- 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.”
From “The Designs for Motion,” a portfolio and interview with the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely from our Spring-Summer 1965 issue. “Today we can no longer believe in permanent laws, defined religions, durable architecture or eternal kingdoms,” Tinguely said in the fifties. “Immutability does not exist. All is movement. All is static.” He speaks here to Laura Mathews; this was her first published work.
If you were in my place, what questions would you ask?
… I would ask first of all: why do things move in your work? It’s the most simple, and also the most complicated, question. And I answer: things move because if they didn’t move, they might move; that is, in trying to make static things I have tried what everyone tries, and I’ve found that one petrifies situations, the phenomena that one is trying to seize. And finally one finds that as you try to seize these things, the things tell you something. In our time, things race and revolve automatically; industry and automation dominate us and impose a rhythm on us. Faced with that kind of thing, my work must move to remain vital, to avoid obsolescence … one doesn’t admit it, but one knows very well that in moving machines one is faced with life against death. Movement is so natural and so forceful that it is a fundamental dynamism. And anyway, one wants machines to move … Read More
William Steiger’s collages are wondrous, often humorous refractions of early American landscapes. They traffic in a very particular kind of anachronism, grafting zeppelins, prop planes, gondolas, bridges, and the gleaming apparatus of the steam age onto the vast plains and prairies of the nineteenth-century frontier. The images dare us to reconcile two equally innocent visions of American life. One is taut, sleek, and brimming with technological optimism; the other is lush, free, and unspoiled. Neither, it goes without saying, have quite panned out as our forebears hoped they might.
The series, “Explorations & Surveys,” plays with our country’s mythology, conflating more than a century of travel and invention into pale stories of our naïveté—everything in the world of these images is still ours for the taking. Steiger constructed the pieces using a nineteenth-century surveyors’ guide. His gallery, Pace Prints, explains:
Steiger borrowed the abbreviated title, Explorations & Surveys, from the title of his source material, Reports of the Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economic Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. These accounts were published by the Federal Government in the late 1850s to both document the western regions and to locate the best routes for the forthcoming Pacific Railroad. Disseminated in bound editions, the volumes were essentially the first published images of the American West.
The history of the typewriter is, as with the history of the personal computer after it, rife with collaboration, ingenuity, betrayal, setbacks, lucre, acrimony, misguided experimentation, and bickering white men. There are rough analogs for Bill Gates and for Steves Jobs and Wozniak (though there’s no one so delirious and insane as Steve Ballmer)—and one such analog is Christopher Latham Sholes, a Milwaukee printer whose first “type-writer” was patented 146 years ago today.
Sholes is widely credited with having invented the first QWERTY keyboard. It helped to prevent jams and increase typing speeds by putting frequently combined letters farther apart—but that took years of trial and error; the initial iteration of his typewriter was far more rudimentary in design. It looks like a miniature piano crossed with a clock and/or a phonograph and/or a kitchen table—and Sholes did, in fact, design the prototype out of his kitchen table. As you can imagine, it didn’t boast what today’s designers would call “intuitive UX.” Its keys, borrowing from innovations in telegraphy, were arranged as such:
3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M
Notice the absence of 0 and 1; Sholes and his cohort assumed that people would make do with I and O. They also couldn’t be bothered with lowercase letters—the first Sholes model was in a condition of eternal caps lock, doomed to permanent shouting. And yet in another sense Sholes was full of intuition and prescience: purportedly, the first letters he typed on the machine were “WWW.” Read More
The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.
A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”
Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More