Profound or boring?


Since it emerged in the 1960s, Conceptual art has seldom left viewers on the fence. Detractors are deaf to its dry wit, wary of its subversive cerebral bent. Often, Conceptual art wasn’t really built to last, but as a movement it most certainly has endured, perhaps because it launched a way of thinking about society, mobility, and culture that subsequently inspired generations of artists. Early proponents foresaw that Conceptual art would alter the status of an art object and impact networks of promotion, distribution, and provenance in the art world at large. In 2007 MoMA acquired a significant cache of Conceptual art from Geert van Beijeren and Adriaan van Ravesteijn, founders of the Amsterdam gallery Art & Project. Dedicating the gallery to new art of their time, van Beijeren and van Ravesteijn presented exhibitions from 1968 until 2001; they also published the influential Art & Project Bulletin from 1968-1989. Their gift of 230 works to the Modern spans no less than five curatorial departments. Conceptual art thus enters an interesting phase of cross-disciplinary art historical assessment. No doubt this process will burnish the museum’s credibility as one of modern art’s key authorities even as the works themselves add depth to the museum’s holdings.

more from Deborah Garwood at artcritical here.

“he lifted the cup”


There’s a YouTube video of the literary critic James Wood in his kitchen, drumming merrily on the tabletop, a coffee mug, and a plastic bucket of chocolates while his young daughter squeals in delight. He’s in a rumpled sweater, a fringe of hair hovers above his bright, balding head, and his face has the pallor of unbaked bread. It is difficult to reconcile his unassuming physical presence with the fever-pitched wrath that has been directed at his criticism. Indeed, he may be the most vilified literary critic alive. In The Nation, critic William Deresiewicz calls Wood “condescending” and “imperious” and warns that “if American criticism were to follow his lead, it would end up only in a desert.” Edmond Caldwell’s blog, “Contra James Wood,” is devoted solely to attacking Wood, whom he describes as a “symptom of a disease.” Vivian Gornick, in another broadside from The Nation, describes Wood as an “unhappily lapsed Christian … [who] worship[s] at the wrong literary altar.” In The New York Times, Walter Kirn’s bilious review of Wood’s book How Fiction Works frequently bypasses the text to attack Wood himself. In Kirn’s imagination, Wood speaks with “genteel condescension” and “flashes the Burberry lining of his jacket whenever he rises from his armchair to fetch another Harvard Classic.” Novelist Colson Whitehead followed up the hatchet job with a snarky piece in Harper’s in which a pompous windbag named James Root gushes inanely over the sentence “He lifted the cup.”

more from Nathan Ihara at the LA Weekly here.

Meet the “vook,” the latest “book of the future”

From Salon:

Vook Technology changes at a dizzying rate, yet somehow our ways of writing about it don't. Take that hoary chestnut, the “future of the book” piece, which first appeared with the introduction of CD-ROM encyclopedias (remember Encarta?) in the late 1980s and achieved its nth iteration on Thursday, when a front-page story in the New York Times announced the debut of the “vook,” a video-book hybrid, four of which have just been released by Atria Books.

The unfortunately named vooks consist of text and video clips produced in concert to form integrated works. You can read/watch them with a Web browser, but they're primarily intended for mobile devices like the iPhone and meant to win over those people you see on the subway or in airports frantically pounding their thumbs through endless rounds of Frogger instead of reading a David Baldacci novel. The spectacle of people not reading in public has become a motivating trauma for many publishing executives of late. Brian Tart, publisher of Dutton Books, told the Times' Motoko Rich, “You see people watching these three-minute YouTube videos and using social networks, and there is an opportunity here to bring in more people who might have thought they were into the new media world.”

More here.



Nobel Nobel-winning science sometimes touches on subjects as remote as the big bang and the weird world of quantum physics, but this year's Nobel Prize for physics celebrates breakthroughs that are as close as your cellphone and computer keyboard.

