What do you get when you mix France's Bourbon tradition with Japanese Pop art in the Palace of Versailles? You get the newest scandal in the frequently scandalous world of contemporary art. Takashi Murakami’s exhibition at Versailles has not only stirred up controversy, but also provoked a lawsuit from the Prince Sixte Henri de Bourbon-Parme, a descendent of the Bourbon kings, in the name of “respecting the chateau and its ancestors.” M. de Bourbon-Parme claims that he’s not “against the modernity of art, but against a way of thinking that denatures and does French culture no good.”
Indeed, in some respects Murakami’s brand of pop art—which he calls “superflat”--couldn’t be more glaringly different from the Baroque splendor of Versailles. The palace embodies the triumphant power and control associated with Louis XIV, the Sun King, who instituted Versailles as the seat of French culture and monarchic power. By way of contrast, Murakami’s art couldn’t be more “plebian”. It’s influenced by Japanese comic books, turning pop culture motifs into greater-than-life, colorful and bizarre sculptures. One of Murakami’s most controversial piece, “My Lonesome Cowboy,” features a larger-than-life boy masturbating. This sculpture is absent from the Versailles exhibit. But the odd-looking pink teletubby perched on a globe of flowers (I don’t know how else to describe it) and the blond sexy maid in red high heels stick out like a sore thumb in Versailles’ majestic hallways and spectacular rooms.
(Goodloe Byron is a novelist -- with an unusual approach to literary economics -- as well as a book cover designer whose graphic work was recently featured on Mark Athitakas's Notes on American Fiction blog. The Wraith is his latest book, from his own Brown Paper Publishing.)
Levi: Your novel The Wraith is very charming. The portrait of hapless trailer park hipsters going about their lives reminds me of the affectionate stylings of Richard Linklater or Jim Jarmusch ... but I also understand that Jose Saramago was your primary inspiration for this novel. Can you tell me what your mission in writing this book was?
Goodloe: It is actually a knockoff of a Saramago book, but it warped in the rain having took so long! The original idea was to do something like the duplicated man; it would be about a little fellow who is suddenly deprived of the dimension of necessity. That is to say that he no longer needed to sleep, eat, drink water, come in from the cold, shave or whatnot. It would then follow that he didn't need to work either, or do anything. What I imagined was that this person would then flee this terrible freedom. He would then go about pretending to be alive as he was before and that his life would become a kind of hollow nightmare.
This isn't really a novel that many people would like to read, I think. That has not stopped me in the past, but it also wasn't enjoyable to write either. I started it about eight times five years ago, then I quit writing altogether. Then, last year, my friend Pablo D'stair and I were discussing the idea, which was the only book that I wanted to write anyway. In this discussion I figured out that the story could not really be told directly, as it was more of a static concept. So I decided to give it a Heart of Darkness touch and describe the story of someone on the periphery of such a man. Mr. Kurtz, for example, is much this some problem, because he is not a person so much as a concept; the collapse of civilization in the face of its underlying barbarity. Once I figured this out, it was very simple and I wrote it in a few weeks while another book was at the printer. All of the events involving the main characters I kind of made up on the fly, though a variety of them I'd thought up during my 'hiatus'. They came together all right I think. The brain stepped out of my way once I figured out the Kurtz thing.
Levi: I notice a strange price on the book's cover: $0.0. What's that all about?
Goodloe: All right, so ... this is kind of complicated to explain. But basically I don't really like to submit stuff places or do the whole writer thing. I just find it ghastly as an experience. Also I would like to point out that my books tend to be a bit of a drag and I design them that way. I want the audience to have to get a bit scrappy. Books that succeed in the market tend not to share this worldview. So instead I save up enough so that once a year I can print up about ten thousand books. Then throughout the year I roll out to different cities or wherever I can get and I hand them out for free or leave them in coffee shops.
The minutes get shorter, the walls start to close in
Feels like the brain is hanging on but with clothes pins
I've hidden in the darkness for too long
I make it look all right but in the inside its so wrong
I want life to change but I don't know if it can
for a man or machine or whatever the fuck I am
I stand alone burned every bridge over the troubled water
No longer hiding from my personality disorder
-- Even Shadows Have Shadows
1. I first heard of Eyedea a couple of years ago from my son (who also tells me about Cage, Aesop Rock, Yak Ballz, Slug, etc.). The talented rapper from St. Paul, Minnesota suddenly died this weekend, at age 28. There's still no word about how it happened.
2. I really don't know what it means, probably nothing, that Eyedea was from Franzen country.
3. Was the Cadbury factory in Birmingham, England an inspiration for Roald Dahl's Wonka works?
"Why the hell do I want to see a movie about Facebook?" a friend said about The Social Network, the new film about the geeky young entrepreneur who created Facebook. "Don't I get enough of it everywhere else?"
That might be the best reason not to see the movie, but it's quite a film, and possibly even a future classic (I bet it will get nominated for a few Academy Awards too). It's a serious movie that revolves around a moral question: what does it mean that everybody's favorite social network was built by an awkward, alienated college student who had lots of trouble making friends?
