Georgiana Houghton, Glory be to God, ca. 1868.
- Today in really, really, really, really depressing things that Silicon Valley people say with casual authority: Nicola Mendelsohn, a Facebook exec, gave a presentation in London where she claimed “that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech … ‘The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,’ Mendelsohn said. ‘It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.’ In the room, there was a perceptible shifting—perhaps because the written word seems a rather major aspect of civilization to dispatch with so quickly. But it won’t disappear entirely, Mendelsohn assured the crowd: ‘You’ll have to write for the video.’ ”
- In 1871, Georgiana Houghton debuted her “spirit drawings,” a set of abstract watercolors that she made with the encouragement of her “invisible friends.” People were scared: “What she put on display was unlike anything any Western artist had made, or any member of the British public had ever seen. The watercolor drawings, a little larger than A4, were intricately detailed abstract compositions filled with sinuous spirals, frenetic dots, and sweeping lines. Yellows, greens, blues, and reds battled with each other for space on the paper. The densely layered images appeared to have no form, and no beginning or end. There was no traditional perspective to enjoy. There was no mythological subject to interpret; no moral narrative to read, and no hint of portraiture or landscape to scrutinize.”
- It’s been a while since we thought about how worthless most literary depictions of sex are, so let’s think about that some more: “Literature about sex, no matter who has written it, is almost always terrible, and everybody knows it … In writing my own book full of sex, there was almost no one I could turn to for inspiration. There wasn’t a single book I looked to and thought, ‘What I’m trying to do is write sex like she did or like he did.’ There weren’t even movies and TV shows I felt had handled it the way I wanted to see it done. You know what movies and TV shows are really brilliant at capturing? Bad sex. They’re great at doing awkward, depressing, uncomfortable sex scenes where everyone is sort of strangled in the sheets … The other thing that movies and TV shows are good at nailing down is the kind of phonily intense sex scene in which the involved parties are grabbing fistfuls of hair and grunting and slamming each other around because their passion, their chemistry, is so overpowering it can’t be softened by courtesy, affection, or fear of causing actual physical harm.”
- To read the medieval poem “Pearl” requires a fairly sophisticated knowledge of the New Testament. But just go ahead and read it anyway. You will still like it, as Josephine Livingstone explains: “There is something about the very strangeness of the poem that magnifies its emotional power. When we look at a Byzantine mosaic, for instance, we may not grasp the precise meaning of its images without scholarly help—but that remoteness lends such artworks the marvelousness of something just beyond our understanding. In his new translation of ‘Pearl,’ Simon Armitage, who is currently the Oxford Professor of Poetry, conveys that feeling of the almost-but-not-quite comprehensible, the feeling that can make medieval art at once eerie and wonderful.”
- On Jacques Audiard’s new film Dheepan, which depicts a Sri Lankan family escaping to the Paris ghetto: “The Parisian fields are a motley sort of place, self-governing—if you can call checkpoints controlled by the local drug don a form of self-government—inhabited by a mix of north African Arabs, Cameroonians, and Armenians. But not, however, Sri Lankans—who have contributed relatively little to France’s migrant waves, and are little known there. Between the main characters and their adoptive home there is no flicker of recognition, no colonial history to interpose even a reassuring mutual dislike. Plonked somewhere in the girdle of mongrel Frenchness on the outskirts of modern Paris, oblivious to the snippets of Arabic around them, they are recognized as vaguely Indian. Dheepan, who has refashioned himself as an odd-job man, is known simply as ‘Mowgli.’ ”