Category: Paris Review

Garments Against Women

Anne Boyer in the The Paris Review
anneboyer-1024x683

An excerpt from US poet and essayist Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, featured in The Paris Review.

It was a time of many car troubles, so I waited for tow trucks and saw a squirrel with a marble in her mouth. It was a time of many money troubles, so I wrote about money or wanted to.

I thought I would write about money and then those who did not yet write about money would soon write about money.

What was I, poor? I spent seventy-three cents on a cookie for my daughter. I got a fifty-dollar Wal-Mart gift card in the mail. I sold a painting of a lamb for three hundred and eighty-five dollars.

During this time I invented many quotations about money:

It is right for MONEY to be indistinguishable from what is foreseen and not yet formulated. —René Char

MONEY never had a beginning. Always, until the moment of its stopping, it was constantly there. —Boris Pasternak

Be MONEY like the universe! —Fernando Pessoa

Such an act of judgment, distinguishing between Chance and Providence, deserves, surely, to be called MONEY. —W. H. Auden

Now so many people write about money that it is very easy, like writing about love. But in those days if you couldn’t write about what you had left, you couldn’t write about anything. I thought how uncomfortable it would be if I wrote about money. I thought about this a lot.

Things were great after that. They really got better. I wrote words in great paragraphs. There were great acorns. I had a great toothache. There was the great noise of the great leaving geese.

But I had been striking against geography for a very long time. Or rather, the systems I believed would end my loneliness amplified it, though I managed most days to feign delight in the wide expanses and simple clothing styles of my native land. These systems that amplified my loneliness included cars, airplanes, computers, and telephones. These systems included universities, literary presses, major American cities, the U. S. mail, and several private mail carriers including U. P. S. and Federal Express.

All my breathing apparatus rejected the air around me as not fit for breath, and storms turned streets into rivers. There was a city I didn’t always remember, and then once in it, I recalled it like all cities are recalled by birds.

There were gas lamps. There were dead sows full of living birds. I thought about the poet Marcia Nardi who wrote “as if there were no connection between my being stuck at the ribbon counter in Woolworth’s for eight hours a day at minimum hourly wage, and my inability to function as a poet.” I was melancholy and wrote defenses of my melancholy. I totally forgot to shop.

The anesthetizing influence of habit having ceased, I would begin to have thoughts, and feelings, and they were such sad things.

I wrote complicated sentences and cursed the fantasy of war. What was imagined was that which was found &/or fleshed &/or animated in the interior & that which abided by the interior’s logic rather than the material necessities of everything else—not a subjectivity composed of sentiments and sensations, but a subjectivity composed of acts and figures.

Maybe this was a halfway subjectivity or a connective one, what animated the forms of the material as they become the immaterial forms in the mind. When something was then imagined, it was experienced—with sensations and sentiments vivid as any other. Maybe any distrust of the imagination was a distrust of feeling and arose when one was unable to parse interior experiences (acts and figures) from interior responses (emotion and sensation) to those experiences.

My visions and dreams and flights of fancy were no more sentimental or sensational in themselves than events and interactions of the material world. Insofar as the imagination might be more cunning at provoking strong feelings it did not mean that the imagination was itself not inextricable from feeling. Dreams were the highest order of my experience. Then they were what I imagined was at best an entertaining fiction or sometimes a profitable product.

(…)

Jo Hopper, Woman in the Sun

Sarah McColl for the Paris Review
elevenam

For the Paris Review, Sarah McColl on the life and work of Jo Hopper.

In a 1906 portrait of Josephine Nivison, painted while she was a twenty-two-year-old student at the New York School of Art, her artist’s smock slips from her shoulder like the falling strap of Madame X’s gown. This is teacher Robert Henri’s portrait of the artist as a young woman; one suggestive detail, sure, along with aspects of Jo’s character he can’t help but capture: her steady gaze of steely resolve, the way she holds her brushes like a divining rod.

This is when Jo Nivison meets Edward Hopper, though they do not make much of their first meeting, or even their second. When they graduate, Jo keeps herself in cigarettes by selling drawings to places like the New York Tribune, the Evening Post, the Chicago Herald Examiner. In the 1920 New York City Directory, Jo lists herself as an artist, and she is no slouch. She shows her paintings alongside work by Picasso and Man Ray. In that same directory, Edward Hopper calls himself an illustrator.

