Ivan Morley’s latest exhibition is at Bortolami Gallery through February 18. A lifelong Californian, Morley partakes of a tradition Jerry Saltz has called “clusterfuck aesthetics,” fusing pop images to emblems of American subcultures. Among the materials he’s used in these works: tooled leather, mother of pearl, and KY jelly. By his own account, the two recurring titles in this series, “Tehachepi” and “A True Tale,” refer to apocryphal stories from the Old West—the former concerns “native family life in a town where the wind was so strong it could alter the trajectory of a bullet,” where the latter involves “an entrepreneur who made a fortune shipping cats to a rat-infested city.”
Five years ago, I was mugged and beaten in Brooklyn after turning down a quiet street and passing a young couple idling in front of me on the sidewalk. I felt a sudden blow to the back of my head and found myself sprawled on the warm cement, bits of gravel pressing hard into my skin, thinking about something a man told me years earlier when I’d refused his ride home: You are too light skinned to walk home alone at night in this neighborhood.
I clutched my purse to my chest. In it I had a key to an apartment that wasn’t mine, a debit card, a cell phone, a charger, three dollars. Just let go of your purse, the assumed leader implored, the toe of her boot connecting expertly with my eye socket. Read More
- One of my favorite reissues last year was Zama, a 1956 novel by the Argentinean writer Antonio Di Benedetto. It opens with a description of a dead monkey, “still undecomposed,” drifting aimlessly in a “writhing patch of water”—and the fun doesn’t let up from there! As Benjamin Kunkel writes, Zama depicts frontier life as a leap into an abysmal chasm of anxiety and unknowing: “Here is a white man whose whiteness fails to yield any providential good fortune, and a sojourner in the wilderness of himself confronting the cipher of the universe with religious dread. Americans—in the sense of the word that covers Alaska and Tierra del Fuego alike—live in a hemisphere that was conquered and settled by people who saw it as a place in which to realize their dreams. Zama is, among other things, a ringing statement of this hemispheric condition, in an unaccustomed key of defeat: ‘Here was I in the midst of a vast continent that was invisible to me though I felt it all around, a desolate paradise, far too immense for my legs,’ Zama tells us. ‘America existed for no one if not for me, but it existed only in my needs, my desires, and my fears.’ ”
- And reader, you’re in luck: the notes of existential alarm in Zama have seldom resonated as they do this week, with the coronation of America’s first orange president just days away. It’s a great time to ponder the connection between being and suffering. But don’t lose hope, and don’t stop reading. Adam Kirsch makes a compelling argument for the relevance of fiction at a time when almost nothing and no one feels relevant: “From its beginning, the novel has tested the distinction between truth, fiction and lie; now the collapse of those distinctions has given us the age of Trump. We are entering a period in which the very idea of literature may come to seem a luxury, a distraction from political struggle. But the opposite is true: No matter how irrelevant hardheaded people may believe it to be, literature continually proves itself a sensitive instrument, a leading indicator of changes that will manifest themselves in society and culture. Today as always, the imagination is our best guide to what reality has in store.”
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In our Summer–Fall 1961 issue, we published a portfolio of poems by Osip Mandelstam, born on January 15, 1891, a Russian writer who was arrested under Stalin and exiled in the 1930s. Sentenced to a labor camp in Siberia, he died en route at a transit camp, aged forty-seven. In one poem, he writes, Read More
The 2016 Vice Fiction issue is the best literary magazine I’ve seen this year. Maybe I’m biased. It includes new (and very good) work from a bunch of Paris Review writers, namely Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Cusk, Tim Parks, Christine Smallwood, Deb Olin Unferth, and Benjamin Nugent—plus our former web editor Thessaly La Force. Oh, and the whole issue is edited by Plimpton Prize winner Amie Barrodale. But it’s not just the stories themselves. I also love the interior art direction—with literal photo illustrations of each story, all in what you might call the Vice house style. It screams sincerity, and it pays respect. —Lorin Stein
Rachel Cusk’s novel Transit, which we excerpted last summer, is out next week. Like its predecessor, Outline, it comprises several long, fluid, exactingly rendered conversations. Saying more feels like window dressing, and I worry I’m making it sound like My Dinner with Andre, but here goes. Recently divorced, the narrator’s upheaval has led her to a state of social alertness (not to say vulnerability) that makes others eager to confide in her, to try out hidden versions of themselves. The feeling is of swimming, with blissful immersion, through hours of watery talk. It’s hard to describe a novel like this without making them sound “quiet” or “slight,” but Transit is neither—people speak and people listen, and it is good. In one of the many passages I earmarked, a man explains the elaborate, concerted hunting process of “a shoal of Salukis” as they track birds of prey: “It suggested that the ultimate fulfillment of a conscious being lay not in solitude but in a shared state so intricate and cooperative it might almost be said to represent the entwining of two selves.” You could think of Transit as the pursuit of that shared state. In its fidelity to the long talk—to the sense of permeation that comes with a lively exchange—it argues that conversation is the ideal vehicle for the sublime. —Dan Piepenbring Read More
After failing to save my dying fern, I decided to look for help among experts.
Last winter, I had a moment of crisis after failing to keep my Green Clubfoot fern alive, despite establishing a complicated routine for my increasingly ailing plant: I set my fern’s pot on river rocks within a tray of warm water, for humidity; I alternated its position according to the sun, and misted its fronds twice a day. But no matter how damp I made the air or how much I considered its position to my radiator, by February it had shriveled in on itself, its tendrils drying to paper.
I spent the next spring and summer attempting to read my way into expertise, but every field guide or plant study seemed to unfurl more disparate curiosities. Did you know, for example, that ferns reproduce with spores, rather than with seeds? Since spores are invisible to the naked eye, eighteenth-century naturalists believed the seeds of ferns to be invisible—some even thought you could harness the power of invisibility if you managed to collect fern seeds and stuff them into a pocket. In Fern Fever, Sarah Whittingham describes a method by which these enthusiasts devised to gather the mysterious seeds from bracken:
In some places it was said that brake produced a small blue flowers once a year on 23 June, the night before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist, or Midsummer’s Day. The flower’s seed could be collected by stacking twelve pewter plates beneath a frond at midnight. It would fall through the first eleven plates and accumulate on the last one. However, fairies were also meant to be particularly active on Midsummer’s Eve, and if you were not careful, they would seize the spores as they fell and steal away with them.