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Literature cannot be the business of a women’s life & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.

So pontificated the English poet laureate, Robert Southey, in a now infamous letter to one Charlotte Brontë in 1837. And while commentary on this letter has focused, understandably, on the senior male poet’s urging of private domesticity on the emerging female artist, here’s the phrase that captures my attention: “eager for celebrity.” Southey was intently calling upon a relatively recent usage of the word “celebrity;” though the OED tells us that “celebrity” was in use since the 14th century, originally to suggest public esteem or the pomp of sanctified rites, from the mid to late 18th century, connotations of the term “celebrity” bifurcated, and celebrity came to be distinguished from the less evanescent and more socially respectable “fame.” So in using the term, he was quite mindfully connecting a desire for down-market fame with misdirected femininity. There is a long history of what I call the “unseemly woman:” women who disregard Southey’s warning and who are widely understood, whether rightly or not, to be desirous of fame in a way that is considered overly “eager.” Today, those women suffer public denunciation in terms that are just as gendered as they were in 1837: think, for instance, of one of our more repellent current phrases: “fame whores.”

Backing up to the 19th century to consider Brontë’s imputed celebrity whoring might seem anachronistic or inappropos. Dare we conjoin the name of the author of Jane Eyre with that of Miley Cyrus? It’s important that we do. To assist us, we can call upon the burgeoning academic field of celebrity studies that is devoted to analyzing the condition of public visibility. But in spite of the existence of several perceptive studies of celebrity in earlier historical periods, such as Tom Mole’s Byron’s Romantic Celebrity and Julia H. Fawcett’s Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801, a quick glance at the large, stimulating international conference that the journal Celebrity Studies sponsors every two years show us a discipline that is still, to a great degree, stuck in the present. But our thinking about celebrity must be anchored in a thoroughly historicized frame of reference, and so it follows that any thinking about today’s “unseemly” fame-hungry women needs to ground itself in a rich history of that denunciation. I need to go back much further than Brontë, in fact, to the 17th century, to the scientist and writer Margaret Cavendish (1623-73), jeeringly referred to as “Mad Madge,” who wrote frankly and unapologetically of her desire for fame in her memoir, A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life. I need to return to her near contemporary, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), playwright, novelist and spy, thought scandalous for her sexual frankness, who wrote, “I value fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful world, and scorn its fickle Favours.” In the annals of unseemly, fame-eager women, Behn’s proclamation qualifies as a 17th-century mic drop. More… “Unseemly”

Lorraine York is Senator McMaster Chair of Canadian literature and culture at McMaster University. She is writing a book on reluctant celebrity.

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If you are lucky, and if you happen to be on the Dutch shore of the North Sea, and if it is a windy day (a not-unusual occurrence), you just might see a new sort of creature walking down the beach. This creature will be walking in fits and starts, activated by gusts of wind, animated in one part of its “body” and then another. Atop the creature, you will see sheets of fabric that look like sails of a small ship. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the rest of the creature is made entirely of plastic tubing, what’s known as PVC. PVC stands for “polyvinyl chloride.” The white plastic tubing you’ve seen in thousands of bathrooms and kitchens is PVC. Upon even closer inspection, you’ll notice that the creature is made of PVC and nothing else. You’ll ponder that for a moment. Nothing but PVC. How does it move, then? Isn’t there a motor somewhere? Aren’t there electronics on the inside telling the creature when and how to move? You’ll become shocked and disoriented by the realization that the creature isn’t controlled from anywhere else or by anyone else. It is simply walking of its own accord, having a little stroll on a windy day along the beaches of the North Sea, as if it were alive.
More… “Still Alive”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.

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Harry Houdini’s escape trunk stands in the Jewish Museum like a coffin. “Embedded in Houdini’s ventures were competing ambitions,” says the wall text in the museum’s new “Houdini: Art and Magic” exhibition, “he simultaneously courted mortality and the triumph of life.” There’s a lot of metaphor in a trunk: adventure, travel, excitement, secrets. Houdini turned his trunk into a symbol of resurrection. Houdini’s audiences couldn’t know what tricks went on inside that trunk after he had allowed himself to be locked in and the curtain was closed. But some part of them believed that when Harry Houdini burst free, undefeated and smiling, he had shaken hands with the Grim Reaper and spat in his eye. Harry Houdini met death and came back to tell the tale.

They show farces in the Königstädter Theatre. The people who gather there are thus naturally very diverse. He who would study the pathology of laughter in a variety of estates and temperaments, ought not to lose the opportunity offered by the performance of a farce. The shouts and shrill laughter from the gallery and the second balcony are something completely different from the applause of a sophisticated and critical audience. It is a constant accompaniment without which farce could not be performed. Farce is associated, for the most part, with the baser aspects of life and thus those in the gallery and the second balcony recognize themselves immediately. Their noise and shouts of “bravo” are not judgments of the esthetic approval of individual actors, but purely lyrical outbursts of their own wellbeing. They are not even conscious of themselves as an audience, but would like to be down with the… More…

 

This weekend is the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and if the young billionaires who’ve amassed fortunes via YouTube, Facebook, and various other exercises in selling crowds to themselves for free are grateful, well, they should be. The three-day gathering in upstate New York was a watershed moment in the history of American business, and while the music acts that played there may be wrinkled, gray, and largely forgotten, the entrepreneurial principles pioneered there are still extremely relevant.

Woodstock began with a tiny classified ad placed in The New York Times on February 1, 1967. “Young man with unlimited capital to invest looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.”

The young man was 23-year-old John Roberts, then a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania… More…

Dave Mondy is an award-winning travel writer, as well as the writer/performer of many one-person shows. His production “This Love Train Is Unstoppable and I am the Conductor” won the Best Solo Comedy award at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. His monologues have appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, and he has penned scripts for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. As an actor, Dave shills for corporations like Kemps and Best Buy.