The Daily

On the Shelf

Oops, and Other News

August 17, 2016 | by

This is what happens when you touch the art.

  • Guess what, people? Your garden-variety, Norman Mailer­–style, chest-thumping, self-aggrandizing narcissist is obsolete. This is the twenty-first century, and we have newer, more sophisticated, and more popular models for self-love. Kristin Dombek writes, “The narcissist is, according to the Internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves. They take what they think are the biggest, most impressive parts of other selves, and devise a hologram of self that seems superpowered. Let’s call it ‘selfiness,’ this simulacrum of a superpowered self.”
  • Say you’re in this band—let’s call it, say Metallica—and you release four earth-shatteringly seminal thrash-metal albums in the late eighties. And then you start to suck. And you persist in sucking. For decades. This is not, by ordinary standards, a sound business strategy—but what if, as Drew Millard suggests, Metallica is playing a very long game, profiting from toying with its fans’ emotions? “I get the sense that Metallica fans wouldn’t view the band’s early material with such reverence if the band hadn’t started systematically alienating the people who got them to the top. When it comes to fandom at least, hate is a far stronger emotion than love, and it seems like the further Metallica has drifted from its roots, the more incredulous the world has become that this group of sell-outs and lame-os could have once made such perfect, untouchable music. This relationship works in reverse as well: if the first four Metallica albums hadn’t been so great, it wouldn’t be so fun to hate on every move the band has made since then.”
  • You’re not supposed to touch things in museums, which means it’s very fun to touch them. A rash of recent accidents—a kind of museum crime blotter, if you will—makes the allure of touching very apparent. There’s the guy “who wanted to take a photo of himself with a sculpture in the foreground and a painting in the background. The visitor could not frame the photo to his liking, so he wrapped his arms around the abstract sculpture, which was the size of a person, and turned it on its pedestal to get the best angle.” Or the boy who “smashed a giant Lego sculpture of Nick from Zootopia at an expo in Ningbo, China. The artist had spent days piecing it together, reports said.”
  • Governments have attempted to neuter the appeal of cigarettes by doing away with their branding, insisting on generic packages in place of subtle marketing. But this misplaces some of the allure of addiction, as Rob Horning writes: “It seems more plausible that addiction generates its own rationalizations, its own myths, its own ideology. We need to experience a physical grounding for our ideological beliefs, and we need to have ideological excuses for our physical addictions, so they tend to work in tandem, symbiotically … Brands can seem like a way to add a phony value to an otherwise undifferentiated commodity. But they also mark the entry point for consumers into some vicarious fantasy, some idea tangential to consumption. The potential value of a brand rests in the conflation of compulsion and the desire to believe. It must make you feel as though you are choosing and also have no choice.”
  • Today in fiction as prognostication: Did Daphne du Maurier’s 1972 novel, Rule Britannia, predict Brexit? “In Du Maurier’s imagined referendum the government has ‘backtracked’ on its original support for the Common Market and now opposes British membership. If this contrasts with the Conservative government’s support for the Remain campaign this year, the book still has clear parallels with political events, according to Professor Helen Taylor, of Exeter University. She cites one section of the novel, in which the prime minister bemoans the political and financial repercussions of the leave vote, saying it ‘brought great economic difficulties, as I feared would be the case and as I warned you at the time, and our political autonomy and military supremacy were also endangered.’ ”

Haring’s Kingdom of Cocks, and Other News

August 16, 2016 | by

haringdicks

From Keith Haring’s Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks. Image via Hyperallergic

  • If you live in New York, you have to make your peace with Keith Haring—his public works are all over town. But the city’s murals rarely, if ever, showcase Haring’s once-in-a-generation gift for drawing cocks. To see that, you must turn to Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks, a new book of Haring’s dicks that “envisions the city as a kingdom of phalluses”: “he transforms Manhattan’s churches, skyscrapers, and fire hydrants into architectural penises. The Twin Towers become twin penises. There are penises drawn in front of Tiffany’s, in front of the Museum of Modern Art, while ‘waiting for a yam.’ There are minimalist penises, composed of as few lines as possible. There are also Gucci penises, alphabet penises, flying torpedo penises, optical illusion penises, deconstructed penises, ‘actual size’ tracings of penises, and clusters of penises on the subway at rush hour.”
  • It’s important to have a contingency plan. If life on Earth takes a turn for the apocalyptic, you won’t find me huddled around some garbage fire eating another man’s thigh, no, sir. I’ll be on the moon. The Atlantic has taught me how to claim land there: “You could launch a small rover—like China’s Jade Rabbit, which just ceased operations—to set up a research station at one of the moon’s more resource-rich areas, probably the poles. The rover would set down a copper wire, trundle a few meters away and unspool more wire. This length of wire is now a low-frequency radio antenna. Think of the rabbit-ear dipole antenna on an ancient TV set … Under the Outer Space Treaty, you would have to allow other countries and entities to inspect your new solar observatory. But the treaty also says that inspections cannot get in the way of your normal operations, and any inspection would likely interfere with your radio observations. So for practical purposes, nobody else can ever come to your mountaintop. You have become the de facto owner of that piece of lunar real estate.”
  • Thomas Mann’s story “Mario and the Magician” skewered Mussolini as a man with “very ugly hair” and “small hard eyes, with flabby pouches beneath them”—a man who “talked without stopping—but only in vague, boastful, self-advertising phrases.” You see where this is going, don’t you? How this fascistic asshole might resemble another, more contemporary fascistic asshole? Don’t make me spell it out. Colin Campbell writes of Mann’s story, “The magician’s name is Cipolla, and his show is preceded by a flurry of cheap publicity. When Cipolla himself appears on stage, he spouts a lot of blather about his grand reputation and, after ingratiating himself and reading a few minds, he makes it clear that he leads and commands, while others willingly follow and obey. But could he make a gentleman who challenged him dance foolishly even against his will? ‘ “Even against your will,” answered Cipolla, in unforgettable accents.’ ”

