Archive for September, 2009
Last Saturday night, the National Museum of the American Indian became the latest subject of a Big Shot, a project overseen by photography professors from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Since 1987, three professors from R.I.T.–the husband-and-wife team of Bill DuBois and Dawn Tower DuBois, plus Michael Peres–have traveled to numerous notable buildings and structures, to which they recruit hundreds of volunteers bearing flashlights or flash cameras. The volunteers scan and splash the buildings with light, in random fashion, as the photographers take shots with exposures lasting 30 seconds or more.
When it works, the resulting image is of a building that has been painted with (or smeared in) light.
We saw Prime Minster John Key on David Letterman’s show pushing Cinnabon while reading the Top Ten List. But what happens if you’re a world leader who appears on a late night program and you don’t even have a choice? Take Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s September 28, 2009 appearance on The Tonight Show. The production team grabbed a clip and decided to add subtitles featuring Subway products. Indeed, Conan O’Brien’s zeal for Subway is so strong that he interrupts jockey Joe Talamo, which you can see at the 0:47 mark. Does Conan just like Subway sandwiches or does he have a sponsor to appease?
This is the third video in the “corporate shill” series, which follows Jay Leno and David Letterman. In deciding whether or not Conan O’Brien fits the shilling bill, you may want to ask why O’Brien makes reference to two recent consumer events (The Gap founder dying and The Wizard of Oz DVD coming out this week) two nights in a row.
[Bid on this Significant Object, with story by Charles Ardai , here. ]
The telegram arrived too late. The morning mail had brought the box, wrapped in a double thickness of brown paper and covered with fibrous packing tape I’d had to dig out the heavy Wüsthof cook’s knife to slice through. Inside, upon a bed of cotton batting, lay a ceramic ball painted with images of flowers in a wicker basket and tiny, gold-bellied birds. There was a plastic stopper in the base, a loop of ribbon at the top, and a diamond pattern of pinholes on either side. I looked at the return address on the torn and crumpled wrapping: Gabriel Hunt, Trebišov District, Košice, Slovakia.
The illustrious Mr. Hunt, a centimillionaire and renowned world traveler…why, I wondered, would he send me this oddity? I had recently completed co-authoring a book with the man (by which I mean that I wrote all the words the book contained, save three: ‘by,’ ‘Gabriel,’ and ‘Hunt’), but that hardly explained the appearance in my mailbox of this rara avis.
The explanation arrived an hour later, in the form of a half-size sheet of paper bearing the logo of Western Union. “Charles,” the message read, “you will receive a package from me shortly; do not, repeat do not, open the object you find inside. I send it to you for safekeeping, so I beg you, keep it safe. Hang it, please, in a cool, dry place, away from noise and direct sunlight. Do not listen to it. Do not attempt to peer inside.
“You will be curious as to what the piece contains. I will tell you, so that you might avoid accidentally doing irreparable harm. This innocent-seeming container is the handiwork, Charles, of the renowned Slovak metaphysician and sculptress Mária Gruska. She fashioned it with clay from the basin of the Tisza River, the burial site of the great Hun chieftain, Attila. Some incantations followed – I don’t know the details, Charles, and since Gruska has recently passed on (rather violently, I’m afraid) I doubt we ever will. But incantations there were, and a pentacle inscribed on the ground, and certain other bits of ritual that resulted in the ancient chieftain’s soul being drawn back from whatever midnight realm it had so long inhabited and stoppered up in this spherical chamber. The art on the outer surface is functional: as anathema to the inhabitant as holy water to a vampire, it keeps him penned inside. The holes permit communication, but not escape.
“Gruska had it hanging, Charles, from a cast-iron hook in her cellar. Her mansion was aflame when I found and rescued it, escaping mere instants before the building collapsed into a heap of rubble.
“Now it’s in your hands. I realize you may not believe that Attila is in there. Humor me at least. I will take it off your hands when I return.”
I would have done as Hunt requested – very gladly. But by the time I read this I had already slipped a thumbnail beneath the stopper’s edge and, with a tug, removed it. It had come free with an audible pop and I’d felt a strange breeze, as though there’d been a window open nearby. There was a scent in the air as well, like roasting meat or burning wood. But it passed, and I’d thought nothing of it – until the telegram.
On his return, Hunt was inconsolable.
I have used the container ever since to hold salt.
A poignant email from VM:
I only wish my parents would have lived to see it.
Don’t worry, VM … they’re using it. In heaven.
Has Apple, Inc., become what it once criticized? That meme seems to be catching on. Software developers (and many tech writers) are unhappy about the Apple policy that requires software companies to submit their applications for the iPhone and iTouch multimedia player to the company for approval. And the entrepreneur Jason Calcanis, founder of Weblogs, Inc., made waves this summer when he pilloried Apple for stifling innovation in the market for mp3 devices. (Apple’s popular iTunes software will only work with iPhones and iPods.)
The latest salvo comes from doubleTwist, a San Francisco-based company that makes software that lets you sync your music collection with dozens of different mp3 players and phones. In a web-based advertisement for an (unspecified) update to its software, doubleTwist casts Apple in the role of Big Brother, remixing the classic Apple ad that targeted IBM 25 years ago.
C’était la première fois qu’Emma s’entendait dire ces choses; et son orgueil, comme quelqu’un qui se délasse dans une étuve, sétirait mollement et tout entier à la chaleur de ce langage.
It was the first time that Emma had heard such words addressed to her, and her pride unfolded languidly in the warmth of this language, like someone stretching in a hot bath.
This SeniorJournal.com article from January says senior citizens don’t like social networking sites:
Just 7 out of every 100 senior citizens – Americans age 65 or older – have a profile on an online social network – well below the 35 percent of all adult internet users …
No surprise there: Why would senior citizens sign up for twitter, if they’re going to be barraged by intimidating bit.ly links? (If there are other social networking sites, I’m not aware of them. I don’t have time to poke around the internet all day; I’m trying to solve problems.)
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to watch the percentage of seniors using twitter rise over the next few months as more seniors learn of urlshorteningservicefortwitter.com.
Have you told your grandmother about us?
In other "Ed Parks" news, someone recently wrote a really sweet (I mean that in an "awww!" sense and also a kind of frat-boy "suh-weet" sense) review of PD on Amazon, concluding: "Well done, Mr. Parks. I hope this is the first of many novels for you!"
Again: Heyyy, I'll take it!
Members of the generational cohort born from 1934-43 were in their teens and 20s during the Fifties (1954-63, not to be confused with the the 1950s), and in their 20s and 30s during the Sixties (1964-73). Though this cohort is easily distinguished from their immediate elders (the Postmodernists, born 1924-33), William Strauss and Neil Howe lumped the two cohorts together and dismissively named them the “Silent Generation” (1925-42).
It’s certainly possible to understand why the Postmodernists, whose emphasis on the ambivalence, indeterminacy, and undecidability of everything did not lend itself to protesters’ slogans, were considered “silent” by their ideological and gung-ho elders, the Partisans and New Gods. “Silent,” however, is surely a wrong-headed descriptor for the 1934-43 cohort — whose number includes Abbie Hoffman, Gloria Steinem, Eldridge Cleaver, Bernardine Dohrn, Jesse Jackson, Mario Savio, Todd Gitlin, Kate Millett, Vaclav Havel, Stokely Carmichael, and Ken Kesey, not to mention folk singers Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell. Do you still buy into Strauss & Howe’s generational periodization scheme, or the middlebrow notion of a Silent Generation? Then Middlebrow has got its hooks into you deep.
Borrowing Sartre’s slogan, coined after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, about being neither communist nor anticommunist but ”anti-anticommunist,” the American literary theorist Fredric Jameson (born on the cusp of this generation and the Postmodernists) coined the phrase “anti-anti-utopian” to describe the only form of utopianism available after the triumph of anti-utopianism during the early Cold War. Jameson claims that certain SF authors — Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin — who belong to what I’ve named the Postmodernist generation are anti-anti-utopians; he also names Samuel R. Delany, who was born in ’42. In honor of Delany, and following Jameson’s productive line of theorizing, I’ve named this generational cohort: the Anti-Anti-Utopians.
High-, low-, no-, and hilobrow members of the 1934-43 generation include: Abbie Hoffman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Brigitte Bardot, Bruce Dern, Bruce Lee, Buddy Holly, the Dalai Lama, David Cronenberg, Don DeLillo, Eddie Cochran, Edward Said, Eldridge Cleaver, Elvis Presley, Evel Knievel, Georges Perec, Giorgio Agamben, Hasil Adkins, Hunter S. Thompson, Iaian Sinclair, Ian Dury, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Crowley, John Kennedy Toole, John Lennon, Joseph Brodsky, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Julia Kristeva, Ken Kesey, Leonard Cohen, Mama Cass, Margaret Atwood, Michael Moorcock, Michael O’Donoghue, Morris Dickstein, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Otis Redding, R. Crumb, Ralph Bakshi, Richard Pryor, Roy Orbison, Rudy Ray Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Stewart Brand, Stokely Carmichael, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Stoppard, Tony Hendra, Tura Satana, Valerie Solanas, Vito Acconci, Vivienne Westwood, Wanda Jackson, Wendell Berry, Willie Morris, Woody Allen, and Yvonne Craig. Angela Davis, Martin Jay, Yoko Ono, and Bill Griffith are honorary members; and Susan Sontag might be one.
A reminder of my generational periodization scheme:
1844-53: [Progressive Generation] Prometheans
1854-63: [Progressive, Missionary Generations] Plutonians
1864-73: [Missionary Generation] Anarcho-Symbolists
1874-83: [Missionary Generation] Psychonauts
1884-93: [Lost Generation] Modernists
1894-1903: [Lost, Greatest/GI Generations] Hardboileds
1904-13: [Greatest/GI Generation] Partisans
1914-23: [Greatest/GI Generation] New Gods
1924-33: [Silent Generation] Postmodernists
1934-43: [Silent Generation] Anti-Anti-Utopians
1954-63: [Boomers, Late Boomers, Post-Boomers, Generation Jones] OGXers
1964-73: [Generation X, Thirteenth Generation] Constructivists
1974-83: [Generations X, Y] Revivalists
1984-93: [Millennial Generation] Throwbacks
1994-2003: [Millennial Generation] TBA
Why does Middlebrow insist on calling the 1934-43 cohort “silent,” despite all evidence to the contrary?
