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Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

How Not to Preserve Ancient Scrolls, and Other News

January 23, 2015 | by

scroll

A replica demonstrates how a scroll might have looked when it was new. Photo: Giovanni Dall'Orto, 2014

  • Resolve your literary feud the media-friendly way: (1) do it at a public event, (2) make sure there’s not a dry eye in the house, and (3) invoke the memory of Charles Dickens, just for the sport of it. More than fifteen years ago, V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux “fell out in a spectacularly-bitter war of words, after Naipaul sold some of Theroux’s gifts at auction. The anger seethed for almost two decades. But on Wednesday the hatchet was resoundingly buried, with eighty-two-year-old Naipaul breaking down in tears after Theroux praised one of his most famous books at a literary festival in India, and compared the author to Charles Dickens.”
  • Centuries ago, an excavation in Italy revealed a collection of some two thousand ancient Roman scrolls, most of them treatises on Epicurean philosophy. Unfortunately, the scrolls have a tendency to crumble in your hands, which makes it fairly difficult to read or even preserve them. People have tried taking knives to them (didn’t work), applying a gelatin-based adhesive (didn’t work), or just throwing them away (didn’t work). The latest solution: X-rays.
  • The architect who bought Ray Bradbury’s Los Angeles house demolished it earlier this month, thus unleashing a furor from Bradbury fans. “It’s really been a bummer,” the architect said, adding in his defense that the home was exceptionally bland. “I could make no connection between the extraordinary nature of the writer and the incredible un-extraordinariness of the house.” Yesterday he hatched a new plan to honor the space: a wall.
  • On Quvenzhané Wallis’s black Annie: “the fact that a black Annie has arrived on the scene at this particular cultural moment seems to me cruelly ironic … When it comes to persuading Americans about the virtue of selfishness, Ayn Rand has nothing on Annie … By making innocence seem invulnerable, Annie and other Teflon kids in fiction and film have helped to enable the widespread apathy about social inequalities that allows Americans to claim that our society is child-centered even though the percentage of children living in poverty in this country continues to grow.”
  • Has technology accelerated life to the point of meaninglessness? On Judy Wajcman’s Pressed for Time: “Wajcman recalls seeing, at a nursing home, a daughter with one arm slung around her elderly mother, the other tapping on her smartphone. Though Wajcman acknowledges an initial negative judgment of this scene, she quickly reconsidered. The elderly mother was clearly not very aware of her surroundings and was likely comforted by her daughter’s presence. The daughter was able to provide this solace while engaging in other activities. (She could also have been reading a book or magazine.) Is this really to be condemned?”

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A Lively, Unfinished Manuscript

September 25, 2013 | by

 Illustration from “Reading the Headlines Only” Reading the Landscape of America (Nature Study Guild Publishers) by May Theilgaard Watts.  Many of the illustrations to this essay feature a variation on this blunted trapezoid, representing  the boundaries of her passenger-side window.

Illustration from Reading the Landscape of America (Nature Study Guild Publishers) by May Theilgaard Watts. Many of the illustrations to this essay feature a variation on this blunted trapezoid, representing the boundaries of her passenger-side window.

A number of years ago, on a plane returning to the United States from Mexico, I sat next to a garrulous doctor who was also the head of New York’s cactus and succulent society. He told me about plant sales, about the traditional Bajan candy that was a great threat to one-hundred-year-old cacti, and about an earlier plane trip on which he smuggled an uprooted barrel cactus back to America wrapped in a ball of dirty T-shirts. But cacti were not the reason for this trip, he explained as he showed me a medal he had just won in a long-distance race up a Guatemalan volcano, running alongside other men in his age group, forty and older. He had been busy conquering a different harsh element of the Central American landscape. After landing, as we parted ways on the elevator up to ground transportation, to myself I thought, This is a character for a short story. But even though the stories that Ivan told me revolved around botany, geology, man’s will to bend nature, it never once occurred to me until reading May Theilgaard Watts’s essay “Looking Down on Improved Property (or an Airplane View of Man and Land)” that Ivan and his chatter might be just as suited to a short ecology study as to fiction.

May Theilgaard Watts. Courtesy of Bridget Watts.

May Theilgaard Watts. Courtesy of Bridget Watts.

In this essay from Reading the Landscape of America, Watts begins her narrative with a conversation overheard between businessmen about the evergreen plantings they had been collecting for their yards; she then reflects on the great landing strip on an orchid pinned on a fellow passenger’s lapel. Once she has sensed the small presences of nature, even in the vacuum of the airport, we find her looking out the plane window at the passing city grids and farm grids and reporting that “under this net, Nature is squirming and resisting.” At every margin, every mark on the human neatness of borders, she reels off the names “dandelion, cottonwood, ailanthus,” like a refrain announcing the little victories of hardy wilderness. In another essay from the same collection, “Prairie Plowing Match,” the concern with finding pockets of “native” flora among the “foreign” plantings imported by humans is the same, but this study finds a different refrain. She refers back to seventy-five years of local literature for text suggesting the original Illinois landscape she seeks, and she uses fragments of these historical tractor-pull programs to punctuate her description of a walk around the prairie. When she finds her “natives,” she finds them along a fence rail, on the grounds of a churchyard, and inside an abandoned school house. Read More »

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Well Preserved

June 8, 2011 | by

Photograph by Michael Falco.

Historical preservationism began innocently enough. The demolition in 1963 of the old Penn Station in Manhattan shocked the conscience of a certain class of urban do-gooder, and with the help of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a campaign was launched to spare Grand Central Terminal the same fate. Its success emboldened governments around the country to strengthen controls over new development, and a movement was born.

But what was once the province of the civic-minded, the protection of our architectural patrimony has today become an empire, a sprawling demesne of stasis that occupies some twelve percent of the earth’s surface. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, national and regional landmarks authorities, environmental activists, and other well-meaning persons have conspired to turn the world into a giant museum, choking off the creative-destructive flow that sustains architectural invention. If the trend continues apace, we could soon see buildings prospectively preserved—catalogued and canonized, stuffed and mounted, before they are even finished.

Such, at least, is the theme that Dutch-born architect Rem Koolhaas and cocurator Shohei Shigematsu explored in their New Museum show, “Cronocaos,” which ended this Sunday. Located in a new annex space next to the SANAA-designed main gallery on the Bowery, the exhibition was a marquee event of the Festival of Ideas for the New City, a street fair–cultural clambake that took over the surrounding sidewalks in early May.

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