Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies ran the 1954 A Star Is Born as part of its Month of Oscars: the single greatest page of the TV-watching calendar. Anyway, by the end—between the tragic irony of Judy Garland starring in a film about addiction and the vulnerable dignity James Mason brought to his role—I was, maybe not surprisingly, in tears. And I thought, in turn, not just of James Mason the matinee idol, but of James Mason the cat fancier. Read More
Lorraine O’Grady’s living Künstlerroman.
In 1982, the artist Lorraine O’Grady staged her first major performance piece in Central Park, “Rivers, First Draft.” In the park’s bucolic Loch section, the audience watched a black woman in a red dress walk down the ravine. Red is a sign for wanton women, and this one was in the company of wild-eyed dancers, barely clothed—all of them white. She was shy, lingering behind the dancers as they shimmied and shook down the hill. When she caught up and tried to engage them, they spurned her.
So the woman in red wandered over to a door. Several black male artists were gathered behind it. She knocked, and they, too, turned her away. While she hesitated, hoping to change their minds, the dancers returned and attacked her with Dionysian energy. Read More
In an interview published three months before his death, W. G. Sebald referred to his aversion to the systematic and to his faith in the haphazard: “If you look at a dog following the advice of his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. And he invariably finds what he is looking for. I think that, as I’ve always had dogs, I’ve learned from them how to do this.” Though my own aversion to structure is less an outgrowth of any faith in serendipity than a temperament both indolent and indecisive, rooting around has at times for me, too, yielded benefits that a single-minded approach to literature wouldn’t have afforded. And it is particularly fitting, in light of the quotation above, that I should have hit upon Marianne Fritz—whose novel The Weight of Things I have just translated—by following up on a footnote from Sebald’s posthumously published Across the Land and the Water, a selection of poems translated by Iain Galbraith.
In the late poem “In Alfermée,” named for a Swiss commune where Sebald twice visited the scholar Heinz Schafroth and where the ashes of the poet Günter Eich are scattered, the following two stanzas appear:
letter by letter
comes a language
you do not understand
The exhausted eyes
of the writer the fingers
of one hand on the
keys of her machine
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
A letter from Ezra Pound to James Joyce, March 1918. Pound, then an editor for the New York magazine The Little Review, had arranged to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses; he feared its more scatological parts would result in confiscation from the government. The Egoist, a British magazine also running the novel in installments, had failed to find a printer willing to accept it.
The Little Review had already been suppressed once, in November 1917, for a piece by Wyndham Lewis; Judge Augustus Hand had banned it, citing a subsection of the U. S. Penal Code that likened prurient literature to information about contraceptives. “I confess to having been a bad citizen,” Pound had rebutted in print, “to just the extent of having been ignorant that at any moment my works might be classed in the law’s eye with the inventions of the late Dr. Condom.”
- John Berger is eighty-eight, and still seeing—which isn’t to commend him for having retained his eyesight, but to say he’s still an acute observer. “I live enormously through my eyes. The visible is simply a very important part of my experience of being in this world … my own story doesn’t interest me. There’s a risk of egocentricity. And to storytellers, egocentricity is boring.”
- “The world made this book true while I was writing it, which of course is the paranoid’s greatest fantasy.” The deeply surveilled world of Joshua Cohen’s new novel, Book of Numbers, seemed improbable, if not impossible, before the Snowden leaks. Now the book is positioned not as a techno-dystopian fable but as an aspirant to that lofty title, “The Great American Internet Novel.”
- Our London editor, Adam Thirlwell, on Wayne McGregor’s new ballet, Woolf Works: “The mystery arises through a pragmatic attention to physical detail … a truth recognized subtly in the way a choreographer describes making a ballet on a dancer. The dancer is the ballet’s pivot. For there Ferri was. She wasn’t Mrs. Dalloway, or Virginia Woolf. Nor was she Juliet. Or rather, she could allude to all of these—she contained multitudes—but the allusions were only flourishes. Really, she was only herself, and that was everything.”
- Meanwhile, Anne Washburn’s new play, 10 out of 12, is set entirely in the vicinity of a thespian’s nightmare: a tech rehearsal. It is, in essence, a play about figuring out how to stage a play: “Washburn stakes out the tech rehearsal as her territory, a hitherto unexplored subgenre of backstage drama as far as I know, and uses its technology to subtle effect. Washburn’s play, drawn from tech rehearsals of her own shows and listening in on others, provides a fairly faithful reproduction of this ugly task. All of the action and dialogue, which are meant to appear spontaneous and random, are carefully set forth in the 142-page script. Her clever idea is to have the audience listen in on headsets, tuned to the same channel that the tech crew is using to talk to one another while the work continues.”
- What to do with those sixteen thousand bucks you have under the mattress: buy a rare 1935 edition of Ulysses with etchings by Henri Matisse. “Matisse’s mythical Nausicaa design is embossed in gold on the front cover of the edition, displaying four shapely nudes enclosed in a sphere with Roman numerals forming a celestial clock.” (As if Matisse would have included nudes who weren’t shapely.)