To Middlebrow, there are only two legitimate, and three possible modes of action. It’s legitimate to work contentedly within the status quo — though contentment might involve adjustment, as in: becoming “well-adjusted.” And it’s legitimate to agitate vociferously for reform — i.e., it’s legitimate for a group that’s been denied entrance to the middle class, or denied recognition or respect by mainstream culture, to agitate for membership, recognition, and respect. These legit modes of action are heimlich and gemütlich. Middlebrow also recognizes, and, in a guarded way, applauds a third, unheimlich (nobrow) mode of action: dropping out of the middle class and mainstream culture. The Hardboiled, Partisan, and New God generations aren’t considered “silent” because their notable members tended to adopt one of these three modes of action. Notable Postmodernists, however, regarded this tripartite model as an invisible prison, and themselves as prisoners — sullenly close-mouthed, or sneakily tunneling under the walls.
Notable members of the 1934-43 cohort weren’t silent in the same way. Although they agreed with their Partisan, New God, and Postmodernist elders that utopian blueprints are inherently totalitarian, or at least proto-totalitarian, they vociferously and articulately refused to accept the postwar consensus that there was no longer any alternative to liberal capitalism. So were they reformers? Some were, perhaps, but others simultaneously refused to renounce a utopian faith in the possibility of another world. They were neither utopian nor anti-utopian. This double-negative worldview is difficult to articulate, and nearly impossible to translate into action! It’s not as pessimistic a worldview, perhaps, as the Postmodernist vision of the liberal capitalist social order as an invisible prison — but to Partisans and New Gods, it might seem a “silent” one. Middlebrows, of course, call members of this neither-nor generation “silent” because they’d like to muzzle their canniest foes.
Woody Allen is an avatar of this neither-nor generation, which (most notably during the Sixties) looked upon the competing ideologies and discourses of older and younger generations with a Postmodernist’s detachment, yet which was also ferociously idealistic and outspoken. Allen’s comedies of the Sixties (1964-73), particularly Bananas, Sleeper, and Love and Death, seriously critique the excesses of the Establishment and the revolutionary underground alike. Thomas Pynchon’s entire oeuvre also criticizes both the Establishment and the revolutionary underground, or counterculture.
John Lennon’s “Revolution” also has an idealistic neither-nor message: “When you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out (in).” Bob Dylan’s refusal to conform to the New God-era model of a folk singer might be considered an idealistic neither/nor mode of action.
Eldridge Cleaver articulated a version of this non-reformist utopianism when he told an interviewer: “I believe that there are two Americas. There is the America of the American dream, and there is the America of the American nightmare. I feel that I am a citizen of the American dream, and that the revolutionary struggle of which I am a part is a struggle against the American nightmare, which is the present reality.”
And then there’s Bruce Lee’s neither-nor fighting style. “Styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condensation, and a lot of self-justification,” he wrote, in one of his philosophical martial arts treatises. “The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, has no style at all. He lives only in what is.”
If Middlebrow is forever working to naturalize the unnatural, eternalize the temporary, and make the contingent seem inevitable, performance art does the opposite. Performance art is an anti-middlebrow artform, one which (in more or less compelling and engaging ways) signals the artist’s rejection of the terms and conditions of modern life by treating everyday reality as though it were theater. Performance art emerged in the Sixties with the work of Postmodernist artists such as Yves Klein, Wolf Vostell, and Allan Kaprow, as well as Anti-Anti-Utopian artists like Vito Acconci (pictured below, in a 1970 performance), Hermann Nitsch, Carolee Schneemann, and honorary Anti-Anti-Utopian Yoko Ono. (Joseph Beuys is a New God, which explains why he fell out with Fluxus, if you ask me; and Chris Burden is a Boomer.) Gilbert and George are also Anti-Anti-Utopians.
Middlebrows despise performance art, and mock it viciously whenever possible. Two years ago this month, for example, when Star Simpson, an electrical engineering major at MIT, was arrested for innocently walking into Boston’s Logan Airport (where she was meeting her boyfriend’s plane) wearing a sweatshirt adorned with a plastic circuit board on which a handful of glowing green lights in the shape of a star were wired to a 9-volt battery, middlebrow pundits snarkily accused Simpson of the crime of performance art.
The Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby described Simpson’s actions as a “public display,” an “immature stunt,” and a “juvenile prank.” Meanwhile, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr wrote: “The First Amendment does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. Or don’t bring what looks like a bomb into Logan Airport….” Carr’s Herald colleage Peter Gelzinis scoffed: “Maybe Star Anna Simpson thought she could saunter through Logan and return to Cambridge with a helluva tale about how no one said a word to her.” The Herald’s Michele McPhee agreed 110%: “There is absolutely nothing artistic about scaring people in public places.”
A blogger at the grassroots-conservative website Free Republic, sarcastically ventriloquizing (nonexistent) supporters of Simpson’s (unintentional) performance art, articulated the anxiety expressed in slightly more subtle ways by these middlebrow critics: “Lighten up! It was performance art, everybody! It was a brilliant illustration of the gestapo tactics of the Bush Administration to any law-abiding citizen strolling through an airport with something that looks like a bomb…. It was a stunning performance and I hope she gets an ‘A.’” Though Simpson wasn’t doing any such thing, middlebrows are apparently so afraid that a performance artist might succeed in waking us up to the possibility of radical change that they responded instinctively with a tsunami of mocking hostility.
Performance art, in which so many (Lennon, Dylan, Cleaver, Hoffman, Kesey, Thompson, Crumb, Pynchon, Solanas, Allen) of our favorite Anti-Anti-Utopians engaged, is — like Dada and Neo-Dada — unheimlich. Whenever possible, Middlebrow seeks to coopt and suborn the unheimlich, transforming it into something cuter and cuddlier: cheese, quatsch. If unable to do so, Middlebrow turns performance art’s japery back on itself, a thousand-fold. Ask yourself why we’ve all been persuaded to hate Yoko Ono — that’s right. She’s anti-middlebrow.
I claimed, above, that Anti-Anti-Utopians are easily distinguishable from their immediate elders, the Postmoderns. But I went on to note that Anti-Anti-Utopians looked upon the competing ideologies and discourses of New Gods, Partisans, and Boomers with a Postmodernist’s detachment. Though certain influential Anti-Anti-Utopians can be called performance artists (whether or not they called themselves that), the performance art of the Sixties was pioneered in part by Postmodernists. So how, exactly, are the Anti-Anti-Utopians distinct, as a generation, from the Postmodernist cohort?
Compare Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Thomas McGuane, John Kennedy Toole, and Hunter S. Thompson, all of whom were born from 1934-43, to similar novelists from the preceding generation: John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, William Gass, E.L. Doctorow. OK, Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse is pretty amusing, but in general, Anti-Antis are funnier — not less serious, but perhaps less earnest — than Postmodernists. They derive an unseemly amount of anarchistic amusement from the tensions, uncertainties, and paradoxes of postwar American life. It’s for this reason that I’ve named Philip Roth (born in the cusp year 1933) an honorary Anti-Anti.
Anti-Antis didn’t consider themselves postmodern; they were generally less pessimistic than Postmodernists; and even though they were unwilling to articulate what utopia might look like, their anti-anti-utopianism expressed a hopefulness not seen since the Modernists. Speaking of whom, it seems fair to say that Woody Allen rebooted Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx; John Lennon and Yoko Ono — Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings; Michael Moorcock — H.P. Lovecraft; R. Crumb — Henry Miller; Samuel R. Delany and Margaret Atwood — Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Meanwhile, the Yippies (Hoffman), Merry Pranksters (Kesey), even the Beatles (Lennon) can be seen as dissensual organizations of talented misfits — like Dada, or D.H. Lawrence’s plan for the colony of Rananim. Such Argonaut Follies are non-totalizing organizations that serve as inspirations for an un-blueprintable utopian society.
The Sixties (1964-73) belonged to the Anti-Anti-Utopians. When we think of the Sixties, we think of feminists (Gloria Steinem), Yippies (Abbie Hoffman), Black Panthers (Eldridge Cleaver), gentle bearded freaks (Jim Henson) and violent ones (Charles Manson, Theodore Kaczynski), gonzo journalists and far-out novelists (Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon). The Sixties were about the films of Woody Allen; the comedy of George Carlin and Richard Pryor; and the songwriting of Gerry Goffin, Sonny Bono, and Carole King. All of whom were Anti-Anti-Utopians.
Pop music in the Sixties was an Anti-Anti-Utopian thing. That era saw the triumphant comeback of Elvis; the success of soul and funk (Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner, George Clinton, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes); and the apotheosis of folk and folk rock (Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell; Peter, Paul & Mary; also members of the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead). The world-historical triumph of rock, of course, was also a Sixties phenomenon: Besides the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, members of The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys, and Jefferson Airplane were born from 1934-43; so were Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa.
The Boomers, who want to claim the Sixties as their own, merely went along for the ride. The modes that we associate with Boomers during the Sixties — i.e., dropping out of the middle class and mainstream culture, or vociferously agitating for reform (as opposed to insisting, anarchistically, that another world is possible) — are ones that Middlebrow encourages and applauds. As for the Boomers’ antiwar activism, well, one of their leaders — John Kerry — was born on the cusp of the two generations. The March on the Pentagon was organized by older pacifists; and Hoffman organized the “levitation” stunt. Also, Boomer activism ceased once the draft ended. ‘Nuff said.