CCD discoveries
Two of the laureates, Willard Boyle and George Smith, will split half of the $1.4 million prize for their work 40 years ago on a little thing called the charged-coupled device, or CCD. Such devices are arrays of tiny solar cells that turn light into electricity. The trick that Smith and Boyle (no close relation to me, by the way) came up with was a way to read out the signals from all those cells in an orderly string, and then translate the strings of data into a picture.

The innovation opened up a new realm of digital imagery – a realm that you travel through every time you snap a picture with your cell-phone camera or click through a Flickr album. To get an idea how far that realm has come since 1969, click through this roundup of the latest camera crop. Digital imagery from CCD-equipped spacecraft has opened up even more wondrous realms beyond Earth. The technology came into vogue too late for the Voyager and Viking spacecraft, which used TV-style cameras called vidicons. But NASA's Galileo probe to Jupiter, launched in 1989, pioneered CCD applications for robotic spacecraft. Today, virtually every astronomical picture ever taken comes to us thanks to CCDs – ranging from the pictures sent back from Saturn as part of the $3.4 billion Cassini mission to the experimental near-space images that an MIT student team took for less than $150. Our latest roundup of the greatest space images puts the fruits of Boyle and Smith's labors on full display.

More here.

Something New on the Mall

Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_04 Oct. 07 10.58 We have never seen, at least in the modern history of the United States, a right-wing street-protest movement. Conservatives who oppose Roe v. Wade march on Washington every January 22, the anniversary of that 1973 decision; but aside from that single issue and that single day, the American right over recent decades has, until this summer, carried out its organizing in a comparatively quiet fashion, via mimeograph machine and pamphlet and book and e-mail and text message, and left the streets to the left.

So we have something new in our political life—the summer's apoplectic and bordering-on-violent town-hall meetings, and the large “9/12” rally on Washington's National Mall that drew tens of thousands of people to protest America's descent into “socialism” (or “communism,” or, occasionally, “Nazism”). How extreme is this movement, and how seriously should we take it?

More here.

Science and the arts need not be strangers

William Waldegrave in The Times:

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 07 10.49 Newton wrote as much about early Christian doctrines as about optics; Coleridge and Davy planned to share out all literature and science between them; Shelley turned his brilliant classical mind and poetic sensibility to the celebration of reason and science, which he taught himself in his own time while he was at Eton.

So how come, 50 years after Snow, and just as he said, we still meet people who would think it shaming to admit difficulty in reading but who boast (sometimes untruthfully) about their incompetence at basic mathematics? How come the phrase “computer nerd” runs off the tongue more easily than “painting nerd”? Or that a cultured dinner party in W8 might find it odd if no one knew the name of the director of the Tate but not of the Science Museum? (It would not be our dinner party, I must add, as I am privileged to be Professor Chris Rapley’s chairman.) Some of the cause lies in the intense and exclusive nature of the science community itself. Science and medicine and engineering are, except in rare cases, co-operative, social activities. They require long and often extremely challenging training, at the end of which people share a powerful common culture and language that excludes others, not least because so much time is physically spent together in the workplaces of laboratory, hospital or design centre. At the end of it you are part of a priesthood; it would be contrary to human nature not to have a certain contempt for those outside the pale.

More here.

An Electric Literature Single Sentence Animation

From the YouTube description of the video:

Artist Martha Colburn animates a sentence from Author Diana Wagman’s transcendent, funny, harrowing tale of a young womans first sexual relationship after a mastectomy. Wagman is the author of three novels, most recently Bump.

Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations between writers published in Electric Literature and contemporary visual artists. The writer selects a single sentence from his or her work and the animator creates a short film in response.

