Friday, April 12, 2019

Staff Picks: Horses, Heaney, and Hypebeasts

Issue 228

Staff Picks: Horses, Heaney, and Hypebeasts



You’ve probably seen Daisies, Věra Chytilová’s dizzying 1966 masterpiece, especially if you were a young woman in the early aughts browsing LiveJournal or Tumblr, where screenshots of its two heroines dancing, throwing food, and declaring themselves “spoiled” abounded. But it’s difficult to find the rest of Chytilová’s films. Over the years, I’ve seen only two: the aforementioned Daisies and 1963’s Something Different, available via the Criterion Collection. That’s why I’m excited to spend the next few days essentially living inside the Brooklyn Academy of Music for their series “The Anarchic Cinema of Věra Chytilová.” What does a teen horror movie–meets–metaphor for authoritarian repression look like under a director like Chytilová? Or a comedic critique of the aging male libido? I guess I’m going to find out this weekend—and maybe you will, too. —Rhian Sasseen 
There’s a woefully sparse amount of Seamus Heaney in the Paris Review archive (two poems and an Art of Poetry interview), but a selection of a hundred Heaney poems, newly compiled by his daughter five years after his death, will be released this summer. In her tender introduction, Catherine Heaney writes that she hopes “a newcomer will enjoy reading these poems for the first time, and that the long-time devotee might rediscover a forgotten favourite or simply listen again to the poetic voice as it changes and matures over the course of the years.” Reading through this relatively slim selection of Heaney’s understated verse, I was both new initiate and old friend; as I lingered, I felt a gratitude for Heaney and a pang of loneliness that he is gone. The last line of his poem “Blackberry-Picking” sings this conflicted sense of mourning beautifully: “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.” —Lauren Kane


Jenifer Sang Eun Park’s Autobiography of Horse—out this month from Gaudy Boy, a new indie press that publishes authors of Asian heritage—documents her “critical obsession” with horses. The obsession is “critical” in that it is turned toward and engaged with. There are risks associated with telling people you love anything: “This is when people give you things imprinted with the horse—a book, a mug, a poster, a sticker, a shot glass, a stuffed horse, etc.,” she writes. “Each gift is another device for torture.” It’s not that the gifts are ill-intended. In fact, this kind of gesture reminds me of all the small ways we try to reach each other on a daily basis: repeatedly, frenetically. Gestures nearly always result in a mix of recognitions and misses. Would we really want a gesture to make us feel entirely seen—that is, transparent? After reading Jenifer Sang Eun Park, I am more willing to accept life’s inevitable excess, though it’s terrifying: “I’m afraid of looking into the horse’s eyes and finding in that single gaze the meaning of both hatred and love.” Autobiography of Horse is a high-wire act of accepting a multiplicity of voices and forms. It slips into different personas, into images, back to text. The book asks its reader: Will you hold all of these things at once? Sometimes the horse knows itself to be good enough, sometimes less so. Sometimes the horse is hiding, but always, by putting itself on the page, the horse is not alone. —Spencer Quong
There are some days I feel as old as subway tiles, and this week was a string of them. Postponing an email I felt too ancient to type, I read a profile of the singer-songwriter Tayla Parx. I like a woman who knows her strengths, and I love a writer behind the scenes. Parx is both, and she’s an all-star. She’s written No. 1 hits in nearly every genre, perhaps most notably for Ariana Grande, but her own music is what provided the Aphrodite dip I was looking for. Parx’s videos for “Me v. Us” and “I Want You” overflow with juicy hues, and her completely magnetic presence gave me the spring-dress feeling I never feel. It’s pop with pop. And instead of griping about autotune or kids these days, I just adjusted my headphones and bumped up the volume. —Julia Berick
Along with the rest of the internet, I’ve spent the past two weeks wandering in an angsty trance spurred by the pop singer Billie Eilish’s new album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? If you’ve heard about it, you likely fall into one of two camps. The first holds a highbrow suspicion of the seventeen-year-old homeschooled hypebeast. But I’m not onboard with the popular inclination to deny teenage girls credit for their significant cultural influence, so I fall into the second group: those who are awestruck and raving on Twitter. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is not a perfect album (I skip “xanny” and “wish you were gay”), but songs like “ilomilo” are so good I’ve been hopping off the subway early and walking the rest of the way home, seeking out moments of solitude so I can rest my mind in Eilish’s ambiguous emotional void. It’s easy to call her some mix of Lorde, Banks, and maybe FKA Twigs, but those parallels feel insufficient. Eilish’s best quality is the contradiction she represents: fragile but invincible, scared yet defiant. In “you should see me in a crown” and “bury a friend,” a darker, bass-dropping bravado is accentuated by the sound of a knife being sharpened and an unsettling shriek. Eilish is prepared to duel with an eerie growl, but in “when the party’s over,” she offers a reluctant vulnerability, lilting “I could lie, say I like it like that.” A tension remains between the image she creates—lounging in Louis Vuitton cargo shorts or chomping down on a spider—and the soft hum of her voice. Perhaps this is what’s most striking and appealing about Eilish: despite the swagger, her music contains an underlying anxiety and the desire to push beyond it. It’s a feeling I identify as distinctly teenage girl, which is to say human. —Nikki Shaner-Bradford


