- Let us mourn the tech culture of the late twentieth century, which bore only a superficial resemblance to the libertarian, Objectivist, misogynist creep fest that is Silicon Valley today. Flipping through old issues of Wired, Anna Wiener admires an earlier (if ultimately no more forgivable) strain of techno-utopianism: “Wired’s recurring gadget spread, ‘Fetish,’ is where I always flip first: a catalogue of mid-nineties stuff-lust, resplendent with fine-art mouse pads, data gloves, chunky digital cameras, personal stereos, and vibrating office chairs for the gaming élite. Some of these products are unimaginable now, like SelectPhone, a digital phone book for all fifty states contained on four compact disks … In early Wired, technology wasn’t just entertaining; it was a tool, meant to liberate and enlighten. Products were positioned as socially transformative (‘We’re Teen, We’re Queer, and We’ve Got Email’). I was strangely moved by an article about Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, an online town hall used by the city’s homeless and wealthy alike.”
- There are around 117,000 speakers of Cree, an indigenous language in Canada that, to go by the sample phrases in this piece, we would do well to save—and to learn ourselves: “With entries ranging from pwâkamo-pahkwêsikan, the Cree word for pizza—‘the throw-up bread’ in literal English—to môniyâw-matotisân, a sauna or a ‘white-man sweat,’ a crowdsourcing project documenting the vitality and evolution of the most widely spoken indigenous language in Canada is about to be published. Neal McLeod, a poet and indigenous studies professor at Trent University, set out to connect with other Cree speakers on Facebook, aiming to gather together classical Cree vocabulary and to ‘coin and develop’ words relating to contemporary life … ‘One of the things on my bucket list … is to translate Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope into Cree,’ writes McLeod, before laying out Cree for Attack of the Clones: kâ-môskîstâkêcik aniki kâ-nipahi-nâh-naspitâtocik, ‘literally, “when the Ones who resemble each other in an uncanny fashion attack”,’ and tâpwê mamâhtâwisiw awa, ‘the Force is strong with this one.’ ”
- As the Soviet Union fades into the rearview mirror, it’s becoming harder to find reliable, intimate accounts of life in the USSR. A new graphic novel is trying to change that: “The Italian graphic novelist Igort went to Ukraine in 2008 and stayed for nearly two years. He met people at marketplaces and on country roads, and drew their lives. ‘Word by word I listen to the account of an existence that has become an undigested mass,’ he writes, at the beginning of one section. ‘It pushes its way out from the gut. The following is a faithful transcription of that story’ … These phrases sum up everything that is good and everything that is not so good about The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule … The translation, sadly, is often tone-deaf and downright sloppy—the peculiarly unappetizing language in this passage is just one example. But the stories he has collected are indeed an undigested mass, often a mess, and this is a good thing.”
- Today in old encyclopedias: the Britannica’s eleventh edition, from 1910–11, has earned a reputation over the past century as a grade-A reference text. What makes it so? “I think the eleventh more than any other edition is a feat of editorial engineering. The editor, Hugh Chisholm, actually had a vision for what an encyclopedia could be and then molded together all the contents that he had to work with to create a single statement about the optimism of the age and the triumph of technology and what progress is … Part of it is the way Chisholm templated the articles. He was a newspaper guy, Chisholm kind of looked at each one of these articles as a story. According to Janet Hogarth, who worked with him, the templates were exhaustive. Even when he didn’t know what the subject was, he knew how a story should be look and feel—how it should be structured. The result of that is a compulsive readability. There are people that sit around for hours reading the eleventh because its just such a pleasure.”
- A new film festival looks at genre flicks helmed by women: “The word genre comes from the French term for ‘gender,’ an etymology that’s especially salient in a kicky, wide-ranging two-week series at Film Forum that spans more than a century. Curated by Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, ‘Genre Is a Woman’ highlights what should be a well-known fact but is too commonly overlooked: that female directors, ever since the birth of the medium, have not limited themselves to the pink ghetto of romantic comedies and aspirational weepies. Distaff auteurs—beginning with cinema pioneer Alice Guy Blaché, whose The Pit and the Pendulum (1913) is likely the first-ever screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe—have made their marks in, among others, noirs, westerns, road movies, science fiction, and grindhouse, all types of films often thought of as the sole province of their male counterparts. ‘Genre movies’ have actually been, to some degree, equal-opportunity employers.”
Now I am thinking about jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and about other places where people have jumped to their deaths for many years. I think I should find out more about this, for I have an idea that there is some sort of collection of spirit strength or power or love in them that says no, or yes, or now.
