- For years, I’ve implored the management here at the Review to install a gold toilet—it would raise morale and the magazine’s profile. I’m sad to report that the Guggenheim has beaten us to the flush. And their gold john is designed by Maurizio Cattelan, no less, who came out of retirement to make it: “You could go into the restroom just to bask in its glow, Mr. Cattelan said, but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call … Guggenheim officials said that they anticipated lines for the Cattelan bathroom and added that a guard or attendant might be placed near the door to ensure orderly waiting—and also to make certain that no one tries to abscond with a piece of the toilet. They added that eighteen-karat gold was chosen for its solidity, though they acknowledged the possibility that the sculpture still could be scratched or damaged.”
- Shakespeare teaches many things to many people. He taught me, for instance, how to kill kings by pouring poison in their ears. But he taught Jillian Keenan something even better: the joys of spanking. She writes of a pivotal moment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I could find a huge spectrum of sexualities reflected in its characters. I saw passionate monogamy in Hermia and Lysander, confident polyamory in Oberon and Titania, playful anthropomorphism in Titania and Bottom, and loving bisexuality or homosexuality in Oberon and Puck. But in Helena and Demetrius, I just saw assholes. The problem was that damn scene … My Helena is kinky. In Midsummer, she chooses the love she wants. It doesn’t matter what we think of Demetrius or whether we approve of their dynamic. Helena loves him unflinchingly, and for that she deserves our respect. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about consent, and its message is clear: not only can we consent to sex, we can consent to love. It only demands our honesty.”
- Last year, we featured “Big, Bent Ears,” a documentary from the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Alex Ross attended this year’s festival—which “might be,” he writes, “the most open-minded music gathering in the country … At Big Ears, the sounds are the stars, free of the tyranny of categories … At Big Ears, composers serve as a center of gravity, a point of reference. Riley, Reich, and Glass have visited in past years, as have Pauline Oliveros and members of Bang on a Can. This year, the composer-in-residence was John Luther Adams; the Knoxville Symphony, under the direction of Steven Schick, kicked off the festival with the ominous surge of Adams’s ‘Become Ocean.’ Such pop-classical agglomerations have happened before, not least in late sixties and seventies New York, when everything merged in a haze of droning tones. But the total map of music has seldom been unrolled on the scale that Big Ears has achieved.”
- Satanists have long been regarded as creepy occultists—but really they’re just a voting bloc. The Satanic Temple, a religion-ish thing that doubles as a political movement–ish thing, has taken the national stage: “TST chapters across the country have launched campaigns demanding the same religious rights and privileges afforded to Christianity. These have included the creation of satanic coloring books for distribution in schools in Florida and Colorado; bids to erect satanic ‘nativity scenes’ on government property in Florida, Michigan, and Indiana; offering prayers to Satan at a high school football game in Seattle; and demanding that a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol be accompanied by a monument to Baphomet (a goat-headed idol associated with witches’ sabbaths).”
- David Szalay, who won our Plimpton Prize this year, has a new novel out, All That Man Is—excerpted in the Review. Jude Cook sees in Szalay a new approach to masculinity: “Insufficiency is a favorite David Szalay word. The narrator of his previous novel, Spring, suffered from ‘insufficiency of feeling’; in this new collection of carefully juxtaposed tales, a Scottish ne’er-do-well adrift in Croatia decides his smile is ‘insufficient.’ Szalay’s dissections of masculinity can produce wonders from such banal anxieties. Over 400 pages, he goes to town on nine specimens of the male gender, only surfacing to spit out the bones … Nobody captures the super-sadness of modern Europe as well as Szalay. The atmosphere is stained yellow with a Mittel-European ennui.”
The Great Night, Chris Adrian recasts A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Gone are the Rude Mechanicals, replaced instead by a homeless troop staging a musicalized Soylent Green; the duped lovers are more heartbroken than confused, though they’re all lost in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on the way to a party. The faeries remain, but they’re heartbroken too (the faerie queen, Titania, mourns the death of her human child and the departure of her king, Oberon), or malevolent and vengeful (the now scary Puck). In all his work, Adrian takes stabs at figuring out what to do in a world brimming with sin, dead brothers, and broken hearts. I recently spoke with him; he called from San Francisco, where he’s a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.In
This new book is a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s your relationship to the play? How does the book stand against it?
My relationship is one of abject admiration. I had it in the back of my head to do a story or a novel that’s a retelling of a Shakespeare, and I thought I’d probably like to retell A Midsummer’s Night Dream but could never figure out what the actual story would be. What could I possibly come up with that would add anything to something that was already perfect, or at least make the retold story urgent and compelling? So it took a while. I figured it out in part from walking back and forth to work through Buena Vista Park at dawn and dusk, when it’s a fairly creepy and magical place, and in part from having a relationship fall apart in just the right way to generate an obsessive need to tell a story about love.
You’ve called this a less ambitious novel compared to your other work. How so? Is that even something you should be admitting?
In some ways it felt less ambitious, though it didn’t turn out to be any less work. The story, at least when it started out, was about love, something of a lark as a topic compared to untimely death or the end of the world. Untimely death and the end of the world crept into the novel anyway, so it became just as ambitious as any of the others.