Kevin Kopelson

Kevin Kopelson is professor of English at the University of Iowa. An exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, The Perfect Medium, is at the Getty Museum until 31 July.

Beauty + Terror: Robert Mapplethorpe

Kevin Kopelson, 30 June 2016

In​ New York in the 1960s, your first sight of gay pornography may well have been in public, looking in a sex shop window. If you were a gay kid, but closeted you would have reacted with pleasure, certainly, maybe even bliss – what Roland Barthes called jouissance. But there would also have been an inexplicable, almost sickening lust, and the fear of being seen looking. If you could...

All about Me: Don Bachardy

Kevin Kopelson, 9 April 2015

I too​ was ‘a single man’ in the fall of 1999. And like the doomed protagonist, George, in the novel A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, I too was gay; I too was an English professor (on a one-term sabbatical back then); I too was middle-aged (at 39 years old then, whereas George is 58); I too was living in Los Angeles (although my teaching position is in Iowa City); I...

I want to be her clothes: Kate Moss

Kevin Kopelson, 20 December 2012

Many people​ believe that Jesus, when alive, was both human and divine, or both mortal and immortal; many people, likewise, believe that God himself, of the Old as well as the New Testament, is both spiteful and forgiving, or both hateful and loving. And while we all believe such contradictory things about ourselves, about other people well known to us ‘in person’ (friends,...

Diary: Confessions of a Plagiarist

Kevin Kopelson, 22 May 2008

I quote too much. Give me a good line – what am I saying? Give me a good paragraph – even a Proustian one – and I’ll shove it into my own prose regardless of how tiresome that is. Take my last book, on the satirist David Sedaris. Not only do you get more Proust than you’d ever care for, you get an awful lot of Sedaris – pure, unadulterated Sedaris. It’s not that I’m lazy. Or rather, it’s not just that I’m lazy.

Adipose Tumorous Growths and All

Kevin Kopelson, 18 May 2000

To be fair to Alan Walker, I should confess that I’m an amateur pianist who loves playing – or trying to play – some of the virtuoso music Liszt both composed and, of course, performed: relatively easy pieces like Waldesrauschen and Un Sospiro, which are concert études, and also the three ‘Petrarch’ Sonnets. More difficult ones – like Gnomenreigen or the first ‘Mephisto’ Waltz – are simply beyond me. I’m also a sex fiend who loves the erotic myths that concern Liszt, the homoerotic ones in particular. There’s the famous one Liszt himself promulgated, known as the Weihekuss, about Beethoven embracing the 11-year-old prodigy at his Vienna debut. (It never happened; or if it did, it happened in the privacy of Beethoven’s home.) There’s the one about Liszt the lady-killer. In reality, Liszt was more of a Cary Grant than a Clark Gable, more Don Ottavio than Don Giovanni – although he did play the latter on stage. According to Charles Rosen: ‘With his international reputation for erotic conquest already set’, Liszt must have known that the public would take Réminiscences de Don Juan (1841) ‘as a self-portrait in sound, just as everyone had assumed that Byron’s Don Juan was an autobiography’. Then there’s the private myth about Byron: ‘I still feel the same liking, the same passion for L.B.,’ Liszt wrote to Countess Marie d’Agoult, his first mistress. ‘Hugo called Virgil the moon of Homer; when I flatter myself, I tell myself that I shall perhaps one day be B’s.’ I like to think, mostly on the basis of conservatory gossip but also because of the ‘physical aversion’ to women Liszt keeps mentioning in his correspondence, that this Byron fixation has something to do with bisexuality – which may mean that ‘Lisztomania’, Heine’s term for crazed female devotion to the virtuoso, had a lot in common with the ‘fag-hag’ devotion previously inspired by castrati. By, say, a singer like Farinelli. Both performers did seemingly impossible things, produced seemingly impossible sounds, and both were surrounded by an arousing nimbus of either passivity (hence the Cary Grant analogy) or lack of interest (hence Don Ottavio).’‘

Lucky Boy

Kevin Kopelson, 3 April 1997

Why are we being compelled to think about how male pianists speak? King Vidor’s A Song to Remember (1945) exerted no such pressure. Nor did Max Ophuls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Yet, while Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) presented a woman incapable of speech, François Girard’s Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1994) presented a man who was abnormally articulate – one who in the 22nd film, for example, rehearses the revealing personal ad: ‘Friendly, companionably reclusive, socially unacceptable, alcoholically abstemious, tirelessly talkative, zealously unzealous, spiritually intense, minimally turquoise, maximally ecstatic loon seeks moth or moths with similar equalities for purposes of telephonic seduction, Tristan-esque trip-taking.’ Now comes Scott Hicks’s Shine, an equally arty but commercially viable biopic about a man – David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor and Alex Rafalowicz) – who is abnormally inarticulate. Helfgott’s very first words are: ‘Kissed them all, I kissed them all, always kissed cats, puss-cats, kissed them, always did; if a cat’d let me kiss it, I’d kiss it – Cat on a fence I’ll kiss it – always, always, I will-didn’t I?’ His nearly final word, self-directed, is: ‘Stupstraight’ Julia Kristeva might call Helfgott’s way with words ‘semiotic’. Richard Alleva, in Commonweal, calls him ‘a manic babbler whose logical skips and leaps, wisecracks, speed-freak stutterings and surreal wordplays compose a weirdly poetic discourse’: a description that would apply as well to Helfgott’s more obvious precursor – the Mozart (both pianist and composer) Peter Schaffer presented in Amadeus (1979). His first words, addressed to Constanze, were even cattier than Helfgott’s: ‘Miaouw! I’m going to pounce-bounce! I’m going to scrunch-munch! I’m going to chew-poo my little mouse-wouse!’ The Shine screenplay makes the connection for us. Gay piano teacher Ben Rosen (Nicholas Bell), in a scene cut from the film, describes David’s father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), as a ‘poor man’s Leopold Mozart’.’


Bach’s Uncles

19 July 2001

Edward Said claims that illness prevented J.S. Bach from concluding the last piece in The Art of Fugue (LRB, 19 July). Said should know that you can’t compose a quadruple fugue without writing the ending first, and that the ‘missing’ final page of Bach’s final work, a self-inscribed musical epitaph Busoni re-created in his Fantasia Contrappuntistica, must have been misplaced...

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