Wednesday, February 28, 2007

low-tech history at TNY

Harold Ross and E.B. White on "nauseating verbs." And the office bulletin board. So funny, at Today in Letters, from Feb 25.

I guess some of the credit goes to Thomas Kunkel, for editing Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross. But I'm not wild about that photo of Ross on the book. It's too pat. Not Ross, but that photo as a thing is too pat. Confusing, I know, but . . .

And, what's this? Both Emdashes and Today in Letters mention Ms. Dawn Powell.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

A Town Without Contraception

A "university" town, mind you. Benjamin Greenfields would like to call your attention to Peter Boyer's "Annals of Religion, The Deliverer, A pizza mogul funds a moral crusade." It's not online, but there's this from Media Transparency. The print article itself surrounds that rather disturbing ad with Scarlett Johansson dressed as Cinderella. So you can flip right to it in that doozy of a Feb double issue.

As it turns out, it's currently illegal to try and outlaw contraception on a town by town basis.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Famous Scrota in Literature, a brief intro

"Keep your eye on the rats. You better have the lead in your lap, handy."

So she dropped the lump into my lap just at that moment, and I clapped my legs together on it and she went on talking. But only about a minute. Then she took off the hank and looked me straight in the face, and very pleasant, and says:

"Come, now, what's your real name?"

"Wh -- what, mum?"

"What's your real name? Is it Bill, or Tom, or Bob? -- or what is it?"

I reckon I shook like a leaf, and I didn't know hardly what to do.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 11.

Another book, arguably for young people (and famous for its use of another word) doesn't use the word scrotum. I'd love it if Madame Librarian posted on the Newberry Award winning children's book that does, but Electric Warrior does a fine job. NYT coverage here.

Actually, as far as I can tell, the plot of The Higher Power of Lucky is a quest for the definition of the word scrotum, which is a great plot for a children's book - all about what's said and not said. In the 19th century, it might have been a quest for the definition of appendix.

Illustration by E.W. Kemble, I think. PS. It was Benj who drew the literary comparison here.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Best Things in Life are Pink

The clothes, the hair, the music, the locations, the editing. One of the few movies I saw before age 10, ridiculously memorable in sound and image, and almost as good as I remembered it. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Vampire Bats, Schjeldahl in the First Person, Poor Miss Shawn

Feb 12 issue.

I wouldn't want to miss Darwin Day. Does The New Yorker know about this holiday? And is that why they - oh so contrarian - published that excellent essay on Darwin's double, who "combines both halves of the debate over the meaning of evolution, cooling articulating the materialist mechanisms by which the simplest organisms morphed into human beings while arguing that our existence offers evidence of divine agency." (76)

Read all about Alfred Russel Wallace.

Carolita Johnson is right, that line about the beetles is outstanding.

I also liked that Rosen said of his subject, that he learned "the best defense against vampire bats" but did not tell us what that defense was! I'm dying to know.

But isn't every day Darwin Day at The New Yorker? Is there any other magazine that so responsibly covers the history of science?

Schjeldahl on Tintoretto is less easily quoted. But Carolita is right, again, there should have been more, and more appropriate pictures. I could hardly read the whole thing because I so badly wanted to pick up my computer and find the paintings. "So vast as to be essentially unseeable" (86) is one thing, but give it a chance, at least.

Schjeldahl's essays doesn't take to excerpts though, because the thing, from start to finish is an experience itself. I love the first person throughout and here, at the very end, the second person to - Schjeldahl asks, ""Who is Tintoretto's viewer?" [...] It might as well be you or me as some cinquecento ingrate, and, if we happen to think of people we know who might be interested, the artist encourages us to contact them without delay." (87)

As I've mentioned elsewhere, Gopnik on total war is strong and in any other issue, it's the piece I'd be posting on and praising. The fancy footwork that opens the article is right on, military history is experiencing a critical renaissance. Or something like that. I think it's due to an increased interest in the history of technology, but that's just me.

My least favorite moment has got to be, though, in the short review of Allen Shawn's book, "... Shawn, the son of a former editor of this magazine, analyzes the impact of coping with an autistic twin sister, who was institutionalized at the age of eight. He also lovingly and honestly traces phobic tendencies in his parents, who glossed over their daughter's condition and adopted "an across the board policy of secrecy" in front of their remaining children." (85)

Remaining? I would have chosen another turn of phrase, no matter how wordy it might have been.

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another hot topic

It's not often (or is it?) that Yahoo news overlaps with the issues covered by the fine general interest periodical The New Yorker. But Torture TV, who doesn't care about Torture TV?

Heard about TNY piece first via Chutry Experiment. Who heard about it at Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily. Where you can see a photo of the (horrors) "soul patch" mentioned in Jane Mayer's "Letter from Hollywood, Whatever It Takes, the Politics of the Man Behind "24"".

Both pieces mention producer Surnow's conservative politics, sure. But both pieces, Yahoo and TNY, also consider the very serious question of whether or no TV has real effects in the world. Bold move, guys.

See also Human Rights First, who seem to be the folks that brought this issue to the press.

Friday, February 09, 2007

it's like a petition.

Written by James Wolcott and signed, with tough-love, by so many of us. "Smugged by Reality," a biting review of Adam Gopnik's Through the Children's Gate in The New Republic.

Do a Google search for Wolcott Gopnik and you'll find a fair number of bloggers and comment-ers who were so tired of Gopnik's kitsch and would ask him to tone it down, just a bit.

At Gawker. The Nation was quick to the punch, though Hansen jabbed lightly.

