Women We Read This Week

Lauren Collins’ “Bansky Was Here” in The New Yorker
Obsessed to the point of conversion, Thierry Guetta started out making a documentary about street art and ended up believing he was the second coming of Banksy. The film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, traces Thierry’s charming madness for Banksy. I was talking about the film recently with a photographer from Mexico City who asked me, “Why do you love graffiti so much? Why are your memories of the city tied to graffiti rather than street names or landmarks?” I like the daring, the wild innovation required to reach impossible surfaces – signs hundreds of feet in the air, the underpass of a bridge, the walls in front of the Cineteca Nacional – that and the fact that it is a creative, ephemeral act, one that exists outside of a monetary system.

Lauren Collins explores how Banksy, who has managed to maintain his anonymity over the years, has dealt with the transition from being an underdog-rebel-nobody to an artist who can fetch millions of dollars for graffiti of a rat. Collins captures the allure of his long-term anonymity:

The British graffiti artist Banksy likes pizza, though his preference in toppings cannot be definitively ascertained. He has a gold tooth. He has a silver tooth. He has a silver earring. He’s an anarchist environmentalist who travels by chauffeured S.U.V. He was born in 1978, or 1974, in Bristol, England—no, Yate. The son of a butcher and a housewife, or a delivery driver and a hospital worker, he’s fat, he’s skinny, he’s an introverted workhorse, he’s a breeze-shooting exhibitionist given to drinking pint after pint of stout.

Banksy fights the system by living as an eternal shadow, by constantly fucking with the art world and its system of names and values and commodities. As Collins describes, “Banksy has always had a fatalistic streak: in one of his books, a pair of lovebirds is juxtaposed with the dictum ‘As soon as you meet someone, you know the reason you will leave them.’ In another, a little girl releases a heart-shaped red balloon: ‘When the time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and don’t make any fuss.’” The other day Banksy set up a pop-up booth in Central Park and sold some of his work for $60. Almost nobody noticed, not even me, until it was too late.

Alice

Nitasha Tiku’s “My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult” on Gawker

Okay, so I have to admit she had me at the title. With a smartly skeptical eye, Nitasha Tiku takes us into the oh-so California subworld of orgasmic meditation. That is, the company promoting female orgasms as a path to… something, and one of those things appears to be a total mindfuck with a tech twist: “Everyone is interested in doing fun things with their bodies. But the impulse to systematize, replicate, package, sell, and build an ideology around it is uniquely Silicon Valley.” Tiku skillfully traces both the ridiculousness as well as the murky boundaries and negotiable ethics at play, while depicting her own growing yet conflicted interest. The result is a nuanced, fascinating glimpse into one of SF’s many weird not-so-underworlds.

Moira Weigel’s “Devils in Red Dress” on The New Inquiry

With another excellently punned title, Moira Weigel explores the media’s fascination with shengnü, Chinese “leftover” women. Weigel reveals the way in which, more than the shengnü themselves, the obsession with these women can be used as a prism through which to examine contemporary China. But here’s where she really gets me: moving beyond China itself, she hones in on the West’s somewhat troubled interest in shengnü: “Chinese women fascinate American editors and readers not because they are foreign, but because their story sounds familiar.” Weigel zeroes in on the exoticizing, misrepresentation and ultimate mirroring of American media’s interaction with this Chinese phenomenon.

Lauren

Eleanor Catton interviewed by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian

This week, Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries. I’ve yet to see an article that doesn’t reference her age, which is significant: at 28 she’s the youngest ever winner of the prize. In this interview Catton comes across, like her novel, as refreshingly “serious.” Is that the right word? Why should we even have to say it? But we do – because, as Catton says, “male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel […] all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them.” It takes this piece a little while to dig deeper (maybe because of the breathless post-prize timing) – but it does, in the end:

For Catton – the daughter of a philosopher and a librarian – the novel is a tool for thinking with, as well as feeling with. “It is in my view a much better vehicle for philosophy than syllogisms and logical constructs,” she says.
“What I like about fiction most is that it resists closure and exists, if the reader is willing to engage, as a possible encounter – an encounter that is like meeting a human being.”

Miranda

Angie Chuang’s “Why I Remembered What I Remembered” in Creative Nonfiction

Vela contributor Angie Chuang has written an essay on survival guilt, the malleability of memory and the unraveling of her family with a humble, tempered eloquence that subtly underscores the seriousness of the material. “Whether or not we had really been booked on Flight 759, something died for us that summer of 1982,” she writes of the summer that, according to her memory, her family almost boarded a flight that was fated to crash, killing all passengers on board. It was also the last summer she could remember her family being happy, a summer frozen in time before her father’s Bipolar took over his state of mind and the physical and emotional atmosphere of their home: “The feeling that our home had been subjected to a series of explosions, that we were constantly tiptoeing around things for fear of stepping on a nail or dislodging some work in progress, mirrored our psychological states.” There is so much packed tightly into this essay that I’m looking forward to seeing further explored in her debut book, The Four Words for Home, due out in March 2014. This piece isn’t available online, but Creative Nonfiction‘s Survival issue is worth picking up for this read and others. — Simone

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