The week’s best arts and culture reads – including reflections on Wagner, America’s last letterpress printer and the Scythian siren on the coffee chain’s cups.

Wagner summer
Alex Ross | New Yorker | 19 August 2013
Reflections on the composer, and on the many productions of the Ring around the world in his bicentenary year. His stature has diminished: “Discussion of Wagner is stuck in a Nazi rut. His multifarious influence on artistic, intellectual, and political life has been largely forgotten”. The music continues to provoke: Bayreuth’s Ring this year is filled with “slapstick and absurdism”. Barenboim’s London Ring was a masterpiece.

A nearly perfect book
Nathan Heller | Harvard Magazine | 19 August 2013
Portrait of Arion Press, the only full-service letterpress left in the United States, and its owner, Andrew Hoyem. Arion’s hand-printed volumes sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars each. “Following tradition, Hoyem either melts down the type or returns it to its cases after the run is complete, preserving the volumes’ uniqueness”. His chief editorial collaborator is the poet and critic Helen Vendler.

Obituary: Mougouch Fielding
Telegraph | 19 August 2013
American-born muse of Armenian-born painter and fabulist Arshile Gorky. Met in 1941, when she was 19 and he (at least) 41. Her fling with Chilean-born painter Roberto Matta led to a break-up with Gorky, and, indirectly, his suicide. Remarried twice. “Gorky remained a dominant force in her life, and if she had never quite managed to be the ideal artist’s wife, she was his perfect widow. She worked hard to keep his memory (and myth) alive, finding dealers to handle his work and encouraging museums to show and buy it.”

d | Poemas del río Wang | 18th August 2013
How the ancient Scythians gave us the Starbucks logo. As far back as the 7th Century BC, Scythian bands living along the northern shores of the Black Sea venerated the goddess Mixoparthenos, who combined a female upper body and a snake-like lower body. She became a symbol of the Bosporan Kingdom in the 2nd century AD, a popular decorative feature in the Austro-Hungarian empire and, most recently, the trade-mark of a coffee shop.

Video games and religion
Amit Majmudar | Kenyon Review | 18 August 2013
“The place to look for the truest, deepest human fantasies about the afterlife is gaming. There’s no spiritually correct nonsense there, just pure choice. Game designers are free to design an environment; game players are free to elect or not to elect to enter it. What people really want is not a conflict-devoid eternal life, but unlimited lives in which to refine their performance in the struggle.”

Love, war and politics on trucks
Borhan Osman | Afghan Analysts' Network | 17 August 2013
Afghan trucks, buses and vans bear on their bodies all sorts of short messages: greetings, prayers, proverbs and quotes from famous movie characters. Most often, however, they bear poems. The usual form is the landay, a non-rhyming couplet, suggestive of the haiku. Here, a lost lover is mourned in the language of war: “I am chasing you like a drone / You have become al Qaida; there’s no trace of you”.

The rise of self-taught artists
Sarah Boxer | Atlantic | 14 August 2013
Outsider art is being shown in major galleries, appropriated by mainstream artists and sold at international art fairs. But its authenticity survives. “There’s something about the outsider artist that still eludes insiders, still makes the outsider an ideal, a model, a stigma, a fate to be feared. Or envied. And that something, I think, is the outsider’s strange mix of compulsion and nonchalance.”

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