Its vocabulary is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang—as in riah to mean ‘hair’—and cant, a language used by eighteenth-century traveling performers, criminals, and carnival workers. Many of the words are sexual, anatomical, or euphemisms for police … During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the language was used by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks. In the 1930s it was spoken among the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs, gaining its status as the secret language of gay men.”
- If you like your dead languages a little older, try Etruscan. Though few examples of it survive, archaeologists have just unearthed a five-hundred-pound slab of sandstone with seventy legible letters and punctuation marks—so things are about to get easier for the novice speakers. “Researchers with the University of Florence will be examining and conserving the sixth-century BCE stone … Being that it was found at a temple, salvaged for its foundation some 2,500 years ago, it’s likely the writing may relate to religion, potentially filling in gaps in historic knowledge of Etruscan practices … Deciphering Etruscan can still be difficult, as no literature or major written work still exists, and although it shares characteristics with the Greek alphabet, it was distinct.”