June 30, 2014
Image: Self Portrait by Vivian Maier
Editor's Note: This week we'll be posting supplementary material to "The Vivian Mire," Dmitry Samarov's essay for The Disappearance issue of Spolia regarding the problematic state of the photographer's estate.
The story of women told by men is a story we know too well. For the Disappearance issue of Spolia, Dmitry Samarov looks at the entanglement around Vivian Maier’s legacy: the problems that arise from her work being owned by different men and from her story having such a visible narrator in the person of John Maloof.
Rose Lichter-Marck does a wonderful job explaining why the question at the heart of Finding Vivian Maier – “Why would a nanny be taking all these pictures?” – is problematic, to say the least.
“Finding Vivian Maier” shows that stories of difficult women can be unflattering even when they are told in praise. The unconventional choices of women are explained in the language of mental illness, trauma, or sexual repression, as symptoms of pathology rather than as an active response to structural challenges or mere preference. Biographers often treat iconoclastic women like Yoko Ono, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, and Vivian Maier as problems that need solving. They’re problems as in “How do you solve a problem like Maria,” to borrow an allusion from an Ariana Reines’s essay about another often simplified woman photographer, Francesca Woodman.
Rose Lichter-Marck, Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women | The New Yorker
In her review of Finding Vivian Maier, Manohla Dargis makes this astute observation:
So, it’s a solid if finally thin introduction to Maier. It’s also, to state the obvious, a feature-length advertisement for Mr. Maloof’s commercial venture as the principal owner of her work; his name is on the stamp that authenticates the photographs. Vivian Maier is a find but she’s also now a business, and the documentary would be stronger if it had dug into the complexities of what it means when one person assumes ownership of another’s art. There are times when Mr. Maloof — particularly when he’s defensively speaking about the work’s artistic merit — feels as if he were delivering a sales pitch.
Manohla Dargis, The Nanny as Sphinx, Weaving Enigmatic Magic on the Sly | The New York Times
Over at Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman is a lot harsher:
"Every time a film is shot, privacy is violated," the famous cinema verite filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch once said.
Never is this more apparent than with "Finding Vivian Maier," an acclaimed new documentary directed by first-time filmmakers John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. While a fascinating investigative portrait of a reclusive female street photographer, who began taking pictures in the 1950s on par with such greats as Robert Frank and Weegee, the film is also one of the most brazenly exploitive documentaries of an individual to come along in a long while.
Anthony Kaufman, Reality Checks: Does This New Documentary Exploit the Life of Vivian Maier? | Indiewire
As Nathan Jurgenson shows in his essay Permission Slips, the exploitation of Vivian Maier’s life and work needs to be placed in the larger context of street photography and consent. What are the ethical guidelines a street photographer should follow? Does anyone still take ethic and privacy / personal space seriously in this age of smartphones and Google Glass and surveillance?
Vivian Maier was a street photographer, but Maloof’s film best exemplifies this larger street photographer ethic, one that goes beyond any film but is informed by a general social media ethos of see, take, and score — visual possessiveness in the name of attention. When people call some of the worst technologies that plop out of Silicon Valley “creepy,” this is what they mean: They are referring to the street photographer ethos of looking at people and the world as images for the taking to be reused for their own purposes.
Nathan Jurgenson, Permission Slips | The New Inquiry
“I’ll be the first to honor the quality of the work,” says photographer Joel Meyerowitz in the BBC documentary (he’s one of the few people interviewed for both films). “I’m concerned because we only see what the people who bought the suitcases decided to edit, and what kind of editors are they? What would she have edited out of this work and what would she have printed? How do any of us know who the real Vivian Maier is?”
Malcolm Jones, Vivian Maier: Still Missing | The Daily Beast
The BBC documentary is Jill Nicholls’s The Vivian Maier Mystery, which – as Malcolm Jones suggests – answers questions that Finding Vivian Maier does not. While the BBC documentary does acknowledge the various owners and researchers that have become characters in the Vivian Maier story, it falls victim to the same traps that Maloof’s documentary is criticized for: speculation about Maier’s mental sanity, framing her story as a detective story – a mystery that needs to be solved. Ultimately, what both documentaries reveal is that, in our culture, a woman who dares to wander on her own – in the seedy part of the town or in the world – is still met with anxiety and suspicion.
June 29, 2014
Image: Catena by Walton Ford
Weekend Recommended Reading
Yesterday I saw a dog bite a woman. The dog had no tags, and without any provocation it ran up to a woman on the street barking and bit her leg, hard. She started screaming, the dog retreated a little and then advanced towards her again. The dog was not large, maybe just up to the woman's calf, but suddenly this tiny thing was terrifying. I was right next to the woman when it happened, the dog passed me to get to her. People came running from across the street and out of the market to chase off the dog and protect the woman. I ran in the opposite direction. I had just come out of the market and bought a bottle of wine, and now I jammed my hand in my bag to grab the neck of the bottle, in case I needed to quickly bash in the dog's head to protect myself. But I dodged around traffic to get to the other side of the street as quickly as possible. My reasoning for running away was, enough people are helping, plus I am bare-legged and she had on jeans, and no I just can't I have to go. I don't know what happened next.
You can take this as a metaphor if you like.
- Henry Miller was a Capricorn and consulted astrologers. There are people in the comments who feel sorry for him, which is nice of them. (For the believing in astrology, not for being a Capricorn.)(via)
- "Small Town Noir," an Appendix piece by Diarmid Mogg (god, what a wonderful name). It's a riff on Mark Michaelson's Least Wanted, mug shots, and how easy it is for a life to distill itself down to a picture and list of criminal actions in one bad night.
- Jacqueline Rose is writing about mothers in literature and in life and in science and you should have already left this page at "Jacqueline Rose"
- Fucking great piece on Clare Booth Luce: writer, actress, ambassador. Thanks to Jim for sending it over.
- Your completely random book recommendation for the week: I miss Julie Doucet. I miss comics. A friend had an internal organ removed surgically and so I sent over a big stack of radical feminist comics. And it made me really nostalgic for my old comic collection. (It went to a Craigslist man wearing a nice hat when I moved overseas. He may have told me his name, but Charles Blackstone had come over with a bottle of vodka and so I was probably lying facedown on the floor when he said it.) My New York Diary by Doucet is kind of as good as it got.
Come back to us, Julie Doucet.
June 27, 2014
You know how Europe decided embarrassing stuff about you on the Internet could finally be deleted? Do you think they would agree to it if I wanted them to take down my own blog from like 2003 - 2012?
