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Posts Tagged ‘Library of Congress’

Jeff Koons the Union Buster, and Other News

July 19, 2016 | by

You can make these all day long—just don’t organize your labor.

  • Still haven’t planned your summer getaway? It’s never too late for a trip to balmy Orlando, where, at a theme park called the Holy Land Experience, “Jesus is crucified most afternoons around five P.M. … Miracles are the stock-in-trade of this Christian theme park, which welcomes about a quarter-million people per year. They might come to the Holy Land Experience (HLE for short) out of faith or fascination or a misplaced sense of irony, but they all pay fifty dollars for entry, and some will spend a little extra for a ‘My Cup Overflows Refillable Souvenir Cup.’ In return, they get a curious kind of history lesson, plus a dose of American prosperity theology, which turns spending into a higher calling and spiritual pathos into gaudy pageantry.”
  • You’d think one of the nation’s preeminent research institutions would have an innovative approach to digitization. But the Library of Congress is still lumbering in the general direction of the Internet. Kyle Chayka spoke to one activist who called it “a national embarrassment,” and he took a look himself: “The LOC takes scholarly care in digitization, assuring that the replicas it creates will be authoritative and stable, but the process is slow and inefficient. Every object from the collection that gets digitized must first be removed from the LOC stacks or its storage warehouses offsite in Maryland, evaluated for its ability to endure physical scanning, and then hand-fed through a scanner. The resulting data is processed and uploaded to the Internet with proper tagging and citations, following standards that the LOC itself developed. A single print could take as long as a day to scan and upload.”
  • Welcome to the final horizon of academe: boredom studies. Randy Malamud attended the third annual Boredom Conference, in Warsaw, and he was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to pay attention to: “I roundly nominate boredom for the catalogue of interesting new things for academics to study, all the more enthusiastically for the paradox lurking therein. We have nothing to lose but our chains. Like coffee, masturbation, and bullshit, boredom promises fresh terrain: untrammelled intellectual exploration … The myriad tropes and venues of boredom range from Nietzsche’s ‘windless calm of the soul’ to Beckett’s claustrophobic infinite stuckness. The historian Jeffrey Auerbach, who presented at last year’s Boredom Conference, is completing a monograph called Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire, about the bureaucracy, loneliness and disenchantment that accompanied England’s exploitative world domination; it turns out imperial oppression wasn’t that much fun after all.”
  • On the face of it, Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head is just your average midcentury sex romp, stacked with extramarital affairs and cuckolded husbands and even (why not) some incest. But it’s really, Gabe Habash argues, “a surrealist novel in the guise of a realist novel … Murdoch smashes the old rule that you can’t have more than two coincidences in a narrative, and so the book passes through any dubiousness and out the other side … Somewhere around the second or third revelation that one of these characters is sleeping with another one, you stop expecting the unexpected and begin expecting everything. It’s as if Murdoch is saying, ‘Yes, that can happen. And so can this.’ ”

The Art of the Courtroom Sketch, and Other News

March 1, 2016 | by

The Hustler Magazine case before the Supreme Court; Larry Flynt in foreground, his attorney, Alan Isaacman talking before the court (Dec. 2, 1987). Illustrated by Aggie Kenny. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Image via Hyperallergic

