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Posts Tagged ‘the Internet’

Ad Me

July 22, 2016 | by

Growing up in the context of no context.

red-vintage-old-chair

A few years ago, my late friend D. G. Myers and I had a disagreement about the relationship between advertising and literary culture. Myers argued that the ads and articles in the Saturday Evening Post had a bearing on the stories F. Scott Fitzgerald initially published in the magazine, on the grounds that all three came out of the same cultural context. At the time, I was unpersuaded—the ads, I said, were just there to pay the bills—but I have come to see his point.

Last week, I rewatched an episode of Reading Rainbow that I have long cherished. As the episode begins, LeVar Burton, the show’s host, appears alone on a smog-filled dock on Charleston Harbor. Wearing a trench coat and fedora in the style of a hard-boiled detective, Burton is on the trail of Big Mama Blue. Suddenly we hear someone singing opera, and Burton introduces Mystery on The Docks, by Thacher Hurd. The story, narrated by Raúl Juliá, is about an opera-loving short-order cook who saves a famous singer from gangsters. All the characters are rats. Read More »

How to Look at White Squares, and Other News

July 5, 2016 | by

Robert Ryman, Arrow, 1996, oil on Plexiglas with steel, 13 1/2" x 12". Image via Dia.

  • Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director who made Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy, and a host of other poetic films, has died at seventy-six. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Kiarostami’s contemporaries, told the Guardian, “Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today … But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanized it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version. He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life—that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death.”
  • It wouldn’t be a lie to say that Robert Ryman paints white squares—exactly the kind of concept that makes the uninitiated roll their eyes and say, My kid could do that. But your kid could not do this, not even your honor student. As silly as it sounds, Ryman’s canvases force you to reevaluate the whole, like, concept of white: “If you take a close look at the current exhibition at Dia: Chelsea, you quickly realize just how much can be contained within them. With smears and flecks and whorls of paint, built up in some places, washed out in others, the works catch the light in a singular way … The works are best seen when lit by the sun, as filtered down through the Dia skylights. And the light can activate the paint differently during the day, often calling up blue or green undertones.”
  • The web in the nineties was a simpler, uglier place, where color schemes grated, links broke, and a MIDI version of your favorite Third Eye Blind song was always just a click away. What explains our nostalgia for all this? Charles Thaxton writes, “It’s now well established that most Internet users experience the web through a handful of large, enclosed platforms and apps … Was the Early Web any better? The pre-platform, pre-mobile Internet was a web of pages and links and counters. The most essential thing about it is the notion that it looked bad. But the bad-looking web is making a comeback. All of a sudden you’re on that clunky-looking webpage again … Nostalgia for the way the web looked is really a sublimated nostalgia for how it felt, for a time in almost everyone’s life when discovery and openness and joy were all more operable. As much as we want to preserve the early Internet in amber, we want to hold on to the feeling of the early Internet even more.”
  • Boethius was executed in the year 524, but don’t let that deter you: his De consolatione philosophiae, written as he awaited execution, remains a vital read in troubling times. “Boethius’s task was both personal and communal, for in stoically embracing the decisions of the goddess Fortuna he admitted that death would soon come, but as he was also a refugee from a world that was dying, his manuscript served as an ars moriendi for culture, too. And in subsequent centuries his accomplishment was steadfastly maintained by fellow humanists, laboring in monasteries and libraries dotting Europe, making The Consolations of Philosophy one of the most copied texts of late antiquity, a capsule from one culture’s final moments through the eclipse of the next centuries … It’s an interesting question how much someone like Boethius could anticipate that their world was coming to an end; it’s an important question to ask if we are adequately anticipating it right now.”
  • In which John Berger visits a small coastal village in Italy and rhapsodizes about eels: “The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbors. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term down-to-water. Every year in the first week of October they celebrate a fete known as the Sagra dell’Anguilla (the festival of the eel). The cobbled town center is crammed with stalls of street vendors, come from elsewhere, selling trinkets, rings, seashells, cheeses, madonnas, salamis, dolls at low prices, small pleasures. The inhabitants wander slowly past, fingering the knickknacks, reckoning the small pleasures, and from time to time paying out a few coins. There are also benches and trestle tables where one can drink and eat. There is the smell of food being grilled. Onions, aubergines, peppers, and, of course, eels.”

The Language of the Cockpit, and Other News

June 13, 2016 | by

From a vintage Trans World Airlines ad.

  • In the grim aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, Richard Kim pays tribute to gay bars as institutions: “My first gay bar was Crowbar. Like all great gay bars, Crowbar was a dump: dark, low-ceilinged, shitty sound system. It was off Tompkins Square Park and Avenue B, when Tompkins Square Park was still a place you’d go to to buy drugs. It smelled like mildew, urine, cheap vodka, and Designer Imposters body spray. It’s long gone—made extinct like too many wonders by gentrification and Giuliani—but for a hot moment in the ’90s, it was the single most fabulous place in the galaxy. Dance moves were invented there. People went in, and when they came out, they weren’t just drunk—they were different people. That’s how powerful its juju was … Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression.”
  • They made a movie about Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe, and they called it Genius? Oh, this can’t miss! Except that the film “depicts creation via furious montage. Tom stands at the refrigerator scribbling. Max jabs and plucks at pages of typescript. Bourbon and martinis are consumed. Cigarettes are smoked. Women come and go … Genius sighs with palpable nostalgia for a supposed golden age of masculine artistic potency and paints the struggle for self-expression in familiar sentimental colors. For Tom, writing is the unbridled expression of the life force, something [Jude] Law indicates by hollering and gesticulating and allowing a stray lock of hair to fall just so across his brow.”

