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“Karaoke bars usually have a lot more than just karaoke going on. Prostitution, drugs, bribery — they’re the Amazon.com of vice.”
This week at the China Blog, Tong Lam reports on Taiwain’s clever use of statuary to reconcile history with politics in public art.
A picture taken on the set of Agnès Varda’s mostly unscripted film LIONS LOVE (…AND LIES) (1969), a collage-like reflection on the intersection between free love and political turmoil in Vietnam War–era Los Angeles, graced the cover of the debut, winter 1969 issue of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine.Inside this “collector’s edition,” Soren Agenoux, the publication’s managing editor, begins his Q&A with the French filmmaker with an impromptu aplomb, encapsulating the spirit of the quarter-fold film journal: “Shall I ask you intellectual questions? I don’t know what kind of questions to ask you.” In another piece, Amy Sullivan chats with Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin from Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point while Warhol wanders into the room, Polaroid in hand, and asks the young actors to take off their clothes for a shot. And there, nude on the cover, are the three primary members of Varda’s cast, posing like classical statuary: Warhol superstar Viva with James Rado and Gerome Ragni (the two writers of the musical Hair). The auteur stands in the background and holds up a film camera made of cardboard, which divides her face in half. The splitting is a metaphor: Varda both is and is not in this film. And isn’t that always the case with her work?
Glenn Cowan, a colorful Californian who was far better at self-promotion than ping-pong, allegedly boarded the Chinese team’s bus by mistake (he claimed he was waved onto the bus by one of the players), and then struck up a conversation with Zhuang Zedong, China’s ping-pong star. Zhuang just happened to have a gift to present to Cowan — not the standard Mao pin that other foreigners received, but a silk-screened portrait of Huangshan, one of China’s most famous mountains. The next day, Cowan approached Zhuang and gifted him with a t-shirt printed with a peace sign, American flag, and the words “Let It Be.” The lines of communication thus opened, Mao sent a message to the head of the Chinese delegation and ordered him to invite the Americans to China — on a trip that would begin in only 36 hours.
The State Department scrambled to figure out what, exactly, was happening.
This week at the China Blog, Maura Elizabeth Cunningham recaps two books that redress the oversight of “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” as a mere historical footnote, and reveals the secret history of table tennis.
For months now, Yahya Hassan has been the biggest story in Denmark. The young poet has collected literary awards and garnered widespread praise for having the courage to speak his controversial mind. He has also received death threats. On a December afternoon at Copenhagen’s central station, a young man assaulted Hassan while reportedly shouting that he was an infidel who deserves to be killed. At one of his readings, police protection cost 1,000,000 kroner, or a little less than $200,000.
"Why is a poetry book flying off the shelves in Denmark?" PRI’s The World interviews LARB contributor Pedja Jurisic about his article on Yahya Hassan — a story about a teen whose rage-fueled poetry has provoked a public debate in Denmark about immigration.
Read Pedja Jurisic’s original essay for LARB, "All the Rage in Denmark: Yahya Hassan and the Danish Integration Debate."
For the wholehearted bibliophile, there’s something especially satisfying in reading a book about the love of books, or a story that distills the longing to tell and be told stories. Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine’s latest novel, An Unnecessary Woman, is precisely this: a paean to the transformative power of reading, to the intellectual asylum from one’s circumstances found in the life of the mind. However, it’s also a shrewd reflection on the limitations of a retreat from the world of people into the rarified heights of ideas.
Ivan Kenneally and Priyanka Kumar discuss building a life out of books in Rabih Alameddine’s new novel, An Unnecessary Woman, in two reviews: "Not Quite Lost in Translation" and "Reading ‘Anna Karenina’ in Beirut."
One of the biggest challenges of fabulist writing — at least fabulist writing that aspires to the kind of ontological and ethical complexity of Bender’s work — is getting the reader to ask the right questions. When she tells you that a sleepless woman would open the door to greet the mailman who handed her “a basket of seawater, dripping, with stamps floating wetly on top” you’re too caught up in the beauty of the image not to believe her. You buy it, at first glance, simply because it’s so well written. But by definition, fairy tales are built on a metaphorical truth that operates in place of a literal truth, and since the metaphor is the plot, we need to ask why — why seawater? Why the postman? What is the vehicle and what the tenor? How is our reality refracted in this reality? The demand the fairy tale makes is not just that we look more closely at the ordinary, see it from a new and unexpected angle, but that we confront the archetypes we live by. The question we are forced to ask, forced by Bender’s knack for original metaphor by her A.M. Homes–like directness, by her ability to make us believe the unbelievable, is why we believe at all.
Martin first appeared as one of three brothers in some penciled notes Kerouac made for a planned 1942 novel. Peter is the youngest at 21 years old. He, like Kerouac, is prone to daydreaming and hypersensitivity. He is irresponsible and reckless (as was Kerouac deep in his cups), a Whitmanic loafer and lover. Martin considers himself a poet and an inveterate hitchhiker. His first stab at independence is in a small cockroach-infested apartment in Hartford, Connecticut, earning his keep as a grease monkey at a local filling station. When he isn’t working, Peter types a stream of impressionistic short stories on a rented Underwood.
Paul Maher Jr. asks “what importance we can give to The Haunted Life,” in a review of the unfinished novel, recently published on Kerouac’s 92nd birthday.
This strange case of a beheaded writer is hardly the oddest part of Mario Bellatin’s work.
Jeffrey Zuckerman on Mario Bellatin’s recently translated Mishima’s Illustrated Biography, in which the famous author Yukio Mishima survives seppuku and continues to publish books and give lectures — all while headless.