Touch Someone with a Camera, and Other News


On the Shelf

Ed van der Elsken, Vali Myers dancing at La Scala, Paris, 1950. Photo via The New Yorker/Nederlands Fotomuseum


  • So there’s this guy, Zoltan Istvan? He ran for president as a kind of single-issue candidate: he wanted to make America live forever. Literally. Steering his coffin-shaped “Immortality Bus” around the States, he laid out a transhumanist platform advocating for the abolition of death. He attracted a small but plucky band of volunteers, one of whom, Roen Horn, turned out to be especially fervent. Mark O’Connell talked to Horn about the promises of eternal life on Earth: “ ‘You know one really cool thing about being alive in the future?’ [Horn] asked. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Sexbots … You know, like A.I. robots that are built for having sex with.’ ‘Oh, sure,’ I said. ‘I’ve heard of sexbots. It’s a nice-enough idea. You really think that’s going to happen, though?’ ‘For sure,’ Horn said, closing his eyes and nodding beatifically, in momentary reflection upon some distant exaltation. ‘It’s something I’m very much looking forward to.’ ”
  • Nan Goldin remembers discovering Ed van der Elsken’s photography when she was nineteen: “When I first saw Ed van der Elsken’s book Love on the Left Bank, I realized I had just met my predecessor. My real predecessor … In my own life, I have been obsessed with photographing the people who were my lovers, had been my lovers, or whom I wanted as lovers. Like Ed, I wrote myself in as the lover. Sometimes, the obsession lasted for years. It was photography as the sublimation of sex, a means of seduction, and a way to remain a crucial part of my subjects’ lives. A chance to touch someone with a camera rather than physically. It is this notion—of being obsessed with someone, and, through photographs, making that person iconic—that resonated with me in his work.”

  • At Lincoln Center this week, those who came to see Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony got a surprise: during the last movement, a group of singers took to their feet throughout the auditorium, singing the words to “Ode to Joy.”(“You millions, I embrace you / This kiss is for all the world!”) They were, it turns out, singers from the Concert Chorale of New York. Alex Abramovich caught up with one of them, David Bryan, after the show, and he said: “In the fourth movement, in the dialogue between the cello/double bass and the rest of the orchestra, which then gives way to that beautiful melody and countermelodies so familiar to most of the Western world, the poetry of the text hit me pretty hard … No matter what’s happening out in the world, and regardless of individual political persuasions, in that moment people can’t be sitting there fuming about politics … And, as I sat there, I wondered: all of these people with all the power and money and control … have they ever performed Beethoven’s Ninth? … I just don’t see how you could bomb people overseas one day and then sit on a stage the next with an instrument, performing such a cathartic piece of music. I believe music is the answer to all of the conflict the world is in right now. It always has been.”
  • Sam Kriss thinks you should watch Planet Earth II, especially for its reckoning with humankind: “The final episode, showing animals in the city, is spectacular. The natural world is no longer out there, in the eternal wilderness, divided from our own lives by an absolute ontological barrier, and interacting with humanity only insofar as we destroy it. Instead it’s rising up from underneath with a mocking challenge to the world we think we’ve built … Animals do something to the city and its spaces; they remind us that we’re not really free.”
  • It’s often said that an education in the humanities opens one’s mind, safeguarding it against myopia and provincialism. But Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English literature, is proof that you can read a lot of books and still end up a complete fool. After all, anyone who sees—as Bauerlein claims to—shades of Whitman in Trump’s fitful, coarse mutterings about “American carnage” can’t even be called a student of literature, let alone a professor of it. “I will take the inauguration speech,” Braulein said. “That was simply a firm and vigorous reiteration of everything he promised in the campaign. It sounded the hyperpopulist message that many found reminiscent of Huey Long and other demagogues. I actually found it closer to the populism of Walt Whitman and his paean to the working man, and the fact that the great spirit of America is not to be found in the legislatures or the executives but in the people, the ordinary common man.”