Posts Tagged ‘cities’
October 17, 2016 | by Martin Herbert
The hopeful dystopia of Pushwagner’s Soft City.
Where does art begin? In the case of Soft City, the straightforward answer is this: it began in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 1969, in a sea captain’s house converted into a writer’s retreat by the novelist Axel Jensen, after Pushwagner had ingested Sandoz LSD. He doodled a man in a car, whom he intuited was called “Mr. Soft”—five years before Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel would have a hit song of that name—and, along with Jensen, envisioned a day-in-the-life narrative structure for the character, along the lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and James Joyce’s Ulysses. And then?
A hiatus of some three years (hardly the only sharp left turn in Pushwagner’s tumultuous life), during which time he lived on virtually nothing in London (subsisting by selling drawings on trains for pennies) and Oslo, went back to his mother’s, was arrested for trying to board a flight to Madeira on his hands and knees, was institutionalized, walked back to Fredrikstad, escaped a hotel in Paris, sojourned in Lisbon, returned to London, and became a father. After these adventures, he once again began Soft City, with, he’s said, his beloved baby daughter, Elizabeth, on his lap, and with thoughts of the future in mind. Mr. Soft now had a family of his own, and a fearful projected dystopia to live in. Pushwagner finished the book, or rather the 269 bleak yet blackly comic ink drawings that would comprise it, in 1975; and then, after a few luminaries of the London music world had admired it (including Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood), he lost it. Read More »
September 19, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ottessa Moshfegh wrote her novel Eileen with a plan: to get fucking rich. As a fiction writer, she thought, there’s only one way to do that—give the people the formulaic drivel that they want. In a profile for the Guardian, Moshfegh explains that “she didn’t want to ‘keep her head down’ and ‘wait thirty years to be discovered … so I thought I’m going to do something bold. Because there are all these morons making millions of dollars, so why not me? I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined and … talented: did I say that already?,’ she laughs. ‘I said: fuck it. Which was also: fuck them. I was pretty hostile. I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is … So … it started out as a fuck-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous. It was that kind of a gesture.’ ”
- But let’s not get carried away. Writing doesn’t really make anyone rich. Ask Merritt Tierce, whose debut, Love Me Back, came out two years ago to “wide acclaim”—she was interviewed here on the Daily, even. Now she’s broke, because that’s how this industry works: “I haven’t been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer. I haven’t produced a Second Book … For over a year after Love Me Back came out I woke up every day with this loop in my head: I should write. But I need money. If I write something I can sell it and I'll have money. But I need money now. If I had money now, I could calm down and write something. I don’t have money now, so I’m probably not going to be able to calm down and write something. To have money now, I need a job. I should get a job … Because no matter how you do it, no one is paying you to write. They may pay you for something you wrote, or promise to pay you for something you have promised to write. They may pay your room and board for a month or two at a residency. They may pay you to teach, or to edit something someone else has written. They may pay you to come to a university and talk to people about writing. None of this is the same as being paid to write. I would like to be paid to write.”
September 15, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Paris Review’s offices are in Chelsea, where we attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every day. (What, you thought all those people were here for the High Line?) But now there’s a new attraction in town: stairs. Lots and lots of stairs, beautifully arranged, and going nowhere. It’s part of an ambitious new sculpture that some have dubbed “the social climber”: “Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, Vessel, stands fifteen stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, forty-six, an acclaimed and controversial British designer … Mr. Heatherwick said Vessel was partly inspired by Indian stepwells, but he also referred to it as a climbing frame—what Americans would call a jungle gym—as well as ‘a Busby Berkeley musical with a lot of steps.’ ”
- If you’re not into steps, just visit the city for the pavement. There’s a lot of it—and if you squint a bit or take the right drugs or just give it a good long think, you’ll see how interesting it is. Edwin Heathcote argues that “the pavement is the skin of the city, a membrane that separates the veneer of civilization from the darkness of the earth … The pavement is a paradoxical thing. It begins as a symbol of civilization and liberation but also becomes a kind of final resort, the domain of the homeless, of beggars and of defecating dogs. A city’s attitude to its street surface reveals much about its ideas of civic space, of ownership and generosity … ‘I think that our bodies are in truth naked,’ wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves. ‘We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.’ ”
August 25, 2016 | by Lauren Elkin
Reimagining the aimlessly wandering woman.
