Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
9

I'm Nobody: Eve Sedgwick After Death

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would have been 63 today. Four years have passed since her death, but her absence is felt more, not less, with each. More than ever Sedgwick’s writing generates further writing and thinking from those who engage with it.

Sedgwick once said about reading affect theorist Silvan Tomkins: "I often get tired when I’m learning a lot." Her writing has the same effect—calming and invigorating—generative and tireless even if also sometimes tiring. In her posthumous collection, The Weather In Proust (2011), Sedgwick remarks that one form of antinormative reading can lead to many other types of theorizing—this is exactly how I feel about Sedgwick’s work. Forever [...]

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25

A Fan's Notes On "Gilmore Girls"

Each television show will inevitably teach you something, but together they've all taught me one thing—that is, a television show will always teach you how to watch it. The education starts early: "Barney" or "Sesame Street," where learning to count is the same thing as learning how to learn to count. You might not realize it when you're eight and miming the clean-up dance on "Big Comfy Couch," but then the education continues. "Mad Men," that excellent serial drama, directs us to observe details, little gestures, big paintings—all meaningful subtext. Even shows fairly awful at teaching you how to watch them, like "Homeland" or "Smash," manage to convey something (don't [...]

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22

A Complete History Of Gerbiling So Far

The act of gerbiling, according to the Internet, is simple. In most instances, it involves a tube up the ass, followed by a gerbil up that tube. Some accounts suggest that the gerbil should be declawed as a safety precaution, but the main gist is to have the gerbil burrowing around one's anus long enough to bring about sexual pleasure. One might lure the gerbil up the tube with a piece of cheese, or, inversely, light a flame under the funnel to send the gerbil scurrying. I have seen more than few suggestions that drugs (for the gerbil) might also be helpful. For men, the burrowing of the gerbil stimulates [...]

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8

When We Were "Seventeen": A History In 47 Covers

The conclusion to a series about youth. Here, that's Whitney Houston modeling, on the far right, for the November 1981 issue.

By WWII, movie magazines were falling from style. To maintain readership, many publications turned from a tight focus on screen celebrities to address women's fashion more generally. It was around this time, for example, that Glamour of Hollywood dropped "of Hollywood" from its title. Keeping up with trends, publisher Walter Annenberg sought to revamp his movie magazine Stardom. The advice he kept gettig from friends: Talk to Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had gone on to Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women. So, [...]

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8

Writer Food From A To Z

For Frank O'Hara, L was definitely for Lunch. He wrote most of Lunch Poems during his lunch hours—pausing, as he put it, "for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe" and taking notes on what he'd seen while roaming Manhattan. Eating and writing, eating and writing. I adore the book's title, not just for its banal literality, but for its figurative (ahem, poetic) potential as well: The volume of poems, small as a subway map, tucks easily into one's pocket. Like a snack. And the poems, too, can be consumed that way. As O'Hara's famous "A Step Away from Them" suggestively ends: "A glass of papaya juice / [...]

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37

A Timeline Of Future Events

As told by Arthur C. Clarke's 1990 novel The Ghost from the Grand Banks, 2012 is the year that would see the Titanic resurrected from the ocean floor. But the year is now 2012, and the Titanic continues to sit 12,000 feet below the ocean surface, rusting more with every passing year (indeed, it's predicted here that by 2045, only the hull will remain). The likelihood that any of us will live to see a resurrected Titanic outside a James Cameron movie now seems very slim.

While some predictions of science fiction have come [...]

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5

What "Real Life" Means On Wikipedia

The title of the Wikipedia entry for "Real life" differs from its disambiguation page "Real Life" through the absence of one capital letter. But while the "Real Life" (upper case) page will lead you to many films and books and songs of that name, the "Real life" entry affirms, alas, that there is only one real life. "Real life." The topic is abstract, speculative, and possibly even redundant. (Since when, after all, was life ever un-real?) Still, as the extensive entry for "In Real Life" shows us, we have more sure things to say about reality television than we do about "real life." Turn [...]

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6

How We Got So "Comfortable With That"

"Comfortable" is a flexible term. Any one person’s threshold for comfort can differ from another’s. For the individual, comfort is relative: a heat wave in Edmonton, Canada, say, no longer agonizes after one has endured a heat wave in New York. When a person says "comfortable," they often mean "pleasant." Other times "comfortable" translates to just "bearable" or "satisfactory." While the word "comfortable" doesn’t change, a person’s definition of it can, and usually does, with time—that is, with age and experience. It might happen gradually, incrementally, with constant comparisons between then and now. Comfort itself is relative, its meaning elastic.

The word "comfortable" has been thrown around since the Middle [...]

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2

A Little History Of Blackmail

Part of a two-week series on the pull of bad influences in our lives and in the culture.

The word “blackmail” has deceit written all over it. Nine letters to connote all the dirtiness and manipulation that comes with the threat of disclosure. But when you think of "blackmail," do you picture, well, mail? Confidential missives that threaten to enter the wrong hands? I’m always reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Purloined Letter," where the narrative winds to follow the possible locations of an incriminating letter. In daytime soaps and murder mysteries, blackmail regularly happens through the transfer of mail. As we know, letters are by nature compromising—not only [...]

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15

A Short History Of Book Reviewing's Long Decline

There have been enough essays on the death of book reading, but have there been enough words devoted to discussing the decline of book reviewing? In the last decade or so—yes, indeed, as we've all wrestled with how the internet influences everything we do, including reading, writing, and writing about books (Tolstoy LOL tl;dr). But while the words "book-review" made its first print appearance as a headline in 1861 to just that—a review of a book titled How to Talk: A Pocket of Speaking, Conversation, and Debating (verdict: "The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject, which is lucidly treated")—the practice of criticizing the critics [...]