Electric Literature is a bi-monthly anthology of short fiction dedicated to reinvigorating the short story using new media and innovative distribution. Visit us at

Why Goldstone matters

Richard Falk in Al-Ahram:

So why did the Israeli government boycott the commission? The real answer is quite simple: they knew full well that the commission, any commission, would have to reach the conclusions it did reach.
— Uri Avnery, Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 07 09.20 Richard Goldstone, former judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court, the first prosecutor at The Hague on behalf of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia, and anti-apartheid campaigner reports that he was most reluctant to take on the job of chairing the UN fact-finding mission charged with investigating allegations of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the three-week Gaza War of last winter. Goldstone explains that his reluctance was due to the issue being “deeply charged and politically loaded”, and was overcome only because he and his fellow commissioners were “professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation”, adding that “above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war,” as well as the duty to protect civilians to the extent possible in combat zones. The four-person fact-finding mission was composed of widely respected and highly qualified individuals, including distinguished international law scholar Christine Chinkin, a professor at the London School of Economics. Undoubtedly adding complexity to Goldstone's decision is the fact that he is Jewish, with deep emotional and family ties to Israel and Zionism, bonds solidified by his long association with several organisations active in Israel.

More here.

sendak’s bestiary


One of this fall’s most anticipated films is “Where the Wild Things Are,” which attempts to bring the 338 words and 18 pictures of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book to life on the big screen. The stakes are high because the book is perfect; its simple story, about a misbehaving kid named Max and the creatures he meets on his imaginary voyage, is now a revered parable about growing up, staying young, and dealing with the unknown. With an army of puppeteers and CGI effects, the filmmakers will also be reacquainting audiences with one of the great supporting casts in children’s books: Sendak’s monsters. The Wild Things – fierce but charming beasts with bulging eyes, fangs, and claws – became, for generations of the book’s fans, iconic. With mismatched animal bodies and goofy, humanoid features, they looked like a cross between ogres and teddy bears. And they promptly claimed a spot in our pop culture bestiary, along with Godzilla, King Kong, and Barney the Dinosaur, where they’ve roamed ever since.

more from Roger White at the Boston Globe here.

Nobel Awarded for Advances in Harnessing Light


Kenneth Chang in the New York Times:

The mastery of light through technology was the theme of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences honored breakthroughs in fiber optics and digital photography.

Half of the $1.4 million prize went to Charles K. Kao for insights in the mid-1960s about how to get light to travel long distances through glass strands, leading to a revolution in fiber optic cables. The other half of the prize was shared by two researchers at Bell Labs, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, for inventing the semiconductor sensor known as a charge-coupled device, or CCD for short. CCDs now fill digital cameras by the millions.

More here.

Chromosome protection scoops Nobel

From Nature:

Telo-180 Three US scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the structure of molecular caps called telomeres and working out how they protect chromosomes from degradation. Their discoveries in cell biology during the 1980s and 1990s opened new avenues of work, in ageing and in cancer research, which are still highly active today. The prize, announced on 5 October, is shared equally between Elizabeth Blackburn at the University of California, San Francisco, Carol Greider of the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, and Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. The three have already won numerous prizes for their work, including sharing one of the 2006 Lasker awards, often considered to be a forerunner of the Nobel prize.

Their research revealed a fundamental aspect of how DNA, packed into chromosomes, is copied in its entirety by the DNA polymerase enzyme during cell division. The ends of the chromosomes are capped by telomeres, long thought to have a protective function (see 'Chromosome caps'). Without them, the chromosomes would be shortened during each cell division, because DNA polymerase is unable to copy to the very end of one of the two DNA strands it is replicating.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth

The first day he cut rosewood for the back,
bent sycamore into ribs and made a belly
of mahogany.
Let us go early to the vineyards
and see if the vines have budded
The sky was blue over the Jezreel valley
and the gilt dove shone
above the Church of the Annunciation.
The second day, he carved a camel-bone base
for the fingerboard.
I sat down under his shadow with delight.

The third day, he made a nut of sandalwood,
and a pickguard of black cherry.
He damascened a rose of horn
with arabesques
as lustrous as under-leaves of olive beside the sea.
I have found him whom my soul loves.
He inlaid the soundhole with ivory swans,
each pair a Valentine of entangled necks,
and fitted tuning pegs of apricot
to give a good smell when rubbed.

