- In November 1994, George Plimpton interviewed Garrison Keillor at 92Y as part of a collaboration with The Paris Review. You can listen to a recording of their interview here—and now the PBS series Blank on Blank has animated part of it. “I think that you’re only obliged to be a humorist from maybe the age of eighteen until you turn thirty,” Keillor tells Plimpton. “Past the age of thirty, I don’t think there’s any obligation to be clever at all. After that, you, I think, are supposed to settle down, be a good person, raise your children, and be good to your friends, which you may not have been when you were very clever, and try to atone for your cleverness. Humor has to surprise us. Otherwise it isn’t funny, and, it’s a death knell for a writer to be labeled humorous, because then, of course, it’s not a surprise anymore, it’s what expected of him. And when you come to expect humor of people, you will never get it.”
- Last month, Oxford Dictionaries named the “tears of joy” emoji its Word of the Year; now Merriam-Webster has followed suit, choosing a suffix, -ism, as its Word of the Year. Now, before you get all exercised and sit down to write an indignant op-ed about all these nonword words the dictionaries insist on force-feeding us, be advised that “Merriam-Webster notes that the version of -ism without the hyphen actually is a word, specifically a noun meaning ‘a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory’ or ‘an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief’ … Last week, Dictionary.com bravely bucked this year’s trend by naming a word as their word of the year. They selected identity, citing increased conversation this year over gender and sexual identity, in large part because of former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out as a transgender woman.”
- Fact: Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station. It was but one element in a vast, unrealized utopia he’d planned to erect in Buffalo, New York, which remains, alas, a largely dystopian place. But in 1958, when Wright was ninety, one part of his idyllic vision found its way to Cloquet, Minnesota, and an historic gas station was born: “Wright had designed a house for a resident of Cloquet named R. W. Lindholm, who happened to be in the petroleum business. Wright never gave up on his utopian city, and knowing what his client did for a living, he convinced Lindholm to build a gas station that was similar in design to the Buffalo station … Wright saw the car as a way to personal freedom for Americans, so he gave the drivers of Cloquet what he thought that future needed in a gas station, including an observation deck where the attendants could watch for cars in warmth and comfort.” Forget Fallingwater. This is Tricklinggasoline.
- “I have in fact only once corresponded with anyone … who was as good at writing letters as I am,” Iris Murdoch once told the philosopher Philippa Foot. So this new book of her correspondence must be a veritable tour de force of jocularity and fluent intellect, yes? Well. John Mullan hates to break it to you, but “the brilliant thinker, witty conversationalist and powerfully idiosyncratic novelist are hardly here at all … Some have responded to the publication of these letters by depicting Murdoch as a rather shocking sexual adventuress, but this is not quite right. Really, she seems more interested in writing letters to people she found attractive than in having sex with them.”
- What was the deal with Hawthorne and Melville? The heat that emanated from the hearth of their friendship was … well, hot. Melville once wrote, for example, that Hawthorne “shoots his strong New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul.” But, as Jordan Alexander Stein notes, anyone wishing to prove some erotic intent on either writer’s part has a heavy burden: “Writers of the mid-nineteenth century did not have available to them the same expressive concision as those of us today who might speak glibly of topping and bottoming … Melville wrote of Hawthorne with undeniably sexy language. What proves more elusive are the feelings to which, with any precision, this language can be said to refer … The issue, then, is whether serious scholars writing about famous authors can reasonably deign to take dick jokes as evidence. And if we are indeed willing to take them as evidence, just how do we go about determining what kind of evidence they are?”
A story in three parts. Previously: Part 1, The Amanuensis.
I met Steve the first time I stayed at the Lautner Motel, in August of 2000. I was in California to do research for a book about trailer parks, and there was an anarchist trailer park, a place called Slab City, in an abandoned military base about sixty miles south of Desert Hot Springs. I’d brought my girlfriend and wanted to stay somewhere nice to make up for the 120-degree temperatures, so we wound up at the Lautner. It was late when we finally arrived, but almost as soon as we’d gone inside and put our luggage down, Steve knocked on the door. Read More
A story in three parts.
Karl, the Beat Hotel’s ex-meth-addict handyman, stood at the top of a thirty-foot ladder, squirting a translucent goo with the brand name “Tanglefoot” onto one of the Hotel’s air-conditioner units. I held the ladder so that Karl did not pitch off into the sand and gravel below. The goo represented a new phase in our boss’s war with the pigeon population of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Our boss was Steve Lowe. Before starting the Beat Hotel, he’d performed with Laurie Anderson and read poetry with Allen Ginsberg. His gallery showed the best work Keith Haring ever did, and he made art with Richard Tuttle. Steve had also been William Burroughs’s amanuensis, a position that combined the duties of researcher, artist’s assistant, gallerist, and Official Writer’s-Block Breaker. Steve could tell stories about hanging out with William and Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith. He also recalled that, at Burroughs’s wake, he and Grant Hart, who was the drummer for Hüsker Dü, were the only people sober enough to be horrified when somebody threw up in the swimming pool. Read More
Readers of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities will recall the “Collateral Campaign,” a fictional initiative to commemorate the seventieth anniversary, in 1918, of the ascent of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef to the throne. As the novel progresses, so too does the campaign: it will be a whole year of festivities, it will be The Austrian Year, The Austrian Peace Year. The planning draws in prominent personages who introduce more and more ambitious proposals; it launches scores of dinner evenings, plenipotentiary committees, and public debates.
Musil’s subject, and the admixture of sympathy and satire he brought to it, seems awfully familiar in 2011. Nowadays, we are fairly encircled by Collateral Campaigns—by artistic enterprises whose intentions, intellectual and social, are unimpeachable, yet which seem always to hover between event and discourse, between process and product. Example: the new BMW Guggenehim Lab in the East Village, which opened last month.