Finding Antigone In Ferguson

Nov 22 2014 @ 3:34pm

In an interview about her book Citizen: An American Lyric, the poet and playwright Claudia Rankine recalls visiting Ferguson, Missouri a week after the protests began this summer. She describes how visiting the memorial reminded her of classical tragedy:

It was a very hot day, and there were a lot of people standing around, waiting for something to happen. Things were happening at night, the police force was coming out at night, but during the day they were just sitting in their cars, watching out the windows. And so there was a kind of odd, steamy, hot August waiting happening.

Really, I just kind of looked at the memorial and stood. And then I found myself being approached by people. A man stood next to me, and saw a picture of Michael Brown at the memorial, and said, “He looks like me.” I didn’t want to say yes, because I didn’t want to align him with a person who had passed away. So I said nothing. And then he said it again, he said, “He looks like me.” So at that point I looked at him and looked at the photo, and he did look like Michael Brown. And I began to think, I wish there was a way to stop him from identifying with somebody who is dead. But the real understanding was that he too could be dead, at any point. He just stood there. He was a teenager. He was still in his pajamas.

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Not long ago, we featured Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” as our Saturday short story. This week, she accepted the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards, and gave a brilliant acceptance speech, seen above, in which she stated her desire “to share the honor with her fellow-fantasy and sci-fi writers, who have for so long watched ‘the beautiful awards,’ like the one she’d just received, go to the ‘so-called realists.’” And then Le Guin reminded us of why fantasy matters:

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The Man Who Made Mapplethorpe

Nov 22 2014 @ 1:27pm

Philip Gefter’s Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, his new biography of the curator Sam Wagstaff, reveals how Wagstaff’s romantic relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe aided the latter’s rise as a highly celebrated and controversial photographer in the 1970s and ’80s. In a preview of his book, Gefter describes their meeting this way:

In 1972, when he was a 50-year-old man about town, he met and fell in love with Mapplethorpe, a struggling artist half his age. Mapplethorpe, who attended Pratt Institute, a pre-eminent art school, had gotten his cultural education at Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel but had not yet claimed photography as his medium. He was still making collages and assemblages with found photographs from physique magazines and Polaroid self-portraits, often naked. Wagstaff thought they were in keeping with the conceptual work being done in that period, but the unapologetic homoerotic component was completely new.

Fan Zhong’s review of the biography sketches a telling scene of what Wagstaff did for Mapplethorpe:

On February 5, 1977, a floppy-haired boy from Queens named Robert Mapplethorpe truly arrived. Following the opening of the 30-year-oldphotographer’s New York exhibitions at Holly Solomon’s venerable SoHo gallery, where he showed refined studies of flowers, and at the Chelsea alternative art space the Kitchen, where he showed refined studies of S&M acts, 200 guests in black tie filled One Fifth, a stylish Art Deco restaurant off Washington Square. Diana Vreeland, Catherine Guinness, Elsa Peretti, and Halston; the art dealers Klaus Kertess and Charles Cowles; Danny Fields, the notorious manager of the Ramones and Iggy Pop; and Arnold Schwarzenegger all circulated amid a riot of downtown’s demimonde. Mapplethorpe turned up in a velvet dinner jacket—the feral photographer at his art world cotillion.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley famously declared poets to be the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Adam Kirsch updates the sentiment, claiming that “the social role of poetry has actually changed very much in the last 200 years…. No one in power in 1814 was asking for Shelley’s views on the Congress of Vienna, just as no one in power in 2014 is asking for John Ashbery’s views on climate change”:

There are, however, two significant differences between our time and Shelley’s, both of which work to the disadvantage of 21st-century poets. The first has to do with cultural literacy — the kinds of things that educated people, who then as now furnished the personnel of government and business, are expected to know. In the Victorian age, when a critic like Matthew Arnold addressed the public, he could expect it to know and care about the classics of English poetry. That is why writing about literature, for Arnold, could serve as a way of writing about society and even politics. Today, no such knowledge can be taken for granted; neither the poetry of the past, nor still less the poetry of the present, can be readily invoked in public discussion, because only specialists are familiar with it.