The fourth was a day for cutting
high strings of camel-gut. His left hand
shall be under my head
For the lower course, he twisted copper strings
pale as tarmac under frost.
He shall lie all night between my breasts.
The fifth day he laid down varnish.
Our couch is green and the beams of our house
are cedar and pine
. Behind the neck
he put a sign to keep off the Evil Eye.

Read more »

Self-Destructive Behavior in Cells May Hold Key to a Longer Life

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

Carl Deep down, we are all cannibals. Our cells are perpetually devouring themselves, shredding their own complex molecules to pieces and recycling them for new parts. Many of the details of our endless self-destruction have come to light only in the past few years. And to the surprise of many scientists, links are now emerging between this inner cannibalism and diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

“There’s been an explosion,” said Daniel Klionsky of the University of Michigan. “All of a sudden, researchers in different fields are seeing a connection.” In fact, as Dr. Klionsky wrote in a paper published online in Trends in Cell Biology, this cannibalism may extend our lifespan. Increasing our body’s ability to self-destruct may, paradoxically, let us live longer. Our cells build two kinds of recycling factories. One kind, known as the proteasome, is a tiny cluster of proteins. It slurps up individual proteins like a child sucking a piece of spaghetti. Once inside the proteasome, the protein is chopped up into its building blocks.

More here.

The demise of the dollar

In a graphic illustration of the new world order, Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading.

Robert Fisk in The Independent:

Dollar_247863t In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

More here.

Kotarski on Polanski

Our own Kris Kotarski in the Calgary Herald:

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 06 10.25 Why do people who really should know better twist themselves into impossible positions trying to justify a famous man's crime?

That the Polanski hoopla is a reflection of our society is obvious, although the important lesson here is not the one that is being pushed by the Washington Post. This has little to do with Hollywood's moral core or the divide between “virtuous” America and “decadent” Europe, and even less to do with the divisions in American politics that the Post covers so well.

Too many people–liberals, conservatives, Americans, Europeans–have spoken up in a child rapist's defence for this to be a simple left/right, liberal/ conservative spat. This is a symptom of a much older illness, an echo of a time when the ruling elite could do whatever it pleased to the commoners, and when certain people could simply do no wrong.

This was not a “liberal elite” (another curious phrase from our present political lexicon)–this was the aristocracy and the clergy, who had separate rules of engagement for their own kind, and separate rules for the commoners. There were kings, lords, commoners, and slaves. And whether it was murder, rape, theft or cruelty, there was one standard for the elite, and another for the masses.

Today, everyone insists we're all equal before the law, but who are we kidding?

More here.

3 Americans Share Nobel for Medicine


Nicholas Wade in the New York Times:

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded Monday to three American scientists who solved a problem of cell biology with deep relevance to cancer and aging. The three will receive equal shares of a prize worth around $1.4 million.

The recipients solved a longstanding puzzle involving the ends of chromosomes, the giant molecules of DNA that embody the genetic information. These ends, called telomeres, get shorter each time a cell divides and so serve as a kind of clock that counts off the cell’s allotted span of life.

The three winners are Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol W. Greider of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital.

More here. [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]

The animal in us, the human in them

Jeff Warren in The Globe and Mail:

Dewaal_259508gm-a The book of nature is like the Bible: Everyone reads into it what they want.” So writes eminent primatologist Frans de Waal about a third of the way into his latest, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. As nature readers go, de Waal is among the most accomplished. He has spent the better part of 30 years studying chimpanzees and bonobos, sometimes in the wild, but mostly in his capacity as director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Ga.

And what a sobering education the apes have given him. For six books, de Waal has chronicled their scheming and their turf battles, their amazing problem-solving abilities and sexual politics. From the start, it has been clear to de Waal that the apes represent a kind of proto-human society, with many of our same patterns and preoccupations. These days, there is nothing controversial about this view; it's trotted out by pundits and newspaper columnists at every opportunity, all of them enthralled by evolutionary psychology – the idea that all of human nature can be explained by adaptive responses formed on the prehistoric savannah – as a kind of arch-explanatory paradigm. If we want to understand ourselves, the thinking goes, then look to our ape ancestors, who exhibit many of the same traits in more elemental form.

