The Daily

On the Shelf

The Case of the Shrinking Mannequins, and Other News

September 13, 2016 | by

English mannequins ca. 1950.

  • If you’re in New York, you’ve surely noticed them, those well-heeled people bolting down the sidewalk looking pissed off and holding enormous cups of coffee. That frisson of exclusion … that perfume of condescension: it’s Fashion Week! And what better time to remind ourselves that the industry promulgates a whole range of body-image issues, not just in the models it chooses but right down to the mannequins? M. G. Zimeta, at a shop in London, tried to get some answers about those mannequins: “Nearly a year ago I complained about the mannequins at the entrance of the ladies’ department in John Lewis on Oxford Street … Months passed, and I received no response … The ‘Fashion Queen’ mannequin range I’d seen in John Lewis is produced by Bonami in Belgium and has the following dimensions: height 185 cm (6'07"), waist 59 cm (23"), hips 87 cm (34") and bust 87 cm (34"). A Fashion Queen mannequin is taller than the average British man, but with the waist of a ten-year-old girl in John Lewis sizes. Some of the clothes on the mannequins at John Lewis were discreetly pinned in place because the outfits would otherwise, even in the smallest sizes, be too loose for their frames.”

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The Cultural Apocalypse Already Happened, and Other News

September 12, 2016 | by

Gary Perweiler, Pyramid Scent, 1983.

  • The National Magazine Awards have announced that they’re suspending their fiction category next year. You can probably guess why: “Only fourteen magazines submitted entries in the category in 2016—a fraction of the number of participants in other categories,” Sid Holt, the chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors, wrote last week. “Compounding the problem, few ASME members say they are competent to judge the category.” It’s sort of like how the Olympics canceled team equestrian dressage this summer because it’s the least popular sport—it’s just a bunch of people on horses, who cares, aren’t there women in spandex we can watch instead? Except, wait, they didn’t cancel it. They did it anyway. Yes: even the Rio Olympics, which received more attention this year than ever for their corruption and dishonesty, saw that some areas of human achievement deserve recognition even if they’re increasingly unpopular. 
  • I’m not saying this is related or anything, but have you noticed how relevant the Frankfurt School seems to be all of a sudden? It’s as if their critiques of capitalism have found new footing in a world where, say, the judges of the National Magazine Awards can no longer be bothered to read short fiction. Stuart Jeffries writes, “If Adorno were alive today, he might well have argued that that cultural apocalypse has already happened, but that we are too uncritical to notice it. His fondest fears have been realized … The leading lights of the Frankfurt School, Adorno and Horkheimer, never lived to develop social-media profiles, but they would have seen much of what the Internet offers as confirmation of their view that the culture industry allows the ‘freedom to choose what is always the same’ … Their contention was that the freedom to choose, which was the great boast of the advanced capitalist societies in the West, was chimerical. Not only do we have the freedom to choose what was always the same, but, arguably, human personality had been so corrupted by false consciousness that there is hardly anything worth the name any more. ‘Personality,’ they wrote, ‘scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions.’ ” 

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It’s a Beautiful Day to Be Stuck on a Container Ship, and Other News

September 9, 2016 | by

The Hanjin Geneva, doing exactly what it can’t do now.

  • Today in ridiculous situations brought to you by global capital: the artist Rebecca Moss has been stranded at sea, stuck on a container ship owned by a now-bankrupt shipping line; ports around the world have denied the ship because it can no longer pay the docking fees. Moss had boarded the ship for an artists’ residency. She has some good material now: “When I watch back all of the footage I have of the containers being loaded, for example, with the knowledge they are destined for nowhere in particular, it becomes comic, but also such a tragic waste of labor. Whereas before I was trying to tease out an absurdity, now it is hitting me in the face everywhere I look … I change between emotions of amusement to anger and incredulity. It is a dumb situation. The fact that nobody is rushing to buy these containers off of us shows that they cannot be needed that desperately in Asia. In some ways they feel very valuable (surely some contain food?!) but apparently they are worthless. Some of the containers contain animal skins. What did they die for?”