Walter Benjamin is the unlikely hero of the French writer and artist Frédéric Pajak’s Uncertain Manifesto.

The Paris Review No. 228, Spring 2019

The Ragpicker: Frédéric Pajak’s Uncertain Manifesto



In his monthly column Archive of Longing, Dustin Illingworth examines recently released books, with a focus on the small presses, the reissues, the esoteric, and the newly translated. Read an excerpt of the book discussed below, Uncertain Manifesto, here
Is collage a fantasy of wholeness or a revolt against its possibility? Walter Benjamin, eclectic aesthete, commodity historian, theorist of shards, often wrote in fragmentary forms—most notably the Denkbild or “thought-image”—in order to forgo the possibility of finished work, which he considered the death mask of conception. The representative figure of modernity for Benjamin was the ragpicker, who “early in the morning, bad tempered and a tad tipsy, spears remnants of discourse and fragments of language with his stick and throws them, grumbling, into his cart.” A century on, this once-emergent persona has become commonplace. In 2019, we are all unwitting collagists of culture, collectors of bytes and blurbs, list makers, GIF gawkers, anxious improvisers, curators of ever smaller forms in whose composite we detect something like a self-portrait. Our literature reflects this recombinant impulse: see the rise of fragmentary fiction; the blocky, asterisk-divided essay; autofiction’s itemized subjectivity; the staccato cadence of the Extremely Online novel. It would seem a kind of paternity has been established: we are all of us the ragpicker’s children.
Walter Benjamin is the unlikely hero of the French writer and artist Frédéric Pajak’s Uncertain Manifesto, the first of whose eight volumes has recently been published by New York Review Books. A hybrid work of text and image, it reconstitutes intellectual history—Benjamin’s especially, but also Samuel Beckett’s and the Dutch painter Bram van Velde’s—into oblique memoir. “As a child, maybe ten years old, I dreamt of a book mixing words and pictures,” Pajak writes in the book’s preface, “snippets of adventure, random memories, maxims, ghosts, forgotten heroes, trees, the raging sea.” Set beneath large and starkly beautiful black-and-white drawings of fields, crowds, seascapes, corpses, palms, and shadowed alleys, Pajak’s Manifesto blends personal memory with history, biography, memoir, travel writing, and aphoristic fiction. The resultant narrative register—spectral, echoic, image rich, materially preoccupied—suggests the improbably varied source material of the self.
Uncertainty is an attractive literary quality, and “uncertain manifesto” is a reasonable description of the greatest novels: To the Lighthouse, say, or Moby-Dick. These books comprise extraordinary declarations—but of what exactly? We can and do discover significant themes—time, death, failure, family, love, revenge, art making, solitude—without ever feeling that we’ve laid the work bare. This is to be desired in art: that it outpace the terms of its own interpretation. Pajak is attuned to this ambiguity, an opaque quality that lends the drift of his pages a satisfying blur, like landscapes seen from a train. He begins by pointing us in a particular direction: “The evocation of erased History and of the war of time,” he writes, “such is the theme, expressed in disjointed fashion, of the Manifesto.” But his desire to reclaim the past extends well beyond the diagnostic motivations of the historian. There is something autobiographical in this search, as if his true parents were not, as we are told, a Polish infantryman and a student at the Sorbonne, but rather the theories, objects, paintings, novels, islands, and historical ephemera that so fascinate him. He seems to have sprung up, fully formed, from something old and inanimate, a changeling from the ruins.
