The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

Staff Picks: Robot Maids, Airships, Geocities

August 21, 2015 | by

From the cover of Past Futures.

Many of the past’s technological prophesies seem so quaint today—nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners, urban transportation via zeppelins, clean car emissions, robot maids—and sometimes I’m not sure there’s intelligent life on this planet, much less another one. But I’m heartened by the new book Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travels, and Postwar Art of the Americas. It served as the catalogue to a show at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art earlier this year, and part of its aim is corrective: though the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the space race, they didn’t have a monopoly on exploring imagined worlds and ideas. Artists and writers in Latin America in the 1960s and seventies were also giving thought to what might be. Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros imagined the cosmic landscape in paintings like Earth as seen from the stratosphere. Argentineans Ana Kamien and Marilú Marini choreographed a dance spectacle called Marvila the marvelous woman vs. Astra the super sneak from Planet Ultra and her destructive monster. One of my favorites is Paraguayan Carlos Colombino’s Cosmonaut, made from oil on carved wood, in which a spaceman’s face looks like it’s being sucked out, tentacle-like, from his helmet. It’s at once elegant and frightening, old and new—like the future itself. —Nicole Rudick

There’s an unexpected coup thirty minutes into Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond. The protagonist—Graham Dorrington, an aeronautical engineer who’s brought his latest airship to Guyana for its inaugural launch—is suddenly and irrevocably overshadowed by Mark Anthony Yhap, a local who’s been hired to help with the project. You can sense it coming. Dorrington’s enthusiastic affect, while endearing, has begun to spoil, and into the film’s growing protagonistic void steps a new—and more true—Herzogian hero. Gazing up at the airship and reclining in a clear-plastic inflatable armchair, Yhap delivers a Dude-esque monologue that completely refocuses the film. And, improbably, his appeal only grows from there: subsequent scenes depict his love for his red rooster and his habit of looking out at Kaieteur Falls through a single droplet of water. (Here, again, he delivers another of his unforgettable lines.) The film might not be Herzog’s greatest work, but Yhap alone makes it worth watching. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Yhap

From The White Diamond.

The Internet, as it matured, was bound to long for its low-tech past. For those who grew up on dial-up, it’s been fascinating to watch the growing nostalgia for the Web of the nineties; what began as a couple of wistful listicles has exploded into an art form, one that critiques the branded monotony of social media by remembering the alarums and excursions of simpler times. Last year, Paul Ford’s tilde.club invited users to unshackle themselves from the tedium of Facebook by building simple, custom-programmed homepages that recalled the unpretentious spirit of early university Web sites; Windows 93 emulated the unstable, rough-edged aesthetic of Microsoft at its peak; and now comes Cameron’s World, a sprawling digital collage that comprises more than seven hundred gifs and graphics rescued from the defunct Yahoo! GeoCities community, which was, in its way, the original social network. Though it’s easy to dismiss as a mere novelty, the collage, designed by the artist Cameron Askin, is a meticulous and weirdly affecting memento: it hearkens back to “a time when a website really was a ‘site,’ ” as Askin told Hyperallergic. “A homepage was thought of as a second ‘home.’ There’s more of a spatial sense to the online world.” Compare that to today, when controlled environments like Facebook “iron out many of the wilder intricacies of personal taste that used to define self-expression on personal homepages.” —Dan Piepenbring
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Back to Chicago

June 15, 2015 | by

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From a travel-poster advertising Chicago ca. 1910.

Last night, I discovered a portal to another time and place—specifically, Hyde Park, Chicago, in June 2000. I hadn’t meant to, but when I opened a new tube of peppermint foot cream, there I was. The smell had transported me.

Like all sense memory, smell is evocative for many people—for some of us more so than music or even taste. The Stanislavski method often involves conjuring smell to infect the audience with theater’s noble ecstasy. But until last night, I had not known its true power. Read More »

Life and Loves

June 4, 2015 | by

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Hugh Bolton Jones, On the Green River, 1900.

The other day, I mentioned my grandfather’s fondness for a certain line of poetry: “Hie me away to the woodland stream,” he would say whenever the brook in the nearby woods was running.