Hemingway’s Antlers Returned, and Other News

August 15, 2016 | by

 

A photo posted by aspentimes (@aspentimes) on

  • Try to stay calm, everyone, but I have some very exciting news: it’s about Hemingway’s antlers. Back in 1964, Hunter S. Thompson stole a set of elk antlers right off the guy’s wall, only three years after he’d shot himself … Thompson felt bad about it and meant to return the antlers promptly, but you know how it is, the decades go by, stuff piles up in your garage, and you just sort of forget that you have these priceless antlers sitting around, and then it’s 2005 and you’re dead, too. So it fell to Thompson’s widow, Anita, to return the property to the Hemingways last week: “They were warm and kind of tickled … They were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness … Still, it’s something that was stolen from the home. They were grateful to have them back. They had heard rumors. Sean Hemingway, the grandson, was the first family member that I’d heard from. He spoke with other Hemingway family members and he said that everyone agreed that he should have them. He lives in New York, where he curates a museum. So now that I’m back from Ketchum we’re actually shipping them to Sean.”
  • Finally, New York’s newspaper of record has taken it upon itself that humblest of tasks: defining punk. Since 1976, the punk-rock spirit has been noxious, amorphous, and utterly unreconstructed. That was okay, but isn’t it better to have the Gray Lady trotting out a bunch of musician types to tell you what it’s really all about? One twenty-five-year-old says that punk as “like a massive piece of denim, and with that denim you can make something really cool. You can make a jacket, you can make some cool jeans, or you can make a cushion or a cover. There’s nothing that’s wrong or right about it, it’s just a thing that gives anything you want to do some backing.”

Revere the Fig, Pity the Fig Wasp, and Other News

August 12, 2016 | by

From a package of California Fig Syrup Company’s “Syrup of Figs” laxative.

  • Friends, the great march of progress continues apace. The word bawbag—“a Scots word meaning scrotum, in Scots vernacular a term of endearment but in English could be taken as an insult”—has been added to the Macmillan Open Dictionary. Now the official record will never forget the rich, protean history of this fine word: ‘Bawbag made the headlines five years ago when hurricane force winds hit Scotland in a storm dubbed Hurricane Bawbag by Twitter users—a name which quickly went viral. It was also one of the many insults leveled at the US Republican party’s presidential candidate when he arrived in Scotland earlier this summer—the Daily Record reporting that anti-Trump protestors held up signs reading ‘Trump is a bawbag.’ The Ukip leader Nigel Farage was met with cries of ‘Nigel, you’re a bawbag, Nigel you’re a bawbag, na, na, na, hey!’ in Edinburgh three years ago.”
  • I eat figs as I eat most things—hell-bent on my own delectation, and totally ignorant of the food’s history or provenance. Ben Crair has taught me the ancient ways of the fig, though, in all their beauty and tragedy: “Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination, but because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside. That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s. Mother wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. After their offspring hatch and mature, the males mate and then chew a tunnel to the surface, dying when their task is complete. The females follow and take flight, riding the winds until they smell another fig tree … When the insects discover the right specimen, they go inside and deposit the pollen from their birthplace. Then the females lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. For the wasp mother, however, devotion to the fig plant soon turns tragic. A fig’s entranceway is booby-trapped to destroy her wings, so that she can never visit another plant. When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.”
  • In the media, to call a piece of writing “academic” is to condemn it in the worst terms. David Wolf and Jo Livingstone discuss the eroding reputation of professorial prose: “People talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing as if it’s obvious what they are … In a journalistic context, extremely formal and exhaustive academic writing can come across as so pretentious and ridiculous when, in fact, there’s a lovely humbleness to it. The academic is saying, ‘Look! I’ve acknowledged all these people that have thought really hard about this’ … But, I think, one way in which academics writing for journalistic audiences can go wrong is not appreciating that the world which you are writing for is completely different … It’s not the job of the readers of the Guardian, say, to read you. They’re either going to read you because they’re interested, or they think it’s really important, or they’ll do it for pleasure or entertainment, but they’re not doing it out of any sense of duty.”
  • The National Library of France has digitized the 1588 manuscript of Montaigne’s seminal Essays. It is, yes, in French. But if you can jump over that hurdle, you’ll see that Montaigne’s handwritten annotations (allongeails) are intact here. (Previously, the manuscript lived for many centuries in a convent in Bordeaux.)

