Inside Incubabula, and Other News
January 20, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Congratulations to Review contributors Garth Greenwell and Ottessa Moshfegh. The former received a rave review of his debut, What Belongs to You, in the New York Times: “Greenwell writes long sentences, pinned at the joints by semicolons, that push forward like confidently searching vines. There’s suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell.” And the latter has been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel Eileen.
- In the 1840s, before photomechanical printing processes came along, illustrated books were adorned by hand with “real” photographs. “Photography incubabula,” as such projects are known, were time-consuming to produce, requiring a complicated development process and elaborate pasting. You can have a look at some of them in the Getty, whose photography incubabula collection “spans a vast array of topics, from a 1878 publication filled with beautiful microscopic images of plant anatomy to an exceptionally rare 1844 edition of H. Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature—considered the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs showing the potential of the medium.”
- Is a young person in your life beginning the college application process? Tell her not to apply to Tolstoy College—yes, it has a prestigious name, but it’s been closed since the eighties. When it was open, though, what a place it was! As Jennifer Wilson tells it, the college, based in Buffalo, was an anarchist paradise: “the college tried to model equal and shared governance and collective decision-making in the running of the school as well. Initially, there was no official policy on grading, but the administration stepped in and imposed limits on the number of A’s that could be given out in a class. Professors then let students decide collectively who would get which grades, using the Marxist rubric of ‘each according to his ability, each according to his need.’ In practice, this meant that one student might say, ‘I need the A; I’m going to law school,’ in the hope of convincing other students that he was truly needy. Faculty salaries were collectively determined, too, and based on the respective household expenses of each staff member.”
- Paul Lisicky on Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation” and the torrent of disgraces she rains on her characters: “People, no matter how inert they seem to be, contain the capacity to surprise us, to change … Yes, O’Connor destroys some of her characters—subjects them to humiliation, degradation, violence. But maybe that’s because she understands human stubbornness, how we cling to our limitations until events of great force alter us … A narrative, when it’s really alive, will always disturb you when you’re there to seek comfort, and sing in two contrary voices when you just want to hear a single, pure melody.”
- Turning off your cell phone for a little “off-the-grid” time is a voguish way to announce your awareness of technology’s ills—but is it a mental-health exercise or just another signal of privilege? “The next big fashionable purging movement looks set to be the Wi-Fi detox; a bit like colonic irrigation for the mind, flushing out all the unnecessary gunge … What better proof that you’re just too cool and creative to be ‘on’ all the time; that you need to be free to think great thoughts? … Going off grid is all about suggesting you’re so hotly in demand that you need to stand back from the craziness—but also crucially that you can afford to do so.”