John Heartfield

John Heartfield: Hurrah, Die Butter Ist Alle! (1935)John Heartfield: 5 fingers make a hand! With these 5 grab the enemy! (1928)John Heartfield: Justice and the Executioner The Dada painters and poets aren’t exactly on the tip of people’s tongues these days. Styles and tastes change, and what seemed fresh and shocking in 1920 doesn’t have the same impact now that it did then. Hell, things done more recently than that don’t shock like they used to, either. Just ask Damien Hirst.

But as I was saying. John Heartfield (1891-1968) has faded into obscurity, known mostly to art history students, artists, and a handful of other people. It’s a shame, really, because Heartfield presaged some of the methods, and the esthetic, of Pop art, influenced his contemporaries, and helped–whether he either realized it, wanted it, or not–to usher in a breed of contemporary artists (Cindy Sherman comes to mind) who would mine the same vein that Heartfield did, but without his insight or mordant humor. Continue reading “John Heartfield”

Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence

Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of FlorenceI remember sitting through a recital and lecture once by pianist Balint Vazsonyi. It was an evening of Beethoven sonatas, with the pianist’s commentary on the pieces, and on music in general, padded generously in between. One thing that he said has always stuck with me. Musicians and others, he remarked, use their art as a means to solve problems, their works being scratch-pads of sorts on which dilemmas both artistic and personal are ironed out.

Those remarks came back to me as I read Salman Rushdie’s latest work, The Enchantress of Florence. The novel contains all the writerly flourishes that are Rushdie’s stock in trade: lovingly wrought descriptions, witty and insightful quotations, a plot that rambles across time and place, and an ethos of free-ranging thought that takes in philosophy, religion, mythology, or anything else that happens to pop into the writer’s head.

This is all well and good, but somewhere around the halfway point of the book, one has to wonder: what is it that Rushdie is puzzling over, exactly? Continue reading “Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence”

A Year in Books

Why stop at 52?Another post that Phil suggested, whether he realized it or not. After this, I’ll stop writing about books for a bit. Okay. A day, at least. Here’s my top fifty-two books. I picked 52 of them since you could read one a week and have a year’s worth of good books. The reviews, if you want to call them that, are by no means comprehensive; they’re meant more to give you a small taste (like those tiny little spoons you get at ice cream shops) of what the book’s about. Hopefully you’ll get a good enough idea to want to score a pint copy. Here (in no particular order) goes nothing…

1. Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, by Dave Barry. One of those books that you should probably be careful of reading in public; you’ll laugh out loud, getting all sorts of funny, or dirty, looks from those around you.
2. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby. The author’s first book, and still my favorite of the buch. The film, which featured John Cusack and Jack Black, is one of the few that wasn’t a disappointment after reading the novel.
3. Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington: mines some of the same territory that Hornby did in High Fidelity, but will also be familiar to anyone who’s seen “The Office,” or that’s worked in a terribly dysfunctional work environment.
4. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: The author committed suicide some time before the book was published; in the years since, there’s been speculation that it was finished by his mother. Whatever the case may be, by the time the book’s over, you’ll wish that one or the other of them had written another. Ignatius Reilly is literally an unforgettable character.
5. A Crack at the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester. Winchester first gained acclaim for The Professor and the Madman, a page-turner about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary (I shit you not). In this work, he turns his attention to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. As with his other works, he examines the history of the event, along with a fascinating explanation of the geology that caused the disaster.
6. The Benchley Roundup by Robert Benchley. Benchley is, sadly, a largely forgotten figure. From the 1920’s ‘til his death in 1945, though, he was a star, writing witty short pieces for his newspaper column, contributing to the New Yorker in its early days, reviewing theater, appearing in vaudeville, and acting in countless short subjects and feature films. This anthologizes the best of his writing over the course of his career. Continue reading “A Year in Books”