- Remember the sixties? Me either—I was negative eighteen in ’68. Jesse Jarnow also wasn’t born yet, but his book on the psychedelic counterculture, Heads, benefits from that distance, Hua Hsu writes: “He is vigilant in his attempt to understand the idealism of the past on its own terms, and to regard the ‘head’—the archetypal, open-minded sixties explorer—as someone whose skepticism toward power structures and authority might still resonate with us today. It’s just that, back then, such an explorer might have found a little more help along the way … As I read Jarnow’s chapter on the innocent, halcyon days of LSD experimentation, the mid-sixties started to feel further away than the seventeen-hundreds. It was easy to understand the central players’ ambitions—their visions of freedom aren’t so different from ours—but it was nearly impossible to imagine the world they found themselves in; I kept anticipating the nation’s inexorable tilt back toward its Puritan roots, its choice of law and order over mind expansion.”
- Today in the cock ring as a metaphor: “Artists hardly even qualify as whores. Contemporary art is a cock ring on a giant erection pumped up by capitalism and keeping the masters of that game from cumming. I think they like it. I think the artists like it, too. They get to pretend to be profound. Some are. Most are hemorrhoids waiting to happen. The blood that pumps it all up is money. Green blood. Who has a problem with that? We all want some of it. Just please don’t take it seriously. No, actually, do take it seriously. If you did, I would be impoverished, and maybe my life would have been worth more.”
- Books can be difficult—so many words, and usually they’re the same color. But what if we made them different colors? The Folio Society’s new edition of The Sound and the Fury presents the text “in fourteen different colors that represent different time zones in the narrative,” and this one guy is super excited about it: “Colored text … feels like a breakthrough for publishing. It’s a playful approach perfectly attuned to our era. Learning in general has already moved away from dusty tomes of monochrome text to brighter, shinier and more interactive methods. In a time of short attention spans and digital distractions, could multicolored publishing work for other difficult books? Would Gravity’s Rainbow be more popular with a rainbow-colored makeover? Would Proust’s interminable sentences be easier to navigate if they switched back and forth from one color to another, allowing the reader a sense of a light at the end of each tunnel?” (Because that’s why we read Proust: for the occasional sense of relief.)
- If you’ve kept yourself up at night pondering the ethical dilemmas of driverless cars—like, if they’re going really fast and there’s a kid in the road, and they can either plow over the kid or jerk the wheel and kill you, the passenger—you might have even bigger problems to worry about. Daniel Albert writes: “I’m optimistic about our robot-car future. It will be really cool. But make no mistake that the development of driverless cars will flow from the same combination of forces that have carried us from the Model T to the Tesla. For some 120 years those forces have favored not mobility precisely, but automobility: a system that melds moving from place to place with industrial production and consumerism. Promoters of autonomous vehicles promise that they will defeat those forces, will wipe the slate clean. History suggests that they might also be consumed by them … Robot cars will be neither moral nor immoral in the narrow sense premised in the thought experiments now being conducted and sold as valuable. They will not exist outside of the current automotive ecosystem. They will instead enter an automotive landscape that instantiates myriad ethical choices made in the past and rehearsed daily.”
- In the sixties, a group of black photographers formed the Kamoinge Workshop to promote and show their work. As LeRonn P. Brooks writes, Kamoinge “began when two separate groups of young black photographers—including Louis Draper, Earl James, and Calvin Mercer, among others—gathered in 1963 to discuss ways of using their work to address the civil-rights movement and the troubling conditions of black people in their communities. It was concurrent with other progressively minded black artist groups such as Spiral, also based in New York, which included painters Romare Bearden (whom [Ming] Smith would photograph in 1977), Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, and Emma Amos, among others. Kamoinge was initially mentored by more established photographers such as Larry Stewart and Roy DeCarava served as its first director. More than just a photography collective, Kamoinge (named for a word from the Kikuyu language meaning ‘a group of people acting together’) was an important forum for creative political activity.”
My mother has been on somewhat of a socialite kick lately. For a while, when I talked to her, she was reading No Regrets: The Life of Marietta Tree. “Someone who ought to have had a lot of regrets,” was her acid review. From there, she moved on to a biography of the famous Cushing sisters. Read More
“How are you?” asked a smiling acquaintance on the street.
“Well, I’m pretty down about Prince—but aren’t we all?” I said reprovingly.
“Oh yes,” she murmured. “Of course.” I saw her blinking quickly in an effort to summon tears. “It’s the end of an era, isn’t it?” Read More
It all started about a month ago. A close friend was celebrating a big birthday, and I planned to buy her a set of nice lotions and potions in a pricey scent I knew she loved. So I looked up the address of the shop, walked across the park, headed uptown, and entered its ritzy, expensively perfumed confines. The man standing inside didn’t look up.
“Hello,” I said.
He ignored me for an uncomfortably long moment, then looked up and said, “Did you want something?” Read More
- Today in obsolete fruits: a seventeenth-century still life by Giovanni Stanchi reveals the extent to which selective breeding has altered the watermelon—nay, life!—as we know it. Look at Stanchi’s painting and you’ll see a smaller, rounder, whiter fruit that today would never make it to market. We’ve demanded bigger, redder, juicier, more oblong melons. What have we wrought?
- Samuel Delany has been writing for more than half a century now, and a new collection of his early work reminds of how he’s changed the genre of science fiction: “Delany came of age at a time when the genre was indeed characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes. From the beginning, Delany, in his fiction, pushed across those boundaries, embraced the other, and questioned received ideas about sex and intimacy … Even now, when graphic sex and challenging themes are hardly unusual, Delany’s rapturous sexuality and his explorations of race within the trappings of science fiction have the power to startle.”
- Everyone critiques social media by suggesting that it forces us to turn ourselves into products—the presumption is that we’d prefer a service that allows for some more boundless, less prepackaged form of “self-expression.” But the problem might be more insidious than that: it might be that “users enjoy becoming the product … The self, as a product, loses its enchantment for us and needs to be revitalized to the extent that it becomes familiar, known, understood. We love ourselves only as a novelty, a mystery, not as a staple product. We want to be able to apprehend ourselves as a new, desirable thing that we can consume and enjoy. This makes us feel relevant, marketable. We can imagine someone buying into the idea of us, and that helps us buy into ourselves. But inevitably our desire for ourselves needs to be renewed, and we will need to be repackaged.”
- Jacob Fugger, a banker born in 1459, was known as “Jacob the Rich.” He got this nickname because he was very, very rich. In fact, he may well have been the richest man who ever lived: “Fugger was able to obtain control of commodities such as silver, from Austria, and copper, from Hungary. He built a smelter to refine the copper and traded it himself quite pitilessly … He helped finance a Portuguese scheme to relocate the pepper and spice trade to Lisbon, a move so successful that it delivered a fatal blow to the commercial stature of Venice. He also had a thirst for information about trade and commerce that led him to create a network of couriers whose reports to Augsburg were printed and distributed to clients in the form of a primitive newspaper. Fugger had invented the world’s first news service.”
- But let’s not forget that there are plenty of obscenely wealthy people today and that, unlike Fugger, many of them have been photographed. Myles Little, an editor, has compiled pictures of the upper crust in “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” and the results are startling—even more so than you’d expect. In part this is because Little strove to make the show “posh”: “I wanted to borrow the language of privilege and wealth by including beautiful photos, beautiful, precious objects, but I wanted to use that language to subvert wealth, and critique wealth and privilege.”