The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

By the Seat of Your Pants, and Other News

August 1, 2016 | by

From an eighties ad for Hillbillies Jeans.

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—a well-known American novelist sits down for an interview, and he says, “I don’t have very many black friends. I have never been in love with a black woman. I feel like if I had, I might dare [to write about race] … I feel it’s really dangerous, if you are a liberal white American, to presume that your good intentions are enough to embark on a work of imagination about black America. I am particularly vigilant there. I have thought about it—you know, race is big in America.”
  • When Lucia Berlin died in 2004, she left behind the makings of a memoir, including a long story about traveling through Mexico with Buddy Berlin, a saxophonist with a heroin problem: “First, Peggy sent a little box with a dozen vials of pure morphine. ‘A little something for Bud.’ Peggy lived alone in a fabulous house on top of the hill. She spent much of her day looking through a powerful telescope, checking the beach for arrivals of famous people to invite up to her house, checking out everything else going on. She must have seen the boys playing soccer with village boys, riding horseback on the beach, going upriver with Juanito to help his father pick coffee. She must have seen them racing canoes, heard their laughter echoing above the water. She must have seen us talking with friends in our beautiful garden, lying on the beach. She must have seen Buddy and me kiss, must have seen us happy. How could she send that box?”
  • Our puzzle correspondent, Dylan Hicks, has vouched early and often for the joys of hink pink, “a word game in which synonyms, circumlocution, and micronarratives provide clues for rhyming phrases.” His advocacy has led to a paradigm shift among puzzle enthusiasts who also read literary magazines: at The Cincinnati Review, Michael Griffith has written some hink pinks of his own. (Personal favorite: “Internet discussion board for boosters of an ex-Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate,” which can only be “Santorum forum.”)
  • In what many “content providers” probably regard as “the good old days,” fans were more or less powerless—if they didn’t like whatever schlock the major entertainment conglomerates were churning out, their only recourse was a letter-writing campaign. But things are different now, and this year the fans have demanded to be heard. As Elizabeth Minkel writes, “For the past few months, people have been debating whether fandom is ‘broken’ … Fans have always talked back, but prior to social media they weren’t even a fraction as visible as they are today. We’re witnessing the destruction of the fannish fourth wall in real-time: fans and creators are now seeing each other clearly on a massive scale, and creators are unsure how to—or if they even should—listen to fans.”

Dark Was the Night

July 20, 2016 | by

On the Voyager Mission.


Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Stage set for Mozart’s Magic Flute, 1815.

This summer, we’re introducing a series of new columnists. Up this week is Alison Kinney, whose column, Songs to the Moon, is a series on fandom and how the music, art, and artifacts of opera transform cultures and desires. — Ed.

If the inhabitants of other stars should spot the Voyager 1 interstellar probe zooming past—if they capture it and assemble its onboard audio player—and if they have ears to hear, they might puzzle over this message from the Queen of the Night (translated here from German):

The vengeance of hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair blaze around me!

Perhaps these German-speaking aliens will visit Earth to eradicate the threat posed by Mozart’s 1791 aria. Or maybe they’ll thrill to the prospect of subscribing to the Bavarian State Opera, only to discover that the soprano Edda Moser, who performed the recording they’d heard, had retired five billion years earlier, in 1999. Read More »

All’s Fair

July 21, 2015 | by


Tove Jansson. Photo: Per Olov Jansson


They lived at opposite ends of a large apartment building near the harbor, and between their studios lay the attic, an impersonal no-man’s land of tall corridors with locked plank doors on either side. Mari liked wandering across the attic; it drew a necessary, neutral interval between their domains. She could pause on the way to listen to the rain on the metal roof, look out across the city as it lit its lights, or just linger for the pleasure of it.

They never asked, “Were you able to work today?” Maybe they had, twenty or thirty years earlier, but they’d gradually learned not to. There are empty spaces that must be respected—those often long periods when a person can’t see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone.

—Tove Jansson, “Videomania,” Fair Play

There are not many really good books that portray functional relationships. Certainly not the relationships of artists. Well, that’s not a shocker—happy families, as we are told, are all alike. Fair Play, Tove Jansson’s 1982 portrait of a partnership, is an exception.

