- Today is the first-ever Dylan Day: a commemoration of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, which he debuted at 92Y (his voice “removed and godlike in tone”) on May 14, 1953. Dylan Day grants you a plausible reason to seize strangers by their lapels and scream about raging against the dying of the light. Do this. The opportunity comes but once a year.
- What happens when a performance artist abducts a bunch of curators and collectors for an “experimental expedition” in the Swiss Alps? More or less what you’d expect: “Kobilinsky appeared out in the snow. He was completely naked and he was walking toward the structure. It was a wild sight. Not just the naked man staggering through a wide expanse of snowy nothingness, but the group of esteemed collectors crowding the windows like eager schoolchildren. When Kobilinsky reached the crystal igloo and began to crawl inside, agonizing screams started emanating from somewhere outside the train.”
- “I would sacrifice my own life for a chance to throw a single brick at Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist who eats too much … He coughs up feathers out of his mouth wherever he goes.” New “letters” between “Hemingway” and “Fitzgerald.”
- As the nineties cedes its contemporariness and becomes “an object of historical inquiry,” it is now time to ask: What the hell happened back there? A new show, “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s,” begins the critical task of contextualizing the works of the Clinton era. “The show marks our own radical break with a decade at once familiar and unfamiliar … The nineties were marked by various points of turbulence that have now evolved into unremarkable if not unproblematic features of our daily lives: a changing geopolitical order, precipitated by the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union; the “digital revolution,” which linked spatially disparate societies for the first time; the emergence of a global art scene and the series of international festivals and events it spawned; and the advent of so-called ‘identity politics.’ ”
- Before there was Naples, there was Parthenope, a beautiful city on the bay in roughly the same location; Virgil retired there, and the city traded on this fact for centuries. “Virgil’s place in Parthenope was paraded from the moment of his death, though not perhaps in the way he might most have wished. He became much more than a poet. The author of the Aeneid was variously the city’s owner, its founder, a wizard, a magician tunnel-maker, a worker of miracles and, when Christianity sensed a rival, a worker of Christian miracles.”
The Baffler, which has probably the best slogan of any magazine in history—“the Journal that Blunts the Cutting Edge”—has made all of its back issues available for free online: required reading for anyone interested in the tenor of criticism and analysis in the nineties and early aughts, if that’s what we’ve decided to call them.
For starters, I recommend Tom Vanderbilt on SKYY vodka’s ridiculous original campaign, which was predicated on the myth that it was “hangover free” (“built on that distinctly American quest to find magic formulas to indulge more and suffer less”); or Kim Phillips-Fein’s “Lotteryville, USA,” a powerful screed against the ills of the lottery as an institution; or Terri Kapsalis’s “Making Babies the American Girl Way,” a terrifying meditation on multicultural dolls, artificial insemination, and designer babies; or, perhaps my personal favorite, Steve Albini’s “The Problem with Music,” a terse, caustic critique of the record industry at the height of yuppie-ism and major-label excess. Its scorched-earth opening:
Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people, some of them good friends, some of them barely acquaintances, at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end, holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed.
Nobody can see what’s printed on the contract. It’s too far away, and besides, the shit stench is making everybody’s eyes water. The lackey shouts to everybody that the first one to swim the trench gets to sign the contract. Everybody dives in the trench and they struggle furiously to get to the other end. Two people arrive simultaneously and begin wrestling furiously, clawing each other and dunking each other under the shit. Eventually, one of them capitulates, and there’s only one contestant left. He reaches for the pen, but the Lackey says, “Actually, I think you need a little more development. Swim it again, please. Backstroke.”
And he does, of course.
If arch anticapitalist rhetoric and scatological takedowns of corporate media aren’t your cuppa, The Baffler publishes a nice variety of fiction and poetry, too. Have at it.
Living in fear of 1999’s Melissa virus.
My father died when I was six, and though I didn’t, couldn’t, step into his shoes, I did inherit his role as my family’s IT guy. When I was around eight, I installed Windows 95 on our home computer with no adult assistance. This was a source of enormous pride and stress. I had dreams involving catastrophic software failures, corrupt data, red error boxes, low-res neon-green background screens. I wanted to find something arcane in Windows 95, something mystical. I looked through every file it installed on our computer.
A few years later, at my prodding, we bought an America Online subscription and lurched into the merge lane of the Information Superhighway, where my stress compounded. If I had any doubt that the Internet was a wild, dangerous place, it was dispelled by the bray and hiss of the 56k modem, which seemed to tear into my phone line—implying the abrasion and contusion necessary to connect.
After that, though, came the chipper baritone of the AOL spokesman: “Welcome!” Within the cheery confines of AOL’s walled garden—buddy lists, channels, chat rooms—I felt, as the company wanted me to, safe. I had a screen name. I had a password. Read More