The internet was very interesting this week! Highlights: Robert Lowell’s art of losing, Detroit’s archives, Solange is the GOAT, Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, translating a person, what “authenticity” means in 2019, an 1851 murder mystery, Mount Everest deaths, octopus intelligence, and Ray J.
Elizabeth Bishop has been my favorite poet and writer for years. She was very close with the poet Robert Lowell, and most of my knowledge of him and his work comes from Bishop’s perspective. Although Bishop is mentioned here, this is one of the first times I have considered Lowell apart from her.
The Dolphin Letters, a new book chronicling correspondences between critic Elizabeth Hardwick, Lowell, and their circle from 1970 to 1979, begins with Lowell living in England as a visiting fellow at Oxford and Hardwick, his wife at the time, staying in New York. Hardwick writes, “I can’t cope. I have gotten so that I simply cannot bear it… a life that has become too weighty, detailed, heavy—for me.” In England Lowell begins an affair with Caroline Blackwood, whom he eventually would divorce Hardwick to marry. Lowell’s 1973 sonnet sequence The Dolphin heavily borrows from and quotes Hardwick’s letters, creating a dense social ethical web.
2. The Paris Review: Detroit Archives: On Haunting
I chose this story mostly because it is about Detroit. I grew up in Michigan but never spent much time in the city. Recently, I moved to Detroit’s affluent suburb of Bloomfield Hills to study at Cranbrook Academy of Art. I don’t go to the city as much as many of my fellow students, but everyone is always talking about Detroit and the Academy’s relationship to it. There are discussions of redlining and gentrification, the role of arts and the creative class revitalizing the city, and injustice that plagues the city. There are also beautifully extravagant homes, like the Whitney Mansion written about here, from the city’s heyday.
3. YouTube: Solange Gives an Epic Mini-Concert with When I Get Home Album Medley
Solange has her shit on lock. Damn. The polymath artist stopped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform a mini-concert featuring songs from her most recent album, When I Get Home. Solange is indubitably one of the most talented artists working right now.
4. Vox: Reckoning with Slave Play, the most controversial show on Broadway
I am not sure if I agree with the use of “controversial” here. Perhaps difficult, in a Toni Morrison sense, would be a better choice of word. Jeremy O. Harris’s first major stage production, Slave Play, “takes the form of a psychology experiment, in which three interracial couples are tasked with role-playing white-black, master-slave relationships as a way to make sense of how their racial identities factor into their sex and personal lives.” The play first introduces the characters “in mid-19th century garb and with Southern accents of varying quality, contemporary details peek through to clarify that what we are watching is instead a modern-day performance of slave-master dynamics in the Civil War-era American South, conducted by a therapy group comprised of mixed-race couples, in service of two grad students’ thesis project.” Harris is making waves on Broadway, and the play asks, “What does it really mean to be black in a relationship with a white partner? Does the history of slavery continue to impact sex and power between these groups, and how? Who holds whom accountable, if so?”
This is a very interesting roundtable with Allegra Frank, Aja Romano, and Constance Grady discussing the play.
5. LA Times: She was hanged in California 168 years ago — for murder or for being Mexican?
We have lost more histories and more stories than we have documented. A Mexican woman known as Josefa was hanged in the summer of 1851 for allegedly stabbing a man in the heart. Her trial took place the same day, and she was sentenced to hang two hours after the verdict. The man that she lived with, Jose, who was presumed to be her husband, was also tried in relation to the crime, but was not sentenced to hang and was given 24 hours to leave town. But what Josefa was actually guilty of will never truly be known. Was it murder, or was it being a Mexican woman?
6. Believer: Translating a Person
As I mentioned above, Elizabeth Bishop is my favorite writer. The most profound thing I have read about language and translation comes from an anecdote from the introduction to One Art, a collection of Bishop’s letters. James Merrill recalled a story where one night, “over Old Fashioneds by the stove, a too recent sorrow had come to the surface; Elizabeth, uninsistent and articulate was in tears” when a young Brazilian painter walked in and saw her weeping—something uncharacteristic of her decorous personality. Merrill continues that Bishop “almost blithely made him at home… switching to Portuguese, ‘Don’t be upset’” he understood her to say “I’m only crying in English.’” I think about this story a lot.
In this essay, the Mexico-based Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra meditates on what it means to have his books translated, and what it means to translate himself to English, his second language. In literature, “when a translation is praised, what is meant is that it doesn’t seem like a translation.” But translating a person is harder; humor, jokes, and analogies don’t work in the same ways. “To translate a person is ‘to translate a text that doesn’t exist,’ says Adam Phillips” in an essay quoted here. I’ve made a lot of friends at grad school who know English as a second language, and they express this sentiment a lot.
7. Eater: What Did ‘Authenticity’ in Food Mean in 2019?
I’ve really started to vibe with Eater recently. I think it is because of the context that they give food. Food is a wonderfully cultural, political, and personal thing. “Authentic” is a buzzword in foodie culture whose meaning can be weaponized and shifted. From the 1970s to the 1990s, chefs where generally defining “authentic” to mean something that would be served in a home and not a restaurant, or something that hasn’t shifted for an American palate. The term, when applied to food, is usually in reference to “ethnic” cuisine that isn’t from European cultures, where people are looking for “‘hole in the wall’ taco place, the basement noodle shop, the spot that didn’t have a menu in English.” Now, the word has been aligned with “the notion that European food is upscale and innovative, while basically everything else is inherently cheap, casual, and stagnant.” But there are many ways to be authentic and “like gender, race, and money, authenticity is a social construct — something that we’ve given a certain amount of power to as a society, but that is ultimately ours to define, or to give up on entirely.” In an increasingly globalized world, chefs are becoming more specific and infusing more of their personal narrative into their food and once again redefining what “authentic” means.
8. GQ: Chaos at the Top of the World
This past May, photos circulated around the internet of a traffic jam on top of Mount Everest. At the time, I remember thinking that that seemed strange, and that I never want to climb the mountain, but not much else beyond that. Eight people died on the mountain the day the photo was taken, and this is the story of what happened.
9. Seattle Met: The Octopus from Outer Space
Well damn. I know A LOT of random facts about animals, but I did not know that octopuses have nine brains! And the only hard thing they have in their bodies is a beak for eating—that I already knew. But because of this, any time an octopus moves it is the first time “any octopus ever has been in that position. The possibilities are infinite because octopuses exist in a state of perpetual novelty as they sort out the complex negotiations of their motion.” Because of their nine brains, astrobiologists are studying them to understand alternative forms of intelligence to better identify it on earth and beyond.
This article is kinda like sci-fi come to life and I loved it!
10. YouTube: Ray J On His Unbreakable Glasses, Squashing Fabolous Beef & Winning His Wife Back
Yeah… I honestly don’t know what to do with this but I was highly entertained the whole time. Ray J, of Sexy Can I fame, gave an interview that is starting to rival Kanye’s confidence, and yeah, it is a lot.
*All images taken from reference articles*
Have a suggestion for next week? Email [email protected] with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”