Meet the Anti-Anti-Utopians:
HONORARY ANTI-ANTI-UTOPIANS: Philip Roth, Yoko Ono, possibly Susan Sontag (all born 1933).
1934: Leonard Cohen (singer/songwriter), Brigitte Bardot (actor, sex symbol), Willie Morris (highbrow Harper’s editor, middlebrow author), Wendell Berry (farmer, theorist), Don Kirshner (mastermind behind The Monkees), Rip Taylor (TV personality), Piers Anthony (goofy SF author), Alan Arkin (actor), Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones, author), Ted Berrigan (poet), Bill Bixby (played the Incredible Hulk on TV), Judi Dench (actress), Barbara Eden (actor), Brian Epstein (Beatles manager), Yuri Gagarin (cosmonaut), David Halberstam (middlebrow journalist), Florence Henderson (actor), Barry Humphries (actor, Dame Edna), Shirley Jones (actor), Jim Lehrer (middlebrow journalist), Audre Lord (author), Sophia Loren (actor), Tina Louise (Ginger on Gilligan’s Island), Shirley MacLaine (actor), Charles Manson (criminal), Garry Marshall (middlebrow director, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley), Jackie Mason (comic), Ved Mehta (author), Eugene H. Methvin (middlebrow editor, Reader’s Digest), Kate Millett (feminist activist, Sexual Politics), N. Scott Momaday (author), Robert Moog (invented synthesizer), Bill Moyers (middlebrow journalist), Ralph Nader (activist), Sydney Pollack (director), John Rechy (author, City of Night), Carl Sagan (popular astronomer), George Segal (actor), Maggie Smith (actress), Gloria Steinem (feminist activist, founding editor of Ms. Magazine), Stephan Thernstrom (high-middlebrow historian, neocon ideologue), Frankie Valli (musician), Jackie Wilson (musician), Del Shannon (songwriter), Paul W. MacAvoy (neocon economist). HONORARY POSTMODERNISTS: Ralph Rumney (Situationist), Raoul Vaneigem (Belgian philosopher, Situationist), John Brunner (SF novelist), Harlan Ellison (SF novelist); possibly Joan Didion (journalist and author, Slouching Toward Bethlehem) and Fredric Jameson (theorist, The Political Unconscious).
1935: Woody Allen (comic, author, director), Elvis Presley (the King of rock’n’roll), Dalai Lama (religious leader), Ken Kesey (Merry Prankster, author, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Edward Said (intellectual, Orientalism), Jerry Lee Lewis (musician), Michael Walzer (philosopher), Oscar Zeta Acosta (attorney, activist, performance artist), Richard Berry (musician, wrote “Louie, Louie”), Richard Brautigan (author), Eldridge Cleaver (activist, author), Tura Satana (actor, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), Owsley Stanley (LSD activist), Gene Vincent (musician), Erich von Däniken (crank), Herb Alpert (musician), Julie Andrews (actress, singer), Sonny Bono (songwriter, musician), Peter Boyle (actor), Susan Brownmiller (feminist, author), Seymour Cassel (actor), Christo (artist), Robert Conrad (actor), Harry Crews (author), Alain Delon (actor), Bob Denver (played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Isle), Phil Donahue (middlebrow talk show host), Werner Erhard (middlebrow guru, est), Geraldine Ferraro (politician), William Friedkin (director), Charles Grodin (actor), Pete Hamill (journalist), Judd Hirsch (actor), Lewis Lapham (Harper’s editor), David Lodge (author), Dudley Moore (comic actor), John Phillips (musician, The Mamas & The Papas), E. Annie Proulx (middlebrow author), Anne Roiphe (feminist author), Françoise Sagan (author), Robert Silverberg (SF & Fantasy author), Donald Sutherland (actor), Jimmy Swaggart (televangelist), Jack Welch (CEO of GE), William Julius Wilson (sociologist).
1936: Abbie Hoffman (Yippie, author), Don DeLillo (author, White Noise), Bruce Dern (actor), Carol Gilligan (psychologist, In a Different Voice), Vaclav Havel (playwright, president of Czechoslovakia), Buddy Holly (musician), Roy Orbison (musician), Georges Perec (Oulipo author), Lee “Scratch” Perry (music producer), Valerie Solanas (activist, author, The SCUM Manifesto), Alan Alda (middlebrow actor), Stephen E. Ambrose (historian), Ursula Andress (actor), Jean M. Auel (middlebrow author), Richard Bach (middlebrow author, Jonathan Livingston Seagull), Joe Don Baker (actor), Marion Barry (politician), James Bridges (director), Jim Brown (actor, athlete), Ruth Buzzi (comic), Glen Campbell (Country musician), David Carradine (actor, Kung Fu), Dick Cavett (talk show host), Wilt Chamberlain (athlete), Don Cherry (jazz musician), Bobby Darin (singer, actor), Albert Ayler (jazz saxophonist), A.S. Byatt (author, critic), Troy Donahue (actor), Albert Finney (actor), Al Goldstein (founder of Screw), Jim Henson (middlebrow puppeteer), Dennis Hopper (actor), June Jordan (poet), Philip Kaufman (director), Jonathan Kozol (educator), Kris Kristofferson (actor, Country musician), Ken Loach (director), Larry McMurtry (author), Roger Miller (Country musician), Mary Tyler Moore (actor), Marge Piercy (middlebrow author), Juliet Prowse (dancer), Robert Redford (actor, Sundance Film Festival), Burt Reynolds (actor), Tom Robbins (author), Bobby Seale (activist, cofounded Black Panthers), Ralph Steadman (artist), Frank Stella (Minimalist artist), Dean Stockwell (actor), John McCain (politician), Richard John Neuhaus (neocon priest, First Things), Antonin Scalia (neocon justice).
1937: Thomas Pynchon (author, Gravity’s Rainbow), Hasil Adkins (rockabilly musician), Yvonne Craig (played Batgirl), Wanda Jackson (rock’n’roll singer), Rodd Keith (song-poem composer), Rudy Ray Moore (actor, Dolemite), Thomas Nagel (philosopher), Edward Ruscha (nobrow Pop artist), Robert Stone (author, Dog Soldiers), Tom Stoppard (playwright, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), Hunter S. Thompson (gonzo journalist and author, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), John Kennedy Toole (author, A Confederacy of Dunces), Sergio Aragones (MAD cartoonist), Shirley Bassey (singer), Warren Beatty (actor), Dyan Cannon (actor), George Carlin (nobrow comic), Jackie Collins (author), Bill Cosby (comic loved by middlebrows), Dick Dale (surf music guitarist), Robert Downey Sr. (director, Putney Swope), Jane Fonda (actor, Vietnam War protester), Colin Powell (government), Morgan Freeman (actor loved by middlebrows), Merle Haggard (Country musician), Seymour Hersh (journalist), David Hockney (nobrow Pop artist), Dustin Hoffman (actor loved by middlebrows), Anthony Hopkins (actor loved by middlebrows), Saddam Hussein (despot), Waylon Jennings (Country musician), Marty Krofft (TV and film producer, H.R. Pufnstuf), Lois Lowry (Juvenile SF author), Peter Max (psychedelic artist), Garrett Morris (comic), Jack Nicholson (actor loved by middlebrows), Renzo Piano (architect), Ridley Scott (director, Alien), Marlo Thomas (actor), Billy Dee Williams (actor), Roger Zelazny (SF author, Damnation Alley).
1938: Stewart Brand (Merry Prankster, Whole Earth Catalog), Ralph Bakshi (cartoonist), Eddie Cochran (musician, “Summertime Blues”), Stanley Fish (literary critic), Evel Knievel (daredevil), Jerry Rubin (Yippie), Hermann Nitsch (performance artist), Renata Adler (journalist), Judy Blume (author), Pat Buchanan (conservative pundit), Raymond Carver (author loved by middlebrows), Alan Dershowitz (lawyer), Bob Eubanks (TV game show host), Sherman Hemsley (George on The Jeffersons), Etta James (singer), Peter Jennings (journalist), Phil Knight (cofounded Nike), Christopher Lloyd (character actor), Ali MacGraw (actor), Bernie Madoff (con artist), Nico (musician), Larry Niven (SF author), Robert Nozick (libertarian philosopher), Joyce Carol Oates (author), Gary Gygax (co-crrator of Dungeons & Dragons), Charley Pride (Country musician), Rex Reed (film critic), Diana Rigg (Mrs. Peel on The Avengers), Kenny Rogers (Country music), Jean Seberg (actor), Charles Simic (poet), Paul Verhoeven (director, Robocop), Jon Voight (actor), Natalie Wood (actor).
