The Daily

On the Shelf

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.”

Readers Live Forever, and Other News

August 9, 2016 | by

Look, son! Health!

  • Premise one: all your free time can be monetized. Premise two: in the future or maybe even tomorrow, really ordinary sounds from our day-to-day lives will be interesting to someone. Conclusion: you should buy yourself a microphone rig and become a “sound hunter,” one of those “who roam city streets and remote countrysides to capture the dramatic and unusual as well as the plain but underappreciated noises that surround us. Some of them release albums and even play concerts.” The most prominent of these is Chris Watson, whose latest field recording included “the noise of the insect known as the water boatman in the moor’s pond, said to be the loudest animal relative to its body size. ‘It’s the sound of them rubbing their penises beneath their abdomens to sing to attract females,’ Mr. Watson said with a boyish smile.”
  • Today in haircuts: academic research has at last confirmed what many have suspected for years—rich white dudes have no truck with the barbershop. Instead they favor upmarket salons, where someone is around to file your nails and there’s none of that pesky male companionship. As Kristen (ahem) Barber writes, “The young licensed barbers working in these salons also seemed disenchanted with the old school barbershop. They saw these newer men’s salons as a ‘resurgence’ of ‘a men-only place’ that provides more ‘care’ to clients than the ‘dirty little barbershop.’ And those barbershops that are sticking around, one barber told me, are ‘trying to be a little more upscale’ by repainting and adding flat screen TVs … Barbershops, they said, are for old men with little hair to worry about or young boys who don’t have anyone to impress.”
  • Frederick Olmsted literally changed the landscape of American parks—but he did so, as Nathaniel Rich notices, with a strange sleight of hand. “An unmistakable irony creeps vinelike through Olmsted’s landscape theory: It takes a lot of artifice to create convincing ‘natural’ scenery. Everything in Central Park is man-made; the same is true of most of Olmsted’s designs. They are not imitations of nature so much as idealizations, like the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. Each Olmsted creation was the product of painstaking sleight of hand, requiring enormous amounts of labor and expense. In his notes on Central Park, Olmsted called for thinning forests, creating artificially winding and uneven paths, and clearing away ‘indifferent plants,’ ugly rocks, and inconvenient hillocks and depressions—all in order to ‘induce the formation … of natural landscape scenery.’ He complained to his superintendents when his parks appeared ‘too gardenlike’ and constantly demanded that they ‘be made more natural.’ ”

There’s Always Disco, and Other News

August 8, 2016 | by

From the cover to Patrick Cowley’s Muscle Up.

  • Hey, you! Egghead! Ponce! Academic intellectual hippie freak! Get a real job! You don’t know shit about real people! You wouldn’t know a working man if he put a gun in your mouth! “People who specialize in the life of ideas tend to be extremely atypical of their societies,” Michael Lind reminds us. “They—we—are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of their fellow citizens. While anti-intellectual populists have often been wrong about the gold standard or the single tax or other issues, by and large they have been right about intellectuals.”
  • In which Amie Barrodale searches for the elusive sources of her fiction: “My work comes from my life. But after my first collection of stories, I made a vow to myself: no more of that. I began to think about writing a novel about a pedophile who undergoes some kind of elective treatment, some kind of brain surgery, some kind of stimulation of his illness that forces him to basically go through the hell of his own mind, his own sickness, to come out cured. I began to read about pedophiles. But on the side, as I worked, another story emerged, about a miscarriage, a miscarriage I had last year. What I mean is that for me, for better or for worse, my life presents itself as a story sometimes … One thing I would like to do, one day, is be able to describe what is happening in my mind. Sometimes I just make strange sounds in my head, I notice. One day I’d like to know what happens in there.”
  • Samuel Richardson’s eighteenth-century novels Pamela and Clarissa have plenty to say about victimhood and agency—even as they defy contemporary standards of morality. As Amy Gentry writes, Pamela is “a prolonged tale of sexual harassment in which, for several hundred pages, the hired servant Pamela fights off her employer Mr. B.’s unwanted advances … Together, Pamela and Clarissa represent Richardson’s fundamental misunderstanding of rape culture. He mistook women for human beings at a time when it was illegal for them to be. That’s an endearing mistake you won’t catch Austen making — not out loud, anyway — not so the men can hear. But Richardson’s mistake was a fertile one. Out of his strenuous attempts to give us a sense of Clarissa as a human being with agency who nevertheless had no control over her own violation came one of the greatest triumphs of literature in English — Clarissa’s very soul — the agency she exerts from inside the depths of powerlessness and madness simply by continuing to write.”
  • Mary Wellesley takes a trip to Alexander Pope’s grotto, recalling its extensive history: “Over time the grotto’s purpose changed. In 1739, Pope took the waters of Hotwells Spa in Bristol, and was transfixed by the geology of the Avon Gorge. After that, the grotto became a shrine to the majesty of geology. Pope was influenced by his friend William Borlase, an antiquarian, who espoused ‘physico-theological’ ideas about geology as evidence of the work of God. Pope decorated his grotto with crystals, shells, ores and spars, ordering shipments of material from distant parts of the country. After a spat with his friend Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, she described it as ‘a palace beneath the muddy road’, which was ‘Adorn’d within with Shells of small expense/Emblems of tinsel Rhyme and trifling sense.’ ”

Just Build Your Own Disneyland, and Other News

August 5, 2016 | by

Dmytro Szylak’s installation in Michigan, “Hamtramck Disneyland.” Photo via Hyperallergic.

Aerosol Dreams, and Other News

August 4, 2016 | by

Mmmm ... spray-on food.

  • A lot of things keep me up at night. Lately it’s all the forgotten potential of Cheez Whiz and Reddi-Wip—the beauty we lost when mankind turned away from aerosolized foods. As Nadia Berenstein writes, “Push-button cuisine is one of the great, unrealized dreams of postwar food technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, food manufacturers, along with their allies in the container and chemical industries, imagined a world of effortless convenience, where, in the words of one 1964 newspaper article, ‘entire meals … can be oozed forth by a gentle push on a few cans’ … Starting in the late 1950s, an avalanche of new push-button food products made their way to grocery stores. There was Whisp, a Freon-propelled vermouth spray, for that extra-dry martini. Sizzl-Spray, an aerosol barbecue sauce designed for seasoning burgers and steaks on the backyard grill, itself a 1950s innovation. Tasti-Cup, an aerosol coffee concentrate, for the office worker too busy for instant.”
  • While we’re on the mechanisms of publishing: a season’s biggest titles will arrive worldwide on nearly the same date; translation is built into the production process. In a new book, Rebecca L. Walkowitz “argues that these new conditions of production have altered the very shape of the contemporary novel. Many literary works today do not appear in translation, she proposes, but are written for translation from the beginning. They are ‘born translated.’ Adapted from ‘born digital,’ the term used to designate artworks produced by and for the computer, ‘born-translated literature approaches translation as medium and origin rather than as afterthought. Translation is not secondary or incidental to these works. It is a condition of their production.’ ”
  • Everyone loves a “lost” book—the thrill of the forgotten, of rediscovery, has fueled some of publishing’s most major events the past few years. The only problem: most of these books aren’t good. Alison Flood writes, “It’s a tricky tightrope to walk. Publish as much as possible of a beloved author’s work, because the fans will lap it up, or exercise a fierce quality control? It’s a question that I was pondering only this week, on reading the forgotten Dr. Seuss stories in Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories to my children. We are regular readers of Horton Hears a Who, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas—and were looking forward to it. And … it just wasn’t as good. The Grinch wasn’t the right color, he wasn’t very funny, and there were only two pages of him. Horton wasn’t as charming.”