Totality is the specter of Pajak’s scattered Manifesto, though one suspects he rejects completion not out of aversion but rather out of thwarted desire. His topics are unstable, often decaying rapidly, as if lingering too long on one might cause the truth of another to expire. After a brief biographical sketch, for instance, we leap directly into “In Praise of Misunderstanding,” a pictorial essay exploring Beckett and Van Velde’s brotherhood of austerity. What did a hopeless Irish writer see in this cracked Dutch mirror? A fellow exile, void walker, laconic stylist, stygian mystic. “I don’t like talking. I don’t like people talking to me. Painting is silence,” Van Velde once said, sounding like nothing so much as a gaunt Beckettian protagonist. (In a memorable turn of phrase, Beckett wrote that Van Velde’s paintings made “a very distinctive noise, that of a door slamming far away.”) Pajak traces the contours of their correspondence with quotes, anecdotes, art history, and an informal, sure-handed criticism. We discover that Beckett, poet of the unsaid and the unsayable, found his equal in Van Velde, who said, “I paint the impossibility of painting.” Pajak warms amid such paradox.
In “There Is Only Sky,” we are first introduced to Walter Benjamin, the owlish presence at the heart of the Manifesto: “Of medium height, corpulent, Benjamin was an ordinary man in a dark suit with chubby cheeks, hair cut en brosse and graying at the temples, and a black mustache that concealed the fleshy lips of a ‘sensitive Epicurean.’ ” He is a writer whose profundity is often uncomfortably close to inscrutability. Pajak invests the legendary abstraction with flesh and blood, strong legs (if weak lungs), even a libido. We find in these chapters a closeted sensualist, smoker of hashish, prodigious walker, and canny grifter, a mobile theorist now dissecting ennui’s effect on storytelling aboard the freighter Catania, now exploring the Ibizan countryside with Gauguin’s taciturn grandson. (More marvelous trivia: the local children nicknamed Benjamin “El Miserable.”) The Ibiza cathedral clock, which bore the inscription Ultima multis—“the last day for many”—would profoundly affect Benjamin. Even as catastrophe approached, he chose to stay in the Old World. “If the enemy is victorious, not even the dead will be safe,” he wrote. The Ibizan Benjamin lingers in the mind after finishing the Manifesto, tramping through carob and almond trees, scribbling in notebooks, the white glare of sunlight on spectacles. This is a fuller, rounder image of Benjamin than we are used to: an appetite marbled with intellect, and not the other way around.
When writing about himself, Pajak is far cagier, even elusive. “You have to speak on the basis of nothing, of the poorest of words,” he admits. “You have to light a fire with damp wood.” In “The Wind of Things,” he describes the pleasures of deserted mountain hotels: the bored waiters, the rich foods, the post-season chill. Suddenly we find ourselves underground where a beautiful blonde woman is pissing on a subway bench, and then, just as quickly, we’re near the sea, “the waves like gleaming fingers,” and Pajak comes close to revealing his true intentions: “I decide to get down seriously to work on my ‘manifesto,’ to write and draw as the mood takes me. And to read, or rather reread enormities, contemporary or not. Read, and live. And share a little of what I read, of what I live, and why, and how.” The scattered images, scenes, and unattributed quotes, the digressive strangeness, the bits of biography and fiction: they are the individual shards that once constituted a mirror, Pajak’s own.
“Will I come back someday as a yellow blade of grass on the endless prairie?” Pajak asks on the Manifesto’s final page. It is a fittingly isolate image: not the meadow or the field but the individual blade, already yellowing with time. The whole is scorned for the particular. This respect for the individual—be it person, artwork, or object—is inherent to his critique of modernity. In Benjamin’s immortal ragpicker, Pajak’s passion was anticipated: “But the rags, the refuse—I do not wish to inventory these, but allow them to come into their own in the only way possible: by making use of them.”
Dustin Illingworth is a writer in Southern California.

