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Posts Tagged ‘housing projects’

Here Comes the Moon

October 17, 2016 | by

The hopeful dystopia of Pushwagner’s Soft City.

From Soft City.

Where does art begin? In the case of Soft City, the straightforward answer is this: it began in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 1969, in a sea captain’s house converted into a writer’s retreat by the novelist Axel Jensen, after Pushwagner had ingested Sandoz LSD. He doodled a man in a car, whom he intuited was called “Mr. Soft”—five years before Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel would have a hit song of that name—and, along with Jensen, envisioned a day-in-the-life narrative structure for the character, along the lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and James Joyce’s Ulysses. And then?

A hiatus of some three years (hardly the only sharp left turn in Pushwagner’s tumultuous life), during which time he lived on virtually nothing in London (subsisting by selling drawings on trains for pennies) and Oslo, went back to his mother’s, was arrested for trying to board a flight to Madeira on his hands and knees, was institutionalized, walked back to Fredrikstad, escaped a hotel in Paris, sojourned in Lisbon, returned to London, and became a father. After these adventures, he once again began Soft City, with, he’s said, his beloved baby daughter, Elizabeth, on his lap, and with thoughts of the future in mind. Mr. Soft now had a family of his own, and a fearful projected dystopia to live in. Pushwagner finished the book, or rather the 269 bleak yet blackly comic ink drawings that would comprise it, in 1975; and then, after a few luminaries of the London music world had admired it (including Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood), he lost it. Read More »

Fractals, Man, They’re Everywhere, and Other News

January 27, 2016 | by

David Foster Wallace famously used the Sierpinski gasket, above, as a model for the structure of Infinite Jest. Image: Nevit Dilmen, 2006

  • Many reasonable people have concluded that the only way to stay sane in New York City is to be drunk all the time. It was just a matter of time until the advantages of this lifestyle reached the theater community and seeped into its most pious sect, the Shakespeareans—and so was Drunk Shakespeare: “The gimmick here is that at each performance, one actor begins by consuming enough shots to trip even the best-trained tongue … There’s a fair amount of impaired performing going around … What sets Drunk Shakespeare apart is that alcohol isn’t the main character. It’s more like an enabler, allowing the actors (sober and drunk) to take all sorts of liberties with Shakespeare, but skillfully.”
  • In the UK, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, a show called “death: the human experience” attempts to succeed where commercial culture has failed: at selling death. “The show repackages death into friendly jewel-pink tones and soft lowercase letters, yet does not shy away from frank presentation of the processes that surround death. Visitors can peruse a model of the mortician’s workplace, where bodies are embalmed and dressed for funerals … One of the final displays, a digitized version of Don Celender’s 1982 ‘Reincarnation Study,’ punctuates a gloomy subject with humor. Celender, an artist and professor, asked dozens of celebrities ‘in which form would you like to return?’ Julia Child, an American chef and television personality, responded with a list: ‘three inches shorter, feet two sizes smaller, flat stomach, capacity to eat all day and not gain a pound, otherwise Okay as is.’ ”
  • Not unrelatedly, here’s the Polish writer Filip Springer on Przyczółek Grochowski, a famously bleak housing complex in Warsaw:You can’t even die here in dignity,’ I overhear someone say on Bracław Street. ‘You can’t even get a coffin in and out of the apartments. They have to wait with it downstairs. The sexton wraps the corpse in a sheet and shoves it out the window. I saw it happen once. They were carrying a dead man. His hands were dangling. No dignity at all, but how else are you going to do it? That’s why all the furniture people have has to be collapsible.’”
  • Today in fractals: they’re everywhere, dude. In Joyce—fractals. In Proust—fractals. In Cortázar, Woolf, Dos Passos, Bolaño—fractals, fractals, all fractals, sometimes even multifractals. This per science: “Some of the world’s greatest writers appear to be, in some respects, constructing fractals. Statistical analysis carried out at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, however, revealed something even more intriguing. The composition of works from within a particular genre was characterized by the exceptional dynamics of a cascading (avalanche) narrative structure. This type of narrative turns out to be multifractal … The study involved 113 literary works written in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish … To convert the texts to numerical sequences, sentence length was measured by the number of words … The dependences were then searched for in the data … This is the posited question: If a sentence of a given length is x times longer than the sentences of different lengths, is the same aspect ratio preserved when looking at sentences respectively longer or shorter?”
  • John Lingan on Johnny Mercer, the songwriter who had a string of hits in the 1930s and ’40s: “Beyond his lyrics’ rural and black affectations—the dropped g’s, the cornpone scenery—Mercer brought a distinctly Southern stillness to American pop. Economical yet vivid in his natural descriptions, he kept his songs’ emotions at a cool simmer and rarely told stories, instead opting for calm, wistful dioramas … He preferred to write lyrics while supine, eyes closed, ‘as if he could dream songs into existence,’ according to the critic Wilfrid Sheed. His entire public persona was built around this same aloofness; onstage (a rare occurrence, though he became better known for live performances in the 1970s), his mind seemed to be elsewhere, and even his Tinseltown reminiscences seem muted, obligatory.”

Open Ye Gates! Swing Wide Ye Portals! Part 2

February 16, 2014 | by

This is the second in a two-part series on St. Louis and the 1904 World’s Fair. Read part 1 here.

arch shadow

Photo: Edward McPherson

The Palace of Agriculture is a blinding colossus in the sun. The man next to me reads from a booklet: twenty acres large, covered with 147,250 panes of glass. I have timed my visit—in one minute a giant clock made of 13,000 flowers will strike the noon hour. I am finished with the exhibits. I have seen the Missouri corn palace, the 4,700-pound cheese; I have laughed at Minnesota’s contribution, “The Discovery of St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin” shaped out of one thousand pounds of butter. Now a hiss of compressed air throws the 2,500-pound minute hand the final five feet, where it points to the giant numeral 12. An hourglass flips, doors open to reveal the gears of the clock—the triumph of industrial time—and a massive bell tolls the death of more agrarian rhythms.

Pyramids of fruit on a sea of china plates—the entire Palace of Horticulture smells like apples. Virginia has created a statewide shortage by sending too many to the Fair. I dip my fingers into the fountain, which gushes ice water. Farmers shake their heads at the monstrosities on display: a pineapple the size of a turkey and a mysterious dimpled fruit, said to be the unholy cross between a strawberry and a raspberry.

 * * *

The company is a major employer in this city. One cannot miss its print and radio campaign: “We grow ideas here.” “We work together here.” “We dream here.” “We’re proud to be St. Louis Grown.” Its website offers videos of employees working in food banks, cleaning up after tornados, visiting Forest Park, and standing in front of the Arch. Articles rate the town’s best burger joints, as judged by company workers. The company is a major donor to local charities and institutions, including the university in which I teach. In 2013, the company’s net sales were $14.8 billion, up ten percent. Its chief technology officer won the 2013 World Food Prize. The company has 21,183 employees in 404 facilities in sixty-six countries—but its headquarters are here, where, over the years, the much-maligned Monsanto Company has worked to produce saccharin, PCBs, polystyrene, DDT, Agent Orange, nuclear weapons, dioxin, RoundUp, bovine growth hormone, and genetically modified seeds. Read More »