In Which We Were Not Thinking About You

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How Constantly And Insanely I Have Missed You

Being pleased with what they give you is proper of slaves. Asking for more is proper of children. Conquering more is proper of fools.

The Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa only wrote love letters to one woman. Her name was Ophelia Queiroz. She was a secretary at a firm in Lisbon where the 31 year old Pessoa worked as a translator. After trading a few notes and glances, he approached her with the appropriate lines of Hamlet in the office and kissed her. He wrote his first real letter to her shortly thereafter. She was 19.

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1 March 1920

Ophelia:

You could have shown me your contempt, or at least your supreme indifference, without the see-through masquerade of such a lengthy treatise and without your written “reasons,” which are as insincere as they are unconvincing. You could have just told me. This way I understand you no less, but it hurts me more.

It’s only natural that you’re very fond of the young man who’s been chasing you, so why should I hold it against you if you prefer him to me? You’re entitled to prefer whom you want and are under no obligation, as I see it, to love me. And there’s certainly no need (unless it’s for your own amusement) to pretend you do.

Those who really love don’t write letters that read like lawyers’ petitions. Love doesn’t examine things so closely, and it doesn’t treat others like defendants on trial.

Why can’t you be frank with me? Why must you torment a man who never did any harm to you (or to anybody else) and whose sad and solitary life is already a heavy enough burden to bear, without someone adding to it by giving him false hopes and declaring feigned affections? What do you get out of it besides the dubious pleasure of making fun of me?

I realize that all this is comical, and that the most comical part of it is me.

I myself would think it was funny, if I didn’t love you so much, and if I had the time to think of anything besides the suffering you enjoy inflicting on me, although I’ve done nothing to deserve it except love you, which doesn’t seem to me like reason enough. At any rate…

Here’s the “written document” you requested. The notary Eugenio Silva can validate my signature.

Fernando Pessoa

19 March 1920

at 4 a.m.

My dear darling Baby:

It’s almost four in the morning, and I’ve just given up trying to fall asleep, even though my aching body badly needs rest. This is the third night in a row this has happened, but tonight was one of the worst nights of my life. Luckily for you, darling, you can’t imagine what it was like. It wasn’t just my sore throat and the idiotic need to spit every two minutes that kept me from sleeping. I was also delirious though I had no fever, and I felt like I was going mad, I wanted to scream, to moan at the top of my lungs, to do a thousand crazy things. It’s not only my physical illness that put me in such a state but the fact I spent all day yesterday fretting over the things that still need to be done before my family arrives. And to top it off my cousin came by at half past seven with more than a little bad news, which I won’t go into now, darling, because fortunately none of it concerns you in the least.

Just my luck to be sick right when there are so many urgent things to do – things that no one but I can do.

See the state of mine I’ve been in lately, especially during the last two days? And you’ve no idea, my adorable Baby, how constantly and insanely I’ve missed you. Your absence always makes me suffer, darling, even when it’s just from one day to the next, so think how I must feel after not having seen you for almost three days!

Tell me one thing, love: Why do you sound so depressesd in your second letter – the one you sent yesterday by Osorio? I can understand you missing me, just like I miss you, but you sounded so anxious, sad and dejected that it pained me to read your letter and feel how much you’re suffering. What happened to you, darling, besides us being separated? Something worse? Why do you speak in such a desperate tone about my love, as if you doubted it, when you have no reason to?

I’m all alone — I really am. The people in this building have treated me very well, but they’re not close to me at all. During the day they bring soup, milk, or medicine, but they don’t ever keep me company, which I certainly wouldn’t expect. And at this hour of the night, I feel like I’m in a desert. I’m thirsty and have no one to give me a drink. I’m going crazy from this sense of isolation and have no one to soothe me, just by being near, as I try to go to sleep.

I’m cold. I’m going to lie down and pretend to rest. I don’t know when I’ll mail this letter or if I’ll add anything to it.

Ah my love, my doll, my precious Baby, if only you were here! Lots and lots and lots of kisses from your always very own

Fernando

5 April 1920

Dear naughty little Baby:

Here I am at home alone, except for the intellectual who’s hanging paper on the walls (as if he could hang it on the floor or ceiling!), and he doesn’t count. As promised, I’m going to write my Baby, if only to tell her that she’s a very bad girl except in one thing, the art of pretending, and in that she’s a master.

By the way — although I’m writing you, I’m not thinking about you. I’m thinking about how I miss the days when I used to hunt pigeons, which is something you obviously have nothing to do with…

We had a nice walk today, don’t you think? You were in a good mood, I was in a good mood, and the day was in a good mood. (My friend A.A. Crosse was not in a good mood. But his health is okay — one pound sterling of health for now, which is enough to keep him from catching cold.)

You’re probably wondering why my handwriting’s so strange. For two reasons. The first is that this paper (all I have at the moment) is extremely smooth, and so my pen glides right over it. The second is that I found, here in the apartment, some splendid Port, a bottle of which I opened, and I’ve already drunk half. The third reason is that there are only two reasons, and hence no third reason at all.