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3

'You’re Not The First Person To Have Felt These Things": Advice From The Authors Guild Dinner

I recently moved to New York for the summer, and last night I had my first introduction to the literary parties here at the Authors Guild Centennial Gala, held at the Edison Ballroom in Midtown. There were about 500 people there, and the event was officially black tie, though the publicist told me any party dress would do. I coat-checked a cardigan. Since moving here, I've had some questions about how lit life works in New York. Questions like, can you do this without being part of a “scene,” and how much of this involves posturing? etc. As the night progressed, I discovered that however awkward you appear, people will [...]

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19

Gerhard Richter Is A Famous Painter Of Expensive Paintings

Right now an exhibit called "Richteriana" is on exhibit at Postmasters, a gallery located in West Chelsea. As the title suggests, the exhibit is by no means a straight-up reification of Richter's status as a father of conceptualist painting. Nor, however, is it a disavowal of his significance. Instead it's something much more interesting: an attempt to look at the different forces—the buyers and sellers, critics and academics and museums—that establish the "worth" of an artist.

Sell the story of an artist, and you might just sell a painting too. The particular stories that have cultivated Richter’s status as Germany’s most heralded living artist now occasion Richter paintings to [...]

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17

When Exactly Did It Get Cool To Be A Geek?

In the final episode of "Freaks and Geeks," the Freaks group leader Daniel Desario accepts an invitation to play Dungeons & Dragons with the notoriously geeky A/V club. Surprised by Daniel’s warm receptivity to the game, the Geeks wonders what this means for their future status. As Bill puts it: "Does him wanting to play with us again mean he's turning into a geek or we're turning into cool guys?" Sam answers, "I'm going to go for us becoming cool guys." It's a nice ambiguous note on which to end the show.

Outside the universe of "Freaks and Geeks," a similar drift has occurred. Geekiness has accrued cachet, and [...]

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38

A Joyful & Malicious History Of 'Schadenfreude'

In an interview with Martha Stewart shortly before her 2003 indictment, Jeffrey Toobin asked the visibly exhausted celebrity if she felt herself the victim of “schadenfreude.” He didn't expand upon the Germanism, and Stewart certainly didn't need it defined.

Schadenfreude? I asked. “That's the word,” she said. “I hear that, like, every day.” And she added, in her precise way, “Do you know how to spell it?”

While spelling the thing might be an issue, writers assume nowadays that when they say “schadenfreude,” readers know exactly what they mean. It’s defined as the “malicious enjoyment of the misfortunes of others” in the OED, which first included the word [...]

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7

"Are You Airminded?" The Slang Of War

"Airmindedness” is a term that used to be everywhere and now it's nowhere. The word, as defined by the OED, means an interest in and enthusiasm for the use and development of aircraft. The expression emerged with the development of the airplane in the early twentieth century, during which an entire generation struggled to expand their conceptual boundaries skywards. Prompted by the invention of mechanical flight, this airminded cultural moment was sustained by the military incentives that ceaselessly pushed for improvements to air power.

As media critic Friedrich Kittler proposes, technologies repeatedly find their ancestry in the mouth of war: “war was called the father of all [...]

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0

The 'Times' As Tardy Leader and the History of Women's Suffrage

The New York Times addresses current issues in three ways: as expressions of guidance on the editorial page, as expressions of individual opinion on the op-ed page, and as worthy (or not) of news coverage or analysis in the rest of the paper. It has grappled with how to cover Israel, for instance. And for the last 30 years, it has struggled with how to cover gay people. Now the paper has moved in all three departments from following to leading, from first using the word "homosexual" in 1926 to (tardily) using the word "gay" to pioneering gay wedding announcements. What can we learn about the paper's [...]

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9

The Full Duplex Press: My Gmail Phone

In Marshall McLuhan's prophetic 1964 analysis, Understanding Media, he defines the telephone as "speech without walls." At the end of the 19th century, the new postal system of telephone calls went beyond letters and telegrams to collapse the time and space between two distinct-and simultaneous-voices. Yet within the course of telephonic traffic, lines get jammed. We stare at phones with telepathic (if often futile) fervor, our eyes and mind willing it to ring. Our appetites for attention and news and scandal feed our wish for the phone to ring. As phones grow more digitized and versatile-and, sometimes, less versatile and less simultaneous-our dependence on them means we must [...]

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37

Is the Trailer for 'The Shining' the Actual Film?

Stanley Kubrick was, to put it mildly, a meticulous director. On the set of The Shining, he drove poor Shelley Duvall mad. The famous baseball-bat scene was recorded an infamous 127 times. That striking poster of The Shining? Kubrick had Saul Bass draw over 300 versions of it. The director continued to tweak his film until its US opening, May 23, 1980 and even into its initial screenings; when he decided to cut the final hospital scene, Kubrick made bike couriers ride from theater to theater in order to personally remove the sequence. Kubrick's artistic compulsions were a double-edged sword. Not even considering the immaculate texture of his films, [...]

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4

Have Editors and Writers Always Hated Each Other?

After publishing Richard Morgan's account of his life as a freelance writer, we heard from someone who'd been both a freelance writer and an editor at a major newspaper. "Was there a time, a long time ago, when editors and writers weren't at war with one another?" he asked. Although one would think a congenial relationship between the two would lead to clearer and more cohesive writing, writers and editors do indeed seem to be locked in perpetual conflict. How did we reach such levels of animosity? I looked to the historical record.

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