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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

What We See When We Read

August 14, 2014 | by

If I said to you, “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty. If you were reading closely you’d mention her “thick lashes,” her weight, or maybe even her little downy mustache (yes—it’s there). Matthew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes … ”

But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimately acquainted with a character (people like to say, of a brilliantly described character, It’s like I know her), but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

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Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly) provide their fictional characters with more behavioral than physical description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (authors can’t tell us everything). We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Anna: her hair, her weight—these are only facets, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … What does Anna look like? We don’t know—our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.

Visualizing seems to require will …

… though at times it may also seem as though an image of a sort appears to us unbidden.

(It is tenuous, and withdraws shyly upon scrutiny.) Read More »

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Red Pens for Robots, and Other News

August 14, 2014 | by

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Better wielded by machines. Photo: ellenm1, via Flickr

  • Residents of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, rise up, and reclaim Gilbert Sorrentino as your bard! “Sorrentino died of lung cancer in Brooklyn in 2006; he remains widely uncelebrated in his own neighborhood, his own borough, despite the fact that so many of his books are set there, and he lived so much of his life there. The Fort Hamilton High School Alumni Association doesn’t list him in its Hall of Fame. The libraries don’t stock his books, and neither does the local bookstore. I spent thirty years in Bay Ridge as a bookish neighborhood enthusiast without ever hearing his name, until a poet mentioned it to me in passing.”
  • Where do typos come from? Our foolish brains, and their inveterate laziness. There’s no escaping it, really.
  • Which is part of why we need editors—but even editors aren’t good enough. What the world needs, apparently, is robot editors: “Students almost universally resist going back over material they’ve written … [but they] are willing to revise their essays, even multiple times, when their work is being reviewed by a computer and not by a human teacher. They end up writing nearly three times as many words … Students who feel that handing in successive drafts to an instructor wielding a red pen is ‘corrective, even punitive’ do not seem to feel rebuked by similar feedback from a computer.”
  • “It’s a common and easy enough distinction, this separation of books into those we read because we want to and those we read because we have to, and it serves as a useful marketing trope for publishers, especially when they are trying to get readers to take this book rather than that one to the beach. But it’s a flawed and pernicious division … There are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one’s own … ”
  • Exploring the annals of Dalkey Archive Press, which is now thirty years old.

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When Softcore Had Style, and Other News

August 7, 2014 | by

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A still from Radley Metzger’s Lickerish Quartet, “the enigmatic tale of a decadent family’s seduction,” from 1970.

  • Peter Mendelsund, who designs book jackets, asked people what they see when they read. They “felt that when they read a book they loved, they saw every aspect of it. Not only that, but they felt that the greatness of a book was predicated on the fact that they were able to visualize it. ‘That character was so real,’ they’d say. That myth of the little homunculus sitting in the back of your skull, watching the author’s movie being projected onto the front of your skull—that’s really important to people. But the whole edifice crumbles when you start to ask questions about it.”
  • Was John Hancock’s signature really too big? “Did Hancock know that fifty-six men would ultimately sign the document when he put pen to paper? Or might he have assumed fewer signatories, and thus more space for signing? We know this much: You can’t fit fifty-six Hancock-sized signatures onto the parchment … the document would have needed approximately 5.5 more inches of vertical space to accommodate all the names—even with crammed spacing and slim margins.”
  • Good news for underemployed babysitters: Taking your kids to a gallery is a “total waste of time,” according to the artist Jake Chapman. “He says that standing a child in front of a Pollock is an ‘insult’ to the American who pioneered the abstract expressionism. ‘It’s like saying … it’s as moronic as a child? Children are not human yet,’ the father-of-three declared.”
  • Questioning Shakespeare’s conservatism: “Rebels and usurpers in Shakespeare's plays are always the bad guys … Rebellion against one’s superiors is presented as a matter of misguided jealousy and intrinsic spite.”
  • A maestro of aspirational porn, Radley Metzger populated his soft- and hard-core films of the 1960s and ’70s with Continental swells whose luxe dwellings and vast expanses of land made for optimal prime pleasure domes … [he] elevated his randy projects with sumptuous production values, his meticulous decor and mise-en-scène long outmoded in today’s quickie online porn.” (For the curious, eight of Metzger’s films are coming to Lincoln Center.)