I started noticing the ads in the magazines I read. Here is a woman in an asymmetrical black swimsuit, a semitransparent palm tree superimposed on her head, a pink pole behind her. Here is a woman lying down, miraculously balanced on some kind of balustrade, in a white button-down, khaki skirt, and sandals, the same dynamic play of light and palm trees and buildings around her. In the top-right corner, the words Dans l’oeil du flâneur—“in the eye of the flâneur”—and beneath, the Hermès logo. The flâneur though whose “eye” we’re seeing seems to live in Miami. Not a well-known walking city, but why not—surely flânerie needn’t be confined to melancholic European capitals.
The theme was set by Hermès’s artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas. While the media coverage of the campaign and the traveling exhibition that complemented it breathlessly adopted the term, Dumas gave a pretty illuminated definition of it. Flânerie, he explained, is not about “being idle” or “doing nothing.” It’s an “attitude of curiosity … about exploring everything.” It flourished in the nineteenth century, he continued, as a form of resistance to industrialization and the rationalization of everyday life, and “the roots of the spirit of Hermès are in nineteenth-century Flânerie.” This is pretty radical rhetoric for the director of a luxury-goods company with a €4.1 million yearly revenue. Looking at the ads, as well as the merchandise—including an eight-speed bicycle called “The Flâneur” that retailed for $11.3k—it seems someone at Hermès didn’t share, or understand, Dumas’s vision. Read More »
July 7, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- I hear you’re moving to Buffalo to pursue a more affordable, creative, authentic life in the smoldering remains of the Rust Belt. That’s neat. But what are you buying into, really? In cities like Pittsburgh and Troy, David A. Banks argues, “a ‘cool’ lifestyle is still the bait, only its terms have shifted toward more regional flavors. Cities that no longer produce physical goods can instead produce their own image as a kind of marketed product. If once they smelted steel or manufactured textiles, now they trade on the unique cultural history that is the legacy of those lost industries. The relatively cheap standard of living in places like Buffalo or Pittsburgh offer a more ‘authentic’ urban experience in terms of sampling gritty make-do entrepreneurial creativity, while also letting new residents dismiss those in more expensive cities as unimaginative dupes taken in by luxury branding … To attract new residents, cities must understand how their character can be conveyed through a smartphone.”
- In 2010, the brokenhearted and salty-cheeked could find solace only in Croatia, where a melancholy place called the Museum of Broken Relationships held the keepsakes of sundered romance. Now the Museum is coming to Los Angeles: “More than 100 exhibits range from everyday artifacts (a spare key never given to its intended recipient, a mirror that didn’t go with an ex’s decorating scheme) to signifiers of deeply troubled unions (a pair of silicone breast implants a woman got at her boyfriend’s urging). Some radiate sorrow, like the blue chiffon blouse a wife wore the day her husband told her he was moving out. All objects are submitted anonymously and come with stories explaining their significance.”
- T-shirt idea: “I majored in English because my university didn’t offer comp lit.” Jeanne-Marie Jackson argues that there’s a critical (in every sense of the word) difference between the two disciplines: “The reason that comparative literature as a discipline, and comparatists as an ad hoc community, somehow escape the intellectual trap of confusing redundant, self-congratulatory polemic with genuinely advancing thought is that, in having to build its own comparative apparatus, the discipline is forced to balance breadth against depth. It can’t escape either geographical reach or philosophical literacy. This is, at its outer reaches, a recipe for something like multicultural dignity, the kind that is achieved rather than avowed, at least in one’s reading and writing.”
