While the executioner’s knowledge of anatomy engendered these ironic side jobs, it was acquired with a singular purpose: efficiency. Each was judged on his meticulous ability to carry out a death sentence while avoiding the excessively bloody spectacle of a botched execution. Public executions—by sword, fire or wheel—were the culmination of a theatrical performance through which the crown enacted its deadly authority. The performance of justice needed to be seamless enough to appear natural—any disruption might be interpreted by the gathered crowd as an intervening act of God, a repudiation of the divine rite of kings. Hence it needed to be expertly enacted. To botch the highly choreographed routine was seen as an affront to justice.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, or maybe he didn’t, but either way vast ribbons of peat came to rest under what became the foothills of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, and in time the peat became coal, and later the railroads arrived, along with mines and coke ovens, and near one lazy arc of the Tennessee River workers built homes to return to after their long days of burrowing and burning, and the homes became a town, and the town was called Dayton.
"You can see the damage in “The Denial of Saint Peter,” executed in Naples during his convalescence and one of his very last works. It’s still a Caravaggio — the peasant earthiness of Peter’s features, the flaring chiaroscuro, the heightened drama of sin and redemption. But the reductive simplicity of the composition, the shallow, featureless space, the coarse description of Peter’s hands — this too is Caravaggio at the end of his life. Either he couldn’t see what he was painting anymore or his hands were shaking."
—Stephen Akey, “Thug: A Life of Caravaggio in Sixty-Nine Paragraphs”
How do you write poems about a culture that has been erased from history and one you don’t fit into? Tess Taylor delved into the complications of her Southern family’s past for The Forage House and attempted to excavate the unwritten parts of their history. “The non-writing down of people is intensely violent,” she told The Oxford American in a recent interview. Pair with: Our own Michael Bourne’s essay on the collection and its implications.
In 1847, Charles Dickens founded a house for homeless women in the Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of London. After setting up the center’s amenities, he publicized the house using leaflets and, upon hearing that London society was shocked that the center had a piano, spread a rumor that the center boasted a piano for every resident. At The Guardian, a look at a letter Dickens wrote to the matron of the house, to be sold at Christie’s in May. (h/t The Paris Review)
"Colombia of the ’80s and ’90s contained within itself Hell and Paradise all at once, each in its full force, neither diluting the other. This point is essential to understand why so many of us have taken to calling our beloved Nobel Laureate, the late Gabriel García Márquez, the most important Colombian who ever lived.”
What’s old doesn’t need to be old-fashioned. It gets reborn.