Joys of Breaking and Entering

Published in 1988 and set in the Florida Keys, Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering is a strange waking dream of a novel. 

The Paris Review No. 228, Spring 2019

The Joys of Breaking and Entering



Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Belle Boggs revisits Joy Williams’s novel Breaking and Entering.

In college, I lived in thrall to a professor named Sally Doud, who taught my first fiction workshop classes. Sally—that’s what we called her—was tall and angular, with coarse blonde hair, an unfussy stylishness, and a husky laugh that resounded out of her office, where I went as often as I thought reasonable. The office was tiny—smaller than any of my other professors’ offices—and windowless, with off-white cinder-block walls. It may well have been a closet before Sally wedged her desk inside. There was a vent with a fan, and she would blow cigarette smoke so carefully in the direction of the fan that the fire alarm never went off.
I probably went to Sally’s office more than was reasonable—I thought that once every two weeks was okay—because her office was the place where I most believed that I could one day become a writer, and because I loved every book she recommended. She introduced me to Andrea Barrett and Ron Hansen and Jayne Anne Phillips, and would often pass along Vintage paperbacks that I hope I returned. I know there is at least one I did not return, because I still have it. The familiar white cover shows an unsmiling blonde woman in a blue string bikini, standing behind a stately white dog. She’s opening French doors, just a crack, and in the  spotless glass you can see palm trees, a pelican, the beach. The scene is cool and vaguely menacing.
Published in 1988 and set in the Florida Keys, Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering is a strange waking dream of a novel. Liberty and Willie, young married drifters, spend their days breaking into expensive, unoccupied houses, which abound along the Gulf of Mexico. They drink the owners’ champagne, shower in their enormous bathrooms, sleep in their beds, read their romance novels, attend parties at their private clubs. Willie and Liberty are not homeless—they have a rental they don’t like much, or bother locking, which sits under a giant banyan tree that Liberty greets when she returns to it because “it did no harm to keep in touch with the vegetable world.” Willie and Liberty are unemployed but have some money from his parents, from whom they are estranged. Willie says that his occupation is saving people—literally saving them, from drowning or choking or car accidents. He is aloof and cryptic and prone to disappearing; when Liberty asks him to lie down with her in one of the borrowed beds, he misunderstands her as asking for sex, when what she really wants (and what he doesn’t offer) is comfort. She fears their joint “fascination with the buzz saw, the stove’s red electric coil, the divider strip, the fierce oncoming light.”
Liberty, for her part, has saved Clem, an enormous Alsatian dog she found, near dead, as a puppy, and befriends two young children, Little Dot and Teddy, whom she cannot save. She is reserved, a depressive, “one of those wives,” Willie tells a chatty, clueless guard at one of the gated communities they break into. Liberty is preoccupied with her own barrenness: “Stolen houses made her think of babies all the time.”
Breaking and Entering is not an overtly political novel, but it makes you think about capitalism, waste, and the general threat posed by adult humans to everything they touch. Little Dot’s mother ties a rope leash around her daughter’s wrist to keep her from wandering off. Teddy is shuttled from activity to activity but prefers climbing Liberty’s banyan (“There are twenty-eight places to sit or lie on that tree,” he tells her). Houses breathe chilly air conditioning into the atmosphere; pelicans become tangled in fishing line and starve. The people in positions of relative power—the gatekeepers, the parents, the wealthy homeowners—are poor caretakers of anything but what they own. As Liberty notes, “They protected their possessions as though they had given birth to them.”
