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The Threepenny Review

The Threepenny Review Summer 2020

The Threepenny Review is a well-regarded quarterly of the arts and society which has been published since 1980. Every issue contains excellent essays, stories, poems, and memoirs, plus beautiful black-and-white photographs. Its regular writers include six Nobel Prizewinners and four U.S. Poet Laureates; recent issues featured writing by Wendell Berry, Geoff Dyer, Louise Glück, Greil Marcus, Javier Marías, Adam Phillips, and Kay Ryan.

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United States
The Threepenny Review
4 Issues

in this issue

5 min
visionary materiality

Oscar Murillo: Social Altitude, an exhibit at the Aspen Art Museum, November 23, 2019–May 17, 2020. EIGHT YEARS ago, the Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo was cleaning offices in London. Now the art press is calling him the Jean-Michel Basquiat of this century, and his paintings fetch six figures at auction. In 2019 Murillo shared with three others the prestigious Turner Prize (an annual award usually given to a single British artist, but that year awarded jointly to all four nominees). And there’s a lot of coverage about Murillo’s family origins, his studio practice in various media, and his restless international travel as he pursues cross-cultural pollination. Some of this information is extraneous, some is helpful, but none of it is necessary for a powerful experience of his work, as shown at the…

14 min
table talk

THE SUMMER I sold bibles door-to-door was my first experience of a suburb. I was fourteen. I don’t remember which suburb, but it was close enough to Philadelphia for the guy I now think of as The Collector to drive his sales crew out there in the morning hours and then collect us late afternoon. I was expected to work summers, and jobs usually came my way through relatives. I had an uncle who moonlighted as a successful bible merchant, and it was he, a matinee-idol lookalike with a Dean Martin voice, who trained me. I spent a Saturday with him as he made rounds in one of my own South Philadelphia neighborhoods. I wondered how it might all turn out. I was not confident. It seemed easy, at least as…

3 min
a highly refined hick

HENRI MICHAUX’S A Barbarian in Asia is a travel book, a poet’s book, the book of a reluctant misanthrope, as well as being a very salutary book (in both the modern and the archaic senses of the word). Imagine this: a Belgian gentleman goes to India, to China, to Japan, to Malaysia, and at no point does he relinquish his indisputable, irreversible status as a Belgian. The result is that he never ceases to rant and rave. Add to this the fact that the gentleman in question was born in 1899, is cultivated, curious, wise, unpedantic, and a good writer, and the reader is clearly in for a treat. Michaux undertook this long journey around Asia in 1931, at a time when, while a Western traveler could not perhaps legitimately adopt…

1 min
motion against ideas

As for the idea we are all oneI notice cancer has removed pieces of RobertBut I am still whole. I see a few peopleSwimming in money, many others wading outTo supply drinks and sex. The water’s glassy blue. The manyTaken by the few. But I don’t know them,Don’t fish, don’t care. It’s cool to think our skullsContain sun, and moon, and stars, each headA planetarium. The difference is Heads switch off, quick,Unlike stars. A new body, all new cellsEvery seven years: Hell yes, why not! But, new Cells that make us look older?Your honor, entropy spreads us thin, andThinner; we’ll soon be gloss. Your honor, I moveWe clear away ideas on both sides of the table& wait wordless together For as long as it takesThe soul to appear, then wait longerFor the maker of souls to appear, The…

8 min
reading without apologies

Agathe, or the Forgotten Sister by Robert Musil, translated from the German by Joel Agee. NYRB Classics, 2019, $17.95 paper. IT IS NOT uncommon to hear of readers skipping the battle scenes in War and Peace or skimming the dinner party descriptions in In Search of Lost Time. But as in the case of Proust—who ties the dinner party scenes together in a majestic bow in the final volume, Time Regained—what at first glance might seem too difficult or ancillary in a long novel can end up being a vital key to unlocking a deeper understanding of the work. When Prince Andrei, seriously wounded at the Battle of Austerlitz, lies on his back looking up at a vast blue sky and contemplates the nature of happiness—well, that’s a beautiful scene which…

15 min
anthony perkins: young man with secrets

You know, I must have one of those faces you just can’t help believing.—Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho IT’S NOT just the face—the level gaze, the open-hearted smile, the utter absence of guile. It’s also the fumbling, childlike innocence, the unassuming sweetness, the apparent willingness to confide feelings (as when he tells Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane that taxidermy must be more than a hobby for him, because a hobby is supposed to pass the time, not fill it). It’s the beanpole frame—he’s a slender six foot two and a half—that always makes him look as if he still isn’t quite accustomed to the more rarefied air. And the bashfulness: he’s so shy that, when he shows Marion around the unit she’s rented at the deserted motel he operates near…