Archive for June, 2009

Perfect parties

Largely inspired by this thread, I’ve been thinking about parties all day. Here are ten things that equal a perfect party to me:

10. Setting: A house in a southern city, end of summer. 6 or 7 people are jonesing for this party, so we all get some Mexican food first.

9. Guests are a mix of past, present and future: some old friends you haven’t seen in forever, your current circle, and some game randoms who wanna get to know everybody.

8. Even though it’s BYO, magical amounts of booze pop up and somebody invents a drink that works a little too well.

7. Decoration/theme transforms the space without constraining movement.

6.people need to use the chillout room because serious dancing is going down.

5. friends are flirting and falling in love.

4. someone reveals an awesome, unexpected aspect of his or her personality.

3. by 3 or so the party’s down to a manageable size, and we wander from the house briefly for some activity.

2. plenty of places for people to lie down so  it’s sleepover time.

1. restorative breakfast and heartfelt goodbyes.

What’s your idea of a perfect party?

The Idea of North

sprott on the future

George Sprott (1894-1975) is easily my favorite work by the Canadian cartoonist Seth. Most of the text originally appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, but the book improves the project with additional material in an engaging package. It stands an impressive 12″ by 14″, which Seth ably uses to draw in and, at times, overwhelm the reader.

George Sprott is a biography/tombstone* for the title character, who embarked on arctic expeditions as a young man, and later in life recycled those experiences in a weekly lecture and a television show titled “Northern Hi-Lights.” Like all of Seth’s work, it’s abundantly nostalgic. In fact, the subject of the book is nostalgia: the novella examines the ways in which ideas of death and old age color the past and present, and the ways in which people live their lives according to how they think they will be remembered. Continue reading ‘The Idea of North’

Dialogue of Immanence

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin Lawrence Weschler

irwindisk“The art world is highly invested in the idea that you can take an object and set it in a room, and the internal relationships will be so strong and so meaningful that all the kinds of change that take place on the object as a result of its being in a new environment will not critically affect our perception of the object. If that is the given assumption, then the object can be moved from culture to culture, that it has the ability to transcend its cultural specificity, which in turn gives rise to the ultimate illusion that the object can transcend time. Because what is being claimed is that there exist certain objects isolated and meaningful enough to be transcendent, that they have the power to go on and on, that they are, as it were, timeless.”–Robert Irwin

Continue reading ‘Dialogue of Immanence’

Phonogram Singles Club #3

emilyDon’t be a dick, Emily.

Continue reading ‘Phonogram Singles Club #3’

A question about network theory and nu-social networks

I’m currently reading a biography of the California artist Robert Irwin, best known for his conceptual and environmental art. I’ll try to post a recap when I’m done. Early in his career he spent a lot of time in LA artist collective Ferus, whose members continually groused and obsessed over their peers in the New York art world.

This reminisce reminds me of my limited experience with network theory, the body of work contending that social networks create the only truly successful period. Network theory’s mainstream spokesman is probably Richard Florida, but I’m better acquainted with Randall Collins’s mammoth The Sociology of Philosophies, which argues that there are no great lone thinkers, no posthumous geniuses. Our body of intellectual achievement comes out of coteries and salons: think Bloomsbury, think Left Bank, think Vienna Circle.* Brilliant loners usually belonged to social networks whose members history has largely forgotten.

I’m entering a weird period in my life in which just about all of my friendships are maintained online. I often use in-person social networks as a spur to my intellect, and worry about what happens to my mental acuity in a vacuum. Do online social networks provide the same benefit that Collins’s examples did? Will the next artists’ group arise on Google Wave? What do you think?

*I should probably mention that Collins girds his argument with many case studies from Asian social networks as well–his thesis is not restricted to the West or to modernity.

What I’m working on, 6/14

So I’m currently drafting a research proposal about cartoons and religion.

Over the past decade cartoons depicting Muslims, especially those portraying the prophet Muhammad, have prompted harsh condemnations, property damage, and physical violence. Many Muslim denominations forbid the depiction of the prophet. Even those that don’t would find the orientalist, racist and reductive cartoons cause for anger. In 2005, the reaction in the U.S. was ambivalent. Two of the stronger impulses behind the first amendment butted heads.Free Speech advocates pushed for U.S. papers to republish the cartoons, while others believed that religious tolerance outweighed the need to inform Americans.  For many, knowledge of the existence of the cartoons wouldn’t suffice– they needed to be seen instead of described.

This cycle of provocation and controversy is nothing new. Long before 9/11 pernicious stereotypes about Muslims circulated widely in the West. Of course, it doesn’t seem like  we’ve learned much from these occasional controversies. These cycles seem to recur without much variation.

What has changed are the stakes.

The dominant explanations for the violence are insufficient. Part of the reaction may be explained by aniconity, the prohibition of visual representation. But religious groups that prohibit images usually do so because the creation of images is kin to the creation of idols. This was certainly not the case this decade; the cartoons are as far from idols as possible. Additionally, the hateful tenor of the cartoons may plausibly provoke a destructive response. But there’s no shortage of hateful things about Muslims being circulated in the media these days. The destruction of  embassies and the killing of artists remain rarer occurances.

Strong reaction to cartoons is nothing new, either. Although some would label cartoons as kiddie fare, cartoons often manage to exercise adult fears. In the 1950s many Americans believed comic books to be the cause of juvenile delinquence. Cartoons have been the subject of a supreme court decision, and frequently intervene in electoral politics. But people usually exaluate these cartoons strictly by their content, and fail to examine how the cartoon form, and the venues in which cartoons appear, help create meaning.

It’s my belief that the cartoons of the past decade depicting Muslims must be examined according to the media contexts they appear in, and the positions readers take toward those media, if we are to truly understand how they spurred violence and spread hate.

Go ahead, tackle 2666

Over the past 2 months, I’ve been reading Roberto Bolaño’s encyclopedic novel 2666 in the spare minutes before bed. It’s superb. 2666 is comprised of 5 novels, which all intersect around a series of murders in Santa Teresa, Mexico (based on the real-life epidemic of murders in Ciudad Juarez). Two revolve around an elusive author and his literary critics; one deals with a professor; another with a journalist. The largest section is the forbidding Part IV, which confronts the murders directly. But each section contains so much more–strands of philosophy, dozens of ancillary stories, pages-long histories. Mahler said a symphony should contain the world, and this novel seems like an attempt to do just that.

Novels of this size (it approaches 900 pages) contain a lot of details to remember, even when one reads them speedily. But I found this novel easy to navigate. When I had forgotten a character, I could at least remember where to go to refresh my memory. Similarly, the prose remains distinctive despite embracing a whirlwind of genres. Bolaño commits a series of literary impersonations in 2666, yet I feel his signature style comes through–he can burrow to the emotional core of a character in less than a page. He’s got scores of such characters in this novel. The book is divided into five sections, and each section contains several passages, some less than a page, others spanning several.

This is not to say I didn’t feel lost or stranded at points. Part III, “The Part About Fate”, began in America, and it felt like Bolaño needed surer footing.* Part IV proved daunting for another reason. A brutal procedural illustration of the Santa Teresa murders, Part IV conjures a fallen world, with few bright spots. Bolaño renders these deaths compellingly, in an imitation of the cold reason of police reports. They quickly become unbearable–an achievement in itself.

Anyway, go read it! I need to talk it over with someone.

*Of course, it may only seem this way to me since I am an American. Perhaps Germans turn up their noses at Part V.


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