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Posts Tagged ‘Henrik Ibsen’

A Brief History of the GIF, and Other News

September 30, 2014 | by

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Image via Giphy

  • The origins of genius, which is a relatively new concept: “The term genius in its modern sense was first adopted in the eighteenth century and it involved a conflation of two Latin terms: genius, which for the Romans was the god of our conception, imbuing us with particular personality traits but nevertheless a supernatural force external to us, and ingenium, a related noun referring to our internal dispositions and talents, our inborn nature … Why did the moderns need a term like this, in which natural characteristics are fused with supernatural associations?”
  • What is remarkable about Ibsen’s work is that it seems both to reflect the specific, Scandinavian bourgeois milieu that formed the author and to have a universal appeal that allows endless reinterpretation … the issues that Ibsen deals with, of class, of status, of who may speak and who may not, ‘are timeless, especially as we are now moving back to the conditions of the nineteenth century, with a very, very small, wealthy and powerful elite.’”
  • An analysis of the GIF, the Internet’s most divisive image-file format: “Created in 1987 by the digital communications company CompuServe, the GIF was originally designed for speedy transfer across pre–World Wide Web Internet networks … GIFs are chiefly agents of pleasure within a sensibility that predominates online, but one that has yet to be invoked in analyses of the format: that of camp. The web-born incarnation of this attitude goes well beyond historical definitions of camp as (variously) over-the-top sprezzatura, effete affectation, stereotypical homosexual display and its hammy adoption by straight society. In fact, it has a potentially international and transcultural reach as a genderless way of engaging with the modern world.”
  • A British teen novel unwittingly illustrates the wide gulf between senses of humor in America and the UK: “I had to put a glossary of words [my editor] didn’t understand in the back for the American editions. Words like ‘prat’ (someone who plays air guitar at concerts or puts two legs down one knicker leg) etc. Common-or-garden comedy words … But you know how cheerful [Americans] can be. Always wanting you to have a nice day. Perking you up by going up at the end of sentences in case you had nodded off. Bounding over to serve you in restaurants.”
  • Remembering the loudest sound on Earth: the eruption of a volcano in Krakatoa on August 27, 1883. “The ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered,” the captain of a nearby ship wrote in his log. “My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgement has come.”

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The World’s Most Average Typeface, and Other News

July 23, 2014 | by

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Z, from BIC’s Universal Typeface Experiment.

  • On the Booker longlist: Joshua Ferris, Joseph O’Neill, Richard Powers, Siri Hustvedt, Howard Jacobson, David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and others. Notably excluded: Donna Tartt.
  • Earlier this month came news of Charlotte and Branwell Brontë’s tiny books; now it’s the Brontë sisters’ school progress reports. In the early nineteenth century, a minister at Cowan Bridge noted that Charlotte “writes indifferently … knows nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments.”
  • Do you seek a bland font, a middling font, a dutifully average font? Try the Universal Typeface, “a constantly evolving, algorithmically produced font created by averaging hundreds of thousands of handwriting samples submitted to BIC’s website. Anyone with a touchscreen can help shape the Universal Typeface by linking their phone or tablet to the website and writing directly on the touchscreen—the lettering is quickly transferred to the Universal Typeface algorithm. As of this writing, more than 400,000 samples have been collected from around the world, and the resulting alphabet is … well, sort of boring.”
  • Wallace Shawn discusses playwriting and his new take on Ibsen’s The Master Builder: “If a man can presume to make a list of men who contributed to the feminist view of life, you’d have to put Ibsen at the head of the list. But he’s laying out on the table some of the worst male fantasies. I mean, he was a very daring writer, and he dared to be sort of sickening. He dared to create these characters who were sort of dreadful.”
  • “The jukebox musical can be an embarrassing phenomenon: a living, breathing pop-music wax museum. It can be pandering and disingenuous, fostering a dynamic that the Times has called ‘ovation-by-coercion.’ It can repackage your happiest memories as a Vegas revue … Our instinct is to sigh about it, but we shouldn’t. The form is evolving.”

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Baby Talk

March 18, 2014 | by

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A still from War Babies, 1932.

Since I wish to spare you the disappointment I myself experienced Sunday morning, I’m going to give it to you straight. Despite what the New York Times headline—“A Star Was (Recently) Born: A Play Boldly Casts Babies”—may imply, the current production of A Doll’s House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music does not feature an all-baby ensemble. The baby in question plays Nora’s youngest child, and merely makes a brief cameo, apparently sporting a sheepskin vest.

It’s not that I don’t understand the risks inherent in having a real baby onstage, or the novelty of going for verisimilitude in a role customarily played by a doll. But having had five seconds of imagining baby Ibsen, it was hard to go back. Those five seconds were some of the most glorious of my life. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Faust, Ibsen, and Bananas

January 14, 2011 | by

I’m reading Randall Jarrell’s translation of Goethe’s Faust, for no better reason than that I found a good used copy while browsing at the Strand. Jarrell died before he could finish part I—at times the verse is a little rough—but Robert Lowell stepped in to translate Gretchen’s famous Spinning Song, which now reads, very movingly, like an elegy for his friend: “My peace is gone, / My heart is sore, / I never find it, / I never find it. // When I look through my window, / I look for him. / When I leave the house, / I go on looking.//...If only I could / Catch him and hold him.” —Robyn Creswell

I saw Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman on Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ben Bratley describes James Macdonald’s “thaw-proof” production as having a “sense-numbing wintriness” to it. I loved the sight of Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman, and Fiona Shaw standing amid large banks of snow on stage. A small blizzard descended on New York that evening, and when I exited the theater, snow was falling heavily. For a brief moment, it felt as if I hadn’t yet left the play. —Thessaly La Force

The box set of Sandy Denny’s complete recordings are an imposing introduction to one of the most indelible voices of the last fifty years. Fortunately, Rob Young is at hand to steer a course through her work. Denny’s rich and allusive personal mythology—which draws upon maritime literature, pre-Raphaelite poetry, and English classical music—has been a major influence on artists like Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. Head straight for “All Our Days,” “an eight minute mini-cantata with chords streaking like shafts of sunlight stabbing through clouds, and the alien ripple of a vibraphone recalling the mystical opening of [Vaughan Williams’s] Eighth Symphony.” —Jonathan Gharraie

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