This in turn may explain the second difference between then and now: the imaginative confidence of poets themselves. Shelley was wrong to think that writing poems like “Queen Mab” or “Prometheus Unbound” would bring revolutionary change to England, but his conviction that they would is what allowed him to write the poems in the first place. Today, poets with a grasp of reality must start from the premise that nothing they write will be much read or have much influence on public discourse. A poetry written under such circumstances may have its own virtues, but they will not be the virtues of the Romantics — conceptual boldness, metaphysical reach, the drive to bring religion and politics themselves under the empire of art. As if in recognition of this fact, poets in our time prefer to imagine themselves not as legislators, but as witnesses — those who look on, powerless to change the world, but sworn at least to tell the truth about it.

Recent Dish on political poetry here.

The View From Your Window Contest

Nov 22 2014 @ 12:00pm

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You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.

Last week’s results are here. You can browse a gallery of all our previous contests here.

When Literary Fame Comes Late

Nov 22 2014 @ 11:10am

In a conversation about the novelist John Williams – most famous as the recently rediscovered author of Stoner – Charles J. Shields and William Giraldi compare his posthumous reputation with that of Herman Melville, riffing on why his writing resonates now:

Charles J. Shields: The literary parallel that comes to my mind is what happened to Melville. He died in such deep obscurity that more than one New York newspaper began his obituary with a sentence like, “The current reading generation will not be familiar with the name Herman Melville, but there was a time when the writer’s work was on everyone’s lips.” The Melville Revival didn’t occur until 45 years after his death. Williams didn’t die unknown of course in 1994, but he saw nothing during his lifetime like the attention that’s been given to his novels recently. And I bring up the Melville-Williams connection for another reason, too. You mention “the architecture of an expert craftsman.” As an experiment, I broke one of Melville’s shorter chapters in Moby-Dick into free verse — it read and sounded gorgeous. Williams was that sort of craftsman, too. … What’s your opinion about why Williams is being carried into the pantheon dead instead of living?

William Giraldi: Our need for beauty and wisdom is such that we will find it: sooner or later, one way or another, beauty and wisdom will have out.

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The Little Stories Of YouTube

Nov 22 2014 @ 10:22am

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Mark Slutsky describes his absorbing website, Sad YouTube, as being comprised of “[m]oments of melancholy, sadness and saudade from the lives of strangers, gleaned from the unfairly maligned ocean of YouTube comments.” In an interview, he expands on why he started the site and what might be its deeper meaning:

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A Poem For Saturday

Nov 22 2014 @ 9:34am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Last week I introduced Sharon Olds at a benefit for Red Hen Press in Pasadena. At Knopf in 1983, I was her editor for The Dead and the Living, her second book of poems, winner of both the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the National Book Critics’ Circle award. On the plane to LA two days before the event, I reread a number of her splendid books, all devotedly published by Knopf. Stag’s Leap, from 2012, her compelling collection centered around the end of her marriage—part elegy, part dirge, part paean to all it was—was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and Britain’s T.S.Eliot Prize. We’ll post several poems from that book this weekend and in the days ahead, including a poem especially apt for Thanksgiving.

“The Last Hour” by Sharon Olds:

Suddenly, the last hour
before he took me to the airport, he stood up,
bumping the table, and took a step
toward me, and like a figure in an early
science fiction movie he leaned
forward and down, and opened an arm,
knocking my breast, and he tried to take some
hold of me, I stood and we stumbled,
and then we stood, around our core, his
hoarse cry of awe, at the center,
at the end, of our life. Quickly, then,
the worst was over, I could comfort him,
holding his heart in place from the back
and smoothing it from the front, his own
life continuing, and what had
bound him, around his heart—and bound him
to me—now lying on and around us,
sea-water, rust, light, shards,
the little eternal curls of eros
beaten straight out.

(From Stag’s Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds, copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.)

A New Hearing Hack

Nov 22 2014 @ 8:46am

Phantom Terrains is an experimental tool that makes Wi-Fi audible by streaming digital signals to a listener’s hearing aids:

Each Wi-Fi element – such as router names, data rates and encryption modes – are assigned their own tones, which are sent to a phone and picked up using his hearing aids. The foreground and background layer of sound are built up through the strength of the signal, direction, name and security level on these networks. For instance, distant signals sound like click and pops, while stronger networks play a looped song.

Frank Swain, who was inspired to create the project after receiving a diagnosis of hearing loss, describes what it’s like to use the platform:

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The View From Your Window

Nov 22 2014 @ 8:11am

Photo Nov 12, 5 31 46 PM

Roanoke, Virginia, 5.31 pm