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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Om Alone

July 14, 2016 | by

Bess Wohl’s play Small Mouth Sounds returns to the stage.

My friend D’s first retreat was a dive into the deep end. It was ten days long, silent, held at a famous meditation center, and led by a renowned teacher. On her first evening, after orientation, she returned to her room, lay down on her bed, and began to drift off to sleep. Then she discovered a deer tick on her body. Panic set in, but not from fear of Lyme disease. Could she manage to locate tweezers and a first aid kit somewhere in the Zendo without breaking the freshly imposed silence? 

Spiritual retreats seem a topic ripe for comic exploitation. Seeking … something, folks who don’t know one another are thrust into monastic discipline and imposed camaraderie for a compressed period of time. In my own experience, retreats follow a pattern. There’s the first morning feeling: What the fuck have I got myself into? And the last evening feeling: What a special group of people this is! And in between, the constant judgments about who’s annoying and unworthy; the instabonding with roommates you’ll never see again (and if you do, they won’t remember you); and the encounters with stalwarts from central casting, like the one who weeps spontaneously for no apparent reason, the one who can’t stay off e-mail, the one getting over a bad divorce, the one who always arrives late, the one who tries to (or is asked to) depart, the one who wears craft clothing, the one who sits on the floor in perfect full lotus when everyone else is in chairs. There’s moderate outdoor activity, a repressed undercurrent of sexual and romantic curiosity, the required holding-hands-in-a-circle moment and, of course, the gatherings during which a teacher imparts wisdom. All of it begs to be staged. Read More »

Elie Wiesel, 1928–2016

July 4, 2016 | by

EWiesel

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan at the age eighty-seven. Best known for Night, an autobiographical account of his experience in Nazi concentration camps toward the end of World War II, Wiesel, “more than anyone else, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience,” wrote the New York Times.

When asked in his Art of Fiction interview, published in the Spring 1984 issue of The Paris Review, where his “quest” was leading him, Wiesel responded, Read More »

Briggflatts, Bibliophagy, and Other News

June 22, 2016 | by

"You'll eat your words," God said, and lo, Ezekiel did. (Source gallica.bnf.fr)

“You’ll eat your words,” God told Ezekiel, and lo, Biblical literalism was born. Image via Gallica.

  • If your daily commute this past year was anything like mine, then your daily commute was nothing like Basil Bunting’s in 1965. That was the year Bunting composed Briggflatts, his magnum opus, while riding the train to and from his day job as a newspaper subeditor. Bunting started the poem not long after Tom Pickard showed up at his door and told him, “I heard you were the greatest living poet.” (At the time, Bunting had not published anything in thirteen years; he later said he wrote Briggflatts “to show the boy how it was done.”) The result, first published fifty years ago, in Poetry, was, as August Kleinzahler has it, “a very particular Northumbrian British flowering of all that Pound and Eliot had earlier achieved in their modernist project, while at the same time more emotionally freighted, more ‘human’ than The Cantos or The Waste Land.” 
  • Ask my sixteen-month-old whether books ought to be devoured or digested and he’ll be quick to demonstrate, locking jaws on his favorite compendium of fire-truck photos, that he’s a “both and” kind of guy. In the eighteenth century, it seems, the question was merely metaphorical: “Educational manuals, essays and advice books pitted ‘digestion’ against ‘devouring’ in order to slow down the increasingly fast-paced reading habits of their modern world, realigning reading with the process of character formation. ‘Readers may cram themselves in vain with intellectual Food … for want of digesting it by proper Reflections,’ cautioned Isaac Watts in The Improvement of the Mind (1741). This distinction allowed writers to position ‘digestive’ reading as an ethical ideal, while condemning ‘devouring’ as unthoughtful and hedonistic.”
  • I stopped watching Game of Thrones when I realized that the show existed only to supply grist for Sarah Larson’s ecstatic mill. Why watch the rough draft when you can go straight to the finished objet? This week’s episode pushed her to peak form: “A snow begins to fall, and Sansa, fittingly, gets the last word with Ramsay, who’s tied up in a dungeon, with the vibe of Hannibal Lecter. ‘Hello, Sansa,’ he whispers. She gives him a good cold speech and then reminds him that he hasn’t fed his dogs. Ah, the old bark-and-chew. Never have I been so happy to see someone’s face pounded in, then eaten off by his own dogs. Sansa watches calmly, then smiles. You’ve come a long way, baby. Or she’s become a monster, and so have I.”
  • In March, the New York Times held a three-day conference in Qatar, which featured Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, and Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the newspaper’s publisher and chairman. The conference addressed such themes as “What is the civic responsibility of the collector in the digital age?” and “How can true, untrammelled, artistic creativity be harnessed in the service of social and economic wellbeing?” It did not, apparently, worry much about what “true, untrammelled, artistic creativity” might mean in a country that imprisoned a poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, for writing poems that criticized Qatar’s autocratic emir: “The inflammatory issues of the region’s present—censorship, labor rights, dynastic succession—are left unaddressed in the Times’s plenary sessions. Rather, the proceedings circulate around the placid lexicon of TED Talks, platitudes of futurism veering into the apolitical and commercial. But in Qatar, you cannot separate politics from art, in large part because the emir’s family is the patron of the arts.” 