1939: Margaret Atwood (SF author), Stew Albert (Yippie), Fritjof Capra (physicist), Tom Hayden (activist, SDS), Michael Moorcock (anti-middlebrow SF/Fantasy author), F. Murray Abraham (played an Abbie Hoffman figure in The Big Fix), Carolee Schneemann (performance artist), Ginger Baker (musician), Jim Bakker (televangelist), Peter Bogdanovich (director), Michael Cimino (director), John Cleese (Monty Python), David Frost (journalist), Judy Collins (folk singer), Francis Ford Coppola (director, The Godfather), Margaret Drabble (author), Roberta Flack (singer), Marvin Gaye (singer), George Gilder (technological futurist, high-middlebrow pundit), Germaine Greer (feminist activist), Seamus Heaney (poet), Harvey Keitel (actor), Louise Lasser (actor), Ralph Lauren (fashion designer), Lee Majors (actor), Ray Manzarek (musician, The Doors), Thomas McGuane (author), Sal Mineo (actor), Harvey Pekar (author, American Splendor), Michael J. Pollard (actor), Joel Schumacher (director), Neil Sedaka (singer/songwriter), Grace Slick (singer, Jefferson Airplane/Starship), Dusty Springfield (singer), Lily Tomlin (comic actress), Tina Turner (singer), Joel-Peter Witkin (photographer/artist)
1940: Bruce Lee (actor, philosopher), Joseph Brodsky (poet), John Lennon (Beatle), Ringo Starr (Beatle), Richard Pryor (comic), Vito Acconci (perfomance artist), Michael O’Donoghue (comic, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live), George Romero (director), Frank Zappa (musician), Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, cartoonist, director), Roger Ailes (CEO, Fox News), Dario Argento (director), Frankie Avalon (singer, actor), Russell Banks (author), Tom Brokaw (TV journalist), James Caan (actor), Angela Carter (author), George Clinton (musician), Brian De Palma (director), Peter Fonda (actor), Herbie Hancock (jazz musician), Tom Jones (singer), Raul Julia (actor), Anna Karina (actor), Jorma Kaukonen (musician), Maxine Hong Kingston (author), Ted Koppel (TV journalist), Chuck Norris (actor), Phil Ochs (singer/songwriter), Abbas Kiarostami (director), Al Pacino (actor), Smokey Robinson (singer), Pharoah Sanders (jazz saxophonist), Martin Sheen (actor), Nancy Sinatra (singer), Phil Spector (music producer), Norman Spinrad (SF author), Patrick Stewart (actor), Alex Trebek (gameshow host), Raquel Welch (actress), Edmund White (author), Morris Dickstein (historian, critic), James L. Brooks (director, producer).
1941: Stokely Carmichael (activist), Mama Cass (singer), Alexander Cockburn (columnist, The Nation), Bob Dylan (musician), Barbara Ehrenreich (activist author), Stephen Jay Gould (evolutionary biologist), Tony Hendra (comic, National Lampoon), Julia Kristeva (poststructuralist philosopher, psychoanalyst), Hayao Miyazaki (anime director), Daniel Pinkwater (anarchistic author of juvenile lit), Otis Redding (singer/songwriter), Vivienne Westwood (fashion designer), Graham Chapman (Monty Python), Aldrich Ames (spy), Ann-Margret (actor), Michael Apted (director), Joan Baez (singer), Captain Beefheart (musician), Gregory Benford (physicist, SF author), Bernardo Bertolucci (director), Lester Bowie (jazz trumpeter), Ed Bradley (TV journalist), Beau Bridges (actor), John Brockman (editor of Edge.org), Eric Burdon (musician), Chubby Checker (singer), Dick Cheney (politician), Lynne Cheney (Dick Cheney’s wife, neocon, NEH), Chick Corea (jazz keyboardist), David Crosby (musician), Desmond Dekker (musician), Dr. Demento (novelty DJ), Neil Diamond (singer/songwriter), Faye Dunaway (actor), Nora Ephron (middlebrow author, director), Stephen Frears (director), Art Garfunkel (musician), Spalding Gray (monologist beloved of middlebrows), Robert Hass (poet), David Hemmings (actor), Jesse Jackson (activist), Krzysztof Kieslowski (director), Mike Love (Beach Boys), Harry Nilsson (singer/songwriter), Nick Nolte (actor), Ryan O’Neal (actor), Richard Perle (neocon, “Prince of Darkness,” Project for a New American Century), James Woolsey (neocon, CIA director), James P. Hoffa (labor leader, neocon), Wolfgang Petersen (director), Wilson Pickett (singer/songwriter), Anne Rice (middlebrow horror author), Paul Theroux (novelist), Anne Tyler (author), Ritchie Valens (musician), Bors Vallejo (fantasy artist), Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones), George Will (neocon), Chuck Woolery (game show host), Samuel Zell (billionaire), Michael Ledeen (neoconservative activist), Richard Dawkins (biologist), Paul Simon (middlebrow musician).
1942: Samuel R. Delany (SF author), Paul McCartney (Beatle), Giorgio Agamben (philosopher), Daniel Dennett (philosopher), Chris Miller (National Lampoon, Animal House), John Crowley (author, Little, Big), Bernardine Dohrn (activist, Weather Underground), Ian Dury (musician), Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), Gloria Anzaldua (author), Martin Scorsese (director), Gayatri Spivak (postcolonial theorist), Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Terry Jones (Monty Python), Robert Christgau (rock critic), Barry McCaffrey (neocon), David Gergen (neocon columnist, presidential advisor), Muhammad Ali (boxer), Isabel Allende (author), Tammy Faye Bakker (televangelist), Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane), Karen Black (actor), John Cale (Velvet Underground, producer), C.J. Cherryh (SF author), Michael Crichton (middlebrow thriller author), Sandra Dee (actor), Roger Ebert (film critic), Michael Eisner (low-middlebrow CEO, Disney), Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Larry Flynt (publisher, Hustler), Harrison Ford (actor), Aretha Franklin (singer), Annette Funicello (actor), Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Peter Greenaway (director), Barry Hannah (author), Stephen Hawking (physicist), Isaac Hayes (musician), Jimi Hendrix (musician), Werner Herzog (director), John Irving (middlebrow author), Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Erica Jong (author), Ted Kaczynski (criminal), Madeline Kahn (actor), Garrison Keillor (middlebrow radio personality), Carole King (singer/songwriter), Calvin Klein (fashion designer), Barry Levinson (director), Penny Marshall (Laverne and Shirley), Curtis Mayfield (musician), Country Joe McDonald (musician), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Graham Nash (musician), Mike Nesmith (The Monkees), Huey Newton (activist), Tom Peters (management guru), Robert Quine (punk guitarist), Richard Roundtree (actor), Mario Savio (activist, Free Speech Movement), Barbara Streisand (actor), Andy Summers (The Police), Peter Tork (The Monkees), Gabriele Veneziano (physicist, string theory), Andrew Weil (New Age guru), Paul Weyrich (conservative activist), Tammy Wynette (Country musician), Steve Wynn (middlebrow Las Vegas billionaire).
1943: R. Crumb (cartoonist), George Harrison (Beatle), David Cronenberg (director), Iaian Sinclair (psychogeographer), Joseph E. Stiglitz (economist), Michael Palin (Monty Python), Eric Idle (Monty Python), Newt Gingrich (neocon), Charles Murray (neocon author, The Bell Curve), Frederick Barthelme (author), Steven Bochco (TV director), H. Rap Brown (activist), Nolan Bushnell (co-founded Atari, founded Chuck E. Cheese), Peter Carey (author), Larry Clark (photographer, director), Robert De Niro (actor), Catherine Deneuve (actor), John Denver (musician), Bobby Fischer (chess player), Nikki Giovanni (poet), Louise Glüick (poet), Doris Kearns Goodwin (historian), Hendrik Hertzberg (New Yorker), Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones), Terrence Malick (director), Barry Manilow (singer-songwriter), Michael Mann (director), Malcolm McDowell (actor), Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac), Steve Miller (musician), Joni Mitchell (singer-songwriter), Jim Morrison (The Doors), Randy Newman (songwriter), Oliver North (neocon), Joe Pesci (actor), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Geraldo Rivera (TV journalist), Cokie Roberts (TV journalist), Edie Sedgwick (Warhol factory girl), Ronnie Spector (singer), R.L. Stine (juvenile horror author), Sharon Tate (actor), Christopher Walken (actor), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Paul Wolfowitz (neocon). HONORARY BOOMERS: Chevy Chase (comic), Todd Gitlin (activist), Don Novello (comic), Michael Ondaatje (author), Harry Shearer (comic, actor), Sam Shepard (playwright, actor), John Kerry (antiwar activist, politician), George W.S. Trow (author, social critic), David Denby (middlebrow film critic).
HONORARY ANTI-ANTI-UTOPIANS: Angela Davis (activist, scholar), Sly Stone (musician), Martin Jay (intellectual historian), Bill Griffith (cartoonist), Jonathan Demme (director), Patti LaBelle (soul singer-songwriter), maybe Rem Koolhaas (architect) (all born 1944).
“Who am I?”
“You’re DAVE ARNESON (1947-2009), who some claim was the true visionary behind modern role-playing games — though your partner, the more business-minded Gary Gygax, has superceded you in RPG mythology.”
“OK, I try to develop the first fantasy role-playing game.”
“Roll to see if your INT score is high enough. You made it! Using rock-paper-scissors, and later dice, to resolve challenges in the game, you develop Blackmoor, a fantasy RPG which you take to Gygax, whom you’d met at his annual gaming convention. Together, you develop a set of rules that becomes Dungeons & Dragons. In ’74, Gygax incorporates TSR to publish it. Now roll a saving throw against a Spell of Betrayal.”
“Oh, no. I fail!”
“Rough luck. Two years later, you leave TSR, and later sue them for royalties on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Despite going on to write early computer role-playing games, you’ve garnered only enough XP to level up to Forgotten Cultural Icon.”
Each day, Hilobrow.com pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more Hilo Hero shout-outs.
While David Letterman isn’t as prolific as Jay Leno with his in-show hawking, Letterman does shower his opening monologues with products. Applebee’s and Hooters are frequent mentions. But very often, Letterman will name a product and speak of it in a way that is reminiscent of a commercial. Watch how Letterman names KOA at the 0:10 mark and starts talking about KOA’s electrical hookup, swimming pools, and vending machines. (Paul Shaffer is heard reinforcing this by responding, “They have everything you need.”) Later, in the same show, Letterman’s writers have embedded StairMaster into a joke. Letterman is also given the opportunity to drop a few products during the Stupid Pet Tricks segment. Presumably, the chihuahua was chosen not because of the trick, but in order for Letterman to offer the crack about the Taco Bell chihuahua.
One fishy quality on Late Show (and not even Leno does this quite so explicitly with his guests) is the way that products enter into these interviews. We’ll see a particularly offensive example of a product within an interview in a future segment of the “Corporate Shill” series which I’ll be unloading later in the week. But for the moment, observe how The Mentalist star Simon Baker drops Kmart and Mars Bar into his story. Why can’t Baker simply say that his mother worked as a security guard? And why does Baker say “Mars Bar” instead of “candy bar?” Might it have something to do with the fact that Mars Inc is a major advertiser on Letterman? [UPDATE: A commenter points out that the Mars Bar was discontinued in the States in 2000, replaced by the Snickers Almond.]