  • I hear you’re trying to knock over a library. May I suggest you get a hold of the blueprints? Thing about libraries is—librarians, cover your ears—many of them tend to reside in historical or at least oft-remodeled buildings with easily exploited blind spots. Let the architecture guide you: “Stephen Blumberg stole an estimated twenty million dollars’ worth of rare books and manuscripts from institutional archives and academic libraries around the United States. His plan for hitting the rare books collection of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles was characteristic: researching the history of the building, Blumberg had learned that a series of disused dumbwaiters had once functioned to deliver books between floors. The dumbwaiters were no longer active, but the shafts inside the walls of the library still offered a direct connection to book stacks that were otherwise inaccessible to the public … No alarms, no cameras, just narrow, chimney-like chutes invisible to outside view through which Blumberg could shimmy his way to treasure. And shimmy he did, successfully raiding the building from within.”
  • Today in things that are clearly art but that you’ve probably never really thought about as art: the Library of Congress has acquired ninety-six (they couldn’t just make it an even hundred?) courtroom sketches covering more than forty years of trials, featuring such prominent malefactors as Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson, and Larry Flynt. “The Thomas V. Girardi Collection of Courtroom Illustration Drawings at the Library of Congress enhances our existing holding by increasing the number of artists represented, especially female courtroom illustrators,” the curator Sara W. Duke told Hyperallergic. A press release confirmed the obvious: “The Girardi acquisition affirms the LOC as having the most comprehensive American collection of courtroom art.”
  • Adam Shatz on Nina Simone, whose “husky contralto” perplexed the jazz critics of her day but captivated just about everyone else: “Eroticism and suffering lay at the heart of Simone’s work from the very start: she seemed to have one foot in the deep South and another in Weimar cabaret … Simone cut deeper than her peers: she knew how to open the wound, to make pain audible and moving. So long as she felt adored, she was full of mischievous, salty banter in her mike breaks. But if she felt slighted, she could be explosive, even violent … Simone gave expression to a taboo emotion that, in a 1968 best-seller, two black American psychiatrists would define as ‘black rage.’ Her songs were peopled with avenging black angels, most famously a woman named Peaches who, in her 1966 song ‘Four Women,’ declares that she will ‘kill the first mother I see.’ Seldom has anyone combined art and protest to such a sublime effect, in the classical sense of fusing beauty and terror.”
  • To read Daniel Clowes’s graphic novels, you’d think he’s a total depressive, if not an out-an-out misanthrope, even. In fact, as Robert Ito writes, he’s a family man: “Unlike a lot of cartoonists, Clowes is a lot happier than the characters he creates. Most of his hapless protagonists spend much of their miserable lives futilely chasing after the sort of contentment and familial joy that Clowes has found for himself in Piedmont … Clowes acknowledges the huge impact that his own childhood—the divorce, the constant shuttling around—has had on how he views marriage and parenting today. ‘I always grew up wanting what I have now with my own family,’ he says. ‘A house, a wife, a child, everything very stable.’ ”
  • Facebook has introduced “Reactions,” a collection of five “graphicons” that allow you to respond to content (and everything is content) in one of five ways: Like, Love, Sad, Angry, Wow, Haha. If you’ve noticed that those words are, uh … syntactically nonparallel, you’re not alone in being confused and a little afraid: “The syntax of the new Facebook Reactions makes no sense. When Facebook asks you to respond to a status with that set of six words, it’s actually asking your brain to do something that’s slightly complicated: to fill in an implied sentence, or to ‘predicate’ it. Programmatic linguists call this ‘inferencing.’ The problem is, because these words are not the same category of speech, they require different predicates … If those inconsistencies bother you, you may in fact have a disorder called ‘grammar purism.’ Sufferers of GP have been known to correct mistakes on dinner menus and chew their cheeks in an effort not to correct their friend who always says ‘I have drank way too much tonight!’ GP has no cure, but some sufferers find poetry or Winston Churchill quotes soothing.”

Architectural Blasphemy, and Other News

April 20, 2015 | by

Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino House, 1914.

  • Readings from Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, and Czesław Miłosz are among the new recordings released by the Library of Congress, which has finally digitized some seventy-five years of magnetic-tape reels.
  • Poetry is, to some extent, the art of “anti-aphorism,” “seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable”: “I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the nineties: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin.”
  • In late eighteenth-century London, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies served as a kind of vade mecum for the seasoned brothel-goer, endeavoring to list “the most celebrated ladies now on the town.” It was so salacious that its creators eventually wound up in jail. A sample listing for one Mrs. Banner speaks of her “irresistible eye”; her “favourite spot below” apparently “calls for the Priapian weapon,” eager “to receive it in her sheath at its most powerful thrust up to the hilt.”
  • In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier concocted Maison Dom-Ino, a blueprint for standardized housing with all the hallmarks of modernism: he envisioned a skeletal structure of concrete slabs. His idea was never realized, but decades later, Italian architects borrowed liberally from his designs, and now Maison Dom-Ino rip-offs freckle the countryside: “It’s a design innovation that’s been turned into something, especially in Italy, that is regarded as something completely the opposite. It’s a form of architectural blasphemy. It became synonymous with an eyesore, and a dilapidated landscape.”
  • On Frank Stanford’s new collected poems, What About This: “More than anything, like Basho, like Li Po, like Emily Dickinson and Yeats, Stanford was a poet of the moon. The moon cycles through nearly every of his poems. And it’s never the same moon sliver. The moon gravitates as a  ‘beautiful white spider,’ ‘a dead man floating down the river,’ ‘a woman in a red dress / standing on the beach.’ It’s ‘a plate with no supper,’ ‘a clock with twelve numbers,’ it’s ‘swollen up / like a mosquito’s belly’ … ”