Fair Play is based on Jansson’s relationship with the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, with whom she shared a life, and a home, for some forty years. If you have read Jansson’s classic Summer Book, certain things about Fair Play will be familiar: the island setting, the spareness, the less-is-more portrait of human connection. These things will be familiar even to those who only know Jansson from her most famous works, like Finn Family Moomintroll. (Indeed, Pietilä was the inspiration for the competent Moomin character Too-Ticky.) Read More »

Science Fiction in the White House, and Other News

May 8, 2015 | by


  • A plea to the professoriat: If you really love the humanities, do them a favor and shut up about Shakespeare. “On the shrinking support for the liberal arts in American education … organizations such as ACTA and NAS mistake a parochial struggle over particular authors and curricula for the full-throated defense of the humanities.”
  • When Jules Verne meets the sterling judgment of our nation’s executive branch: John Quincy Adams once approved a journey to the center of the Earth. The plan asked for “one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea … ”
  • Fran Ross’s 1974 novel, Oreo, newly reissued, “resists the unwritten conventions that still exist for novels written by black women. There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about Ross’s work. The title doesn’t refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not from the South. Oreo is sincerely ironic, hilarious, brainy, impenetrable at times.”
  • Scott Timberg’s new book Culture Crash holds the well-being of the cultural middle class as the key to American creativity.” But this thesis only reveals “an unexplored aesthetic bias that favors the sort of art reviewed in the pages of the unrepentantly middle-class New York Times, art that becomes middlebrow through its relative accessibility and popularity. Forget the cynical dross intended for the tasteless masses: It is this kind of middlebrow culture—the kind best known and appreciated by well-rounded liberal-arts grads—of which Timberg wants to see more, even though it abounds right now.”
  • Of Mice and Men contains such hair-raising profanities as bastard and God damn, which make it unsuitable, according to a curriculum-review committee in Idaho, for fourteen- or fifteen-year-old students. “Teachers actually had the audacity to have students read these profanities out loud in class,” one parent said.

It’s Already Right Behind You, and Other News

November 10, 2014 | by


The Phantom Omni can make you feel as if someone (or something) is right behind you. User discretion advised.

  • “An editor whose taste is unique to himself is a bad editor. The only person who discovers a writer is the writer himself.” An interview with our editor, Lorin Stein.
  • Aldous Huxley doing calisthenics; Borges beneath a ponderous storm cloud; James Ellroy behind a lamp with no shade on it … and other portraits that give the lie to this idea that writers don’t photograph well.
  • Partying on the dime of New York’s most controversial literary publisher: Amazon. “Outside, a war was raging; inside there were friends, food, and funding—for now. Passed hors d’oeuvres were loudly heralded … ‘I saw the sliders coming around and it just suddenly crossed my mind. I guess all this is being paid for by Amazon!’ ”
  • A pair of new films offer two very different theories about creative life: In Whiplash, an aspiring drummer faces “an abusive professor who is convinced that relentless torture is the only way to coax his students to the peak of their abilities … the crazy guy is right: The only way to be any good at something is to not bother trying to be good at anything else.” Meanwhile, Adult Beginners suggests “that if you forego grandiose notions of achievement and settle for surrounding yourself with people who love you and provide you with emotional support, your definition of fulfillment will become more manageable.”
  • Today in our science-fictional reality: What if there were a robot that could produce the skin-crawling feeling that someone is right behind you? There is. We’re fucked. (Actually, the robot may help us understand schizophrenia—but still.)


Sunrise Solved, and Other News

September 5, 2014 | by


Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil Levant.

  • Intellectuals and academics: step up your game! “Social docility, strong convictions of one’s personal impotence, infinite procrastination, plus, one surmises, the regular protestation that people must be able to get on with their proper job—their research and teaching—these excuses and tendencies prevent our noticing that the end of the world is nigh.”
  • Art historians have never settled the issue of when Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant was painted. Now a physicist has used “astronomy, tide tables, weather reports, maps and historical photos to calculate the precise time.” If you’d guessed November 13, 1872, around 7:35 A.M., you’re right!
  • How did we come to care so much about creativity? The language surrounding it, of unleashing, unlocking, awakening, developing, flowing, and so on, makes it sound like an organic and primordial part of ourselves which we must set free—something with which it’s natural to be preoccupied. But it wasn’t always so; people didn’t always care so much about, or even think in terms of, creativity.”
  • $$ GET PAID TO READ $$ A new grant “would allow writers to take three months’ leave to read the work of their fellow authors.”
  • Gentlemen, this is no humbug”: how nitrous oxide, which began as a nineteenth-century recreational drug, became anesthesia.