But perhaps the most astonishing moment here is Prime Minister John Key pushing Cinnabon while reading the top ten list. As we shall see, world leaders are fair game for hawking products, often without knowing it.
I’m finding that Spotify is great for looking up music. It’s not the first thing I reach for when I want deep listening, but it is first for reference. Though obviously YouTube is in close competition.
I had a similar experience when I had Yahoo’s DRM streaming subscription client at hand, even though it was so likely to crash or crash my machine.
[In Slate] Rosenbaum wrote:
I have my own strong feelings about the question of genius in literature. I’ve always felt that if we look at the past century, Nabokov was a game-changer, as the academic phrase has it. Nabokov showed there is a place you can go, a place that the alchemy of words can transport reader and writer to, that no one had gone before. And Nabokov went there, with ease, in “Lolita” and “Pale Fire.” So it’s hard to call any other writer in the past century a genius of the same order.
And yet...I think R.R. is right!? (At 2 in the morning.)
(Am not going to read his Slate piece on The Orig. of Laura, though, b/c I want to come to it "fresh.")
A comment on the last post apologized for going off-topic by mentioning the Orioles’ recent slide; but that’s what I was going to write about tonight, anyway.
A couple of weeks ago I was going to write a post complaining about how people kept describing the Orioles as “trying to avoid a 100-loss season”; at the time, they were 60-85 and seemed well on their way to beating their history of bad Septembers, having already won more games than they did in the dismal September of 2008. I didn’t get around to writing that post; and twelve straight losses later, a hundred losses seems more likely than not. But I feel good about this team, even better than I did last August. Hereunder find the argument that the Orioles are not really that bad.
- First of all, the Orioles are plain unlucky, playing 5 games worse than their Pythagorean record of 65-92. They might be the worst team in the league, but it’s not clear they’re much worse than Cleveland or Kansas City. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere close to catching the Blue Jays or the Rays, let alone the Yankees or Red Sox. Which brings us to:
- The unbalanced schedule. The Orioles are 20-47 against the AL East, the toughest division in baseball. Against the rest of the league they’re 40-50. Put the Orioles in the Central, with 18 games each against the Indians and Royals, and I think they’re 15 games behind the Tigers instead of 40 behind the Yankees.
- Every team has injuries, but the 2009 Orioles are surely missing more key parts than anybody. Our two most effective starters, Koji Uehara and Brad Bergesen, missed most of the season. Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, two young pitchers who came up midseason and made effective starts, are done for the year, as is Kam Mickolio, the only guy who’s pitched well out of the bullpen since we traded George Sherrill. Two-thirds of the outfield, Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones, have been gone for more than a month, and one of their replacements, Felix Pie, is hurt too. The guys on the field right now are the third choices of a third-rate team. It’s not shocking they can’t beat the Red Sox.
- Dave Trembley is probably going to get fired for the Orioles’ bad performance. And for the first time I can remember, I actually do think the manager deserves some blame. He loves to use lots of relievers, carefully selecting for platoon advantage or just because he thinks one inning, even an eight-pitch inning, is enough. But with a bullpen like this one, stocked with guys who could be good or terrible on any night, I think a different strategy is called for. The strategy is “If a reliever is getting people out you leave him in until he stops getting people out.”
- Players on the Orioles who are very likely to produce more in 2010 than in 2009: Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Felix Pie, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Koji Uehara, Brad Bergesen. That’s most of a team right there. And kind of a good team.
But not as good a team as the 2010 Yankees or the 2010 Red Sox. And that’s the one thing that’s hard about being an Orioles fan — and, I imagine, about being a Tampa Bay or Toronto fan. The best-case scenario is the 2008 Rays — absolutely everything goes right and you make it into the playoffs and after a couple of short series you win a pennant. And then the next year you’re 10 games back and stuck in third place again. I can see the Orioles winning a pennant in the current system. But I can’t see them (or Toronto, or Tampa Bay) building a team that can contend long-term under current conditions.
Prove me wrong, Orioles!
[Images: M.A.P. by David Garcia].
I had the pleasure of meeting David back in Sweden earlier this month at the ASAE conference; David's presentation and our subsequent conversation – ranging from the architecture of déjà vu and haunted house novels to the possibility of sonic archives and the work of David Gissen – were more than enough to show that he is pushing forward through some incredibly interesting ideas and is already someone worth keeping an eye on now, not just in the future. He's even just completed a cool children's playground in suburban Denmark.
Issue One of M.A.P. – or poster #1, really, as it all unfolds into a double-sided A1 sheet – is about Antarctica.
[Image: M.A.P. by David Garcia].
Open the poster up and there are habitats excavated directly from the ice, their dimensions and size based on the carving radius of industrial digging machines; there are seed archives entombed throughout the polar glaciers, marked only by GPS; there are abandoned airplanes all hooked together into a grounded megastructure and reused as research labs; there is a catalog of snow crystal geometry; and there is a photo-survey of exploratory housing for visiting scientists.
Look for M.A.P. at an architecture bookstore near you, or get in touch with David Garcia Studio directly to order some copies.
M.A.P. #2 – which is, incidentally, open for suggestions – will be about "Archives." And future M.A.P.s are impossible not to daydream about: a M.A.P. for prisons, gardens, earthquakes, architecture school, the moon...
For nearly four years now, without access to a good library, I've been looking for a poem called "Staines Waterworks" by the English poet Peter Redgrove; it's impossible to Google and, though I knew I'd actually photocopied it for myself nearly a decade ago, I had apparently lost the photocopies.
But, then, amidst the weird rolling peaks of recovery and amnesia that come with cleaning through your old books and papers in the family basement, I found a sheaf of old photocopies in a box about an hour ago – and inside it was "Staines Waterworks" by Peter Redgrove.
The poem is incredible for a variety of reasons; but its most basic impulse is to describe the water purification plant at Staines, west London (the hometown of Ali G), as a kind of previously overlooked alchemical process.
It is water "in its sixth and last purification" that "leaps from your taps like a fish," Redgrove writes.
- Rainwater gross as gravy is filtered from
Its coarse detritus at the intake and piped
To the sedimentation plant like an Egyptian nightmare,
For it is a hall of twenty pyramids upside-down
Balanced on their points each holding two hundred and fifty
Thousand gallons making thus the alchemical sign
For water and the female triangle.
Redgrove describes the movement of water through its various steps of industrial filtration, saying that it "reverberates... like some moon rolling / And thundering underneath [the] floors," passing through a "windowless hall of tides." It is a surrogate astronomy, surging through the replicant gravity of pumps and steel holding tanks.
The processed river water is then decanted, surveilled by automata, and "treated by poison gas, / The verdant chlorine which does not kill it." Beyond life, it is pushed through "anthracite beds," where Water meets Earth in an engineered encounter between the elements.
[Image: A wastewater treatment plant in Macao, via Wikimedia, unrelated to the poem discussed in this post].
Later, in what Redgrove might call its fourth purification, the water at Staines flows past an underground structure that resembles "a castle," complete with "turrets / And doors high enough for a mounted knight in armour / To rein in." Dials here are read "as though [they are] the castle library."
- There are very few people in attendance,
All are men and seem very austere
And resemble walking crests of water in their white coats,
Hair white and long in honourable service.
Redgrove's poem – and I refer only to "Staines Waterworks" here, as I am not that familiar with his other work – shows the transformative power of description: give something an unexpected context and whole new, extraordinarily vibrant worlds can be created. This is more important, more lasting, and more interesting than much of what passes for architectural criticism today.
Finally, the baptized liquid at Staines reaches a point of biological and chemical clarity, after which it is re-introduced to the city through a labyrinth of pipework that extends in wild curlicues, a machinic Thames beneath western London. Scalded, filtered, purified, made artificially natural and ready for drinking, it is water born again for future uses.
I’ve been down with The Crud for the past few weeks. Not really sick, but not having a lot of extra energy to get involved in things outside my own library and jobs. Banned Books Week started on Saturday and runs through this week. I’ve been invited to an evening with readings from banned books tomorrow night and I think I’m staying home.
I’m not sure if I’m getting complacent, sick of this holiday, sick generally, or there really is a lot less enthusiasm this year from years previous. The ALA page is usually my starting point and it seems a little less lively than usual. Their calendar of events is Chicago based (wouldn’t it be great if they were an aggregator to BBW activity worldwide? Does such a thing exist) and indicates to me that they still haven’t learned to resize images before uploading them. The ALAOIF blog hasn’t posted yet this week though they did link to this cute video put out by ALA which I enjoyed. The main ALA BBW page doesn’t even link to the Banned Books Week page which is supposedly the “go to” page for current information — and does have a calendar of sorts — which has a broken stylesheet declaration which makes all the pages look like they were designed in 2003.
As usual, I clicked through from the ALA web page to the home pages of all the organizations who are co-sponsors of Banned Books Week. Here’s what I found.
- The American Booksellers Association mentions BBW and offers a broken link to more information about it
- The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is still offering its handbook from 2007
- The American Society for Journalists and Authors appears pretty busy opposing the Google settlement to mention BBW.
- The Association of American Publishers mentions that they are gearing up for this event, but not enough to really mention it on their website otherwise.
- National Association of College Stores has nothing, as usual
- LoC’s Center for the Book has one of the most awesome URLs ever and no mention of Banned Books Week that I can see.
I wonder a little bit if this is what a post-Judith Krug ALA looks like? On a brighter note, let’s look at some Banned Books Week web pages that are useful and/or interesting
- Amnesty International puts a spin on it by looking at people who are persecuted because of the writings they produce, circulate or read.
