Simon Hanselmann. Photo: Fantagraphics, via the Guardian.
- Need a morning pick-me-up? Say it with me: “I am full of impulses to shove animal matter into my poorly designed facial rot hole … I must endlessly defecate. I need to fuck. I need to be fucked. It’s fantastic and terrifying. Fascinating. Pointless, swirling molecules. But, yeah, having a fun time. I spent $300 on a T-shirt last week … People are horrible. People are cruel. People are abused. Social circles, especially in small towns, can get fucking nasty. I just write what I see and what I’ve experienced. I don’t deliberately set out to aggravate or shock. I don’t censor myself. You need to be honest. You need to not hold back. I hate twee art. I find it dishonest; a false, privileged construct. Life is not nice. Existence is sad and cruel.” That’s Simon Hanselmann, the author of the cult comic series Megg, Mogg and Owl and a dealer in hard truths.
- If you prefer your truths a little softer, or maybe just leavened with bons mots, you could try Dorothy Parker. Or maybe not. Robert Gottlieb reminds us that her quips and flair concealed an enormous sadness: “Death and suicide are never far from her thoughts—she titled her collections Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, Death and Taxes, and Not So Deep as a Well … Was her poetry just rhyming badinage dressed up as trenchant, plaintive ruminations on love, loss, and death? Her subjects are serious, but her cleverness undercuts them: there’s almost always a last line, a sardonic zinger, to signal that even if she does care, the more fool she. Even her most famous couplet—‘Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses’—bandages a wound, although plenty of men made passes.”
- Paintings look great in galleries, but I find that they really shine, in all their subtlety, when they’re hanging behind politicians at podiums. As Kelly Grovier writes, “The silent stare of a poised portrait gazing at you over the shoulder of David Cameron or Vladimir Putin is often more loaded and more deliberately orchestrated than you might think … Obama’s decision to hold a press conference announcing his determination to close Guantanamo once and for all in the shadow of a swashbuckling portrait of Obama’s forebear, Theodore Roosevelt, was hardly accidental. After all, Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1898 led a legendary cavalry of so-called ‘Rough Riders’ to victory against Spanish overlords in Cuba, helped establish U.S. control over Guantanamo Bay in the first place. By placing himself visually alongside a heroic portrait of the galloping leader, who is credited with the credo ‘speak softly and carry a big stick,’ Obama hoped to bask in the reflected testosterone of America’s most macho president.”
- Bad news: most book reviewers do their jobs hastily and carelessly. Good news: Edward Copleston’s 1807 satire “Advice to a Young Reviewer, with a Specimen of the Art” really holds up, because book critics are still using the same set of shortcuts and white lies. “In the art of reviewing I would lay down as a fundamental position,” Copleston writes, “which must be the mainspring of all your criticisms—write what will sell.” He also recommends perusing the table of contents and the index: “Here then is a fund of wealth for the Reviewer, lying upon the very surface; if he knows anything of his business, he will turn all these materials against the author, carefully suppressing the source of his information, and as if drawing from the stores of his own mind, long ago laid up for this very purpose. If the author’s references are correct, a great point is gained; for, by consulting a few passages of the original works, it will be easy to discuss the subject with the air of having a previous knowledge of the whole.”
- Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids is more than twenty years old now. Moira Weigel blew the dust off her old VHS and took another look: “At the time, the press hailed Kids as ‘raw,’ ‘frank,’ ‘honest,’ and ‘gritty’—all adjectives that boasted of its fidelity to the realities of kids just a little older than me. I couldn’t judge for myself since I never got around to seeing it. Watching it now, at thirty, those words still seem apt for describing something important about the film. But that something is not its realism … What I feel most, watching Kids in 2015, is that it is shallow. I mean this partly as praise. The shallowness is the key to the film’s ability to transport us into the world of its characters, as if participating in their refusal to think of consequences, to look beyond the here and now … The problem is that Kids reproduces the superficiality that makes it so stylistically compelling in its approach to its subject matter. Watching it today, I was hoping for an account of the ways that the fear of AIDS shaped how young people in that time and place learned about desire. Instead the film recasts the virus into the threat lurking in the background of a kind of nightmare fairy tale. The role that HIV plays is to give a sense of momentum to what is basically an observational essay.”