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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Sharlet’

Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It, and Other News

November 25, 2015 | by


A still from Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai.

  • In an effort to combat censorship, the British filmmaker Charlie Lyne (such a British filmmaker name, no?) has launched a campaign to produce the single most banal film in the history of the medium: Paint Drying. “The film is a single, unbroken shot lasting several hours (its length is determined by the amount of money raised) of white paint slowly drying on a brick wall. Once Lyne has paid the fee, the [censorship] board are obliged to watch it.” If all goes according to plan, and assuming the censors aren’t fans of Andy Warhol or Modern Times Forever, the movie will send them into a spiral of despair and boredom of a sort not seen since Must Love Dogs, ten years ago.
  • While we’re on film: Prince’s Purple Rain has been remade in Niger, which is a great way to spread the Purple gospel, except that no one in Niger knows who Prince is, and they don’t have a word for the color purple. “The fact there is no Tuareg word for purple means the film is saddled with the title Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates as Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It … Swapping smoky Minneapolis for dusty Agadez, the largest city in the country’s central region, the new film follows Mdou Moctar—a popular self-taught Niger musician in real life—as he rides his purple motorbike from performance to performance, struggling to make a name for himself.”
  • The verb to dream never used to stand in for to aspire. Dreaming used to be a matter of sleep—a matter of deluding yourself in slumber. For the shift, “you can blame the Americans. Our collective embrace of the so-called ‘American dream’ was the cornerstone of this particular twentieth-century shift in usage … In 1931, American historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase ‘The American Dream,’ in his book The Epic of America Adams used the ‘dream’ as a structuring conceit for his gloss of American history, describing this dream as one of material prosperity, but also of what we might now call self-actualization.”
  • For the journalist Jeff Sharlet, in Paris, the events of November 13 began with a kind of nervous laughter: “The point is—something about the jokes we tell not just as frightened people, but as a certain kind of frightened people. Citizens of empire or of a very rich and stylish former empire that still has an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle … these jokes, now, are different. These are not the jokes of the oppressed, they’re the jokes of those of us who suddenly—suddenly, so many words demand quote marks after terror—find ourselves seen as the oppressors … These are the jokes we tell to hold at bay the knowledge that this isn’t the first time or the last, the knowledge that they don’t hate us because of our cafés but they will attack our cafés, the knowledge that we’re fucked as soon as we find ourselves saying they, and then, worse, the knowledge that we were fucked before we began, because we’ve never had any other word than they.”
  • After 9/11, “Susan Sontag seemed tactless to many in speaking of the ‘sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric” of “confidence-building and grief management’ that resembled the ‘unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress.’ She was attacked for insisting, ‘Let’s by all means grieve together, but let’s not be stupid together.’ ” Fourteen years later, we’ve not exactly excelled at this not-being-stupid-together business, as Pankaj Mishra points out: “Not surprisingly, the pampered and intellectually neutered industry of expertise and commentary today betrays cluelessness before the spectacle of worldwide mayhem … Only God knows how much we need some real argument and fresh thinking—the tradition of self-criticism that did indeed once distinguish and enlighten the West. For as long as avid conformists and careerists reign over an impoverished public sphere, endless war will remain the default option. And the recourse to Westernism’s self-congratulatory bromides after every new calamity will ensure that we continue to grieve together and grow stupid together.”

Futurism on Wheels, and Other News

July 1, 2014 | by

soviet concept car

The Torpedo-GAZ, from 1951—a Soviet concept car with a tubular duraluminum skeleton. Via io9.

  • The nineteenth century “had its own explosion of media … Much as with today’s web, people complained there was too much to read … The solution to overload? For tens of thousands of Americans, it was the scrapbook.”
  • Authors turn to pseudonyms for a number of reasons—some strange, some prosaic, some almost metaphysical. In Sarah Hall’s case, the problem was another Sarah Hall: “I could never be published as me. Someone had got there first … my agent reminded me, gently: ‘I really don’t think you can be Sarah Hall.’”
  • An interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose new book looks at religion in America: “In nine out of ten cases ‘spirituality’ is a con—not a con by the person invoking it, but a con on that person. It offers the illusion of individual choice, as if our beliefs, or our rejection of belief, could be formed in some pure Ayn Randian void … We’re caught up in a great, complicated web of belief and ritual and custom. That’s what I’m interested in, not the delusion that I’m some kind of island.”
  • “It felt like the water was rising and lapping just under my nose … I really began to wonder whether my career was over.” Classical musicians contend with stage fright.
  • Soviet concept cars from the fifties and sixties show what might have been, had futurism held its grip on the national imagination—these sleek, modular vehicles are a striking counterpoint to the American cars of the era.


Staff Picks: A Fan’s Notes, Foster Wallace on TV

September 2, 2011 | by

In light of the recent article about TV producer Michael Schur and his obsession with David Foster Wallace, I spent tropical storm Irene watching the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation for signs of the maestro. At least, that’s why I watched the first couple of episodes. Then, well—it was just like that scene in Infinite Jest with the Saudi medical attaché, only with Netflix. —Lorin Stein

September is officially the beginning of football season in America and the perfect time to read the best football book ever written, Frederick Exley’s fictional memoir A Fan’s Notes, which has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with why we watch it. —Cody Wiewandt

I was immediately taken with Jeff Sharlet’s new book Sweet Heaven When I Die. All I had to do was open to the first lines of  “Sweet Fuck All, Colorado:” “When I was eighteen I fell hard for the state of Colorado as embodied by a woman with long honey blond hair and speckled green eyes, who drank wine from a coffee mug and whiskey from the bottle.” —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I escaped the hurricane but got stuck in Chicago this weekend, which at least gave me a chance to spend time at one of my favorite Evanston bookstores, Market Fresh Books (they sell books for $3.99 a pound!). Among the treasures I picked up was an illustrated 1882 edition of Nicholas Nickleby, which I was all the more excited to dive into after reading in last week’s New Yorker about all the “fun” at Dickens camp. —Ali Pechman

Let’s hear it for small presses! Bookthug, an indie house in Toronto, recently reissued bpNichol’s The Captain Poetry Poems. Originally released as a mimeograph by bill bissett in 1970, Bookthug’s edition marks the first complete publication of all of the poems in the series, plus a smattering of drawings by Nichol. This is joyous, mythmaking poetry at its best. —Nicole Rudick

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