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Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian’

Staff Picks: Buses, Basements, Boots, Bed-and-Breakfasts

July 24, 2015 | by

Spacesuits

Space suits.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Spacesuits, an illustrated history of the protective clothing worn by space explorers, from the earliest designs in the 1930s to the universally recognizable suits worn during the Apollo missions. The book, with its clinically detailed photographs and methodical descriptions of suits, helmets, gloves, and boots, is surprisingly enthralling; one doesn’t expect vacant clothing to so easily assert its own cultural significance. What’s also surprising are the immense efforts required to preserve these suits—which, it turns out, are among the most fragile items in the Smithsonian’s collection. For some rather timely evidence, look no further than the Kickstarter campaign launched this week by the Smithsonian—with a $500,000 goal—to better document, display, and preserve the space suit worn by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I have copies of most of Dubravka Ugresic’s books, and all of them are heavily dog-eared; flip to any page, and it’s more likely than not that several sentences are underlined. I suspect my various notations are due to the fact that Ugresic pulls no punches, and so reading her work—especially her nonfiction—is like having it all laid out for you. And by “it,” I mean, to borrow from Douglas Adams, “life, the universe and everything.” The editors of Music & Literature have given over a third of their latest issue to Ugresic, and my copy of the magazine is already thoroughly dog-eared and underlined. Ugresic’s writing is radical, accessible, aggressive, pungent, and funny, and she is one of the most unique writers in exile at work today—and one of the best writers, period. In an interview in the issue with Daniel Medin, she explains that “as an outsider I was free to shape my own literary taste, to pick my own literary traditions, to build my own system of literary values.” She is quick to add, however, that “going against the mainstream is not an aesthetic category. Risk is moral category, which shapes our attitude toward our vocation as well as our ideological, political, aesthetical, and ethical choices.” —Nicole Rudick

nextnextlevelHaving just returned from a two-week tour in which my band played for many a small crowd in many a dank basement—see photo below—I approached Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level with some trepidation. It, too, concerns musicians, small crowds, and dank basements: that is, it concerns “the problem of making art in the twenty-first century.” Neyfakh tells the story of his friend Juiceboxxx, a white rapper who’s pursued his craft on the fringes of DIY culture for more than a decade. Juiceboxxx, whose name belies his creative energy, tours constantly, publishes ceaselessly, and self-promotes relentlessly. But what’s the point, really? As he tells an interviewer, “When you fucking kind of have this identity based on this totally absurd premise—like, where do you go if you want to stop doing it, man? Like, where do you go?” As someone who’s poured time and energy into a band called Vulture Shit, I ask myself these questions a lot. Neyfakh’s perceptive, thoughtful book may not make them easier to answer, but it’s a much-needed balm: a funny, broad-minded, enchanting reflection on the intersection of art and commerce. You’ll find no better account of what it’s like to make music outside the mainstream in 2015. —Dan Piepenbring
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We Fucked on a Volcano, and Other News

June 30, 2015 | by

Vulkanausbruch_1827

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.

Staff Picks: Walt Whitman, Air Guitar, Laurie Anderson

July 16, 2010 | by

What we've been reading this week.

Lorin Stein

  • The June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review continues to float around the office. Maureen Tkacik's cover story, on the career facing a young journalist today, is the best thing I've read on the subject.
  • To my shame I had never read Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy until this Monday. The essay “Shining Hours/Forgiving Rhyme” moved me to tears in the barber chair. There are four different friends to whom I want to send my copy of this masterpiece—right now—but I've marked up so many favorite passages, I'll need to copy them out first. Plus I can't decide who needs or deserves it most.
  • I have left a copy of the new Open City in the bathroom that others might discover Samantha Gillison’s wry, wistful story “The Conference Rat.”
  • Also this week I read Stephen Burt's Close Calls with Nonsense, a collection of his reviews. Over the last dozen years, Steve has taught me more than any critic about contemporary poetry. The book is kind, wise (at times, exasperatingly wise) and full of insight. The last pages, a series of aphorisms, made me love it.
  • Caitlin Roper

  • Smithsonian magazine is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. I’m enjoying their rich, deep “Forty Things You Need to Know About the Next Forty Years.” The magazine’s founding editor, Edward K. Thompson, said it “would stir curiosity in already receptive minds.” Mission accomplished. Favorite articles include: “6. Oysters Will Save Wolves From Climate Change,” “21. Science Could Enable A Person To Regrow A Limb,” “26. Novelists Will Need A New Plot Device” (poet Rita Dove on the future of literature), and “36. Goodbye, Stereo; Hello, Hyper-Real Acoustics” (Laurie Anderson on the sounds of the future).
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