Friday Poem

Public Space

Wandering wordless through the heat of High
Park. High summer. Counting the chipmunks
who pause and demand the scrub stand by
till their flitty, piggybacked equal signs can think
through this math of dogwood, oak-whip, mulch.
Children glue mouths to ice cream and chips, punch
and kick at the geese, while rug-thick islands
of milt-like scum sail the duckpond’s copper stillness –
Over-fat, hammerhead carp with predator brains . . .
We can wreck a day on the shoals of ourselves.
Cramped, you broke last night and wept at the war,
at the ionized, cobalt glow that fish-tanked the air.
We’re here to be emptied under the emptying sky,
eyes cast outward, trolling for the extraordinary.

by Ken Babstock
from Days into Flatspin
publisher: Anansi, Toronto, 2001

The Bro is Still Kicking After All These Years

Katie Kilkenny in PSMag:

MTMwNzc5ODE2MzI3NjgxMjk4In recent years, the bro has been called out for his privilege, for his sexism, his racism, and the rhetorical ubiquity of the term that defines him. It wasn't always this way; around 10 years ago, at least in my middle school, “bro” was the ultimate compliment for the unassured teen boy: “Nice goal, bro” and “sick Air Jordans, bro” were par for the course. Being called “bro” was the linguistic equivalent of convincing your mom to buy you $70 Abercrombie khakis: It conferred group identity, acceptance, and distinction—precisely because it made you so indistinctive.

How times have changed. Nowadays, the bro moniker is more likely to be linked to sexual assault on campuses and in the military than it is casual camaraderie. The bro is contributing to racism on campus and misogyny in country music. He is, according to Vice, the “the worst guy ever.”

In this cultural climate, many industry analysts believed that last week's release of a feature-length Entourage movie was box-office suicide. Entourage, which ran for eight seasons on HBO and capped at an audience high of 8.4 million viewers per episode, was a show about bros, marketed at bros. Its appeal stemmed from the fun it derived from conversations between men, as well as the glamorous Hollywood industry it portrayed—in particular the easy-on-the-eyes vapidity of its disposable female characters. But few television shows have made real money from big-screen adaptations. And Entourage suffered harsh critical backlash in its final season; in Slate, Eric Thurm argued this was due to a shift in television criticism that favored political meaning over entertainment value. At the heart of Entourage's downfall? “Its highly objectionable ethic of bro-ness.” A feature-length elaboration seemed primed for failure.

Read the rest here.

Ornette Coleman Dies at 85


Ben Ratliff in the NYT:

Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who was one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz, died on Thursday morning in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was cardiac arrest, a representative of the family said.

Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course. Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early 60s, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm, and gained more distance from the American songbook repertoire. His own music, then and later, became a new form of highly informed folk song: deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective language, and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album “Sound Grammar.”

His early work — a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker — lay right within jazz and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

He was also more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that era in jazz, and became known as a kind of musician-philosopher, with interests much wider than jazz alone; he was seen as a native avant-gardist and symbolized the American independent will as effectively as any artist of the last century.

Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman eventually became a visible part of New York cultural life, attending parties in bright satin suits; even when frail, he attracted attention. He could talk in nonspecific and sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology; he became famous for utterances that were sometimes disarming in their freshness and clarity or that began to make sense about the 10th time you read them.

More here.

Documenting the Documenters in E-TEAM


Katy Chevigny in The Brooklyn Quarterly:

In making documentary films, we frequently use the word “document” as a verb. When we write treatments of our proposed films, we say things like: “In this film, we will document the work of human rights investigators,” and what we mean is that we are going to record the sound and image of events taking place and the resulting work will be a document of certain events.

When Ross Kauffman and I co-directed our film E-TEAM, we were in the unusual position of following a group of intrepid emergency researchers at Human Rights Watch (the film’s title is their nickname) as they worked to gather evidence on alleged human rights violations. You could say we were documenting the documenters.

Following the researchers and their work took us to remote locations in Syria and Libya in order to make a portrait of the E-Team’s extraordinary work. But some people were puzzled by our approach. In fact, some colleagues asked us, why don’t you just film the events in Syria themselves? Why film other people taking notes and asking questions?

