Throughout most of evolutionary history, sex was just sex. Among vertebrates, fish were the first to do it, going back some 400 million years. While it might be fun for fish and all the other species that evolved to reproduce sexually, for most species, sex still is just sex. But for our own peculiar species of primate, sex is about something more. Sex is about babymaking. Contemplating sex and where we come from has played a fundamental role in human mating, partnering and raising children, and in forming families, communities and alliances, and more. Recognising this fundamental difference between us and the rest of Earth’s sexual beings overturns conventional evolutionary thinking, which has long understood human sex, reproduction and kinship as fundamentally the same for us as for any other mammal.
Why do I care? Shouldn't I, like most consumers of American pop culture, revel in seeing a once-dignified person debased on television? No. Because the fact is, Union Pacific was one of the first truly nonpareil meals I'd ever eaten. Rocco's food helped make me interested in food. And as a lover of said food, I struggle -- truly struggle -- with trying to understand Rocco's refusal to cook. It upsets me, still. Confuses me. Is it an act of defiance, or one of survival? A temporary respite that just got too comfortable, or a well-planned second act? When we look at Rocco, are we looking at an American success story, or a tragic narrative of talent wasted?
What if Thelonious Monk quit jazz to write toilet bowl cleaner ad jingles? Or Salinger started doing Harlequin romance novels? What happens when someone believed to have a transcending talent simply stops doing the thing they've been blessed with? Is he cheating himself? Is he cheating us? What recourse, or right, do we have to tell them they're making a mistake? Because the fact is, one of America's great culinary talents refuses to cook. And I need to know why.
But what makes a good picture does not always taste good, and what tastes good does not always make a good picture.
“There is that saying that we taste with our eyes first, but I’m not sure that goes beyond the first bite,” says Rebecca Roth Gullo, who runs the eminently Instagrammable Blackbird Doughnuts. “We don’t create food for Instagram, but I know many chefs who do. Nor do I think it is wrong. I don’t know if eating is necessarily about taste anymore.”
Only four seconds of film footage exist of Isadora Duncan dancing, at what looks like a garden recital, spinning with her arms crossed in fourth position. She’s wearing her signature toga, presumably dancing barefoot. She reported hating that footage, and despised being filmed in general, arguing that her style of dance was about organic movement rather than positions, which is certainly hard to capture on film. So why does she still occupy significant space in our cultural mythology if we can’t even verify her exceptionalism? Her cult following makes her legacy mostly word-of-mouth, and we can trace how her revolutionary ideas about modern dance have influenced later movements. We mostly are left with Duncan’s memoir, My Life, in which she insists on her own genius, the largeness of her mission in changing the face of dance, in messy and disjointed anecdotes, with all the grandeur of her larger-than-life persona.
Amelia Gray picks up the dropped stitches of Duncan’s own autobiography in her new novel, Isadora, in which she shines her spotlight on Duncan as a grieving mother, toeing the line of sanity. Isadora famously had two children—her daughter, Deidre, with Gordon Craig (son of actress Ellen Terry), and her son, Patrick, with Singer sewing machine heir Paris Singer, both of whom were killed in a car accident when their car drove into the Seine. Gray’s novel switches its narration between the grieving and half-mad Isadora, Paris Singer, Duncan’s apparently long-suffering sister, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s lover, Max Merz. We see the sisters’ fraught relationship, Elizabeth’s particular interest in grizzly news stories, and Isadora eating her children’s ashes. The book allows our gaze to lurk in the shadows cast by the family’s grief, and explores what it means to make art even when the world is crashing down around us.
“Broken River” is a remarkable performance, a magic trick that makes you laugh at its audacity. Lennon has written a realistic novel, with vivid characters and flashes of humor and an evocative mood, that is also a playful, sophisticated meditation on storytelling itself: down-home metafiction.