Alexandre Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1865, oil on canvas.
- “Sorry, not sorry!” This little rhetorical slip—a dead hashtag, really—is analyzed by David Lehman as a poetic structure at The American Scholar. The non-apology, Lehmann explains, pits the poet against the crazed angel of language. “Our tendency to lie, distort or revise,” Lehman writes, “follows from the inability of the language to discriminate between truth and falsehood: Language is not self-verifying. Fiction is based on just this discrepancy between language and the duplicitous and calculating writer. Is it a discrepancy—or a struggle? Writers often describe their writing as a kind of wrestling match with language, as T. S. Eliot does in ‘Four Quartets.’ ”
- We can all agree that nothing is more debauched than a five-hundred-year-old drawing of a hand. That’s why we’ve consciously chosen Facebook as the arbiter of our shared morality. Facebook will first find the image of the hand, and then Facebook will do something about it—it will eliminate all traces of the hand. And it has done this very thing with a drawing by Holbein. Thankfully, too, an exemplary moral human (read: not an algorithm) was responsible for removing Holbein’s hand from the social network, Jonathan Jones writes at the Guardian: “It would be more reassuring if computer error were to blame, yet according to Facebook this is no algorithmic accident. An actual conscious human brain honestly thought a Renaissance drawing of a hand was obscene. Or did the curator think it was being published without proper copyright permission? That would open a huge hornet’s nest, but Holbein’s drawing is about 500 years old so fair use surely applies.”
- It has been eighty years since James Agee was offered the assignment of his life by Robert Ingersoll, his editor at Fortune magazine. It turns out, too, that this assignment—a piece on the works and days of white sharecroppers in the South—saved Agee from crushing boredom and despondency. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Christopher Knapp retells the tale: “Agee had been on sabbatical from the magazine for seven months, recovering from his self-disgust. But the time off had been enough to restore his natural enthusiasm. As ambivalent as he was about the slick brand of magazine journalism that the Henry Luce publishing empire was built on, he was not only broke, but also desperately bored.” I wonder if Fortune will run an anniversary special!
- At The New Yorker, Daniel Wenger visits with the poet Bernadette Mayer, who has changed her writing method in the wake of a stroke. It now takes her a full four minutes to mentally compose a poem! “When I suggested to Mayer that her poetry had always been rather unbalanced,” Wenger writes, “she pretended to be dumbfounded, and then explained that the attack had forced her to alter her writing method. Without the use of her right hand, she cannot type quickly enough to transcribe her thoughts as she has them. She must now work out the poem in her mind, which she calls ‘actually thinking.’ I asked how long in advance she composes her poems before writing them down. ‘About four minutes,’ she said—both ribbing me and suggesting that even this obstacle has been made into an object of study.”
- Holbein’s hand may be morally objectionable, but a band named Penis is fine by me. At Bomb, Penis the band offers its “Penis Tenets.” They seem fairly reasonable: “We adjust our expectations and check in with ourselves: ‘Do I like this? Is this fun?’ WE decide whether or not Penis has value in our lives.”