Looks Are Not Styles, and Other News


On the Shelf

Filters, bro.

  • The police murders of so many black men have been caught on video, putatively for the sake of justice. But these videos perpetuate themselves with the same moral ambiguity that comes with war photography or any document of suffering. As Ezekiel Kweku writes of Alton Sterling, “I was detached enough to critique the video of his death, classify it, find myself consigning it to genre. I’ve long passed the point at which watching these videos makes me feel like a helpless bystander—I am another distance removed. At this point, I am a critic of images of men like me, dying. I’m a connoisseur … For these videos to prick the conscience, that conscience must already value the lives of those who are dying. Otherwise, the videos are simply lurid entertainment, the modern version of the postcard-size images of lynchings that were passed around during the last century.”
  • While we’re on the power of images: Ricky D’Ambrose contrasts the “looks” of the Instagram-and-design age with legitimate style. “Style annuls the impersonal … A look—insofar as it has any resemblance to style at all—is a kind of instant style: quickly executed and dispatched, immediately understood, overcharged with incident. To say that a film, a photograph, a painting, or a room’s interior has a look is to assume a consensus about which parts of a nascent image are the most worthy of being parceled out and reproduced on a massive scale. It means making a claim about how familiar an image is, and how valuable it seems.”
  • Americans and Canadians. What could ever unite these two disparate peoples, given their distinct views on the welfare state and their radically different approaches to bacon? I’ll tell you what: a library. Sarah Yahm reports that “for nearly 200 years Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, essentially functioned as one town. Citizens drank the same water, worked in the same tool factory, played the same sports … They also shared the same cultural center, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, an ornate Victorian edifice built deliberately on top of the international border in 1901 by the Canadian wife of a wealthy American merchant … Against all logic, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House continues to serve both Vermonters and Quebecers, and remains a transnational space that residents from both the U.S. and Canada can enter without a passport. Today, it is the only library in the world that exists and operates in two countries at once.”