Ouija board. Photo: Dave Winer.
- Given our newfangled penchant for the darker arts, it’s probably time for a James Merrill revival. I do not mean this literally: we should not raise James Merrill from the dead. Still, we might commune with him. To aid our spiritual discourse, Dwight Garner points out, we should turn to the Ouija board, the supposedly harmless instrument Merrill used to write The Changing Light at Sandover. As it happens, Merrill’s own biographer, Langdon Hammer, recently dusted off his Ouija, although he was too ravaged by paradox to contact the poet: “We didn’t try [to commune with Merrill]. I guess it seemed beside the point. Who had invited us to the table and sat us down at the board if not James Merrill? We were already in contact … Looking back now, I think the board had a point to make. Using it puts you in touch with the soul. But it’s not the soul as we normally think of it—something singular and deep inside you. According to the Ouija board, it takes two people to create the soul, and it exists out there, between and beyond them.”
- In China, they do not pour liquor on the ground for the dead. Instead, when a loved one passes, they light consumer goods on fire. Allison Meier of Hyperallergic cites Supermarket of the Dead: Burnt Offerings in China and the Cult of Globalised Consumption, a new art book edited by Wolfgang Scheppe. In an introductory essay, Scheppe clarifies the mysterious practice: “The act of burning the paper replicas of money and goods transfers the objects, in the very moment in which they crumble to ashes and go up in smoke, into a world beyond the terrestrial world, where they are placed at the disposal of the chaotic pandemonium of ancestors, spirits, and gods that need to be appeased, serving to feed them and meet their needs so that they may be favorably disposed or their hardships assuaged.” What do they burn? It’s what you’d think, more or less: “Chanel shoes, McDonald’s french fries, iPhones, cognac, lacy lingerie, and machine guns.”
- If you enjoy low-grade literary controversy, the Edinburgh International Book Festival could be your gig. It’s the sort of event, for example, where a biographer might speculate with reckless abandon about the health of her famous subject. Sian Cain of the Guardian reports that Claire Harman, author of biographies on Robert Louis Stevenson and Charlotte Brontë, wondered aloud this week whether Emily Brontë showed symptoms of Asperger’s. “It is actually very disturbing,” Harman said at the festival, “I think Charlotte and everybody was quite frightened of Emily. I think she was an Asperger’s-ey person … She was such a genius and had total imaginative freedom … Containing Emily, protecting Emily, not being alarmed by Emily, was a big project for the whole household. She’s an absolutely fascinating person—a very troubling presence, though.”
- You have likely heard that Gene Wilder, rare presence and iconic comedic actor, has died. In an obituary, the Times adds that Wilder, near the end of his life, turned to literary writing. Namely, he wrote comedic novels that sound like Ernst Lubitsch films: “His My French Whore, published in 2007, was the story of a naïve young American who impersonates a German spy in World War I. (‘Just fluff, but sweet fluff,’ the novelist Carolyn See wrote in her review in the Washington Post.) It was followed by two more novels, The Woman Who Wouldn’t and Something to Remember You By, and a story collection, What Is This Thing Called Love?”
- In a remembrance at Artforum, Glenn O’Brien writes of the influence of Billy Name, who died last month, on Andy Warhol’s second Factory. To name Name, we might call him a photographer, filmmaker, and lighting designer, but he was also a powerful muse. O’Brien recalls Name’s abiding influence on the art studio as we’ve come to know it: “Andy was immediately taken with Billy’s decor—everything was painted silver or covered in foil—and Andy was taken with Billy. He asked Billy if he would decorate his new loft in the same mode. Billy said he would, but that it was a big job and that he should probably move in. The atmosphere that Billy’s presence conjured created a new type of art studio and new practices.”