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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Baudelaire’

Keep Smiling

February 20, 2014 | by

For the origins of the selfie, look to the dandy.

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Honoré Daumier, Dandy, oil on canvas, 1871.

When selfie was crowned the Word of 2013 by the Oxford Dictionaries, the media reaction ranged from apocalyptic to cautiously optimistic. For the Calgary Herald’s Andrew Cohen, “selfie culture” represents the “critical mass” of selfish entitlement; for Navneet Alang in the Globe and Mail, selfies are inextricable from the need for self-expression, a “reminder of what it means to be human.” For the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, the selfie is both: at once “the ultimate emblem of the age of narcissism” and a function of the “timeless human need to connect.”

With a few exceptions, commentators tended to converge on one point: the selfie, and the unencumbered act of self-creation it represents, is unmistakably of our time, shorthand for a whole host of cultural tropes wedded to the era of the smartphone. As Jennifer O’Connell, writing for the Irish Times, puts it: “It’s hard to think of a more appropriate—or more depressing—symbol of the kind of society we have become. We are living in an age of narcissism, an age in which only our best, most attractive, most carefully constructed selves are presented to the world.”

But our obsession with the power of self-creation—and its symbiotic relationship with the technology that makes it possible—is hardly new. Even the “selfie artist” is hardly a creation of 2013. Its genesis isn’t in the iPhone, but in the painted portrait: not among the Twitterati, but among the silk-waistcoated dandies of nineteenth-century Paris. Read More »

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In Praise of the Flâneur

October 17, 2013 | by

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Reworking of Paul Gavarni’s Le Flâneur by Spenot.

Little things in life supplant the “great events.” —Peter Altenberg, as translated by Peter Wortsman

The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: “[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,” as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like.

In the ensuing decades, however, the idea of flânerie as a desirable lifetsyle has fallen out of favor, due to some arcane combination of increasing productivity—hello, fruits of the Industrial Revolution!—and the modern horror at the thought of doing absolutely nothing. (See: Michael Jordan’s “retirements.”) But as we grow inexorably busier—due in large part to the influence of technology—might flânerie be due for a revival?

If contemporary literature is any indication, the answer is a soft yes. Take Teju Cole’s debut novel, Open City. Cole’s narrator, Julius, wanders up and down Manhattan, across the Atlantic to Brussels and back again, while off-handedly delivering bits of wisdom and historical insight. It’s not just that Open City is beautifully written, though that’s certainly true. Cole’s skill manifests itself in depicting the dreamy psychogeographic landscape—and accompanying amorality and solipsism—of Julius’s mind. Riding behind his eyes is a trip; even though we’re in his head, the tone of his thoughts still sets us at a distance.

Tao Lin’s recently released Taipei achieves something similar. As Ian Sansom wrote in the Guardian, “Passage after passage in the novel dwells on the meaning of disassociation and self-exile.” Read More »

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Remote Viewing in the Sooner State

April 24, 2013 | by

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Assuming my issue of EYE SPY, a British glossy devoted to “The Covert World of Espionage,” can be trusted, between 1973 and 1995 the United States government (and its Chinese and Soviet rivals) spent millions hiring teams of personnel to scry photographs of enemy installations and describe their heretofore unknowable innards. A final report on the Stargate Project, a remote viewing project conducted during these years (preceded by Sunstreak, Dragon Absorb, Centerline, Grill Flame and Gondola Wish), acknowledged a “statistically observable effect,” albeit one producing information too “vague and ambiguous … to yield actionable intelligence.”

A contemporary remote viewing conducted by Jeff Martin, fiction editor of This Land Press and (with C. Max Magee) The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, yielded far better results. Imaginary Oklahoma is an anthology of forty-six writers’ attempts to envision Oklahoma without ever having visited America’s forty-sixth state. Martin, in his introduction to the book, describes his inspiration for the project. He gives nods to Lydia Davis’s collection of super-short stories, with their ability to create “worlds in mere sentences” and “beautiful questions” from “simple narrative,” and Ed Ruscha’s 1990 painting No Man’s Land, which Martin describes as “The ghostly outline of the pan-shaped land. The shadowy question mark stretched across the canvas, almost menacing.” It was an excellent pairing of prompts. Imaginary Oklahoma manages to raise the stakes of the short-prose form. Read More »

6 COMMENTS

In the Buff: Literary Readings, Pasties, and Jiggling Genitalia

March 4, 2013 | by

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The beautiful is always bizarre. —Charles Baudelaire

My first time with the postfeminist, burlesque lit girl culture—pasties, G-strings, audience clapping to jiggling booties—I was in a fun little Brooklyn bar called the Way Station. I had, minutes before, read from my own work, what I thought was a wryly humorous and oh-so-literary postfeminist exploration of time, culture, and relationships. I knew the term “burlesque” had been thrown around on the billing, but to my Midwestern sensibilities, burlesque meant feathers and brief flashes of almost breast, the inner curves of almost vagina, with the full monty saved for fictional accounts. This, on the other hand, was a literary reading. So you can imagine my reaction to the dancer’s G-stringed ass shaking so close to my face I felt an instinct to throw up my hands in self-defense. I don’t think she meant to shake her booty in my face. Not mine particularly. It was coincidental. But it felt so personal at the time, in the moment so intentional, that I was certain something must be happening creatively. There were the dancer’s pastied breasts on my author page, alongside my book, compliments of my publisher’s well-intentioned marketing attempts. Cosmic. There was a message in this. I wasn’t quite sure what the message was except that it involved pasties and butt jiggling. All I knew for sure was that it was disconcerting to an oh-so-serious, postfeminist, gender explorer. Read More »

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Bookish Heroism, and Other News

February 6, 2013 | by

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  • Before they were stars: the wayward youth of Balzac, Flaubert, Baudelaire, and more. (And it was wayward!)
  • Bookish, a new website created by Penguin, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster, has launched. Check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s riposte to Philip Roth
  • How one man saved eight thousand precious volumes amid the violence in Timbuktu. 
  • We are psyched about the new Believer podcast, The Organist
  • A. L. Kennedy: “From here I can see the spine of The Wind in the Willows—the same volume I read in bed when I was a child. It has been my friend for more than 40 years, there for me, a kind light. Here is the volume of Raymond Carver I threw across the room when I was a student because it was so amazing, so tender with broken people. Here is Alasdair Gray and his mind-blowing Lanark, which taught me the courage inherent in thinking and creating when I had no courage of my own. Here is my library.” 
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    1 COMMENT

    Old New York

    December 18, 2012 | by

    The Sixth Avenue El train has just cleared the steep bend off Third Street. It is now picking up speed and will, any moment now, bolt uptown. Next stop, Eighth Street, then past Jefferson Market, Fourteenth Street, then all the way north till it reaches Fifty-Ninth Street. But perhaps it is not racing up at all but grinding to a stop after that notoriously difficult curve before Bleeker Street. It’s hard to tell. The blue lettering on the train’s marker light must spell something, but it’s hard to decipher this as well. Under the el two vehicles seem to know where they’re headed. To the left of the train, on the corner of Sixth and Cornelia, a scrawny, wedge-shaped, twelve-story high-rise strains to look taller than it is. Its numberless lighted windows suggest that, despite darkness everywhere, this is by no means nighttime, but evening, maybe early evening. The building’s residents are probably preparing dinner, some just walking in after work, others listening to the radio, the children are doing homework.

    This is 1922, and this is Sloan country. Read More »

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