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Posts Tagged ‘space’

Dark Was the Night

July 20, 2016 | by

On the Voyager Mission.


Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Stage set for Mozart’s Magic Flute, 1815.

This summer, we’re introducing a series of new columnists. Up this week is Alison Kinney, whose column, Songs to the Moon, is a series on fandom and how the music, art, and artifacts of opera transform cultures and desires. — Ed.

If the inhabitants of other stars should spot the Voyager 1 interstellar probe zooming past—if they capture it and assemble its onboard audio player—and if they have ears to hear, they might puzzle over this message from the Queen of the Night (translated here from German):

The vengeance of hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair blaze around me!

Perhaps these German-speaking aliens will visit Earth to eradicate the threat posed by Mozart’s 1791 aria. Or maybe they’ll thrill to the prospect of subscribing to the Bavarian State Opera, only to discover that the soprano Edda Moser, who performed the recording they’d heard, had retired five billion years earlier, in 1999. Read More »

The Mind in Solitude: An Interview with Claire-Louise Bennett

July 18, 2016 | by

Photo © Conor Horgan

Strange things happen when you live alone. When youre no longer required to eat dinner at a particular time, or to close the bathroom door to shower, your relationship to the space around you changes. All of a sudden it is things, rather than other people, that seem to direct your thoughts.

In the most literal sense, the twenty stories that make up Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, Pond, record a series of moments in the life of an English woman living alone on the west coast of Ireland. The woman eats fruit, tries to replace a broken dial on her Salton mini oven, and wonders if the cows in a nearby field believe she is Jesus. What makes the book unique is the voice in which those moments are described—unfolding in a bird-like language that feels closer to thought than public address.

These are not stories in the traditional sense—neither are they essays, monologues, prose poems, letters or diary entries—but a series of improvisations on each. “Pond is the way it is,” Claire-Louise told me recently when we chatted over email, “because of the way I am, more or less.” Most essentially, Pond is an account of the mind as it exists in solitude. It attempts to engage with the universe at its fullest and not just the little portion of it we identify as human. I began our conversation by asking Claire-Louise where she was writing to me from. 


I’m in an apartment. And since I pay the rent on it each month and have a key to its door and the codes for the two entrance gates it’s reasonable to say it’s my apartment. I don’t feel much for it though. It seems thin, insubstantial, and often when I sit at the table, to eat, and at the desk, to write, I have the sensation the furniture and me are going to fall right through the floor into the thin, insubstantial, flat beneath. It’s raining, of course it is, it’s always raining. My dapper striped deckchair is swollen stiff with rainwater and will probably never close now. I can’t think why I ever opened it here, on a balcony on the west coast of Ireland. Read More »


April 11, 2016 | by

Thomas Ruff, press++01.16, 2015, chromogenic print, 72 7/8" x 91".

The German photographer Thomas Ruff’s “press++,” showing now at David Zwirner Gallery, comprises space-age images culled from the archival clippings of various American newspapers. Ruff scanned both sides of the original documents and layered them in Photoshop, thus presenting both the photos and the context—the smudges, cropping, commentary, and retouching—that surrounded their initial publication. “I think photography is still the most influential medium in the world, and I have to deconstruct these conventions,” he told Aperture in 2013:

I try to find out how the image was created and in what context—historical, political, or social—the image belongs … There are a lot of different photographs, and different photographs have different intentions. Fine art, medical, propaganda, and of course the most influential image-production machine is advertisement. This transformation, let’s say, of the scientific photography into the art world, or advertising photography into politics (as seen in the last U.S. election)—this modification of images from one intention to another brings about interferences. The image, and the meaning of the image, changes.

“press++” is up through April 30.
Read More »

