The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘correspondence’

There Will Be No More Birthday Celebrations, and Other News

September 28, 2016 | by

The insignia of a master.

  • Mike Davis was an artist, and the irate company-wide memorandum was his canvas. Few in the history of humankind have recognized the savage beauty of this lowliest of media. But Davis—the erstwhile head of Tiger Oil Company, and now dead at eighty-five—shattered the limits of the form with routine ease, showing us just how big an asshole one man could be to his employees. Consider his memos a spin-off of the Theater of Cruelty: “ ‘There will be no more birthday celebrations, birthday cakes, levity or celebrations of any kind within the office,’ the boss wrote on Feb. 8, 1978. ‘This is a business office. If you have to celebrate, do it after office hours on your own time.’ … ‘Do not speak to me when you see me,’ the man had ordered in a memo the month before. ‘If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don’t want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you.’ ”
  • It’s hard enough to get a human being to pay to read your book. Now robots are refusing to pony up, too. Google has just “fed” some eleven thousand books to its artificial intelligence, hoping to teach it how to talk like a real boy. But even though they’re rolling in the dough, Google didn’t pay any of the authors of these books, Richard Lea writes: “After feeding these books into a neural network, the system was able to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences. According to a Google spokesman—who didn’t want to be named—products such as the Google app will be ‘much more useful if they can capture the nuance of language better’ … ‘The research in question uses these novels for the exact purpose intended by their authors—to be read,’ [Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger] argues. ‘It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a machine or a human doing the copying and reading, especially when behind the machine stands a multibillion dollar corporation which has time and again bent over backwards devising ways to monetize creative content without compensating the creators of that content.’ ” 

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A Compound of Knave and Blockhead

September 26, 2016 | by

800px-ts_eliot_signature-svg

Happy 128th, T. S. Eliot. Here’s a letter he wrote to the poet Stephen Spender in June 1932. Eliot had argued, in his religious essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” that young people needed to be taught “chastity, humility, austerity, and discipline.” Spender wrote him to dispute that notion; the below is Eliot’s rebuttal. This excerpt comes from The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6, edited by John Haffenden.

I can’t agree that religion provides such an effective escape as you seem to think. The great majority of people find their escape in easier ways; there are a great many unimaginative, selfish and lazy people who profess to be religious, but a vastly greater number who are not … All of the middle classes want to be gentlemen, and being a gentleman is incompatible with holding any strong religious convictions; with the latter, one must at least be prepared sooner or later to commit some ungentlemanly act. And for one person who escapes through religion into a “sentimental dreamland,” there are thousands who escape by reading novels, by looking at films, or best of all, by driving very fast on land or in air, which makes even dreams unnecessary. Read More »

Who the Hell Is This Joyce

September 21, 2016 | by

H. G. Wells does not approve.

In honor of H. G. Wells’s sesquicentennial, here’s a letter he wrote to James Joyce in November 1928, brought to light a few years ago by Letters of Note. The note finds Wells reacting, irascibly if not uncharitably, to early passages of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which had by then begun to circulate in literary magazines. 
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The Power of Perfect Park Pics, and Other News

September 14, 2016 | by

Roger Minick, Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, 1980. From the series ‘Sightseers’. Courtesy of the artist and George Eastman Museum. Via Hyperallergic.

  • Every morning I wake up and I turn to the computer and I ask it, Did they turn a Thomas Bernhard novel into an opera today? The answer has historically been no, which brings me down. But today the answer is yes: David Lang’s opera adaptation of The Loser made its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and it is, apparently, good. Francine Prose writes, “The beauty of the music makes us more intensely aware of the grief and disappointment that fuel the narrator’s anger. [Conrad] Tao’s marvelous performance and Lang’s restrained and gorgeous score are haunting reminders of what the narrator has given up. This is, after all, his whole life that he is talking about: his blighted dreams, his unrealized hopes.”
  • A new book, Picturing America’s National Parks, lives up to its name: it’s full of useful park pics, many of them perhaps not as rugged and authentic as you might expect: “Even in the nineteenth century, photographs were more propaganda than truth, conveying an idealistic vision of these ‘untouched’ lands. Eadweard Muybridge, for instance, added perfectly wispy clouds to his wet-collodion images. And notably, these landscapes were usually completely void of people, suggesting another West to be won and protected. If a person does appear, they are a tiny specter dwarfed by the grandeur of nature, and they are certainly not indigenous. There are plenty of ladies in full skirts strolling with parasols among the burbling springs of Yellowstone or the mountains of Yosemite, but no images of the tribes that had inhabited many of these regions for centuries.” 

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The Unique Sound of the Cricket

September 9, 2016 | by

Édouard Manet, Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé, 1876.

Stéphane Mallarmé died 118 years ago today. He wrote the letter below to his friend Eugène Lefébure, in May 1867, at age twenty-five, when he was working as a teacher in the provinces. It was, apparently, stressful, and Mallarmé came to feel that he’d entered “the Void”—a liberating (albeit terrifying) abyss of constant, torturous renewal. His Selected Letters are edited and translated from the French by Rosemary Lloyd.

This is what I heard my neighbor say this morning, as she pointed to the window on the opposite side of the street from her: “Gracious me! Madame Ramaniet ate asparagus yesterday.” “How can you tell?” “From the pot she’s put outside her window.” Isn’t that the provinces in a nutshell? Its curiosity, its preoccupations, and that ability to see clues in the most meaningless things—and such things, great gods! Fancy having to confess that mankind, by living one on top of the other, has reached such a pass!!—I’m not asking for the wild state, because we’d be obliged to make our own shoes and bread, while society permits us to entrust those tasks to slaves to whom we pay salaries, but I find intoxication in exceptional solitude … I’ll always reject all company so that I can carry my symbol wherever I go and, in a room full of beautiful furniture just as in the countryside, I can feel myself to be a diamond which reflects everything, but which has no existence in itself, something to which you are always forced to return when you welcome men, even if only to put yourself on the defensive … Read More »

Never Forget Houellebecq’s Corgi, and Other News

September 6, 2016 | by

A photo of Clément from Houellebecq’s show at Palais de Tokyo.

  • If you’re in Paris, you have only a few more days to catch Michel Houellebecq’s exhibition at Palais de Tokyo. Hot insider tip: bring a pack of cigarettes—you can smoke them on the premises. True, much of his art is devoted to his beloved pet corgi, Clément, who is no longer with us. (Miss you always, Clem!) But there’s also, as Chinnie Ding writes, plenty of art that wouldn’t feel out of place in the pages of The Map and the Territory: “Vaguely oceanic sounds and slowly throbbing lighting carry us through some corridors where Houellebecq’s photographs of anonymous terrain glow and dim to the steady soporific rhythm of a fogged-out distress signal or a drowsy peep show. An all-female island-themed soft-core short, La rivière (The River), 2001, directed by the author, plays in a carpeted baisodrome In the next room, eyes adjust to blindingly glossy souvenir place mats advertising scenic French regions, such as Guadeloupe and Bretagne, which tile the floor and rebrand the nation as one turquoise-skied terroir. [Robert] Combas has contributed several glinting, convulsive paintings that look like religious icons becoming unhinged. All this nervous enjoyment, culminating in a functioning smoking room, seems convinced of an unusable past and a fait accompli.”

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