- The French artist Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne, first published in 1983, is back in print. If you or I made a book about stalking and photographing a complete stranger, we would be cast out of our communities; when Sophie Calle makes one, it’s a minor masterwork. In 1980, she saw a man on the street and tried to photograph him—he eluded her. That night, she ran into him at a party. His name was Henri B., and he told her he was going to Venice. She decided to go, too. In Suite Vénetienne, “Calle spends thirteen days looking for and trailing Henri B. around the city … at last, she finds [him]—he’s been staying in a pensione a hundred meters from her own. She stands outside his hotel and watches as he comes and goes … The strength of the project comes from the interplay between Calle’s physical pursuit and her emotional remove. Calle doesn’t care for Henri B … Yet proximity to her subject seems to create a kind of attachment. Calle dreams of Henri B., he ‘consumes’ her. She has high expectations of their encounters, then worries about displeasing him. They meet. She frets it was banal. She tries to rent his former hotel room. She envisions herself sleeping in his bed.”
- Beneath the chapel in St. Leonard’s Church in Worcestershire is a single skull, just one, lonely skull. Scuttlebutt has it that someone stole this little guy from Shakespeare’s tomb back in the eighteenth century. But we may never know if this skull is Shakespeare’s. And I don’t mean that rhetorically—we will actually probably never know, because the Church of England doesn’t want any DNA testing on the skull. In a seven-thousand word statement, some stuffed-shirt barrister guy “sided with prominent Shakespeare scholars who have rubbished the claims and concluded they read ‘like a piece of Gothic fiction’ … He said he had seen ‘no scholarly or other evidence that comes anywhere near providing any support for the truth of the story” and that there was “nothing whatsoever to link it to William Shakespeare.’”
- Later today we’ll share some exciting news about Lydia Davis. But first, in the name of public service, some not-so-exciting news. A copy of Davis’s Collected Stories—a copy from the NYU Library, no less—has gone missing. It was last spotted in North Brooklyn, outside Tony’s Pizza at Dekalb and Knickerbocker, near the B38 bus stop. Have you seen this book? Its cover is handsome, its spine thick, its borrower concerned.
- Today in comic-book news you didn’t know you cared about: two parodic, dystopian episodes of Judge Dredd are back in print. The comics, from 1978, depict a postnuclear America in which commercial culture has run amok, and they made lawyers squeamish: “In Burger Wars, Dredd finds a devastated middle America in thrall to the warring Burger Lords, modeled on Ronald McDonald and Burger King’s eponymous monarch, who capture the heroes and force them to live on burgers and shakes. In Soul Food, a Dr. Moreau–style genetic engineer living in the blasted wasteland has created mutated creatures based on mascots of American retail culture including the Jolly Green Giant and Michelin’s tire-man Bibendum … Ben Smith, head of books and comic books at Rebellion Publishing, said: ‘The most common question we have been asked at conventions over the years is “Will you be reprinting Burger Wars?” It’s a delight, and frankly a relief, to be able to finally say, Yes!’ ”
- Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, In Jackson Heights, is (really!) a riveting three-hour testament to a neighborhood’s civic life. “What Wiseman found in Jackson Heights is people talking, mainly in organized, formalized settings that have their pretext and their agenda defined. He finds civic life taking place in public and quasi-public places—houses of worship, stores, storefront offices of non-profit community organizations, and local governmental offices … The discussions that he films involve such matters as fair labor practices, gentrification, the legal ramifications of urban gardening, the push for change in traffic-safety regulations, school redistricting, police harassment of gay and transgender bar patrons, fear of deportation, citizenship-test study, and the laws and norms to pass a taxi-driver test. In other words, the movie is about the very stuff of life … The problems that Wiseman finds are local, practical, intimate, but the emotions that he films are grand and tragic.”
Joanna Walsh’s writing enacts what Chris Kraus has called “a literal vertigo—the feeling that if I fall I will fall not toward the earth but into space—by probing the spaces between things.” Walsh, a British writer and illustrator, is fascinated by liminal spaces, especially in the many varieties encountered by tourists. She’s sometimes known by her French nom de guerre, Badaude, loosely translated as “gawk,” and suggesting the perambulatory figure of the flaneuse. Her work trades on the literary genres of the miniature—short stories, essays, even postcards—reminiscent of Marcel Schwob, Clarice Lispector, Roland Barthes, and Lydia Davis. Her 2014 Twitter initiative @read_women is an archival who’s who of modern female writers, extolling in its tweets the distaff works of everyone from Leonora Carrington to Elena Ferrante. Aside from her abundant online presence,Walsh’s prolific output includes three new books: Hotel, Vertigo, and Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales About Sex, all of which run from the bantam lengths of fifty-five to 170 pages.
Among her seemingly disparate subjects are hotel architecture and etiquette, sexual politics in twentieth-century psychoanalysis, the perils of family vacations, the fantasias of cinema, and fables of transgendered witches. In Walsh’s feminist cosmogony, all are brought to bear as inscrutable souvenirs of the everyday mundane. She elucidates the slippery, gendered in-betweenness of everyday ritual in a manner reminiscent of Derrida’s disquisition on the chora—that most mysterious and mundane of spaces, not unlike the anonymous corridor of a hotel.
I reached Walsh, appropriately enough, at a hotel in Mexico. She and I shared a lively discussion about hotel culture and theory, travel fantasies, and the contemporary potential of fairy tales.
Sophie Calle’s “Rachel/Monique” is currently on view at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on upper Fifth Avenue, a ZIP code the artist says the eponymous subject—her mother—would have appreciated, “because she always loved the Upper East Side.” The show, which wrests with the life and death of the woman most often known as Monique Sindler, is full of things she would have liked. Indeed, she liked being the subject of one of her daughter’s works. As Calle writes,
My mother liked to be the object of discussion. Her life did not appear in my work, and that annoyed her. When I set up my camera at the foot of the bed in which she lay dying—I wanted to be present to hear her last words, and was afraid that she would pass away in my absence—she exclaimed: “Finally!”
The space itself is austerely beautiful, and the show’s installation complements the neo-Gothic confines of the chapel—they’ll continue to hold services for the duration of its run. Madame Sindler’s last words were “Don’t worry,” and that last one—souci—is a motif throughout, wrought in a lace hanging, written out in multicolored butterflies on a stone wall, represented by a bouquet—since the word also means “marigold” in French. The prettiness is disarming, but not necessarily misleading. There is no distinction made between prettiness and toughness, prettiness and the macabre, prettiness and death, even. Read More