Just Read the Book Instead, and Other News

May 31, 2016 | by

A still from Doctor Thorne.

  • Hot take: There’s a new miniseries adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, and it’s not good. Just follow Laura Miller’s lead and read the book instead: “Seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of [Trollope’s] books, albeit in a less technologized form … The resemblance between particular current events and Trollope’s fiction is like the weather: however much it changes from day to day, in one form or another, it’s always there. His novels amount to a compendium of every recurring pattern of human behavior as observed by a wise, amused, and tenderly exacting deity. He sees all our little self-delusions and vanities, but he loves us just the same. In fact, sometime they make him love us more.”

Sweet Sorrow, Et Cetera

May 27, 2016 | by

Mikhail Clodt, Der Abschied, before 1902.

It is a strange thing to monetize your emotions. Anyone who writes or creates knows this. And the work one does on the Internet feels insubstantial, even by the flimsy standards of intellectual property. Any body of digital work is a funny mixture of ephemeral and immortal, and it’s hard to know how to feel about such an archive. 

Today marks my final column as the Daily’s correspondent. When I started writing these casuals, in January 2014, I thought of them as a challenge: to try to do something small, well, and consistently. There are certain kinds of writing—good writing—that are actually better suited to this medium than to print, and translating the personal and fleeting into something public seems to me one of the Internet’s primary gifts. The challenge comes not in finding inspiration, but in trying to strike the balance of confidence—that one’s observations have merit—and humility: recognizing that they’re not inherently interesting. Read More »

This Guy Wanted to Sell You Some Furniture, and Other News

May 25, 2016 | by

An 1881 ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company.

  • Jacob Harris was scoping out some nineteenth-century newspaper ads (don’t judge; this is how some of us get our kicks) when he stumbled upon an ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company composed entirely of typography—a direct predecessor of the ASCII art that would come more than a century later. “The face resembles modern ASCII art, but it was published at a time—March 20, 1881—that seemed impossibly early,” he writes: “In many newspapers, these early examples of text art vanished not long after they arrived … Apart from the two advertisements I had found, the style apparently never caught on in the Times. But why not? To answer that, I looked more at the Eagle where I found the earliest ads—and where they survived for several decades longer than everywhere else. They are there in 1881, when one bold advertiser filled an entire page with ASCII text. They are there in 1888, when the Eagle advertised its election night almanac in the familiar large letters. They are there all the way up to July 3, 1892, a day the same Brooklyn Furniture Company again ran a half-page ad with their address in large ASCII letters. And, then, on July 5th, they were completely gone, replaced by modern layouts and fancy typography. Those upgrades likely explain, at least in part, what happened. ASCII art flourishes most when technology is limited; you don’t need Print Shop anymore when you can do digital layout on your computer and have an inkjet printer.”
  • In which Edward Docx attends the 2016 British Esperanto Conference: “There are few times in your life that you can be certain that you are doing what nobody else in the world is doing—or has ever done—or will likely do again. This was one of them. I was sitting at a table of six, with a Catalan, a Brazilian, a Belgian, a Londoner and a Slovakian, while they munched and guzzled their way through their kareos and had what I can only describe as the most kinetic, exciting and involving conversation in Esperanto that Spice City (of Stanley Street, Liverpool) is ever going to witness. The animation. The jokes. The asides. The soliloquys. The antanaclasis. Oh, if only I had known what they were talking about I could have … I could have told you. But I was converted. The whole idea and application of Esperanto was so obviously amazing, so demonstrably persuasive, so self-evidently practical that I forget all over again about English; English; English.”
  • The Internet is a fine place to find good writing. But it’s the best place to find moronic writing—just try. It’s such an effective moronic-writing delivery system that print media got jealous: “There are too many people filling every possible orifice of the Internet with their idiot opinions and comical prejudices and poorly constructed arguments … But: Have you seen what’s not on the Internet? You would think, what with the supposed influence of those who man the precincts offline, away from the free-for-all of our type-and-post world, that there would be safety in the smooth, heavy paper and creamy finish of print … And yet: THEY ARE NOT ALL THAT MUCH BETTER … It turns out most people don’t have anything very interesting to say and they’re actually a lot worse at saying it than we previously anticipated. Also, what no one expected is that shit flows upward, splattering the finer precincts we once looked to for wisdom with the same awful patina of chatty, ‘relatable’ garbage whose ultimate goal is to be passed around without anyone mentioning how gross your palms feel once you hand it off. We were warned and we didn’t listen and now we’re all paying the price.”