- Our advisory editor Hilton Als has an “emotional retrospective”—“One Man Show: Holly, Candy, Bobbie, and the Rest”—at the Artist’s Institute. Seph Rodney paid a visit: “The retrospective consists mainly of portraits, photographs found, taken, owned or commissioned by Als. He’s added colored light bulbs, placed next to the images to give the space a nightclub feel, with certain corners red and sultry, others yellow or blue, and some lime green. The institute’s town house with its hardwood floors, fireplace, and separate rooms is an apt place for this exhibition; the setting conveys a sense of intimacy with what are essentially Als’s ghosts. Walking the rooms you want to treat these unfamiliar memories—many of the characters depicted are only known to Als—with tenderness … The retrospective mirrors his critical writing: it’s deeply personal resonances refracted by his keen analytical attention so that intimate friends, historical moments, and his own self and experiences are progressively unpacked until the reader sees how they intersect and inform each other.”
- The artist Jenny Holzer has been projecting words onto buildings since 1991. Thus Henri Cole has seen several of his poems illuminated as “the touch of light against the surface of public spaces”: “Seeing my poems projected in this way, onto landscapes and buildings, I feel that the words leap out from a different zone, where they are observed as much as read. Language is more direct, open, unself-conscious, precise, and human. It doesn’t belong to me anymore but to the atmosphere, and this makes me happy. In Holzer’s installations, words—not images—strive to say something true, often about love, death, sex, war, or forgiveness.”
- Breaking: Hilary Mantel’s writing process reveals, emphatically, that this whole “novelist” thing is no mere pastime for her. “Some writers claim to extrude a book at an even rate like toothpaste from a tube, or to build a story like a wall, so many feet per day. They sit at their desk and knock off their word quota, then frisk into their leisured evening, preening themselves. This is so alien to me that it might be another trade entirely … The most frequent question writers are asked is some variant on, ‘Do you write every day, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike?’ I want to snarl, ‘Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?’ But I understand the question is really about the central mystery—what is inspiration? Eternal vigilance, in my opinion. Being on the watch for your material, day or night, asleep or awake.”
- An interview with Adonis, the Syrian poet in exile, finds him dismissing the idea that ISIS can write poems: “You cannot compare the bomb with the poem. You should not draw this comparison. Any ignorant bullet can change a regime, any despicable bullet can kill a great person, like Kennedy, for example. You cannot draw such a comparison because it is fundamentally wrong. Making poetry is like making air, like making perfume, like breathing. It cannot be measured by materialistic standards. This is why poetry despises war and is never related to it … poetry is a social phenomenon. When culture is a part of everyday life, everyone is a poet and everyone is a novelist. You now have thousands of novelists. But if you found five who are good to read, then you are in a good place. In America … there are thousands of novels; you will find five or six good ones, and the rest is garbage. The same goes for the Arabs. All Arabs are poets, but 95 percent of them are rubbish.”
- “The food of the true revolutionary,” Mao once said, “is the red pepper.” Which is great, unless you happen to be an aspiring revolutionary with a weak stomach. How, at any rate, did the pepper come to enlist itself as an agent of Maoism? “For years culinary detectives have been on the chili pepper’s trail, trying to figure out how a New World import became so firmly rooted in Sichuan, a landlocked province on the southwestern frontier of China … Food historians have pointed to the province’s hot and humid climate, the principles of Chinese medicine, the constraints of geography, and the exigencies of economics. Most recently neuropsychologists have uncovered a link between the chili pepper and risk-taking. The research is provocative because the Sichuan people have long been notorious for their rebellious spirit; some of the momentous events in modern Chinese political history can be traced back to Sichuan’s hot temper.”
Call yourself a foodie? Put down that cider-brined drumstick and order your copy of our Winter issue, including our Art of Nonfiction interview with Jane and Michael Stern, whose pioneering Roadfood first got Americans thinking about regional cuisine:
Our grand idea was to review every restaurant in America, which seemed like a really easy thing to do, considering neither of us had ever been anywhere … We just opened a Rand McNally map and said, Piece of cake. Three years later, we were still on the road.
Then there’s our interview with Gordon Lish, in which the editor of Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, and Harold Brodkey explains how he’s able to tell “shit from Shinola”:
I’ve got the fucking gift for it. Instinct, call it … I don’t go along—but am furious when others don’t go along with me. How can they not revere what I revere? How is it that my gods are invisible to them? It’s inexcusable but, of course, wretchedly expectable. Am I a zealot, a terrorist, out on my own limb? Yes, with a vengeance!
You’ll also find lost translations from Samuel Beckett; new translations by Lydia Davis; new fiction from Lydia Davis, Nell Freudenberger, Andrew Martin, Christopher Sorrentino, and David Szalay; the third installment of Chris Bachelder’s comic masterpiece The Throwback Special; poems by Anne Carson, Henri Cole, Jeff Dolven, Mark Ford, Kenneth Irby, Maureen N. McLane, Sharon Olds, and Jana Prikryl; and a portfolio of Richard Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks.
Get your copy now. And remember that a subscription to The Paris Review makes a great gift—especially when it comes with a free copy of our new anthology, The Unprofessionals. At just $40, it’s the best holiday deal around.