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It All Started with Algae, and Other News

September 8, 2016 | by

frankenstein_engraved

  • If I know you, reader, you were about to throw your hands up, abandon your career, move to a small town, and eke out a living as a substitute teacher. But wait! Nicholson Baker spent the first half of 2014 as a sub in Maine, and he wrote everything down, and the outlook is grim. Here’s what he took away from his time in the trenches of our public-education system: “In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-­provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-­O-­Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back. On the first page, usually, there are numbered ‘learning targets,’ and inside, inevitably, a list of specialized vocabulary words to master. In English it’s unreliable narrator, or ethos, or metonymy, or thesis sentence. This is all fluff knowledge, meta-­knowledge. In math, kids must memorize words like apothem and Cartesian coordinate; in science they chant domain! kingdom! phylum! class!, etc., and meiosis and allele and daughter cell and third-class lever and the whole Tinkertoy edifice of terms that acts to draw people away from the freshness and surprise and fantastic interfused complexity of the world and darkens our brains with shadowy taxonomic abstractions.”

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Step Into My Office, and Other News

September 7, 2016 | by

Except I’m actually in my bedroom.

  • The secret’s out: I’m writing this in my underwear, from my bedroom. I reveal this hideous truth to make a point about the nature of the workplace today—that it is everywhere, and that today’s “knowledge worker” can perform his functions from anyplace in the world, as long as there are pour overs available and chic quasi-industrial design aesthetics around. As Miya Tokumitsu and Joeri Merijn Mol argue, “It is always anytime. And anytime is check-in time … Wherever you are, you respond to the most urgent requests and make sure to nowhere yourself by deleting your ‘sent from my iPhone’ signature. You could be at your desk already, right? No one needs to know that you are two blocks away. You don’t want to convey that you are on the run and not giving them your full attention. So with some digital camouflaging you say: I am in a place where I can give you due consideration. At no point are we on the train, in a café, in bed, in the restroom … Airspace is essentially diffused workspace because the office has become a mobile home. We take it with us everywhere we go.”
  • Hey, you wouldn’t, by some chance, have happened to see a bunch of letters between Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Morley Callaghan about a 1929 boxing match in which Callaghan kicked Hemingway’s ass, would you? If you have seen those letters, can you get in touch with David Mason? He’s been looking for them since 1993: “After receiving the books and letters, I locked them in a store safe. When I opened my shop the next day, I was shocked to discover the safe had been cracked. Except for the letters, very little else of value was taken; it seems clear the thieves were after those artifacts specifically. The case grew stranger when a street criminal was arrested with one of the stolen postcards from the lot in his possession. Soon after confessing that he was part of the crew who robbed the store, he was found dead in his cell—a puzzling suicide. Upon his death, the case went cold.” 

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Never Forget Houellebecq’s Corgi, and Other News

September 6, 2016 | by

A photo of Clément from Houellebecq’s show at Palais de Tokyo.

  • If you’re in Paris, you have only a few more days to catch Michel Houellebecq’s exhibition at Palais de Tokyo. Hot insider tip: bring a pack of cigarettes—you can smoke them on the premises. True, much of his art is devoted to his beloved pet corgi, Clément, who is no longer with us. (Miss you always, Clem!) But there’s also, as Chinnie Ding writes, plenty of art that wouldn’t feel out of place in the pages of The Map and the Territory: “Vaguely oceanic sounds and slowly throbbing lighting carry us through some corridors where Houellebecq’s photographs of anonymous terrain glow and dim to the steady soporific rhythm of a fogged-out distress signal or a drowsy peep show. An all-female island-themed soft-core short, La rivière (The River), 2001, directed by the author, plays in a carpeted baisodrome In the next room, eyes adjust to blindingly glossy souvenir place mats advertising scenic French regions, such as Guadeloupe and Bretagne, which tile the floor and rebrand the nation as one turquoise-skied terroir. [Robert] Combas has contributed several glinting, convulsive paintings that look like religious icons becoming unhinged. All this nervous enjoyment, culminating in a functioning smoking room, seems convinced of an unusable past and a fait accompli.”

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