We’re not spying, but it feels like we are. Each moment is tracked on surveillance monitors, recorded, studied. On one screen, a man, dressed moments ago in cowboy gear, is now postcoital with a robot prostitute. She soon makes herself scarce, heading back to recharge her circuits in the break room. The cowboy stares up at the ceiling, his six-shooter cooling in a holster draped over a chair. He’s luxuriating inside a simulacrum of an 1880s Western whorehouse, one situated within a network of amusement parks in an unnamed desert expanse. It’s the end of the first act of the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, a master of the techno-thriller novel whose occasional forays into filmmaking—he directed a half dozen features over two decades—yielded more modest, earthbound results than the fantastical predictions he packed into his paperbacks. But Westworld, his feature debut, continues to haunt. Its vision of a pleasure dome with exploited, humanlike robots as moving targets has been reprogrammed into a highly anticipated HBO series, premiering Sunday. Read More
Recently, thanks to heavy wait times at the twenty-four-hour Genius Bar on Fifth Avenue, I found myself killing an evening at the Plaza with nothing to read but the galleys of a book of art criticism, How to See, by the painter David Salle. It turned out to be perfect company—witty, chatty, intimate, sharp. And slightly exotic (at least for this reader): you rarely see novelists write so knowingly, on a serious first-name basis, about each other’s work. Soon I was dog-earing and drawing lines in the margins next to favorite passages, as for example:
On recent paintings by Alex Katz:
Some of the color has the elegance and unexpectedness of Italian fashion design: teal blue with brown, black with blue and cream. You want to look at, wear, and eat them all at the same time.
In the new issue of Aperture, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, pays a visit to William Eggleston in Memphis. As you might expect, it is a memorable visit. Eggleston plays piano for John and his wife, Mariana. They talk about Bach and Big Star and Mississippi Fred McDowell; and about Eggleston’s fifty-year marriage. They look at his photos, too. “He asked me to pull down the new boxed set of his Democratic Forest (2015). Ten volumes. I stopped at certain pictures. He leaned forward and, with his finger, traced lines of composition. Boxes and Xs. Forcing me to pay attention to the original paying of attention. ‘Either everything works, or nothing works,’ he said about one picture, a shot of an aquamarine bus pulling into a silvery station. ‘In this picture, everything works.’ ” —Lorin Stein
After reading Amie Barrodale’s debut collection You Are Having a Good Time, I was reminded of something Geoff Dyer wrote in his introduction to Prabuddha Dasgupta’s photography portfolio in our two hundredth issue: “Longing can exist entirely for its own sake, with no object in mind, as a kind of intensified nostalgia or eroticized elegy.” It’s this aimless form of desire that drives Barrodale’s stories and gets her characters into trouble, as in “William Wei” (for which Barrodale won our 2011 Plimpton Prize), about a morbidly depressed New Yorker’s attempt to crystallize a relationship with a woman he’s spoken to only on the telephone, mostly when she’s stoned. In “Catholic,” a young woman has a one-night stand with a married man, obsesses over him, and compulsively e-mails him without response: “I told him a tree of plum blossoms fell on me and I saw some young men wearing outfits … I always wish there was a point to all those e-mails. Maybe there was. I don’t know. I do know. There was.” Like so many of the troubled people in these fictions, she struggles to articulate the profundity in her bad decisions. Still, she desperately convinces herself that the beauty is there, somewhere. In You Are Having a Good Time, we know meaning exists, but we’re all too fucked up to understand its various expressions. It’s one of the quintessential sentiments of this collection: the stories are as eloquent as a plum blossom tree collapsing on a lonely woman—if only we could figure out just what that eloquence means. —Daniel Johnson
A small-budget film dramatizes the passive motives of Civil War enlistees.
The following are reasons that Henry Mellon, the protagonist of the film Men Go to Battle, volunteers to leave his home and fight for the Union in the Civil War: his brother, Francis, has thrown an ax at him in a spirit of fun; one of his mules has run into the woods; the local rich girl has spurned his advances; his arable land is choked with weeds; Francis is taller and more confident than he is; a rainstorm has drowned six of his chickens.
