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Current Topic: Arts

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Topic: Arts 10:38 am EST, Jan 11, 2009

"All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy" is nothing short of a complete rethinking of what a novel can and should be.

It's true that, taken on its own, All Work is plotless. But like the best of Beckett, the lack of forward momentum is precisely the point.

If it's nearly impossible to read, let us take a moment to consider how difficult it must have been to write.

From the archive:

The challenge? Take any movie and cut a new trailer for it — but in an entirely different genre.

And just recently:

If I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable.

From last year:

Paradoxically, as cures for boredom have proliferated, people do not seem to feel less bored; they simply flee it with more energy.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Poe at 200
Topic: Arts 10:38 am EST, Jan 11, 2009

What we are left with is what we've always had: the power of the Gothic. Joyce Carol Oates, who is at her best when at her darkest, sums up precisely what the Gothic still means in these post-everything times:

There is a profound difference between what appears to be and what is; and if you believe otherwise, the Gothicist has a surprise for you. The strained, sunny smile of the Enlightenment — "All that is, is holy;" "Man is a rational being" — is confronted by the Gothicist, who, quite frankly, considering the history and prehistory of our species, knows better.

Oates mentions history, and alludes to the widely held suspicion that the history of humanity is one limned with evil. But what perpetuates evil but the normalization of evil, the transformation of it into the banal?

From the archive:

Don't just not be evil. Be good.

What might otherwise seem a banal piece of whimsy is rendered horribly sinister by our knowledge of what is about to happen.

After 9/11 the gloves came off.

What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain darkness as well. A Gothic quality.

It's not that we're intellectually incapable, either. Americans keep exhaustive amounts of data in their heads about sports, celebrities, frighteningly banal television shows and all manner of other distractions.

It's not much, but it's yet another reminder that even the most banal icons of daily life are tied to some cute little math nerd.

Rarely since the mid-19th century, when it first became a crowd pleaser, has the Gothic aesthetic gained such a throttlehold on the collective imagination.

His performance was an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

There, amid the usual worthy portraits and landscapes, Fuseli's oil displayed the prostrate body of a sleeping maiden, with a depraved-looking ogre or incubus sitting on her chest and the head of a blind horse protruding menacingly through red velvet curtains. What could it mean?

I like to focus on banal, boring issues like standards, protocols, and IPR because I delight in showing how supposedly arcane technical problems actually turn out to be political.

Banal pop music is better when it comes from Mexico ...

What Martha Stewart would be like if she were gothic.

Poe at 200

A Modest Proposal for the Publishing Industry
Topic: Arts 7:24 am EST, Jan  5, 2009

As we all know, lax writing practices earlier this decade led to irresponsible writing and irresponsible reading. This simply put too many families into books they could not finish. We are seeing the impact on readers and neighborhoods, with five million Americans now behind on their reading. Some are just walking away from novels they should never have been reading in the first place.

These unreadable novels are clogging up our literary system, and undermining the strength of our otherwise sound literary institutions.

From the archive, Christopher Hitchens:

Anyone who has ever tried to digest The Da Vinci Code, for example, or the Left Behind series, will know that bad writing, aimed at a subliterate audience, is actually much more difficult to read than anything by Borges or Kundera. But a certain populism, perhaps, inhibits critics from saying so.


Paulo Coelho certainly has nothing against selling books. He has sold an astounding 100m copies of his novels. But he also believes in giving them away. He is a pirate.

A bit of Jacques Barzun:

“You are a sky-high highbrow,” Barzun wrote. “Me, I suspect highbrows (and low- and middle-) as I do all specialists, suspect them of making things too easy for themselves; and like women with a good figure who can afford to go braless, I go about brow-less.” Undeterred, I offered to rewrite the passages in question. My changes were acknowledged with fitting tribute. “To put it in a nice, friendly, unprejudiced way,” he responded, “your aim as shown in your rewritings of the ‘objectionable’ sentences strikes me as patronizing, smarmy, emetic!” My heart swells when I contemplate that exclamation point, as he seldom resorts to one.

A Modest Proposal for the Publishing Industry

Timing is Everything
Topic: Arts 7:24 am EST, Jan  5, 2009

Longer periods away from home always make me think about time and our experience of it.

