Posts Tagged ‘the Internet’
May 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- 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.”
May 19, 2014 | by Jonathan Lee
“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:
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 »
May 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- One of the finest World War II documentaries, 1945’s The Battle of San Pietro, was faked. Does this make it less true?
- Here’s what it was like to attend a literature seminar taught by Philip Roth in the seventies: “He barely looked at us or made eye contact, but murmured a hello, then sat down in his chair, crossed one long leg over the other, and slowly unbuckled his watch. That’s as sexy as it got.”
- “Does journalism fit into capitalism? … Journalism does exist in capitalism, and capitalism is kicking journalists’ asses. The same goes for editors, and for many publications.”
- Matt Parker, a sound artist, has been touring data hubs—those epicenters of the Internet, where all our e-stuff takes physical form—and recording the ethereal hum they give off. The result: “musical renderings of the great churn … an incredibly loud and obnoxious place filled with white noise and buzzing hard drives.”
- Analyzing the artisanal toast trend: “Artisanal toast is hardly the first harbinger of our food obsession, or even necessarily the most egregious, but it’s become a scapegoat for a growing, broader cultural backlash; the toast that broke the camel’s back.”
April 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
- Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
- “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
- Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
- From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
- Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.
April 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Spotted in the Times: our very own Sadie Stein (and her apartment) paying tribute to Laurie Colwin.
- A German publisher wants to print Wikipedia—all 4,484,862 articles of it. The omnibus “would fill a bookcase that’s 32 feet long and 8 feet high. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.” I can’t imagine why.
- Have we failed to utilize effective incentivizing techniques to promote greater linguistic clarity? In other words, are we losing the war against jargon?
- The photographer Nancy Warner takes wistful pictures of abandoned farmhouses on the Great Plains.
- In 1937, Richard Nixon applied to be a special agent in the FBI. He was not accepted. In a letter of recommendation, the dean of Duke Law School wrote that Nixon was “one of the finest young men, both in character and ability, that I have ever had the opportunity of having in classes.”
- Want fast Internet? Go to the darkest depths of Norway, where there are more polar bears than people.
March 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Living in fear of 1999’s Melissa virus.
My father died when I was six, and though I didn’t, couldn’t, step into his shoes, I did inherit his role as my family’s IT guy. When I was around eight, I installed Windows 95 on our home computer with no adult assistance. This was a source of enormous pride and stress. I had dreams involving catastrophic software failures, corrupt data, red error boxes, low-res neon-green background screens. I wanted to find something arcane in Windows 95, something mystical. I looked through every file it installed on our computer.
A few years later, at my prodding, we bought an America Online subscription and lurched into the merge lane of the Information Superhighway, where my stress compounded. If I had any doubt that the Internet was a wild, dangerous place, it was dispelled by the bray and hiss of the 56k modem, which seemed to tear into my phone line—implying the abrasion and contusion necessary to connect.
After that, though, came the chipper baritone of the AOL spokesman: “Welcome!” Within the cheery confines of AOL’s walled garden—buddy lists, channels, chat rooms—I felt, as the company wanted me to, safe. I had a screen name. I had a password. Read More »