Jo and Ed don’t link up their wagons until 1923. It is the third time their paths have crossed, and by now they are both in their forties. Maybe they can help each other. Six of Jo’s watercolors appear that year in a group show at the Brooklyn Museum; she puts in a word for Ed with the curators, and they buy one of his paintings. It is the first he has sold since the Armory Show of 1913, ten years before.

This is Ed’s tipping point. Next, he’s given a sellout solo show by the gallery that represents him for the rest of his life, and Jo becomes Ed’s only model. She creates characters for his work, transforms herself into women alone, idle, waiting. She is woman in a train compartment, woman in the office at night, at a New York movie, a woman in the sun. She is painting, too—she always has—but there are murmurs that Jo is riding Ed’s coattails onto the gallery walls. In 1938, there is a group show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and in 1939, another at the Golden Gate International Exhibition. Here, Jo’s oil painting “Chez Hopper” appears, and it is a portrait of Ed for once, in which his feet rest on a coal stove. This painting, as is the case with most of Jo’s work, has been lost.

But that’s rushing ahead to the end of the story. The beginning, and the middle, is that Jo and Ed are always painting and always fighting. They work together in their sometimes home on the Cape and their other-times home, a skylight-bright fourth-floor walk-up on Washington Square. Ed hauls coal and tin cans of beef stew up the stairs. If only his wife would do less painting and more cooking. Nobody likes her work, he says. He means he does not care for it.

Their fights, as Jo records in her diaries, are vicious. Jo scratches Ed and “[bites] him to the bone.” He slaps her, bangs her head against a shelf, colors her with bruises. On their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, she tells him they deserve a medal for distinguished combat, and he complies with a coat of arms made from a rolling pin and ladle.

It is true: Jo is a lady flower painter, but things are not only as they seem. Sometimes she is thinking of her dead friends, other women. She calls the 1948 painting of a brittle, drooping arrangement set before an open window, “Obituary.” “She intentionally disregarded the dominant male aesthetic,” the Hopper historian Gail Levin writes. “Her subject matter seems self-consciously female.” In her early seventies, Jo paints a self-portrait in which she wears earrings, a necklace, and a pink lace bra, which she purchased for herself as a birthday present from Ed. It was “the most expensive thing of the kind I’ve ever owned,” she wrote in her diary. The lingerie is “perishable & does nothing specially for me anymore than another layer of skin.”

(…)

The Epic, Neglected Vision of Joan Murray

Farnoosh Fathi for The Paris Review
murray_joan-processed

In this piece for The Paris Review – adapted from her introduction to a new collection of Joan Murray’s poems – Farnoosh Fathi asks how Murray’s poems have remained in obscurity.

“What truth, what mystical awareness can be lived,” Joan Murray wrote in a letter to her mother. Like the young Rimbaud, Murray intended to make herself a seer—what she calls, among other figures, the “Unemployed or universal Architect.” She became this architect-seer not, as Rimbaud proposed, by a total derangement of the senses but by building “the firm reality of a consciousness, consciousness in the never-ending, the great wideness that one must blend withal.” Like Emily Dickinson and Laura Riding before her, Murray belongs to a radical arc of American metaphysical women poets, most of whom still remain unsung. Her untimely death from a congenital heart condition in 1942, at age twenty-four, marked the loss of an extraordinary poet; yet Murray’s poems recalibrate the notion of a life’s work. The tragic facts only underscore the epic achievement of her vision.

Five years after her death, out of the blue woodwork of 1947, her first book of poetry was published as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition with the title Poems by Joan Murray: 1917–1942. W. H. Auden, who had been dissatisfied with the manuscripts he had received as a first-year judge, had reached out to Murray’s mother to inquire about the possibility of publishing her daughter’s work posthumously for the prize. Murray had been a student in Auden’s Poetry and Culture course at the New School in 1940, and her mother countered Auden’s invitation with the accusation that he had killed her daughter by inspiring her “poetry fever.” But she was devoted to her daughter’s work and eager to see it published, so agreed to the Yale edition with the condition that her friend Grant Code—a poet, Harvard lecturer, and dance and theater critic—edit the collection.