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A Freud for Every Season, and Other News

June 25, 2014 | by

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Ignatio Garate Martinez, Sigmund Freud, 2012; image via Wikimedia Commons.

  • “I suppose it says something about our era that the Freud we want is Freud the translator, rather than Freud the doctor—the conversational, empathetic, curious Freud, rather than the incisive, perverse, and confident one.”
  • Read to your baby as early as you can, scientists say. If you have a baby, drop everything and go read to him now. It will help “immunize” him “against illiteracy.” Whether some texts are better vaccinations than others remains to be seen.
  • The latest installment of Henri Cole’s Paris diary: “This morning I observed a beautiful, sleeping chipmunk. Animals—like humans—seek a safe, sheltered place to sleep. Deer make a bed out of unmowed grass, rodents burrow in the soil, and apes create a pallet of leaves. In Paris, I sleep alone on a thick foam mattress. Because my dreams are incoherent, I lose any sense of time or place. Often I fly.”
  • A new radio show, Meet the Composer, proves that contemporary composers are neither bland nor square: “My experience with composers is superpersonal,” the host says. “I always do all of my commissioning at 3 a.m. at the bar, after we’ve been hanging out forever.”
  • Seamus Heaney, the man, the poet, the app: “Too often arts organizations and publishers resort to stunts and gimmicks to add some glitz to poetry, and issue terrible statements about how they want to make it ‘relevant’ and ‘trendy.’ If a poem needs digital bells and whistles to become relevant, it’s obvious it wasn’t very good in the first place … this app adds context and insight to the tales without compromising or clouding them with too much technical faff.”

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This Machine Will Self-Destruct, and Other News

June 19, 2014 | by

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Kaboom!

  • New additions to the list of things the pen is mightier than: the mouth, the camera. “As soon as kids acquire a basic understanding of letters and reading … they exhibit a greater trust in printed textual information than in oral or visual information … something about the act of learning to read causes children to ‘rapidly come to regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information about how to act in the world.’” And it is. Trust me.
  • Clancy Martin and Amie Barrodale on the Chateau Marmont: “To the left is a room with a lot of nice old mismatched couches and armchairs. Not blocking the chairs, so you might not notice it, just against the far wall, is a podium. An attractive person is always standing there, and if you try to sit in the lobby, he or she says, ‘Are you staying here?’ If you are, then you can sit.”
  • On DIS magazine and accelerationism: “‘Do they really just worship consumerism?’ … As curator Agatha Wara, a DIS associate, once explained it to me, accelerationists believe that ‘the only way to get over capital is through capital’—that is, by accelerating capitalism’s own tendency toward self-destruction.”
  • Speaking of that very tendency, Amazon is making a smartphone.
  • Did you know? It’s not easy to translate Proust: “There is always a tension in translation between the spirit and the letter, between conveying things we might call tone, mood, feel, or music, and being as literally faithful to the original as possible. Moncrieff excelled at both.”
  • How an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation describes the outermost limits of our capacity to communicate: “Tamarian verbalisms depict the world through images and figures, which distort their ‘real’ referents. Troi and Picard can’t help but interpret Tamarian through their (and our) cultural obsession with mimicry: Metaphorical language operates not by signification, but as poetry, by transforming the real in a symbolic mirror. But for the Tamarians, something far weirder is going on …”

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Daymares, and Other News

June 12, 2014 | by

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Arthur Tress, Child Buried in Sand, Coney Island, 196o, black-and-white photograph. Via Gothamist.

  • Charles Wright will be America’s next poet laureate. “I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do … But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”
  • Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is the literary novel of the moment—but it is any good? Many, including our own Lorin Stein, respond with a resounding no. “A book like The Goldfinch doesn’t undo any clichés—it deals in them … Nowadays, even The New York Times Book Review is afraid to say when a popular book is crap.”
  • Every moment of serious reading has to be fought for, planned for … A prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel … will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up.”
  • A portfolio of Arthur Tress’s photographs, from the late sixties and seventies, of children at play in Coney Island: “Tress spoke with children about their dreams—often nightmares that involved falling, monsters, that buried alive scenario—and would then photograph them experiencing it in a safe, staged setting.”
  • New! From the makers of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” it’s “Morrissey Has an Infection.”

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