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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Cheston Knapp (Managing editor of Tin House): I really hate it how some folks talk about poetry as though it were that flavor of jelly belly you carefully pick around, like buttered popcorn or jelly or, if they don’t have the gene (the Pleasure Gene), licorice. How they act like poetry is some course you can skip. As though it were not an entire fucking meal. So I’ve been dining out on some poetry. Read Tony Hoagland’s What Narcissism Means to Me, which was like eating a cheeseburger and french fries with a milkshake on the side. Read Mary Ruefle’s new collection, Trances of the Blast, which was like a hearty salad with fruit and foreign cheese in it, arugula and mixed berries with some semi-firm sheep’s feta. And then I am just finishing up Frank Bidart’s new book, Metaphysical Dog: Poems, which is like sitting down for a five-course Michelin-starred meal paired with wine; it’s left me feeling gut-struck and wrung out but giddily full. I want to take the menu home with me. Seriously, though, can’t recommend these books enough. Do your tummy a solid.
Diane Chonette (Art Director, Tin House): I recently watched the HBO movie release, Behind the Candelabra, about the last 10 years of Liberace’s life. I knew very little about him before seeing the film. My only recollection being his extreme fashion choices and the fact that old ladies loved him (just like Lawrence Welk). The movie was superb. A deeply intimate portrayal of the flawed relationship between Liberace (played by Micheal Douglas) and Scott Thorson, a man 40 years his junior (played by Matt Damon). Directed by Steven Soderbergh and set between 1977 and 1987, the film highlights an era when unprotected sex and prescription drug abuse were the norm as the first few cases of AIDS began getting reported in the US. What is astonishing to me about this film is that despite its star-studded cast, it was rejected by the major Hollywood studios and deemed “too gay” for American audiences. The film has since received critical acclaim, several awards including 11 Primetime Emmys, and was the highest rated TV film released by HBO since 2004. I can only hope that some of the studio executives that rejected it have taken notice.
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): I can’t think of the last time I was so affected by a film as I was by The Act of Killing. Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer follows members of an Indonesian death squad responsible for the mass murder of thousands of accused communists in the mid-sixties as they reenact, in a range of cinematic styles—film noir, musical, slapstick comedy—their crimes against humanity. They do so—at least at first—with the bravado of teenage boys that just saw Scarface for the first time, bragging about their power, all the blood on their hands. In fact, when the film’s primary focus, Pemuda-Pancasila founder Anwar Congo, was recruited into the movement, he was a street-level gangster scalping tickets outside of movie theaters; he admits to using Hollywood violence as a model, an inspiration, for his murders. That the film is so often funny, so deeply surreal, only makes it all the more haunting. I’m hesitant to spoil the experience with too many specifics, but I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. Drake’s new album is pretty good too.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): “Without style, there’s no music,” said brilliant Argentinean bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla, and he was bursting with both. His lush and fiery “Libertango” pairs beautifully with everything from Sidecars to Sancerre, and as the early fall evening comes on, tune into Piazzolla’s “Soledad” or “Luna” for a bit of longing, sweetness and remembrances of summer.
Veronica Martin (Editorial Intern, The Open Bar): My end of summer, transitional reading list is less a putting together and more a falling together than anything. One book that has ended up crossing summer’s boundary is George Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. It turns out, Perec is kind of the perfect person to read at this juncture. Moving from one season into the next is very much a clearing of space, a brief moment when passing between two walled rooms—summer, fall—you find yourself with no barriers on either side. Who better than Perec to set the challenge to observe more closely the city, the room, the bed you are in?
Perec begins his meditation with the space on the page, playing with its roominess and boundary, so that his prose is sometimes transformed into something more aesthetically recognizable as poetry. To read his treatment about The Closet, or The Bed, is to finish a section with the sensation that there is more space to explore; that he has successfully rounded up a set of attributes for this place, this thing, but also that he has opened the door into what they could be. The work is personal and functional and his ideas are all at once poetic, narrative and sort of prescriptive, albeit in the same way an event score is, functioning more like choreography than rule, more like suggestion, and very open to personal interpretation. He titles sections “Things we ought to do systematically from time to time,” (“in the case of a new building, try to remember what was there before”) and “Practical Exercises,” (“Read what’s written in the street”).
Perec’s meditation is also perfection as a reference book, to see, perhaps, what Perec has to say about staircases “We should learn to live on more staircases. But how?” Or about walls “Pictures efface walls. But walls kill pictures. So we need continually to be changing, either the wall or the picture, to be forever putting other pictures up on the walls, or else consistently moving the pictures from one wall to another.” This book is at once charming and profound, begging one’s own interpretation of occupied space. It’s an invitation to see a wall for more than a wall, or perhaps to see it simply for its most essential, subjective and ephemeral wallness. And this, for me, begs a cautionary idea about objects and humans: we should not treat the Self and the Other as we treat our Walls and Pictures.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): As a horror devotee and art school survivor, I’m embarrassed to admit that I only recently learned of photographer Cindy Sherman’s slasher flick about a killer proofreader. Office Killer (1997) stars a mousy Carol Kane, as the surprisingly creepy protagonist, and Molly Ringwald, who manages to be both irritating and endearing. Cheesy and quintessentially 90s, the film is a clever jab at the perilous world of office politics.