- UPenn’s Online Books page has a nice Banned Books Online page which splits out Censored/banned books from those that are deemed unsuitable for minors (i.e. age inappropriate) and has lots of terrific links
- PBS.org has a nice little reprint of some talking points from ALA
While I’m talking about this, I’d also like to mention the data on the PBS page.
According to the ALA there have been 3,736 challenges from 2001-2008:
* 1,225 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material
* 1,008 challenges due to “offensive language”
* 720 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”
* 458 challenges due to “violence”
* 269 challenges due to “homosexuality”
* 103 challenges due to “anti-family”
* 233 challenges due to “religious viewpoints”
I think we need to look hard at this list and draw some conclusions about what sort of people believe that restricting access to books for these reasons is both a good idea or a reasonable thing to expect to be able to get away with. And then, if we want to get serious, I think we need to hit these points directly and ask people why they’re afraid of sex, or gay people (or penguins), or swearing. It’s nice to say that “free people read freely” but it’s another to be in a situation where your institutions are getting pressured by people who are intolerant and thinking that speaking truth to power is all you need to do. I’ve talked a little more about this in the MetaFilter thread about Banned Books Week, it’s always a reflective time of year for me.
Also, ALA knows that BBW means something else, right?
The charge is often leveled at economists that they are insufficiently aware of the philosophical assumptions that underpin their work. Brian Leiter asks Andrew Rosenberg, a philosopher of economics at Duke, to comment on the debate between the neo-Keynesians, who support some version of the president’s stimulus package, and the “efficient markets” school …
It's virtually becoming a writerly rite of passage in Mexico City: Finding and dining at the mythical "good Chinese place" in the vicinity of metro Viaducto. Author David Lida first discovered Ka Won Seng, thanks to a tip from a cabbie. "It took years," Lida writes, "but I finally found an excellent Chinese restaurant in Mexico City."
Food writer Nicholas Gilman then took on the case for Inside Mexico, citing Lida's tip. Afterwards, The Mexile went down to verify the news for himself. Yes, beautiful shrimp, tofu and duck dishes could be had there, without a single "café chino" menu item in sight. No chopsticks either, just the home-style spoon-and-fork.
The other night we made it to Ka Won Seng with a crew working in the journalismisms, for a friend's birthday. Plate after plate came our way, each perfectly executed, leaving the table's spinning center pushed and yanked the entire night. I got especially down with a soup of beef and algae. Washed it all down with a few Tsingtao.
It reminded me of the good Chinese I've had in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now, there might be another place somewhere in the endless concrete jungle of D.F. that matches Ka Won Seng's caliber. Until someone finds it, this is we're we'll go to satisfy the craving.
The movement has started … I have received more than
five four emails from readers who are excited about my latest venture! (And again, many thanks to webmaster and professional computer programmer Paul Charles Leddy for all his help … Paul, you are truly the king of URL shorteners.)
Anyway, reader AA hits all the hot-button references for this new age of URL shortening:
holy shit it’s about time you expanded your empire from being the hottest blogger around to being the hottest url shortening device for the twitter machine around. finally we’ll all have time to finish our metamucil before murder she wrote ends so we can go look for our bifocals and finish reading that letter to the editor we wrote about how we don’t want the government messing with our medicare!
Reader MC sings our praises:
I am ultra-excited about URL Shorteners LLC … amidst the explosion of lookalike “me-too” URL-shortening services, I am refreshed to see a newcomer that stands out from the crowd.
Exactly! He gets it.
Think about it: Most URL shorteners are just too short and plain’ ol’ BORING to be memorable:
Yawn … half those those things aren’t even real words… “is.gd?” hello, that sounds like Aztec gobbledygook … but what’s this? … a new kid on the scene … turning heads …
Finally, a URL-shortening-service URL you can pronounce! Made of real words everyone can pronounce!
Feel the change … it’s coming … time for me to eat some ice cream …
I profile the political scientist who is arguably Harvard’s most popular professor, Michael Sandel, in the new issue of the “Chronicle of Higher Education.” (Technically it’s the “Chronicle Review” — the magazine part.)
Sandel’s course Moral Reasoning 22, better known as “Justice,” attracts as many as 1,100 students some semesters, or roughly one in six Harvard undergraduates.
The course offers a survey of the major strands of thought in political science re justice: utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and Rawlsian liberalism, as well as various permutations of those schools. But Sandel ties the readings to provocative thought experiments, such as the classic “trolley” test. (If you were at the helm of a runaway trolley heading toward five people, but had the chance to divert the trolley onto a side track on which an oblivious bystander stood, would you do it?)
Sandel also promotes a very distinctive brand of liberalism, one that draws to an unusual degree on Aristotelian conceptions of “the good.”
The main weakness of liberalism, he told me, “is the attempt to be nonjudgmental with respect to substantive moral and religious conceptions, the attempt to be neutral toward competing conceptions of the good life.”
Other political scientists are divided as to the merits of that position.
Change is coming to the internet … at long last … urlshorteningservicefortwitter.com’s twitter page is now at 75 members! I might hold an emergency ice cream party to mark the occasion!
If we can get 100 followers by the end of the week, I think we can all agree that it would have been the most dramatic surge in twitter followers in any twitter account in history. (I think the grammar got a little tangled back there, but I’m excited– I don’t have time to bust out Skrunk & White and make sure I’m typing words correctly…)
Ice cream party!
Please tell your grandparents to follow us! Please spread the word to all the members of your local Matlock Fan Club (LOL, Matlock jokes never get old … just like Matlock fans [because they're already as old as possible].)
It’s called urlshorteningservicefortwitter.com, and it’s changing the way people link to stuff on twitter!
The transparency of glass is cruel.
When the beige palm of the sky descends, there is no warning, no chicken calling, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.”
A sphere has no beginning or end, and thus my story does not start, “Once upon a time, long, long ago – ” But rather, “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” or “Today, tomorrow, and yesterday.” I was and am and will be.
Desire: I am always swimming towards her, and she is always swimming away. I know we are soul mates because we always travel at exactly the same speed.
Snow globe is a misnomer. This is a glitter globe. All that glitters is not gold. All that swim are not fish. All that smiles…
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow I call to her, and my own voice answers. The water at the top of the sky kisses the glass, a maddening imitation of the real thing.
“Wait for me, my love.”
“Wait for me, my love.”
“I am coming.”
“I am coming.”
“This is futile.
“This is futile.”
I am sadder than a goldfish in a tank, a lion in a cement cell, a lightening bug in an old peanut butter jar.
Then: the world around us changes. The beige sky falls, and it begins to glitter, a flurry of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal light, and when the sky ascends and the glitter slows, I see we are a bubble on a broad, brown plain. Something thicker than paper whirs and sings. Light falls through other glass, warming my waters. A little warmer, I think, and I will finally swim freely, finally meet my love. A creature with two skies sits and tries to speak to us in staccato clicks and clacks, but soon grows frustrated and leaves. “Don’t go,” I cry, “I have so many questions.” I wait for an answer, even the echo of myself, even the stirring sound of kisses –
Despite having a cold and/or allergies [clearly not the flu, not clear what this is exactly] I was on the road five out of seven nights this past week. This was good news and bad news. A family funeral — my Great Aunt Horty — took me to NYC and NJ for a quickie two night trip. I was pleased to find last minute tickets on Jet Blue for normal prices and got a last minute place to crash from a friend in the East Village [thanks j!] and then stayed in the worst hotel I’ve been in since I’ve been tracking these things (hello Best Western in Fort Lee NJ!) the next night. Went home via a combination of ride to subway, subway to AirTram thing, plane to car, car to home. Then I did it all again!
The next trip was more of a fun one. Went down to MA to see Jim over the weekend and spent a night at my sister’s place because I was still feeling sort of oogy and I didn’t want Jim’s whole household to get sick [turns out they were already sick, yay seasonal allergies!] and then I met friends in Newton and we went to Western MA to go to The Big E. This all worked out by means of a nutty combination of getting rides, regional busses, trains, subways, city busses, more rides and the culminating experience, getting on Amtrak a few miles from the Big E, sitting around typing for a few hours and then getting off the train and walking just a few blocks to my house.
I’ve known that Amtrak stopped in Randolph — twice a day, once up and once back — but I’ve rarely had a reason to want to take it. There was really something neat about having the big train stop right in the center of town at about nine pm, let me, and only me, off, and then go chugging off into the distance as I walked up the hill to go home with my backpack.
“Jurassic Park” cemented in many viewers’ minds an image of the dinosaur known as Velociraptor: a six-foot tall, fast, ferocious, flesh eater equipped with a “killing claw,” which it used disembowel its prey. And it hunted in packs.
As it happens, Steven Spielberg had engaged in a bit of artistic license. The real Velociraptor, it turned out, was roughly as big as a medium-size dog.
This month, in a development that will shake the worldviews of 5-year-old boys everywhere, Velociraptor received another blow to its image. Not only was Velociraptor small, it turns out, but that vaunted killing claw may not even have been powerful enough to tear flesh …
In celebrity trash news today, Madonna said to be contemplating marriage to Jesus. No word yet from His Dad.
Or from Tom Lehrer:
II. "I don't buy it, and, more, I don't really even want it": Levi Stahl on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
III. The anatomy lesson: My favorite brainiac Meehan Crist gets to dissect, at Lapham's Quarterly:
The earliest lesson in dissection comes not from the West but from the East, in the pages of the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit text meant for students of the surgical arts who probably lived about six hundred years before Christ walked the streets of Galilee. It instructs its readers to find the body of a person—not too young and not too old—who has not died of poisoning or severe disease. Remove the intestines. Wrap the body in grass, hemp, or bast, the inner bark of trees. Place the wrapped figure in a cage, for protection from animals, and lower the cage into a river with a gentle current. Leave it there, bobbing in the rhythmic rush of water, “the body left to soften.” When you return a few days later, bring a brush made of grassroots, hair, and bamboo. Use the brush to remove one softened layer of the corpse at a time. “When this is done, the eye can observe every large or small, outer or inner part of the body, beginning with the skin, as each part is laid bare by the brushing.” In this way, you will travel beneath the skin and through the body to the very core, whisking away bits of bloated flesh until nothing is left, the body disappeared and your hands, empty.
