Paging Dr. Videovich, and Other News


On the Shelf

Still from a Jaime Davidovich “show.”


  • Once upon a time, it was hard to be on TV. Believe me, I tried. You couldn’t just mouth off in an ill-fitting suit and expect to get your own reality show, no, sir. You couldn’t upload a video of yourself saying wacky shit while the anesthesia wore off after your wisdom-tooth operation. You had to be clever. Jaime Davidovich, who died last August, was a pioneering television artist—as his friend Rebecca Cleman writes, he recognized that “it was more radical to put art in the context of television than to bring popular culture into the museum.” By arranging to display his art in public places—most notably a Midtown bar, which agreed to show his video of floorboards instead of live sports—Davidovich used the demotic medium of his time to proselytize for art. (And for the benefits of being a weirdo.) Cleman writes, “After living in New York for most of the sixties, part of it working as a designer for Alfred A. Knopf on Madison Avenue, Jaime settled in Ohio for a while, enjoying what he considered to be a relatively typical suburban life with a two-car garage. It was there that he began experimenting with video, introduced not via a gallerist or a Sony sponsorship (as was the case for some artists), but by way of an Argentine surgeon at a Cleveland hospital. A technician gave Jaime access to the hospital’s video equipment after hours, making the operating room his de facto television laboratory. At this time, some public broadcast stations like WNET were sponsoring artistic experimentation with their high-end video equipment, a situation that tended to showcase the visual effects of gadgetry. In the setting of the hospital, Jaime’s use of video was more clearly distinct from such aesthetics, in keeping with his use, already, of non-art materials like adhesive tape to create spatial interventions … His alter ego, ‘Dr. Videovich,’ the Argentine psychoanalyst turned TV host, emerged as a satirical counterpoint to the art world’s move toward commercialization and professionalism in the 1980s.”
  • Edwin Heathcote has been spending a lot of time in luxury show homes, where everything is gray and visitors can live out an elaborate simulation of a meaningful life. Just try to look at the books, for instance: “Just as the kitchens in these super-luxury show homes are for people who don’t really cook, the books on display are for people who don’t really read. There is an entire branch of the publishing industry devoted to the kinds of books that you see in show homes. They are the big arty books on a few specific subjects: travel, New York, cooking, watches, classic cars, fashion and so on. They are slightly too heavy to lift, so cannot actually be read … You see these same books in hotel lobbies and in their odd ‘libraries’ that are a hybrid space between hotel, club and home, a room designed around books no one is ever expected to read … The show-home library is a hint at the top-end man cave, the clubby, comfortable image of a cultivated space without the effort of needing to go through actual cultivation. Its pretense to culture stops it being objectionable to the spouse. The books are a sign; a symbol of, if not exactly culture, then at least the aspiration to culture. Their presence is plenty, they do not demand to be opened.”

  • As more conventionally “literary” authors try to slum it in the genre ghettos of sci-fi and fantasy, Laura Miller wonders what they stand to gain—and why they can’t leave the work to career sci-fi writers: “Shrewd novelists can learn from the examples of stock-market mavens such as Jim Cramer: Get one or two predictions right and the public can be remarkably forgiving about the many more you flub. Write about the present or the past and pedants will pop up in Amazon reviews, on Twitter, or even in The New York Review of Books to fault you for the mistakes you’ve made about Italian motorcycles of the 1970s or for how you fail to capture the texture of life among contemporary youth. But you can’t be wrong about something that hasn’t happened yet. By the time the future comes around to thumb its nose at you, no one will be paying enough attention to hold you to account … Supposedly, the advantage to having literary novelists take up stories once dismissed as the stuff of genre fiction is that readers can get exciting plots to go with the mainstays of literary work: nuanced characters and the kind of aestheticized writing conventionally referred to as beautiful. The latter is a dubious improvement.”
  • Philip Roth remembers the flash points of postwar America, and how they gave his early writing a sense of all-inclusive purpose: “America from 1941 to 1945 had been unified in purpose as never before … That this was so highly charged a historical moment … was not without its impact on what I was reading and why, and it accounted for a good deal of the authority those formative writers had over me. Reading them served to confirm what the gigantic enterprise of a brutal war against two formidable enemies had dramatized daily for almost four years to virtually every Jewish family mine knew and every Jewish friend I had: one’s American connection overrode everything, one’s American claim was beyond question. Everything had repositioned itself. There had been a great disturbance to the old rules. One was ready now as never before to stand up to intimidation and intolerance, and, instead of just bearing what one formerly put up with, one was equipped to set foot wherever one chose. The American adventure was one’s engulfing fate.”
  • The Sewanee Review has been around since 1892, making it one of the oldest literary magazines in America. Maybe you haven’t been reading it for the past, oh, say, seventy years—that’s okay. You’re forgiven. Its new editor, Adam Ross, plans to lead the magazine to a long overdue recrudescence. Alexandra Alter writes, “Once a towering institution within American culture, the review had languished over the decades as its influence and readership had waned. The journal, which once published works by literary giants like Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Cormac McCarthy and Wallace Stevens, was nearly moribund. When Mr. Ross was approached to apply for the position, the review had just a few hundred subscribers, and virtually no web presence. Its plain blue cover hadn’t changed since 1944. Reviving it seemed daunting … [Mr. Ross] spent a year revamping the magazine, incorporating visual elements for the first time and lining up a roster of literary heavy hitters for this year’s issues, among them Richard Russo and Francine Prose. He recruited the book jacket designers Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday to reimagine the cover, logo and the interior layout, and to create new covers for each issue, the review’s first redesign in more than seventy years. This fall, the review will publish its 500th edition.”