De Waal is very much with this program, and he is an astute enough cultural commentator to recognize how the specific details of this narrative influence politics and society.

More here.

Faheem Hussain — As I Knew Him

by Pervez Hoodbhoy

Faheem It was mid-October 1973 when, after a grueling 26-hour train ride from Karachi, I reached the physics department of Islamabad University (or Quaid-e-Azam University, as it is now known). As I dumped my luggage and “hold-all” in front of the chairman's office, a tall, handsome man with twinkling eyes looked at me curiously. He was wearing a bright orange Che Guevara t-shirt and shocking green pants. His long beard, though shorter than mine, was just as unruly and unkempt. We struck up a conversation. At 23, I had just graduated from MIT and was to be a lecturer in the department; he had already been teaching as associate professor for five years. The conversation turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Together with Abdul Hameed Nayyar – also bearded at the time – we became known as the Sufis of Physics. Thirty six years later, when Faheem Hussain lost his battle against prostate cancer, our sadness was beyond measure.

Revolutionary, humanist, and scientist, Faheem Hussain embodied the political and social ferment of the late 1960's. With a Ph.D that he received in 1966 from Imperial College London, he had been well-placed for a solid career anywhere in the world. In a profession where names matter, he had worked under the famous P.T. Mathews in the group headed by the even better known Abdus Salam. After his degree, Faheem spent two years at the University of Chicago. This gave him a chance to work with some of the world's best physicists, but also brought him into contact with the American anti-Vietnam war movement and a powerful wave of revolutionary Marxist thinking. Even decades later, Faheem would describe himself as an “unreconstructed Marxist”. Participating in the mass anti-war demonstrations at UC had stirred his moral soul; he felt the urge to do more than just physics. Now married to Jane Steinfels, a like-minded soul who he met in Chicago, Faheem decided to return to Pakistan.

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Mapping the Cracks: Art-Objects in Motion

Part One

by Daniel Rourke

“The spacetime of the lightcones and the fermions and scalar are connected to the chocolate grinder. The chocolate grinder receives octonionic structure from the water wheel.”

– Tony Smith, Valdosta Museum Website

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, EvenIn 1927 Marcel Duchamp's The Large Glass was broken in transit. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, Duchamp's title for the piece, depicts a mechanical Bride in its upper section and nine abstract Bachelors in its lower. Duchamp took oil, lead, varnish and dust and sandwiched them between panes of glass. The Bachelors encounter their Bride in the presence of a large, gorgeous, chocolate grinder whose drums revolve in motions which seem to reach up, across the divide, to touch the ethereal Bride in her domain.

In 1936 Duchamp 'fixed' the broken Bride by repairing, rather than replacing, the shattered panes of glass. He claimed to like it better that way.

Today progenies of Duchamp invest time, thought and often a great many dollars in their own artworks. The successful ones amongst them package those artworks up in foam, plaster and cellophane to be moved, shipped and re-exhibited in multiple gallery spaces again and again. Without dwelling on the commodification of the artwork I want to build my own scheme for understanding these movements. I want to rest a little and draw the lines of desire that artworks traverse; the paths they take that human intent had nothing to do with; the archives they carry within themselves. For every map there are points we must plot, spaces and places in real space and time that require isolation and signification. We grab a GPS device and codify the crossroads where St. Martin's Place meets Trafalgar Square, marking carefully the precise angle via which Madonna on the Rocks will be fed through the clamouring crowds into the The National Gallery's mouth. Artworks live in motion, just as readily as they live in the gallery. In the dark recess of transit they sketch a hidden, secret life away from the viewing eye, becoming not 'art', but 'object' – traversing the gap between these concepts as they travel.

The Bride now rests out her Autumn years in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, waiting for gravity to release her chocolate grinder once again from its sandwich of (un)shattered glass.

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