Posts Tagged ‘social media’
October 5, 2016 | by Virginia Heffernan
Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.
The Zenith Z-19 is not a computer. It’s an end point of memory and desire, a vanishing horizon, a terminus, a terminal. It is also certainly not a monitor.
In 1979 my family’s Zenith Z-19 sat dull-eyed on a whitewashed, built-in desk in my parents’ L-shaped bedroom in New Hampshire. That year I was ten, and I was never not at that terminal. I beheld my Zenith Z-19 as I never had, and never will, not even close, observe a great painting or statue at Angkor Wat or the Vatican. I will never gaze at the aurora borealis that way—something as wordless, undying and not mine as the night sky? Frankly I find it hard to believe stars hold more than the polite interest of other people.
Was it flat? It was, to the touch. You could jab in, past the hard, battleship-hued casing, touching a rectangular screen with pleasing dimensions that drew on the golden mean. Whatever static my fingers lifted, I remember it as minor, but I distinctly remember the uppermost layer of that machine’s complexion to be petal-soft and cool—poreless, scaleless, hairless, but vibrating with life like a mammal. I can see it now, in a cramped image, on my tarty MacBook pixmap, where the old terminal’s recessive palate seems despairingly out of place. On Wikipedia, the screen plays as olive drab—but drab it was not. Read More »
September 8, 2016 | by Deni Ellis Béchard
How expats fashion online identities while living in a war zone.
All wars have their aesthetic: the grainy newness of the World Wars, the photographer up close, in mud or water, his speed and fear palpable in the washed-out, often blurred images of men; the Cold War a stark espionage mystery, less action than mood, its clues hidden in the diplomatic formality of competing decadent powers; Vietnam a single black-and-white photo so horrifyingly violent it punctured the jingoism of American imperialism and showed its nihilistic core; and Afghanistan, its online presence as garish as the Las Vegas skyline—street shots and selfies transmuted by the virtual gears of social-media editing, their contrast, sharpness, and saturation jacked up until followers feel as if their neurons are feasting on the very opiates that keep the Taliban in business.
And each war has its signature story. Afghanistan’s coincides with the rise of social media. In the online world where banal weekend jaunts resemble the Odyssey and afflict followers with post-feed depression—the feeling after seeing glistening legs on a beach or a sunset clipped by an airplane’s wing (not, notably, the cramped economy seat or credit-card bill)—establishing a social-media presence in a war zone is more than self-fashioning; it’s reincarnation, maybe even creation ex-nihilo. Expats’ Facebook and Instagram avatars often emerge as if by divine birth, leaving followers unable to fathom how that bookish college friend wound up motorcycling around Kabul or hiking the Hindu Kush with a few smiling local dudes in pajamas who, to the untrained eye, are obviously Taliban. Read More »
June 23, 2016 | by Wei Tchou
How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.
I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »
January 11, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- First things first: David Bowie is dead, and the world is a worse place for it. Here, from 2013, is a list of his hundred favorite books, including DeLillo’s White Noise, Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and, yes, The Paris Review’s collected Writers at Work interviews, among many others.
- While we’re talking music, Alex Abramovich has put in a good word for that most maligned of instruments, the saxophone, which has for too long been discounted as an agent of sleaze. (Bowie used it to impeccable effect on “Modern Love.”) “A shitty thing about standard histories of rock and roll—ones that tell us that the music is half country and western, half rhythm and blues—is that they always slight jazz. (To do otherwise would be to suggest that rock and roll was was being played, by black musicians, well before Elvis Presley followed Ike Turner into Sam Phillips’s studio.) But the truth is that electric guitar solos are directly descended from saxophone solos via Charlie Christian, who defined his instrument (which was once seen as a joke among jazz musicians, much as the saxophone’s a joke in rock) by being the first guitarist good enough to cop saxophone riffs in cutting contests.”
- What’s the point of a literary magazine today? Our editor, Lorin Stein, essays an answer: “Writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed. It’s the opposite of the personal-slash-professional writing that is now part of our everyday lives. More than ever, we need writers who are unprofessional, whose private worlds come first … By writing offline, literally and metaphorically, this new generation of writers gives us the intimacy, the assurance of their solitude. They let us read the word I and feel that it’s not attached to a product. They let us read an essay, or a stanza, and feel the silence around it—the actual, physical stillness of a body when it’s deep in thought. It can’t be faked, in life or on the page.”
