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Toast

December 18, 2014 | by

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Photo: Ken Hawkins

I was told not long ago that a certain prominent New York publication has put a moratorium on features about the death of local institutions; otherwise, they’d be running such features constantly. And the sad truth is, there is a sameness to the narrative. Neighborhoods change, rents rise, developers swoop, venerable places close. It’s a story so familiar that it tends, nowadays, to inspire sadness rather than outrage.

These stories also pose certain questions. What makes something "iconic”? Just because a place is old, does that automatically make it an institution? What if standards have slipped, and a restaurant or bar is a pale shadow of its former self? And, of course, the ultimate test: sentiment aside, how often do you actually go there? In the end, the arguments are moot. Good or bad, beloved or forgotten, everything is going. The Metro section reads like an obit page. 

You could spend your life going only to sepia-toned places for purely charitable reasons. What kind of a life this would be, I can’t say—probably a melancholy one, filled with pricks of secret, guilty relief when some of the spots are put out of their misery and the civic-minded patron is let off the hook. Read More »

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Arts & Culture

The Kitchen Show

December 18, 2014 | by

How to host an art exhibition in your kitchen.

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Photo: Gun Westholm

During my time at high school and university in Kreuzlingen and St. Gallen, I traveled around Europe looking at art, visiting artists, studios, galleries and museums. I knew that what I wanted to do in life was to work with artists, but I had yet to produce anything. I was searching for a way to make a contribution. What, in this art system, could be a first step, and above all, how could I be useful to artists? I began to think about all the innovative, large-scale museum shows I had seen and whether it was really possible to do something new, combining all the networks I had been enmeshed in, the entire European Thinkbelt. One conviction I had was that it could be interesting to do something smaller, after the gigantism of some of the 1980s art scene which seemed unsustainable after the crash of 1987.

Dependency on endless growth, as the end of each cyclical bull market always teaches us, is unrealistic. I studied political economy with a professor named H. C. Binswanger, who directed the University of St. Gallen’s Institute for Economics and Ecology. Binswanger was examining the historical relationship of economics and alchemy, which he made as interesting as it (at first) sounds outlandish. His goal was to investigate the similarities and differences between aesthetic and economic value, most famously in a book he later published called Money and Magic (1994). At the core of modern economics, Binswanger believed, is the concept of unlimited, eternal growth; he showed how this brash concept was inherited from the medieval discourse of alchemy, the search for a process that could turn lead into gold. Read More »

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Listen

Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe

December 18, 2014 | by

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Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, 1987. Photo: Thomas Sayers Ellis

Thomas Sayers Ellis’s poem “Polo Goes to the Moon”—an elegy for the bounce-beat go-go music pioneer Reggie Burwell—appeared in The Paris Review No. 209 earlier this year. Now he’s recorded a spoken-word version in “Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe,” part of a tribute to Amiri Baraka to be released next year by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Give it a listen above.

After Baraka died in January, Ellis and his frequent collaborator James Brandon Lewis formed Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a group of poets and musicians. They recorded the album over three six-hour sessions. Ellis calls it “a signifying groove head-nod to Mr. Baraka,” influenced by Thelonious Monk and A Tribe Called Quest.

The text of “Polo Goes to the Moon” is below. Read More »