Tarnishing the Golden Ratio, and Other News

June 5, 2015 | by

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Igor Kochmala distorts celebrity faces with the golden ratio. Photo via Wired

  • Two centuries ago, book critics were a reliably truculent bunch, their knives always sharpened, their authority indisputable—what happened to journals like Blackwood’s, which had what Karl Miller later called “squabash, bam, and balaam”? “Parody, personality, and headlong jollity summed up the Blackwood's manifesto, while imitation, masquerade, and double bluff lay at the heart of its personality. The contributors, who hid behind noms de plume, imitated both one another and themselves, and passed themselves off as sometimes real and sometimes fictitious characters.”
  • When you’re next inclined to wring your hands over the state of mass media, don’t—it’s always been full of down-market sensationalism, and it’s always appealed to our inner morons. Yes, even the New York Times: “Here’s a story from July 7, 1884 that has all the Facebook-ready hyperbole and anthropomorphism of ‘15 Llamas Who Just Do Not Give A Damn’: ‘THE PARROT’S LITTLE JOKE.; HE HIDES HIMSELF FROM HIS MISTRESS AND THROWS HER INTO A FIT OF ANGUISH.’ ”
  • The Bloomsbury Group has inspired new novels, a ballet, a TV series, exhibitions, and—lest we forget—an economics prize; it sometimes seems the group’s reputation has never been higher. “But it is not long since the most recent round of Bloomsbury-bashing, a century-old sport often said to have started when the painter Wyndham Lewis fell out spectacularly with Roger Fry, over (of all things) a commission to create a display for the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home show … By the 1950s, Bloomsbury’s unfashionableness was a fact. Writings by the survivors took on an aggrieved and defensive tone: literary critic and broadcaster Desmond MacCarthy dismissed the term Bloomsbury as a ‘regional adjective’; Clive Bell claimed they had never been more than a group of friends; Vanessa suggested Bloomsbury was finished before the first world war.”
  • Ah, sweet 1.618, the golden ratio, that ancient proportion of aesthetic bliss, that geometric path to pulchritude—there are those among us who hold it up as the sine qua non of artistic appeal. And yet if you rearrange celebrities’ faces according the ratio, you wind up in the realm of sheer disfigured horror.
  • Sam Lipsyte on time travel as a chance to right the world’s wrongs: “the do-gooder package tour, the warn-Pompeii-kill-Hitler itinerary. It’s a dicey proposition, messing with the past. But wouldn’t my intrusions cancel each other out if I brought a teen Hitler to Pompeii just before Vesuvius blew? ‘I’ll leave you here,’ I’d say. ‘The new arts academy is just over that ridge!’ ”

Printing Wikipedia, and Other News

April 3, 2014 | by

Printers_(Trousset_encyclopedia)

“Printers,” from the Trousset encyclopedia, Paris, 1886–1891.

 

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A Brief History of the Snowball Fight

February 13, 2014 | by

snowball fight

Venceslao Boemo, January, c. 1400.

My colleague Stephen sent along this clipping earlier today, from an 1855 issue of the New York Times.

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Nor is this the only recorded instance of snowball-related violence.

January 29, 1863: Confederate troops stationed in the Rappahannock Valley in Northern Virginia begin exchanging friendly snowball fire. This escalates to a nine-thousand-rebel brawl.

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This is what happens when you put rocks in your snowballs.

January 12, 1893: Some rambunctious Princeton sophomores engage in a rock-laced snowball fight. This is the result.

The Great Depression: Snowballs (aka snowcones) are known as “hard times sundaes.”

August 17, 1945: Animal Farm is published.

Summer, 1958: My dad (or rather, the boy who will, decades later, become my dad) and his friends decide it will be the coolest thing ever if they freeze snowballs during the winter so they can have a snowball fight in July. First snowball—now pure ice—results in eight-year-old Joel Bernstein taken to the hospital for stitches.

January 7, 2013: A German teacher, hurt in a snowball fight with students, sues the school board and succeeds in getting it classified a work injury.

February 13, 2014: A brother and sister, maybe five and three, are having a snowball fight under my window. She repeatedly screams, “WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD? TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!” He throws a snowball at her face; she falls down, crying.