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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

HAL, Mother, and Father

January 9, 2015 | by

Watching the sixties and seventies through 2001 and Alien.

starchild

From 2001: A Space Odyssey

It was April 1968 and my father was sitting in a theater in Times Square watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, certain that what he was seeing wasn’t just a movie but the future. When it ended, he got up and walked out into Times Square, with its peep-show glitz and sleazy, flashing advertisements; he found the uptown subway beneath the yellow marquees for dirty movies like The Filthy 5; and through all of it, he thought that when humanity hurls itself into the depths of the cosmos, this is how we will do it. In the film’s iconic final shot, the space baby looks down at the planet to which it is no longer bound. Freedom, this shot says, is imminent.

My father was twenty-four then, and perhaps at his most world-historical: he was becoming an expert in computers. He’d worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York, a corporate labyrinth of beige cubicles and epochal breakthroughs; a world of punch cards and reel-to-reel magnetic tape, where at least some of the employees were deadly serious about making sure to wear the company tie clip and then, once they were off duty, to switch to their own personal tie clips.

When 2001 premiered, he was working at Columbia University’s Computer Center, in the academic computing branch. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the movie summed up everything my father was in April 1968. It became something of a talisman for him, a semisacred object invested with all the crazy hopefulness of his youth. For as long as I can remember, my father had talked about 2001. He told me often of HAL, of the monolith of evolution, of how glorious the future would be. Of course, when I finally saw the movie, well after the actual year 2001, it bored me out of my mind. Too slow, too bizarre. Ah, my father told me, that’s because evolution is slow, evolution is bizarre. It wasn’t until much later that I started to understand the movie—and, maybe, to understand my father. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Monkey Minds, the Singing Butler, and Rum Cookies

June 22, 2012 | by

Last night Daniel Smith taught me the word anxiolytics. It means “anxiety reducers.” (Dan is the author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, so he should know.) His favorite nonchemical anxiolytic is Singin’ in the Rain. Mine, for now, is “Jesus Dropped the Charges,” by the O’Neal Twins. —Lorin Stein

The 1935 Silly Symphony cartoon “Cookie Carnival” raises so many questions, but most pressing: What is a rum cookie? The highly enlightening Wikipedia article informs us that the animated short, in which various varieties of baked good compete for the title of Cookie Queen, is a take on the Atlantic City bathing-beauty contests of the day, precursors to Miss America pageants. (Incidentally, the gingerbread hobo is voiced by the same actor who immortalized Goofy.) As a friend of mine commented, “Misses Licorice and Coconut were robbed.” And it’s true: Sugar Cookie’s easy victory (after she dons a blonde taffy wig, that is) is a testament to how little standards of beauty have changed, however much baked goods have. —Sadie Stein

Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which comes out in early July, needs to be on everyone’s bookshelf this summer. Or, more fittingly, in the pool house. And the latest Vanity Fair has a fun article about the origins of that hideously romantic painting The Singing Butler, which I’m sure you’ll recognize once you see it. —Thessaly La Force

Helpless,” by Poindexter. I heard this song playing in a store downtown and was convinced it was a new track by French electro band Phoenix. Poindexter gets it right with well-placed cymbal crashes and the type of moody synth that sound tracks an eighties teenage tryst on a foggy night. You can buy “Helpless” off fashion’s jack of all trades (Kitsune) album Kitsune America. SO DO IT. —Noah Wunsch

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A Week in Culture: Wesley Yang, Writer, Part 2

January 20, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Yang’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

Bach Organ Works.

One of my many collegiate affectations was to play old records on a plastic turntable that I purchased at a garage sale. I had a bunch of classical LPs from my parent’s living-room bureau that I brought with me, including the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major and Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in E-flat Major. The poor fidelity of those enormous sounds pressed through that tinny speaker gave the music an abstract and deconstructed quality that made it somehow purer.

My best friend at the time was Hoon, who was only four feet, eleven inches tall and very slight. We both shaved our heads totally bald in the summer between freshman and sophomore year in emulation of Michel Foucault. “I have a good head,” Hoon assured me in advance of shaving it. He was right—it was a very elegant ovoid shaped like a coconut that you could hold in the palm of your hand. I doubted I would have a good head, and after spending an evening trying to depilate it with a disposable Bic razor (I had to go to the barber the next day to finish the job, as there were impacted clumps that would not come off), I discovered that, in fact, I have a grossly oblong, egg-shaped head.

During my sophomore year at Rutgers, I fell into a desperate and unrequited passion for a Colombian girl who lived a floor above me in the river dorms (where I had moved after feeling alienated in Brett Hall, the honors dorm where 95 percent of the students were Orthodox Jews from South Jersey), and then had something like a minor breakdown. I would spend hours staring at the record player as it spun out this strange celestial music that induced a cold rapture that was intense in its longing but inhumanly remote. It seemed the aural manifestation of an austere and exacting God. I never quite enjoyed it, but everything else felt irrelevant.

I never really got over that record of Bach. I carried the little plastic record player with me throughout the rest of college, until finally my roommate during senior year snapped the record in half in a passive-aggressive fit. He had reason to be upset with me: I had made out with his sixteen-year-old sister who had visited us for a week after refusing to return to school that January. We stayed together, on and off, for the next seven years.

Very recently, I downloaded a complete set of Bach organ works by another performer and assembled a playlist of the tracks that made up the original record. The tonalities do not compare in beauty and strangeness to the ones recorded on the LP, and now I think I hear what the roommate must have heard. At the time, he confessed to me that he believed I played that record specifically for the purpose of tormenting him, and that was the reason he broke it.

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