When can we be somewhere together, darling — just the two of us? My mouth feels odd from having gone so long without any kisses… Little Baby who sits on my lap! Little Baby who gives me love bites! Little Baby who… (and then Baby’s bad and hits me…) I called you “body of sweet temptations,” and that’s what you’ll always be, but far away from me.

Come here, Baby. Come over to Nininho. Come into Nininho’s arms. Put your tiny mouth against Nininho’s mouth… Come… I’m so lonely, so lonely for kisses

If only I could be certain that you really miss me. It would at least be some consolation. But you probably think less about me than about that boy who’s chasing you, not to mention D.A.F. and the bookkeeper of C.D. & C.! Naughty, naughty, naughty, naughty… !!!!

What you need is a good spanking.

So long: I’m going to lay my head down in a bucket, to relax my mind. That’s what all great men do, at least all great men who have: 1) a mind, 2) a head, and 3) a bucket in which to stick their head.

A kiss, just one, that lasts as long as the world, from your always very own

Fernando (Nininho)

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27 April 1920

My lovely little Baby:

How adorable you looked today in the window of your sister’s apartment! You were cheerful, thank goodness, and seemed happy to see me.

I’ve been feeling very sad, and also very tired — sad not only because I haven’t been able to see you because of the obstacles that other people have been putting in our path. I’m afraid that the unrelenting, insidious influence of these people — who don’t censure you or express outright opposition but who work slowly on your mind — will eventually make you stop liking me. You already seem different to me. You’re not the same girl you were in the office. Not that you’ve even noticed this, but I’ve noticed, or at least I think I have. God knows I hope I’m wrong…

Listen, sweetie: the future all looks hazy to me. I mean, I can’t see what’s on the horizon, or what will become of us, since you’ve been yielding more and more to the influence of your family, and you disagree with me in everything. In the office you were sweeter, more gentle, more lovable.

Anyway…

Tomorrow I’ll go by the Rossio train station at the same time as today. Will you come to the window?

Always and forever your

Fernando

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31 July 1920

Dear Ibis:

Excuse this shoddy paper, but it’s all I could find in my briefcase, and they don’t have any stationery here at the Cafe Arcada. You don’t mind, do you?

I just received your letter with the cute postcard.

It was a funny coincidence, wasn’t it?, that I and my sister were downtown yesterday at the same time you were. What wasn’t funny is that you disappeared, in spite of the signs I made you. I was just dropping off my sister at the Avenida Palace Hotel, so she could buy some things and take a walk with the mother and sister of the Belgian follow who’s staying there. I came back out almost immediately, and expected to find you waiting there, so that we could talk. But no, you had to rush to your sister’s place!

What’s worse is that, when I came out of the hotel, I saw your sister’s window outfitted like a theater box (with extra chairs) to enjoy the show of me walking by! Realizing this, I naturally went on my way as if no one were there. The day I decide to play the clown (which my character isn’t really suited for), I’ll offer my services directly to the circus. Just what I needed right now — to serve as comic entertainment for your family!

If you couldn’t avoid being at the window with 148 people, you should have avoided the window. Seeing as you didn’t feel like waiting for me or talking to me, you might at least have had the courtesy — since you couldn’t appear alone at the window — of not appearing.

Why should I have to explain these things? If your heart (presuming this creature exists) or your intuition can’t instinctively teach them to you, then I can’t very well be your teacher.

When you say that your most fervent wish is for me to marry you, you shouldn’t forget to add that I would also have to marry your sister, your brother-in-law, your nephew and who knows how many of your sister’s clients.

Always your very own

Fernando

I forgot as I wrote this, that you’re in the habit of showing my letters to everyone. If I’d remembered I would have toned it down, I assure you. But it’s too late, and it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

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15 October 1920

Little Baby,

You have thousands, even millions of good reasons for being irked, offended, and angry with me. But I’m not the one to blame. It’s Fate that has condemned my brain — if not definitely, then at least to a condition calling for serious treatment, which I’m not so sure I can get.

I plan (with yet resorting to the celebrated May 11th decree) to enter a clinic next month, where I’m hoping for a treatment that will help me fend off the black wave that’s falling over my mind. I don’t know what the result of all this will be — I mean, I can’t imagine what it could be.

Don’t wait for me. If I come to see you, it will be in the morning, when you’re on your way to the office in Poco Novo.

Don’t worry.

What happened, you ask? I got switched with Alvaro de Campos!

Always your

Fernando

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29 November 1920

Dear Ophelia:

Thank you for your letter. It made me feel both sad and relieved. Sad, because these things always bring sadness. Relieved, because this really is the only solution — to stop prolonging a situation that’s no longer justified by love, whether on your side or mine. For my own part there remains an abiding estreem and a steadfast friendship. You won’t deny me as much, will you?

Neither you nor I are to blame for what has happened. Only Fate might be blamed, were Fate a person to whom blame could be imputed.

