You Should Probably Buy This French Poet’s Gun, and Other News


On the Shelf

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP.

  • I’ve been keeping a close eye on the collectible handguns of emotionally unstable French poets, and I have a good idea: if you’ve got sixty thousand euros lying around, consider bidding on the pistol that Paul Verlaine used in his attempt to murder Arthur Rimbaud. It’s a handsome gun, soon to be up for auction, and it’s sure to make a great Christmas gift for the one you love. Agence France-Presse explains, “Verlaine bought the 7mm six-shooter in Brussels on the morning of 10 July 1873, determined to put an end to a torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover … It was in a hotel room there at two in the afternoon where, after the lovers had rowed, cried, and got drunk—according to Rimbaud—that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol. ‘Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!’ he shouted, before firing twice at Rimbaud. One bullet hit him in the wrist, while the other bullet struck the wall and ricocheted into the chimney. But, having been bandaged up in hospital, Rimbaud again begged the author of Poèmes saturniens not to leave him. Verlaine, who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life, pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.”
  • Hey, honest question—are you in an online cult? Think about it. The Internet is, in some ways, little more than a cult-delivery mechanism. As Linda Besner writes, “In the 1961 handbook Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, the psychologist Robert Lifton suggests that cults can be identified by, among others, the following traits: the creation of neologisms designed to reshape the adherent’s outlook, separation from family and friends, fostering cognitive dissonance, confessional pressure, and a charismatic leader. In other words, cults are about control … An online ‘cult’ would not need to kidnap you, or bring pamphlets to your door, or go to you at all; instead, you would go to them. Perhaps the greatest difference is how much of a self-starter the average follower needs to be. The onus is on you to indoctrinate yourself.” 

  • Tim Wu’s new book, The Attention Merchants, looks at the increasingly slick corporate efforts to commodify our eyeballs: “The carnivalesque history of early American advertising, with its hodgepodge of pseudoscience and quasi-religious transcendence, has been told before, most memorably in Jackson Lears’s 1994 Fables of Abundance. But [Tim] Wu’s succinct reexamination is important, for he shows how the nascent attempt at capturing attention was marked by a set of events—the emergence of a new medium whose power or use was not yet fully understood, a land-rush by commercial interests, a cultural backlash against that commercialization, and an ongoing quest for legitimacy by advertisers—that would be repeated in decades to come, each time drawing closer to the privacy of our inner lives.”
  • Gustav Klimt was primarily an allegorist—his life-size portraits of women were an unusual departure for him. A new exhibition tries to suss out his relationship to the feminine: “While the paintings represent chic, modern women who belong to a world of elegance and luxury, they also have the effect of exoticizing and etherealizing their subjects. As the art historian Jill Lloyd observes in her catalog essay, they seem both women of their time and timeless symbols of femininity, at once contemporary and archaic. Ms. Lloyd avers that while Klimt’s preoccupation with women in the full range of his art ‘may well relate to a personal obsession, it also seems likely that Klimt viewed the subject of women as a key to the modernity of his art.’ His portraits, she observes, ‘embody allusions to “the women question” that are far from straightforward to read.’ ”