I accidentally ran into my own 2003 blog on a duckduckgo tear, and Jesus. I was kind of an idiot back then. I mean, I had my moments. But I was under-educated, I basically forgot to read any nonfiction for five years in a row and that can make a person a little dull-witted, and I was ready to pick a fight with anyone just because I was bored and I didn't think it really mattered.
(God: remember when literary blogging mattered? What were we all thinking?)
It's fine. I had a good time. It's embarrassing in the same way it's embarrassing to see pictures of myself from back then, back when I was cutting my own hair and wearing mostly men's clothing. And I had the good sense to invite a lot of other people to write for the site, so at least I had a little self-awareness of my inadequacies. Also, I'll forever be grateful for the Smart Set giving me a nonfiction review column for so many years. Realizing that I was having trouble thinking through some of the topics on the page made me really expand my book choices. A writer friend of mine called that column my writing boot camp, and she was not kidding. Grateful.
This is nostalgia brought on by a death in the family, sorta. Family adjacent.
So may you look back at your 2003 self with just a little bit of oh my god what are you even doing, because if you do, you also get to look at how far you've come.
June 25, 2014
Image: Je ne crois pas aux paysages by Melanie Delattre-Vogt
I've been irked a lot lately by a certain conversational line through the Not All Men/Yes All Women stuff, which is that women can get laid any time they want to. (I'm a little behind on reading this stuff, but then no one expects me (I hope) to have any idea what is going on in the world at large. I just recently saw the video for "Pretty Hurts" and had no outlet for my outrage because everyone else watched that eight years ago and already had the conversation, I was going to get frothy and red faced and stompy while everyone else looked away embarrassed. But still! Outraged.)
If we're going to keep talking about spinsters, we should also talk about the ugly girls. The Unfuckable Girls. Two essential books in the ugly girl library: King Kong Theory and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.
I am going to quote myself, which is obnoxious, but I've written on this subject before.
There are many lies you will hear when you're newly single. Your girlfriends — the ones that have been married since they were in their early 20s and can't have dinner without their husbands, meaning you are forever making reservations for three — will tell you that you'll find someone the minute you stop thinking about it. Of course they don't mean once you give up. The difference is the frequency with which you shave your legs, how long your ''Buy Ten Pedicures & Get One Free!'' card goes unpunched, and whether you allow yourself to be approachable on the subway or just bury your face in a book. Your (loving, well meaning) friends are setting up a Zeno-like paradox in which you are supposed to care enough to "turn on your inner light!" and actually brush your hair every day, and at the same time not care on a conscious level or be aware of the indifference of the male sex. After six months of Not Caring, if you lash out at their bullshit, well, that's is just proof that you do care and are thereby not following the rules. The other lie, which you will hear from your male friends, is that a woman can get laid whenever she wants. This is meant to be comforting, I think. A woman permits and denies access to sex, and all she has to do is want it bad enough. Bad enough to make the effort, of course. One can't just have a line of men appear on your doorstep just by trying to attract them all The Secret-like, although Craigslist can come in handy for that. But it, too, is a lie. There is such a thing as being unfuckable and female, whether because of weight or lack of femininity or age or poverty or that desperation you start to emit in waves after a few years without anyone trying to get into a dark corner. Because if you are unfuckable — and let's use the right word here — if you are a hag, you have no voice.
And speaking of being really out of date, coming soon: an essay I wrote about 50 Shades of Grey, holy shit I am not being sarcastic, that is a thing I did. I'll post here when it is published.
June 24, 2014
Image: Jessa Crispin's father, who now runs a pharmacy museum in Lincoln, KS based on his own personal collection of medical and medicinal antiques and rarities
Rebecca Silber reviews Taste by Daisy Rockwell for June’s issue of Bookslut. “As a connoisseur, Daniel [the main character] possesses an innate need to collect things. When he was younger, he started to collect tastes.” Passion and obsession are the driving forces behind collecting – for further reading on collectors who went too far, on necessary collections and cabinets of curiosities, here are a few suggestions:
His lack of personal smell has rendered him invisible. It has also given him a unique sense of smell. In Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the genius and the monstrous are intertwined as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of young girls and creating an orgiastic perfume.
John Laroche is The Orchid Thief in Susan Orlean's book based on her New Yorker story. With Laroche as her guide, Susan Orlean is introduced to the eccentric, bewitching world of orchid collectors:
Orchid collecting began in Victorian England as a hobby for the very rich--people with enough land for greenhouses and enough money to sponsor expeditions to where the rarest species could be found. The hobby grew so consuming that it was known in Victorian times as orchidelirium, because a sort of mania seized collectors. Many seemingly normal people, once smitten with orchids, become less like normal people and more like John Laroche. At an orchid show in New York last year, I heard the same story over and over--how one orchid in the kitchen led to a dozen, and then to a back-yard greenhouse, and then, in some cases, to multiple greenhouses and collecting trips to Asia and Africa and an ever-expanding budget to service this desire. I walked around the show with a collector from Guatemala. He said, "The bug hits you. You can join A.A. to quit drinking, but once you get into orchids you can't do anything to kick." Collecting can be a sort of lovesickness. If you begin collecting living things, you are pursuing something imperfectible, and even if you manage to find them and then possess them, there is no guarantee they won't die or change. The botanical complexity of orchids and their mutability makes them perhaps the most compelling and maddening of all collectible living things. There are nearly twenty thousand named species of orchids--it is the largest flowering-plant family on earth. New orchids are being created in laboratories or discovered every day, and others exist only in tiny numbers in remote places. To desire orchids is to have a desire that can never be fully requited. A collector who wants one of every orchid species will die before even coming close.
Susan Orlean, "Orchid Fever" | The New Yorker
In a white, male-dominated art world, outsiders collecting outsiders are vital. Inspired by the feminist movement, of which she was a part of, Louise Rosenfield Noun made it her mission to collect works of art by women:
What has she proven by assembling this collection of art by women? It was never her intention to take a position and then find works that demonstrated her philosophy. In a 1990 lecture at the Des Moines Art Center, she described her goal:
The primary purpose of my collection is to gather a limited number of works that make a strong feminist statement about the quality of art produced by women. I do not aim to be historically inclusive, but I try to find works that can hold their own in any company.
