In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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I never went to see Michael Jackson but I saw Prince half a dozen times. I saw him in stadiums with thousands of people, so have a rational understanding that he was in no sense my secret, that he was in fact a superstar. But I still say his shows were illegible, private, like the performance of a man in the middle of a room at a house party. It was the greatest thing you ever saw and yet its greatness was confined to the moment in which it was happening. Jackson was exactly the opposite. Every move he made was absolutely legible, public, endlessly copied and copyable, like a meme before the word existed. He thought in images, and across time. He deliberately outlined and then marked once more the edges around each move, like a cop drawing a chalk line round a body. Stuck his neck forward if he was moving backwards. Cut his trousers short so you could read his ankles. Grabbed his groin so you could better understand its gyrations. Gloved one hand so you might attend to its rhythmic genius, the way it punctuated everything, like an exclamation mark. Towards the end, his curious stage-wear became increasingly tasked with this job of outline and distinction. It looked like a form of armor, the purpose of which was to define each element of his body so no movement of it would pass unnoted. His arms and legs multiply strapped—literal visualization of his flexible joints—and a metallic sash running left to right across his breastplate, accentuating the shift of his shoulders along this diagonal. A heavyweight’s belt accentuated slender hips and divided the torso from the legs, so you noticed when the top and bottom half of the body pulled in opposite directions. Finally a silver thong, rendering his eloquent groin as clear as if it were in ALL CAPS. It wasn’t subtle, there was no subtext, but it was clearly legible. People will be dancing like Michael Jackson until the end of time. But Prince, precious, illusive Prince, well, there lies one whose name was writ in water. And from Prince a writer might take the lesson that illusiveness can possess a deeper beauty than the legible. In the world of words, we have Keats to remind us of this, and to demonstrate what a long afterlife an illusive artist can have, even when placed beside as clearly drawn a figure as Lord Byron…Prince represents the inspiration of the moment, like an ode composed to capture a passing sensation. And when the mood changes, he changes with it: another good lesson. There’s no freedom in being a monument. Better to be the guy still jamming in the wee hours of the house party, and though everybody films it on their phones no one proves quite able to capture the essence of it. And now he’s gone, having escaped us one more time. I don’t claim Prince’s image won’t last as long as Jackson’s. I only say that in our minds it will never be as distinct.
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from ”Dance Lessons for Writers” in Feel Free by Zadie Smith
He had an image of her in his mind, the same image that appeared to him whenever he was racked by feelings of love. He saw her entering and leaving the house like a gust of fresh air, leading her little brother by the hand. He heard her laughter on the terrace and smelled the sweet, subtle aroma of her skin and hair when she walked past him in the midday sun. He saw her as he imagined her in all the idle hours he spent dreaming of her. Above all, he thought of her at the precious moment when she entered his bedroom and they were alone together in the intimacy of his refuge. She entered without knocking, while he was reading in bed, filling his burrough with the flutter of her long hair and her undulating arms. She touched his books without the slightest sign of reverence, and even dared to take them from their sacred shelves; she blew the dust off their covers without the least respect and tossed them onto the bed, chatting all the while as he trembled with desire and surprise, unable to extract from his whole encyclopedic vocabulary. A single word to hold her there, until she finally took leave of him with a kiss on the cheek that continued to burn; a single, terrible kiss on which he build a labyrinth of dreams where the two of them were a prince and princess hopelessly in love.
Editorial Intern Zoe Papelis
Excerpt from The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende