- If you live in New York, you have to make your peace with Keith Haring—his public works are all over town. But the city’s murals rarely, if ever, showcase Haring’s once-in-a-generation gift for drawing cocks. To see that, you must turn to Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks, a new book of Haring’s dicks that “envisions the city as a kingdom of phalluses”: “he transforms Manhattan’s churches, skyscrapers, and fire hydrants into architectural penises. The Twin Towers become twin penises. There are penises drawn in front of Tiffany’s, in front of the Museum of Modern Art, while ‘waiting for a yam.’ There are minimalist penises, composed of as few lines as possible. There are also Gucci penises, alphabet penises, flying torpedo penises, optical illusion penises, deconstructed penises, ‘actual size’ tracings of penises, and clusters of penises on the subway at rush hour.”
- Here’s one way museums have found to make money: they’ll let you watch the varnish dry. It’s not quite as lively as watching the actual paint dry, no, but for people with a new interest in the art of conservation, it’ll do. At the Musée d’Orsay, Doreen Carvajal reports, “the once mysterious craft is increasingly turning into a high-end reality show—long-running spectacles that appeal to donors who lavish money on makeovers, but trouble some conservators accustomed to quiet and absolute concentration … In the slow-moving drama of restoration, fishbone cracks vanish, figures that were muddy sepia become radiantly blush, and yellow clouds, thick with old varnish, transform into white gauze tinged with rose. The results are a publicity bonanza for museums; they tell a before-and-after narrative that attracts media attention and appeals to crowdfunding campaigns and companies that have never donated to art projects before.”
- In 1938, Gertrude Stein published The World Is Round, a book for children. Let her never be accused of condescending to kids—she dumbs nothing down. In fact, the manuscript sounds pretty much the same as her works for adults do: “Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there they were men women children dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals … Rose was her name and would she have been Rose if her name had not been Rose … Don’t bother about the commas which aren’t there, read the words. Don’t worry about the sense that is there, read the words. If you have any trouble, read faster and faster until you don’t.”
- It’s important to have a contingency plan. If life on Earth takes a turn for the apocalyptic, you won’t find me huddled around some garbage fire eating another man’s thigh, no, sir. I’ll be on the moon. The Atlantic has taught me how to claim land there: “You could launch a small rover—like China’s Jade Rabbit, which just ceased operations—to set up a research station at one of the moon’s more resource-rich areas, probably the poles. The rover would set down a copper wire, trundle a few meters away and unspool more wire. This length of wire is now a low-frequency radio antenna. Think of the rabbit-ear dipole antenna on an ancient TV set … Under the Outer Space Treaty, you would have to allow other countries and entities to inspect your new solar observatory. But the treaty also says that inspections cannot get in the way of your normal operations, and any inspection would likely interfere with your radio observations. So for practical purposes, nobody else can ever come to your mountaintop. You have become the de facto owner of that piece of lunar real estate.”
- Thomas Mann’s story “Mario and the Magician” skewered Mussolini as a man with “very ugly hair” and “small hard eyes, with flabby pouches beneath them”—a man who “talked without stopping—but only in vague, boastful, self-advertising phrases.” You see where this is going, don’t you? How this fascistic asshole might resemble another, more contemporary fascistic asshole? Don’t make me spell it out. Colin Campbell writes of Mann’s story, “The magician’s name is Cipolla, and his show is preceded by a flurry of cheap publicity. When Cipolla himself appears on stage, he spouts a lot of blather about his grand reputation and, after ingratiating himself and reading a few minds, he makes it clear that he leads and commands, while others willingly follow and obey. But could he make a gentleman who challenged him dance foolishly even against his will? ‘ “Even against your will,” answered Cipolla, in unforgettable accents.’ ”
Hosting a national blurb contest.
Walt Whitman, the “American bard,” who was named after a shopping mall in Huntington, New York, where I grew up, is often credited with having invented the book blurb. On the spine of his debut, Leaves of Grass, he had printed in gold leaf a line teased from a letter he’d gotten from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” Emerson was right: Whitman continues to rank among America’s finest careerists.
Gertrude Stein, unable to break through to the literary mainstream, wrote herself a novel-length blurb entitled The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Writing as Alice, her live-in companion, she described at length Gertrude’s prodigious, if misunderstood, genius. This 252-page press kit was an immediate best seller, prompting Stein to embark on a national tour, which she described in Everybody’s Autobiography, a sequel explaining why you should hire her for speaking engagements.
Ernest Hemingway’s first short-story collection, In Our Time, was published with no fewer than six blurbs—on the cover. I can’t remember if he won the Nobel before or after he finished taping the beer commercials. With Toni Morrison, it was definitely before: Pulitzer, Nobel, Chipotle wrapper, in that order.
Will my novels secure my literary legacy the way Morrison’s and Hemingway’s did theirs? Will I ever see my name engraved on a line of high-quality toilets, I sometimes wonder, after hours of furious literary labor? Will I be immortal, like Whitman, transcending with my “song” the conventional boundaries of self? Will Kohler, the premier name in luxury flushing, ever ask me to be their spokeswoman? Read More
Last night, Pioneer Works, an artists’ space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, hosted a celebration of John Ashbery, who turned eighty-eight this year. The poets Geoffery G. O’Brien, Mónica de la Torre, and John Yau read some of their work and their favorite poems by Ashbery. Before Ashbery came to the stage, Ben Lerner made the following remarks. —D. P.
Over the weekend, I found myself picking up Elliot Paul’s 1942 memoir of prewar Montmartre, The Last Time I Saw Paris. (It must have been a gift from my grandfather; at any rate, it’s a discard from the Salinas Public Library.) A novelist, journalist, and, later, screenwriter, Paul was in the thick of Lost Generation artistic circles. He was friends with Gertrude Stein, a coeditor of Transition, an intimate of James Joyce. The book is unquestionably a “portrait” of that time, and an elegiac one: cafés, cheap rents, local characters, and literary cameos all abound. And yet it’s not wholly steeped in nostalgia; by its end, the series of vignettes has begun to illuminate the more sinister tendencies of some of his neighbors, and forecast an end to an era that was already rosy with setting-sun glory. Which makes it so strange that the cover—striped in the bleu, blanc, rouge, bearing a Montmartre street sketch—should be emblazoned with the following words: “A book about the France the whole world prefers to remember.”
This passage is from the chapter “A Narrow Street at Dawn”: Read More
Little did you know, when you woke up today on this rather ordinary Tuesday, that a treat awaited you. I speak, of course, of the above clip, in which Evelyn Waugh critiques modernism.
No one ever made the mistake of confusing the Waugh of the 1950s with a progressive: by this point, he was fully inhabiting the role of an outspoken, old-guard crank, as loudly disillusioned with modernity and its art as he was by the Church of England. And yet! Even so, one is not quite prepared for his strident tone. He refers to Gertrude Stein as an author of “absolute gibberish”; James Joyce, that “poor, dotty Irishman,” is a producer of “great rot.” Between takes, apparently, Waugh sexually harassed his interviewer, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Read More