- As an undergraduate at Harvard, T. S. Eliot risked flunking out—but fear not, for his febrile poetic mind was already hard at work: “He invented the characters of ‘Columbo’ and ‘Bolo,’ who for years to come starred in a series of scatological, violent, and racist poems. Circulated privately, these verses became known to a wider readership only after Eliot’s death, when they presented the immensely refined poet in a bizarrely crude light … such writing served a purpose for the shy, physically awkward, and sexually late-blooming Eliot. It was a way for him to bond with his peers … ”
- Advertisements used to contain words—many words—even those aimed at such famously illiterate audiences as rock-music fans. A look at the Rolling Stone archive reveals a surprising amount of po-mo sophistication in record-label copywriting. A 1979 ad for the singer-songwriter Sirani Avedia, for example, begins, “After the chic anarchy of punk, the escapism of disco, and the cerebral celebrations of jazz fusion … something real.”
- An old photograph by Giovanni Gargiolli inspires ruminations on fatherhood: “The photograph was taken outside a Franciscan church in Alatri, a village south of Rome, in 1902 or 1903 … I recognize myself in that father who is leaning out of the family portrait in the church doorway. I feel an apartness, and I wonder: Is it a movable obstacle to the fullness of fatherhood, a primordial paternal taint, or a simple truth about the way men who have children are around their children?”
- Disturbing news from the tech sector: research suggests that our computers, the very beings on which our civilization depends, are no more than drug-addled dreamers, lost in psychedelic reveries every bit as inscrutable as those of your average dusthead. Google discovered what its image-recognition networks “imagine” by “feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognize a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasize the feature it recognizes. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasize them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.”
- Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education for Unflattening, a dissertation in the form of “a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.” Its lowly ambition? “Insurrection against the fixed viewpoint … Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge.”
Some claim that Anna Atkins—born on this day in 1799, in Kent—was the first woman to take a photograph. Others that hers were the first photos ever printed in book form.
Atkins was a botanist, an artist, and an accomplished nature photographer. Her father was a scientist, and he encouraged his daughter’s early interest in botany. Both her father and her eventual husband, John Pelly Atkins, were friendly with the pioneering photographer and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot; it was probably Talbot who introduced her to the techniques she would come to use in her art.
In her books on British algae and her later work on plants and ferns, Atkins worked by contact-printing cyanotype photograms, and by “photogenic drawing,” the process by which light-sensitive paper is exposed to the sun. Read More
Google is growing up. Its cameras have entered the mirror stage. Since 2011, the company has sent elaborate camera-mounted trolleys into museums as part of Google Art Project, which allows users to browse galleries around the globe, clicking through room by room to simulate the sense of space. Sheathed occasionally (and abstrusely) in shimmering Mylar blankets, Google’s cameras take photographs in 360 degrees; whenever the trolley passes a mirror, it takes an accidental self-portrait.
Now, just as Jon Rafman’s “9-Eyes” presents moments of incidental beauty and sublimity from Google Street View, a new tumblr by Mario Santamaría called “The Camera in the Mirror” captures Google’s cameras as they capture themselves: unsettlingly alone and caught in a kind of perpetual anachronism, surrounded by art and artifacts from centuries past.
If Lacan and Baudrillard somehow procreated, and their child ate some bad LSD, the hallucinations might resemble something from “The Camera in the Mirror.” There are no people in these photos—only an inert, mechanical totem pole seemingly obsessed with itself. It’s hard not to ascribe human motivations to the thing, in part because it resembles a sleek bipedal extraterrestrial and in part because it sits, with chilling deliberation, at the center of every frame. In certain shots it looks imperious, haughty; in others it becomes almost playful or curious. In only a few minutes it takes on a kind of personality, and so the whole project becomes tinged with the rhetoric of science fiction: What does the machine want? Where is it going? Is there any stopping it?
I thought of a few lines from Sartre’s Nausea and gave myself the willies: “People who live in society have learnt how to see themselves, in mirrors, as they appear to their friends. I have no friends: is that why my flesh is so naked?”