- Thorsten Schütte’s documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words looks at one of the few genuine iconoclasts in rock music: the man who hated both the squares and the hippies, the man who preferred to chain-smoke as he cranked out musique concrète. “Schütte’s film is a fluid mosaic of concert footage, TV appearances, and interview clips, much of them never seen before: Zappa on the Steve Allen Show in 1963 ‘playing’ the bicycle; hunched over staff paper notating music in his Laurel Canyon studio in the seventies; stalking through airports with a Mephistophelian leer; leading staggeringly well rehearsed bands … Zappa’s antidrug stance made him an oddity in the rock world, defying the idea, foisted on him by journalists and TV commentators, that someone of such profligate imagination must be on drugs. ‘They write about me like I’m a maniac,’ he says at one point. ‘I’m not … I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.’ ”
- Public service announcement: be around trees. I say this not as some kind of granola-crunching hiker-guru type but as someone with a body of hard data to back it up. A new study by Marc Berman, a University of Chicago psychology professor, “compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space … and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. ‘To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger.’ ”
June 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Furthering a grand tradition I like to call “strong opinions about parts of speech,” Colin Dickey has mounted a defense of the adverb, which had come under fire as early as last week. Anyone who finds adverbs imprecise doesn’t know how to use them, he writes: “Anne Carson writes of adjectives that they ‘are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity.’ Adverbs, then, curtail and refine—but in doing so they can pick out the unexpected resonances, the hidden valences in the words they modify. An adverb, at its best, offers a sudden shift in direction or tone, all the more unexpected considering the adverb’s seemingly slavish subservience to the word it modifies … Deployed skillfully, the adverb backstabs lovingly, subverts daintily, insurrects gallantly.”
- In an equally grand tradition, “strong opinions about Russian translation,” Janet Malcolm rehabilitates Constance Garnett, whose once revered translations have fallen out of favor: “A couple named Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have established an industry of taking everything they can get their hands on written in Russian and putting it into flat, awkward English. Surprisingly, these translations, far from being rejected by the critical establishment, have been embraced by it and have all but replaced Garnett, Maude, and other of the older translations … As for the charge that Garnett writes in an outdated language, yes, here and there she uses words and phrases that no one uses today, but not many of them. We find the same sprinkling of outdated words and phrases in the novels of Trollope and Dickens and George Eliot. Should they, too, be rewritten for modern sensibilities?”
- Most of the world’s monotonous, massive, forbidding cities were built by people. Big mistake. Daniel Brown’s photography proves that algorithms can do it better: “Brown makes his images using generative design software he wrote himself. It creates enormous, complex 3-D patterns that he searches until finding something interesting … ‘I set about programming algorithms to generate an imaginary city,’ he says. ‘One that I could populate with buildings and structures without having to draw or 3-D model’ … Brown isolates the shape, and tweaks it until he arrives at something he likes. Then the program applies bits and pieces of public domain photos of 1970s apartment buildings. The result is hulking, maze-like structures that appear to go on forever.”
- Sasha Chapin became addicted to chess, which he regards as an infection of the brain: “Chess is what they call a perfect information game. At every moment, you are informed of everything taking place. There’s no bluffing. No guessing. No suspicion. If that notion doesn’t immediately excite you, take a second to consider all the imperfect information games you play all the time. I don’t mean games like poker. I mean dating, for example. Have you ever, a month into a relationship, unearthed some hidden facet of your new partner that makes you think, Holy shit, get away from me? Slowly discovering things about people is wonderful, in theory, but we often find that the mysterious reaches of the human soul contain bear traps and poison darts. Imagine if you could instantly behold the entirety of a person before you, and say, ‘Hi, let’s go to the beer location,’ with perfect confidence?”
- Need a good weekend read? Might I recommend Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research by that most laureled of authors, the NSA? “This book appears to be excellent,” Paul Ford writes. “A reasoned, thoughtful overview of the Web as an entire system, written for intelligent people who had a need of expertise and mastery over the medium. The book throughout emphasizes security and privacy, and it’s as complete as possible. It tells you how to secure your Wi-Fi, and what things to uncheck in your Internet Explorer. It helps you with complex research problems. It’s granular, and dry, and exhaustive—and thus incredibly helpful.”