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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Friday
Aug212015

In Which We Consider Them All Monsters

with Philip Roth

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.

with her brother

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!...

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.

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.

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)

Thursday
Aug202015

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)

Wednesday
Aug192015

In Which Only Sleep Abates This Discomfort

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 boyfriend Thomas enjoys talking before we go to sleep. In the past I have been fine with this, but I recently took a job that leaves me exhausted at the end of the night. I brought this up to him and he acted really depressed and rejected and now turns over to go to sleep as soon as we get in bed. Surely there is some middle group between retreating into a clam shell and chattering like a teenager?

Leslie C.

Dear Leslie,

There is unfortunately no middle ground here. In relationships couples often have different bedtimes. For example, Jennifer Garner went to bed after a glass of Pinot Noir while Ben escorted the nanny to her modest lodgings in the family's guest house. It is important for a couple to go to bed at the same time, so I suggest that you get Thomas engaged in some activity that leaves him suitably put out by your bedtime. Have you considered intercourse?

You could also shush him.

Hey,

My brother Eamon met his girlfriend at college. He is not even of legal drinking age yet and he has discussed with my parents how he plans to propose to her and how she is the love of his life. My parents are skeptical of the speed of this development but approve of my brother's choice of partner. Given that this is his first real relationship, I don't doubt that love exists, but I don't think jumping into marriage is particularly necessary. Should I try to change events, or allow them to happen?

Maxine P. 

Dear Maxine,

 Women used to get married and settle down in college all the time. But back in this dark period, their options were largely limited to the following:

- Larry

- Larry's friend Robert

- A guy from home whose only virtue was lockpicking

- The nunnery

Now women have tons of options, and a much longer period of time before they indenture themselves. Think of it this way though: would you really want your brother going through his next ten years looking for love and never finding it when it's right in front of his eyes?

A young divorce isn't the worst thing in the world either. You have to kinda get one out of your system. It's much more difficult to be divorced later on in life, as a result of your husband creating a meaningful emotional connection with the nanny of your children.

Ben.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Phone in a Pool" - Ben Folds (mp3)

"Yes Man" - Ben Folds (mp3)