I was initially surprised by this question. Eventually, I realized that moviegoers have absorbed the idea that the camera itself is a documenting agent, and expect the people doing the documenting—in this case the E-Team members—to be left out of the picture. In fact, this extra layer that we included, in portraying how a group of investigators might go about the act of documenting, helped to shine a light on how fraught and difficult the act of documentation often is.

It’s worth taking a minute to talk about the differences between what we as artists did documenting events in the film and what the E-Team does documenting human rights abuses. The E-Team members we followed—Fred, Peter, Anna and Ole—are searching for “evidence” to “corroborate” key “facts” that they have “documented.” Ross and I never use words like “evidence” or “corroborate” in our work, and we rarely use the word “facts,” because we see ourselves as storytellers first and foremost, and we are aware that our artistic judgment is subjective.

More here.

BEING OSKAR MATZERATH: Reflections on ‘The Tin Drum’

Die_Blechtrommel_earliest_edition_germanStefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

When Günter Grass died earlier this year, it brought back memories of 1991, my first year in New York City. I sometimes think of this period in New York as its last dangerous days, when the city still had that anxious, patched-together sensibility, which is just another way of saying that once I lived in a New York City different than the New York City of today, a New York City that was romantic because I was young then. I lived that first year alone, in a single room on the upper floors of the 92nd Street Y. The 92nd Street Y was better known as a point of call for Manhattan sophisticates, who likely had little idea that, as they listened to the wisdom of celebrities in the great lecture hall, dozens of men and women were residing, like me, in tiny rented rooms on the floors above them.

I hardly saw another person during my time at the Y. When I first arrived in the fall of 1991, I would leave my room at what I thought would be sociable hours, walking through the linoleum halls to the communal kitchen or the communal bathroom, looking for company. Most other tenants did not live at the 92nd Street Y as I did; they were in New York to sightsee, staying a few weeks or so and spending most of their time on the town. Not long after I moved into the 92nd Street Y, I started eating in my room, leaving only at odd hours, to make the loneliness seem less unusual.

more here.

on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

ArticleClaire Bishop at Artforum:

THE ART WORLD’S FASCINATION with relocating dance into the gallery has been gathering steam for well over a decade—and as of this spring it shows no signs of abating, despite the numerous conundrums that encumber the transition from theater to white cube. Of all the stage-to-gallery transpositions I’ve seen, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s recent exhibition at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels resolved these dilemmas most impressively. This one-work show was based on the Belgian choreographer’s sixty-minute dance Vortex Temporum, first performed by her company Rosas in 2013. As a theatrical production, the piece opens with six musicians from the avant-garde ensemble Ictus seated onstage with their instruments. Seven dancers appear and gradually begin to move in circles or swing their limbs in spiral formations while following white chalk lines mapped on the floor in a mandala-like arrangement. The musicians also move around, following the same chalked paths, as they play Gérard Grisey’s eponymous 1996 composition, a challenging work by the late French composer and cofounder of “spectral music.”

Extremely difficult, somber, European-style high culture, then—and this was certainly how Vortex Temporum was received when first performed: The New York Times described it as “terribly hard work. . . . It is utterly dry and no fun at all,” while the London Telegraph called it “narcolepsy-inducing.” There was every reason to fear that the piece would be just as grueling at Wiels. Its new title, Work/Travail/Arbeid, did not bode well. But what made the production first endurable and then rapidly hypnotic was precisely its removal from the economy of evening entertainment and its invitation to watch over the course of the day, or week, or month.

more here.

an excerpt from Herzog’s ‘of walking in ice’

EAVVES_WERNERHERZOG_BOOKWerner Herzog at Bookforum:

In Schramberg, things seemed to be still in order: fried goose at the tavern, card players playing skat. One of them would get up when he lost, pacing back and forth among the tables with extreme agitation. A climb up to the fortress instead of down, then along the chain of hills to the Lauterbach Valley. Black Forest farms come into view without warning, and a completely different dialect, also without warning. I’ve probably made several wrong decisions in a row concerning my route and, in hindsight, this has led me to the right course. What’s really bad is that after acknowledging a wrong decision, I don’t have the nerve to turn back, since I’d rather correct myself with another wrong decision. But I’m following a direct imaginary line, anyway, which is, however, not always possible, and so the detours are not very great . . . The forest opened into an elevated valley, then past the last farmhouse it climbed steeply through wet snow to the Gedächtnishaus, reaching the road again beyond the height. An elderly woman gathering wood, plump and impoverished, tells me about her children one by one, when they were born, when they died. When she becomes aware that I want to go on, she talks three times as fast, shortening destinies, skipping the deaths of three children although adding them later on, unwilling to let even one fate slip away—and this in a dialect that makes it hard for me to follow what she is saying. After the demise of an entire generation of offspring, she would speak no more about herself except to say that she gathers wood, every day; I should have stayed longer.