And yet, as terrifyingly impenetrable as they seem, these photos are signs of fallible life from the Googleplex—they shatter the illusion of seamless museum-going, showing us the leering, error-prone business end of one of the world’s most ubiquitous and powerful corporations. They testify to Google’s mind-boggling wealth: among other niceties, these trolleys are mounted with the CLAUSS RODEON VR Head HD and CLAUSS VR Head ST, two panoramic cameras that take photos with about a thousand times more detail than the average digital camera. They cost upward of five thousand dollars apiece. Of course they want to look at themselves.
- BREAKING: FLAUBERT NOT A REALIST, SAYS EXPERT TESTIMONY
- Nathaniel Mackey has won the Ruth Lilley Poetry Prize: a cool $100k. Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, says, “The poetry of Nathaniel Mackey continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ to H.D.’s ‘Trilogy’ to Olson’s ‘Maximus’ poems, winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work and extends beyond all of these. In his poems, but also in his genre-defying serial novel (which has no beginning or end) and in his multifaceted critical writing, Mackey’s words always go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.”
- The rise and fall of the conventional romance novel: “By the seventies, Harlequins became known for their lush language, which often evoked settings that sounded like Thomas Kinkade paintings: ‘The rolling tide of summer grass had engulfed the small meadow in a sweet-smelling flood of lambs’ tails, coltsfoot, feverfew, the drifting pollen from them like pale yellow dust on Linden’s bare arms as she lay full length among them.’” Now self-published erotica, much of it hardcore enough to make your average Harlequin heroine blush, have eaten into sales.
- We take our refrigerators for granted, but history reminds of the glories inherent in artificial refrigeration, which used to blow people’s minds.
- Google now offers a street view of the Grand Canyon: “On the virtual river you can fast-forward downstream, avoiding the soaking rapids and searing sun, putting in and taking out as you please. But part of the Grand Canyon experience is surrendering to the flow of the river and committing to the journey. Anyone who has traveled in canyon country knows how much the terrain can change in a matter of seconds during an afternoon rainstorm, or in the hours between noon and dusk, as sunlight glistens and fades upon the canyon walls. To these subtle but vital gradations, Google’s roving digital eye remains conspicuously blind.”
- The first full-cover book espresso machine comes to Books-a-Million of Portland, Maine.
- Bukowski in Hollywood.
- Google wins its epic book-scanning battle.
- Michiko Kakutani loves the phrase “deeply felt.”
Little things in life supplant the “great events.” —Peter Altenberg, as translated by Peter Wortsman
The figure of the flâneur—the stroller, the passionate wanderer emblematic of nineteenth-century French literary culture—has always been essentially timeless; he removes himself from the world while he stands astride its heart. When Walter Benjamin brought Baudelaire’s conception of the flâneur into the academy, he marked the idea as an essential part of our ideas of modernism and urbanism. For Benjamin, in his critical examinations of Baudelaire’s work, the flâneur heralded an incisive analysis of modernity, perhaps because of his connotations: “[the flâneur] was a figure of the modern artist-poet, a figure keenly aware of the bustle of modern life, an amateur detective and investigator of the city, but also a sign of the alienation of the city and of capitalism,” as a 2004 article in the American Historical Review put it. Since Benjamin, the academic establishment has used the flâneur as a vehicle for the examination of the conditions of modernity—urban life, alienation, class tensions, and the like.
In the ensuing decades, however, the idea of flânerie as a desirable lifetsyle has fallen out of favor, due to some arcane combination of increasing productivity—hello, fruits of the Industrial Revolution!—and the modern horror at the thought of doing absolutely nothing. (See: Michael Jordan’s “retirements.”) But as we grow inexorably busier—due in large part to the influence of technology—might flânerie be due for a revival?
If contemporary literature is any indication, the answer is a soft yes. Take Teju Cole’s debut novel, Open City. Cole’s narrator, Julius, wanders up and down Manhattan, across the Atlantic to Brussels and back again, while off-handedly delivering bits of wisdom and historical insight. It’s not just that Open City is beautifully written, though that’s certainly true. Cole’s skill manifests itself in depicting the dreamy psychogeographic landscape—and accompanying amorality and solipsism—of Julius’s mind. Riding behind his eyes is a trip; even though we’re in his head, the tone of his thoughts still sets us at a distance.
Tao Lin’s recently released Taipei achieves something similar. As Ian Sansom wrote in the Guardian, “Passage after passage in the novel dwells on the meaning of disassociation and self-exile.” Read More