Time, which grays hair and wrinkles faces, also withers violent affections, and much more quickly. Most people, because they’re stupid, don’t even notice this, and they imagine they still love because they got used to being in love. If this weren’t so, there would be no happy people in the world. Superior creatures cannot enjoy this illusion, however, because they can’t believe love will endure, and when they see it’s over, they don’t kid themselves by taking what it left — esteem, or gratitude — for love itself.

These things cause suffering, but the suffering passes. If life, which is everything, finally passes, then won’t love and sorrow also pass, along with all the other things that are only parts of life?

You’re unfair to me in your letter, but I understand and forgive. You no doubt wrote it with anger and perhaps even bitterness, but most people in your case — men or women — would write things that are even less fair, and in a harsher tone. But you have a wonderful disposition, Ophelia, and not even your anger is capable of malice. If, when you marry, you’re not as happy as you deserve, it will be through no fault of your own.

As for me…

My love has passed. But I still feel a steadfast affection for you, and you can be sure that I’ll never, never forget your delightful figure, your girlish ways, your tenderness, your goodness, and your lovable nature. It’s possible that I fooled myself and that these qualities I attribute to you were my own illusion, but I don’t think so, and even if they were, it did no harm to have seen them in you.

I don’t know what you might like to have back — whether your letters or other things. I’d prefer not to give back anything, and to keep your letters as the living memory of a past that died (the way all pasts do), as something poignant in a life like mine which, as it advances in years, advances in disillusion and unhappiness.

Please don’t be like ordinary people, who always act petty and mean. Don’t turn your head when I pass by, and don’t harbor a grudge in your remembrance of me. Let us be like lifelong friends who loved each other a bit when they were children, only to pursue other affections and other paths as adults, but who nevertheless retain, in some corner of the heart, the vivid memory of their old and useless love.

These “other affections” and “other paths” concern you, Ophelia, and not me. My destiny belongs to another Law, whose existence you’re not even aware of, and it is ever more the slave of Masters who do not relent and do not forgive.

You don’t need to understand this. It’s enough that you hold me in your memory with affection, as I will steadfastly hold you in mine.

Fernando

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After nine years of total and complete silence, Pessoa contacted Ophelia and she said she would be happy to hear from him if he wanted to write to her. She again became captivated by him. Below is one of his last letters from that period.

9 October 1929

Terrible Baby:

I like your letters, which are sweet, and I like you, because you’re sweet too. And you’re candy, and you’re a wasp, and you’re honey, which comes from bees and not wasps, and everything’s just fine, and Baby should always write me, even when I don’t, which is always, and I’m sad, and I’m crazy, and no one likes me, and why should they, and that’s exactly right, and everything goes back to the beginning, and I think I’ll call you today, and I’d like to kiss you precisely and voraciously on the lips, and to eat your lips and whatever little kisses you’re hiding there, and to lean on your shoulder and slide into the softness of your little doves, and to beg your pardon, and the pardon to be make-believe, and to do it over and over and period until I start again, and why do you like a scoundrel and a troll and a fat slob with a face like a gas meter and the expression of someone who’s not there but in the toilet next door, and indeed, and finally, and I’m going to stop because I’m insane and I always have been, it’s from birth, which is to say ever since I was born, and I wish Baby were my doll so I could do like a child, taking off her clothes, and I’ve reached the end of the page, and this doesn’t seem like it could be written by a human being but it was written by me.

Fernando

In Which We Feel Appropriately Subdued Until Dawn

The Telltale Towel

by JASON ARTIS-CHO

Until Dawn
Supermassive Games
Sony Computer Entertainment

When Sam (Hayden Panettiere) emerges from a long, hot bath at the winter escape of her friend Josh Washington (Rami Malek) her clothes are gone. She wraps herself in a towel, holding it together with one hand, and begins to go find a suitable outfit. Panettiere has never exactly been much of an actress, but it would be a lie to suggest she was not suited for this role.

Evening at the Washington lodge lasts about nine hours. No one eats or sleeps at all during this time, because when an intruder is not sedating them with sleeping gas, other strange events unfold. When she reaches the lodge from a decrepit cable car station, Sam immediately feels subdued. It was one year earlier that a cruel prank drove her friends Hannah and Beth out in the snow, where they were never seen again.

Tongue-in-cheek horror was appropriately retired by Joss Whedon with The Cabin in the Woods. There is not much to make fun of here anymore, so the only silly parts of Until Dawn, which released this Tuesday for Sony’s Playstation 4 console, are watching the clearly older actors and actresses in the cast of the interactive game snipe at each other with ridiculous insults and lame flirtations.

Surprisingly, Until Dawn features no sex. The most nude anyone ever gets is that white towel, and a pair of intensely tight exercise pants that Sam puts on when she feels like the towel meme has run its course.

Instead the game is mostly focused on atmosphere. At first all the teen characters are incredibly selfish and unlikable, but moving through a series of bleak, gorgeous landscapes changes our perspective on them. Emily (Nichole Bloom) is a half-Japanese princess of entitlement when Until Dawn begins — by the end her facade is peeled away to something darker and more sympathetic. No film could accomodate the kind of slow, subtle character development accomplished through a game that is the actual length of the events described.

