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Posts Tagged ‘apocalypse’

How to Look at White Squares, and Other News

July 5, 2016 | by

Robert Ryman, Arrow, 1996, oil on Plexiglas with steel, 13 1/2" x 12". Image via Dia.

  • Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director who made Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy, and a host of other poetic films, has died at seventy-six. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Kiarostami’s contemporaries, told the Guardian, “Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today … But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanized it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version. He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life—that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death.”
  • It wouldn’t be a lie to say that Robert Ryman paints white squares—exactly the kind of concept that makes the uninitiated roll their eyes and say, My kid could do that. But your kid could not do this, not even your honor student. As silly as it sounds, Ryman’s canvases force you to reevaluate the whole, like, concept of white: “If you take a close look at the current exhibition at Dia: Chelsea, you quickly realize just how much can be contained within them. With smears and flecks and whorls of paint, built up in some places, washed out in others, the works catch the light in a singular way … The works are best seen when lit by the sun, as filtered down through the Dia skylights. And the light can activate the paint differently during the day, often calling up blue or green undertones.”
  • The web in the nineties was a simpler, uglier place, where color schemes grated, links broke, and a MIDI version of your favorite Third Eye Blind song was always just a click away. What explains our nostalgia for all this? Charles Thaxton writes, “It’s now well established that most Internet users experience the web through a handful of large, enclosed platforms and apps … Was the Early Web any better? The pre-platform, pre-mobile Internet was a web of pages and links and counters. The most essential thing about it is the notion that it looked bad. But the bad-looking web is making a comeback. All of a sudden you’re on that clunky-looking webpage again … Nostalgia for the way the web looked is really a sublimated nostalgia for how it felt, for a time in almost everyone’s life when discovery and openness and joy were all more operable. As much as we want to preserve the early Internet in amber, we want to hold on to the feeling of the early Internet even more.”
  • Boethius was executed in the year 524, but don’t let that deter you: his De consolatione philosophiae, written as he awaited execution, remains a vital read in troubling times. “Boethius’s task was both personal and communal, for in stoically embracing the decisions of the goddess Fortuna he admitted that death would soon come, but as he was also a refugee from a world that was dying, his manuscript served as an ars moriendi for culture, too. And in subsequent centuries his accomplishment was steadfastly maintained by fellow humanists, laboring in monasteries and libraries dotting Europe, making The Consolations of Philosophy one of the most copied texts of late antiquity, a capsule from one culture’s final moments through the eclipse of the next centuries … It’s an interesting question how much someone like Boethius could anticipate that their world was coming to an end; it’s an important question to ask if we are adequately anticipating it right now.”
  • In which John Berger visits a small coastal village in Italy and rhapsodizes about eels: “The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbors. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term down-to-water. Every year in the first week of October they celebrate a fete known as the Sagra dell’Anguilla (the festival of the eel). The cobbled town center is crammed with stalls of street vendors, come from elsewhere, selling trinkets, rings, seashells, cheeses, madonnas, salamis, dolls at low prices, small pleasures. The inhabitants wander slowly past, fingering the knickknacks, reckoning the small pleasures, and from time to time paying out a few coins. There are also benches and trestle tables where one can drink and eat. There is the smell of food being grilled. Onions, aubergines, peppers, and, of course, eels.”

Distant Hammers

February 4, 2016 | by

Notes on art and apocalypse.

From Patrick Reed’s “Distant Hammers.”

How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.

The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »

The Way the World Ends

December 22, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

From In the Mouth of Madness, 1981.

Being the last man on Earth. 

On a recent Sunday evening, trying to relax, I turned on the television and saw an ad for a new comedy series called The Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t clear how everyone else had died.

I had learned what I needed to know, or had remembered it: television does not relax me. I turned the television off, took an Ativan, and listened to The Teddy Charles Tentet, a terrific jazz record.

Phil Miller is the last man on earth—which makes him the world’s greatest handyman—world’s greatest athlete—[etc.]

The last man on earth.

