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T H I S W E E K

No. 6095

January 24 2020

the-tls.co.uk

UK £3.95 | USA $8.99

T H E T I M E S L I T E R A R Y S U P P L E M E N T

Nikolaus Wachsmann The design of Auschwitz | Stanley Donwood Art and the album cover

Emily A. Bernhard Jackson Byron’s eating disorder | Virginia Blum Cosmetic addictions

Design Special

Feature

Frank Lloyd Wright’s cold heart

Joyce Carol Oates

An illustration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Melvyn Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith House”, by J. C. Richard

In this issue

Frank Lloyd Wright, as Joyce Carol Oates reminds us, said that his “organic architecture” was based on “the life of the thing”. His designs were employed in the practical service of the living and breathing. Wright’s own life was scarcely above reproach: if he was charismatic, he was also petty, cruel and “besotted with his own uniqueness”. He may well deserve his latest biography, then – Oates calls it a “Möbius strip, inchoate, disorganized and disjointed, repetitive and exhaustive, for a torrential excess of words is finally a loss for words in awe of the extraordinary person”. Structure, in literature as in architecture, matters.

That is the principle behind many of the pieces in this week’s TLS, which is devoted to the power of design, for good and for ill. Stanley Donwood – who has designed covers for Radiohead – reflects on the rise of album artwork, through which “record shops became perhaps the first genuinely democratic art galleries”. And Adrian Forty attends an exhibition that is about “the thrill of cars, and about the damage they have done”. However intricately the machinery is designed, cars “as cultural objects … are a lot more complicated than they are as technical objects”; they are about aspiration, about moving on from the past and looking ahead to the future. The same could be said about cosmetic surgery. With this in mind, Virginia Blum reviews two books about those who wish to redesign their features in the never-ending quest for elusive happiness.

Nikolaus Wachsmann’s moving account of the historical reality of Auschwitz and its “material landscape of persecution”, meanwhile, explores the impact of physical planning. “A closer engagement with places and spaces, and their emotional and sensory dimension, helps to ground the camp and reveals elements of lived experience”: Auschwitz was, we learn, a “vast city of terror”, complete with zones built for miscellaneous tasks and functions. There were “workshops and warehouses, garages and laundries, bakeries and butchers; the SS settlement even had its own kindergarten”. In this busy construction site were monuments to cruelty and murder – the restless crematoria, the gas chambers – but also “spaces for prisoner agency”, respite and even escape. Take the humble bunk: to some, a place of discomfort and terror, where “wooden shavings and rotting straw on the bunks crawled with fleas and chafed against sore skins”; to others, the only site of release and relief, “where pain occasionally dissolved into brief, blissful dreams, filled with sweet sensations”.

STIG ABELL

Editor

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