The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘space’

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.”

Holiday Travel

December 18, 2015 | by

The night crowd.

I grew up in a Manhattan apartment whose view encompassed sky, clouds, and other apartments. For a while I kept a pair of binoculars on the windowsill. I used them before going to bed, a kind of voyeuristic nightcap. Most of the pleasure I got came from noting which lights were on and which were off in other people’s apartments. I would sometimes wonder if somewhere out there, in one of the unlit windows, perhaps, there was a kid with binoculars looking back at me. 

Once, when we were thirteen or so, a friend in the building and I took his massive telescope to the roof. This was before all modes of entrance and egress in Manhattan apartment buildings and hotels were locked down and wired with alarms. We probably almost died getting the tripod up the fire ladder. Once we were up there, we took turns slowly rotating the telescope across the landscape as we peered through with one eye closed. We did this on a few occasions, and only once achieved the semi-nirvana of seeing a naked woman. She was sleeping on her stomach. A sheet covered most of her. But enough of her back, and a bit of leg, was visible to infer that she was naked. The question was if she would wake up, or at least roll over. We stayed up there for a long time, waiting. I don’t think she ever woke. Read More »

On “Relativity”

October 8, 2015 | by

The poetry of astrophysics.

A 2008 image of Omega Centauri from the Hubble telescope, revealing that the cluster “appears to harbor an elusive intermediate-mass black hole in its center.”

It’s not a new idea that poets and scientists should talk to one another. During a visit to Florence in 1638, the young John Milton sought out Galileo Galilei. By then a blind old man, Galileo was living under house arrest, confined by the Inquisition for asserting, after his celestial observations, that the Earth revolved around the sun. Years later, old and blind himself, Milton would pay homage—in his epic poem about the origins of our universe, Paradise Lost—to the great astronomer, who makes a cameo appearance with his telescope pointed at the sun’s dark spots.

Five years ago I got my first job, as a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; in the stray hours between thinking about Milton or Donne, I finished my first book of poems. In college, a wooden ramp across the four-hundred-year-old stone steps is the only outward sign of its most famous fellow. Fifty years ago, Stephen Hawking arrived fresh from his Ph.D. (as I did) to take up a research fellowship at Caius, then never left. Within that community, where I would sit down to lunch with friends in maths, genetics, or cognitive science, traces of those conversations began to creep into my notebooks and even into poems. When I got the commission to write a poem on light for this year’s National Poetry Day—today, in the UK—my first thought was paradoxically of its absence: the black holes whose mysteries Professor Hawking has spent his career working to unfold. Read More »

Travel Souvenirs: An Interview with Joanna Walsh

September 22, 2015 | by

Joanna Walsh

Joanna Walsh’s writing enacts what Chris Kraus has called a literal vertigo—the feeling that if I fall I will fall not toward the earth but into space—by probing the spaces between things.” Walsh, a British writer and illustrator, is fascinated by liminal spaces, especially in the many varieties encountered by tourists. She’s sometimes known by her French nom de guerre, Badaude, loosely translated as “gawk,” and suggesting the perambulatory figure of the flaneuse. Her work trades on the literary genres of the miniatureshort stories, essays, even postcardsreminiscent of Marcel Schwob, Clarice Lispector, Roland Barthes, and Lydia Davis. Her 2014 Twitter initiative @read_women is an archival who’s who of modern female writers, extolling in its tweets the distaff works of everyone from Leonora Carrington to Elena Ferrante.  Aside from her abundant online presence,Walsh’s prolific output includes three new books: Hotel, Vertigo, and Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales About Sex, all of which run from the bantam lengths of fifty-five to 170 pages.

Among her seemingly disparate subjects are hotel architecture and etiquette, sexual politics in twentieth-century psychoanalysis, the perils of family vacations, the fantasias of cinema, and fables of transgendered witches. In Walsh’s feminist cosmogony, all are brought to bear as inscrutable souvenirs of the everyday mundane. She elucidates the slippery, gendered in-betweenness of everyday ritual in a manner reminiscent of Derrida’s disquisition on the chora—that most mysterious and mundane of spaces, not unlike the anonymous corridor of a hotel.

I reached Walsh, appropriately enough, at a hotel in Mexico. She and I shared a lively discussion about hotel culture and theory, travel fantasies, and the contemporary potential of fairy tales.
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Text Messages

June 24, 2015 | by

Untitled (The Deepest Seas)

Ken Grimes, Untitled (The Deepest Seas)

Like Richard Sharpe Shaver, a midcentury sci-fi writer who believed that an ancient civilization had embossed its complex history into “rock books,” Ken Grimes is convinced that humankind has defined communication too narrowly. A self-styled “visionary artist,” Grimes paints chiefly in acrylic on Masonite boards, and his subject is extraterrestrials: their existence, the deceptions surrounding that existence, and the cosmic synchronicities that reveal their presences. He looks for hidden messages from aliens in astronomy texts. “These are professional writers who have editors and proofreaders,” he told Wired, noting that the mistakes of such writers still tend to follow patterns. “They’re experiencing alien spirituality. It’s right in their face and they can’t even see it.” Grimes is schizophrenic. Read More »