We walked that way almost every day on my visits to California—my grandfather was a great walker—but some summers it was too dry, and the brook was just a dusty furrow. Sometimes we walked around the lake at the Naval Postgraduate School, or on the beach. Always, his strides were so long you could barely keep up. Sometimes, we couldn’t, and he’d move far ahead of us, hunched, hands thrust into the pockets of his flight suit. Read More »

Hw r u ts mng?, and Other News

May 12, 2015 | by

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Ethel Wakefield, a Western Union telegraph operator, June 1943.

  • “Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge,” a 52,438-word dissertation by a Ph.D. candidate named Patrick Stewart (not that one), “eschews almost all punctuation. There are no periods, no commas, no semicolons … ” Stewart “wanted to make a point about aboriginal culture, colonialism, and ‘the blind acceptance of English language conventions in academia.’ ” He conducted his oral exam last month; his teachers questioned him for hours. But in the end, he passed.
  • What someone ought to do is write an entire dissertation using turn-of-the-century telegraphy abbreviations, as decoded in this 1901 book: “Wr r ty gg r 9” means “Where are they going for No. 9”; “Is tt exa tr et” means “Is that extra there yet?”
  • Disclaimer: the remark above was not intended to senselessly valorize an outmoded technology. “I’ve heard many a nostalgist say there was something more, well, effortful, and therefore poetic, in the old system of walking for miles to a record shop only to discover they’d just sold out. People become addicted to the weights and measures of their own experience: We value our own story and what it entails. But we can’t become hostages to the romantic notion that the past is always a better country.”
  • For the second time, the avant-garde company Elevator Repair Service is mounting a theatrical adaptation of The Sound and the Fury: “Even if Faulkner isn’t your thing, or if confusion of characters and time frames aren’t, either, it’s important to see the piece, if only to understand how scripts work—and how they transform the actors in the space of the stage.”
  • In which Ottessa Moshfegh tries mayonnaise: “Mayonnaise, to my mother, was like peanut butter to the French: disgusting, uncivilized, and impossible to find. On a scale of respectability, a jar of mayonnaise came in somewhere between a vat of pig fat and one of those plastic pails of Marshmallow Fluff.”

Heartbreak

March 3, 2015 | by

Its legacy lives on.

One day, when I was around fourteen, my dad was invited to a black-tie fund-raising dinner. And so he broke out the tuxedo my mom had found for him at the Salvation Army and clipped on his bow tie, and took the Metro-North into Manhattan. He returned bearing gifts: the favor bag included a cookbook of light French cuisine and a gadget that was the most wonderful thing we had ever seen.

It was a wine stopper. Two, actually, identical to each other. Its bottom section was conical, covered in rubber, and its top was a large metal heart. It was indisputably ugly, we all agreed—but how ingenious! My mom was delighted. “If we have leftover wine,” she explained, “we won’t need to jam the cork into the bottle, or use tinfoil.” (Screw-tops were still a novelty in the midnineties.) What a marvel of thrift and engineering! Read More »

A Night Out in the Twenties

January 6, 2015 | by

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Ruth Gordon in 1919.

In The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa refers to “that most absurd of emotions, retrospective jealousy.” He’s talking about sexual jealousy; in the way of new lovers, a young woman finds herself bitterly resenting her fiancé’s old flames, real and suspected. But the phrase has wider application. I’d guess most of us have experienced a longing for past times, places, eras, that bordered on resentful. Possibility and idealism and cheap rents—it all comes together to burnish just about any time but our own. 

Romanticizing is the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes it seems like our current brand of nostalgia doesn’t take skill or imagination, just a modicum of dissatisfaction, a sketchy grasp of history, and enough brain space to remember your last pass around the fishbowl. Very pernicious, too; if you don’t watch yourself, you wake up one day and you’re Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time. (Well, okay, that’s an extreme case.) 

I tell myself this. And yet, sometimes, you are reading Arthur Schwartz’s magisterial New York City Food and you come across this description, by Ruth Gordon, of a night on the town in the twenties, and there is nothing for it but to give in. Read More »