Although there is some noticeable frame hitching when the game functions under heavy load, for the most part the extensive motion capture with this talented group of actors allows Until Dawn‘s visuals to really shine. Some of the underground space becomes a bit generic, but the amount of locations is sufficiently diverse and impressive given that the initial expectation is one night in one house.

The main activity for the player consists of collecting clues to the year-old disappearance of Hannah and Beth Washington. The lodge was built in close proximity to a sanatorium and a set of no longer operative mines, both of which figure prominently in the game’s mystery. One of the game’s women has a tattoo meant to reference the butterfly effect.

It is not clear how the wings of a butterfly could ever cause a hurricane, and the choices you make in Until Dawn never emerge as very consequential. Like in similar games from Telltale and Quantic Dream, this aspect of the narrative is meant primarily to engage you with the story rather than affect the outcome in any specific way that would make the journey substantially different from what it might have been.

Given that, Sony has blocked Twitch.tv streamers from archiving their broadcasts of Until Dawn, feeling it will discourage possibly buyers of the game. It is possible to get a sense of Until Dawn from watching someone else play it, but the remarkably lifelike visuals are heavily impacted by artifacts that streaming introduces at all but the highest resolutions.

The resolution of Until Dawn‘s story is appropriately satisfying, and the action at the end that results in the survival of some but not all of these teenagers makes for a nice payoff. Still, the outcome is nowhere near as memorable as the desolate landscapes of Until Dawn‘s abandoned buildings and unforgiving wilderness. These isolated moments deepen Until Dawn by providing the desperate echo of another experience, one that is primarily about fortifying yourself against loneliness.

Jason Artis-Cho is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Chicago. This is his first appearance in these pages.

“Birch Tree” – Foals (mp3)


In Which This Jonathan Fellow Disorients Our Sense of Well Being

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My ex-boyfriend Jonathan is a very considerate and caring person. When I decided to move on from our relationship, I had an idea he would remain friends with a lot of my friends who we had interacted with as a couple. They enjoy Jonathan’s company and I don’t have a problem with the situation.

The problem is that I keep getting these pseudo-considerate e-mails and texts from him asking if it’s OK if he shows up at a particular event, or meets up with a certain individual. I don’t mind staying on good terms with an ex, but something is rubbing me the wrong way about his communiques. What should I do?

Ann C.

Dear Ann,

The reason that so many breakups are explosive is entirely self-preservational. It ensures that both parties can get sufficient separation to begin the process of forgetting. In what is apparently a very annoying fashion, Jonathan has denied you this.

At any time from the fifth to the fifteenth century this would have meant death or at the very least a light stoning, but now you need to use essentially the same means he is employing to eradicate this pestilence from your existence.

What Jonathan wants is for you to engage with him on his terms, so you must make sure that those terms are equally painful ror him as they are for you. If you start showing up to these places with a new guy, he will either start texting you or self-destruct. If you can’t actually meet someone, hire a non-union actor and make sure his persona is the antithesis of everything Jonathan values in a person. Only then will you be free.

Hey,

Women often tell me I would make a great friend. I think that I am very respectful and confident when I go out on dates, so I am not sure what I am doing that gives off this impression.

Joseph P. 

Dear Joseph,

Probably it is the jean shorts.

The issue is not with you, it is with masculinity. Most boys either become sexist PUAs named Bobby or mincing nice guys with no concept of the fact that because a woman is not attracted to the former, she is no more drawn to the latter.

Most women respect only one thing: your complete lack of interest in them. There are a few rare human beings of both genders who can tolerate receiving affection and return it in kind, probably because they come from a great family.

This is a psychological weakness mostly individuals transcend in their mid-twenties, so I would just target slightly older women. When the younger women see you with your new, older experienced girlfriend, they will be turned on by this. They will assume you know sexual things to please a woman, when the reality is that you do not.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Purge” – Rrose (mp3)

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In Which We Will Ask You To Keep It In Your Backpack

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Interjection

by TAYLOR HINE

If, in conversation, I don’t understand a reference, I have this habit (one that I’m trying really hard to break) of going along with it anyway, thinking that the risk of looking uninformed or stupid is diminished if I only appear to understand it. I can get away with this sometimes. But it’s also landed me in trouble, if not with others, then with myself. I’ll feel as though I betrayed the both of us during discourse long after it’s over.

When my boyfriend told me about Infinite Jest and its complexities, I couldn’t even pretend to have heard of the novel before. I hadn’t – not in any meaningful way, until he recommended it to me. I hadn’t heard of David Foster Wallace, either. From the way my boyfriend described Wallace’s work, I would have felt especially like a cheat if I’d done anything other than let him talk about Wallace. I also knew he’d catch me in the lie.

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When, though, on my first day of college, I saw a guy pulling Infinite Jest out of his backpack before our biology class, I had to say something. He wore baggy clothes and looked almost as scared as I felt. Students were milling about the stadial classroom, calling out to friends or finding a place to sit on their own. We were in the back row, where everyone sat alone rather than in groups.

