Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
"In these relentlessly dark and riven times, I find myself beset by a near ravenous hunger for beauty." So starts Claire Messud's necessary call for art in the Paris Review. It brought to mind that famous mis-attributed Emma Goldman quote about how she wouldn't join a revolution that didn't feature dancing. What she really said was: "I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. 'I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things.' Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal."
Messud points to the difference between engaged art and passive art in this quote:
But where might we find joy? Joy lies in immaterial superfluity. I find it in the long hours spent reading a book. I make this suggestion advisedly: to watch a film or a video is not the same satisfaction; when reading a book you create, for yourself, from marks upon a page, an entire, vivid interior world. You are spurred, of course, by the author, but in its particulars uniquely and fully your own. Or you might find it in communing with a painting, sculpture, or installation until you feel you’re part of it, or it is part of you. Or in lying in a summer field looking up at the dusk sky unfolding from palest pink to indigo, the awakening of the stars. Or in what Christopher Hitchens used to call “the ruined table”—the afternoon or evening lost in eager conversation long after the meal is finished, best enjoyed surrounded by empty bottles, dirty plates, and crumbs. Or in an afternoon ramble without direction or a timepiece, or in an evening spent listening to music—any music, anywhere.
Claire Luchette explores profanity in poetry, and, thankfully, doesn't talk about any fucking plums or who took the goddammn things from that fuckstain of an icebox.
She also talks to Maggie Smith about her viral poem "Good Bones" (which Kelli Russell Agodon explored for us as well).
At first, fuck is only phonemes. To the uninitiated, the word is no more than the sum of its linguistic parts: a fricative, a schwa, a velar stop. Fuck’s real power lies in its transgressiveness. It’s a dirty word, but a versatile one: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, a sui generis part of speech altogether. Fuck is profane. In some circles, it’s also sacrilege, almost on par with the smut that gets a person eternally damned. And so fuck becomes fun. A provocation, a taboo.
Ignore the headline, but do investigate this article (with graphs!) about the why, and when, of the word hipster dissapearing. Was it a vast conspiracy? Follow the graphs, detective. You may find the answer illuminating.
If you want a thorough timeline of the rise of hipster comedy, you can read one of my two articles on the subject — one, two — but it would be useful to do a quick refresher. Even though we’ve lived through the hipster era, it’s easy to forget how far back the word goes. It’s been flopping around on and off since the 1940s, when it was used to describe mostly white jazz fans, but it wasn’t until the turn of the Willenium that we started seeing it aimed generally at who we associate the term with. The first New York Magazine reference I can find is from a 2002 article about the rise of crack use in Williamsburg, which is very funny. In general, around this time you saw the word popping up more and more in major city magazines and alt weeklies. The term started tip-toeing into the mainstream in 2003, when two books came out that presented themselves as a sort of Young Hipster’s Almanac — Robert Lanham’s The Hipster Handbook and Josh Aiello’s A Field Guide to the Urban Hipster. In 2006 and 2007, partly because of technological invention, hipsters start getting used more and more as punch lines in web videos, like “Hipster Olympics.” A couple years later, there was an explosion of generic hipster sketches, mostly on YouTube, which just looked for “novel” ways to run through the same ten or so clichés
A review, by Jamie Fisher, of The Chinese Typewriter: A History, by Thomas S Mullaney. The book looks great, but the review covers just why a Chinese character typewriter is such a difficult problem, and how one might go about solving it.
Unlike moveable type, which developed in China earlier and independently of the West, the typewriter has always been a foreign import. As such, its most successful inventors have tended to be boundary-walkers themselves, versed in both cultures if not entirely fluent in both scripts. The first machine marketed as a ‘Chinese typewriter’ was invented in 1888 by the American missionary Devello Sheffield, his goal less to create a typewriter than to replace the missionary’s intermediary, the opinionated Chinese clerk. ‘They usually talk to their writer,’ Sheffield wrote, ‘and he takes down with a pen what has been said, and later puts their work into Chinese literary style … The finished product will be found to have lost in this process no slight proportion of what the writer wished to say, and to have taken on quite as large a proportion of what the Chinese assistant contributed to the thought.’