Time is the stuff of music: music manipulates our experience of time; it plays with the rhythm of experience; it stretches and complicates our relationship to the passing of time. If the world of physics is a space-time continuum, music is a pitch-time continuum.

Here is Daniel Barenboim:

"Since every note produced by a human being has a human quality, there is a feeling of death with the end of each one, and through that experience there is a transcendence of all the emotions that these notes can have in their short lives; in a way, one is in direct contact with timelessness."

Recently, Rory Stewart:

Without music, time has a very different quality.

Freeman Dyson:

It's very important that we adapt to the world on the long-time scale as well as the short-time scale. Ethics are the art of doing that. You must have principles that you're willing to die for.

Timing is Everything

Kindly Gesture
Topic: Arts 11:35 pm EST, Jan  2, 2009

In August, I noted:

Carla Bruni, first lady of France, has a new album.

Recently, Bruce Sterling reported:

During a ceremony in Paris, France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy donated the total profit from her newly released album to children’s charities in Haiti.

Entitled “Comme si de rien n’etait” (Simply), the album is Bruni-Sarkozy’s third release. Since its debut in July, it has sold 190,000 copies in France and 220,000 copies abroad.

Regarding the purpose of her donation, the First Lady was simple in her remarks: “I’m pleased that music can be used for this.”

In other music news:

In a stunning turn of events, the US music industry has ceased its long-time litigation strategy of suing individual P2P file-swappers.

Kindly Gesture

Positively Proustian (By Comparison)
Topic: Arts 2:56 pm EST, Dec 26, 2008

Mr. Tarantino may be most celebrated for his imaginative explosions of violence, but his greater talent lies in structuring long periods of inaction, in the leisurely construction of dramatic contexts, in sketching large casts of characters and getting them to interact with one another through dialogue that generally has no direct bearing on the plot.

From the archive:

A film buff tells a friend that he's finally broken "the code" -- the mystery behind the character and story threads that bleed from one Quentin Tarantino movie or screenplay into the next. His friend is less than impressed.

It calls to mind a rollicking R-rated version of Mad magazine featuring Dave Chappelle and Quentin Tarantino.

Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.

Tarantino and Rodriguez, who worked together on Sin City, will each write and direct an hour-long feature for Grind House, which will be released in early 2006.

Positively Proustian (By Comparison)

Meeting with Enrique Lihn
Topic: Arts 7:35 am EST, Dec 17, 2008

Roberto Bolaño:

Of course, I knew that Lihn was dead, but when the people I was with offered to take me to meet him I accepted without hesitation. Maybe I thought that they were playing a joke, or that a miracle might be possible. But probably I just wasn’t thinking, or had misunderstood the invitation.

From the archive:

About a third of Americans believe in ghosts.

See also:

Biological evolution is still a relatively new concept for a majority of Muslims, and a serious debate over its religious compatibility has not yet taken place. It is likely that public opinion on this issue will be shaped in the next decade or so because of rising education levels in the Muslim world and the increasing importance of biological sciences.

Meeting with Enrique Lihn

Listing, and Listlessness | LRB
Topic: Arts 7:51 am EST, Dec 11, 2008

Daniel Soar:

It’s an approach that leads to a few pleasing surprises, and it has the advantage of being characterful. But a sense of authority is lost.

It's that time of year.

Listing, and Listlessness | LRB

What Tina Wants
Topic: Arts 8:10 am EST, Dec  3, 2008

Alec Baldwin observes, “The collective consciousness has said, ‘Tina, dahling, where have you been? Where on earth have you been?’”

From the recent archive:

John McEnroe: "Why isn't there any good art in here?"

What Tina Wants

Becoming Screen Literate
Topic: Arts 12:30 pm EST, Nov 23, 2008

Kevin Kelly:

How can we browse a film the way we browse a book?


All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, quote experts and sample bits of beloved artists. These tools, more than just reading, are the foundations of literacy.

From the archive:

Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.

How should I think about new technology when it comes along?

Five years is what any project worth doing will take. From moment of inception to the last good-riddance, a book, a campaign, a new job, a start-up will take 5 years to play through. So, how many 5 years do you have left? This clarifies your choices. What will they be?

Becoming Screen Literate

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