Breaking and Entering is a perfect novel to read on the cusp of adulthood, when trespassing remains an active interest, even a pastime. I trespassed all through my childhood—through fields and woods and sometimes into old barns and abandoned homes. In college, too, I was interested in rooftops, cemeteries, night swimming, examining specimens in the back rooms of the medical school. I liked to be anywhere that was empty and off limits, and I cultivated, too, an appreciation of the kind of odd, stylized encounter that Williams represents. I lived off campus, with a roommate who dropped out of school on the first day and would get up in the middle of the night to go to work at a bakery. I was always searching for jobs that would pay my rent while also allowing me time to read—I tried paid medical experiments, but fainted at the sight of needles. I worked during the week as a salesclerk in a fancy boutique, on weekends as a character at an amusement park. This was the person Sally Doud saw outside her office, every other Tuesday or Thursday, looking for a new book or words of encouragement. I wonder whether she noticed that I forgot to return this book, and whether she replaced it.
Because Breaking and Entering is also a fine novel to return to as an older person. A sort of test: Who have you become? Where are your allegiances now?—and do you really live a life in service to those allegiances? Do you turn away from strangers, from your own loved ones? Do you like to pee in the sand and look at the stars (like Little Dot)? Do you climb trees (like Teddy)? Are you preoccupied with owning things?
What do you make of a paragraph like this:
In the silence, Liberty could hear Clem drinking from his water bowl. One has these assumptions, Liberty thought, these foolish assumptions about life. This is the day that the Lord hath made—that sort of thing. It proceeds from sunrise to sunset. Dare, don’t adapt. Rejoice. Be truthful. Get enough rest. Take it easy on the sun and salt. Love. Reflect. Praise. Learn. As a child, Liberty had learned how to write with ascending accuracy between increasingly diminishing lines. That’s a child’s life. A child starts with intense admiration for the world. It’s him and the world. But there are too many messages. Most are worthless, but they still must be received. One must select and clarify. One must dismiss and forget. One is in a lighted room, then it turns dim. Inexplicably. One’s intense attachment turns to fear, then hate, then guilt. Finally, sorrow.
Do you sit in mystery, in wonderment? Does that paragraph make you cry? Do you recognize the “increasingly diminishing lines,” the light that “turns dim,” the path from attachment to fear to sorrow?
Joy Williams was forty-four when Breaking and Entering was published, two years older than I am now. It was her third novel, her fourth book. Recently my friend sent me a beautiful black-and-white photo of her—maybe taken around this time—rowing a boat with a German shepherd as her passenger, smiling big, in some river or tributary. Looking at it I think of my professor, Sally Doud, and her sly but welcoming smile, her door always open—just a crack—the air around it faintly clouded by smoke.
To be young is to be in a space that belongs, always, to someone else. The young are always trespassing, and getting older seems to be carving out space, possessions, territory that is ours alone. Life’s encounters become less stylized. But the genius of Joy Williams, and this novel especially, is that her allegiance remains steadfastly with the young, even as she recognizes that there is a tide of life that carries us away from wonder and in the direction of fear.
Perhaps by watching the young we can relearn our wonder, our attachment to one another rather than to things. The other day I was in a poetry writing workshop at my university. The poet Kaveh Akbar was leading us through a series of exercises designed to connect us back to our unconscious, back to a sense of awed bewilderment. It was a two-hour workshop, held in a large room we had reserved in our library, a place where students often gather to work on homework or read between classes. We kept the door propped slightly open, and near the end of the workshop, as Akbar read a long, intensely personal poem of his own to us, a student wandered in. Akbar paused in his reading and said, “Hello, welcome.” The student nodded and said, “What’s up?” then sat down in one of the few remaining chairs.
I watched the student, curious to see whether he would get up and leave—he hadn’t registered for our workshop, and clearly was there by accident. But he stayed, and took his backpack off as Akbar returned to the poem, and during the question-and-answer period he raised his hand. “How does your mind go to a place,” he wanted to know, “where you can write this poem?”
It was an unanswerable question, in its way, but important. It was the question of a person who has not lost his admiration for the world or his ability to trespass. It was a reminder to keep the door open, always.