Lea Rosson DeLong, "Louise Noun: A Pioneer Collector of Women’s Art" | Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2
In her essay on Jan Švankmajer’s Alice, a film that makes use of the director’s collection of odd objects, Tina-Louise Reid also talks about the alchemical nature of the wunderkammer:
Roger Cardinal indicates that 'the Romantic world-view envisions any given object as the threshold to the whole cosmos: the single modest thing represents a magical microcosm of the entirety of things, and as such sheds its anonymity and assumes a revelatory distinctiveness'. This view certainly existed as encapsulated by the wunderkammern of Rudolfine Prague. As the philosopher's stone serves as a microcosm of the world, the wunderkammer assumes an alchemical extension as it yields not only a sense of the world but also the connection of one object to another. The advent of wunderkammern marks the merge of society and science as well as featuring the fluid mix of fantasy with reality:
In containing both man-made and natural objects, the Habsburg collections of the second part of the sixteenth century, like other Kunstkammern, thus reflected the contents of the universe in all its variety... In containing samples of all that was to be found in the macrocosm, the greater world, the Kunstkammer can be thought to represent the world in microcosm.
Švankmajer is an avid collector of all kinds of objects that possess potentialities for his art. His cinematic power lies in arranging objects through a provocative juxtaposition that prods them to communicate their inner stories. The mundane can become magical through inspired groupings as Švankmajer reveals life in objects believed to be dead, inert or outmoded. Since children instil[l] toys and other objects with life through imagination, childhood serves as a potent setting for Švankmajer's object resurrections, with Carroll's Wonderland as the most advantageous backdrop.
Tina-Louise Reid, "Nĕco z Alenky / Alice" in The Cinema of Central Europe
Collecting implies organizing knowledge, and the wunderkammer was an expression of that. Horst Bredekamp looks at the history of collections and cabinets of curiosities in The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine: The Kunstkammer and the Evolution of Nature, Art and Technology.
June 23, 2014
"If I've understood you,the fact that you travel depends only on yourself, not on anything else?"
"I don't think I have ever quite known how such things are decided. I have no particular attachments. In fact I am a rather solitary person and unless some great piece of luck came my way I cannot really see how I could change my work. And somehow I can't imagine where any luck would come from: there doesn't seem much about my life which would attract it... And so you are waiting for something to happen?"
"Yes. I can see no reason why I should not get married one day like everybody else. As I told you."
"You're quite right. There is no reason at all why you should not get married, too."
"Of course with a job like mine -- one which is so looked down upon -- you could say that the opposite would be more true and that there is no reason at all why anyone should want to marry me. And so somehow I think that to make it seem quite ordinary and natural, I must want it with all my might. And that is how I want it."
"I am sure nothing is impossible. People say so at least."
"I have thought about it a great deal: here I am, young, healthy, and truthful just like any woman you see anywhere whom some man has settled for. And surely it would be surprising if somewhere there isn't a man who won't see that I am just as good as anyone else and settle for me. I am full of hope."
"I am sure it will happen to you. But if you were suggesting that I make the same sort of change, I can only ask what I would do with a wife? I have nothing in the world but my suitcase and it is all I can do to keep myself."
"Oh no, I did not mean to say that you need this particular change. I was talking of change in general. For me marriage is the only possible change, but for you it could be something else."
"I expect you are right, but you seem to forget that people are different. You see, however much I wanted to change, even if I wanted it with all my might, I could never manage to want it as much as you do. You seem to want it at all costs."
"Perhaps that is because for you a change would be less great than it would for me. As far as I am concerned I feel I want the greatest change there could be. I might be mistaken but still it seems to me that all the changes I see in other people are simple and easy beside the one I want for myself."
"But don't you think that even if everyone needed to change, and needed it very badly indeed, that even so they would feel differently about it according to their own particular circumstances?"
"I am sorry but I must explain that I am quite uninterested in particular circumstances. As I told you I am full of hope and what is more I do everything possible to make my hopes come true. For instance every Saturday I go to the local Dance Hall and dance with anyone who asks me. They say that the truth will out and I believe that one day someone will take me for what I am, a perfectly marriageable young woman who would make just as good a wife as anyone else."
From Marguerite Duras, The Square
June 22, 2014
Image: Study for a Pie Fight #2 by Adrian Ghenie
Weekend Reading Recommendations
Landed hard in Bucharest. Is there any other way to arrive in Bucharest? Then to feel like you've been dropped from a great height onto concrete? Probably not. Probably we should just be grateful for our uncracked ribs.
- Every week will just be a link to another Olivia Laing essay. Maybe. This week: In Loneliness in New York, Laing remembers the great artist David Wojnarowicz.
- Speaking of Wojnarowicz, here's an interview with him about his beautiful collection of essays, Close to the Knives. And yes to this: "I don't see anything wrong with anger. I think it's a healthy and transitory emotion."
- I talked a little last week about male protagonists in video games, how men don't like to play female video game characters, men don't like to read female protagonists in fiction, etc. And what a limited worldview, to just want to put yourself in a person who shoots other people all day long. It made me think of Roberto Calasso, from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony:
"In the beginning, the hero's intelligence is intermittent and limited to his role as a slayer of monsters. But when he manages to break the frame of his role, without abandoning it, when he learns to be a traitor, a liar, a seducer, a traveler, a castaway, a narrator, then the hero becomes Odysseus, and then, to his first vocation of slaying everything, he can add a new one: understanding everything."
Fuck you Calasso how you are always so good.
- The use of the phone in horror writing. Better than you think.
- And because I'm in Romania, we should pay attention to some Romanian writers. Here is Ted Anton's original piece on the murder of Ioan Culianu. He later expanded it into the remarkably good book Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu.
(When I ask Romanians about Romanian writers I should read, I get this face. This, it is best not to talk about this face. Almost nothing is in English anyway. Someone please give us a satisfying number of Eliade translations, thank you in advance.
Your random book recommendation of the week has to be Seven Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz. It was reissued by Fantagraphics recently, and it's all lush and beautiful, but I couldn't betray my beat-up Vertigo paperback like that. But if you haven't read it, his memoir-ish graphic novel about hustling on the streets, you really should.
June 19, 2014
Image: St. Gallen Library by Candida Höfer
Any place where one is surrounded by books can become a place of refuge. In June’s issue of Bookslut, Mairead Case beautifully conveys this feeling of comfort and safety offered by spaces like libraries and bookstores. For further reading on libraries and bookstores, here are some suggestions:
Famous for housing writers among its books, the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris needs no introduction. Jeanette Winterson met the owner, George Whitman, in 2007 and later on told his story – which is also the story of Shakespeare and Company – for The Guardian.
