Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the street as platform

I'm enjoying this meditation by Dan Hill on "The Street as Platform" (via @mkgold).

We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data. This is over and above the well-established electromagnetic radiation, crackles of static, radio waves conveying radio and television broadcasts in digital and analogue forms, police voice traffic. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behaviour. The behaviour of the street.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

sunday short stack

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
- Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, September 26, 2009

forever stuck in the background

Miranda July's extra self-portraits for Vice.

legitimate discipline? pastime? empty tank?

At The American Scholar, William M. Chace examines "The Decline of the English Department."

In one generation, then, the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to a total of less than 16 percent; during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent. Despite last year’s debacle on Wall Street, the humanities have not benefited; students are still wagering that business jobs will be there when the economy recovers.

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

duckface with gang signs

The LA Weekly linked to Stop Making That Duckface! (a.k.a., which reminded me of a favorite video from 2006: White Chicks & Gang Signs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

best fiction of the millenium

The Millions is/are counting down The Best Fiction of the Millenium with an all-star panel. I'll be interested to see the top 5 after today's entry at #6: The Road.

This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of The Road: what remains, what you remember years after you’ve read the book, is the beauty, the compassion, the relentlessness of possibility that burns on the colorless horizon. You understand—much in the way that you first understand poetry, through feeling and syntax and imagery rather than logic—that no matter how desolate the story, it is made bearable through language. There is, the novel asserts, something like triumph in the very telling of a tale, a commitment to the act of witness, and to receive a story is to exalt the imagination, to participate in the process of faith, to accept deliverance. Why else, then, would the father in the novel—when his son is too scared to sleep, when the noise of the world dying its cold death keeps him awake—comfort the boy with narrative? They’ve been stripped of everything except voice, but even on the darkest path words can retain their meaning, their promise of light that will lead lost travelers home.

Update: At least Cloud Atlas is in the top 3 (although nothing else could possibly belong in the #1 position, IMHO).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

grounding in what is beautiful

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a group of people who were reminiscing about learning cursive. Some people found it an oppressive tyranny on their block printing and still look back upon the lessons with dismay. Others - including myself - saw learning cursive as a doorway to adulthood that had finally been breached. I recalled writing looping lines as a cursive-less child, thinking they somehow conveyed meaning I just couldn't understand yet. My parents were trained as elementary school teachers, and they were both indoctrinated into the penmanship standards of the time. And I mean indoctrinated - to this day, when I receive cards in the mail from either of them, I am unable to tell their handwriting apart. As their daughter, I take great pride in my cursive style, so I read with interest Umberto Eco on the lost art of handwriting:

My parents' handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today's standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It's obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.

My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

sunday short stack

"Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content." - Paul Valéry

Thursday, September 17, 2009

alphabetary vitals and viscera

In preparing a new syllabus, I was reminded of this Gary Lutz talk published in The Believer earlier this year: "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place"

...I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.

And as I encountered any such sentence, the question I would ask myself in marvelment was: how did this thing come to be what it now is? This was when I started gazing into sentence after sentence and began to discover that there was nothing arbitrary or unwitting or fluky about the shape any sentence had taken and the sound it was releasing into the world.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

no coffee, no ads, no sign

This is an unexpectedly romantic story about a couple in Wisconsin who run a 12-building bookstore.

Via @maudnewton

Sunday, September 13, 2009

jim carroll (1950 - 2009)

Jim Carroll died of a heart attack Friday in Manhattan at age 60.

James Dennis Carroll, the son of a bar owner, spent his childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he attended Roman Catholic schools. After the family moved to Inwood, at the northern end of Manhattan, he won a basketball scholarship to Trinity. There he discovered a love of writing and began spending time at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in the East Village, falling under the spell of Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara.

Still in his teens, he published a limited-edition pamphlet of his poems, “Organic Trains” (1967), which, with its successor, “4 Ups and 1 Down” (1970), won him a cult following that was enhanced when The Paris Review published excerpts from his journals in 1970. “Living at the Movies” (1973), issued by a mainstream publisher, won him both acclaim and a wider audience.

His life was colorful. Hailed by Ginsberg, Berrigan and Jack Kerouac as a powerful new poetic voice, he became a fixture on the downtown scene. After briefly attending Wagner College on Staten Island and Columbia University, he found his way to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where he contributed dialogue for Warhol’s films. Later he worked as a studio assistant for the painter Larry Rivers and lived with Ms. Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer. He chronicled this frenetic period in “Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, 1971-1973.”

sunday short stack

"You should know more about human nature every year of your life." - Norman Mailer

The following links have been around for awhile, but they're still good:

Friday, September 11, 2009

let me tell you what I got

I was delighted to come across this Nina Simone footage from the 1969 Harlem Festival. Click through for more.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

me want

I just bought a nice new pair of speakers, but these are gorgeous.

the silver bullet

Rosie Schapp goes in search of the Auden martini.

Just as it's tricky to untangle this Auden of legend—dissolute, disheveled, living in squalor that some accounts suggest could rival that of the Collyer brothers—from Auden the masterful poet (and librettist, playwright, and teacher), it's tricky to confirm exactly what Auden's martini preferences were. We know that the martini was sufficiently present in Auden's consciousness to inspire him to write, in taut haiku, this passage of his poem “Symmetries and Asymmetries”:

Could any tiger

Drink martinis, smoke cigars,

And last as we do?

Never mind war, disease, poverty, or the passion that could reduce Auden himself to despair. Here, the measures of our toughness and endurance as a species are the cigar and the martini. Our ability to partake of these pleasures “as we do”—which I take to mean: a great deal—and live longer than so many of our fellow creatures, seems, at least to the speaker of the poem, a miracle.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

not the muddy dogtrack

On the Right Way to Write Criticism:

Stories, we all know, should not be too self-involved. Even in an era as utterly solipsistic as our own, it is not difficult to find warnings against those unrequited literary endeavors that have their nose wedged deep within their navel. If the accusation of solipsism against critics these days is less common than against novelists (perhaps because so many critics still write for captive audiences), solipsism is no less deadly to good criticism than good fiction.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

sunday short stack

"The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer." - Edward R. Murrow

Saturday, September 05, 2009

the false permanence of human arrangements

Click here for more photos of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles from Catherine Corman (with text by Jonathan Lethem).

do good books have to be hard?

Lev Grossman tries to answer the question:

After all, the discipline of the conventional literary novel is a pretty harsh one. To read one is to enter into a kind of depressed economy, where pleasure must be bought with large quantities of work and patience. The Modernists felt little obligation to entertain their readers. That was just the price you paid for your Joycean epiphany. Conversely they have trained us, Pavlovianly, to associate a crisp, dynamic, exciting plot with supermarket fiction, and cheap thrills, and embarrassment. Plot was the coward's way out, for people who can't deal with the real world. If you're having too much fun, you're doing it wrong.