The More Ink, the Better, and Other News


On the Shelf

A 2010 illustration by Karl Lagerfeld celebrating Gerhard Steidl.


  • If I had me a printing press, here’s what I’d do: I’d stand by the machines all day as they spat out inky paper, and I’d close my eyes and huff the paper, fanning the wet air toward me with a flowery gesture. And from the scent alone I would render a verdict on the quality of the print job. “No, no, this smells all wrong. Do it over.” Or: “This … is my masterpiece.” There lives among us one man, Gerhard Steidl, who does something like this for a living—his printing is an art form, his fastidiousness is renowned, and he takes enormous pride in mastering every minute detail of the bookmaking process. Profiling the legendary Steidl for The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead writes, “Among photographers and photography aficionados, Steidl’s name recognition equals that of Johannes Gutenberg: he is widely regarded as the best printer in the world. His name appears on the spine of more than two hundred photography books a year, and he oversees the production of all of them personally. Steidl, who is sixty-six, is known for fanatical attention to detail, for superlative craftsmanship, and for embracing the best that technology has to offer … Steidl seeks out the best inks, and pioneers new techniques for achieving exquisite reproductions. ‘He is so much better than anyone,’ William Eggleston, the American color photographer, told me, when I met him recently in New York. Steidl has published Eggleston for a decade; two years ago, he produced an expanded, ten-volume, boxed edition of The Democratic Forest, the artist’s monumental 1989 work. Eggleston passed his hand through the air, in a stroking gesture. ‘Feel the pages of the books,’ he said. ‘The ink is in relief. It is that thick.’ ”
  • Yesterday in this space, I linked to an essay by Samuel R. Delany about his experiences at a gay sex party for older men. In an interview with Junot Díaz, Delany explains that he later saw a documentary about that same sex party (it happens once a month) and that it furthered his concept of sexual radicalism: “I went to the party first … The documentary was made three months before I went to the party. But that just made it seem I was involved in the same process. And I had had sex with maybe half a dozen of the guys I subsequently saw on the screen. That was certainly a first for me … Sitting in a movie theater and looking at the screen and thinking, Yes, I’ve actually had sex with him, as you are watching him have sex with someone else (or pretend to), has got to be an experience pretty limited to the community of movie actors—perhaps the community of porn film actors. But when those communities shift radically, it means something—and not just approaching mortality. Not all explicit sex is pornographic. It can be educational, and I expect that a room full of forty- to eighty-year-olds having sex and discussing their lives would be just that: educational.”

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald had two problems, Sarah Churchwell writes—he refused to revise, and he wrote with the silver screen in mind: “Although Fitzgerald refused to lower his standards, he also refused to lower his price. His efforts to make his stories both artistic and commercial, high literature that was Hollywood-ready, often left them lurching between extremes. It was a Faustian pact he tried to make from the beginning: a few early successes selling screenplays and film adaptations seem to have convinced him that money was there for the taking. But it was easy for only a few years, when his tastes and his audience’s achieved a near-magical synchronicity … Increasingly, Fitzgerald refused to alter what he submitted to magazines, even as they rejected it … When, in 1936, three years after its original submission, his agent wanted to revisit the question of publishing “What to Do About It,” Fitzgerald replied that he could “scarcely remember the plot” … [Another story] is let down, as are nearly all the stories here, by a pat Hollywood ending that seems calculated to appeal to film producers.”
  • Laura McLean-Ferris unpacks the German artist Anne Imhof’s performance piece DEAL, which is part of a trend of “artists consciously making visible the powerful effects of the seemingly ever-strengthening ties that bind us together in a networked society”: “ ‘I worked really hard to get here,’ says a young woman on the floor. She is kneeling at the side of a large trough full of buttermilk. Her eyes are glassy and carry some weak flicker of indignant rage, but her face remains expressionless. She speaks her words as though she is carrying out banal orders. There’s a white, sticky, milky substance all around her mouth—it’s the buttermilk, but certainly suggests quite another fluid. It falls from her chin in long, viscous drips, and she does nothing to wipe it away; there are partially dried white stains all down the front of her shirt. Ostensibly, she’s a zombie—oblivious to what she’s been doing, her mouth stained with a substitute for blood—but here, she’s making too much sense. ‘No one else cares,’ she continues flatly, ‘but that’s why I love you. Because you say I for me.’ ”
  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on the Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer: His “surreal allegories are among the most celebrated works of modern Arabic literature. Tamer’s best-known story, ‘Tigers on the Tenth Day’ (the title piece of an English-language collection), is … an allegory about the reversibility of human and bestial behaviors as well as the debasement of political life in Syria. The story tells of a tiger removed from his jungle home and put in a cage. A human trainer promises his students that the tiger will quickly be brought to heel: ‘Watch what will occur between the one who possesses food and the one who does not, and learn.’ To eat, the proud tiger soon learns to humiliate himself, mewling like a cat, braying like a donkey, applauding meaningless speeches, and finally eating grass (and liking it). The last line of the story reads, ‘On the tenth day the trainer, the pupils, the tiger and the cage disappeared: the tiger became a citizen and the cage a city.’ ”