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Posts Tagged ‘the Internet’

The Philosophy of Your Word Processor, and Other News

October 27, 2014 | by

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A promotional photo for the Canon Cat, an early word processor.

  • April 1975: Updike and Barth hung out in Baltimore. They ate some soft-shelled crabs and visited Poe’s grave. “I don’t think we’re very unlike,” Updike later wrote. “We’re both sons of the hard-working, temperate Middle Atlantic region, twice married, depression-conscious, and stuck with the belief that there is such a thing as American littrachoor.”
  • A lost Malcolm Lowry novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, is soon to see print for the first time. Lowry spent some ten years on the book, which was lost when his home in Vancouver burned down in 1944. He’d left an early copy of the manuscript with his first wife’s mother; it wasn’t rediscovered until 2001.
  • Wash your hands of Microsoft Word and its misguided Platonism: embrace WordPerfect. “Intelligent writers can produce intelligent prose using almost any instrument, but the medium in which they write will always have some more or less subtle effect on their prose … When I work in Word, for all its luxuriant menus and dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.”
  • Virginia Woolf to Katherine Mansfield, 1921: “I’m in the middle of my novel now, but have to break off, of course, to make a little money. I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth, and so pay for our new sheets.”
  • Does the Internet ever sleep? Not in America.

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[REDACTED], and Other News

September 23, 2014 | by

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The censors of the Russian Empire. “Examination of correspondence from the theater of war by military censors,” an illustration from the journal Priroda i liudi, May 28, 1915.

  • What not to do during Banned Books Week: ban seven books. After a tense board meeting, a high school in Highland Park, Texas, has demanded its students stop reading The Art of Racing in the RainThe Working Poor: Invisible in America, SiddharthaThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAn Abundance of KatherinesThe Glass Castle: A Memoir, and Song of Solomon. “Parents and grandparents brought books flagged with sticky notes. They read excerpts of sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction, and a passage that criticized capitalism.” (Most of which you can find in a given issue of The Paris Review—lock up your daughters.)
  • Relatedly: What is censorship? “To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong. Although it varied enormously, it usually was a complex process that required talent and training and that extended deep into the social order. It also could be positive. The approbations of the French censors testified to the excellence of the books deemed worthy of a royal privilege. They often resemble promotional blurbs on the back of the dust jackets on books today.”
  • Things from which invisible ink has been made, through the ages: “The milk of figs, cows and nuts; lemon juice, orange juice and onion juice; saliva, urine, blood, vinegar, aspirin, and laxatives.” Oh, and a dormouse’s corpse … oh, and the display codes embedded in porn images …
  • Talking to Emmanuel Carrère—“the most important French writer you’ve never heard of,” unless you’ve read the Art of Nonfiction No. 5—about his new book Limonov, which comes out next month: “In the manner of Truman Capote … Carrère has waited, with the patience of a deer hunter, for the true story that would not only illuminate aspects of his own life, but also exemplify the puzzle of the post–cold war west.”
  • “The internet gives us everything that writing does not: it gives us what we dream about when sitting alone at our desks: contact with our tribe and the sense that we’re in a community … The internet reminds me of smoking—which I gave up almost twenty-seven years ago—but whenever someone talked about cancer or heart disease it made me want to light up.”

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The Erotics of Architecture, and Other News

August 18, 2014 | by

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Dig those curves: the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Rodrigo Soldon

  • In the summer of 2011, Phyllis Rose went to the New York Society Library and read one entire shelf of fiction—specifically, the shelf marked LEQ-LES. “In their obscurity, these books might be dull, bad or even unreadable; they might, in fact, be a total waste of her time. But she also felt certain that, should she embark on such a scheme, she would find herself on the readerly equivalent of virgin snow, for who else would have read this precise sequence of novels? … What followed was sometimes hard work and sometimes great fun. It was exasperating but also invigorating; deeply boring and yet surprisingly exciting.”
  • Congratulations to Louise Erdrich, who’s won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s distinguished achievement award. “The Dayton prizes are meant to recognize literature’s power to foster peace, social justice, and global understanding, and the distinguished achievement award is given for body of work.”
  • “You can’t kill e-mail! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing … E-mail is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built … Yes, e-mail is exciting. Get excited!
  • From “a guide to the sexual understanding of great buildings”: “Right an­gles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man. What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find … in the body of the woman we love.”
  • It’s a radical act of self-reference. It’s a paradigm-shattering instance of recursion. It’s … the world’s most profoundly stupid sign, a sign whose sole purpose is to warn you against hitting your head on it.

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Give the Heimlich in Style, and Other News

July 30, 2014 | by

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The artist Lara Antal’s custom-designed choking poster for Sunshine Co. Image via Maryland Institute College of Art

  • At the New York Public Library, a copy of Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (1926), once known as “the best-selling sex manual of all time,” was returned nearly fifty-four years late. Carnal knowledge takes time.
  • New York City requires its restaurants to “have posted in a conspicuous place, easily accessible to all employees and customers, a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver,” but the city’s official poster isn’t exactly pleasing to an aesthetic eye. “Restaurants citywide are increasingly turning to boutique posters to blend in with their overall look, so far without drawing the ire of health inspectors.” Graphic designers sell these for as much as eighty bucks.
  • The paranoid logic of the censoring mentality” makes sense only if one believes that readers are morons.
  • “The Internet has been the most dramatic change in the lives of blind people since the invention of Braille. I can still remember having to go into a bank to ask the teller to read my bank balances to me, cringing as she read them in a very loud, slow voice … tech-savvy blind people were early Internet adopters. In the 1980s, as a kid with a 2400-baud modem, I’d make expensive international calls from New Zealand to a bulletin-board system in Pittsburgh that had been established specifically to bring blind people together. My hankering for information, inspiration, and fellowship meant that even as a cash-strapped student, I felt the price of the calls was worth paying.”
  • In 2008, a seventeen-year-old changed the Wikipedia entry on the coati, a kind of raccoon that he claimed is also known as “a Brazilian aardvark.” References to this fabricated nickname “have since appeared in the Independent, the Daily Mail, and even in a book published by the University of Chicago … [The claim] still remains on its Wikipedia entry, only now it cites a 2010 article in the Telegraph as evidence … This kind of feedback loop—wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood—is a documented phenomenon. There’s even a Wikipedia article describing it.”

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The Wide World of Typewriter Art, and Other News

May 26, 2014 | by

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Otto von Bismarck (1898), typewriter art published in George Mares‘s The History of the Typewriter (1909)

  • The Glasgow School of Art’s library, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, caught fire over the weekend, but the art school is confident that most of its holdings are intact.
  • A new anthology of typewriter art explores “the development of the typewriter as a medium for creating work far beyond anything envisioned by the machine’s makers.”
  • Remembering the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919: “Just after noon on January 15, 1919, a hail of gunshots rang out in the North End. The thunderous cascade of collapsing metal caused the ground to rumble and shake. Residents barely had time to register the sounds before an astonishing sight greeted them: a two-story wave of molasses barreling down the streets at thirty-five miles an hour.”
  • The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a number of utopian preconceptions of what would become the Internet. Among them was Paul Otlet’s plan for “electric telescopes,” which he hatched in 1934; the telescopes “would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films … Otlet also wrote about wireless networks, speech recognition, and social network-like features that would allow individuals to ‘participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.’”
  • The many lives of Aubrey Lee Price, “the Bernie Madoff of the South.”

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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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