While Murray’s Poems received mostly laudatory reviews in Poetry, the Saturday Review, the New York Times Book Review, and The New Yorker, it soon fell into obscurity and remained out of print for more than fifty years. I first learned about the collection in 2006, thanks to the poet Shanna Compton, who posted an invaluable pdf of it on the PhillySound blog’s Neglectorino Project, a series on neglected writers started by the poet CAConrad. In a note to the pdf, Compton writes, “Despite the untimely death of the author, the flawed editorial work, and the fact that the book has been out of print for decades, Murray has managed to earn something of an underground reputation.” How was it possible that Murray’s poems—with their wild and unwavering authority, their singular metaphysics of a migratory American psyche, one unburdened by any formal or aesthetic “schooling” and the clearest evidence we’ve ever had of the visionary nature of youth, what George Eliot averred of the young Teresa of Ávila whose “passionate nature demanded an epic life” and who found her epos in poetry—how could these poems be so totally unknown?

(…)

 

Falling in Love with an Empty Man: The Work of José Leonilson

Elisa Wouk Almino for The Paris Review
15091275-1

Elisa Wouk Almino on José Leonilson: Empty Man, the Brazilian artist’s first solo exhibition in the US, currently running at the Americas Society in New York.

(…)

In Brazil, Leonilson is considered one of the most important artists of his generation. Born in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, he came of age in the 1980s, in the years immediately following Brazil’s twenty-year dictatorship. Emerging from oppressive times, he and his peers embraced the pleasures of painting, and they made bright and figurative work. But Leonilson’s art was also uniquely personal and literary; words float alone or in poetic arrangements (“here comes your man / full of numbers and words”). His presence looms over almost everything he left behind.

Leonilson died in 1993, at the age of thirty-six, of AIDs. He had learned of his illness only two years prior. As his health rapidly deteriorated, he shifted from painting to making small embroideries on pockets, bags, and bits of canvas. The Americas Society exhibition begins with these later, quietly beautiful works, and is framed around a quote by T. S. Eliot: “In my beginning is my end … In my end is my beginning.” An early 1975 self-portrait, made from denim jeans and with buttons for eyes, presages the introspective works Leonilson made in the last years of his life.

“I don’t make impersonal things,” he once said. He liked to paint the body: the brain, the lungs, and the heart. One painting from 1988 delineates human organs, with words flowing through and around them, including the phrase “the streets of the city.” The names of cities he visited—Madrid, Basel, Bordeaux—often appear in his art; but he was more a wanderer than a traveler.

“I am searching for something,” he said, “but I don’t know what I’m looking for.” Leonilson recorded these thoughts in his audio diaries, which he kept on tape cassettes from 1990 until his death three years later. He talks about the time he watched the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas, and how lost the main character appears as he aimlessly walks the desert. Leonilson breaks down into tears, recognizing himself.

His audiotapes weren’t discovered until after he died. In 2015, Carlos Nader, a friend of Leonilson’s, made them into a film titled The Passion of JL. The incredibly moving project, which screened this Thursday at the New School in New York, is narrated solely by Leonilson’s voice, while images of his art flash on the screen. The tapes reveal someone full of feeling and desperately in search of love. “Why am I so alone? Why don’t I have a boyfriend?” he asks. “I am needy.”

Leonilson’s friends remember him as warm and gregarious. Many people, including Carlos Nader, have said the voice of the audiotapes is not the one they knew, but one that, in retrospect, illuminates his art.

*

I went to the Americas Society exhibition after I saw The Passion of JL. As I walked through the galleries, I heard the disembodied voice of Leonilson’s tapes (“love is the best thing there is”; “I think I will live long”; “I’m not afraid of dying, but of suffering”). I imagined his wounds as I counted the thirty-four tallies that look like stitches in the piece 34 with scars. I wondered if he had cheated or been the one betrayed as I read the word “traitor,” sewn above a sea of crystals. I figured he had cobbled these works together in utter silence, and likely alone.

In 1991, the year Leonilson was diagnosed with HIV, he made the work Empty Man. He used a found piece of linen depicting the children’s tale of the tortoise and the hare racing in a field. Beneath the scene, he stitched the words “salt. blood. salive,” and below that, a man’s torso surrounded by the broken-up phrase, “empty man / lone / ready.” Echoes of this empty, lone man appear elsewhere: the name José stitched in the corner of a faded green rectangle, a single figure labeled as an “island,” and most poetically, the word nobody, sewn on the edge of a pink pillow.