more here.

highly engaging retelling of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’

Katie Ward Beim-Esche in The Christian Science Monitor:

Sheerazade-a-thousand-and-one-nights_jpg!Blog“You are cordially invited to the marriage of Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan & Shahrzad al-Khayzuran…. Funeral to follow at dawn.” With an invitation like that, there was no way I could say no to The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh, a sumptuous retelling of the classic “One Thousand and One Nights.” Fade in on a drought-ravaged Arabian kingdom, ruled by a young caliph who takes a new bride every night and executes her at dawn.

…“Murderer of my best friend, and a soulless monster who must die by my own hand,” cries Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, our gutsy protagonist. When we meet her, Shahrzad has volunteered to be the caliph’s next bride, horrifying her family and enraging her childhood sweetheart. She plans to assassinate the caliph to avenge her best friend. Whether or not she succeeds, she has signed her own death warrant. Lucky for us, Shazi is no one’s damsel in distress or princess in an ivory tower. Instead, girlfriend has plans to kick butt and exact revenge till the camels come home. Our gal’s plan is to tell the caliph a tale so engrossing that when dawn arrives and she has not finished the story, he will stay her execution by a day to hear the conclusion. Lather, rinse, repeat. It works – but fate has other plans. The more Shahrzad grows to know Khalid, the less she can maintain her vengeful fury. She begins to care for the man she calls a monster. In turn, Khalid’s fascination for his enchanting and smart-mouthed queen evolves into a deep respect, and then love. But Shazi’s gamble sets off a deadly chain of events for the men in her life, all of whom race to rescue her by any means. Her father, Jahandar, strengthens the book's mild magical touch into something stronger, darker, deadlier. Her childhood love, Tariq, enlists his friends to foment a revolution and overthrow the caliph. It will all coalesce in one explosive confrontation … in the sequel. Despite a rough start, there’s much to love in this book. The first 20 pages are a whirlwind of names and grievances, but once Shahrzad enters the palace and launches into her first story, Ahdieh hits her stride. Much like Shazi and Khalid’s relationship, “Wrath” and I had a rocky beginning that deepened in a lovely way. I also grew fond of Ahdieh’s unorthodox style. The flowery strings of similes, barrage of one-sentence paragraphs, and narrative caesuras for luscious descriptive interludes would bother me elsewhere, but they felt so appropriate for an Arabian legend.

More here.

Your entire viral infection history from a single drop of blood

From KurzweilAI:

VirScanNew technology called VirScan developed by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers makes it possible to test for current and past infections with any known human virus by analyzing a single drop of a person’s blood. With VirScan, scientists can run a single test to determine which viruses have infected an individual, rather than limiting their analysis to particular viruses. That unbiased approach could uncover unexpected factors affecting individual patients’ health, and also expands opportunities to analyze and compare viral infections in large populations.

The comprehensive analysis can be performed for about $25 per blood sample, but the test is currently being used only as a research tool and is not yet commercially available. Stephen J. Elledge, an HHMI investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, led the development of VirScan. He and his colleagues have already used VirScan to screen the blood of 569 people in the United States, South Africa, Thailand, and Peru. The scientists described the new technology and reported their findings in the June 5, 2015, issue of the journal Science. VirScan works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans*. The immune system ramps up production of pathogen-specific antibodies when it encounters a virus for the first time, and it can continue to produce those antibodies for years or decades after it clears an infection. That means VirScan not only identifies viral infections that the immune system is actively fighting, but also provides a history of an individual’s past infections.

More here.