Belle Boggs is the author of the essay collection The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood, and the short story collection Mattaponi QueenThe Gulf, her first novel, was published by Graywolf on April 2, 2019. 

unique challenges for photographers

Augusta National presents unique challenges for Masters photographers

They are on the outside looking in — and for sports photographers covering the Masters, that’s all part of the challenge.
Among the many unique elements of the storied golf tournament is that photographers and other media members do not have inside-the-ropes access, so it’s far more challenging to get into prime position to see the action, especially when there’s a strict no-running rule at Augusta National.
“Every other tournament you cover — I’ve covered the British Open, Ryder Cups, the U.S. Open and the PGA Tour — you’re inside the ropes,” said Reuters photographer Brian Snyder, who has covered every Masters since 2006. “So that’s easy: pin, ball, photographer — make a line. It’s not rocket science.
“But here you can’t do that because you’re not inside the ropes. So you need to know before coming to the hole, you have to have an idea where you’re going. You don’t have time to spend thinking about it. It’s too crowded.”
Seasoned photographers working the Masters, typically shouldering 20 to 30 pounds of equipment, often make a beeline for high ground when they approach a hole, know all the shortcuts to get around the course and are experts at sweet-talking spectators — known as “patrons” in these parts — to move over just a smidge.
“You learn different tricks for every hole,” said Curtis Compton of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who has covered 30 Masters. “When Tiger Woods came along, and you’ve got like 20,000 people following him from hole to hole, the only way you could cover him is with radios and hop-skipping the holes. I’ll get him this hole, you get him the next, I’ll get him the hole after that.”
When working as a group — Reuters has a team of four on the course, for instance — photographers communicate with radios and are deathly afraid of their earpieces coming unplugged if jostled in a crowd. That could lead to a disruptive and humiliating chirp of the device, and that happens from time to time.
Experienced golf photographers know not to snap shots when a player is standing over his putt, or during his backswing. But sometimes the camera has a mind of its own.
“Years back, I had a camera on my shoulder and it just started going off,” Compton said. “It shorted out. I took it off and threw it on the ground, and it’s over there like womp-womp-womp-womp running.”
Sometimes those malfunctions are caused by rain, which presents an entirely different headache for photographers.
“When it rains, all the umbrellas come out,” said Mike Blake, a Reuters photo editor. “That’s another worst nightmare.”
Make no mistake, these people love their jobs. They get to witness sports history and document it for the world, sometimes in a more enduring and artistic way than television.
“The course is part of the story here,” Compton said. “You’re not just shooting golfers. The beauty of the golf course is always part of it. So your images aren’t just tight sports action.”
Unlike a U.S. Open, World Series, Olympics or Super Bowl, the Masters happens in the same place every year. In many ways, the spectacular course is the star.
“You could send a picture with the golfer the size of a little ant, and anyone will say, ‘That’s Augusta,’” Blake said. “The golf course is sometimes more important than the golfer, and where does that happen in any other sport?”
The photographers know the ins and outs, tricks and hacks around the grounds. For instance, although they’re not allowed to use phones to transmit their images from the course, there are some secret stations at a few spots — hidden behind walls and camouflaged with green paint — where photographers can upload their photos to the media center (and nowhere else) via an ethernet connection. That allows them to keep working with minimal interruption.
On Monday, when they encountered each other during a practice round, Compton delivered some bad news to Snyder: They could no longer enter the restrooms through the exit door, thus circumventing the line. That had been tradition.
“You’ve got to be hydrated out here, but you can’t over-liquify,” Compton said. “Somebody told me that if you can’t hold it for eight hours, you’d never make it as an [Associated Press] photographer.”
Reuters photographer Brian Snyder tries to snap a shot at Augusta National on April 8.
Reuters photographer Brian Snyder tries to snap a shot at Augusta National on April 8. (Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)
Then there’s the schmoozing and finagling to get the lens into position. Sometimes it requires lifting the camera high overhead, in what’s called a Hail Mary move, while for others, it’s kneeling for a low angle through a forest of legs.
“For very popular golfers and on the 18th hole, you have to run up at the last minute and it’s completely full of golf fans, some of them there all day in their chairs,” said Lucy Nicholson, another Reuters photographer.
“But the nice thing about people not having cellphones on the course is they talk to other people more often. So people seem friendlier sometimes than at other tournaments. So on every hole almost, you’re having a conversation with somebody and talking your way into a spot.”
The key for these photographers is to notice everything … yet not be noticed.
“The golfers shouldn’t know you’re there,” Snyder said. “If they notice you, you’ve probably done something wrong.”