IV. I also noticed, in the same issue of LQ, an essay by John Crowley:
Once last fall, world stock markets lost a trillion dollars in value in a single day, or maybe it was a week, and I found the evident impossibility of this somehow at once appalling and exhilarating. I wondered why—why it was exhilarating, that is. Was it the suggestion, the proof even, that this supposed value had not been actual at all, had been nothing, a projection, a magic trick? Why would that be exhilarating? Some of my own money was vanishing (as my wife reminded me, asking why I was laughing), and to most humans, the sense of a vast and necessary structure dissolving into thin air like Prospero’s cloud-capp’d towers might be gloom-inducing in the extreme.
Along about the same time, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was being set up for its first test run, and there was speculation that the machine could so focus the random possibilities of particle collision as to swallow up the planet and all of us with it. A mini black hole might be created, doomsayers warned, a spot of “true vacuum” that could actually draw in the entire universe at the speed of light—all matter and energy and all time and space—and leave nothing at all behind. Nothing at all.
This possibility, like the vanishing trillions of cash value, was exhilarating too, only awe-inspiring rather than appalling—godlike laughter as against demonic glee.
V. And...Columbia folk: I'm reading tomorrow...where is "Mathematics Hall"?
Getting Personal with Ed Park
Wednesday, September 30, 8PM
203 Mathematics Hall
Columbia Professor and acclaimed novelist and critic Ed Park will give a reading from his novel Personal Days, followed by an open Q&A. Personal Days, one of the Time’s top ten fiction books of 2008, was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award and the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. Park is a founding editor of The Believer magazine, former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement and a contributor to the New York Times and LA Times, among many other publications.The Columbia Review and 114 Rue de Fleurus, the writers’ house of Columbia University, are co-sponsoring the event. Attendance is open and no RSVP is required.
The last man standing of Sun Records’ early roster has been known to set himself among even loftier company. “Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and JERRY LEE LEWIS [born 1935]…. That’s your only four fuckin’ stylists that ever lived.” A typically outsized boast, but there’s something to it. His monomaniacal singing and gliss-happy church-meets-cathouse piano-pounding make him the personification of the priapic, parent-scaring side of rock-and-roll. (Little Richard is his main competition, with one difference; Lewis is as sexually ambiguous as a codpiece.) After his early hits and disastrous 1959 tour on which the press got wind of his marriage to 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown, the Ferriday Flyer spent years in the wilderness before rebranding himself, at least in the studio, as a country balladeer in the ’60s and ’70s. Live, he was (and is) happiest churning anything from “In the Mood” to “Me and Bobby McGee” to any number of Hank standards into demented rockabilly, often sacrificing the tune, the beat, and his backing bands to the imperatives of his own performance. The great paradox of his career is how long an approach that has barely changed over five decades could manage to conjure the sound of perpetual revolution.
Each day, Hilobrow.com pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more Hilo Hero shout-outs.
It is difficult to respond to James Wood’s remarkable misreading of Richard Powers’s Generosity without giving away the ending. As someone who respects a reader’s sense of discovery and who therefore stays mum on “spoilers” — a term that I suspect Wood is unfamiliar with — I would not dare give up the ghost. Needless to say, as I anticipated, Wood has again demonstrated his predictably vanilla failings with idea-driven novels. He is once again hysterical, starving and naked in a sad but interesting way, about a novel that is not always intended to be explicitly realist. Wood is certainly a fine literary critic and a giddy finger drummer. He’s been leveled with many needless generalizations about his aesthetic tastes and sensibilities, including Colson Whitehead’s puerile parody. But this latest New Yorker essay simply does not reflect his apparent good faith efforts to adjust his own opinions and prejudices.
To wit: Surely the many fades closing Generosity should have offered Wood a clue as to what was going on. Here is a novel that not only depicts why we are drawn to fiction, but why we are seduced by information. If Wood hasn’t been trawling along the edges of social networks in the past few years, then he’s missed out on some of the more pointed potshots on online authority. If only Wood had familiarized himself with Technorati’s definition, he might have understood some of the metrics at work here. (And indeed, Generosity’s greatest flaw is that it may not date very well.) Surely the clear pisstake of Oprah Winfrey, with the novel’s stand-in given “the power to create instant celebrities, sell hundreds of millions of books, make or break entire consumer industries, expose frauds, marshal mammoth relief efforts, and change the spoken language” should have registered in Wood’s brain as goofy, but nevertheless true hyperbole. Surely the extended sequence when the power shuts off in Chicago, written in a sincere and melodramatic tone, should have clued Wood in that here was a novel in which narrative dichotomies were intended to fuse. Wood has read this book so without care that he makes no reference to the “author” who frequently jumps into this book to announce his presence. “Forgive one more massive jump cut,” this mysterious narrator says early on, revealing what happens to Tonia Schiff. “I have her flip up her window slide and look out the plastic portal,” concludes the passage. And we wonder whether the creative nonfiction here is written by Thassa or by the “author” of the book. If this is all about boxes within boxes, has Powers authored another author? Or is this him? Who’s being generous here? Certainly not Wood.
This life of the mind is fun stuff, as Powers has suggested to us throughout his work. But Wood is simply too married to the idea of characters as distinct individuals to smile. From How Fiction Works: “Even the characters we think of as ’solidly realized’ in the conventional realist sense are less solid the longer we look at them.” The problem here is that Wood has failed to look long enough to see what Powers is up to. As Edmond Caldwell suggested some months back, Wood’s narrow definition of “negative capability” means that we are never permitted to forget that the terms themselves are limited.
While Wood is certainly qualified to write about realist and modernist books, he cannot have the orderlies loosen the straps long enough to understand that Generosity is, like all novels, a fictive construct. In his review, he shows his contempt for books outside his natural affinity by misconstruing “enhancement” for “entertainment.” And Wood’s failure to comprehend that Generosity is a postmodernist con about our present information age’s indignities and expectations — a con that is somehow fair and respectful to the reader, but a con nonetheless — says much about his critical and perceptive limitations in this piece.
Among Wood’s complaints: In one passage, “Thomas Kurton is sketched journalistically, as David Brooks might glance at him in an Op-Ed column.” But how we know Kurton through the written word — in this case, through a laundry list of biographical details — isn’t necessarily how we’d know him in person. And since Generosity constantly reminds us of the novel’s form, the journalistic sketch is part of the point. How can the written word convey all the complexities of life? And why are we constantly demanding more of it? After all, one can say something sincerely, but it may read as hokey when written down.
Wood falls into the trap of generalizing about Powers’s work. All of Powers novels, Wood writes, are double plotted, with the secondary plot “almost always boy-meets-girl, in which protagonists connected to the first plot meet and fall in love or lust.” Would that include Gain’s secondary plot of a woman suffering from ovarian cancer? As Tom Bissell has noted, Plowing the Dark is more concerned with the inverse relationship between shifting ambition and young love. That hardly fulfills the “boy-meets-girl” proviso. Wood makes no mention of The Time of Our Singing in his essay, and the love contained within is hardly generic. Has Wood even read it?
Wood also points to Powers’s ambition for clarity, and he is right on this point. But he cannot seem to understand that those who inhabit the grand realm of ideas, whether Powers the author or his often brainy characters, are also contending with raw emotions. The day-to-day shit that is subconsciously tied to an active mind. Archimedes’s principle — or, rather, the principle behind the principle — means living a life to come up with an earth-shattering idea. In Archimedes’s case, it was discovering buoyancy while resting in the bathtub. And so it is with Powers’s fiction. This dichotomy is only difficult for the reader if he is morose enough to believe that the quotidian is low voltage. The scientists in Powers’s books talk like scientists because they are presented with the danger of a life with nothing but ideas and vocation. Thus, it is close third person description that reveals the sympathies behind Dr. Stuart Ressler’s nascent problems in finding that fused point, with Gerald Weber experiencing similar dissonance. He kisses his wife while studying the brain. Of course, he’s going to look for generic reference points. But will the reader find the unity before Weber does? The commonplace stuff of life also includes lines like “I’m not yelling” in Gain. Wood’s failure to understand these connective points suggest a critic who is afraid to be taken out of his comfort zone, a man who, despite his mostly dignified engagement, is too suffocated by the realist straps in his straitjacket.
UPDATE: James Wood responds:
Thank you for that sensible response to my review of Richard Powers’s new novel. It is absolutely not true that I am hostile to ideas in fiction — but if you think the “ideas” in his latest novel are worth much, then we do indeed have a real disagreement.
Of course I noticed all the metafictionality buzzing around the novel — Powers fairly hits us over the head with it. I’d have to be moronic to miss it. But it is very hard to read, let along forgive, a novel that has lines like: “Thassa is twenty-three years old, give or take an era,” or talks about the “travelogue aromas” of her Moroccan cooking. Every page has hideous sentences. Your position amounts to forgiving this kind of atrocious writing on the basis that Powers decided to write the entire novel self-consciously, as if with the pen of a very bad writer who is not himself. I guess it’s possible, and that thought did indeed cross my mind as I read the book. But it would be a pretty stupid thing to do, no? And then one goes back and looks at the much less metafictional earlier work, and finds equally atrocious writing (”mocha locks of hair,” and so on). Perhaps they are all written by alter egos of Richard Powers, programmed by him to write badly?
I think Powers is very brilliant, and very talented, in a way. It is hard not to admire the intellectual intensity of “The Gold Bug Variations.” But despite how daring he is with ideas, he is very conservative about the self, in fact (unlike Michel Houellebecq, say). And, technically speaking — I mean, as a writer of narrative — he is like Dreiser attached to the mind of Pynchon. It makes for curiously hobbled texts. And Dreiser, despite being a terrible prose stylist, has real power, which Powers has only intermittently.