(…)

The Tenuous Nonfiction of Clarice Lispector’s Crônicas

Gabrielle Bellot for The Paris Review
clarice-lispector2-1024x612

From Gabrielle Bellot’s essay on Clarice Lispector’s ‘confessional, ludic’ newspaper columns, featured in The Paris Review:

“I can feel the charlatan in me, haunting me,” Clarice Lispector wrote in one of the crônicas, or newspaper columns, she composed each week from 1967 to 1973 for the Jornal do Brasil. She was writing in Leme, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro named for a vast rock that resembled the rudder of a ship. “I am almost sickened by my basic honesty,” she continued. Later in the column, she suggested that “bad taste” and bad writing were similar, and that bad writing essentially meant telling the simple, unadorned, too-sincere truth. In writing, she declared, “the dividing line between bad taste and truth is almost imperceptible. In writing, moreover, there is an accepted standard of good taste which is actually much worse than bad taste. Just to amuse myself, I sometimes walk that thin line between the two”—between, that is, being a “charlatan,” as that column was titled, and writing the bland truth.

A uniquely Brazilian form, crônicas offered readers free-form writing from writers of all kinds, including poets and novelists. Lispector’s adoring editor at the paper, Alberto Dines, simply published almost everything exactly as she submitted it. Although many of her crônicas appeared autobiographical, many also seemed to bend the truth; Lispector, who rarely kept even her birthday consistent, felt most comfortable writing about herself when she was allowed to invent and embellish.

In her crônicas, she spoke more directly about her life than usual, yet those seeming revelations were overlaid with the metaphysical ponderings, digressions, and questions about reality that characterized her fiction, like The Passion According to G. H., and many of her short stories—as well as the works of hers that defied characterization. “I am not going to be autobiographical,” she wrote in Água Viva, a genre-defying semiautobiographical text partly stitched together from her newspaper columns. “I want to be ‘bio.’ ” In a note to her friend and editor Olga Borelli about the text, she wrote, “I must find another way of writing. Very close to the truth (which?), but not personal.”

If she played with the superficial truth, it was in service, she believed, of exposing one deeper, of passing readers a brief-lit lantern for the moonless dark of ourselves, even if that light revealed, sometimes, more contradiction, more chaos, more flittering soul-storm. Her crônicas blurred lines between genre—some are like little Zen koans, some lyrical reminiscences, while others, like “Return to Nature,” are harder to categorize, reading like parables or flash fiction. At times, they also muddied demarcations between nonfiction and fiction, resurrecting the oldest question of form: Where does nonfiction truly end and fiction begin, and what do we do with texts where we do not know the answer?

*

That she started the crônicas at all seemed a miracle. A year before she began them, she had nearly died when her two fatal addictions came together: cigarettes and sleeping pills. She had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in hand after taking a soporific on the evening she was supposed to have attended a friend’s book launch; at three thirty-five in the morning the following day, a neighbor noticed smoke billowing out of her apartment. She awoke in a familiar yet phantasmagoric hell: her room, acrid and ablaze. Instead of fleeing, she tried to save her papers and, in her maelstrom panic, attempted to put out the fire with her bare hands. Paulo, her son, saved her by dragging her to a nearby apartment; as she walked, she left bloody footprints. “The fire I suffered a while back partially destroyed my right hand,” she reflected later. “My legs were marked forever … I spent three days in hell, where—so they say—bad people go after death. I don’t consider myself bad,” she added, “and I experienced it while still alive.” Pandemonium, as for Milton, had taken on a new, hellish meaning.

She lived with the stagnant sadness of swamps; her old life had become an ignis fatuus, fluttering and flaming just out of reach. Typing became arduous. Her apartment, from where she could hear the hiss of waves and the thwack of tennis balls, seemed oppressive. The crônicas, however, gave her a new task to focus on and conquer, even though she had misgivings about becoming a cronista. The idea of writing for money appalled her. “I’m … new to writing for money,” she revealed in an early column. “I worked in the press before as a professional, without signing my name. Signing, however, automatically makes it more personal. And I feel a bit like I’m selling my soul.” A friend consoled her. “Writing is selling one’s soul a little bit,” he told her.