George took in the beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Henry Miller ate from the stewpot, but was too grand to sleep in the tiny writers' room. Anaďs Nin left her will under George's bed. There are signed photos from Rudolf Nureyev and Jackie Kennedy, signed copies of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
Jeanette Winterson, Down and out in Paris | The Guardian
In France, there are still many bookstores that can pride themselves on not having succumbed to what Jeanette Winterson calls the “pay-n-go Anglo-Saxon business model.” The TV show La Grande Librairie has a weekly segment, “Le choix des libraires,” meant to highlight independent bookstores as well as one book recommended by the owner. For example, one of their latest discoveries is Transboréal, a bookstore that specializes in travel books.
Libraries can be much more than simply places to store books. Throughout the ages, the design of the greatest library buildings has celebrated the act of reading and the importance of learning. They have become emblems of culture, whether it be for an individual, an institution, or even a whole nation. This book tells for the first time the complete story of the development of library buildings from the first libraries, in ancient Mesopotamia, through the lost libraries of the classical civilizations, the monastic libraries of the Middle Ages and the lavish libraries of the Rococo, to the monumental libraries of the modern world. It shows how the development of library buildings illustrates the changing relationship of mankind with the written word and that across the world libraries have always been not just dusty repositories for documents but active symbols of culture and civilization.
From the Introduction to The Library: A World History by James W. P. Campbell (text) and Will Pryce (photographs)
The silence commanded by a library is captured by Candida Höfer in her photographs of libraries. Accompanied by an introductory essay by Umberto Eco, her arresting photographs of library interiors are collected under a simple title: Libraries.
One of the most famous libraries is a fictional one. Naturally, Borges’s infinite library from his Library of Babel remains timeless.
When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. […]
At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity's basic mysteries - the origin of the Library and of time - might be found. It is verisimilar that these grave mysteries could be explained in words: if the language of philosophers is not sufficient, the multiform Library will have produced the unprecedented language required, with its vocabularies and grammars. For four centuries now men have exhausted the hexagons... There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel
June 18, 2014
Excerpt from Alastair Bonnett's Unruly Places
Between Border Posts (Guinea and Senegal)
Most border posts face each other. A change of signage, a different flag, a line on the road, all combine to signal that no sooner have you stepped out of one country than you have arrived in another. But what happens if you keep on opening up that space? A few years ago, with the help of hours spent blinking at the tiny fonts favored on traveler’s Internet chat forums, I found what I was looking for. Along the road between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa the distance between border posts is 27 kilometers. It is not the only unattenuated border area. The Sani Pass, which runs up to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho from South Africa, is the most famous. It’s a rough road, although much visited by tourists in 4x4s seeking out the highest pub in Africa, which sits near the top of the pass. The drama of the trip is heightened by the thrill that comes from learning that this is no man’s land. The South Africa border control, complete with “Welcome to South Africa” signs, is 5.6 kilometers away from the Lesotho border office. Another specimen is to be found in the mountainous zone between border posts on the Torugart Pass that connects China and Kyrgyzstan. Central America also has a nice example in Paso Canoas, a town that can appear to be between Panama and Costa Rica. It is habitually described as no man’s land because, having left through one border post, you can go into the town without passing through immigration to enter the other country. Some visitors relish the impress that the town around them is beyond borders. Partly as a result, Paso Canoas has developed a darkly carnival atmosphere, as if it were some kind of escaped or twilight place.
What these gaps reflect back at us is our own desires, especially the wish to step outside, if only for a short time, the claustrophobic grid of nations. We probably already suspect that it’s an illusion. Shuffling forward in a queue and making it past the passport officer does not mean you are, at that exact moment, leaving or entering a country. Such points of control exist to verify that you are allowed to enter or leave. Their proximity to the borderline is a legal irrelevance. Yet this legal interpretation fails to grasp either the symbolic importance of the border point or the pent-up urge to enter ungoverned territory. The fact that Paso Canoas is split by the Panama-Costa Rica border rather than actually being between borders doesn’t stop people from describing it as an “escaped zone.” Similarly, the steep valley up the Sami Pass is nearly all in South Africa, and the road down from Senegal into Guinea is always in one nation or another, but that isn’t how travelers experience it or even what they want.
June 17, 2014
Image: Smiling Mother with Sober Faced Child (Unfinished) by Mary Cassatt
We are pleased to announce the release of "Disappearance," our ninth issue of Spolia. It is available at our store for $5.
Table of Contents
Crime of Omission
by Ander Monson
The Lady, Vanishing
by Mia Gallagher
The Vivian Mire
by Dmitry Samarov
by Phil Sorenson
The Slow Forgetting of Your Dreams
by Oscar Collazos, translated by Jesse Tangen-Mills
The Truth A and the Falsehood B:
The Old Stage Set Coming Apart at the Seams
by Gary Amdahl
from The Sun & the Moon
by Kristina Marie Darling
Where the Dark is
by Geraldine Mills
by Breanne Fahs
by Olivia Cronk
by Kurt Hartwig
by Gus Iversen
Erase & Rewind
by Tina Pisco
by Michelle Bailat-Jones
by Clare Pollard
We will be posting excerpts and supplementary material on our Tumblr in the coming days and weeks. I think it is maybe our best issue yet, so we hope you enjoy it, too.
June 15, 2014
Weekend Reading Recommendations
Image: Toyen, After the Performance
- Hoa Nguyen wrote a series of posts about astrology and poetry, how each sign expresses itself in poetry. It's clever and interesting. It is not that nonsensical "Which Star Sign Should You Really Be?" stuff. (Really, Buzzfeed quiz that I spent 45 seconds taking? I should be a Gemini? Are you fucking nuts?)
Anyway, Nguyen's piece is so good, I thought about doing Reading Recommendations for Your Astrological Sign because I don't know why. Maybe I'll do it. You can write me and let me know if I should. Or, you can just hire me to read your tarot cards and chart and I'll help you with your writing project (or love life) and give personalized reading recommendations.
- This is a little old, but this story of discovering that an antique book they had bought was actually Nazi loot taken from the library of a pre-War Jewish home, and then trying to track down the rightful heirs, is pretty great.
- Joanna Bourke and Eva Illouz have new books out, we should be celebrating: The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers and Hard Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Bestsellers, and Society, respectively.
- Olivia Laing's great essay on women writers who drink too much, why are you even looking at me like that.
Random Book Recommendation, book you should know exists, book you should seek out: Poems Under Saturn by Paul Verlaine
Action and Dream have broken, nowadays,
Their primitive pact worn down by the centuries,
And some have found it disastrous, this divorce
Between immense blue harmony and Force.
Force, that once upon a time the poet bridled,
White-winged steed that dazzled,
Force, now, Force, it is the ferocious
Mad bounding Beast, and always
Ready for any carnage, for any devastation,
From this end of the world to the other one!
