That image above comes from the trailer forMaggie’s Plan, which features Ethan Hawke reading our Winter 2014 issue (if I had to guess, he’s somewhere deep in the Michael Haneke interview) as Greta Gerwig looks on with envy. Is the rest of the film this scintillating? One can only hope.
Since it closed in 1957, Black Mountain College has achieved a level of renown verging on mythic—it’s now the subject of an exhibition in Boston, the fourth show devoted to it in recent years. Barry Schwabsky asks: “Why the recurring preoccupation with a short-lived, unaccredited school at the back of beyond, which never had enough students to pay its way? It could be the school’s believe-it-or-not story and how, the more you learn about it, the more unlikely it seems … The idealism, the creative élan, the infectious sense of possibility that the exhibitions highlight—these were all part of Black Mountain, and the school’s implicit promise was fulfilled surprisingly often. But there were illusions, too … the community’s internal politics turned out to be nearly impossible to negotiate with grace. An educational philosophy based on ‘the whole person’ gave no indication of how to square the conflicting goals of community and individuality.”
In 1960, James Baldwin gave a speech called “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel.” “I want to follow a group of lives,” he said, “almost from the time they open their eyes on the world until some point of resolution, say, marriage, or childbirth, or death.” Edwidge Danticat unpacks those remarks: “In other talks and essays, he laid out some ideas about what made an unsuccessful novel, citing problems like too neat a frame, sentimentality, and facile lessons and solutions. The novel he was referring to in the speech, though, he claimed, was both ‘unwritten and probably unwritable.’ Neither was it meant to be a ‘long, warm, toasty’ novel. ‘This hypothetical book is aiming at something more implacable than that … The social realities with which these people, the people I remember, whether they knew it or not, were really contending can’t be left out of the novel without falsifying their experience.’ ”
Before the black-and-white photograph came to prominence, there was the lowly cyanotype, a photographic process known for its blue tint and its speedy, easy production. A new exhibition gives the form its due, as the curator Nancy Burns says: “The fact that they were blue was also just too weird for people—that the idea of what a photograph was supposed to look like was black and white … but blue was just too bizarre … Last but not least, is that they were used for making blueprints—that you could make cyanotypes as not just a photograph, but you can use it to transfer a drawing or text. And because it has an association with something so pedestrian and being used as a photocopier, it didn’t quite make it into the earliest histories of photography because people weren’t entirely convinced that they were photographs.”
Creative people like to say they hate small talk, with its eye-rolling tendencies toward banality and formality. But no matter what Heidegger and other opponents of “idle talk” suggest, their hatred for it is probably to blame on the fact that they’re bad at it: “We are living in a low moment for the art of minimal social interactions … Small talk has always been a tool to avoid the minefield of unintended boorishness … Even those who found small talk uninspiring once recognized its utility, like the British statesman Lord Chesterfield, who’s responsible for the first-known use of the phrase … It requires playing within the lines. Using sports, weather, family, and other unremarkable raw material, the skilled conversationalist spins it into gold—or at least cotton candy.”