Frieze Editor’s Picks: Eileen Myles’s ‘Pathetic’ Anthology


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Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Eileen Myles, Pathetic Literature

If you love multidisciplinary artists and you’ve been feeling listless, like I have, then Eileen Myles’s anthology Pathetic Literature (2022) is the perfect book for a quiet evening of pathos. ‘In general poems are pathetic and diaries are pathetic,’ explains the writer, art historian and one-time US presidential candidate. ‘Really Literature is pathetic.’ Myles reclaims ‘pathetic’ from ‘pathetic masculinity’, a little-known 20th-century visual arts movement that oriented itself around handicraft and the diaristic impulse. Myles goes on to rail against this movement, which gives you a sense of their writing writ large: disarmingly articulate and candid, sliding stunningly between grand themes and minute observations.

Eileen Myles: A Poet in the Art World, 2016, film still

Reading Pathetic Literature is like taking a roadtrip with an erudite and bizarre friend. I was struck by their description of the anthology as a ‘hollow’: an organic framework for other living things to burrow into. The pieces they’ve collected range from Molloy (1951) by Samuel Beckett (‘that old weirdo’, in Myles’s words); to Layli Long Soldier’s poem 38 (2017) on the 38 Dakota men executed under orders from Abraham Lincoln; to artist Precious Okoyomon’s ode to a mushroom-enhanced walk around Harlem. If you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing Myles do a live reading of their work; they’re a bit disorganized and prone to shoot off on tangents. After seeing Myles in person, I couldn’t help but read the prose with their voice in my head.

Pathetic Literature
Pathetic Literature, 2022, book cover. Courtesy: Grove Press

The Menu

The political slogan ‘Eat the Rich’ verges on the literal in this dinner-themed class critique. Set in a restaurant on a remote island, where diners pay USD $1,250 per head, The Menu (2022) stars Ralph Fiennes as chef Julian Slowik, serving up a tasting menu that is perfectly executed – no pun intended. Directed by Succession’s (2018–ongoing) Mark Mylod – the king of savage, obscenity-laced one-liners – the film is visually lush, fast-paced, and quick-witted, with a strong ensemble cast.

The Menu, 2022
Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu, 2022. Courtesy: Searchlight Pictures/20th Century Studios; photograph: Eric Zachanowich

Those of us who grew up unaccustomed to lavish art world events will find solidarity with Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, Margot Mills, who is told – though the message is meant for her protection – that she most certainly does not belong. She shimmies out of Slowik’s deadly trap by asking for a burger ‘to-go’, triggering memories of the purest expression of his art as a cook at a chain restaurant. Though the film certainly pokes fun at the pretentiousness of haute cuisine, I don’t necessarily believe it is about the failure of high art. After all, if Slowik’s menu is a work of art, it’s a highly functional one when it comes to conveying the chef’s nihilistic message. The Menu’s fantastical measures left me thinking about more real-world tensions: the narcissism required to believe that one has something important to contribute to a crowded cultural conversation; how those who set out to critique an industry are often consumed by it; and how to maintain a pure love for art as far outside of commerce as possible.


The Writer’s Co-op

With recent strikes and efforts to unionise The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, to name but a few, we’re finally talking more about money in art, particularly as it relates to salaries. On 1 November, New York City’s pay transparency law went into effect. It requires employers with four or more employees – including independent contractors and interns – to list salary ranges in job postings. This has far-reaching implications: any employer hiring for a remote job that can be completed in the city must comply.

As a frieze editor, I find this subject particularly important. Most of what you read in these pages has been written – and expertly copyedited – by freelancers. In fact, a 2019 report announced that 1 in 3 New Yorkers had performed freelance work in the previous 12 months. During the pandemic, when I was one of them, I found myself picking up The Writer’s Co-op podcast, where co-hosts Wudan Yan and Jenni Gritters address the nuts and bolts of freelance writing: finding clients, creating budgets, negotiating rates and navigating taxes. It should be noted that this podcast is dedicated more to the business of writing than the craft of it – I’ll save that for another instalment of Frieze Editor’s Picks.

Main image and thumbnail: Pathetic Literature, 2022, book cover. Courtesy: Grove Press

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