Let It Bleed: Essays, 1985-1995

Gary Indiana

A collection of essays on contemporary culture written between 1985 and 1995. Ranging in subject matter from Paul Schrader’s Mishima to the art of Gilbert and George to reflections on Euro Disney (“it presumes a universe in which human beings no longer have any minds at all”), Let It Bleed, as the title suggests, pulls no punches and makes no apologies. Sometimes subtle, at other times blunt—but always direct. Occasionally condescending and annoyingly peevish, Indiana’s insights are consistently on target: arch, unique, unexpected and challenging. A sample of his thoughts on the French writer Herve Guibert, who died from AIDS in 1992: “One of the glories of Guibert’s book is its intense specificity: the narrator’s plight isn’t generic, its extremity doesn’t lead him to abandon the habit of precise observation…” The same could be said of Indiana’s own powers of observation. MDG

Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Paperback: 300 pages

The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

Charles Baudelaire

A selection of Baudelaire’s critical articles covering the poet’s preoccupation with the visual arts of his time and with his major artistic heroes—Delacroix, Poe, Wagner and Constantin Guys. Throughout his observations it becomes clear that his approach to art criticism was one that rejected the purely analytical textbook approach in favor of one that was “partial, passionate, political, amusing and poetic”—the point of view that opened the most horizons. The starting point of all critique, he contended, proceeds from the shock of pleasure experienced in front of a work of art and only later, through examination and analysis, is that initial pleasure transformed into knowledge. In other words, the true critic, like the artist, should be endowed with a creative temperament and be a kind of secondary poet, reflecting and translating the work of art. Add to this fundamental conviction Baudelaire’s poetic insight, his wit, his flawless description and, most importantly, his underlying humanity and this volume makes for an exciting read. MDG

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 226 pages

A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat

Arthur Rimbaud

A Season in Hell is the first-person account of a teenager who honestly believed he could transform reality—reinvent life—through the magic of his imagination. The spiritual victory of which he speaks can only be achieved through a potentially deadly battle with the self. Yet if one believes in something strongly enough, passionately enough, and possesses the requisite faith in possibility, it can be brought about through sheer focus of will. The book itself, the implications of its very title, are testament to this. The tale is characterized by mellifluous language, vivid imagery, adolescent sarcasm and an almost religious belief in the redemptive power of art, all rolled into one. The Drunken Boat, written earlier, is a 25 stanza poem of 100 lines with the boat itself as the speaker. An allegory of liberation and the intoxication of vision (“I have seen what men have thought they saw!”) which ends with the return to the humble confines of everyday existence. “I am the master of phantasmagoria,” Rimbaud contends in A Season in Hell and equals the claim. MDG

Publisher: New Directions
Paperback: 103 pages

The World of Edward Gorey

Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin

A beautifully packaged, full-scale monograph exploring Gorey’s roles as artist, illustrator, writer and theater designer. Includes perennial Gorey favorites The Doubtful Guest and The Fatal Lozenge as well as set and costume designs for Dracula and illustrations for such books as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Contains a lengthy interview by Clifford Ross in which the artist speaks of his many and varied interests, his creative process and his wide-ranging knowledge of art. Additionally, art critic Karen Wilkins provides a lengthy exploration of Gorey’s world—seductive, mysterious, eccentric, macabre—with particular attention paid to the evolution and sources of the artist’s style within the high and popular traditions of narrative art. Also includes over 50 pages of plates (some in color), an artist’s chronology and bibliography. An excellent introduction for the uninitiated and a must-have for collectors, The World of Edward Gorey is an intelligently executed, passionate appreciation of this masterfully bizarre artist and writer. MDG

Publisher: Abrams
Hardback: 192 pages

Diary of an Unknown

Jean Cocteau

Written during the last 10 years of Cocteau’s life, Diary of an Unknown is a collection of essays covering many of the author’s familiar topics and themes: angels, invisibility, the treachery of friends and supposed friends, the delight in paradox and contradiction, advice to the young, the birth of ideas. At times annoyingly self-referential and overly clever (“Know that your works speak only to those on the same wavelength as you”), the volume is nevertheless a masterly blend of personal experience, classical erudition and mellifluent style that is uniquely Cocteau’s. Includes intimate recollections of Proust, Picasso, Stravinsky, Sartre and Gide. The collection proves yet again that Cocteau is at his most effective and empathetic when he’s able to drop the “grande dame of French letters” persona and immerse himself in his subjects rather than himself—a feat he’s most capable of pulling off when speaking of the dispossessed, be it the homosexual or the artist: “This is where the poet’s torment comes from, a torment he knows he’s not responsible for, yet forces himself to believe he is, so as to give himself the backbone to suffer life until he dies.” Despite its minor glitches, this is an invaluable read from one of the giants of 20th century French writing. MDG