“David Foster Wallace,” I called down the row of seats to him in a friendly voice, smiling.

He beamed. “You’ve read Infinite Jest?” It was more appraisal than an actual question. I didn’t even know this guy’s name and I was about to lie to him.

“Most of it,” I said. He nodded his approval and started reading.

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Watching The End of the Tour, I realized that pretending to have read Infinite Jest would have been exactly something that Wallace – or anyone who wants to have meaningful conversations – would hate. Pretending to connect with someone often means that you want someone – perhaps someone you know, or someone you think you’d like to befriend – to like you so much that you’ll say virtually anything to get their approval.

The relationship that arises out of David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) wanting to interview David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel) is rooted in self-interest, at least on Lipsky’s part: he wants to talk to Wallace both for a Rolling Stone interview (despite the magazine never having profiled a writer in the past) and, perhaps, to gain some writerly wisdom from someone he admires. (And he’s going to join him on the last stop of his Infinite Jest book tour, no less.) Why else would he have suggested profiling him? Lipsky has to get the best interview he can; his editor demands that he get Wallace to essentially spill his guts. Nevertheless, a friendship grows between the two Davids: Lipsky sees that to be understood as a person rather than a capital-w Writer is most important. He travels to Bloomington, Illinois, one of those regular places of the most midwestern variety, and stays with Wallace in his modest brick house facing an open field in the dead of winter.

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Oddly enough, the piece was never published. According to Rolling Stone, “a series of events took place — a rock star’s untimely death, a heated political season — and the profile never saw publication.”

The film doesn’t set out to mythologize Wallace the Writer. In fact, it does the opposite: it shows us Wallace the Human, Wallace the Regular Guy. Where Lipsky may have thought that the story of David Foster Wallace was of the Rolling Stone truth-be-told caliber, he realizes by the end that the real story is in understanding and connecting with Wallace on a deeper level. Once, when Wallace and Lipsky are watching TV (which, he claims, he would do every minute of every day if he owned one) with a couple of Wallace’s friends – an old classmate, Betsy, a poet and something of a love interest, and a fan of his, named Julie–Betsy gives Lipsky a copy of the literary magazine she’d recently gotten her poem published in. Lipsky, too, is a fledgling writer; he had his first novel published recently. Wallace eyes them pointedly from the couch, then corners Lipsky in the kitchen later, telling him to leave her alone. “Be a good guy,” Wallace says. In retaliation, Lipsky cracks open a beer after promising Wallace he wouldn’t drink around him.

See, guys? These are people like us.

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The End of the Tour was a familiar story to me. Getting to know someone you’ve admired from afar is a pleasure, especially when you find that you two get along better than you have with anyone else in quite awhile. But more than that, they didn’t pretend to be anything more than themselves: they didn’t spend the entirety of the film discussing and dissecting their Writers’ Troubles. They didn’t pretend to be great.

Lipsky and Wallace have lunch at the Mall of America after a radio interview and have breakfast at McDonald’s on their last morning together. Lipsky befriends Wallace’s two dogs. They have a couples’ spat about not remembering where the car was parked after flying home from Minneapolis. They remain stubbornly silent on the car ride home and alternately proffer bits and pieces of their own stories in lieu of apology. They come to understand each other’s foibles and peculiarities the way friends do.

The last thing Wallace says to Lipsky before he goes home is, “I don’t think you want to be like me.” I smiled up at him from the back row of the theater and remembered that I wasn’t smiling at Wallace. I was smiling at a screen, at an actor, wishing it was Wallace in the flesh. I wanted to sit down and talk to him; I had nothing to prove to him and no need to impress him.

After the movie, I went home and dug out my copy of Infinite Jest. I’ve passed the point where, on my last two attempts at reading it, I gave up, and I don’t plan on stopping this time. I’m ready to be part of the conversation.

Taylor Hine is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Asheville. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

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“Shadow Fighter” – The Levels (mp3)

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In Which We Teach Chaos Theory To Young Children

Sext the Walking Dead

by DICK CHENEY

Fear the Walking Dead
creators Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson

Every American in Los Angeles is in an interracial relationship except for Nick (Frank Dillane). The most likely explanation for this is that Dillane is British, portraying the heroin-addicted son of a woman named Madison Clark (Kim Dickens). Nothing could possibly be less mystifying than the viral spread of the undead, but the cast of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead — perhaps the most cynical cash-in since CBS’ short-lived Friends of M.A.S.H. — has no idea what is going on. Who are these people with bloody mouths? Should we offer them napkins, so they may tidy themselves?

After her son’s childhood friend Calvin stumbles down a dark alley towards her, Madison responds by going up to him and asking, “Calvin, what’s wrong?” She has been conditioned to believe that anything her own son says is bullshit, so when Nick tells her he has shot and killed Calvin in self-defense, she insists that he is lying. Not exactly Mom of the Year.

Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong.

