No. 60 | Containers
Hanna Rose Shell
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Events & News
News: Cabinet no. 60, with a themed section on “Containers” is now here. Order a single issue here (or subscribe and get it at a significant discount).
News: Renovation, Nancy Davenport’s visual meditation on the history of the UN and its recent overhaul, now available. Place your order here.
News: The third volume in Cabinet’s “24-Hour Book” series, poet Matthea Harvey and artist Amy Jean Porter’s When Up and Down Left Town, now available. Place your order here.
News: Artist David Scher’s Hail, Cretin!, the second volume in Cabinet’s “24-Hour Book” series, now out. Place your order here.
News: Wayne Koestenbaum’s new book, Notes on Glaze, selling out fast. Order your copy now!
News: Cabinet editor-at-large Eyal Weizman's book The Conflict Shoreline, with photographs by Fazal Sheikh, still available through from us directly. Sold out everywhere else!
News: Support our work and receive a beautiful limited edition artwork by Terry Winters or Vik Muniz.
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Deanna Day and Jeffrey Kastner
A ubiquitous element of our modern-day bathrooms, the medicine cabinet is also one of the home’s most particularized containers—stocked with substances and technologies used in healthcare and grooming, it functions both as personal pharmacy and private salon. Indeed, the medicine cabinet emerged across the early part of the twentieth century not just in tandem with public health policy initiatives but also, importantly, with the developing consumer market for the goods and tools of personal care. Its signature aesthetic—mirror, glass, and gleaming metal—would seem to have as much in common with the presentational seductions of the department store display case as with the sanitary spaces of the physician’s examining room.
“In her presence on these tranquil nights it was possible to experience the depths of her disbelief, to feel sometimes the mean, horrible freedom of a thorough suspicion of destiny.”
In some respects—the brevity of her mature work, a certain hampering mandarin tone even in the midst of literary or political ferment—Elizabeth Hardwick was a minor writer. As a critic and essayist, she was industrious but hardly prolific. As a writer of fiction, she had a couple of early misfires with her novels The Ghostly Lover (1945) and The Simple Truth (1955), followed by the obliquely fragmented triumph of the svelte, semi-autobiographical fiction Sleepless Nights (1979). She spent most of her writing life at or near the heart of a liberal American literary establishment. Her marriage to the poet Robert Lowell, whom she eventually divorced, obscured her achievements for a time. She was part of a group that established the New York Review of Books in 1963; the magazine’s founding editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein had been partly inspired by a mordant Harper’s article of Hardwick’s on the decline of book reviewing. Her best pieces are book reviews or occasional essays—best because most acute, most peculiar, most daring in pursuit of an elegantly weird style.
I’ve always found it intriguing that canonical histories of early twentieth-century art and literature, usually so generous in their treatment of the emergence of the historical avant-garde, never mention its most spectacular development: the creation, and ultimate failure, of the so-called Italian Regency of Carnaro. In a certain way, this omission is understandable. What happened between 1919 and 1920 in the contested city of Fiume, when—under the leadership of writer Gabriele D’Annunzio—a peculiar alliance of soldiers, artists, and adventurers occupied the city with the initial intention of annexing it to Italy, complicates the most common narrative in which modern art and progressive politics by nature go together.1 But, as historian Roger Griffin’s excellent Modernism and Fascism observes, a number of avant-garde movements shared fascism’s aspiration to cure the world (or at least Europe) of anomie and a loss of vitality. These conditions were understood as by-products of modernity, and particularly so at the end of a war that made patent the failure of modernity’s promise of material and social progress. Both movements proposed a return, in the midst of crisis, to a primordial space where the envoys of a new humanity could gather the seeds for a future world. In Fiume, fascists and Dadaists, futurists and Bolsheviks, were, for a few months, in the same camp.
One great thing about the feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was its ability to make a scene. Take the unforgettable “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation,” a panel that took place in New York City in 1971 in which four female delegates were tapped to speak in a discussion moderated by Norman Mailer, who had just published the decidedly un-feminist The Prisoner of Sex. Billed as a dialogue, the result—documented in filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker’s Town Bloody Hall—more closely resembled a riot. The teeming crowd became unruly even before the event had started, with one heckler yelling out above the din, “Women’s lib betrays the poor! Norman Mailer betrays the poor!” The audience, which included Betty Friedan and a soft-spoken Susan Sontag, came to hear about the burgeoning revolution. They came to see Mailer publicly attack, and be attacked by, the women’s libbers about the politics of sex. But most of all, they came to see Germaine Greer.