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On the Shelf

The Future of Libraries Is Coffee Shops, and Other News

December 18, 2014 | by

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Photo: Berit, via Flickr

  • A new report suggests that to stay relevant, libraries must become more like coffee shops, “vibrant and attractive community hubs.” You know, with Wi-Fi.
  • And the future of roads is fewer roads, because we have too damn many of them. The Trip Generation Manual, a commonly consulted urban-planning guide, “may overestimate the number of trips generated from a new development by as much as 55 percent—‘phantom trips’ … The result is that cities may build way more roads than necessary, perpetuating sprawl and leaving less street space for non-drivers in the process.”
  • Our editor Lorin Stein is judging Nowhere Magazine’s travel-writing contest—they’re “looking for young, old, novice and veteran voices to send us stories that possess a powerful sense of place.” First prize is a thousand dollars and submissions are due January 1.
  • Secret Behavior is a new magazine about “what intimacy looks like”: “The first issue, which explored anonymity, is full of emotional money shots: self-portraits of men’s feet when they climax from masturbation (paired with their responses to the artist’s wanted ad), breakup fiction by Catherine Lacey, Jesper Fabricius’s anatomical encyclopedia made from close-cropped pornography.”
  • A few months ago, John Paul Rollert wrote a piece for the Daily about an Ayn Rand conference in Vegas. Now he’s reported more on it in The Atlantic: “Escapism is the allure of Las Vegas. The city—with its shows, its clubs, even its casinos—is ultimately incidental. You come to leave your self behind. Escapism of a different sort is also the allure of a radical philosophy. It seduces not by promising a temporary solution to the contest between the grosser passions and personal integrity … but by providing an alternative vision of what the ‘real world’ constitutes.”
  • With his album Pom Pom, Ariel Pink has delivered some of the best pop music of 2014: “It all seems to speak to people in that world, all these aged tweens,” he said in an interview: “Everybody still thinks they’re a tween, but they’re not. They’re former tweens. Generation tweens … the new twelve-year-olds pop up and usurp the former twelve-year-olds’ hegemony. That’s what I love about the music industry. It’s run by these kids. The children dictate what’s cool, and then everybody else just thinks that they’re a kid the rest of their lives.”

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Look

Eamonn Doyle, i

December 17, 2014 | by

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Eamonn Doyle

Aperture’s Lit issue introduced me to the work of Eamonn Doyle, a photographer based in Dublin. His series i is inspired by Samuel Beckett. As he told LensCulture:

I was re-discovering the work of Samuel Beckett, specifically the “trilogy” comprising the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. I began to be drawn towards a number of solitary “Beckettian” figures I saw on the streets of Dublin, people I had seen passing me every day who seemed to be treading the same ground, day in, day out … I wondered how I might approach the photographing of these people, who were after all (and who remain) near-total strangers to me … Is it possible to take photographs of these people in such a way that will honor their essential, even existential, distance from me? … This tension between, on the one hand, the attempt, and subsequent failure, to gain knowledge and, on the other, what happens in the act of attempting-then-failing is something that interests me. It’s a contradiction with which many of Beckett’s characters seem to be familiar. It’s also a point at which a representation, in reaching a limit point, acknowledges its status as an act.

See more of his work on his website, in Aperture, and at LensCulture.

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Eamonn Doyle

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Arts & Culture

How She Knows

December 17, 2014 | by

Penelope Fitzgerald’s shifting reputation.

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From the cover of Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Penelope Fitzgerald would have been ninety-eight today. We should mark the occasion by remembering that it is not extraordinary that she became a prize-winning novelist, though you may have heard otherwise.

In 2008, Julian Barnes described Fitzgerald as a jam-making grandmother, carrying a plastic, purple handbag. “Many readers’ initial reaction to a Fitzgerald novel,” he wrote, is, “ ‘But how does she know that?’ ” He said that he has reread the first scene of her book The Blue Flower (2000) many times, “always trying to find its secret, but never succeeding.”

And most everyone knows the story of the Booker dinner in 1979, to which Fitzgerald supposedly wore a flannel housedress. When she beat out V. S. Naipaul for the prize with Offshore, Robert Robinson of Book Programme proposed that the judges had made the wrong choice.

Then there’s Michael Dibdin, who once compared Fitzgerald to Jane Austen, of whom Lord Grey of Fallodon said something like, How astonishing that, despite the dullness of her life, she should write not only one novel, but several, and they are very good, too. Didbin was also incredulous of The Blue Flower: “How on earth was this done?” Read More »

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