I feel very strongly that this is true about the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, I heard that people are trying once more to build a kind of suicide-prevention railing along its side, which would keep us from seeing the bay and the beautiful view of the city. I haven’t read much about suicide lately, but I believe that almost 98 percent of such deaths leave more evil than good after them. Even my husband Dillwyn’s death, which I feel was justified, left many of us with some bad things. And when my brother died, about a year after Timmy did, my mother asked me very seriously if I felt that Timmy’s death had influenced David to commit his own suicide, which to me remains a selfish one, compared to the first. I said, “Of course, yes! I do think so, Mother.” And I did think then that Timmy’s doing away with himself helped my young brother David to kill himself, a year later. But there was really no connection; we don’t know what the limit of tolerance is in any human being. Read More
Game Theory’s Lolita Nation, thirty years later.
This month, Omnivore Recordings rereleased Lolita Nation, the 1987 double album by the San Francisco pop band Game Theory, who were dissolved in 1990 by their leader, Scott Miller. (Obligatory note: he’s not the Scott Miller from the V-Roys). It’s the latest and most prized offering in Omnivore’s reissue of Game Theory’s complete catalog, long out of print—original pressings of Lolita Nation sold for more than a hundred dollars on eBay.
Lolita Nation checks off all the boxes of the sprawling, ambitious double album: its twenty-seven tracks, mostly of Miller’s knotty but grabby songs, are interspersed with outbursts of experimental noise, rash new musical ideas, a backward-masked Beatles crib, and references to the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Joyce, and Kubrick. There’s a song in 5/4 time, loosey-goose instrumental interludes, and self-referential snippets of other Game Theory songs—a trademark Joycean habit of Miller’s—all of it marshaled into an apparent concept album about the anxious transition from youth to adulthood. But Lolita Nation defies thematic pigeonholing, just as its songs resist easy listening, and it still sounds fresh and compelling almost three decades after its release. Mitch Easter, who produced it along with five more of Miller’s albums, told me, “Scott was always modern in a way that took me a minute to say, Are you sure?” Read More
- The Bodleian Library has recovered a lost poem by Shelley—the ambitiously named “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things,” written when he was just eighteen. It’s 172 lines of pure political invective, and its themes, as one professor said, “remain as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.” It’s true. Certain lines (e.g., “cold advisers of yet colder kings … who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang, / Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang, / Yourselves secure”) resonate quite well on this, the morning after the GOP debate.
- We’ve all wondered, in our lives as readers, how our cohort could be so fantastically wrong about some author or another—why such fantastical lapses of taste are celebrated far and wide. And so it falls to Tim Parks to ask the question on everyone’s mind: How could you like that book? “I live under the constant impression that other people, other readers, are allowing themselves to be hoodwinked. They are falling for charms they shouldn’t fall for. Or imagining charms that aren’t there. They should be making it a little harder for their authors … What might really be worth addressing here is the whole issue of incomprehension: mutual and apparently insuperable incomprehension between well-meaning and intelligent people, all brought up in the same cultural tradition, more or less. It’s curious, for example, that the pious rhetoric gusting around literature always promotes the writing and reading habit as a powerful communication tool, an instrument for breaking down barriers, promoting understanding—and yet it is exactly over my reaction to books that I tend to discover how completely out of synch with others I am … Could this be the function, then, or at least one important function of fiction: to make us aware of our differences?”
- Here, I brought you these rhetorical questions about the cloud, that most porous of metaphors for digital space: “How did we come to place our faith in a symbol that is so ephemeral—all vapor and crystal? … What kind of thinking does the cloud, so porous and diffuse, enable? Does our participation in the cloud require us to surrender a bit of our privacy? Can it help explain the rise of the meme and our increasingly lax attitude toward notions of authorship and origins, the way something on the Internet begins to seem ubiquitous and ambient, as if it had always just been there?”
- Michael Bierut is responsible for a lot of the high-profile signage you see around New York—his new book How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World testifies to his reach as a designer and his expectations for design. His designs all emerge from his notebooks: “ ‘I get very protective about them, like children, pets, lucky charms and security blankets,’ he says. One spread shows sketches of the deconstructed Saks Fifth Avenue logo for the department store’s shopping bags from a decade ago. He remembers one of the designers in his firm screaming after blowing it up into fragments. Bierut ran over immediately to look, and compared it to a Franz Kline or a Barnett Newman piece. ‘I remember at that moment saying, Wait, this could be it, sixty-four squares—each one of them was like a beautiful abstract painting.’ ”
- At the start of the twentieth century, Arnold Genthe, a German immigrant, took photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown. They’re some of the only remaining photos of the neighborhood from that period; most were swallowed in the earthquake of 1906. “Genthe was fascinated by Chinatown and took hundreds of photographs of the area and its inhabitants. He used a small camera and sometimes captured his subjects covertly. He later cropped some of his images to remove western references.” “Some day the whole city will burn up,” a friend told him. “There’ll never be another Chinatown like this one, and you have its only picture record.”