- The poet Cynthia Macdonald has died at eighty-seven. Hayden Carruth praised her “light sardonic touch”; her poems sometimes drew on her career as a psychoanalyst, in which her specialty was, appropriately enough, writer’s block. “All people who really want to write and can’t, or who really need to write and can’t, have real conflict and real oppositions,” she said in 1998. “One part of them is saying you have to do this, you want to do this, and the other part is saying you’re not allowed to.”
- Dismaland, Bansky’s sprawling, much-touted parody of Disney theme parks, is supposed to indict consumer capitalism by immersing us in a grim portrait of social collapse—but its real appeal is as banal as anything with the Disney insignia on it: “it remains a fun ‘family day out. For all his protests, Banksy is a showbizman. The night this correspondent visited, the organizers were laughingly dispensing unlimited quantities of prosecco, strangely unaware of their resemblance to the portrait above them of Prime Minister David Cameron, sipping white wine insouciantly while the curtain is drawn on old Blighty. Fireworks lit up the dark. Hollywood stars joined in the frivolity. Dandily dressed salespeople circulated with price-lists of objets-d’art, and Banksy has auctioned his work elsewhere for hundreds of thousands of pounds. In 21st century Britain, even anarchists have joined the champagne society.”
- Richard Diebenkorn—who died in 1993, and whose art was featured all the way back in our Fall 1984 issue—kept sketchbooks throughout his life, often putting one down only to pick it up years later: “The books are filled with stunningly gestural sketches of bits and pieces of daily life, both mundane capturing of everyday things, and powerful vignettes of intimate family moments … We see brief visual meditations on vistas seen on travels, and we see carefully built studies that would become the large-scale finished Ocean Park paintings we know so well.”
- A new biography of Agnes Martin brings her many contradictions into sharp relief: “the Martin who insisted that nothing was more important to her than the ocean yet lived most of her life in the desert; Martin the ascetic guru, subsisting through the winter on hard cheese and walnuts and homegrown, preserved tomatoes, yet also the margarita- and steak-loving life of the party … Martin the disciplined practitioner who woke up early every morning to paint, and who admitted, ‘I don’t get up in the morning until I know exactly what I’m going to do. Sometimes, I stay in bed until about three [in] the afternoon, without any breakfast.’ ” (She was also, in her life as a motorist, an inveterate speeder.)
- Henri Cole elaborates on his equivalent of Proust’s madeleine: “You take a piece of Wonder Bread and spread butter over it and sprinkle Domino sugar on top. It’s love-food. It’s dessert for people who don’t have a dessert, like in the Depression era. By eating it as an adult, I am recreating childhood and the purest pleasure of love-food.”
That adorable canine on the cover is Boo, a shaggy brown Brussels griffon and an habitué of our old loft on White Street. Boo’s owner (and portraitist) is Raymond Pettibon, whose portfolio, “Real Dogs in Space,” is at the center of issue 209, fit for consumption in the dog days of summer.
Then there’s our interview with Joy Williams—whose stories have appeared in The Paris Review since 1969—on the Art of Fiction:
What a story is, is devious. It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes—which is Wallace Stevens, I think. As a form, the short story is hardly divine, though all excellent art has its mystery, its spiritual rhythm.
And in the Art of Poetry No. 98, Henri Cole discusses his approach to clichés (“I like the idea of going right up to the edge of cliché and then stopping”), his collages, and his contempt for the sentimental:
Oh, I hate sentimentality. Heterosexual men are more susceptible to it than women, because middle age keeps telling them they’re gods. This is not true for women, however, who are often discarded. Is it possible that we can more readily see the bleakness of the human condition if life has been a little harder for us? Nothing kills art faster than sentimentality.
There’s also an essay by Andrea Barrett; fiction from Zadie Smith, J. D. Daniels, Garth Greenwell, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Shelly Oria; the third installment of Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline, with illustrations by Samantha Hahn; and new poems by Henri Cole, Charles Simic, Ange Mlinko, Nick Laird, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Les Murray, Adam Kirsch, Jane Hirshfield, and Thomas Sayers Ellis.
It’s an issue that, like Boo, commands immediate and frequent affection, and will keep you enthralled for years to come.
And yet, of course, not impossible: of course, too possible, too much the reality of what we would always have to face one day, one morning waking across time zones, stumbling upon radio tributes, answering the phone to the have you heard, to the gut-punch, to the heart-bolt: he is gone.
Our laureate. As though that could ever be a word which could get at the marvel of him. There is, probably, no single word for the marvel of him. Only perhaps his name, alive today on countless lips, uttered with sadness and fondness and gratitude and disbelief; sparking and flaring across countless status updates, countless tweets, in countless slow nods and headshakes in shops and schools and kitchens and hallways and forecourts and farmyards. I know of a wedding in Wicklow today where his will be the name on the air as the guests wait for the bride to arrive; of a gathering in Rathowen this weekend where his poems will be read aloud in hushed pubs; of a music festival in Stradbally where lines studied at school twenty years ago will be traded like—well, like the kinds of things that are more usually traded at music festivals. (And he would be in the middle of them if he could, you know, marveling—for that was his register—at Björk and St. Vincent and David Byrne, with a sage word about My Bloody Valentine lyrics, with a wink and a buck-up for the young lads from the Strypes.) Read More