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Speech Acts

May 18, 2016 | by

Ben Vida, Speech Act 6, 2016, ink and gesso on panel, 47.5" x 58.5"

Ben Vida’s recent exhibition at Lisa Cooley Gallery, “[Smile on.] … [Pause.] … [Smile off.],” included a series of what the author calls Speech Acts, inspired by concrete poetry. Intended to be recited in a duo vocal performance, the speech acts capture all the pauses, false starts, stammers, and disfluencies of conversation: all the spoken detritus usually omitted in transcripts. Inspired by Beckett and other dramatists who foreground the emptiness of speech patterns, Vida and a partner read each piece aloud at the gallery. “Aurally it’s kind of a short distance from ‘eh, itz tah’ to ‘ah, um oh’ to ‘well, okay so,’ ” he told the Creators Project, “but within this distance the function of the language changes and so the compositional logic begins to change as well. It becomes a completely different engagement in terms of what is being communicated.”

Click any of the images to enlarge them. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

And Thou

May 18, 2016 | by

I pity you, because presumably you—unlike me—do not own an apron that features a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the word thou. So how could you possibly celebrate the birthday of Omar Khayyám? You could read from the Rubaiyat, of course. If you happen to be in Nishapur, you could visit his stunning mausoleum. Or you could try a little light non-Euclidean geometry or take out your telescope and ponder his many astronomical discoveries …

Even if you do all of those things, though—even if you own the same apron I do—you can still devote an hour or so to 1957’s Omar Khayyám. “In this dramatic adventure,” Paramount’s capsule description says, “a Persian philosopher poet attempts to thwart conspiring assassins.” Read More »

On History

The Hard-on on Trial

May 18, 2016 | by

Erectile dysfunction and divorce in prerevolutionary France.

Grace under pressure. Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna.

At face value, René de Cordouan was a lucky man: born into French nobility as the Marquis de Langey, rich without effort, pleasant to look at. By generic, century-spanning sort of standards he was a catch, as endearing to unwed Catholics of the early 1600s (those seeking a deep-pocketed partner with bucolic property to share) as to manicured women with manicured nails browsing EliteSingles.com. The actual minutiae of the Marquis de Langey’s appearance remains a mystery—the size of his feet, the straightness of teeth, the presence or absence of dimples—but one part of his anatomy was so meticulously discussed it secured him a minor place in European history. Inside the nobleman’s underpants, between his upper thighs, was an intromittent organ that would be leered at and prodded before a court of law. To put it plainly, in 1657 the Marquis’s penis was subject to public trial. Read More »

On the Shelf

Robot Cars Are Totally Soulless, and Other News

May 18, 2016 | by

“The Man Catcher,” an early effort at pedestrian safety.

  • Books can be difficult—so many words, and usually they’re the same color. But what if we made them different colors? The Folio Society’s new edition of The Sound and the Fury presents the text “in fourteen different colors that represent different time zones in the narrative,” and this one guy is super excited about it: “Colored text … feels like a breakthrough for publishing. It’s a playful approach perfectly attuned to our era. Learning in general has already moved away from dusty tomes of monochrome text to brighter, shinier and more interactive methods. In a time of short attention spans and digital distractions, could multicolored publishing work for other difficult books? Would Gravity’s Rainbow be more popular with a rainbow-colored makeover? Would Proust’s interminable sentences be easier to navigate if they switched back and forth from one color to another, allowing the reader a sense of a light at the end of each tunnel?” (Because that’s why we read Proust: for the occasional sense of relief.)
  • If you’ve kept yourself up at night pondering the ethical dilemmas of driverless cars—like, if they’re going really fast and there’s a kid in the road, and they can either plow over the kid or jerk the wheel and kill you, the passenger—you might have even bigger problems to worry about. Daniel Albert writes: “I’m optimistic about our robot-car future. It will be really cool. But make no mistake that the development of driverless cars will flow from the same combination of forces that have carried us from the Model T to the Tesla. For some 120 years those forces have favored not mobility precisely, but automobility: a system that melds moving from place to place with industrial production and consumerism. Promoters of autonomous vehicles promise that they will defeat those forces, will wipe the slate clean. History suggests that they might also be consumed by them … Robot cars will be neither moral nor immoral in the narrow sense premised in the thought experiments now being conducted and sold as valuable. They will not exist outside of the current automotive ecosystem. They will instead enter an automotive landscape that instantiates myriad ethical choices made in the past and rehearsed daily.”

Department of Tomfoolery

The Musician’s Day

May 17, 2016 | by

A drawing by Satie in a letter to Jean Cocteau, 1917. “Monsieur Sadi in his house—he’s thinking.”

Erik Satie, the composer and pianist, was born on this day 150 years ago. “There are many kinds of eccentric,” Nick Richardson wrote in the London Review of Books last year, “and Satie was most of them.” The musician’s description of his diet, comprising all-white foods, many of them inedible, is often quoted as evidence of this eccentricity. It comes from an even more eccentric whole, Satie’s book Memoirs of an Amnesiac. The relevant passage is reprinted below, with some of his drawings of imaginary buildings and busts, because why not … —D.P. 

An artist must organize his life. Here is the exact timetable of my daily activities:

I rise at 7:18; am inspired from 10:23 to 11:47. I lunch at 12:11 and leave the table at 12:14. A healthy ride on horseback round my domain follows from 1:19 P.M. to 2:53 P.M. Another bout of inspiration from 3:12 to 4:07 P.M. From 4:27 to 6:47 P.M. various occupations (fencing, reflection, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, etc.)

Dinner is served at 7:16 and finished at 7:20 P.M. From 8:09 to 9:59 P.M. symphonic readings (out loud). I go to bed regularly at 10:37 P.M. Once a week, I wake up with a start at 3:19 (Tuesdays).

My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, grated bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, fruit-mould, rice, turnips, camphorated sausages, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with the juice of the Fuchsia. I am a hearty eater, but never speak while eating, for fear of strangling. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

The Shakespeare Garden

May 17, 2016 | by

Perhaps you ran across a story in today’s New York Times about re-creating Emily Dickinson’s Amherst garden. Historians are discovering the layout of the family’s conservatory and planting heirloom varieties of fruit trees that would’ve grown in the orchard. Dickinson was apparently a prolific gardener—a talented amateur naturalist who attended carefully to her studies of the natural world. The article explains that her expertise “profoundly shaped her poetry”: Read More »