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Posts Tagged ‘Descartes’

Making Monuments

November 9, 2012 | by

Library of Congress

From the time I was really young, I carried around an excellent fact about my father: he’d once stood on the very top of the Washington Monument. On the pointy tip, on the outside. That was the notion that I grew up with. I remember having some trouble picturing the circumstances in which he might have done this. We lived in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and so I often saw the monument out the car window on trips downtown. I think I felt some retroactive worry for his safety, and I wondered about his apparently incredible sense of balance, but the truth of the story was never in doubt. It came up casually in conversation. Questions were shrugged off, or maybe I was too young to understand. Apparently it had to do with his job.

Later on he told me more. My father was a young engineer involved with the 1934 renovation of the monument. (That’s not a typo: He was born in 1908, and he was fifty-three years old when I was born in 1961.) Scaffolding had been erected all around, and as part of the project the solid aluminum point that sits on the very top was removed for refurbishment, leaving a flat square of marble. My father gave me the impression that he actually stood, or stepped, on that square, about 555 feet off the ground, before the point was reset. Judging from pictures I’ve recently found of other men standing around it, I’m not totally sure about that. Even so I’m not any less impressed than I ever was. I always thought my father was a pretty goddamn cool guy.

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John Berger on ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’

November 22, 2011 | by

Photograph by Jean Mohr.

The British author and artist John Berger (G., To the Wedding, Here Is Where We Meet, Ways of Seeing, Another Way of Telling) has for decades been writing books that are one of a kind: impassioned, big-hearted, politically engaged meditations on art and history, creativity and experience. Fluidly moving between fiction and essay, art criticism and memoir, Berger has emerged as a sort of Zen master of the written word. “Those who read or listen to our stories see everything as through a lens. This lens is the secret of narration, and it is ground anew in every story, ground between the temporal and the timeless,” he writes. “In our brief mortal lives, we are grinders of these lenses.” His new book, Bento’s Sketchbook, takes the life and work of the seventeeth-century philosopher Benedict “Bento” Spinoza—who earned his living, coincidentally, as a lens-grinder in Holland—as the inspiration for reflections on subjects ranging from ripe quetsch plums to Japanese Shoh paintbrushes and his Honda CBR 1100 motorcycle. I recently spoke to Berger by phone in France. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Delightful Fuckers, Ephemeral New York

September 30, 2011 | by

Elaine Blair says let your children read Nicholson Baker: “House of Holes will introduce impressionable readers to many interesting sexual possibilities without a whisper of stereotype or slur. You can be sure that no matter what scene your children are masturbating to, they are not objectifying women. But you will have to make sure that they accidentally stumble on it soon, before they find the Internet, if they are to have a fighting chance at being wholesome and delightful fuckers instead of hopelessly depraved ones like yourself.” —Lorin Stein

My friend Pete turned me on to Ephemeral New York, which, along with Vanishing New York, has immediately entered my personal must-read feed. And if you really want to feel melancholy about our city’s lost treasures, take a look at this. (And thanks to Vanishing New York for turning me on to Karen Lillis’s Bagging the Beats at Midnight, a memoir by a long-time employee of beloved—and endangered—St. Mark’s Bookshop.)Sadie Stein

Is print dead? Not at all. The New York Art Book Fair, hosted by Printed Matter this weekend at P.S. 1, is probably the best browsing experience you’ll have all year. Photobooks, artist’s books, antiquated books, ephemera, zines: it has everything from the small to the massive, the odd to the vintage, the practical to the whimsical. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I’ve been poking around in Asymptote, a new and impressively eclectic online magazine, with fiction and nonfiction, poetry and criticism, all in translation. I’ve especially enjoyed the (very) short story by Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Adonis’s “Ambiguity,” translated by Elliott Colla, and an essay about riddles by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, translated by Shushan Avagyan. There is, in other words, something for everyone. —Robyn Creswell

I picked up a copy of Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi in the office and am thoroughly enjoying doses of Wes Anderson-esque whimsy. It’s a fairy tale disguised as a novel about a writer (named Mr. Fox), his muse (Mary Foxe), and his characters. Like all good fairy tales, the story is told over and over again in various romantic settings, in this case involving plenty of typewriters, brownstones, and flower shops.Artie Niederhoffer

An old interview between Borges and Enrique Krauze, devoted mainly to Spinoza, is newly translated in the current issue of The Reading Room: “Descartes let himself be seduced by that abominable little Protestant sect, the heresy that is the Church of Rome; but if one accepts his premises, one arrives either at solipsism or Spinozism. Which means that Spinoza was a more coherent thinker and certainly much braver than Descartes. For me—simply because I'm a coward myself—bravery is an essential virtue.” –L. S.

Much has already been written on the immersive, off-broadway theatre experience, Sleep No More. Recently extended through November 5, this eerie production has been haunting me all week. Though the storyline (based on Macbeth) left me a bit puzzled and frustrated, the sets, music, and lighting design alone are worth the price of admission. If you go, stick as close to the actors as you can (even when that means literally running up and down stairs) and you might get as lucky as I did to get locked in a room alone with one of the players. What a memorable and bewitching treat to have a monologue recited to you and you alone—sans mask. —Charlotte Strick

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