Gloriously, Preposterously Impractical, and Other News


On the Shelf


George E. Ohr’s pottery workshop in Biloxi, Mississippi, 1901.

  • In 1849, not long before he died, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book called Eureka, the goal of which was nothing less than to outline the origins of the universe. “It’s like a nineteenth-century version of the many manuscripts I have received over the decades from brilliant but deranged autodidacts … Imagine what you might get if you toss Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Newton’s Principia in a blender along with scoops of gothic rhetoric and romantic philosophy.” Did Poe unwittingly anticipate modern cosmology? Well, no—but his book is still fun to read.
  • On writing and bravery, or the lack thereof: “Although I acknowledge it can be scary to set down what you think and feel, I’m not sure brave is the operative description … This is my problem with brave and other words like it: They do not engage but rather insist. They are singular, anti-conversational, self-congratulatory even; they pre-digest our experience, before we get a chance to have it for ourselves.”
  • Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”
  • How did pottery become art? A new exhibition in Boston tells the story of American ceramics: “Sometimes art is defined by uselessness. An object that remains functional never quite gains the aura that is normally associated with the highest creations of the imagination … For a century and more, many ambitious ceramicists have labored to lift the status of their craft. In the process, they have left behind any notion of utility, creating objects that, while they may nod to their antecedents in the cup, the jug or the storage jar, are gloriously (and often preposterously) impractical.”
  • Joe Franklin, who “presided over one of the most compellingly low-rent shows in television history,” died last weekend at eighty-eight. He left behind an office overflowing with memorabilia and historic clutter, “mounds formed by stacks of old reels of silent films, publicity photos and press copies of books. There were playbills from the Booth Theater from the 1920s and a VHS tape of the comedian Sarah Silverman … somewhere in there was Bing Crosby’s hat, along with a lipstick-smeared drinking glass Marilyn Monroe sipped from on the show. Also somewhere was the tie clip that Ronald Reagan gave Mr. Franklin.”