Action, once measured by the song of the lyre,
Drunken, disrupts, prey to the hundred thousand obscure
Deliriums of a boiling century,
Action, just now -- Action -- o pity! --
It is the hurricane, the tempest, the surging tide
In the starless night that will unroll and spread
Amid dull sounds, the red and green terror
Of its lightning bolts through a sky ajar!
June 14, 2014
Image: Taurus by Remedios Varo
I have some friends who work in video games, and so I read a lot and hear a lot about the debate over the predominance of male protagonists. (I don't really play video games, but I enjoy reading about them. I like the worlds, I like the imagery, I like walking around the rooms and looking at stuff and interacting with pretend people, but don't ask me to do anything in that world. Kill a guy or put together a puzzle? Yuck. No. I get anxious and irritated and hand the controls over to someone else and say, "Do that for me, will you?" I remember getting Myst with my PC when I bought my first computer [OLD] and whenever I actually had to do something that was a little bit complicated, I'd call in my little sister from down the hall to do it for me. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and, us both being sleepless folk, she'd be there, unlocking some new level for me or tracking down the thing I need before I can move on.)
I got really off track here.
Okay, so, there's this debate because all of the protagonists of video games are men, and if you try to create a video game with a female protagonist, you are going to have a hard time selling it. Why? Because dudes don't want to play as women, they can't relate. And a lot of the misogynist blame gets pointed at nerd culture right not because it's a little rabid over there. Look at the comments section on something like this, for example. It's a terrifying world. But come on. The literary world has the same problems, just played through at a different volume.
Working with Corinna Pichl, our new features editor here at Bookslut and managing editor over at Spolia, has been fun because she has sort of shaken up my complacency. I handed over an interview to her to approve, and her first comment was, when the author is asked to list all of his favorite writers and his influences, he only lists men. Which is a thing that happens everywhere. Read an interview with a male writer, his influences are almost always exclusively men. Maybe there will be a token lady in there, but for the most part, men read men. It was Corinna who said, Make the interviewer go back and ask him about women writers. It hadn't occurred to me to do that, I'm a little ashamed to say. I hadn't really realized, when we run one of those interviews with male writers listing other male writers, talking about other male writers and reading books with male protagonists, we're kind of perpetuating this idea that men read men because men are the universal, and women writers are for women. It's tiered. So now, when we see an interview like this, we send it back. Ask about women. If he says he doesn't have any women writer influences, ask him why the fuck not.
There are all of these statistics about men not reading women writers and trying to figure out why that is. About how women have to use initials or androgynous or masculine pen names to be taken seriously. That the cover art for women's book are just flowery, script writing nightmares that could easily be used to sell vaginal douches, because publicity teams have given up on trying to sell a female writer to a male audience.
This is boring. This is a boring conversation to have. Because it's idiotic but everyone is deeply entrenched and men have excuses and women have complaints. Also, I'm aware that I'm preaching to the choir. The men who read my website obviously read women writers or they wouldn't be here. Bookslut is a nice safe environment, and the male readers I do hear from are, you know, enlightened. Conscious. Hooray for that. I appreciate you guys.
I don't believe in hierarchy. Nor in page views. We cover what we are passionate about, and so we give the lead feature to the writer we find most important each month. This month it's a Mexican woman. We review the books we think are the best, or most worthy of attention, and this month that is six women and two men in fiction, three out of three women in poetry, and a bunch of men in nonfiction.
Same in Spolia. We seek out the best writers we know, and a lot of the time we are publishing more women than men. And men subscribe, they read the magazine. They read Bookslut, they read the books we cover on Bookslut. To me, it's not that hard, you read what is good, what is innovative, what shakes your world up. Sometimes that's writing by women. Sometimes that is writing by men.
And there are men who are entrenched, who refuse to read books by women or play video games with female protagonists, but for the most part, there are just men and women who don't think about it, who are told by the culture and by the literary establishment that the most important books are written by men, and so oh okay I will just read that. And literary magazines and publishers and book critics all reinforce that. It's part of the reason why I hate the VIDA statistics time of the year, because you see a lot of book critics making excuses, or pointing fingers at other publications or saying yesssss it's so terrible what ever can we do and then going immediately back to reviewing a disproportionate number of men. Or a publication that looked bad will do a special Woman's Issue! and then immediately go back to publishing mostly men in their "normal" issues. But because they put on the display of caring about this, no one looks at their behavior, their unconscious beliefs about male writing and female writing.
There was a time when I read predominantly male writers. And so what did I do, I started writing down every book I read, title and author, so I could see the patterns. And I started thinking, okay, so I really like the modernists, who are the female modernists who get left out of those definitive lists of the great modernist writers. Okay, Mina Loy? HD? Djuna Barnes? Etc.
I'll stop now, but I will say that I read an article that listed the greats of Surrealism, and there was not a single woman on that list. So over on the Spolia tumblr, I'm posting great female Surrealist artists, just in case you need a little direction on where to find them. That is the responsibility of those of us with an audience. To know and seek out and then display the people who are being ignored and forgotten. If you're just propping up those already in power, what the fuck are you doing with your life?
June 11, 2014
For June’s issue of Bookslut, Brendan Riley interviews Mexican writer Guadalupe Nettel about her two books, Natural Histories and El matrimonio de los peces rojos (The Marriage of the Red Fish). With fossils as a metaphor for herself and animals as characters, Nettel continues the long tradition of personification, of using animals and plants as metaphors for the human condition. Here’s some further reading with (traces of) animals and plants:
John Mullan lists the best books in which fossils turn up. Among them: Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, which alongside Shelley Emling’s The Fossil Hunter, tells the story of Mary Anning. Katherine Bouton writes about these two books (that might be added to the Spinster Library) and asks why Mary Anning, an accomplished paleontologist who made important fossil discoveries, did not get the recognition she deserved. Predictably, the answer can be linked to her gender.
Katherine Bouton, "Tale of an Unsung Fossil Finder, in Fact and Fiction" | The New York Times
Ms. Emling cites numerous instances throughout Anning’s life of a scientist’s or an institution’s failing to acknowledge her role. As a contemporary wrote, “Men of learning have sucked her brains and made a great deal by publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”
A rigorous autodidact, Anning taught herself comparative anatomy by dissecting marine animals. She read as much scientific literature as she could find, at one point asking the British Museum for a complete list of its holdings. She cleaned and prepared her specimens so professionally that when a prominent scientist brought her ichthyosaur to public attention, he praised the preparation -- but credited the collector, apparently unable or unwilling to grasp that a girl could have been responsible. She documented her finds with skillful scientific drawings.
