Michael Benedikt

I can’t imagine where it comes from, but surely there must be a source for this all, somewhere. True, streams can be seen sometimes, using a dowsing-rod, or even if you simply look carefully under rocks with a flashlight at midnight; but this source isn’t so easy to find. In fact, the harder you look, the more it disappears; and all you can think about is that since it doesn’t seem to be prevalent anywhere near the surface, perhaps it’s sompleace else, perhaps it’s down at the cneter of the earth somewhere—who knows? It’s not an easy thing to grasp, perhaps it’s better to skip the entire subject. Why am I bothering to write all this down, anyway? Here I am with with a poetry almost empty of encouraging imagery. On the other hand, nothing you can do can change what you know.

From “The Search for the Source” from Time is a Toy

A Generic Brand Video

Based on this McSweeney’s piece, by Kendra Eash, composed from stock footage:

Philip Roth: “The struggle with writing is over”

Philip Roth Interviewed, surveying his body of work and the work of his life:

Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened also to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life. It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself. Though why such a task should have fallen to me I have no idea. Maybe writing protected me against even worse menace.

Now? Now I am a bird sprung from a cage instead of (to reverse Kafka’s famous conundrum) a bird in search of a cage. The horror of being caged has lost its thrill. It is now truly a great relief, something close to a sublime experience, to have nothing more to worry about than death.

Abhorring The Vacuum

A couple new books out this fall invent words for phenomenon that should exist but do not. Lisa Schiller’s Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century includes entries such as “Youthflake” (Adult who mimics the dress style of the younger generation) and “Solookist” (Vain person who never misses an opportunity to look in the mirror) and “Brightbite” (One who bleaches his teeth until they reach an implausible degree of whiteness) and Ben Schott’s Schottenfreude which invents German terms for experiences that need a name but do not have one, for example “Gaststattenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit (certainty that a newly opened restaurant will fail), “Mahlneid” (coveting thy neighbor’s restaurant order), “Gastdruck” (the effort required to be a good houseguest), and “Betttrug” (disorientation upon waking in a strange bed).

I came upon these books reading Gene Weingarten and Schott’s collaborated-upon list of such needs in the Washington Post, which includes terms for:

  • Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there
  • Elaborately pretending to scan the entire population of a bus or Metro car so that, without arousing suspicion or giving offense, you can momentarily scope out the hottie
  • That awkward feeling of discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting
  • That dishonest, smiling nod you give when someone is discussing a topic with which you should be familiar, but aren’t
  • The dilemma of whether to ask someone to repeat something a third time, or to pretend you understand
  • Enjoying emotionally manipulative mass culture, despite knowing you are being manipulated

Annie Dillard

The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination’s vision, and the imagination’s hearing—and the moral sense, and the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can’t yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing’s modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.

— The Writing Life

Sometimes You Have To Wonder If You’re Asking Too Much Out Of Life

Major in English But Don’t Be a Sucker

Last summer there were a spate of articles about why one should study English and the Humanities, why we need to shore up pursuits which invigorate creative thinking and, you know, existence. One of my favorites was Adam Gopnik’s essay in the New Yorker, where he explains why a civilization needs to carve out spaces where people can pursue meaningfulness and nourish soulfulness, one such place being what we call an English Department:

So: Why should English majors exist? Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures or live in more than hovels and huts or send flowers to our beloved on their birthday. No sane person proposes or has ever proposed an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence.

I was reminded of this while reading an article on the lawsuit one of Snapchat’s founders, Reggie Brown, brought against his former partners, who have locked him out despite the germ of the idea being, apparently, his.

Or, perhaps, the fatal flaw of a Winklevoss-type is being an English major, as Brown was — a discipline known for producing imaginative thinkers but not for producing people capable of coding Web sites.

This article detailing the process of its development details the way the partnership went down, and then out.

That summer, the three fraternity brothers worked on the project together at Spiegel’s father’s house. While Spiegel designed the user interface and Murphy did the coding, Brown — the English major — was left in a subordinate role. Among his contributions, according to his lawsuit, was “Ghostface Chillah,” the app’s ghost logo. As chief marketing officer, Brown also wrote press releases and the terms of service.

Maybe every student should learn to code.

High Definition Tension: NIN in Concert

An early Christmas present from Trent Reznor.

Jose Ortega y Gasset

Clarity means peaceful spiritual possession, sufficient domination of our minds over images, not to suffer anxiety about the threat that the object grasped will flee from us. All cultural endeavor is an interpretation—elucidation, explanation, exegesis—of life. Life is the eternal text, the burning bush by the edge of the path from which God speaks. Culture—art or science or politics—is the commentary, it is the aspect of life in which, by an act of self-reflection, life acquires polish and order. In order to master the unruly torrent of life the learned man meditates, the poet quivers, and the political hero erects the fortress of his will. It would be odd indeed if the result of ll these efforts led only to duplicating the problem of the universe. No, man has a mission of clarity upon earth.

