- In 1849, not long before he died, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book called Eureka, the goal of which was nothing less than to outline the origins of the universe. “It’s like a nineteenth-century version of the many manuscripts I have received over the decades from brilliant but deranged autodidacts … Imagine what you might get if you toss Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Newton’s Principia in a blender along with scoops of gothic rhetoric and romantic philosophy.” Did Poe unwittingly anticipate modern cosmology? Well, no—but his book is still fun to read.
- On writing and bravery, or the lack thereof: “Although I acknowledge it can be scary to set down what you think and feel, I’m not sure brave is the operative description … This is my problem with brave and other words like it: They do not engage but rather insist. They are singular, anti-conversational, self-congratulatory even; they pre-digest our experience, before we get a chance to have it for ourselves.”
- “Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”
- How did pottery become art? A new exhibition in Boston tells the story of American ceramics: “Sometimes art is defined by uselessness. An object that remains functional never quite gains the aura that is normally associated with the highest creations of the imagination … For a century and more, many ambitious ceramicists have labored to lift the status of their craft. In the process, they have left behind any notion of utility, creating objects that, while they may nod to their antecedents in the cup, the jug or the storage jar, are gloriously (and often preposterously) impractical.”
- Joe Franklin, who “presided over one of the most compellingly low-rent shows in television history,” died last weekend at eighty-eight. He left behind an office overflowing with memorabilia and historic clutter, “mounds formed by stacks of old reels of silent films, publicity photos and press copies of books. There were playbills from the Booth Theater from the 1920s and a VHS tape of the comedian Sarah Silverman … somewhere in there was Bing Crosby’s hat, along with a lipstick-smeared drinking glass Marilyn Monroe sipped from on the show. Also somewhere was the tie clip that Ronald Reagan gave Mr. Franklin.”
“He is at once too cynical, too sincere, and too weird for schmaltz”: Paris Review special Mad Men correspondent Adam Wilson turns his gaze on Louie over at the L.A. Review of Books. —Lorin Stein
This hallucinatory Christmas duet between David Bowie and Bing Crosby has become, thank God, an improbable standard, but the story behind it deserves some extracurricular reading. Peruse to deepen your experience of this seasonal wormhole as it collapses the distance between genres and generations and renders our edgy Ziggy saccharine as a candy cane. That snow-white tan is just snow, and the only things that look especially well hung are the stockings. —Samuel Fox
In the world of candy stores, and this candy store in particular, Christmas is a perpetual condition that just happens to spike at the end of the year. A red-and-green decorating scheme carried throughout the shop—I could not escape it, even when I retreated, as I sometimes did, to the store’s one bathroom, also tinged with red and green, just to shut out the world for a minute or two. On the sales floor, the shelves were heavy with saltwater taffy and boxes of truffles and delightfully analog toys—balsa gliders, pick-up sticks, chunky wooden puzzles. The general effect was that of being buried inside the holiday stocking of a child who’d been very, very good that year—along with the child himself, and a hoard of his less well-mannered friends and their overstressed, oblivious parents.
I took the gig shortly after finding myself laid off from the job I’d had for the last four years as an editor at a music magazine. I felt adrift and thought tending to a candy store, such a bastion of simple pleasures, might anchor me more firmly to the world, and also I thought that money might be a thing I’d might want to have again. But in my vague desperation I had forgotten about humans’ terrific knack for rendering even the most ostensibly pleasant pursuits completely soul crushing, and how that tendency increases as the winter days darken.
After two months of twelve- to sixteen-hour days, and six-and-a-half-day weeks, I began to realize I’d misread the signs that led me to the Beat Hotel. The caretaker’s house did have the advertised citrus trees, pool, fireplace and view, and the Camaro—glowing, golden—was there, too. But I hadn’t spent a single night in the house. Instead, I collapsed in a room at the Beat, got up early and went back to work. The Camaro stayed in the driveway. Worse, my fantasy about living the writer’s life in the desert was precisely that: I hadn’t written a single page. Instead of breaking my writer’s block, Steve entombed it beneath an endless, proliferating series of tasks. Read More