- Not dissimilarly, Christian Lorentzen wonders about the role of the short story, which was once the highest-paying, most robust form in fiction: “the revolutions of the past century have been absorbed by four generations of writers at work today, and that modes once heralded as avant-garde now linger among the array of strategies available to any writer … Literary fiction is at its worst when it’s easy to imagine it recast as quality television or low-pressure art-house cinema. The battle between words on a page and images on a screen has long been lost.”
- Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen is not, in fact, an easy-to-carry smattering of the seminal economist’s musings on conspicuous consumption. It’s a novel. About a woman with a fondness for squirrels. That woman’s name is Veblen, and she and her husband are at odds over a furry visitor in their attic. “It doesn’t take long for the reader to understand that the couple’s opposed feelings about the squirrel—he wants to trap or kill it, she wants to make friends—bespeak a deeper opposition in personality and values that might very well ruin their relationship … When Veblen cages the attic squirrel and takes him on a meandering driving trip, all the while holding conversations with him about the meaning of love and happiness, you begin to realize that McKenzie means to blur the boundary between adorable eccentricity and actual madness.”
November 6, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If we’re going to gauge an artist’s success by the number of Twitter and Instagram followers she has, an aspirant artist can and should game the system: don’t wait for the followers, just go out and buy a bunch of fake ones. Constant Dullaart’s art is all about buying your following: “The bots are accepted as part of our social fabric, as long as they don’t spam us, right? But what actually happens to an art practice if you quantify the link between audience reception and market value? What is the quality of the followers, how many ‘managed’ or artificial identities are injected to increase market value? Many other artistic careers are justified in the press through their popularity on social media … My work was meant to comment on the value of audience quantification in the art world, in times when everything, even social relationships (now called social capital), can be defined in monetary terms.”
- Thirty years later, DeLillo’s White Noise is still the prophetic, funny, deathward-moving classic everyone wanted it to be: “White Noise is bathed in the glare and hum of personal computers and refrigerators and color televisions. Like bulletins from the subconscious, the text is intermittently interrupted by litanies of brand names designed to be pronounceable in a hundred languages: Tegrin, Denorex, Selsun Blue … in 1985, as the world accelerated toward an unrecognizable automated future and nuclear dread had become normalized, even the words Toyota Celica sounded like a prayer.”
- Today in poop jokes and the royal family: Isack van Ostade’s 1643 painting A Village Fair with a Church Behind has been a part of England’s royal collection since 1810. But this seemingly innocuous work contains the unthinkable: firm evidence that earlier generations of humankind defecated exactly as we do today. “As conservators began to clean the painting, they realized a bush in the painting’s right foreground was not original to the work. When they removed the bush, they discovered a squatting man relieving himself … Curators believe that the man was painted over in 1903 … Dutch artists often include people or animals answering the call of nature partly as a joke and partly to remind viewers of that crucial word ‘nature,’ the inspiration for their art. Queen Victoria thought the Dutch pictures in her collection were painted in a ‘low style.’ ”
- Roberto Calasso talks about his new memoir, The Art of the Publisher, and running the Italian publishing house Adelphi: “ ‘At the beginning, we were considered rather eccentric and aristocratic. Then, when we started to have remarkable commercial successes, we were accused of being too populist. That was curious because we were publishing exactly the same books … The word ‘information’ suffers from a kind of verbal inflation, which has confused the minds of lots of people. And that is really worrying. Not the simple fact of digitization, which I’m not scared of, but that in the mind of some people, these two terms conflate. But they are opposites, sometimes.”
- Pet names Nabokov had for his wife, Véra: “beloved insecticle … his kittykin, his poochums, his mousikins, goosikins, monkeykins, sparrowling, kidlet … his skunky, his bird of paradise, his mothling, kitty-cat, roosterkin, mousie, tigercubkin.” He wrote her hundreds of letters. She rarely wrote back.
July 31, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- 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.”