Professor Larry P. Lazuli
MW 4—5 pm, Incandeza Institute, Studio 207
This course will immerse us deeply in the coolest, calmest, and most creative of colors: Blue. We will explore the history of Blue, from the idea that the ancient Greeks did not see the color Blue at all to Persian architecture’s mimicry of the very sky to Blue’s prominence in contemporary brands like Chase Bank and Face Book. We will explore Blue’s cataclysmic role in modern art, from Monet’s profound yet indistinct lilies to the Expressionist Blue Rider group to Picasso’s Blue Period to Rothko’s gloomiest blocks of blue. We will make our own Blue paints and dyes with materials collected by hand during our weekly nature walks: crushed shells of bird eggs, lambent petals of blooms, dust of uncouth gems. We will spend most of our time exploring that wiliest of the Blues—turquoise, a color that, like your professor, never seems to know whether it is truly Blue, or just a bit muddled.
Late Motörhead front man and Nazi-memorabilia collector Lemmy Kilmister once said of his preference for the German side’s kit that he would have collected and worn British uniforms from the same period had their khaki color not made whoever put them on look “like a fucking swamp frog.” Much the same could have been said of the US Army’s World War II uniforms, characterized by an ochreous, greenish, khaki-like color known as olive drab. And Lemmy was not alone in his disdain for the dusty greens and taupes favored by the Allies; indeed, he was late to the game. Almost as soon as the war was over, mutters of dissatisfaction with olive drab in the United States turned into explicit concern. Army brass began to feel a pressing need for an appealing, ennobling color that could distinguish the army from its rivals—the other (generally blue-toned) branches of the US armed services. Committees were formed, reports drawn up, and after much debate it was decided that olive drab had to go, no matter the cost; the all-too-familiar sight of plumbers, garbagemen, and service station attendants working in battered, shit-brown Ike jackets across small-town America had finally put an end to whatever glimmer of romantic, colonial swagger had once attached to khaki and its confreres.
And anyway, the colonial age was over, at least for the Brits—the war
had put paid to that set of fantasies—and something new was beginning:
call it the Cold War, call it the space age, call it the age of
advertising. Call it Pax Americana or the beginning of America’s long
Consider an author, alone in the snow. Vladimir Nabokov has frozen still, caught out between the past and present as he drifts back into the memory of a childhood winter, its distant sleigh bells ringing in his ears. “What am I doing in this stereoscopic dreamland?” he asks. “How did I get here?”1 Suddenly no longer the small child with the puppyish gaze who spent “snow-muffled rides” hallucinating a role in “all the famous duels a Russian boy knew so well” but the impish old man of writerly legend, he rediscovers himself aged in his New England exile. (He and Vera have not yet left America to live at the foot of the snow-capped Alps in Montreux.) The memories are immaterial; “the snow is real, though, and as I bend to it and scoop up a handful, sixty years crumble to glittering frost-dust between my fingers.” So much is condensed in this handful of snow, now solid, now melting: a whole collection of memories and wonders. But what is the material supposed to mean? Perhaps you have to develop what Wallace Stevens calls, at the start of his poem “The Snow Man” (1921), “a mind of winter” to know.2 Snow, like so many other materials, keeps its own special area in our thinking, and has its own blizzard of effects on our minds.
The books and manuscripts were disappearing from a room no one seemed to be entering. Its doors were almost never opened, the room itself closed to public view. There was no believable explanation for where the materials might be going, so the least believable reasoning soon took hold. It was the work of the devil, the residents said. A poltergeist. A symbolic act of God meant to communicate something, if only they could interpret the signs.
This was, after all, a monastery—indeed, one of the world’s most picturesque, Mont Sainte-Odile, perched high in the mountains of France, nearly on the border with Germany—and its library was vanishing into thin air. A manuscript here, a bound volume there; five, six, a dozen, all quickly adding up to nearly a thousand key pieces of church scholarship missing from the shelves and tables.