The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘social media’

The Melons of Yesteryear, and Other News

July 31, 2015 | by

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Giovanni Stanchi, Watermelons, peaches, pears and other fruit in a landscape, 1645–72.

  • Today in obsolete fruits: a seventeenth-century still life by Giovanni Stanchi reveals the extent to which selective breeding has altered the watermelon—nay, life!—as we know it. Look at Stanchi’s painting and you’ll see a smaller, rounder, whiter fruit that today would never make it to market. We’ve demanded bigger, redder, juicier, more oblong melons. What have we wrought?
  • Samuel Delany has been writing for more than half a century now, and a new collection of his early work reminds of how he’s changed the genre of science fiction: “Delany came of age at a time when the genre was indeed characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes. From the beginning, Delany, in his fiction, pushed across those boundaries, embraced the other, and questioned received ideas about sex and intimacy … Even now, when graphic sex and challenging themes are hardly unusual, Delany’s rapturous sexuality and his explorations of race within the trappings of science fiction have the power to startle.”
  • Everyone critiques social media by suggesting that it forces us to turn ourselves into products—the presumption is that we’d prefer a service that allows for some more boundless, less prepackaged form of “self-expression.” But the problem might be more insidious than that: it might be that “users enjoy becoming the product … The self, as a product, loses its enchantment for us and needs to be revitalized to the extent that it becomes familiar, known, understood. We love ourselves only as a novelty, a mystery, not as a staple product. We want to be able to apprehend ourselves as a new, desirable thing that we can consume and enjoy. This makes us feel relevant, marketable. We can imagine someone buying into the idea of us, and that helps us buy into ourselves. But inevitably our desire for ourselves needs to be renewed, and we will need to be repackaged.”
  • Jacob Fugger, a banker born in 1459, was known as “Jacob the Rich.” He got this nickname because he was very, very rich. In fact, he may well have been the richest man who ever lived: “Fugger was able to obtain control of commodities such as silver, from Austria, and copper, from Hungary. He built a smelter to refine the copper and traded it himself quite pitilessly … He helped finance a Portuguese scheme to relocate the pepper and spice trade to Lisbon, a move so successful that it delivered a fatal blow to the commercial stature of Venice. He also had a thirst for information about trade and commerce that led him to create a network of couriers whose reports to Augsburg were printed and distributed to clients in the form of a primitive newspaper. Fugger had invented the world’s first news service.”
  • But let’s not forget that there are plenty of obscenely wealthy people today and that, unlike Fugger, many of them have been photographed. Myles Little, an editor, has compiled pictures of the upper crust in “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” and the results are startling—even more so than you’d expect. In part this is because Little strove to make the show “posh”: “I wanted to borrow the language of privilege and wealth by including beautiful photos, beautiful, precious objects, but I wanted to use that language to subvert wealth, and critique wealth and privilege.”

Clown Pain Is True Pain, and Other News

May 29, 2015 | by

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Hans Breinlinger, Clown mit Spiegel, 1948.

  • Face it, America: ours is a culture that hates clowns. Coulrophobia is real, and it is systemic. But how do its victims feel? “I want respect, and I don’t want respect,” Boswick, a clown from San Francisco, has said. “I want respect for who I am and my résumé and how hard I work, how many classes I’ve taken, and at the same time I think respect for clowning is the dumbest thing in the world. Why would you have respect for clowns? Clowns are the ones who’re making fun of the world. If you respect the clown, the clown’s doing something wrong.”
  • Americans don’t give French Canadians much respect, either—and even if most of that can be blamed on Celine Dion, it’s still time to make a change. We might start by reading Raymond Bock’s Atavismes: Histoires, now available in English: “Readers will need to break through its decidedly specific references: the book, a collection of thirteen short stories, makes few concessions to those unfamiliar with the particulars of Quebec culture—a helpful appendix explains joual cursing (in which equivalents of chalice and host are two of the most vile expletives) and French Canadian touchstones such as the Quiet Revolution, les filles du roi, and the folksinger Paul Piché.”
  • In which Arthur Conan Doyle experiments with drugs—specifically with gelsemium, a dried rhizome of yellow jasmine: “A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe.”
  • To look at a list of the most popular headlines on social media is to become deeply sad and afraid: “publications’ sensibilities have conformed to the platforms that send them visitors; their sites have adopted the tone and language of social media; news and entertainment, mixed as ever, now mingle according the demands and preferences of the feeds into which they are deployed.”
  • In Europe, fiction is the new reality in the workplace—if you can’t get a job, you can try to get a fake job. “Inside virtual companies, workers rotate through payroll, accounting, advertising and other departments. They also receive virtual salaries to spend within the make-believe economy. Some of the faux companies even hold strikes—a common occurrence in France.”