Most bloggers just link merrily and move on. There's nothing to add, really. Linkers of various stripes:

Roth Brothers, Diary of a Rat, Biffles at the Bijou, Clive Davis, Christopher Hayes, dcat, lowebrow, Rising Hegemon, The Elegant Variation, Penguins on the Equator, Jewcy, gall and gumption, the stood, All Intensive Purposes (notes the Auster, oh yes), Books are my only friends, The Huffington Post, Bruce Feiler, and, tried and true, Madame Emdashes . . .

And how modest and self-effacing is our hero? The groundswell takes Wolcott by surprise, over at his VF blog.

One lonely Dad comes to Gopnik's defense. If you see more, let me know.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Them as pinched it, done her in.

Cavett and Kapuscinski.

The illicit trade in TimesSelect delivered this, Dick Cavett's rant on pronunciation. It's rather a lot of this,

And what about the various distortions of the easy word "heinous." From lawyers especially you get "hayney-us," "heeny-us" and even "highness." Look, guys and gals, it's easy. It rhymes with a well-known two-syllable word which some might consider not nice, but I guarantee will stick the correct pronunciation in your brain, especially if you compose a silly rhyming couplet. ("His behavior was heinous/ And … etc." — which, by the way is not pronounced "ECK-cetera.")

Unlike the rants about punctuation, grammar and literary style that many of my readers are fond of, this is about oral language. Technological determinist that I am, I assume Cavett cares about how words sound because he was deeply involved in a very aural form of an audio-visual medium, the interview show as it appears on TV.

So are ranters about punctuation, grammar and literary style then more literary characters? Well, consider Amardeep Singh's brief but wildly suggestive thoughts on Ryszard Kapuscinski's contribution to the Feb 5 New Yorker, "Personal History, The Open World." AS's post actually made me go back and read the article, which I'd skipped, because I hate travel writing. But not this travel writing. The important thing is, I would agree with the comments that follow the post,

"the way in which language itself becomes the theme of his visit. It's quite different from other western travelers in India, who have tended to notice the poverty, the traffic chaos, the ancient/exotic beauty, etc."

The city as textual literary signs, not sensory experience. Oh, la.

Though there is, actually, lots of noticing the poverty (from K's communist bloc POV) and exotic sensory experience, but that too is put into perspective.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

May I ask about the upholstery, doctor?

freuds house in london (3)
Originally uploaded by Mike 68.
Janet Malcolm's review of Allen Shawn's Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life, in the NYRB opens, I think, by placing Shawn's "There" in a somewhat Freudian dialog with Lillian Ross' Here But Not Here. Just like Emdashes suggested. Malcolm mentions that Shawn's memoirs are interspersed with "school reports" on evolutionary biology and brain anatomy as well as ye olde Freudian psychology, among other things.

Other news from the not entirely well, the Goncourts "suffered from simultaneous migraines." Or so claims Graham Robb (NYRB again) in his review of Pages from the Goncourt Journals. I didn't even know they had migraines in the 19th century. Or maybe they invented them then. I used to get them myself and they were debilitating and all, but that's not to say they are not culturally produced. Link gives you the "Today in Letters" Goncourt excerpts, including the dreaded Fear of Velvet. Now that I think of it, I have a very definite anxiety about chenille.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

ever so slightly spleenier than usual

Feb 5 issue. The little things. Denby, Collins, Friend and Schjeldahl.

Lauren Collins strikes a nice balance in her "Tables for Two." Seriously. Of course this column as a column is tiresome and annoying and of course I read it. But she's more descriptive of the food itself than other reviewers have been and I've got a weak spot for restaurant reviews that try to like the food but can't. Sometimes "Tables" seems like fluffy verbal acrobatics of the worst kind. Not here. Good spleen.

Just opposite, Schjeldahl's sophisticated stab at Aitken's "Sleepwalkers" is also lovely. As in "very public and undoubtably art, but it knits the terms only notionally." Say it to yourself aloud. As in "frenetic didos." As in "How melancholy is it to be gainfully employed and goregeous in the city?" Very good spleen.

Finally, there is Friend on Sarah Silverman. Now, everything I know about Sarah Silverman comes via The New Yorker. I've never seen or heard from her elsewhere. But if she really, truly manages this - Sarah’s crowd punishes sexual indeterminacy: when she suddenly decides that she’s a lesbian, everyone scoffs. "As a lesbian, I resent your laughter,” Sarah says. “And all laughter.” Is the joke about identity politics? Lesbians? Or is it on us: So you think lesbians are humorless? - then she falls, however briefly, in the brilliant category. I love this move, though it's pretty common among the brilliant. The brilliant, bitter and repressed.

Denby on the Nadar documentary threw me for a loop, though. "The filmmakers give equal time to critics of Nadar [...] who deride him as a deluded egoist eager to take votes away from Al Gore and John Kerry, and to Nadar's supporters, who present him as [...] utterly consistent in doing what's best for the country. We are free to make up our own minds. So be it." OK, if you say so, Denby. But then this statement is followed by, "The long interview with Nadar that is dispersed throughout the film suggests that he became, in later years, a thoughtless man who believes only in himself." I feel like we're missing an "however" at the beginning of the sentence or a "to this viewer" (ugly but necessary) after the suggests or maybe this sentence need only come before the statement, "We are free" etc? If the interview footage makes a persuasive argument then the preceding claims for the film's neutrality become meaningless.

But it's not just a little odd, I think Denby misses the opportunity to really address one of my favorite issues in contemporary documentary, the exhibitionist/celeb documentary and how it's a very common strategy to use a long, dispersed interview to let the subject shoot themselves in the foot and thus make up the minds of the audience for them, but act like you're not. In a sophisticated and politically complex documentary filmmaker kind of way, of course.

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lauren collins on "paris" syndrome

If a "Talk of the Town" must talk about New York (and I'm not sure it must) this one tries too hard to do so and I'd rather hear about Paris Syndrome after all.

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