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November 13, 2013
DVD of the Week: “Zabriskie Point”
Posted by Richard Brody
When I first saw, and exulted in, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film “Zabriskie Point,” I had no idea that it was such a film maudit; I only remembered it for its exotic-sounding ads from Top 40 radio at the time. In this magazine, Pauline Kael called it “a rather pathetic mess” and went on from there: “a huge, jerry-built, crumbling ruin of a movie.” In the Times, Vincent Canby wrote that for anyone but “Antonioni buffs,” the movie “will remain a movie of stunning superficiality, another example of a noble artistic impulse short-circuited in a foreign land.” In the Chicago Sun-Times​, Roger Ebert concluded that Antonioni “has tried to make a serious movie and hasn't even achieved a beach-party level of insight.”
Little did I know how troubled the production and the release of the movie were; here’s a terrific blog post by Sam Tweedle on the government’s attempt to shut down production, on the movie’s colossal loss of money, and on the sad story of its lead actors. It’s a movie about politicized students, and it takes seriously the conflicting drives for effective protest and comprehensive revolution, for concerted action and personal fulfillment, for a rich community life and transcendent inner vision. It is—as all of Antonioni’s best movies are—a work of philosophy in cinematic form. In “Zabriskie Point,” his subject was a focus of constant report and debate, and he ran up against what always gives philosophers a hard time: popular opinion, whether among the wider public or just the cultural élite.
November 13, 2013
Mark Twain’s Eternal Chatter
Posted by Ben Tarnoff
When Mark Twain opened his mouth, strange things came tumbling out. Things like hoaxes, jokes, yarns, obscenities, and non sequiturs. He had a drawl—his “slow talk,” his mother called it—that made his sentences long and sinuous. One reporter described it as a “little buzz-saw slowly grinding inside a corpse.” Others thought that he sounded drunk.
He loved to talk: to friends, to reporters, to the crowds of adoring fans who filled lecture halls to hear him. He gave famous after-dinner toasts and tossed off witty one-liners that made great copy for the next day’s papers. He could talk all night, preferably with a plentiful supply of cigars and Scotch on hand. He was always bursting with opinions on topics large and small and humming with ideas for new books and new business ventures. He often had trouble sleeping, and drank to numb his nerves. But he never had trouble talking.
Continue Reading >>November 13, 2013
The Circus
Posted by Peter Schjeldahl
A hundred and forty-two million dollars and change is a lot of money, or is it? What would the former possessor have done with the wad if he or she—or a corporate it—hadn’t splurged, at Christie’s in New York, yesterday​, on the triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” by Francis Bacon? Nothing as interesting, certainly. Far larger amounts of money move around the world—numbers falling on one balance sheet, rising on another—night and day, and few notice. Most entail commodities (stuffs, like oil or wheat, sold by metric measure) or abstractions (stocks and bonds, financial instruments). When a tangible, useless object is the occasion, in public, there’s drama, though the stakes are relatively trifling.
Any price—many millions, a buck fifty—paid for any work of art is absurd. Or call it fiduciary poetry. People keep noting that the value of art is strictly subjective, but that truth sinks in only so far, if at all.
Continue Reading >>November 13, 2013
A Therapist Tries Stand-Up
Posted by Ethan Kuperberg
How’s everyone doing tonight? I can’t hear you! I said, How’s everyone doing tonight​?
I’m sensing that you’re not being honest here. How are you really doing tonight? Again, I can’t hear you, but I’m guessing that, deep down, you truly want to be heard.
So, I just moved to Los Angeles from New York, and I’ve noticed people here really care about seeming healthy. I didn’t say being healthy; I said seeming healthy! It’s like, hello, you don’t get antioxidants from people seeing you take shots of wheatgrass!
Continue Reading >>November 13, 2013
Daily Cartoon: Wednesday, November 13th
Posted by Paul Noth

Buy or license this cartoon.
