Yes, it’s time once again to revive “Your Weekend Reads” here at the Lost Salt Atlas–a weekly compendium of essays, articles, poetry, fiction, and thought-provoking stuff I’ve wandered into on the web. It’s my attempt to counteract the mindless nature of social media these days. I firmly believe we’re in a golden age of reading: there’s an embarrassment of riches out there online, and instead I find myself reading incendiary articles that confirm my political beliefs or idiotic clickbait lists (“You won’t believe these Trump-themed pumpkins!”).
So without further ado, here are my picks. Click on the links or the pics below to read more…
In the Guardian, art historian Maggie Cao reviews two novels that revolve around artistic forgeries: Dominic Smith’s The Last Paintings of Sara de Vos, and Swiss novelist Martin Suter’s The Last Weynfeldt. Forgeries are ripe material for fiction (after all, that’s all fiction is: beautiful lies). Suter’s book involves a collector forced to part with a nude painting he’s obsessed with, and hires a forger to create a version he can sell. Smith’s story concerns the work of a fictional female painter during the Dutch golden age:
In both The Last Weynfeldt and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, forgery—an act done in recognition of a painting’s monetary value—evokes its opposite: the intimate, almost magical role that works of art play in people’s emotional and erotic lives
Novelist Joanna Kavenna, author of the new novel A Field Guide to Reality, grounds her fiction in philosophical inquiry. In an interview with Lit Hub, talks about the incomprehensibility of death and the strangeness of daily existence.
I’m very interested in philosophical questions about reality and truth and the meaning of things. I don’t think there should be an esoteric elite that gets to think deeply about life, and surrenders its hallowed revelations to the rest of us. I think we all have the right to speculate about what the hell is going on.
Most of us know the famous thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat, which illustrates the strangeness the uncertainty principle in quantum physics by describing a cat in a sealed box that’s both dead and alive while an observer waits to find out if a radioactive element has decayed and broken a vial of poison inside. What most of us may not know is the larger story of how the thought-experiment was created against the backdrop of fascism rising in Europe. In an essay for Nautilus magazine, David Kaiser tells the story of how Einstein and Schrödinger exchanged letters on the topic of chance in quantum physics as they simultaneous fled Germany after the rise of Nazism.
Poet Hsia Yü, born in Taiwan, combines blurry, impressionistic photographs with her verse, which also has the fragmentary feel of snapshots. In excerpts from her project First Person, at Asytmptote, she observes daily life in Paris and finds a significance in quotidian, everyday reality:
I once heard tell of a postal worker who abandoned a big bag of mail he was carrying
He said that it was filled with nothing but bills and subpoenas, parking tickets, junk mail and the like
The man became manically depressed at the knowledge that no one writes real letters anymore
In short, because we no longer write to each other, he was carted off to prison
Marina Abramovic is the most famous performance artist in the world, thanks to her 2010 piece The Artist is Present, in which she sat in the Museum of Modern Art and looked into the eyes of hundreds of museum visitors. Since then she’s become something of a minor celebrity, and she continues to push the boundaries of whatever propriety is left in the art world. Carl Swanson of New York Magazine catches up with Abramovic, and finds her intense, bizarre, and brilliant.
She’s also become something else: a kind of shambolic mother goddess cloaked in a New Age self-help aura, her public image hovering somewhere between those of Joni Mitchell and Oprah, or perhaps Melisandre from Game of Thrones.
In the world of twentieth century classical music, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji isn’t exactly a household name. But the Parsi composer wrote some of the most difficult, romantic, and frankly weird piano works ever put down on paper. In a fascinating profile on Scroll, Anu Kumar recalls the long, strange career of Sorabji, who among other things, composed a nine-hour symphony, and was known for banning his works from public performance for forty years. His piano pieces were considered impossible to play until a Baltimore pianist named Michael Habermann discovered a score in a Mexico City bookshop. Habermann sometimes spent a week or more trying to perfect a single measure of the wickedly difficult arpeggios. Have a listen to Fantasia Espagnole, which ranks as one of the most insane pieces of music I’ve ever heard:
Sorabji died in 1988 at his private castle in Dorset, where he accepted no visitors, although a sign on his door reportedly read: “Roman Catholic nuns in full habit may enter without appointment.”
I’m tempted to read the composer’s memoirs on the strength of its title alone:
Mi Contra Fa: The Immoralizings of a Machiavellian Musician…
Illustration of Schrödinger’s Cat by Dhatfield, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.