Shock Your Way to Fertility, and Other News

August 11, 2016 | by

This could be you, friend! Animal magnetism and animal electricity at work.

  • Some asshole on Ninth Avenue grabbed Mary Karr’s crotch and that was a really, really, really dumb thing for him to do: “I came to and shouted from the doorway, ‘Not today! Not this bitch! You picked the wrong woman to fuck with today!’ … Around Forty-First Street, a cop car pulled up, and I hopped in and recounted it all as they peeled out like they do on Law & Order. The female officer riding shotgun radioed the description I gave her to other cops, who nabbed him and hauled him, handcuffed, before me outside the Port Authority. ‘That’s him!’ I said. He was blank-eyed, as if this whole thing were happening to somebody else. His buddy was amped up, though, claiming his friend hadn’t done anything. I shot back that was horse hockey—yes, he had—and the buddy walked off as an officer put the Grabber in the back of a cruiser.”
  • In the thirties, Wallace Stevens published a poem called “Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz”: “There are these sudden mobs of men, / These sudden clouds of faces and arms, / An immense suppression, freed, / These voices crying without knowing for what … ” David Bromwich reflects on the meaning of these lines in the age of Trumpism: “The qualities of the mob I think Stevens meant to evoke were anger and a somehow warranted self-pity. Those outside are unequipped by nature to enter into the mood. But these sudden mobs don’t want our pity; they are made out of feelings that are intoxicating, and the feelings are their own reward. And never pretend that self-pity is a contemptible thing. It is the most popular and contagious of emotions. ‘The epic of disbelief,’ Stevens concluded, ‘Blares oftener and soon, will soon be constant.’”

Now I Have to Rewatch Melrose Place, and Other News

August 10, 2016 | by

Stills from Melrose Place, featuring works by the GALA Committee. Image via ARTNews. Courtesy Melchin.org.

  • Ask any Joe on the street and he’ll tell you the best thing about Melrose Place was Heather Locklear. He’d be wrong, though. The best thing about Melrose Place was that it served as a secret gallery space for a collective called the GALA Committee, led by the conceptual artist Mel Chin. By agreeing to work for free, Chin brokered a deal with the show’s producers that gave him essentially carte blanche to insert his art into the show. As M. H. Miller writes, “The project was titled In the Name of the Place, and will be the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Red Bull Studios in New York this fall … Chin said of about 200 works that the group produced, roughly 70 percent were accepted. In one episode, when Alison gets pregnant, she wraps herself in a quilt that has printed on it the chemical structure of RU-486, the morning after pill … In one scene, Kimberly holds a Chinese takeout box, which has written on it, in Chinese characters, the words ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Turmoil and Chaos,’ a nod to the different interpretations among the West and China of the Tiananmen Square protests.”
  • At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, meanwhile, a show called “The Camera Exposed” features more than 120 photographs with cameras in them. It’s better than it sounds, Simon Willis says: “What emerges from the exhibition is a complicated bond. In one picture, an elderly Paul Strand carries a large box camera in his arms, holding it like an infant jealously guarded. In another Eve Arnold photographs herself in a distorting mirror, her figure and those on the street around her blurred and elongated. It’s a self-portrait that seems to take a wry look at the act of photographing, and how it can record the truth but also bend it out of shape. In fact the show examines not just the relationship between photographers and cameras, but also the guises that cameras have assumed.”
  • The Olympics provide a great occasion for fantasizing about space—specifically, for fantasizing about the Olympics in space. But few among us would dare, as Chip Rowe has, to delve into the specifics of space sports: “Modern athletes pride themselves in their ability to withstand boiling temperatures and frozen terrain. But it wasn’t until explorers mapped the planet Gliese 436b that competitors got the chance to tackle both extremes at once. Roughly the size of Neptune, Gliese orbits far closer to its sun than Mercury does to ours, making its surface a balmy 820 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, you’d think the planet would be all gas. In fact, immense pressure in Gliese’s interior compresses water into an exotic phase of ice known as Ice X, in much the way pressure in Earth’s interior turns carbon into diamond. The result is a world cloaked in ‘hot ice’ and bathed in steam. A decade ago, 10 tenacious hockey teams flew the thirty light-years to Gliese for the first of what has become an annual tournament. The flaming puck makes the action easy to follow.”