Wednesday, December 13, 2006

gifts, collecting and other economies

Someone's made us a gift. A gallery of New Yorker writers' portraits on flickr.

I'll skip the obvious about how white, etc the crowd is and, instead, elaborate on how brilliant this photo set is. I think part of it is the homogeneity of the photos. Like they are almost all professional, glossy but in a thoughtful intellectual way. Hence the sober discourse black and white and the forthright, slightly confrontational gazes or poses and . . . I like portraits, as you may have noticed from my own use of images here. A flickr set, this flickr set, highlights the eerie repetitive nature of this particular group of photographic portraits.

But then there is the sort of implied association within the flickr set of The New Yorker with collecting as a time-honored mode of reader-response. People (ie, my parents) collected the issues, until they ran out of room in the closet that held the record player, then they just collected the covers, then they stopped. Then they (not my parents) came out with the archives and we are (somewhat, depending on our sense of what an archive is) relieved of the burden of collecting issues. Now what?

A boy I knew in college made a very carefully composed collection of covers to hang on the wall (the covers were mounted on some sort of backing so he could take this collection from place to place as he moved) and that was a bit too precious for me. At the same time (college) I was living in an apartment with one (1) faux-wood paneled wall and I covered that wall with New Yorker pages, as it seemed cheap (my parents had given up systematically collecting by then but there were always a lot of them piled under the antique sewing machine) and easy and I grew to love the 3 column lay-out and the busy plainness of it. I remember an illustration of curry ingredients and a Tattinger champagne ad (yes, I used all kinds of pages, not just covers) that was a 90s variation on the one I've posted here and probably some Avedon photos and that leads me to a short digression:

When I started this blog I did a lot of searching to make sure, I thought, that there were not already forums for The New Yorker's critical readers. I found very little, but I did find some folks who were disgusted by the magazine's layout. Well, I love it and I always have and I like all the little changes they've made and I think the plain busyness of it and the small font and the general avoidance of lame illustrations (like the ones in The Atlantic) is particularly good. Remember that illustration that went with the Bremmer thing? Awful. But it's an exception that reminds one how good the illustrations and photography in the magazine usually are. Like that excellent insane rodent, just recently.

Yes, it's dated, but compared to the other mainstream magazines next to it on the bookstore shelves, it looks more and more outre every month as the rest of the magazines just look more and more and more like each other and like Wallpaper did ten years ago.

Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a clever (wonders never cease) op-ed in the Washington Post encouraging holiday shoppers to follow the wisest of wise men and give gold. Smart.

Champagne is also a good gift.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

kids lit and the reality effects of occupation

I haven't read Elizabeth Kolbert's article on kids' lit in the Dec 4 New Yorker. But please check in with two other readers and writers of diverse natures, Electric Warrior, An Actual Native of Pittsburgh (though now removed to points North), who read it and enjoyed it, and Our Friend Madame Librarian, who posted on the article at her very own Brookeshelf.

As for whether or no reading to children is a form of control, well, I'd say it is clearly a question of Discipline. And the Electric Warrior, like so many of us, seems to have been "properly disciplined," as it were, as evidenced by her feelings for Shakespeare and Dahl and Andrew Lloyd Weber. I myself have been watching a lot of well-meaning-middle-brow TV (NYer withdrawl symptom, I guess), including:

CNN's "Autism is a World" This was good, and much better than the title suggests. The program, rather, argues that autism exists within, as part of, intimately bound with The World and is not, or at least need not be, A World unto itself in which lost souls may not be found. Note she's looking wistfully out the window. Oh my God, stop it. Honestly, it's not that bad a piece.

A PBS POV documentary titled My Country My Country inspired by The New Yorker and made by Laura Poitras. Again, it was a bit plaintive. But what was really interesting about this (follows rampant speculation) is alright, so the filmmaker probably set out to make a film critical of "US, I mean, coalition" (everyone in the film says it this way) occupation.

But as she is assembling her footage of US troops being instructed and contractors and Kurds and Iraqis and Baghdad residents and The Good Doctor she finds that the language that US occupation uses to describe the upcoming (as were) elections emphasizes the word "show." In the many senses of the word: the elections will show this or show that, or this is a "showstopper," the show must go on, etc, etc and then, finally, one of the men being trained as the Iraqi police force for the elections calls his instructor on it - "What do you mean show?"

And then this, um, linguistic tic is paired with constant visual presence of television screens (even when they are off, which is rare) within the frame, as everybody watches the war on television. At first, watching the war seemed like the kind of news watching (or radio listening) many people have been represented as doing during times of war and election, but with the emphasis on the "show," well, you're back to thinking about how and why we watch and what we're being shown and why. Maybe it's just a reality effect of a slick documentary (well, not slick, but very well made) but even if Poitras went in there thinking the election was a big show, I doubt that she expected the symptoms of occupation to show themselves so readily in the language she captured. I could probably figure out how this theme developed so very literally (so to speak) by spending much time at linked website.

This whole idea of symptoms, well, if it's a little slight here, I'm under the influence of a paper I wrote years ago and just found when I was tidying up my computer on the symptoms of occupation as, you know, indexes of its unease/disease.

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