Monday, January 18, 2010

Not Nearly Enough Of Van Gogh's Ear

I subscribe to the New Yorker. This is probably not a surprise, a culture vulture, New York loving, short story writing chicken like me who even includes the illustrious magazine as a label on his blog. Make no mistake, I'm no amateur New Yorker subscriber. No, no. This is my second subscription. But that's not all. In the years between subscriptions there were stacks, stacks I tell you, stacks of passed-down issues by my brother-in-law (thank you, Dan).

With my years of experience I will now hold forth and tell you that the virginal New Yorker subscriber can be distinguished by the following:

1. They read all 75 of the magazine's opening pages of listings of what's going on about town, ie. Manhattan (even if they don't live anywhere near the town/island), tiring themselves out to such a degree they can't even make it through the first feature;

2. They think they'll be able to get through an entire article in a single streetcar ride (hardy, har, har); and last and most tellingly;

3. They stress when they can't get through an entire issue in a week. (My brother-in-law aside, NO ONE reads the New Yorker cover-to-cover, assuming they have a full-time, or even a part-time, job).

With my years of New Yorker reading experience (a grand total of about four) I can tell you I no longer try and read any articles that don't interest me. I've been known to skip through entire issues - gasp! - when better novels and books occupy me (I never skip the movie reviews, though).

All this, irritatingly, was meant to link you to the best article I've read in years. An article by a favourite New Yorker staff writer, Adam Gopnik, who I had the good fortune of seeing give a talk in New York at the Pen Festival a few years back. (Had a quick chat with him after too. 'How did you get to be a New Yorker writer?' I asked. 'I spent six years submitting stories until they accepted one,' he replied. I then asked if he'd like to go for coffee. He politely declined. Had to pick up his kids from school. The family man!) The piece called 'Van Gogh's Ear,' which you need a subscription to access, is from the January 4th issue. It's about van Gogh and Gauguin, two artists whose work I had the great fortune to see at the National Gallery in London last week, and both of whom I know a bit about since I've read van Gogh's letters to his brother, Theo, and Somerset Maugham's "The Moon and Sixpence," a fictional account of Gauguin's life (seemingly stodgy British stockbroker leaves wife and kids at a not young age to live poor and make art in Paris and eventually Tahiti).

I'm sorry to leave you so linkless.

I can't do it justice here but will give you one tidbit. Gopnik takes a theory that two German academics have published, that van Gogh did not cut off part of his own ear, but that it was Gauguin, who stayed with van Gogh for six months (before the Dutch painter went into a mental asylum and produced some of his best work), who did the cutting. The article likens the sensitive, if prostitute obsessing, absinthe loving van Gogh to the tender, if alcoholic, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and while not overtly saying so, my reading of it had Gopnik likening the macho and bastardly Gauguin - a point he definitely makes clear - to Ernest Hemingway, a bastard, if nothing else, for the comments he wrote about Fitzgerald in, "A Moveable Feast" his memoir. It has to do with Fitzgerald anxious about his relationship with his wife Zelda and admitting to Hemingway that he worried he wasn't satisfying her in bed on account of a size issue. Hem, as his friends called him, chose to share this story for all the world to read. What a friend.

Another brilliant Gopnik observation is to ask how we'd feel about Gauguin had he not become a world famous painter, and why that relieves him of being the prick that left his wife and kids.

And - last thing - that morality doesn't come into any of it when we look at art. Hemingway is one of my all-time favourite writers as my desert island will attest; Fitzgerald has never done it for me. Van Gogh on the other hand is a favourite painter, and yet even though the National gallery has a wall that includes, among other van Gogh's, his world famous 'Sunflowers' and the room commanding, 'A Wheatfield, With Cypresses' it was Gauguin's work, his 'A Vase of Flowers' in particular, that really grabbed me this time round. The bastard!

4 comments:

  1. When I was in secondary school, I often spent time in the library reading the The New Yorker. I have not turned the pages of a physical copy of TNY for a long long time....

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  2. When I was in secondary school, I often spent time in the parking lot smoking cigarettes. High school was a very productive time for me.

    Who are you, T? So cultured so young. No wonder you're a scholar.

    Re-visit the New Yorker. So full of goodies (usually). Like my brother-in-law, Dan, says, it's like getting a gift in the mail each week.

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  3. No, you didn't. Did you really? Were you ever caught smoking?

    I also read Science magazines. I didn't really 'read' them... I just looked at the pictures.

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  4. We were allowed to smoke in one area of the parking lot, believe it or not.

    I read movie magazines.

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