— Meditations on Quixote

It’s About Delicacy, And Efficiency

I cannot resist videos of craftspeople at work. My fantasy, perhaps, of being such a worker, or wishing that I’d settled upon an art whose product was more immediately tangible, useful (and maybe saleable). I like knives, and one of those fantasies involves building a forge in the garage and fashioning Damascus steel, but who can say when/if that’s going to happen, what with so many poems in need of writing. In the meantime I’ll live through others, like Murray Carter, who apprenticed in Japan and is now a master bladesmith.

If like me you are into this genre of short film, you will admire this parody featuring the American Master Plunger.

Alice Fulton

I think of the repeating words as superclusters and clusters. (In astronomy, a *cluster* is a group of galaxies; an association of such clusters is a *supercluster.*) Here are a few…superclusters, followed by some of their clusters in parentheses: CORE (matrix, marrow, fulcrum, center, cortex, plexus, province, cargo); ELECTRIC (electrons, lighthouse, watts); CONGRESS (chemistry, union, fusion); CRYSTAL (frost, snowflake, solitaire, winter, arctic, jewel, gem, diamond, Lucite, prism, sugar, hygienic); ROSES (womb, romance, velvet); FIRES (forge, bombs, shot, bed); HALO (skein, link, snare, cymbal, wheel, lathe, nimbus, spool, hoop, curl, chain, perihelion, fan, plate, ring, rosary, coronet, radial, spring, lariat); POWER (marble, granite, engine, brass, bronze); PALLADIUM (bonds, plate, silver, gold, swaddling, casing, swathing, iron, shield, lock, bolt, lane, chapels, cathedrals); DANCE (waltz, tulle, ballerina); SILK (selvage, shift, fabrication, synthetic, skin, cellulite); EXPANSION (plenty, amplitude, flux, fractal, dilations, breadth, sea, liquid, experiment); LINE (beam, band, lane, exponent, pins, channel).

Feeling As A Foreign Language

The List is the Origin of Culture

If you like making lists, read here “The Amazing History of the To-Do List”, wherein is found this nugget from Umberto Eco:

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

Eco’s entire interview is worthwhile. He’s assembled an exhibition at the Louvre on list-making and list-makers, attempting to explain the acts undiminished importance. Der Spiegel asks, “Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?” To which Eco answers:

We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

Belle Beth Cooper’s Fast Company article explores a few essentials of list-making along with some historical anecdotes (Break projects into tasks, Prioritize ruthlessly, Plan ahead, and Be realistic in your planning), of interest but no surprise to makers of lists (are there non-list-makers?)

I am a sucker for list-making tools, and own way more than I could possibly use. My favorite by far and is The Hit List, although its development is lapsed and its longterm fate unknown. It has an iPhone counterpart (but no iPad), for which one must pay to sync. I try to quit it, but keep coming back. I’ve also begun using a new iPhone app called Begin, which rather whole life task management is designed for daily lists, but does this with simplicity and style; imminently useful. I’m not sure I can recommend purchasing The Hit List, although I find it better by some stretch than Things or Omnifocus, the two apps most mentioned in its class (which, by the way, offer free sync across devices). On the iPhone other useful apps include Ita (not strictly a todo app, but a terrific list app) and Clear.

Four in the Morning: the Medley

Who knew there was such a thing as the Museum of Four in the Morning? I am only glad to know there are a few others who find that to be among the very best hours of the day, and are willing to curate the collection. I’m always depressed if I missed it, and saddened when its over.

Here’s one clip justifiably cited as a classic, from Rugrats, that didn’t make the random supercut above:

Breaking Bad/Marty Robbins Full Felina Sync

In case, like me, you didn’t deeply consider the full allusion to the Marty Robbins song “El Paso” for which the last episode (“Felina”) of Breaking Bad is named, this video will leave no doubt as to its perfect pitch and choice.

Affordable Care Act Helps Artists and Risk-Takers

In an economy that depends, fundamentally, upon people taking risks, the ACA should help make it more plausible for individuals to take a chance on their art, or their business idea. A post at ThinkProgress explores how this is already working.

What all of these stories make clear is that the Affordable Care Act matters to artists–just as it matters to a lot of entrepreneurs–because it makes it easier to take chances and carve out the time that makes it possible to pursue an artistic career. These aren’t folks who are demanding instant success, or a lot of money for their art, or even consistent rather than seasonal or contract employment. Instead, they’re people who want to lower their overall level of risk, and are more than willing to pay to afford to do so.