How to design a metaphor

Michael Erard in Aeon:

GS1215429-960x601If you could ask Dante where he got the idea of life as a road, or Rilke where he found the notion that time is a destroyer, they might have said the metaphors were hewn from their minds, or drawn from a stock of poetic imagery. Their readers might have said the imagery had origins more divine, perhaps even diabolical. But neither poets nor readers would have said the metaphors were designed. That is, the metaphors didn’t target people’s cognitive processes. They weren’t engineered to affect us in a specific way.

Can metaphors be designed? I’m here to tell you that they can, and are. For five years I worked full-time as a metaphor designer at the FrameWorks Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, whose clients are typically large US foundations (never political campaigns or governments). I continue to shape and test metaphors for private-sector clients and others. In both cases, these metaphors are meant to help people to understand the unfamiliar. They aren’t supposed to make someone remark: ‘That’s beautiful.’ They’re meant to make someone realise that they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing…

Metaphor designers create these pseudo-mistakes deliberately. Sometimes the metaphors end up in op-eds or public-service announcements. Sometimes they’re useful for helping people conceive of solutions to problems, or for internal communications in organisations. The challenge for the designer is to generate lots of pseudo-mistakes, some of which can be used for thinking and that have the power to stick around. For someone like me who is reflexively metaphorical (my wedding invite was built around the idea of a labyrinth), these are satisfying tasks, and, as a writer, I have no problem leaving material on the cutting room floor. But it’s when we start testing our metaphors for their social and cognitive usability that design can become really powerful.

Read the rest here.

Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy


The Introduction from Justin E. H. Smith's new book, over at Princeton University Press:

In 1782, in the journal of an obscure Dutch scientific society, we find a relation of the voyage of a European seafarer to the Gold Coast of Africa some decades earlier. In the town of Axim in present-day Ghana, we learn, at some point in the late 1750s, David Henri Gallandat met a man he describes as a “hermit” and a “soothsayer.” “His father and a sister were still alive,” Gallandat relates, “and lived a four-days’ journey inland. He had a brother who was a slave in the colony of Suriname.” So far, there is nothing exceptional in this relation: countless families were broken up by the slave trade in just this way. But we also learn that the hermit’s soothsaying practice was deeply informed by “philosophy.” Gallandat is not using this term in a loose sense, either. The man he meets, we are told, “spoke various languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, High and Low German; he was very knowledgeable in astrology and astronomy, and a great philosopher.” In fact, this man, we learn, “had been sent to study at Halle and in Wittenberg, where in 1727 he was promoted to Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Liberal Arts.” On a certain understanding, there have been countless philosophers in Africa, whose status as such required no recognition by European institutions, no conferral of rank. On a narrower understanding, however, Anton Wilhelm Amo may rightly be held up as the first African philosopher in modern history. Gallandat tells us that after the death of Amo’s “master,” Duke August Wilhelm of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, the philosopher slave grew “melancholy,” and “decided to return to his home country.”

What Gallandat fails to mention is that between the time of August Wilhelm’s death and Amo’s departure from Germany, a scurrilous Spottgedicht, a satirical and libelous poem, was published in 1747 by a certain Johann Ernst Philippi. It is not clear whether the events described in the poem ever took place, but this is a question of secondary importance. Amo is accused in the poem of falling in love with a certain Mademoiselle Astrine, a German brunette. At some point the goddess Venus comes to resolve the problematic case, judging unsympathetically that “a Moor is something foreign to German maidens.” She then condemns him to a life of sorrow:

You, Amo, are mistaken; with your vile nature

Your heart will never be content.

More here.

The Past Isn’t Past


Alan McIntyre in The Scottish Review:

In 2012, Historic Scotland decided that it would follow the lead of English Heritage and start commemorating notable Scots through a 'Blue Plaque' scheme to identify buildings closely associated with them. With an admirable eclecticism, the initial set of 12 honourees ranged from Dudley Watkins, the creator of 'Oor Wullie', to John Logie Baird, the man ultimately responsible for the scourge that is Ant and Dec.

Walk the streets of Germany and you’ll see a very different type of link to the past. In 1995 the German artist Gunter Demnig laid the first 'stolperstein’ stones in the city of Cologne. Twenty years later, there are now 50,000 of these four-inch brass-covered cubes of concrete embedded in the streets of 18 European countries. In their day, some of the people commemorated by these stones may have been considered great men and women, but the purpose of these stones is the exact opposite of singling out the few over the many. Instead, the project seeks to be comprehensive in remembering the displacement of huge swathes of the European population by the Nazis.

