Buraq with Taj Mahal, a poster from Delhi. Image: Sandria Freitag personal collection/Public Domain Review.
- As the Quran has it, Prophet Muhammad took a night trip to heaven aboard a trusty winged pony-horse-mule-ish creature called Buraq. It’s an episode that’s inspired Islamic art ever since, because few artists can resist a theologically sound reason to draw a winged horse. Yasmine Seale writes, “The friction between the historical Prophet and his fantastical mount, between the sacred and the physical, reflects a similar divide within Buraq herself: she has been perceived both as a dream-horse—mythical, sexless, emblematic—and as a creature of flesh. And Buraq as animal, especially in her more sexualized incarnations, in turn raises thorny questions about the body of the Prophet himself. Artists generally elided this problem, or creatively eluded it; early images of the Prophet tend to show him with a veil, and more recently his body has been symbolized by a white cloud, a rose, or a flame.”
- Hua Hsu writes in praise of the critic Greg Tate, known for his “slangy erudition”: “For a generation of critics, Tate’s career has served as a reminder that diversity isn’t just about a splash of color in the group photo; it’s about the different ways that people see, feel, and move within the world. These differences can be imperceptible, depending on where your eye lingers as you scan the newsroom. What made Tate’s criticism special was his ability to theorize outward from his encounters with genius and his brushes with banality—to telescope between moments of artistic inspiration and the giant structures within which those moments were produced … What he’s been exploring through his criticism has been something ‘less quantifiable,’ as he puts it, than culture, identity, or consciousness. What Tate wants to understand is ‘the way Black people “think,” mentally, emotionally, physically,’ and ‘how those ways of thinking and being inform our artistic choices.’ ”
- Today in genre writers gone wild: you may have heard that James Patterson, who does not actually write his own novels, was planning on “writing” one starring Stephen King, who does write his own novels. A kind of sadistic metafiction, The Murder of Stephen King would star King as a beleaguered horror writer facing a stalker who resembled the villains in his fiction. But now Patterson’s calling it off; he learned that King—who has called Patterson (and his surrogates in the Patterson factory) “a terrible writer”—has actually faced death threats in the past: “‘I do not want to cause Stephen King or his family any discomfort. Out of respect for them, I have decided not to publish The Murder of Stephen King’ … Patterson told AP last week that King’s remarks dismissing him as a terrible writer were ‘hyperbole.’ ‘I know I’m not a terrible writer. That’s a little over the top,’ said Patterson, adding that if King wrote a novel called The Murder of James Patterson he ‘would definitely want to read it.’ ”
- Speaking of unseemly art, here’s the story of a Polish programmer who now collects a decent salary from a series of patrons who had him design a modification for The Sims that lets them have graphic sex on-screen. “I had been working for a security company, installing alarms in shops and plants. I quit that because of an injury, and started this in my free time,” he says. “Besides general additions that work with the Sims world, like relationships, pregnancy, or emotions, people want it to fit their personal preferences. A lot of people want more gay and lesbian interactions (positions/animations), more gender-mixed interactions, prostitute, escort, stripper and porn-star jobs, sex parties, and even rape.”
- Now that things have taken a weird turn, let’s close out the week by remembering Victor Scheinman, who died this week at seventy-three, leaving behind a massive advance in assembly-line robotics: “Scheinman was part of Stanford University’s mechanical engineering department when, in 1969, he developed a programmable six-jointed robot that was named the Stanford Arm … In her book, The Robot: The Life Story of a Technology (2007), Lisa Nocks, wrote: ‘In contrast to heavy, hydraulic, single-use machines, his Stanford Arm was lightweight, electric, multiprogrammable, and could follow random trajectories instead of fixed ones. Scheinman showed that it was possible to build a machine that could be as versatile as it was autonomous.’ ”