In an interview in Spanish, Guadalupe Nettel mentions J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip as an interesting predecessor to her El matrimonio de los peces rojos. Writing about his life and work, Joan Acocella focuses on Ackerley’s long-lasting passion for Queenie, the inspiration for My Dog Tulip.
Something that is hard to explain is why Ackerley fell in love with a female dog. He was decidedly misogynist, and yet he not only chose a girl; he stressed her girlishness. In his books, he speaks of Queenie’s coquetry, and of her jealousy, which he regards as a female characteristic. He describes her sexual anatomy in embarrassing (to me) detail. P. N. Furbank offers the theory that she was a needed substitute, in disguised, furry form, for what Ackerley really wanted: a woman. I don’t believe that. I think it’s more likely that what he wanted was just a piece of the feckless, date-cancelling boyfriend, Freddie Doyle (the incarcerated Johnny of “We Think the World”), who was Queenie’s owner when Ackerley met her. She was a female, and so Ackerley, in buying her from Freddie, acquired a female. Only when he learned to love her did he love her femininity.
Joan Acocella, A Dog’s Life | The New Yorker
This year at Cannes, Godard has revealed his long-awaited Adieu au langage (Goodbye To Language). A man and a woman, their inability to communicate, and a dog. From the synopsis:
From the human race we pass to metaphor.
This ends in barking
and a baby's cries.
Adieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014), Synopsis | Festival de Cannes
In Filip Florian’s The Days of the King, the cat Siegfried is a storyteller in his own right. Translations of his scratches on the furniture complete the tableau of personal and collective histories in a fictionalized 19th century Romania.
Going back to Guadalupe Nettel: in her short story titled Bonsai, plants become the double of humans, a mirror in which characters can recognize themselves.
One day, for example, I noticed that the gardener never paid any attention to the cacti. There they were, forgotten in their dry, coppery earth. Some standing upright like sentinels, others shaped like little balls, hugging the ground, assuming the circumspect position of a hedgehog. I approached their pot and stood observing them for a few minutes. There didn’t seem to be any movement among them, besides this rigid attitude as if on the defensive. […] They were so different from the other plants, like the expansive ferns or the palm trees. The more I looked at them, the more I understood the cacti. They must have felt lonely in this big greenhouse, without even the possibility of communicating with each other. The cacti were the outsiders of the greenhouse, outsiders who shared nothing with each other apart from that status and, because of this, their defensive attitude. “If I had been born a plant,” I realized, “I could only have belonged to this family.”
Guadalupe Nettel, Bonsai (translated by Rosalind Harvey) | Words Without Borders
June 10, 2014
Image: Two Sisters by Marguerite Zorach
I have just discovered Ulli Lust's Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life. It's a comic about her time spent hitchhiking around Italy when she was 17, and you can download an excerpt from the book here.
It reminded me of why it's important to have female travel writers, and why it's important not to just read the men. I was talking with a Romanian woman who, like me, has a lot of trouble standing still. And the first thing anyone will tell you when you're a woman heading out on your own is, that is so dangerous! Neither one of us wants to think of ourselves as a walking victim-in-waiting, but you can't entirely deny your vulnerability. And it is a different vulnerability than a male travel writer, men tend not to be at all aware of what a different world women travel through. (Because men don't read books by women? Just a thought.)
In Lust's book, it's not, oh, this is so dangerous, it's learning. Learning how to trust, how to dismiss fear, and when to filter your world down through this unwilling female vulnerability and when you don't have to. But also, how to hitchhike, how to have an adventure, how to get by on nothing, how to deal with a traveling companion who freaks out on you. And hearing those stories from other women -- and I'm dismissing yoga-style travel here, as well as those "I traveled when I was younger and immature and foolish but now I am a serious woman who is married and I own property like a good grown up" -- who have learned this stuff is not just helpful, but exciting and inspiring.
I was thinking about this, because I got a weird email. I was never so great with trusting my intuition in certain situations, but running around the world with your suitcase for a couple years, that is something you pick up. I met a guy in a bar eight months prior, and there were no red flags. There were a few light warnings -- is there an appropriate sports metaphor here? yellow cards? is that what those are? no fucking idea -- but nothing that made me concerned. They were so vague and minor that now I can't even think of what they were. And so I agreed to meet him for dinner later in the week.
But there was something in the email he sent to confirm dinner. Again, something just kind of minor, but it all added up to something heavy enough to set off my intuitive ping. (And I imagine that ping is exactly like this.) That ping said: don't fucking meet up with him, make your excuse and get out. And this was about a year after being on the road, and I had had enough weird shit happen to listen to that. I made my excuses and got out.
Only to be greeted this week with an email, calling me a "stuck up cunt" and "Who the hell do you think you are?" Eight months later. After a one hour conversation in a bar. And you know what? It cheered me up, so much. I responded to him:
"I'm glad to hear from you. A) Because I had completely forgotten you existed, and B) because I had felt a little weird canceling on you, that maybe I was just freaking out and I should have gone through with dinner. But actually, what you just did, it confirmed that my intuition was completely right! I was totally right to cancel on you and not go anywhere near you. I'm sorry that you are the person that you are, sending these types of emails, but I hope you manage to pull it together."
I have not heard back.
It's not helpful, to travel while being afraid just because you are a woman. It's not helpful to put your gender first in every decision, every scenario. But the only thing that safely replaces that is by listening to your intuition and then doing exactly what it fucking says, don't try to reason with it or ignore it for the sake of being nice or not seeming like a freak. But also by not listening only to your fear. You shouldn't be afraid of every man you meet in... I was about to type "Romania" but actually, I met that aforementioned motherfucker in Chicago, so there you go. The men in Romania have been nothing but lovely and kind, after I was told by many travel guides and websites and acquaintances that they'd all be trying to rape and rob and murder me, like all day long. Also that the dogs would want to give me rabies, but mostly they just want some of my sausage.
And so we need more women travel writers (in print), to write about this stuff and give their versions of being on the road. I'm excited to add Ulli Lust to the shelf and can't wait to track down her other work.
June 9, 2014
Image: Memorial in the former Yugoslavia
While waiting for a text, I mindlessly browsed through my inbox, a necropolis of mummified wants and despair. Most of them read, “Be there in a sec/five/ten,” in response to the perennial burning question of mine that is fueled by an endless supply of anxieties, “Where you at?”
Sure I’d go all Freudian and blame my upbringing for this borderline control freak streak. My mother is not your typical helicopter parent; she is a GPS satellite parent, The Drone before drones were a thing. It is ingrained in me that I shall know the whereabouts of my beloveds at all times, real-time as well as in advance, like the back of my hand, the veins on which coalesce into a landscape of muted desires.