Those who resent Facebook's intrusion into our common privacy can enjoy some zuckerfreude here, because young Mark Zuckerberg's personality is splayed out in the most unflattering poses -- and yet he remains, in Jesse Eisenberg's deft impersonation, mostly charming and lovable. Unlike many of his fellow nerds who haunt the social circles around Harvard University during the movie's early scenes, skinny nervous Zuckerberg is naive but never quite shy. He has strange reservoirs of confidence, rooted perhaps in his mastery of Linux and Apache. He tries boldly to puzzle out the social codes -- attitude, style -- that lead to popularity on campus. But these are puzzles he can't seem to solve, and he is forced to face this uncomfortable truth repeatedly. The long journey of coding that ends with the creation of Facebook begins in a desultory dorm-room cloud of romantic misery after Zuckerberg's semi-girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him. Thus was Facebook born.
1. After a whole lot of passionate (and incorrect) guessing, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (the dapper fellow above just announced it on a live webcast from Stockholm). I must admit that, while I once enjoyed hearing from this Peruvian novelist at a New York reading with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, I don't know much about his work as a whole. I'm looking forward to learning more. And, yeah, I do wish Ngugi wa Thiong'o had taken it. Maybe next year.
2. A Ted Hughes poem dealing directly with his wife Sylvia Plath's suicide has been revealed for the first time.
3. I like Julie Taymor and I really like William Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I'm pretty psyched about a new Julie Taymor film of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a female Prospero, along with the likes of Russell Brand and Alan Cumming in various roles.
Here's the challenge I gave myself, after I was invited to write a brief review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom for The Book Studio: think of something to say about this book that hasn't already been said.
It's no easy challenge, since this is the big book of the year, and also since I've already written about the book twice on Litkicks. But I was determined to come up with at least one or two original angles for my Book Studio piece. I was also determined to write about the book and only the book, and not to review the media coverage (as so many other reviewers have done).
Congratulations to up-and-coming indie novelist Tao Lin for scoring a full-page review -- not necessarily a positive review, but a riveting one -- in yesterday's Sunday New York Times Book Review. Nice break!
I'm not workin' the NYTBR beat anymore, but I will pay attention at moments like these. I've been watching Tao's unusual career from the beginning (when I reviewed his first book and called him "faux naif"), and I've appeared at a couple of literary readings with him. His performance style, like his prose, is highly deadpan. The nervous laughter in the audience comes during his awkward silences, just as it does in his novels.
Yeah, just like Oprah Winfrey, I totally fell for Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Sure, the massive media hype is a turnoff, but what does that have to do with the quality of the novel itself? Freedom, it turns out, earns the praise.
I've written a review for another publication, but I also want to write about the novel on my own blog, so I thought I'd mention four other excellent novels that Freedom called to mind for me, each representing a different aspect of Franzen's big novel. If Freedom stimulated your mind (as it did mine) and left you eager for more, here are four related paths you may want to follow.
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
The cerulean warbler in Freedom, the sandhill crane in The Echo Maker, Richard Powers' epic novel about a young man with a brain injury in Nebraska. Both books contrast the tawdry lives of humans with the idyllic innocence of nature (and both books frankly lecture their readers on ecology, and manage to toss metaphors for the Iraq War into the mix too).
Powers is a more intellectual and philosophical writer than Franzen, and he's also nowhere near as funny (in fact, I'm not sure if Richard Powers is ever funny). But neither writer is afraid to show his vast ambition, or to write with purpose and force; both The Echo Maker and Freedom are heavy bricks designed to break open your skull and get you to think harder. Oh, also The Echo Maker won the National Book Award in 2006, and Freedom is going to win it in 2010.
Brooklyn will get over it pretty quick.
(Please welcome a second Litkicks appearance by Claudia Moscovici, who recently told us about her experience writing the novel Velvet Totalitarianism. Today she introduces the main idea behind her book Romanticism and Postromanticism, an art-related idea that resembles some of the theories I've recently heard about genres and literary fiction. Enjoy ... -- Levi)
Artistic freedom and aesthetic value are interrelated. Art that is not considered valuable by the artistic establishment -- art critics, museum curators and art historians -- doesn’t even get the chance to be evaluated by the public. Such art doesn’t make it to museums of contemporary art like the Guggenheim. It also doesn’t get discussed in the art sections of influential newspapers and art magazines. Analogously, literature that is not considered valuable by the publishing establishment -- literary agents, editors, publishers and critics -- doesn’t get a readership because it never makes it into print. (Granted, of course, the Internet has recently opened up possibilities to express more diverse points of view that didn’t exist before.)
So artistic freedom isn’t just about creating whatever one wants in the privacy of one’s home or studio without the fear of being arrested or shot for it. Although this basic freedom is very necessary, artistic freedom also entails a correlate liberty: namely, the public’s freedom to be exposed to a wide variety of artistic and literary styles. That way we can make our own choices and express our personal tastes. When there’s only one politician or political party to vote for on a ballot it generally means there’s no real freedom of choice in politics. When there’s only one artistic current or style displayed in museums of contemporary art it means there’s no real freedom of choice in art.