Dord, and Other News

February 24, 2016 | by


  • Foupe, adventine, dentize, kime, morse—these and other non-word words have made their way into English-language dictionaries over the centuries, blurring the line between errata and neologisms. Philologists call them ghost words, and they’re mainly the result of printers’ errors. Jack Lynch writes of the most famous example, from 1934: “Webster’s included many abbreviations in its wordlist, and the compilers planned to include the abbreviation for density … One lexicographer—Austin M. Patterson, special editor for chemistry—typed a 3" × 5" card explaining the abbreviation: he headed it ‘D or d’ … But when it came time to transcribe the card, someone misread it and ran the letters together without spaces, producing ‘Dord, density’ … The entry made it into the dictionary as ‘dord, density.’ It took five years for a Merriam editor to notice the strange entry … The printer removed dord from the next reprint, filling the otherwise empty line by adding a few letters to the entry for doré furnace.”
  • While we’re on dictionaries: Are they sexist? Well, yes. Are they irretrievably sexist? That depends … “Feminists and linguists have been talking about the sexism that lurks beneath the surface of dictionaries since at least the nineteen-sixties … In 1987, the radical philosopher and activist Mary Daly wrote an entry for a word of her own coinage: ‘Dick-tionary, n: any patriarchal dictionary: a derivative, tamed and muted lexicon compiled by dicks.’ Rooting out the sexism in dictionaries was a priority for feminism’s second wave. The nineteen-seventies and eighties witnessed a profusion of alternative volumes like Daly’s, which highlighted biases that belied mainstream dictionaries’ descriptive ideals … The choices about what to include in a dictionary, like the construction of any historical record, are, arguably, inherently political … Feminist linguists argue that, in some instances, lexicographers should put a thumb on the scale.”
  • Today in love and the arts: Georg Friedrich Haas, a world-renowned composer, sent an OkCupid message to his future wife. “Wow—your profile is great … I would like to tame you.” Thus began a different kind of courtship: “In a joint appearance with his wife, who now goes by Mollena Williams-Haas, late last year at the Playground sexuality conference in Toronto, then in an interview this month in the online music magazine VAN, he has ‘come out,’ as he put it, as the dominant figure in a dominant-submissive power dynamic. Mr. Haas has chosen to speak up … because he hopes to embolden younger people, particularly composers, not to smother untraditional urges, as he did … Williams-Haas, who described the situation as feminist because it is her choice, said, ‘I find intense fulfillment in being able to serve in this way.’ She conceded the discomfort many may feel with a black woman willingly submitting to a white man … she added, ‘To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.’ ”
  • The other nontraditional composer in the news is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which has recently detected gravitational waves for the first time in history and converted their signal into audio. “When we listen to the waves that LIGO first played for us, we can tell that the system is quite heavy, since the signal ends a bit lower than middle C on the piano. If the system were lighter, the waves would have ended at a higher pitched note … We know we can hear these waves now, and we want to make our ears better … We want to hear the ghostly whispers of the earliest moments of the universe’s expansion. We want to listen without prejudice and to hear things that for now we can barely imagine.”
  • If space sounds make you anxious, turn your attention instead to Japan’s Kamakura Period (1185–1333), serene statues from which are now on display at the Asia Society of New York: “These mesmerizing sculptures show the sacred being standing quietly above an opening lotus blossom, and dressed in monk’s robes whose folds fall in a cascade of graceful waves. Their power to entrance arises from the near-perfect balance of motion and stillness, symmetry and asymmetry, they display. They do not move and yet they seem to radiate peace … Kamakura statues are miracles of technique. Carved in wood, and hollowed out so that the skin of the sculpture in some parts is not much thicker than cardboard, they weigh almost nothing. They hover on the verge of immateriality.”

Slayer Is Sad, and Other News

January 19, 2016 | by

From Slayer’s Reign in Blood, 1986.

  • Norman Rush on “the savage fictions” of Horacio Castellanos Moya and the archetype of the “superfluous man”: “The literary woods are of course as full of superfluous men as they are of unreliable narrators and, these days, really rebarbative antiheroes. Superfluous men make up an illustrious lineage: Goncharov’s Oblomov, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, Melville’s Bartleby, Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities, all the way down through Sartre’s Roquentin and the hero of Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. Superfluous men respond with disaffection, dysfunction, or withdrawal when they are unhorsed or irritated by the changing fortunes that the social machine spits out. It can be anything—plunging status, national disgrace, political or religious disillusion, extreme boredom … It’s always interesting to pick at the question of why these guys are the way they are. Sometimes the answer is on the surface and sometimes it’s complex and not on the surface at all. First of all, it’s fun to read about superfluous men. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe they offer to overworked and overbooked readers a dream of letting go, enjoying regression. There is learning and pleasure to be got from reading about them.”
  • Remember the whole debacle over A Million Little Pieces? That was ten years ago now. On one hand, not much has changed since then: readers still thirst for true stories, outrageous revelation, harrowing redemption. On the other hand, the memoir form has never had more to compete with, William Giraldi writes: “In the decade since the James Frey fiasco, social media has turned untold people into hourly memoirists in miniature. We live now in a culture of incessant confession … The absurdly named ‘confessional poets’ of the mid-twentieth century—Lowell and Berryman, Sexton and Roethke—look a touch constipated compared to your average Facebooker. How eagerly lives become doggerelized. What does it mean for the memoir as a form now that everyone, at any time, can instantaneously advertise his life to everyone else? Mailer never dreamed of such advertisements for the self … In this new ethos of endless self-advertisement, the memoir assumes a renewed responsibility, one that exceeds confessionalism.”
  • As music-streaming services come to dictate our listening habits and, to an increasing degree, our taste, we risk losing sight of the enormous emotional variance across genres. What makes sad songs sad, for instance, and how do songwriters from very different molds—Adele, Slayer, Nick Drake, Mozart—inflect their songs with sadness? Ben Ratliff investigates: “What is sadness in sound per se? Nothing. It doesn’t exist. There is no note or kind of note that in and of itself is sad and only sad … The construct of sadness, and the attendant contract that it helps build between musician and listener, has to do with how we might recognize it person-to-person: through silence and dissonant long tones, or through agitation and mania; through closed systems of harmony or phrasing, or through unnervingly open and dark ones. We hear it through voices and through instruments. And as listeners agree to play by the official rules of sadness, so do most musicians, and so do most singers, imitating the sound of instruments … There is a culture around any music, and how you understand that culture influences how you hear. Listening is augmented hearing, hearing through certain layers.”
  • “I love you madly … There is never a moment in which I do not adore you.” “I live and exist only to love you—adoring you is my only consolation.” Are these the words of friends or lovers? Hard to say when their authors are from the eighteenth century. These quotations are drawn from letters between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen, the Swedish Count with whom she’s suspected to have had an affair. But with emphasis on that “suspected”—historians have yet to find conclusive evidence of their tryst.
  • If you’re bored and looking for your next big project, maybe it’s time to rethink space. All of it, and your relation to it. As George Musser writes, “In the past twenty years, I’ve witnessed a remarkable evolution in attitudes among physicists toward locality … Over and over, I heard some variant of: ‘Well, it’s weird, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen if for myself, but it looks like the world has just got to be nonlocal’ … Instead of saying that space brings order to the world, you can say that the world is ordered and space is a convenient notion for describing that order. We perceive that things affect one another in a certain way and, from that, we assign them locations in space.”