Alastair Bonnett enunciates such desires in Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. In 200-plus pages, he encounters again and again the dynamics of and the interplay between place and space that, both physically and in our mind’s construction, is as complex as the human relationship to both.
And the search remains, well, wanting. As Bonnett readily admits in the Conclusion, “[The] paradox that emerges from the forty-seven disorientating places gathered in this book is humanity’s need for both mobility and roots… a dilemma that can never be neatly or completely resolved. The lure of escape and wanderlust is just as deeply implanted as its polar opposite, the desire to anchor oneself in a particular place, to know and care for somewhere that isn’t just anywhere.”
For this is the fundamental irony of the human condition: the consummation of the journey, namely the moment of the arrival, immediately renders the much-coveted destination the here and now that we cannot wait to leave behind. So we find ourselves forever on the road chasing a future, a desire that never gets fulfilled, only replenished.
Yet we persist. As we make headway, the vast, undistinguished, homogenous space coagulates into places. Fixed but not necessarily foundational, these coordinates frame our movement like grammar facilitates the exchange of meaning; they come to punctuate the epic of our own becoming. Opines Bonnett, “Place is the fabric of our lives; memory and identity are stitched through it... Place isn’t a stage, a backdrop against which we act out our lives. It is part of what we are.”
Place clothes us like a physical extension; the extent to our movement within an architectural structure or is largely delineated by its parameter. Hence the importance of border, the outline of our identity; which, as fluid as it is, becomes manifest in geopolitics. Bir Tawil, a 795-square-mile desert between Sudan and Egypt, is a natural barrier over which the two nations have struggled ever since the beginning of last century. By now its original inhabitants, the Ababda nomads, have already left the region, but the dispute over this no-man’s-land continues in heated terms. As Bonnett puts it, “Bir Tawil is one of the few places on earth where one of the key paradoxes of border-making is being explicitly played out. Borders are about claims to land, but as soon as you draw one you limit yourself. Every border is also an act of denial, an acknowledgement of another’s rights.”
We, a species of judgment, are keen to define things as well as ourselves in opposition to a contrived Other, the enemies that live amongst us, the devil under the bed. There are nearly two hundred Chitmahals, enclaves and “counter-enclaves (an enclave inside en enclave)” tucked in the border zone between India and Bangladesh. These enclaves are entirely left on their own devices to build and maintain their own infrastructure, if the local governments could afford to enforce regulations at all, which is rarely the case in those bubbles of poverty. Residents of Chitmahals are often treated worse than second-class citizens, constantly denied welfare and state assistance. They are made refugees at home because they incarnate the border that separates man’s self-interest from the rest of the world.
And then there are separatists who are conscious foreigners in their native land, insisting upon their difference. Quilombos, free territories established by runaway slaves, dot throughout Brazil, whose government recognized the legitimacy of such townships in a 1998 constitution. Ostensibly a celebration of historical heritage, “by referring to the quilombos as ‘remnants,’ the constitution was making appoint: it was recognizing their history but also dispatching them to the past. When does a place stop being a quilombo? When does it stop being defined by its past?”
All borders are palimpsests, and their authorship often disputable. After all, whether space is or isn’t a place depends on the context. Lined with rental RVs, Lot E of the LAX parking lot is known as the makeshift residence for pilots, mechanics and flight attendants between shifts. “One pilot with a house in Texas says it is just ‘a place to come and get ready for work.’ Yet like so many others, he is geographically trapped, a long way from work and a long way from home.” This temporary lodgment, started out as merely the space between two places, has gradually become an establishment in and of itself.
What is home, really, if not the place in which we are so firmly grounded and long for a distant destination, an alternative existence? Thus our fervor to explore and to succumb terra incognita: “as our information sources improve and become ever more complete, the need to create and conjure new places that are defiantly off the map also grows.” Disillusionment ensues when we find out that a faraway place that we have long held near and dear has never existed, as in the case of Sandy Island, a body of water seven hundred miles east of Queensland, Australia that has been erroneously labeled as an islet for centuries. For it delegitimizes fantasy and our right to dream: we need a future in order to ensconce in the present; we live off promises and potentialities of escape.
It is truly a privilege by planetary standard to reconcile these two antithetical desires, the assurance of a home base and the access to the unknown just below the horizon. The World, a luxury ferry that enables its residents to “tour the planet in private and isolated splendor.” With 130 $2-7 million apartments on board, it is “both the ultimate adventure and the ultimate secure community, catering to the two seemingly incompatible desires of the ultra-wealthy: to live in pampered seclusion and to drink deep of the very best the earth has to offer.” The rich on The World really have the best of both worlds.
But most of us cannot, literally, afford the freedom. As scathing as it is melodramatic, our humdrum domestic life can feel not much different from that of the inmates in Bright Light, a CIA safe house located in Bucharest, where “a basement with six specially designed cells, each one built on springs. The idea appears to have been that a permanent sense of imbalance would disorient inmates, though ironically the cells also had an arrow painted on the floor to indicate the direction of Mecca.” Here we find ourselves trapped in perpetual darkness, the unstable footing as our immediate vicinity, clinging to a faith grounded in a distant, unattainable direction.
June 6, 2014
Image: Office at Night by Edward Hopper
Editor's Note: I am still sick as fuck, and so I am cross posting this from Spolia
In the “Mind” issue of Spolia, Joanna Kavenna’s poetry captures the mundanity, the anonymity, the claustrophobia of office work. As well as the necessary wandering of the mind in such a context.
Office work can be stifling and mind-numbing. But in an effort to escape from that, it can also lead to some interesting creative projects. Or it can be the very source of inspiration for a book.
For Arthur Jones, one of the most ubiquitous office supplies – the post-it note – became his sketchbook during work hours. Eventually, that led to The Post-It Note Diaries, a collection of stories about the everyday from a diverse group of writers, illustrated by Jones’s drawings on post-it notes. Arthur Jones explains the origin of this collection:
The origin of Post-it Note Diaries starts a few years ago when I was working at painfully boring office. I was hired to design banner ads and supermarket coupons but the company was over-staffed so I spent most of my time pretending to be busy. To fend off the boredom, I started covertly writing stories in Microsoft Excel documents and illustrating them on Post-its. I found 3 inch yellow pads of Post-its to be perfect little sketchbooks and I could swipe hundreds of them at a time from the supply closet without anyone noticing.