But of course one is not the Last Man on Earth. There are other people, equal claimants to the Earth. It can be vexing to share it with them. Read More >>

Postcards from the Postapocalypse, and Other News

September 2, 2015 | by

Ryan Spencer, Such Mean Estate #12, unique panchromatic instant print, 2.9" x 3.7". Image via Guernica

  • So you’re writing a sex scene—congratulations! The journey ahead will be arduous, and likely totally unsexy, but there are some rules of thumb for these things. Your first major decision is what to call the penis. “Do go for the etymological dictionary for epithets that feel historical: like, membrum virile, arbor vitae (from the late eighteenth century, for a type of evergreen shrub), wrinkly (early fifteenth century) or bole (early fourteenth century, from Old Norse bolr meaning tree trunk).” From here, it’s all smooth sailing.
  • Today in creative responses to impending doom: Leslie Jamison has collaborated with the photographer Ryan Spencer on Such Mean Estate, which “interweaves photographs of episodes from apocalypse movies with what Jamison refers to as her catechism: an essay structured as a series of questions and answers pertaining to the images on the page.” “I was really drawn to the sense of aloneness that rose from so many of these images,” Jamison says, “I also like the way that apocalypse scenarios in film sometimes allow an outsider—a wacko scientist, ignored Cassandra prophet, loner—to play some crucial or necessary role, to become part of his community again.”
  • Wittgenstein’s language philosophy is surprisingly relevant to the way we interact online: “The shift to online communication, textual interactions separated from accompanying physical practices, has had a persistent and egregious warping effect on language, and one that most people don’t even understand. It has made linguistic practice more limited, more universal, and more ambiguous. More people interact with one another without even realizing they are following different rules for words’ usages. There is no time or space to clarify one’s self.”
  • Since humankind has essentially turned the planet into a mall, it’s time to refurbish our concept of nature—time to acknowledge, that is, that nature is a mall, and to maintain it as such. “No place is natural any longer, and so the entire environment has become in a certain sense a built environment … If the entire environment has become a built environment, would that not then mean that it was time to think about an environmentalism of the built environment? Indeed, one might even start to wonder whether the emphasis on the protection of nature—if nature is gone, or even if nature is simply going—might actually be an obstacle to clear environmental thinking: if most or all of the world that ‘environs’ us is not natural, shouldn’t it be the built environment, and not nature, that is the focus of our environmental concern?”
  • Jason Scott is “the guy who can save bits of history right before they disappear.” He digitizes things. Recently, for instance, he scanned about fifty thousand obsolete engineering manuals that were soon to be thrown away. “There’s value and meaning here,” he says. “Everything from the fonts and the layouts … How a company presents its brand, how it appraises things. And other times you pick one up and, wow, nobody writes with this brilliance and clarity about technical subjects. These manuals feel like they’re a project as important as the item they’re describing.”

The Way the World Ends

February 5, 2015 | by

Being the last man on Earth.

From In the Mouth of Madness, 1981.

On a recent Sunday evening, trying to relax, I turned on the television and saw an ad for a new comedy series called The Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t clear how everyone else had died.

I had learned what I needed to know, or had remembered it: television does not relax me. I turned the television off, took an Ativan, and listened to The Teddy Charles Tentet, a terrific jazz record.

Phil Miller is the last man on earth—which makes him the world’s greatest handyman—world’s greatest athlete—[etc.]

The last man on earth.

But of course one is not the Last Man on Earth. There are other people, equal claimants to the Earth. It can be vexing to share it with them. Read More »

Advertise with Joan Didion, and Other News

January 7, 2015 | by

didionad

Who could say no to that face? Photo: Jergen Teller/Céline

  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has started a book club—it’s perfect for philistines. “Zuckerberg launched the project by announcing, with what sounds almost like surprise, that books are ‘intellectually fulfilling’ and ‘allow you to fully explore a topic … in a deeper way than most media today’ … Imagine a world in which there’d been 700 years of the internet, before, in the nineties, somebody invented books. It would surely seem a miracle that, instead of trawling through acres of semi-reliable information, you could have a guaranteed, portable and inexpensive source of knowledge from someone who knows both how to write and what they’re talking about.”
  • Joan Didion is, at eighty years old, still writing, and still modeling. She’s the new face for the Spring 2015 line of the French fashion label Céline. And she looks positively thrilled to be there.
  • Why have we reserved the adjective difficult for works of high art? If difficult means “hard to read, hard to get through, hard to finish,” then Fifty Shades of Grey is every bit as difficult as The Recognitions. “Difficulty is various and subjective … opacity and frustration aren’t necessarily errors or failures on the part of the reader.”
  • A crop of recent novels express a curious nostalgia for the seventies: “Everyone knows now how decades come back into fashion with motiveless regularity … The novelists who have lately returned to the Seventies seem to be making a stronger claim: that there is something uniquely vital to the decade, and in fact uniquely to be missed.”
  • Say the apocalypse were to arrive and a world-sundering hellfire rained down upon us. CNN is ready. When Ted Turner founded the company thirty-four years ago, he stipulated that the network’s last functioning employee had to air a certain video before ceasing broadcast at the end of the world. This is it.

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