Madison (what a stupid fucking name) has a love relationship with an ethnic Māori named Travis (Cliff Curtis). Despite being the school’s guidance counselor, Madison’s family is bursting at the seams. Her ungrateful daughter Alicia is planning on running away with her interracial relationship, and she has zero concern for her children, admonishing their stepfather for coddling the kids.

The charges for calling New Zealand are astronomical.

Travis is a great boyfriend. “I love you,” he tells Madison, and she tells him that he is stupid for doing so. Usually people are good at receiving or giving love, one or the other, but that is not the case for Madison Clark. She is not even a good guidance counselor, as she proves when she takes away a knife from a poor student trying to defend himself from the violence to come.

Why doesn’t he just bite the bullet and teach the works of Karl Marx?

Madison is at least a better guidance counselor than her boyfriend is an English teacher. For some reason he is teaching Jack London — perhaps unaware that there is no Jack London, just an office full of ghostwriters churning out material for the name on the cover of the book. The irony of The Walking Dead firing all their writers after the first season and proclaiming Robert Kirkman as the one true genius is somehow lost in the manic clichés of Fear the Walking Dead. There is no irony before death, I guess, but then one of the major characteristics of The Walking Dead was that it had no jokes in it, less it turn into a Shaun of the Dead-like parody.

Now that her boyfriend is dead, I’m excited for a romantic storyline between her and Rick Grimes’ little boy.

I think the idea is that eventually the spinoff will just replace the main series, which added a bunch of new writers last season and turned from one of the worst shows on television to a kind of dark comedy involving the unique character of Rick Grimes — a charismatic, logical maniac. It can’t possibly go on forever, because the shelf life on a rage as motivation burns fast.

I almost put my fist through the television during the Chaos Theory lesson.

Fear the Walking Dead corrupts the far more innocent. Rick Grimes was a sheriff in the south – he had already seen some shit before his apocalyptic troubles began. Robert Kirkman has no prayer of being able to write realistic, modern teenagers — there’s a reason he took away all their cellphones, so he didn’t have to write scenes like this:

This is some shit-tier sexting.

The denizens of Los Angeles are really not cut out for this, suggests Fear the Walking Dead, and in comparison to their southern counterparts, these city dwellers are ill equipped for any kind of survival. Fear the Walking Dead gives the tale of the city mouse, and it is bleak.

The end of the world is most depressing for those of us with hot gfs.

None of the people in the cast are overly sympathetic except for heroin addict Nick, only because he at least never kept up a pretense of being able to gainfully survive in the world. What both shows has been willfully short of so far is giving us any developments about the larger picture. The spiteful Frank Darabont seemed to be taking Kirkman’s basic concept a science-fiction direction in its first season, but after they got rid of him, The Walking Dead never touched that material again.

In a Donald Trump presidency, none of this would be an issue. Each night, we would tune into the president’s daily radio address, where he would tell us about the cookies he had recently eaten and rip into Rachel Maddow or Eleanor Clift at his leisure. Jeb Bush’s new line is that Trump’s record is not meaningfully different from Hillary Clinton’s. One interracial relationship is much like another.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

I think they missed an opportunity to drop “Such Great Heights” on the soundtrack here.

“She Walks So Fast” – Drinks (mp3)

In Which We Consider Them All Monsters

philip roth veronica geng

Veronica in the Extreme

by HELEN SCHUMACHER

Even after her death, her friends didn’t hesitate to call her a monster. Veronica Geng, a contributor and fiction editor at the New Yorker during the ’70s and ’80s, was stubborn to a fault. Roger Angell, who was responsible for bringing Geng to the magazine, declared her the hardest person he ever had to edit. Best known as a humor writer, Geng’s satire could be relentlessly brutal, but she wrote with a sui generis wit and dexterity that gave her work an extraordinary quality and had colleagues willing to look past her fierce temperament.

Geng joined the New Yorker in 1976 after a piece she wrote for the New York Review of Books, a film review written as a parody of Pauline Kael, got the attention of Angell. The short piece mocks Kael’s notoriously overenthusiastic review of Robert Altman’s Nashville. In Geng’s spoof the movie is called St. Pete, and Geng writes: “The picture’s a knockout. There’s nothing the matter with it. It’s Altman’s farewell to the movies, with their Esperanto sensibilities, their bogus art and darling ‘actors.’ It’s as if the whole sanctimonious-aesthete-in-tinsel-land scene bombed out ten years ago, and he’s the only one who’s noticed, or who’s cared.”

Veronica Geng (the surname is Alsatian) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent much of her childhood in Philadelphia, where she lived with her younger brother and parents. Her father worked as an officer in the army’s quartermaster corps and, in her teens, he moved the family around Europe — to Heidelberg, Munich, and then Paris. After high school graduation, Geng returned to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania (where she wrote her honors thesis on Seymour Glass) before moving to Manhattan and taking up with the city’s literary scene. Up until her breakthrough NYRB piece, Geng had been laboring away in book-editing gigs and composing freelance pieces for glossy women’s mags under the pseudonym Phyllis Penn.

super championship

In 2007 Geng’s brother, Steve, a career thief and drug addict, published a memoir about his junkie exploits and relationship with his sister. In it he describes Veronica as an extremely private, guarded girl who was endlessly rolling her eyes at those less quick-witted than her and who liked to make her brother laugh with impressions of the politicians of the McCarthy hearings. She was a dedicated student and reader, but still known to smuggle gin in perfume bottles on Girl Scout trips.