Originally planned to just focus on the 1,000 gypsies deported from Cologne in the 1930s, the vast majority of the stones now identify Jews who ultimately died in the Nazi death camps. Not all who are commemorated underfoot died, but all were displaced and all were discriminated against.

These 'stumbling blocks’ are intended as a permanent reminder to the German population of the horror of those years; a visual stimulus to always think about the lives disrupted, scarred and prematurely ended during that dark period in their history. As the brass covers catch and reflect the sunlight against a generally grey background, they’re a conduit that brings the past into the present in an unobtrusive but persistent fashion. The biographical information on each stone is scant; name, date of birth, date of deportation and date of death if known. This lack of biography gives them a stark eloquence and allows the observer standing in front of a nondescript house or office block to conjure their own backstory for the victim.

America has its own historic markers. Get off the interstate highways and the verges of the USA are festooned with reminders of the revolutionary war, the war of 1812, the opening of the west, and the various other facets of what is now nearly a 250-year history.

More here.

Does Hardware Even Matter Anymore?

Willy C. Shih in the Harvard Business Review:

JUN15_09_185760494 (1)We are in the midst of a technological revolution that is every bit as profound as the impact of cheap computing power, but it’s subtler and harder to notice. It will ease the way for companies launching and updating digital products, but it presents steep new learning curves that companies will have to master if they are to be successful.

What I’m referring to is the migration of functionality from hardware to software. In more and more businesses, physical objects are no longer the primary basis for innovation and differentiation. They come second to innovations in computer code.

Managers are well aware that Moore’s Law, the idea that the number of transistors on a practical-sized chip doubles every 18 months, has brought us a bounty of cheap computing power, leading to smartphones, tablets, fitness trackers, cloud-based services like Facebook and Uber, and on and on. But I’ve found that they’re less cognizant of how software has transformed other fields that we traditionally think of as hardware-based.

Consider, for example, how we convert and control electrical power. Think of the cubes we plug our iPhones into, the sensors that control our heating and lighting, and the motors used in tiny disk drives and the giant traction motors in locomotives. Modern solid-state power electronics got started in the 1950s, but rapid recent progress in power semiconductors, new power conversion topologies, and methods for controlling electric motors has brought us a plethora of small, high-efficiency, low-cost, and long-lived electronics subsystems for motion control. For a few dollars, designers can easily connect a computer to remember the seat position in your car. They can also replace the hydraulic power steering with a more-efficient electric power-steering system, or for that matter control everything needed to make that car autonomous — all it takes is software.

More here.

Roland Barthes’s fiches and biographemes

P17_Badmington_1155413hNeil Badmington at the Times Literary Supplement:

In an abandoned autobiographical fragment written on July 17, 1974, Roland Barthes described the year of his birth as “insignificant”: 1915, he explained, had the misfortune of being “lost in the war”, with no event to make it stand out.

The same could hardly be said of 2015. As Michael Sheringham observed recently at a conference in Leeds, we are in the whirling middle of a centenary “Barthes-athon”. By the end of the year, celebratory events will have taken place in Paris, Bordeaux, Orthez, London, Providence, Lisbon, Tartu, Leeds, Cardiff, La Paz, Londrina, São Paulo, Bucharest, Bayonne, Kaslik, St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Zagreb. In May, meanwhile, the fashion house Hermès unveiled a silk scarf inspired by A Lover’s Discourse – a garment which could come in handy for keeping the Parisian chill at bay during the “Nuit Roland Barthes” at the city’s Maison de la Poésie on November 12 (the day on which the author would have reached his century).

Then there are the publications: a large, elegant volume of previously unpublished writings entitledAlbum: Inédits, correspondances et varia, along with new editions of La Préparation du roman andL’Empire des signes; Fanny Lorent’s Barthes et Robbe-Grillet: Un dialogue critique; Magali Nachtergael’s lavishly illustrated Roland Barthes contemporain; Chantal Thomas’s Pour Roland Barthes; and Philippe Sollers’s L’Amitié de Roland Barthes.

more here.