Publisher: Marlowe
Paperback: 234 pages

Dada and Surrealist Performance

Annabelle Melzer

Tracing the origins of Dada performance techniques in Zurich through the works of Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Jean Arp and other luminaries at the Cabaret Voltaire (1916-1919), this well-documented survey (complete with an exhaustingly informative bibliography) is a fascinating introduction to one of the most infamous artistic and literary movements of the 20th century. Dada was a caustic revolt against what it deemed the complacency of its time, championing random excess as the only alternative to cultural banality and numbness: “I am against all systems,” Tzara declared. “The most acceptable system is a principle to have none.” The book further includes discussion of the relationship between Dada and Futurist performance and the movement’s reception in France (brought there by Tzara in 1920) by the Parisian avant-garde (Breton, Soupault, Cocteau, Aragon and their entourage). It ends with a description of the eventual rift that would occur between Dada, with its anarchic passion for provocation, and the more contemplative Surrealism. MDG

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University
Paperback: 288 pages


André Breton

A collection of poems from the controversial director and engineer of the Surrealist movement dating from 1919 to 1936, spanning Breton’s involvement with Dadaism, Cubism and his founding and development of Surrealism. Written to such friends and fellow Surrealists as Picasso, André Derain, Robert Desnos, Picabia, Pierre Reverdy and Max Jacob, Earthlight displays Breton’s range of poetic forms, from the early collage compositions (“Five Dreams”) to the incantatory, feverish love poem “Free Union.” At times pretentious, contorted, tangled and strained; at other times gorgeous, wild and unexpected. In the best of these poems the reader gets to watch Breton follow his own mind: a compelling and finely tuned instrument of metaphor capable of fluidity and simplicity. MDG

Publisher: Sun and Moon
Paperback: 213 pages

English Eccentrics: A Gallery of Weird and Wonderful Men and Women

Edith Sitwell

Here is an assortment of history’s more colorful fringe figures—ornamental hermits, charlatans, quacks, men of learning, misers—told in a style at once loquacious and exact. Immersing oneself in the book is akin to walking through a big-top sideshow… There’s the aged Countess of Desmond, who climbed an apple tree at the age of 140… Princess Caraboo, the pathetic servant-girl from Devon who stole the heart of Napoleon on St. Helena… Saintly Squire Waterton, the 19th-century prankster and lover of nature, who developed a deep friendship with a young lady chimpanzee and rode a crocodile bareback… Despite a sometimes grating pomposity (more a cartoonish symptom of the age than an individual shortcoming), a sincerely awestruck appreciation of the bizarre and extraordinary. MDG

Publisher: Penguin
Paperback: 346 pages

Wonder Bread and Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano

Charles Isherwood

The tragic rise and fall of major gay porn star Joey Stefano. Equipped with a gorgeous face and body, Stefano starred in more than 35 hardcore videos, danced in clubs across America and Europe, hustled his way through thousands of dollars paid to him by clients around the globe and died from a drug overdose at the age of 26. With insight and empathy, Isherwood traces Stefano’s immersion into the chaotic and dark world of the porn industry—the fast money, the professional rivalries, the plentiful drugs, the nonstop sex. The picture of Stefano that emerges is one of a sexually adventurous beauty who lived in the moment and was determined to live out his fantasies at all costs. With photos, revealing snippets of Stefano interviews and a videography listing some of his more notable and widely available videos. Particularly distressing is the event recounted in the prologue: friend and director Chi Chi LaRue unsuccessfully attempting to make sense of Stefano’s death to a pack of bloodthirsty boneheads on The Marilyn Kagan Show. An all-too-familiar retelling of the potentially lethal effects of fame, Wonder Bread and Ecstasy is a well-written and disturbingly compelling read. MDG

Publisher: Alyson
Paperback: 209 pages

You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke

Daniel Wolff

A compelling portrait of the charismatic singer who helped create and define the musical genre today known as soul—from his early years in Chicago and his apprenticeship with gospel music to his bursting onto the pop scene as one of its first cross-over artists with the number-one hit “You Send Me” (the first in a string of rock ‘n’ roll classics including “Chain Gang,” “Wonderful World,” “Having a Party,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away”) to the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death in 1964 in a seedy motel in south Los Angeles at the age of 33. More than a mere biography, You Send Me also reads as a social history, addressing the racism that flourished within both the recording industry and society at large, crescendoing in the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Of particular note is the fact that Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” largely in response to Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” (“Geez, a white boy writing a song like that?”). Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Cooke’s genius (that is, aside from his voice: sparkling, plaintive, resilient, beguiling) was his ability, as writer and singer, to perfom gospel, soul, ballad, rock ‘n’ roll (often combining these elements in the context of one song) and never sound in the least inauthentic or out of place. With photos, a discography and selected bibliography, You Send Me is an excellent recounting of the brilliant life and tragic times of a bona fide musical legend. MDG

Publisher: Quill
Paperback: 428 pages