While Steve’s memoir provides the rare account of Veronica’s childhood, traces of the personalities and events that shaped it show up everywhere in her writing, in particular, the voice of her bullying father, an insecure man who hid behind military diction (an infantry manual was among the reference books Geng kept at her desk). As fellow New Yorker Ian Frazier, with whom she shared a deep, long-standing friendship, points out in the introduction to one of her collections, of all the voices Geng used in her writing, the voice of the overbearing American guy was the one she knew best. “She could be playful with the overbearing-guy voice, and she sometimes even celebrated it,” Frazier wrote. “More often, though, she fiercely mocked it. Her contempt for it, and other contemporary stupidities, was withering. … She just understood better than the rest of us how coercive, how oppressive, such voices can be.”

Undoubtedly, one of her greatest virtues was her manipulation of the voice of power. While most of us grow numb to its tyranny, she never lost her ear for it, nor her indignation at its pompousness. Often she executed her slick attacks by taking the quotes of politicians and placing them in a new context, exposing their asininity and hypocrisy. Fittingly, she claimed her two favorite books were Alice in Wonderland and the paperback collection of the Watergate transcripts.

“My Dream Team” begins with an epigraph from the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings of Senator Arlen Specter questioning Hill as to why she never took exact notes on Thomas’ sexual harassment, knowing that her “evidentiary position would be much stronger” if she had. In the piece, an assistant stealthily takes stream-of-consciousness notes (but with full attention to proper legal notation) while in conversation with a lecherous co-worker.

I hereby affirm that the person whose words I just wrote down while pretending to work and ignore him, and whose actions I intend to note insofar as I can see while feigning inattention and writing fast enough to keep up with his lohgh lhoggohr shit what a stupid word to pick under this kind of pressure his blabbering—I do solemnly swear and state that this person is one and the same Mr. Barry Sloat, co-worker and subject of Contemporaneous Notes Parts 1-85; and further I avow that this, Part 86, commences on October 6, 1995, 3:45PM, when Mr. Sloat made known his presence in my office doorway, whereupon I once again made Standard Warning Statement (as per Manual p.5) in conformance with EEOC Anti-Entrapment Guidelines (Attachment to Part 1) and then wrote down what he said, contemporaneously with his saying it. By the way (chance here to squeeze this in while Mr. Sloat pausing for dramatic effect enjoyed by him alone), I also attest that I am not type of woman who normally uses ‘shit’ as expletive, but crossing it out now might look as if I have something to hide.

Mr. Sloat resumed talking few seconds ago but only telling au pair anecdote again (#4: see Appendix A, Full Versions of Au Pair Anecdotes He Tells). Heeeeere’s punch line!…

theyre telling me to stand

Geng cloaked sharp observations in nonsense, and sometimes nonsense was just nonsense. Her work could be as difficult as it was funny. In an article for New York magazine published upon the release of a posthumous edition of Geng’s essays, Jennifer Senior wrote, “Geng was one of the writers [Wallace] Shawn hired during the sixties and seventies whose work was extravagantly intelligent but not always intelligible — ‘extreme writers,’ as his successor, Robert Gottlieb, so aptly called them, who would require time and faith to develop a constituency.”

Initially given this time and faith, Geng thrived at the New Yorker, taking on a role as fiction editor. Frazier called her the best editor of humor pieces he had ever worked with. He has said, “I wrote humor pieces specifically for her to read, and when she didn’t like them, as happened sometimes, I would be depressed for days and consider radical revisions of my entire life in order to make myself funny again.” As an editor, she worked with Donald Barthelme (with whom she shared a knack for absurdist quips), Jamaica Kincaid, Roy Blount Jr., William Trevor, and Milan Kundera. Philip Roth came to depend on her as an unofficial editor for nearly all of his work.

levellller

In one of her best known shorts, “Love Trouble Is My Business”, she draws inspiration from a quote by Village Voice columnist Geoff Stokes that commented on a Times article containing the line: “Subjects such as the Soviet Union seem to haunt Mr. Reagan the way vows to read Proust dog other Americans at leisure.” Stokes’ declaration that the Times article would be the only time the words “Mr. Reagan” and “read Proust” would appear in the same sentence inspired Geng to write a noir detective story using the words “Mr. Reagan” and “read Proust” in every sentence. It begins: “I glanced over at the dame sleeping next to me, and all of a sudden I wanted some other dame, the way you see Mr. Reagan on TV and all of a sudden get a yen to read Proust.” True enough! It later continues: “She chuckled insanely, like Mr. Reagan looped on something you wouldn’t want to drink while you read Proust. Then she touched me, with the practiced efficiency of a protocol officer steering some terribly junior diplomat through a receiving line to meet Mr. Reagan — and funny, but I got the idea she wasn’t suggesting we curl up and read Proust. As her hand slid along my thigh, I noticed that she wore a ring with a diamond the size of the brain of a guy who read Proust all the time, and if I’d been Mr. Reagan, I’d have been dumb enough to buy her another one to go with it.”

