John Constable, Wolken-Studie, 1822.
- Rukmini Callimachi reports on ISIS for the New York Times—a demoralizing, tormenting, dangerous beat. She constructs her pieces like poems: “My formation as a writer was as a poet. I tried very early on to be a poet and I published about a dozen poems in America and in American journals before I realized that this was a totally dead-end street as a career. In terms of poetry, one of the people who really marked me was Ezra Pound, who was a modernist poet and talks about the importance of distilling an image. The idea is that you have an image that you want to convey. Beginning and even intermediate writers will end up drowning that image in prose. The idea is that you look at the prose almost like a tree. You have to pare it down. You have to take out all of the extra limbs, all of the extra shrubbery so that you can really see the form. That idea, which I tried to practice in poetry, is one that I very much try to practice in journalism: to try to distill the language. I pick my adjectives carefully. I try to build stories around images because I think that’s the way that the human brain works when you are reading a story.”
- A new wave of memoirs aim to advance feminism through confessional-style sexual candor, but Rafia Zakaria argues that they’re merely vehicles for white female entitlement: “We are now in a time where the avowal of nakedness (both physical and emotional) is key, where the publicly exposed woman is truly courageous. The line between titillation and transgression is a fine one and in a voyeuristic world that expects women to all be coquettish exhibitionists, titillation does feminists no favors. To borrow Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler’s argument in We Were Feminists Once, what we are seeing now is feminism used as a brand; dislocated and disconnected from any collective political project. Sex has always sold well—but feminist sex sells even better … There is a lesson for all women here: declaring a woman’s sovereignty over body and mind must not be reduced to a willingness to be naked, to prurient confessions or anecdotes of despair and self-doubt.”
- In 2004, Gavin Pretor-Pinney launched the Cloud Appreciation Society, which involves spending a lot of time supine on the grass, gazing at the sky. It’s the latest in a long line of projects to endorse idleness, that most underappreciated of art forms. Colette Shade spoke to him about the politics of loafing: “Aristophanes, the ancient Greek playwright, described the clouds as ‘the patron goddesses of idle fellows’ … He was talking about the way that lying back and finding shapes in the clouds is an aimless activity, and it’s one that’s not going to get you anywhere in life … I always say that cloudspotting is an excuse. It legitimizes doing nothing, and I think that’s valuable these days.”
- Because today’s true-crime stories are only half as lurid as yesterday’s, let us revisit the events of July 17th, 1895, when, in East London, a thirteen-year-old boy named Robert Coombes stabbed his mom to death. Kate Summerscale writes, “Walker, the medical officer of Holloway gaol, talked to Robert that day about the forthcoming trial. The boy at first seemed gleeful at the prospect of going to the Old Bailey, telling the doctor that it would be a ‘splendid sight’ and he was looking forward to it. He would wear his best clothes, he said, and have his boots well polished. He started to talk about his cats, and then suddenly fell silent. A moment later he burst into tears. Dr. Walker asked him why he was crying. ‘Because I want my cats,’ said Robert, ‘and my mandolin.’ ”
- A new biography of Diane Arbus prompts Alex Mar to remind us: Diane Arbus is not Diane Arbus’s photographs. “The legend of Diane Arbus has as much to do with a prurient fascination with her personal life as it does with her images. Which makes sense—the line between her life and her work is blurred in the extreme; in a conservative time, she did what few women of her background dared, pushing her personal boundaries, seeking out new territory. But while she’s present in the close encounters that produced her photographs, in every face that stares back at the camera, to confuse the woman with her work is to sell her short. She wrestled with being both a photographer and a mother; she struggled with depression; she put herself in danger over and over again. But as an artist, she was deliberate, calculating, and in control, prepared to do almost anything to grab the image she wanted.”