Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 16, 2016 Issue


Narrate or describe? I say describe. I relish description, particularly art description, e.g., Peter Schjeldahl’s superb rendering of Nicole Eisenman’s Under the Table 2 (2014), in this week’s issue: 

Jumbled heads share a bottle, which a single hand lifts and pours out, under a table that is topped with a stuffed olive, a cigarette emitting an arabesque of smoke, and a huge salami, its sliced end textured with psychedelic dots of color. ["Seriously Funny"]

From my collection of Schjeldahl art descriptions, here are three of my all-time favorites:

1. Agnes Martin’s The Sea (2003) – “Scored, alternately continuous and broken horizontal lines cut to white gessoed canvas through a white-bordered square mass of tar-black paint.” ["Life Work," June 7, 2004]

2. Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s Vertical-Horizontal Composition (1916) – “Rectangles and squares in black, white, red, blue, gray, and two browns, arranged on an irregular grid, generate a slightly dissonant, gently jazzy visual harmony that is pleasantly at odds with the tapestry’s matter-of-fact, nubbly texture.” ["Shapes of Things," January 7, 2013]

3. Laura Owens’s Untitled (2013) – “Gestural glyphs and splotches in white, black, green, and orange on a ground imprinted with a blown-up page of newspaper want ads.” ["Take Your Time," January 5, 2015]

Postscript: Another description in this week’s issue that I enjoyed immensely is Colin Stokes’s depiction of a bartender: “One wore a single black latex glove and smashed a large ice cube with a wand-like spoon to make the gin-based Gloria, with Campari, dry vermouth, and triple sec, from a recipe he’d ‘found in a book not too long ago’ ” ("Bar Tab: The Ship"). What’s the key to great description? I think Schjeldahl nails it in "Seriously Funny": specificity.

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