En Vogue

February 12, 2015 | by

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Photo: Vetatur Fumare, via Flickr

Late last night I posted a picture of myself to a social media account. Not the most flattering picture, and a particularly ridiculous one: I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror, phone clearly visible in my hand, and staring off at—what? The shower curtain? The radiator?—with a deliberately distracted air and the Flemish-Madonna mirror-face that my family has always mocked. Why, I didn’t see you there with the camera in your own hand! it seems to say. 

I’d taken this photo because I wanted to send a friend a picture of my garment: a mod, nubbly green tweed coat—or maybe it’s a dress—from the early sixties, with a swing cut and two large pockets in the front. It zips up the back. The high neck chafes after a few minutes, and it takes all my flexibility to manage both the zipper and the buttoned half-belt (also in back). Ever since I bought the coat-dress in a California thrift shop, I’d been saving it for just such an occasion: a fashion event, where I needed something bizarre enough to make it look as though I know what I’m about. Read More »

Always on Display: An Interview with Joshua Ferris

May 19, 2014 | by

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Photo: Beowulf Sheehan/Hachette Brown Group

“The mouth is a weird place,” says the dentist-narrator of Joshua Ferris’s new novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. “Not quite inside and not quite out, not skin and not organ, but something in between: dark, wet, admitting access to an interior most people would rather not contemplate—where cancer starts, where the heart is broken, where the soul may just fail to turn up.”

It’s not just dentists who peer into dark spaces. Fear that the soul may fail to turn up is everywhere in Ferris’s work. To date, he has explored the human search for soulfulness in the anonymizing ecosystem of an office (Then We Came to the End); in the repercussions of an isolating, untreatable disease (The Unnamed); and repeatedly in words themselves. A short story like “The Fragments,” published in The New Yorker last spring, is constructed from snippets of half-caught conversations. It takes as its subject the not-quite-bridgeable gap between overhearing and understanding, between the sound of a sentence and the meaning inside. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour turns this artistic interest in misunderstandings into an impressive investigation of faith and doubt. It’s a novel full of existential humor, and the laughs start before the book has even begun. Not many American writers, searching the Bible for an appropriate epigraph, would have found their eyes alighting on this one:

Ha, ha

—Job 39:25.

I met Ferris on a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. We talked about his desire to shift his writing away from what he calls “the over-manufacture of the imagined” to a more “face value” approach. We also discussed the ways in which he envies the sense of belonging religion can offer, and why literary critics could afford to lighten up when it comes to funny fiction. “We don’t exist in the world solely to grow goatees and stroke them,” he told me. “We’re here also to make one another laugh.”

I heard that To Rise Again at a Decent Hour started its life as a detective novel called The Third Bishop. How did you find your way from that original idea into a novel about baseball and religion, narrated by a dentist?

Ten years ago, I was despairing of writing any book at all. I had about 250 pages of the novel that eventually became Then We Came to the End, and those pages were wanting. So I put them away and eventually gave myself over to a very different manuscript. It was about a kid who had been thoroughly indoctrinated into a cult and was convinced that his strange view was the worldview. I was interested in the borderland that exists between a cult and a religion, and especially fascinated by Joseph Smith and the evolution of Mormonism.

After Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed were published, I ended up coming back to that story of an indoctrinated kid. Slowly it evolved into the story of a private detective investigating a possibly ancient religion. In a way, the books you almost wrote on the way to finding the final novel will always be more interesting than the published version. They’re a more colorful record of the writer’s life. But with the help of my two editors I came to see that the private detective, who’s inherently a kind of mediating narrator, or a cipher, wasn’t working for me either. I needed a narrator right at the center of the novel, encountering the religion for himself. He eventually became a dentist because I need my characters to have jobs in order to feel real to me. People have to work. I thought, Why not make him a dentist? It doesn’t get any more real world than that. You’re getting in there every day and making shit bleed.Read More »

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Critics with Sharp Objects, and Other News

January 14, 2014 | by

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Preparing to take down an author. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

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