Her readers purchased her soul with relish. The columns granted her a vast new range of fans, particularly the Brazilian middle-class targeted by the Jornal. She was famous, now, in a new way. One corybantic fan, who had seen Lispector’s apartment ablaze on that fateful night, even appeared at her door with an octopus and proceeded to cook the cephalopod right then and there as a token of her appreciation. “Being a columnist,” Lispector reflected later, “has a mystery that I don’t understand: it’s that columnists, at least in Rio, are very loved … I feel so close to my readers.” She had joined a tradition in which some of Brazil’s most renowned writers had partaken, from Machado de Assis to Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

But she had also joined as a woman, making her one of the few female cronistas of the time.

(…)

Agnès Varda’s Ecological Conscience

Lauren Elkin for The Paris Review
the-recall-of-the-gleaners-1859-1024x524

Lauren Elkin explores the ecological conscience of Agnès Varda’s 2000 film The Gleaners & I for The Paris Review:

“Existence isn’t a solitary matter,” says the shepherd to the wanderer in Agnès Varda’s 1985 film, Vagabond. This vision of collectivity, the belief that we are all in it together, recurs throughout Varda’s films, from her early, proto–New Wave La Pointe Courte (1954) to her acclaimed Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961) to her most recent film, Faces Places (2017), made in collaboration with the young French street artist JR. (Filmmaking isn’t a solitary matter, either.) “This movie is about togetherness,” she told New York Magazine. Watching Faces Places, I couldn’t help thinking about Varda’s 2000 film, The Gleaners & I. Both are road-trip movies in which Varda interviews the kinds of people we don’t often see in movies—farmers, miners, dockworkers, and their wives. Both films proceed by chance, gleaning whatever they happen upon. But though The Gleaners is now seventeen years old, old enough to drive a car and almost old enough to vote, it’s feeling as fresh and relevant as if it had been made in parallel to Faces Places. It rewards rewatching.

The Gleaners & I is a documentary about the time-honored act of gathering what other people have abandoned or thrown away. Gleaning is most often associated with what’s been left behind after a harvest; think of that famous Millet painting, The Gleaners (1857), which you can find in the Musée d’Orsay. The women—gleaners used to be mainly women—bend over to collect the bits of wheat the harvesters have left on the ground; they gather what they find in their aprons. It looks like back-breaking work. “It’s always the same humble gesture,” Varda comments in voice-over: to stoop, to glean.

Today, they tell Varda, harvesting is more efficient because it’s done by machines, leaving less for gleaners to pick up. In her film, Varda interviews present-day glâneurs; some glean to survive, some out of principle (“Salvaging is a matter of ethics with me,” says a man who’s eaten mostly garbage for ten years), others just for fun. One woman Varda interviews demonstrates how they used to do it: with a sweeping extension of her torso she gathers ears of corn into her apron. It was a social occasion, when all the women in the neighborhood would get together and, afterward, go back to the house for a coffee and a laugh.

Varda enlarges the concept of the glâneur to include people like the artist Louis Pons, whose work is assembled from trash, from forgotten things, from pens, empty spools, wires, cans, cages, bits of boats, cars, musical instruments: “He composes,” Varda says, “with chance.” Or to Bodan Litnianski, the Ukrainian retired brickmason-turned-artist who built his house (which he calls “Le palais idéal”) from scraps he found in dumps—dolls, many dolls, and toy trucks and trains and hoses and baskets and plastic fronds—effectively brickmasoned into place. “C’est solide, eh.” Litnianski died in 2005, but there’s a corresponding figure in Faces Places who made me sit up in recognition.