Let’s Fly Some Art to the Moon, and Other News

January 5, 2016 | by

This platinum-engraved sapphire disk is going to the moon. Courtesy of the Moon Arts Project

  • The following are things we’re sending to the moon: text messages between a husband and wife, thirty-three artists’ blood, microscopic sculptures, river water, DNA from a genetically modified goat. They’re all part of Lowry Burgess’s MoonArk, a four-chambered mass of conceptual art he designed with dozens of other contributors. Soon it will go hurtling into the dark abyss on a privately funded space flight. “A poem is like a bell,” he said: “every word in a poem rings and makes all the rest of the other words ring. So in this, everything that’s there is making something else ring. So the totality is meant to hum together … We think it should be different than sticking a flag in the soil and claiming territory … maybe we’re leaving breadcrumbs for someone else to find their way back here. It’s an attempt to communicate forward in time—it’s an attempt to communicate outward.”
  • Plenty of books exist. But just as many, if not more, have never existed. And it’s these that Samantha Hunt has on her mind: “I have spent many pleasant nights imagining ghost books, those phantom texts of possibility and wonder. Their unprintable Dewey Decimal classifications divide them into (at the very least) three basic categories: books that can only be read once, books that cannot be read in one lifetime, and the largest, aforementioned group, books that don’t exist … Among the books that cannot be read in one lifetime there is Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliard de poèmes … It is the poetic response to the mathematical function 1014 … It would take more than a million centuries to finish reading this thin, thin book of poems.”
  • Remember all the dumb shit you wrote about T. S. Eliot in college? Imagine if it were published decades later, when you were President of the United States of America. A letter from the twenty-two-year-old Barack Obama to his then-girlfriend sheds light not just on his exegesis of “The Waste Land” but on his worrisome tendency toward fatalism: “Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats,” Obama wrote. “However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time … Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this.”
  • Today in toothpicks: they’re still out there in abundance, sometimes soaked in tea-tree oil, and you chew on them at your own peril, as Ryan Bradley learned: “There is but a small window in which it is okay to have a pick in your mouth, and that is for approximately ten minutes post-meal, when it’s necessary to needle stuff out of your teeth. Unless you are Steve McQueen—not the director, but the actor, who is dead—if you walk around with a toothpick in your mouth trying to look cool, you look, instead, like a prick … I put a pick in my mouth, allowing it to soften, then bit down enough to release a burst of tea-tree oil, and thought of the bacterial apocalypse I had unleashed. It was satisfying. I lingered at a stoplight, chewing slowly, murdering millions of mouth bacteria while the light went green and the driver behind me began leaning on the wheel and only then, with the drone of the long honk behind me, did I begin to speed up.”
  • In 1942, Shostakovich completed his seventh symphony, which made its debut in Leningrad even though the city was under siege by the Germans and many of its citizens were starving. The moment is the subject of a new documentary, Leningrad and the Orchestra That Defied Hitler: “One of the interviewees recalls her eighteenth birthday in January 1942, when she put her grandfather’s body on a sledge and took it away. She remembers seeing a Christmas tree with what looked like parcels under it and then realizing they were dead children. Her voice sounds incredibly young when she talks about the performance in the Philharmonic Hall, which looked just the same as ever, and the sense of elation everyone felt as they listened to Shostakovich’s music.”