Arthur Jones | Post-It Note Stories
In 2010, when the consequences of the Crisis were still very visible, Jennifer Schuessler was writing about the place of work in literature, from early 20th century novels to more recent ones, like Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End (2007) and Ed Parks’s Personal Days (2008), about which she writes:
In reality, these satires of late-capitalist office life have less to say about actual work than about the bureaucratic rituals and distractions surrounding it: the joke PowerPoint presentations, the endless forwarding of stupid YouTube videos, the proliferation of Orwellian corporate jargon. In this vision, a job may provide a kind of grim life-boat camaraderie, along with a paycheck, but the work itself is meaningless unto mendacious: a metaphor for the lies and illusions that underlie our economy, if not our civilization.
Jennifer Schuessler, Take This Job and Write It | The New York Times
The epigraph that opens Cubed is taken from Robert Walser’s The Job Application:
I am a poor, young, unemployed person in the business field, my name is Wenzel, I am seeking a suitable position, and I take the liberty of asking you, nicely and politely, if perhaps in your airy, bright, amiable rooms such a position might be free. I know that your good firm is large, proud, old, and rich, thus I may yield to the pleasing supposition that a nice, easy, pretty little place would be available, into which, as into a kind of warm cubbyhole, I can slip…
Robert Walser, The Job Application
In Marge Piercy’s The Secretary Chant, office work is the loss of identity. It is becoming one with the surrounding inanimate objects.
My hips are a desk,
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips.
Rubber bands form my hair.
My breasts are wells of mimeograph ink.
My feet bear casters.
My head is a badly organized file.
My head is a switchboard
where crossed lines crackle.
Press my fingers
and in my eyes appear
credit and debit.
My navel is a reject button.
From my mouth issue canceled reams.
Swollen, heavy, rectangular
I am about to be delivered
of a baby
File me under W
because I wonce
Marge Piercy, “The Secretary Chant” in Circles on the Water: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)
June 4, 2014
Conversationally we keep wandering back to spinsters. Spinsters in my inbox, spinsters along the river, spinsters male and female wandering in and out of my life. We need a spinster library. A library of women who are able to fuck off at a moment's notice and go do her own thing. A spinster who is not afraid to travel alone because she knows which cities you can squat in, which cities you can get luxury hotels for the cheap, which cities has a lover she can call on, no matter what his or her relationship status. We have to remove this idea that it's all sad and lonely and rigid and dried up.
The making of the spinster: Washington Square by Henry James
First we have to puncture all of these silly ideas we have about love and relationships and how they are necessary to make an interesting life. That often requires getting knocked on your ass. But getting knocked on your ass can be a wonderful antidote to putting your faith in fairy tales again. I love in the adaptation of Washington Square, The Heiress, which is super good to have on repeat after a bad breakup, you should play it as you sleep so it goes subliminal, the breakup makes her give up on the chance of a relationship again, but it gives her magnificence. She might not be getting married any time soon, but she can take herself to Paris, you know? Once you can take yourself to Paris, the other stuff stops being as important.
What are you going to do with all of your new freedom?: Coco Chanel by Edmonde Charles-Roux, The Strange Necessity by Margaret Anderson, The Cruel Way by Ella Maillart
Why not build an empire out of hats? Why not have a torrid love affair with Stravinsky? (I mean, Stravinsky definitely did not look like this movie version, but still, why not?) Why not make a shit load of money and rule the world?
Why not change the written word forever? Why not seduce straight women? Why not move from Nowheresville, Indiana to Chicago to New York to the South of France? Why not befriend anarchists like Emma Goldman, wackos like Ezra Pound, why not call all of the greatest minds of your age your friends?
Why not buy a car and drive it from Switzerland to Afghanistan with your favorite female friend? Why not travel across China by train, by foot, by camelback, while it's forbidden? Why not go to India to study with the mystics and then go to Russia to report on the war with Japan? Why not compete in the Olympics while you're doing all of this other stuff?
Spinsters are the crones and hags, the ones who can see all. In Mrs Craddock, it's the spinster aunt who knows a bad match when she sees it, she travels the world on her own schedule and knows that marriage means the relinquishing of freedom. Also of her bank account.
In What the Bee Knows, Travers spills out decades of careful study, of mythology and fairy tales, of history and religion, in tiny little parables and essays. It's a remarkable book.
It doesn't mean there won't be children: Auntie Mame
And finally, a couple paragraphs on the subject from my upcoming book, which doesn't yet have a title because we are fighting it out.
In Celtic fairy tales, there are two roles for women: the bride, and the hag. The bride, she is so very beautiful that men give her what she needs. She moves directly from the protection of the father to the protection of the husband. She wants not. But god, is she boring.
The hag is the rejected, ugly creature. The woman who has to make herself wise, or just passively die on the side of the road waiting for someone to offer aid. She works for what she acquires, she seeks and finds wisdom through struggle. And she may know all of the secrets and understand everything that goes on around her, including the movement of the heavens and the language of the fish in the river and which god you need to talk to for which problem, she will always be physically repulsive.
No wonder the hag is forever trying to mess with the bride. No wonder she says, "Fuck you little girl, here have a poisoned apple." To just have the world on offer, rather than fighting and kicking and biting for it. And then to take it for granted, to just sit there waiting for it to come to you, for disrespecting it in that way, fuck that girl. Poison her, put her in a tower, pull her beautiful hair.
June 3, 2014
I am sick in Romania. It happens, I guess. Sometimes you go to Romania. Sometimes you get sick. I just can't help but think that my life would be better if these two things did not coincide.
Fun fact: Romania has the highest concentration of active Bookslut contributors as any other nation, except for the United States. I don't know why this is, but Romania has now surpassed the UK and Canada and Ireland and other places where you would assume our contributors would come from.
While I talk to myself in a feverish state and hallucinate just a little bit, you should catch up on our new June issue. No Romanians in this particular issue, but we do have a Bulgarian, so at least the Balkans are accounted for. (Is Bulgaria technically Balkan? Where the fuck am I anyway. There is often Guns N Roses playing, so I'm assuming we're in the Balkans. The Balkans or we have slipped through time and we are in my 1991 Kansas teenage bedroom.)
There are writers in this issue you need to know about, including Guadalupe Nettel, the amazing Mexican writer making her English language debut, Elvira Dones who writes about gender fluidity and is from Albania, and Gwendolyn Brooks who is from Kansas.
Also there is a piece called the Anne Carson Workout and it is maybe one of my favorite pieces we have published. Lightsey Darst, she is a delight.
And if you need me, I'll just be here on the floor. No really, it's fine, I'm sure it'll be fine.