Friday, April 22, 2011

Anatomy of "The New Yorker," Volume LXXXVII, No. 9, 18 April 2011

I have several magazine subscriptions: Aperture (because I can get an educator's discount and it's the only contemporary art magazine I now have), Vegetarian Times (I live where there are no decent restaurants and like to make good food), Wholphin (a DVD "magazine" and a great resource though I have the last five to view by my bedside), McSweeney's (because I love them so but I've never opened nor have read one of the issues since subscribing - I just like to look at them = call me a fool but who wouldn't want this on a bookshelf?), Lucky Peach (because I'm a sucker and it was cheap), and The New Yorker (the one I actually read and refer to time and time again).

I have been contemplating this blog post for a week now because the latest issue is the best one I have ever read and it merits its very own, mammoth post. I immediately noticed the enticing cover, wishing I was there rather than here (summer in a foreign country or 44 degrees and a stormy day?). When I opened it and realized it was the "Journeys" issue, I was immediately hooked. After skimming the table of contents, I noticed a couple of my favorite authors contributed stories and what? Did I really see that? An article on earthworks? I vowed not to skip ahead and continue from the front.

The Talk of the Town featured an article on Ai WeiWei who is often on my mind of late. The second thing that caught my eye was Evan Osnos' article, "The Grand Tour: Chinese Vacations in Europe." First of all, it made me sick. I would never in a million years want to participate in a vacation (speed marathon) like this: five countries in ten days. Versailles, the Louvre, AND the Eiffel Tower in ONE day! The paragraph below was a pleasant addition to things that people do in motel rooms with objects that I would like to photograph one day. Hmmm... watch for something in this paragraph occurring on this summer's road trip!

It took me two days to get to the article I really wanted to read (keeping in mind, I can only read this magazine while eating breakfast when school is in session or when I'm on an airplane). The first day, I skimmed it and the second day, I read it over again, slowly. Geoff Dyer wrote one of my favorite books on photography, The Ongoing Moment, which I read for the first time last summer so I was excited when I saw that he wrote this article. He and his wife went on a road trip that featured visiting Walter De Maria's Lightning Field and Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. Their experience of the Lightning Field was so different from mine, I read this section three times trying to determine whether or not we visited the same place. Here are some highlights (though this was very difficult to choose):

"Everyone sees the same picture of "The Lightning Field" - the one on the cover of Robert Hughes's "American Visions," of a lightning storm dancing around the poles. But present-day visitors tend not to know - or are reluctant to accept - that it is naïve, even a little vulgar, to expect lightning. We came in May, too early in the year, but even during the peak season of storm activity, mid-July to late August, lightning strikes are the exception. De Maria spent years searching for an appropriate spot, somewhere with a high incidence of storms. He wrote that there are 'approximately sixty days per year when thunder and lightning activity can be witnessed from "The Lightning Field."' I don't know if any record has been kept of the number of lightning storms that have converged on the field itself, but if you happened to be there for one, you would count yourself very lucky to witness what must surely be one of the greatest shows on earth. De Maria suggested, rightly, that the light is every bit as important as the lightning, but calling it "The Lightning Field" was a sensational bit of marketing.

"Over the years, voices have occasionally dissented from the consensually reverent view of what goes on here.... the critic John Beardsley claimed that the buildup helped 'insure that one will fully expect to see God at "The Lightning Field." Needless to say, He doesn't appear. No artwork can live up to this hype.' Except that it could and it does. Even without the bonus of lightning, the experience of "The Lightning Field" transcends its reputation. Of course God does not appear. There's a lot of space, but, even as a figure of speech, there's no room for God. "The Lightning Field" offers an intensity of experience that for a long time could be articulated only - or most conveniently - within the language of religion. Nothing about "The Lightning Field" prompts one to genuflect. Rigorously atheistic, geometrically neutral, it takes the faith and the vaulting promise of modernism into the wilderness. Part of the experience of coming here is the attempt to understand and articulate these responses."

When Nancy and I visited on 3 July 2009, it was indeed the greatest show on earth. I won't even go into the section on Spiral Jetty as I would love to finish this blog post before 1 AM. Next up... Jonathan Franzen's "Farther Away: "Robinson Crusoe," David Foster Wallace, and the Island of Solitude." I was sold upon reading the title and even more so when I learned that Franzen wanted to visit an isolated island 500 miles off the coast of Chile (Alejandro Selkirk) to read the novel "Robinson Crusoe." That takes the back seat to the mourning of the suicide of his friend David Foster Wallace (whose partial remains he brought in his backpack). It's a profound essay and I could easily imagine his state of mind (oscillating between frustration, despair and relief) and the locale (steep cliffs drenched in thick fog to reveal an unknown paradise at the end).

The past couple issues have featured CATS (though there isn't one depicted in this cartoon, its indirect reference feels like it should go to the collection of 3,770).

Keith Gessen's "Nowheresville: How Kazakhstan is building a glittering new capital from scratch" reminded me so much of another capital built in an isolated area that I am both fascinated by and slightly fearful of (the latter because I'd like to see them but have no desire to travel that far into the middle of nothing). I'm referencing Brasilia. It was the epitome of Modernist architecture while the buildings in Kazakhstan, like the Khan Shatyr below could define spectacle. There is a beach on the top floor in one of the coldest cities on earth. Brrrr....

I rarely laugh at the Cartoon Captions on the last page and I always am perturbed because the one I think is most funny, never, ever wins. This week two (one by Roger Ebert!) made me chuckle. Even though I know people will vote for the famous man's quote, I'm partial to the middle one.

It took me a week to read this volume. I might not tear it up but keep it whole (the first issue I own that is complete). We'll see.... In any case, it is Button Omelet approved!

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