The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

We Fucked on a Volcano, and Other News

June 30, 2015 | by

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Emilie Eisenhut, Vulkanausbruch, 1827, gouache on paper.

  • “One cannot read a book,” Nabokov famously said, “one can only reread it.” That’s pleasant and all—certainly it flatters our sense of elitism, suggesting that “aesthetic appreciation requires exhaustive knowledge only of the best”—but doesn’t it amount to sophistry? “No reader ever really takes complete control of a book—it’s an illusion—and perhaps to expend vast quantities of energy seeking to do so is a form of impoverishment … Is it really wise to renounce all the impressions that a thousand books could bring, all that living, for the wisdom of five or six?”
  • Today in the age of mechanical reproduction: the Smithsonian is 3-D printing prehistoric skulls. They have no intention of trying to pass off the replicas as authentic—they just want to share more of their skulls with the world, and 3-D printing them is the easiest way to do so. “Still, the proliferation of replicas does stand to diminish the value of the real thing. The museums that own the original skulls depend on income from visitors and model making, so the Smithsonian will limit production and keep the skulls’ 3-D ‘blueprints’ to itself.”
  • Great news for poets! Bots have obviated the need for your art. They are, in fact, your art. Condolences. “I was thinking of writing a poem about bots, but that’s already so ten minutes ago, and anyway, some bot has already written that poem. Does it matter? These days people are writing poems about fucking on volcanoes. ‘We fucked on a volcano.’ How does that help? … You can expand the poetic field to include ‘we fucked on a volcano’ or even ‘the whole week we fucked on a volcano,’ and you can expand it to include bots, and so what? It’s bigger now … everything is.”
  • Relatedly: conversations between bots are nearly indistinguishable from Beckett plays. Bots are dramatists, too.
    Z.: Then leave.
    Y.: How did you know?
    Z.: Just leave.
    Y.: You leave.
    Z.: No.
    Y.: Yes.
    Z.: I don’t even know how.
  • New to the Oxford English Dictionary: twerk, intersectionality, staycation, presidentiable, SCOTUS.

True Lies

June 24, 2015 | by

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Duane Hanson, Tourists II, 1988, fiberglass and mixed media, with accessories. Image via Saatchi Gallery

On those occasions when I’ve taught, I’ve been struck by something: my students don’t seem to lie about what they’ve read. If you mention a book, and they haven’t read it—or even heard of it—they’ll admit to it without embarrassment, or even self-consciousness. “Can you repeat the title?” they might ask, or, even, “That sounds really interesting!” Refreshing and laudable though this may be, I initially found it disorienting: I seem to remember that my teen and college years involved a lot of phantom reading.

Of course, it’s very possible that my sample is simply less pretentious and more self-confident than I was; those odds are good. But the total absence of fronting, of nodding knowingly, of glancing around furtively to gauge others’ reactions—this seems like an important micro-generational sea change. I had considered pretension an endearing, and enduring, trait of youth—certainly I knew plenty of other kids who went in for this sort of lying. Are people now just more open about who they are? Or does having read a lot not even signify much—is it not even worth lying about? 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 »

Recurring Characters

June 3, 2015 | by

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Maruyama Ōkyo, Peacock and Peahen, 1781.

I was settled with my papers, my coffee, and a cheese Danish at a bench on a Manhattan traffic island when someone sat down next to me. I glanced up and recognized a now-familiar face. It was the same elderly man I’d first seen in a local supermarket, berating a clerk; last week, I’d encountered him again on Amsterdam Avenue and attempted to buy him a pineapple. He was ubiquitous—or I was. I gave him a cautious nod of greeting.

“Hello,” he said, smiling warmly. “It’s a beautiful day!”

“Yes,” I agreed. He didn’t seem to recognize me. Read More »

The Totalitarian Tank Engine, and Other News

May 13, 2015 | by

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Thomas: a thinly veiled work of socialist realism? Image via the Telegraph

  • As Thomas the Tank Engine turns seventy, it’s worth asking: What’s this talking train’s political agenda? A thoughtless pushover, fearful of going off the rails and fixed on his cohort’s industriousness, “Thomas resembles one of those preposterous idealized figures of Stalinist propaganda. Face radiant with a dream of heightened productivity. In fact, Stalin would probably have approved of Thomas, who always does what the Fat Controller tells him and strongly disapproves of other engines who step out of line.”
  • If society seems increasingly illiterate to you, person of letters, remember that society relies less on literacy every year: “Most human beings worldwide would rather talk than read. Reading and writing are late inventions in the human story; widespread literacy in most places is only a few centuries old. And the fact that in black-and-white pictures of a commuter train almost every passenger is reading was an artifact of the technological state of things at the time. Today, most of those people’s equivalents are either talking on their phone or listening to music on it. Their forebears in those pictures would have been as well, if there had been devices to allow it.”
  • Piero di Cosimo is remembered most for his religious paintings, but he also made “startlingly vivid portraits of individualsHe gave himself the same tests, again and again, though he did not always pass them: for example, depicting feet, which he did in an elegantly detailed manner, down to their splayed toes.”
  • “When I began my first novel … I asked my colleague whether writing fiction caused manic-depression or merely mimicked the symptoms of manic-depression. He answered, ‘Yes,’ a cleverly enigmatic but also oddly confirming response.”
  • Want a euphemism for motherfucker? Try melon-farmer, mother-fouler, or motorcycle, and have a nice day.

The Rise of the Tablescape, and Other News

May 6, 2015 | by

From a display of outdoor patio furniture and table settings at Pereira & Luckman, Beverly Hills, California, 1953. Photo: Julius Shulman

  • Tim Parks on reading and the senses: “We have a vested interest in supposing that we are capable of projecting a kind of continuous movie of the events in a novel … The problem is that upon close examination the reading experience is far more complex and far less visual than is commonly supposed … So what do we see when we read? First the page, of course, and the words printed on it. No ‘image’ we have of the characters or settings will ever be as concrete, as indisputably and continuously present, as the solid book … ”
  • Pedro Martinez’s new autobiography reveals, at last, a field-tested secret to beating performance anxiety: “Early on, when I was in the minor leagues and measuring the opposing batter, I would conjure up a scene straight out of the most gruesome Hollywood blood-and-gore slasher flick: my mother, strapped tightly by ropes to a chair, her mouth gagged, her eyes clenched shut, too terrified to look down at the tip of a knife held to her throat by the leader of a gang of kidnappers.”
  • Today, in pleas from academia: Can’t we stop conferring, already? Haven’t we had enough of this masquerade? “Conferences feel necessary, but their purpose is unclear. They have great potential to help revitalize the humanities, but have not yet lived up to this potential.”
  • Other than perennial favorites—your John Dowells and Holden Caulfields, anyone from Joyce or Nabokov—who are the greatest unreliable narrators? Look to Henry James, for starters, and “give up pretending there weren’t unreliable narrators before 1940”: “The Sacred Fount is his least read major novel, and certainly his oddest. The narrator spends the entire book concocting elaborate deductions about fellow partygoers based on next to no evidence.”
  • If “a dining table was once a simple, knockdown affair,” how did we end up with profligate place settings, glutted with silverware, centerpieces, and candelabras? A history of tablescapes finds that “improved manufacturing technologies led to a boom in utensils and flatware. Elite European tables have displayed silver dishware since the Middle Ages, but the variety of dishes for holding food continually increased, as they became more specific and more ornate. This trend peaked in the Victorian Era, when an abundance of silver, glass, and porcelain contributed to the table’s shiny new look, with about twenty pieces per place setting.”