Darwin’s Basket Cases, and Other News

May 29, 2014 | by

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James Davis Cooper after a James Crichton-Browne photograph, Illustration from Chapter XIII of The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals; Insane Woman Showing the Condition of Her Hair, c. 1871-1872; image via the Public Domain Review

  • “It’s a curious thing to think of Charles Darwin sitting alone, closely studying photographic portraits of the afflicted and insane. But in the late 1860s, that’s exactly what he began doing: he sifted through portraits of kleptomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, sufferers of severe self-importance, hysteria, and general mania.”
  • Our very own Nicole Rudick on Bough Down, a new book of prose fragments and collage by Karen Green, who “faces a special difficulty: her husband was David Foster Wallace. This fact is both central to Bough Down and incidental to it. On the one hand, he was a famous, much admired writer, and Green’s new identity as ‘the designated survivor’ is one she can’t escape. ‘You are like the moon,’ she writes to Wallace, ‘you shed light on my insignificance from a great, wordless distance.’”
  • Charles Simic remembers the poet Russell Edson: “He thought of poetry as a cast-iron airplane that sporadically flies, chiefly because its pilot doesn’t seem to care if it does or does not.”
  • At the Library of Congress, two hundred and fifty of Thomas Jefferson’s books are missing.
  • The Mesmerists of the eighteenth century believed that music played a vital role in the practice of animal magnetism. The proper tune could cure what ailed you, especially if it were played on one instrument in particular: the glass harmonica. “In fact, the association of the instrument with Mesmerism was one reason why it quickly went out of fashion.”

 

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Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress

May 7, 2014 | by

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Archibald MacLeish in 1944. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Today brought welcome news that the New York Public Library has abandoned its plan to “renovate” (i.e., reduce and/or ruin) its research flagship at Bryant Park, on Forty-Second Street. The renovation would have meant removing the stacks beneath the main reading room, thus displacing an untold number of books and research materials; the plan met with derision among scholars and authors, and a piece in the Times last year by Michael Kimmelman made an elegant case against it.

And wouldn’t you know it—today is also Archibald MacLeish’s birthday. His 1974 Art of Poetry interview is great reading, but given the news of the day, and given his role as the Librarian of Congress—a position he held from 1939 to 1944—it seems fitting to peruse his 1940 essay, “The Librarian and the Democratic Process,” which addresses … well, not many of the same issues at stake in the NYPL’s renovation controversy. It was 1940; the world was on the brink of war, and digitization was not a going concern for librarians. But the piece does find MacLeish asking, in a sweeping, stentorian tone: What is a librarian supposed to do, anyway? Read More »

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Dickensian Peg Legs, and Other News

October 2, 2013 | by

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  • There are so many wooden legs in the works of Dickens.
  • David Bowie’s one hundred favorite books include The Trial of Henry Kissinger, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
  • “You’ve published a novel, and half a dozen short stories, and you’ve found clever ways to fluff up your bio. You think of your writing resume as one of the most creative pieces of fiction you’ve written.” Justin Kramon on being a fiction-writing professor.
  • “Fleming was essentially a bureaucrat during the war. But, being an imaginative man, he could not help thinking about a more active role as a secret agent.” The real story behind the birth of James Bond.
  • Yup: the Library of Congress is closed, too.

 

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