How’re you gonna figure it? Me, Sammy Hines, once the sharpest, smartest cabbie in New York put out of commission by two young Broadway punks. Taken for a ride in my own hack.
I just can’t get over it! A guy like me who’s lived all his life by trying to outsmart the world. For twenty-five years I’ve sat behind the wheel of a cab with schemes, phone deals and shakedowns running through my head. And now, two muscle-bound kids with running noses put me on my back in a crummy city hospital.
What hurts is that I couldn’t figure it— I couldn’t read the cards. I’m cruising along Broadway up in the 50s when these two guys hail me. They get in and I give them a quick once-over from my rear-view mirror… just two hipsters, sharp dressers, nice bankrolls is how I figure them.
“Bergen Street in Brooklyn, and get there today,” yells the one with the trenchcoat and the gray slouch hat. I get the urge to tell them to use the subway— I didn’t like his time— but I keep quiet, figuring it’s a long haul to the Brooklyn docks and maybe the two weasels will try to impress me they’re big timers by throwing me a heavy tip.
As soon as I get off the Brooklyn Bridge and make a right to the docks and Bergen Street, I glance in the mirror and see the two kids sitting there, as proud as hell, sucking on marijuana. Well, I’ve seen more sticks of tea in my time than those kids have hairs in their head so it doesn’t bother me— I figure it’s their business how they spend their money.
We get to the docks when the trench coat punk tells me to stop. I figure they’re where they want to be and I’m reaching to throw the flag down on my clock when the other creep, the quiet one with a mustache hanging on his lip, says, “Leave it running– we want to sit here and talk to you– you’re good company. Ain’t he good company, Barney?” They’re both pretty well lit up on the marijuana now and Barney answers, “Naw, he’s not good company, he’s a no-good phony. Ain’t you a phony, Sammy?”
“When did you two guys read a book by Ernest Hemingway and decide you were tough guys? The ride’s over. Let’s pay the bill and part friends.” The words were hardly out of my mouth when the quiet kid pushed the glass partition aside and grabs me around the neck in a choke hold. Then suddenly a fist smashes down on one eye and, a second later, a blow from the other direction closes my other eye.
I feel as if two bricks were tied on to my eyelashes. The trenchcoat kid is opening the front door of the cab now and he starts to give my ribs and stomach a workout. Meanwhile, the mustache boy is all the time tightening his hold on my neck. For a minute his fingers leave my throat but then I feel a silken cord being wrapped around it— it’s his necktie. I feel the creep in front rifling my pockets and grabbing my wallet. When I finally came to I manage to start the car and head for the garage in Manhattan. With my reputation, there’s no point in going to the cops.
—from “What a Cabbie Knows”; Who Walk In Brooklyn, July 24, 1953
Confucius was born in 551 BC, to a family already far down the path from riches to rags, and worked as a cattle and sheep herder before becoming a reforming minister of crime. Disillusioned with the leaders of his day, he set off on a 15-year journey around the crumbling alliance of states now absorbed into China, a huddle of 30-year-old students in tow, selling his ideas on politics and the family for grain and cash. —Guardian
I took a different route home today. Here are some of the things I saw:
- Five unblinking cats, camouflaged by the brown-and-black facade of the house they appeared to be guarding
- A man rinsing out a toilet for repurposing as a planter
- A miniature Stonehenge in an otherwise unremarkable yard
- An angry note addressed to Portland Power, inscribed on a phone pole from “the honey suckers who used to live here”
- Two people drinking on their roof
- Two other people smoking on their porch
- An older home repurposed as an emergency clinic
- Gang tags, executed by scratching them into the moss growing on a retaining wall
What do you see on your way home?
Same as last week, except Gladwell Moore’s Clunk enters the list at no. 8, knocking out Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven.
1) THREE CUPS OF TEA, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. (Penguin, $15.) A former climber builds schools in villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sentimental, uplifting, a favorite gift from compassionate conservatives to their liberal undergrad children.
2) FREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Harper Perennial, $15.99.) A scholar and a journalist apply economic theory to nearly everything. Magical science!
3) JULIE & JULIA, by Julie Powell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $14.99;, Little, Brown, $7.99.) A memoir of trying every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Memoir. Cooking. Ur-middlebrow Nora Ephron directed the movie. Three strikes and you’re out! NB: MY LIFE IN FRANCE, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, currently #2 on the NYT paperback nonfiction bestseller list, is not middlebrow.
4) THE GLASS CASTLE, by Jeannette Walls. (Scribner, $15.) The author recalls a bizarre childhood during which she and her siblings moved constantly. If you’ve read Bill Mauldin’s terrific autobiography, A Sort of a Saga (1949), you can’t possibly have much patience with this sort of thing. Please see my blog post on “premature biographication.”
5) THE TIPPING POINT, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $14.95.) A study of social epidemics, otherwise known as fads. Magical science!
6) WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES, by David Sedaris. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.99.) Humor essays on middle age, mortality, and giving up smoking. We have nothing against bullshit… as long as it’s amusing. But we do have something against QUATSCH.
7) BLINK, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.99.) Instinct in the workings of the mind. Magical science!
8 ) CLUNK, by Gladwell Moore (Threshold Editions, $14.99.) The neuroscience of car accidents. Magical science!
9) EAT, PRAY, LOVE, by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Penguin, $15.) A writer’s yearlong journey in search of self takes her to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Memoir. Cooking/Eating. Exotic Tourism. Strike three!
10) SWAY, by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman (Broadway, $14). The psychological forces that lead us to disregard facts or logic and behave in surprisingly irrational ways. Magical science!
The other day, in the middle of making a left turn from a four-way stop, I realized I’d jumped out ahead of the woman who had the right of way. Aiming to signal an apology, I touched my index finger to my head (”I’m aware I did that”) and then to my heart (”and I feel bad about it.”)
Why did I do that? Is there even the slightest chance this gesture was interpreted correctly by the other driver? More generally, why don’t we have a consensus gestural shorthand for “I’m sorry about the improper traffic maneuver I just executed?” Or do we have one, and I just don’t know it?
Music videos started out as a tool to market the song. But now the song is marketing the video.
Under terms of the “just-signed” deal, Warner will be responsible for selling advertising against its own videos, so it will decide how much to charge for ads and find ad buyers on its own, rather than settling for whatever Google decides on. In order to attract premium advertisers, Warner plans to create a separate channel within YouTube consisting only of “premium” content. … The reason for the label’s change of heart — in addition to its bet that it can make more from ads than YouTube paid out before — has to do with a shift in thinking about audio on the web. Music services that rely on video, such as YouTube, enable advertisers to display video ads in ways that don’t apply when a user is listening to the same music on an audio-only platform. (The music-streaming service Pandora recently launched a small video section, most likely for the same reason.)
I owe a huge thanks to everyone who came out on Saturday for the event in New York City – in particular, the speakers who added so much to the proceedings. Karen Van Lengen, Jace Clayton, Richard Mosse, Mason White, Patrick McGrath, and Lebbeus Woods all brought enthusiasm and interest to their participation, and Joseph Grima and the staff at Storefront for Art and Architecture were phenomenally generous, patient, and organized with their time – and likely to break-out huge spreads of Syrian food at a moment's notice. Alan Rapp, editor of The BLDGBLOG Book, was also on hand to offer some incredibly appreciated, and economically quite timely, thoughts on publishing, blogs, architectural speculation, and more.
It was also great simply to see so many old friends, going back nearly a decade and a half, and finally to meet people whose work I've written about on BLDGBLOG, in Dwell, and in publications elsewhere.
From future car engines sound-designed by DJ /rupture to a tomb for Albert Einstein, via childhoods lived in the shadows of psychiatric institutions, student "sound lounges," photographic surveys of remote air disasters, and infrastructural ice floes, it was a gigantic Saturday, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
So thanks for coming out, thanks for participating, and thanks for saying hello!
Playlist from The Acousmatic Theater Hour with Jason G and Karinne on WFMU, from Sep 28, 2009
Blonde bombshell BRIGITTE BARDOT (born 1934) exploded onto the world stage in the 1950s. A woman with the neotenic features of a child, Bardot's Bézier curves measured pure sex appeal, and have been templatized by generations of heat-seeking starlets since.
It was no coincidence when in 1953 she caused a sensation at Cannes by wearing a bikini: named for the barely-there Pacific atoll destroyed by nuclear testing, the bikini represented the sartorial id, and Bardot's appearance caused a corresponding eruption of libido in a buttoned-down world.
But she was not merely the passive recipient of all this energy; Bardot played with and against her image. Cast, in Godard's critically acclaimed Contempt (1963), as the trophy wife of a screenwriter pimping her up the food chain, Bardot's character rebelled against the naked power dynamics and would not play to lose. Especially in film, Bardot reminds us, we become what we project.
- Originally posted in Hilo Heros, Hilobrow.com
A central figure in Richard Powers’s latest novel, “Generosity,” is an Algerian refugee living in Chicago, taking evening writing courses. Having experienced trauma during the civil wars that have racked Algeria, she is still remarkable optimistic about life–her own and life in general.
Her resilient personality, first noticed by her writing teacher, comes to the attention of a scientist and entrepreneur who has been studying the genetic basis for resilience. The researcher finds in the woman the “optimal allele assortment–the happiness jackpot,” and hopes that by studying her he might ultimately be able to create drugs that will ease the psychological pain of other humans. Whether this kind of intervention in the human psyche would be a good thing is the moral conundrum at the novel’s heart: How much misery can we “cure” without deforming our humanity?
A promising premise for a novelist of ideas. But Peter D. Kramer, the author of “Listening to Prozac” and “Against Depression,” spots a problem right off the bat …