- When Richard Dawkins conceived of memes, he imagined them as units of culture, transmitted like viruses to contribute to our social evolution. But Internet memes have distorted the meaning of the term, arguably to uselessness. “Trawling the Internet, I found a strange paradox: While memes were everywhere, serious meme theory was almost nowhere. Richard Dawkins … seemed bent on disowning the Internet variety, calling it a ‘hijacking’ of the original term.”
- George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891) is good for a whole host of reasons, but it’s “a particularly potent corrective to the current cottage industry centering on ‘the writing life’—in which literary production is seen as glamorous, in which photos of writers’ desks appear on Pinterest and readers obsess over the perfect pen with which to write their buried masterpiece. The lesson of Gissing is that most novelists are bitter failures—always were, and always will be.”
- Curmudgeonly grandparents around the world would have you believe that textspeak is a travesty, a crime against language. But it has, in so many ways, expanded and streamlined our methods of communicating: our tonal varietyyyyy, our semiotics (!!!), our ability to corretc (*correct) ourselves …
- The postal service’s new Maya Angelou stamp contains many perfectly nice words—“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song”—but they weren’t written by Maya Angelou. “A Postal Service spokesman told the newspaper that the line, which has been widely attributed to Angelou by people including President Obama, was approved for use on the stamp by Angelou’s family.”
- The insidious logic of the trailer has made its way from movies to music and books—now there are trailers for college courses, too. “A branding tactic once reserved for the marketplace has entered the marketplace of ideas.”
The clue for 2 Down on today’s New York Times crossword is as follows: “ ‘If you ask me,’ in textspeak.” Spoiler alert: the answer is IMHO. (Short for “in my humble opinion” or “in my honest opinion,” for those who didn’t know.) This is true not merely because you need those letters to satisfy the needs of mire and Amex and Sofia but because in the world of texts, and in online communication generally, people are constantly asserting their opinions with unnecessary vehemence.
Leaving aside the fact that such opinions are rarely solicited, why is everyone always sharing his “honest” or “humble” opinion? As opposed to what—the civility that normally characterizes anonymous online discussions? Because otherwise we might think you were prevaricating about, like, whether you thought some dumpling shop was overrated or one season of a show was better than another? IMHO asserts that someone is about to tell you the truth—but your veracity otherwise would never have come into question. Read More
- Curmudgeons avow that the text message, with its relentless abbreviations and disdain for punctuation, is vandalizing our language. But that loose style has been around for centuries: “modern text-speak bears a striking resemblance to the system of abbreviations and shorthand present in medieval manuscripts.” (Haha, for instance, made an appearance on vellum as early as 1000 AD.)
- Also appearing in medieval manuscripts: illustrations of flatulent monks, killer rabbits, an ogre with an anal fixation, and a nun plucking penises from a phallus tree.
- In which Geoff Dyer attends an academic conference devoted to Geoff Dyer. “‘When speaking about the work, use Dyer,’ urged Dr. Bianca Leggett, the convenor of the conference, in her opening remarks. ‘When speaking about the man in the room, use Geoff.’ ”
- “Partisan Review is remembered for the editorial vision of two of its founders, William Phillips and Philip Rahv … but a third founder of the magazine, poet and thriller-writer Kenneth Fearing, has been largely forgotten, in part because he was suspected of being a Communist, and in part because he wrote thrillers.”
- Paris Review contributor Kristin Dombek turns her advice column into a meditation on political economy: “You have been trained from childhood to think that labor, in and of itself, is both a right and one of the most important goals of your life; you have been told that your ‘career’ is the same thing as ‘who you are in the world.’ Yet like most employed people in the United States, you work jobs that you consider to be banal, brutal, or both. For this labor you are supposed to be grateful, since work is increasingly hard to get: if you lose your shitty job, you’ve got only a one-in-five chance of finding a new one … ”
The long-awaited sequel.