November 13, 2013
A Thrilling Round of Literary Jeopardy
Posted by Mary Norris
Once you know that Tom Nissley, the author of “A Reader’s Book of Days,” just out from Norton, was an eight-time “Jeopardy” champion, things fall into place. A tall, tweedy-looking guy, though not actually wearing tweeds, with something hawklike about the eyes, Nissley, who lives in Seattle, took only a year to research and write this four-hundred-plus-page volume, which is crammed with incidents from the lives of writers and fictional characters. On Monday night, downstairs at the McNally Jackson bookstore, Nissley m.c.’ed a round of Literary Jeopardy. But first he read his entry for November 11th, a somewhat hapless day in literature: Kurt Vonnegut is born; the character Leonard Bast, of E. M. Forster’s “Howards End,” dies in an avalanche of books; James Baldwin meets (and later insults) Richard Wright in Paris; and Fred Exley, the narrator of Frederick Exley’s “A Fan’s Notes,” “suffers what he takes to be a heart attack but what a nurse at the nearby hospital informs him are the pains of ‘drinking too much.’” Nissley also screened a brief video showing mounds of books being swallowed whole by a single volume, and he gave the audience a taste of his exquisite index, which features tantalizing long entries on such writerly topics as day jobs, marriage, mothers, Melville, sports, and suicide. Catherine of Siena perches between Willa Cather and the “Cat in the Hat,” and William Faulkner nestles between fathers and Farrah Fawcett.
Continue Reading >>November 12, 2013
The Story Behind “What Would I Say?”
Posted by Ian Crouch
Am fond of Seinfeld, and I disparage the value of baseball arguments.
That was the first phrase generated just for me this afternoon by What Would I Say?, a new app that runs users’ old Facebook status updates through a text-generating bot to produce phrases that are variously nonsensical, funny, or, with enough attempts, oddly resonant. (On Tuesday night, high traffic seemed to have been putting pressure on the server hosting the site.) Some of my other early results included:
I come to smash a tale of desperation, decision, and regret with sad eyes
A great Recession.
Back to the habit of eating flecks of things
Friday as good a day as any for my wedding
I come neither to bury nor to learn its definition in British slang.
Continue Reading >>November 12, 2013
John Heginbotham’s Dark Theatre of Attachment
Posted by Andrew Boynton
Watching a new dance by John Heginbotham is like witnessing the introduction of a new language. It seems familiar, for it’s built from bits of our experience, or things we’ve seen before. But he raids the grammar and vocabulary and syntax we know and cobbles together something strange and alluring, leaving us off balance, but pleasingly so. “Dark Theater,” the work that his company, Dance Heginbotham, premièred at BAM Fisher recently, was a perfect example of what his fertile mind is able to bring forth.
Continue Reading >>November 12, 2013
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs Cover the Eighties
Posted by Ben Greenman
In 2006, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, recording as Sid and Susie, released “Under the Covers, Vol. 1,” a collection of performances of their favorite songs from the nineteen-sixties that included heavy-rotation classics such as the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” and the Beach Boys’ “The Warmth of the Sun” alongside less familiar relics like the Marmalade’s “I See the Rain” and the Left Banke’s “She May Call You Up Tonight.” Three years later, Sweet and Hoffs returned to take a crack at the seventies with a double disc that ranged from power pop (the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way”) to proto-punk (Television’s “Marquee Moon”). Trading lead vocals, accompanied by meticulous recreations of the original music—the effect was like an unimaginably skilled karaoke party.
And now, like slightly slow clockwork, the pair has arrived where they were always destined to go: the nineteen-eighties. It’s the decade, of course, in which Hoffs rose to stardom with the Bangles (they released their first album in 1984 but dominated airwaves in 1986, with “Different Light”) and Sweet began to take steps toward his own power-pop reign (he released “Inside” in 1986 and “Earth” in 1989 before breaking big with 1991’s “Girlfriend”).
Continue Reading >>November 12, 2013
Inheritance and Invention: Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal
Posted by Casey N. Cep
How should one pray? Not even the Psalmists or the disciples knew the answer. The Psalms are filled with pleas for God to place words on the tongues of believers; the disciples were even so bold as to ask Christ to teach them how to pray. The struggle to listen, but also to speak to God, animates the scriptures.
We have inherited the rewards of that struggle—the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer—along with other prayers, from the liturgical life of the church, like the Doxology, and from the life of the community, like the Serenity Prayer. To these inherited prayers we add our own, spontaneous expressions: the whisper of thanks for a car accident anticipated but averted, the silent but specific petition for a promotion or a raise, a team’s collective plea to win, the wild screams for understanding after the death of a child.
Continue Reading >>
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