The Daily

On the Shelf

The Right Drink for the Conservative Taste, and Other News

August 26, 2016 | by

Drink up your propaganda, kids!

  • Today in farts: there’s a new movie called Swiss Army Man, and it’s full of ‘em. Don’t write it off as stupid. Don’t pretend you’re not seduced by the fusillade of flatulence. There is life in those farts, Annie Julia Wyman writes: “The idea for Swiss Army Man began with a fart joke: a man trapped on a desert island feeds a corpse beans so that he can ride it back to civilization. But a fart joke—like every increment of comedy, however large or small—is a simple encapsulation of Swiss Army Man’s optimism and of the beneficence, the real miracle, which is art … Movies of this kind are highly wrought, spiritually advanced, super-durable versions of the space inhabited by children and old people, by beginners and artists and students, by those of us who are still learning and always will be: that is, by everyone, if they can let the farts in.” 

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Five Hours of Happy Hour, and Other News

August 25, 2016 | by

Still from Happy Hour.

  • Early in the fourteenth century, an Egyptian bureaucrat embarked on the kind of project that many of us attempt on nights off: an enormous encyclopedia designed to contain all knowledge in the Muslim world. The book, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, ran to nine thousand pages, and a part of it will see English translation, after so many centuries, this fall. It illustrates “the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam, so different from the crude puritanical myths purveyed by modern-day jihadis,” Robert F. Worth writes. “Reading it is like stumbling into a cavernous attic full of unimaginably strange artifacts, some of them unforgettable, some merely dross. From the alleged self-fellation of monkeys to the many lovely Bedouin words for the night sky (‘the Encrusted, because of its abundance of stars, and the Forehead, because of its smoothness’) to the court rituals of Egypt’s then-overlords, the Mamluks, nothing seems to escape Nuwayri’s taxonomic ambitions.” (We’ll have excerpts on the Daily after Labor Day.) 

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It’s Time to Don Your Salt Gown, and Other News

August 24, 2016 | by

Sigalit Landau’s salt gown emerging from the Dead Sea. Photo: Matanya Tausig.

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All Hail the Refrigerator, and Other News

August 23, 2016 | by

View of Brent Birnbaum’s “Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester,” 2016, Denny Gallery, New York.

  • Writers generally hate to get on in years, because they’re soulless cowards who fear death. (I say this with authority, even at age thirty.) One good thing about getting older, though, is that you can sell your papers—you know, all that junk that records your “process.” Phillip Lopate was looking forward to cleaning house, but the process, he discovered, was more injurious than it seemed from afar: “For years I had been hearing of people selling their papers, and often these writers were, in my humble judgment, no better practitioners of the literary art than I—indeed, in some cases, inferior! How did they do it? … In due course I was approached by a bookseller who handled such transactions, which suddenly made it a concrete, attractive possibility. He contacted the New York Public Library, a logical place for my papers, given my lifelong involvement with the city of my birth, and two representatives from that estimable institution came to my house to examine the lot … In preparation for the librarians’ visit, I had laid out letters, manuscripts, and diaries on the kitchen table and in boxes all about the room. I tried to steer these two examiners, a man and woman, to what I thought might be juicy bits, but their blank emotionless faces (so like those of funders or oncologists, who don’t want to get your hopes up) gave away nothing, and after two hours of idly sifting through the records of a lifetime’s labor, they departed.” 

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Of Course Hemingway and Wolverine Fought Crime Together, and Other News

August 22, 2016 | by

Wolverine with Ernest Hemingway, duh.

  • Say what you will about Ernest Hemingway, the guy knew how to market himself. He’s remained in print for many decades after his death, which is no mean feat—but more impressively still, he’s found a second life in the comics, where his boastful machismo thrives. Robert Elder writes, “I found him battling fascists alongside Wolverine, playing cards with Harlan Ellison, and guiding souls through purgatory … He’s appeared alongside Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Donald Duck, Lobo—even a Jazz Age Creeper. Hemingway casts a long shadow in literature, which extends into comic books. It’s really only in comics, however, where the Nobel Prize winner gets treated with equal parts reverence, curiosity and parody … In the forty-plus appearances I found across five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), Hemingway is often the hypermasculine legend of Papa: bearded, boozed-up and ready to throw a punch. Just as often, comic book creators see past the bravado, to the sensitive artist looking for validation.”
  • In the past five years, the Internet has gotten really good at this whole “angry mob” thing—just ask Gawker’s former editor in chief, Max Read, who watched as the digital media slowly recalibrated its approach to privacy: “Not so long ago, it was actually sort of okay to publish a short excerpt from a celebrity’s sex tape to your otherwise mainstream gossip blog. ‘Okay’ is relative here, of course … Still, the extent of mainstream condemnation was cheeky expressions of disgust … What was okay (if naughty) in 2012 is, in 2016, regarded as indefensible. The reaction to the enormous judgment against Gawker makes it clear where public opinion now lies: in sharp if muddled defense of privacy rights, even for public figures. But what has changed isn’t just the outer boundary of what’s appropriate to publish, but where it can be published. Gawker’s biggest mistake in a way was that it had failed to realize that it was no longer the bottom-feeder of the media ecosystem. Twitter and Reddit and a dozen other social networks and hosting platforms have out-Gawkered Gawker in their low thresholds for publishing and disregard for traditional standards, and, even more important, they distribute liability: there are no bylines, no editors, no institution taking moral responsibility for their content.”

A Battery of Tests for You, and Other News

August 19, 2016 | by

“The Make a Picture Story Test,” a psychological study from 1942. Image courtesy Redstone Press, via The New Yorker.

  • Elif Batuman has been reading Psychobook, a new collection of what can only be described as vintage psychological tests. The book is designed for many things, but not to make its readers feel sane: “No less than the many tests in its pages, Psychobook is itself a kind of inkblot, certain to evoke different emotions and associations from different people. For this reader, one recurring sensation was that of a deeply American beleaguerment, with some Eastern European overtones. I thought again and again of the immigrant woman, landing like Kafka’s hero on American shores after a long and, one feels, psychically taxing boat ride, facing the first of many new puzzles in a strange new land … It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.”
  • Today in junk that might also be art—or, at least, junk that you could soon own: Tekserve, a computer-support shop not far from the Review’s offices in Chelsea, ended its twenty-nine-year run this week. As a kind of progenitor of the Apple store, the business amassed a lot of obsolete technology over the decades, and now you can buy that stuff at auction. Have you had your eye on a Philco Predicta TV? An early “magic lantern” slide projector? A Braille display processor? A Nagra 4.2 portable mono tape recorder? Or perhaps the storied “Mac Museum,” “which comprises thirty-five computers that represent the development of Apple from 1984 to 2004”?
  • Since 1982, the London Review of Books has had featured writers from all over the world for their Diary column. Until this week, no one could say which corners of the globe, exactly, had been represented in the LRB’s pages—but now they’ve gone ahead and marked all eight hundred of their contributors on a map. Note the presences, of course, but also the absences. No one has ever filed a diary from Mongolia or Indonesia, for instance—book your flights now and refine your pitches from thirty thousand feet.