(…)

I Love You So Much I Would Drink Your Blood

Charlie Fox for the Paris Review
Jim Goldberg - Megan

Charlie Fox looks at Jim Goldberg’s book Raised by Wolves for the Paris Review:

Friday?
Dad,
I’m really sorry about
losing control of myself
+ hurting you (+ the, “ahem”,
bathroom mirror).
I know + understand
that talk doesn’t mean a
damn thing to you by
now. (Especially from my mouth.) …

Some facts before things get messy. This unattributed note—handwritten as neatly as one’s science homework, its margin decorated with a ghostly heart—appears in Jim Goldberg’s mammoth book of photographs Raised by Wolves (1995), juxtaposed with a fuzzy snap of a scarecrow-like boy tilting forward as if hit by a windstorm. I think that boy is Tweeky Dave, a cadaverous teenage drug addict who died from liver disease circa 1993; he was, for a few years before his death, something of a celebrity urchin on the Los Angeles streets he used to haunt in search of opiates. He’s also the hero of Goldberg’s epic book, which chronicles the lives of various homeless kids in LA and its environs (shout-out to Echo, Marcos with the wonky eye, Wolfette, Vampchild—“this cute boy who says he’s a real vampire”—and Blade) and comes stuffed with transcripts of their conversations, faxes from Social Services, Polaroids, and other grungy ephemera testifying to the decade Goldberg spent shadowing his subjects. Tracking them through the book—on drugs, out of school, and running away from ogreish parents—also means confronting some of the gnarliest fallout from the Reagan-Bush years: the rapacious mutilation of education programs and social services, not to mention the, ahem, decline of the “family values” they claimed to protect. Tweeky Dave is just the most wretched embodiment of the trouble all those acts can cause. 

“I’m really sorry about losing control of myself … ” Raised by Wolves is about what happens when the self gets lost amid all the drugs and dereliction as economics turn savage and parents disappear. Meanwhile, the kids are too spaced out to know what day it is.

Before Dave died, he liked to call Jim Goldberg “Dad,” too. Check that picture of a scar snaking up Dave’s stomach and it’s obvious that his real father, “a biker from hell,” shot him …

Or maybe he stabbed him?

Maybe he did neither: it depends how much you believe the stories coming from that junkie mouth, which, as Dave acknowledges, is famous for telling tall tales. Three hundred pages later, he’s on his deathbed playfully telling “Dad” to invite James Brown, “Trent from Nine Inch Nails,” Stephen King, and “Cher (what the fuck)” to his funeral. This sad event happens on a sunny day outside a Salvation Army Youth Center. Cher doesn’t make it. At its conclusion, the kids release balloons into the sky.

*

The, uh, “establishing shot” that opens the book shows a handsome pinewood house, hazy, shrouded by flowers, sleepy trees, and seen through some creep’s binoculars. When we talk on the phone, Goldberg tells me he was thinking about Buffalo Bill in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the toad-voiced sociopath who abducts and kills innocent women after tracking their movements through his night-vision goggles. Lycanthropic vibes: we could be experiencing the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf lurking outside the house of a succulent little pig. There’s something storybook-like, upstate idyllic, about the picture, too, which may not actually show Echo’s mother’s real house at all but a weirdly familiar dream home liberated from elsewhere, giving extra resonance to her claim that what’s happened to her family could strike “any home in America.”

What Goldberg assembled in Raised by Wolves isn’t a real history, which wouldn’t be a fitting tribute to the kids since they never told the whole truth anyway, but something lyrical and a little feverish. Facts get high or vanish on their way through the night. “Some of the names,” Goldberg tells me, “have been changed to protect the innocent.” Verification is difficult when it’s tested against the kids’ habits of compulsive mythmaking, which is also a strategy for survival: I can’t be hurt if I’m not the real me.

(…)

The Library of Books and Bombs

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan for The Paris Review
andrew-moore-county-archive

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan writes for The Paris Review on the history and transformation of London’s Bethnal Green Library, which was once an insane asylum.

Last summer, I moved into a flat on the edge of London’s Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. I chose it only because it was where my significant human made his home. It was my first time moving in with someone. As I clattered up from the Tube, I found myself in a swell of schoolchildren on Jack the Ripper tours, Bangladeshi immigrant families, and men with tortoiseshell glasses and Scandinavian backpacks. The local cafe offers beetroot lattes and vegan croissants. The local supermarket has an aisle devoted to halal food. This was a beautiful place to live, but I was a mess. My first novel was about to come out, and I jittered and jangled around the flat, failing to read or write.

Finally, I did what I’ve always done when nervous. I looked for a library. My father told me once that he always has to know the location of the door of any room he’s in. I need to know the nearest bookshop and library. The theory is the same: we need an escape. 

