COLUMNS

  • Books

    Robert Woolley’s Going Once

    THERE IS PROBABLY some German word to describe the peculiarly modern shock experienced at the zoo when you catch sight of an animal that’s familiar to you from photographs but that you rarely encounter in the flesh. A giraffe, say. Suddenly, there it is: the real thing! Perhaps it’s a little bit shorter than you expected, but on the whole you’re astonished and delighted to find that it looks uncannily like giraffes are supposed to.

    This is the sensation you experience while reading Going Once, the memoir of Robert Woolley—head of Sotheby’s decorative-arts department and auctioneer extraordinaire.

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  • Books

    Norman Mailer’s Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man

    IN MIAMI A FEW YEARS BACK, during a reading of his novel Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer told the audience that “authors reveal more about themselves through their choice of words than with the subjects they write about.” Then he went on to use words like rage, psychopath, revenge, violence, chaos, and fury.

    If this was irony, Mailer seemed oblivious. After taking on the life of Marilyn Monroe in an early-’70s “interpretive biography”—a hodgepodge of facts woven together with bits of psychosexual speculation—Mailer has now done the same for Pablo Picasso. Borrowing liberally from other sources,

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  • Books

    Christopher Knight’s Last Chance for Eden

    Most daily-newspaper art critics are at least readable because they arrive at their desks from places like J-school, the city beat, or the sports department, where plain English is still spoken. But they’re often either ignorami who don’t know Kunst from Koons or “arts writers” forced by broadsheet downsizing to cover everything from the local woodwind quintet to installation art based on Lacanian reconsiderations of gender transgression (one of my favorites). So, with notable exceptions, they have nothing of interest to say to anyone in the art world. Art-critic art critics, on the other hand,

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  • Books

    W. J. T. Mitchell’s Picture Theory

    . . . confusing all the traditional divisions of labor.

    —W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory

    PICTURE THEORY IS ABOUT the invasion of image by text and of text by image in post-World War II American culture. It is also a book that conspicuously exemplifies what it talks about. W. J. T. Mitchell was originally trained at Johns Hopkins University, in what was at that time a conservative English department focusing on canonical works of English literature with a small admixture of American literature. Like many university people working in the humanities today, Mitchell is more or less self-taught in

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  • Books

    Guy Trebay’s In the Place to Be

    Guy Trebay, In the Place to Be, with photography by Sylvia Plachy (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 367 pages, 17 black and white illustrations.

    WITH ITS PERFECTLY FUSED connotations of fabulousness and flux, the title of this collection of newspaper columns, written for The Village Voice between 1981 and 1993, magnanimously invokes New York City, worms and all. The reportorial stance here is one of relaxed, often seemingly egoless suavity, sanguine and judiciously observant, yet full of the raking angles and astringent detail that bespeak a flâneur engagé. Guy Trebay’s interests

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  • Film

    Gus Van Sant's To Die For

    FOLLOWING IN THE WAKE of the commercial and artistic failure of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Gus Van Sant’s new movie, To Die For, is perhaps his most conventional film, in spite of its fractured diegesis and multiple points of view; conventional, certainly, in its ostensible subject, a satire of the mass media, particularly the allure of television. This rather disingenuous theme, through which one arm of the media “critiques” an obstreperous rival, has been traversed in many movies: Network, The King of Comedy, Being There, and more recently, Serial Mom and Natural Born Killers. The trend

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  • Music

    Dominique A.

    IN 1992, THE INDIE French label Lithium launched its third record, the debut album by a young singer from Nantes named Dominique A., to a sudden, unexpected succès fou. La Fossette (The dimple), a low-fi, tremulous, and disquieting homemade CD, was filled with melancholic little tunes tapped out on a Yamaha keyboard and a Caslo VL Tone, accompanied by the occasional electric-guitar riff. The album’s relation to the French tradition of singer-songwriters was like that of turpentine to varnish: Dominique A.’s peculiar combination of sentimentality and acidity is reminiscent of Beck’s flaunting of

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  • Books

    Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory

    Landscape and Memory, by Simon Schama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 652 pages, 250 black and white and 45 color illustrations.

    ONCE, YEARS AGO, I got lost in the woods of New Milford, Connecticut. I had drifted away from a backyard party in search of Indian pipe flowers for my little daughter and lost the trail. It got darker and darker, and the more I tried to find my way out, the more I seemed to hem myself in: there were no guideposts, no markers, no signs of civilization anywhere. The land grew marshy; I had horrid visions of quicksand. Twisted trees and prickly bushes blocked my path

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  • Film

    Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction

    The Lost Object . . . must be therefore both adored and feared or despised, set apart. . . . “The most profound lost object” . . . is the immortality or perfection we imagine ourselves missing. . . . We invent gods and devils to measure up to it.

    —Peter Canning, “The Regime of Misery and the System of Judgement”

    FOR A WHILE THERE, as you may or may not remember, the abject was having its little moment on the intellectual catwalk, putting in its appearance as an esthetic-slash-ontological category. Confronted with the apparent impossibility of almost everything, we eagerly embraced the obvious

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  • Books

    Mark Leyner's Hyper Text

    I inhabit vast pavilions whose emptiness

    is set ablaze by the vermillion sunset.

    My menagerie of shaved animals is not open to the public.

    But you may go to the special room

    where every object is coated with Vaseline

    and you may put something up your ass.

    I will be down in half an hour.

    Presently I am drugged and supine in my lichen-covered bathtub,

    dazedly eating lichee-nut fondue

    from a chafing dish of gurgling white chocolate at tub-side,

    as a succession of anatomical freaks mount a klieg-lit proscenium

    and perform for my entertainment.

    A scorched breeze conveys the acridity of spent rocket

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