Archive for October, 2006

But what about the highways?

October 15, 2006

“I think cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals. I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”

—Roland Barthes, “The New Citroën” (1957)


An inauspicious mixture of alcohol and memes

October 7, 2006

Anyone who has spent much time on a college campus – spent time of a Monday, especially – can perhaps corroborate when I suggest that an essential part of being drunk is the creation of stories from that experience. From the overhearing I’ve done, I think I can safely posit a three part structure to these stories. The storyteller begins by emphasizing the degree to which s/he was drunk, thus delimiting a space of unusual logic and possibility; the stereotype for this is, of course, “Oh my God, I was so drunk.” The second phase involves the storyteller finding him or herself in situation with no understanding of either the currently transpiring events or the events that lead to the present. This situation is resolved, in its way, through either a return to more conventional narrative (this might be something like, “So we left the bar then”) or through a failure of memory.

Drinking provides a framework for the presentation of a self through storytelling – a framework perhaps best paralleled in the phenomenon of internet personality tests. In both, one treads as forthrightly as possible through unknown territory – the questions of dubious relevance to anything, the alcohol-obscured situation – and emerges, surprised by a newly gleaned facet of one’s own subjectivity. Just as drunkenness gives the individual an excuse to answer the question of “What would I do if I suddenly came to my senses while dancing on a table in leopard-print underwear of unknown provenance,” the internet personality test gives one the chance to answer just which Care Bear he or she would be.

Ve-ry sagacious!

October 5, 2006

Even though I never choose a genre for songs I import into iTunes, some songs from other sources come pre-tagged with one. When they do, I like to see a song tagged as “unclassifiable.” It gives me a little laugh to imagine a whole team of musicologists racking their brains over what label to assign Animal Collective. Eventually, one member of the team throws up his hands and, sighing, says, “Unclassifiable.” He is met with relieved nods.

“It’s like Joan Rivers’s face”

October 5, 2006

FoleybizarreCan somebody please help me deconstruct this image?

We’ve got Foley, we’ve got what I believe are two different buildings – the Capitol and something else –, a PowerBook, a flag, and a bunch of translucent squares. In short, we’ve got the political equivalent of a Lisa Frank binder.

Is the flag swooping down from above to cover the whole shameful mess? That would explain the blurry flag, but I can’t possibly be convinced that translucent white squares have a part in the shamefulness of the situation.

Maybe those squares are a symbolic barrier, between the imposing, (radiant?!), disdainful facade of the Capitol and the shifty-eyed Foley. Or maybe the awfulness of the whole design is intended to conjure up images of pre-2005 web design – though it was hardly as awful as that.

Or, just maybe, anyone’s guess is as good as mine.

On DailyLit

October 3, 2006

My often scattered attentions were drawn some weeks back by to a website called DailyLit, whose mission it is to provide easily digestible chunks of classic novels to the busy reader’s e-mail. The website says, “[I]f you are like us, you spend hours each day reading email but don’t find the time to read books.”

I am, as someone who not uncommonly surfeits himself on 200 pages a day, deeply ambivalent about the project, whose advantages have complexities and, dare I say, a heritage not immediately obvious.

DailyLit renews the form of the serial under which many of our classic novels were published. These segments came monthly – thereby forcing an even longer break in the continuity of the story – and were often spread out for more than a year. To break up a novel is not a consequence of modern ADD, but simply of the length of the thing. DailyLit is not doing anything truly new here.

This length forces an interaction with the outside world. Few novels can be digested in one sitting, by even the most patient of readers (despite Joan Didion’s advocacy of this style of novel reading). Literary critic D.A. Miller writes:

What the form [of the novel] really secures is a close imbrication of individual and social, domestic and institutional, private and public, leisure and work. A drill in the rhythms of bourgeois industrial culture, the novel generates a nostalgic desire to get home (where the novel can be resumed) in the same degree as it inures its readers to the necessity of periodically renouncing home (for the world where the novel finds its justification and its truth).

The novel, according to this understanding, is predicated on the construction of an idealized, supremely busy reader for whom literature is a humanistic/humanizing foil to the anonymity suffered by the daily transformation into “economic man”; studying literature (as I do, monomaniacally) is dissociating it from its necessary compliment, probably spiraling the reader off into all kinds of strange fancies – the truth of which theory can be found in any English department.

If DailyLit is able to renew the place of art in everyday life, that’s certainly a worthy goal; but if, by its inbox peers, it subsumes literature in work, then it fails in that goal. The novel functioned as a way to restore the working reader to real life after a day spent in an artificial state – not as a porthole through which to view real life from the impenetrable and acquisitive hull of the marketplace.

And overrated

October 1, 2006

Overstuffed RavioliWhat does it mean for a thing to be “overstuffed”? For this is a word that crosses not only ontological barriers (from stromboli to plush animals) but also barriers of class (compare these two examples).

But what is supposed as a limit over which this product is stuffed? Consumer expectations? Industry practice? Good taste?

I prefer to imagine that these products are stuffed beyond the limits of safety and that they may, at any time and with no warning, hemorrhage stuffing. The question, then, of why overstuffed products have recently come to the fore is easily answered: marketeers – always eager to provide a new experience for stimulation-weary consumers – have decided that the best way to add excitement to their product is to add the possibility of violent rupture. Not only does this engage with consumers’ desire for new, exciting experiences, it also forces – much to the marketeers’ glee – their wary eyes to stay always on the product in question. When you have to handle your pasta like a cartoon character handling nitroglycerin, it’s hard to think of anything else.

I’m just waiting to see “overstuffed” under “body type” on myspace.