In her capable hands, what could have been a silly exercise in form was turned into a taunting and brilliant sketch. Geng commented on composing the piece, “What a gift! … Stokes’s premise was so ripe that even writing bad lines was fun — like making lists of improbable rhymes. (“It was too early to read Proust, so I went out and bought myself a pint of ‘Mr. Reagan’.”) … The title (which piggybacks on Chandler) has an extra meaning for me, because it’s my business to love trouble.”

Geng did not just love trouble, she created it. Her brother claims it was a favorite game of her and Frazier’s to slip inappropriate and senseless material past their editors. She fought bitterly with those who tried to edit her writing, yet she was heartless when she thought a friend’s work wasn’t up to par. In 1992, a dispute with Tina Brown, who had recently been hired as editor of the New Yorker, led to Geng’s departure from the magazine (whether she quit or was fired is up for debate). Her personal life could be similarly rocky; the scorn that was aimed at politicians and the ilk with great acuity in her writing was less charming when she directed it at her friends and lovers.

there and back ageng

Geng never married, instead preferring to be the mistress to professional athletes, actors, musicians, and other writers. Mark Singer, another New Yorker staffer whom she dated, said, “She was one of the most feminine women I ever met. In her posture, her figure, her walk…” Her most significant relationship was with the photographer James Hamilton. It was Hamilton who would arrange her memorial service after she died from a grapefruit-sized brain tumor on Christmas Eve 1997.

It may have been characteristic of Geng’s writing to adopt the voices of others, but she did it with flair and humor distinctly her own. From those voices, she crafted work the reader could crawl into — her essays smug shelter from bland hegemony. Her brother recalls a conversation with Roger Angell after her death when Angell told him: “When people as different as Veronica come along, everything changes. Veronica changed humor because there was nobody like her. Your sister was so passionate about the work she did here she changed all of us.”

Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“Jitter” – Grace Mitchell (mp3)

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In Which We Cried Uncle Almost Continuously Throughout

The Robot From Ex-Machina

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
dir. Guy Ritchie
121 minutes

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a lot more interesting if you imagine that Gabby (Alicia Vikander) is a corpse. Then Guy Ritchie’s revival of an equally horrid television series would start to take on a genre-bending Weekend at Bernie’s-esque feel. This state of affairs is accentuated by the fact that Vikander barely ever smiles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E, or speaks louder than a whisper. In that way, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can be thought of as a spiritual sequel to Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina.

It turns out that Vikander is a spy for the British, which incidentally also happened in the latest Mission: Impossible. The British employ lots of women as spies — otherwise they would just waste away with nothing in particular to do like Bridget Jones or Margaret Thatcher.

Hugh Grant looks like a totem pole. He doesn’t appear until an hour into The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and it comes as a considerable relief since the accents of an imposingly sexual Henry Cavill and a completely bland Arnie Hammer are quite difficult to understand. (The two leads violate a major principle of casting which is that no heroes should look alike.)

Grant’s major virtue is that he is easy to fathom. The only person who did not understand exactly who he was is Elizabeth Hurley, and that was chiefly because of her own vanity. Even though Cavill and Hammer’s characters are supposed to be deft spies, they have no idea what is happening in this turgid plot either. Even when Cavill is tasked with killing Hammer, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t become entertaining.

Hammer’s Ilya Kuryakin gets the poor end of the stick by far. Vikander seems extremely disgusted to be involved in a romantic plotline with him, especially when he creepily strokes her leg. Plus, next to the immense work of art that is Henry Cavill, he looks like the shrimp in a bodybuilding ad. Foreign accents have never been Ritchie’s strong suit — I still don’t understand half the dialogue in Snatch — and Hammer’s Russian brogue is all over the map. All this could be forgiven if The Man From U.N.C.L.E. looked good, but it does not.

Style should be the cornerstone of any fan service, and yet none of the people in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. have it. Their suits are shades of brown and black arranged too closely together; Vikander at different times resembles a puffin fish or an owl. No one comes across stylishly, not even the villain (Elizabeth Debicki). Possibly if Ritchie was still married to Madonna, she might have advised him of the general weakness in this aesthetic:

It emerges that the agents involved in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are fighting some kind of post-Nazi plot. This twist sets a record, making the Third Reich far and away the most cinematic mass movement ever created. The Reich is supposed to possess a defective personal style, but in contrast to their slipshod pursuers, they have never come across more sympathetically. As menacingly dull as the plot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is, it was substantially better than the last Superman feature.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Wonder Why You Hide” – Caspar Babypants (mp3)

“Day Is Gone” – Caspar Babypants (mp3)