The following are not evident reasons for his enlistment: patriotism, abolitionism. Henry can neither read nor write, and he shows no interest in the world beyond his town, Small’s Corner, Kentucky. The rich girl he likes is waited on by enslaved maids.
He slips off to the army on a winter night. Weeks later, he composes a letter home, dictating to a literate comrade: “I have all the beef and salted pork I want.” Read More
- Don’t learn this the hard way: it’s likely impossible to wrest a good screenplay from the pages of a Philip Roth novel. Many (okay, like, eight) have tried, the latest being James Schamus, with Indignation. All have struggled and gnashed their teeth. Leo Robson has some thoughts on why, and also some thoughts on the most singularly unfilmable Roth novels: “Sabbath’s Theater might be read as Roth’s ultimate piece of literary one-upmanship over the movies. You can picture Roth at his desk in rural Connecticut, far from the fluorescent, multiplex-ridden metropolis, writing the scenes in which Mickey communes with his lover’s ghost, yelling, ‘You filthy, wonderful Drenka cunt! Marry me! Marry me!,’ and ejaculating over her grave—and then saying to himself, with a vindicated smile, ‘Try filming that.’ ”
- While Lily Gurton-Wachter was pregnant, she taught classes about war literature. “We have a rich, challenging, and complex canon of war literature,” she began to realize, “and an equally engaged and vibrant tradition of criticism and philosophy that deals with war, violence, and trauma … The same cannot be said about a literature of pregnancy or childbirth or parenting, though these are also extreme experiences that stretch our understanding and push us beyond comfort or even comprehension. Yet we don’t have a familiar canon of nuanced literary or philosophical texts about the experience of having a child, even though having a child, too, is a profound, frightening, exhilarating, transformative experience at the boundary of life, an experience from which one comes back a different person.
- Rarely do I use this space to bring you practical advice or instruction—but you might want to know how to read a book and walk at the same time. It’s a skill I’ve tried to master for years, and I’m sick of causing traffic accidents in my pathetic efforts at “learning.” Nell Beram tells us that “it’s actually easier than it looks”: “First (and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this), stop reading when you cross the street. Second, forgo magazines. The columns are too narrow, forcing the eyes to skid to a stop at the end of a line as soon as they’ve gotten going. Plus, magazines are floppy, and the wind gets grope-y with the broad pages. So go with a book, ideally a hardback that you can hold comfortably in one hand … Your book cannot exceed fourteen ounces or it will murder your wrist.”
- It’s never been easier to take your self-portrait, which means you probably look uglier to yourself in other people’s photographs than ever before. Elisa Gabbert writes, “In a popular Quora thread, the top answers to the question ‘Why do I look good in the mirror but bad in photos?’ all revolve around the ‘mere exposure effect,’ which states that we prefer things simply because we are more familiar with them. Photos often capture unfamiliar angles, but even taken head-on, like a mug shot, they show us our true face, not the reversed face we see in the mirror. It’s the reflection that’s inaccurate, but to us, the unreversed face looks wrong … Some months ago, my friend A, then working on his dissertation, recorded me speaking about poetry on his expensive new DSLR camera and cut the footage into a short film … It was not just that I found the angle or lighting unflattering, not quite to my standards—my reaction was vehement. I felt the person in this film was hideously ugly, much uglier than my idea of myself, but more so, uglier than anyone I know. Though I knew it to be irrational, deathlessly vain, I was shaken to the core.”
- In Brazil, the effects of the economic downturn can be seen even in those bastions of wealth, the museums: “The rapidly decaying situation of museums in Brazil, especially the public institutions battling for the leftovers of contracting state budgets, seems to confirm the troubling pertinence of an observation Claude Lévi-Strauss made in the 1930s. When the French anthropologist visited São Paulo, he remarked that ‘here everything looks like it is under construction, but it is already in ruins.’ Indeed, even before Santiago Calatrava’s Museu do Amanhã opened in Rio, parts of its tortoise-like metallic shell had already rusted, like a corpse decomposing under the sun. Not far from there, in Copacabana, the Museu da Imagem e do Som’s Rio outpost was said to be sinking into the soft ground near the beach before its top floors were even completed. The basement of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, intended for the storage of artworks, showed signs of flooding and infiltration even while the white paint on its walls was still wet.”