I googled to check the opening hours and found something stranger. The library building once housed an insane asylum—so notorious that the park was known as “Barmy Park.” On the outside, it looked like a library in a particularly fine picture book, one with watercolor illustrations and a moral ending. The only thing out of place was the violently modern library sign slapped onto the face of the building, letters in blunt red sans serif. When I sat in the main reading room, trying to work, I could not focus. I kept trying to imagine the people who had been locked within these walls. I could not detect a trace of madhouse. It was so quiet. The books were so well ordered. How on earth had this gone from a famous asylum to a home for books? Libraries have always made me feel saner. Perhaps someone hoped this would serve the same purpose?

(…)

Surface Noise

Damon Krukowski for The Paris Review
Surface Noise

In an excerpt from his book The New Analog, Damon Krukowski looks at the aesthetics of noise in analog music—and what we’ve lost in the transition to digital recordings. 

My favorite records sound the worst, because I’ve played them the most. Each time a needle runs around an LP, it digs a little deeper into the grooves and leaves its trace in the form of surface noise. The information on an LP degrades as it is played—as if your eyes blurred this text, just a bit, each time they ran across it.

Analog sound reproduction is tactile. It is, in part, a function of friction: the needle bounces in the groove, the tape drags across a magnetic head. Friction dissipates energy in the form of sound. Meaning: you hear these media being played. Surface noise and tape hiss are not flaws in analog media but artifacts of their use. Even the best engineering, the finest equipment, the “ideal” listening conditions cannot eliminate them. They are the sound of time, measured by the rotation of a record or reel of tape—not unlike the sounds made by the gears of an analog clock. 

In this sense, analog sound media resemble our own bodies. As John Cage observed, we bring noise with us wherever we go:

For certain engineering purposes, it is desirable to have as silent a situation as possible. Such a room is called an anechoic chamber, its six walls made of special material, a room without echoes. I entered one at Harvard University several years ago and heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sounds.

Silence is death, the ACT UP slogan painfully reminded us at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1987. Why seek it out as a part of our musical experience?

(…)

Papa the Investor

Andrea di Robilant for the Paris Review
hemingway-italy-pigeons

How Hemingway became a major shareholder in a venerable Italian publishing house.

Ernest Hemingway had a rough time with his Italian publisher, Einaudi, the venerable Turin-based house that still prints a good portion of his titles today. The issue, as is so often the case, was money: Einaudi, Hemingway complained, were communists looking for any excuse to withhold his overdue royalties. After 1947, he’d grown so exasperated that he refused to publish another book with them. So it’s all the more startling to discover that in the spring of 1955, he quietly agreed to convert a large part of his growing credit with the house into company stock, becoming a major shareholder overnight. Hemingway was usually very prudent with his money—and the chronically mismanaged Einaudi was hardly a safe investment. But having a stake in the publication of his own books, he hoped, would make it easier to get his hands on his growing pile of Italian cash.

As an author, Hemingway had gotten a late start in Italy. During the twenties and thirties, when the Anglophone world consecrated him as one of its brightest talents, he was persona non grata in the country. His blacklisting started as early as 1923, when Hemingway, still a young reporter for the Toronto Star, described Mussolini as “the biggest bluff in Europe.” In 1927, he wrote a few sardonic sketches on Fascist Italy for the New Republic. But it was the 1929 publication of A Farewell to Arms, with its antimilitarism and its powerful description of the rout of the Italian Army after Caporetto, that made him an enemy in the eyes of the Mussolini regime—a reputation further sealed by his support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. 

Thus Hemingway’s books were banned in Fascist Italy even as the works of other American writers, such as Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, were brought into translation with success and acclaim. But as soon as Mussolini fell, in 1943, publishers scrambled to buy up the translation rights to his novels. The first Italian edition of The Sun Also Rises was published by a little-known company, Jandi Sapi, in the early summer of 1944, only weeks after General Mark Clark’s troops liberated Rome. A Farewell to ArmsFor Whom the Bell Tolls, and To Have and Have Not came out in quick succession with different houses the following year, immediately after the liberation of Northern Italy. The translations were hurried and the first editions sloppy; it was unclear which house owned which rights, if it owned any at all.

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions