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Archive for February 17th, 2009

freepapers for all! socialize the news!

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Clearing some old links out today. The topic of this one keeps me up at night, and I basically advocate exactly what they advocate. David Swensen and Michael Schmidt in January in the New York Times:

As long as newspapers remain for-profit enterprises, they will find no refuge from their financial problems. The advertising revenues that newspaper Web sites generate are not enough to sustain robust news coverage. Though The New York Times Web site attracted 20 million unique users in October, Web-driven revenues support only an estimated 20 percent of the paper’s current staff.

As newspapers go digital, their business model erodes. A 2008 research report from Sanford C. Bernstein & Company explained, “The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face.”

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.

(Found this article, btw, via this one….)

It keeps me up at night. I’m a newsprint fetishist from way back – from the sports pages of the Newark Star-Ledger (this story almost made me cry) forward through to the fact that the thought all the way at the back of the line that one of the thrilling things about moving to England would be the wide range of papers I’d get to pick from everyday. Remember an embarrassing scene on one of my birthdays during grad school when a friend came by and saw the big ol’ stack of foreign papers my wife had so sweetly gotten me on the occassion. You, um, this is what you want for your birthday? I sheepishly nodded, yep, exactly this. And I’ve said before that one of the better barometers of my general mood and disposition is the number of papers that I buy during a day. (Today was OK, fair to good. Purchased IHT, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal-Europe, The Economist, and read the two evening freepapers. There are bigger, happier days than that… You should see me getting on a long-haul flight – pretty embarrassing.)

But the fact of the matter is that the internet is only good at recirculating what the printed papers generate. They die, and it’s nothing but endless stories about Kate Moss’s now womanly boobs and, I dunno, someone else’s boobs. Put the dying things in foundations, fund them from on high. We all walk around with stupid fantasies that we’re going to be writing local histories or photographing bridges when the shit finally really does drop during this crisis. But the best way, if anyone wanted to do a quick hitting revitalization of culture and the cultural employment market, would be to let a thousand newsprint flowers bloom and let papers local and national spend their time becoming one stop shops for information and art and all the other good things in life rather than sweating themselves to death looking for a department store to place a Saturday morning lingerie ad or someone to put their 2002 VW Jetta Wagon up for sale.

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February 17, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Posted in news

just in the nick of time

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From the NYT last week:

Hundreds of buildings commissioned by the Works Progress Administration and Roosevelt’s other “alphabet” agencies are being demolished or threatened with destruction, mourned or fought over by small groups of citizens in a new national movement to save the architecture of the New Deal. In July, at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico, a dozen buildings built in the Spanish Revival style in the 1930s, including murals with Native American themes, were bulldozed. In Chicago, architectural historians have joined with residents of Lathrop Homes — riverfront rows of historic brick public housing — to try to persuade the Chicago Housing Authority not to raze the complex. In Cotton County, Okla., a ruined gymnasium has only holes where windows used to be. Across the country, schools, auditoriums and community centers of the era are headed for the wrecking ball.

Relatedly, go read Owen in the NS on the Finsbury Health Centre.

(Should have registered this long ago, but do you know how damn cool it is to open up the New Statesman nearly every week and find new work by Owen in there? Some weeks, like this one, twice!  Anyway, overdue to say, yes, this is very cool…)

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February 17, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Posted in architecture

friedman without lexus no olive tree neither

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It was like the start of one of those Thomas Friedman columns from the early days – the start but without the argument, without the world is now flat, the history is now over, the Dow 36,000 is inevitable.

I was walking down Tottenham Court Road on my way to work at midday when I decided to stop into the local McDonalds outlet and see how the product held up after its six hour flight from Newark.

Mmmm, reader, can report it was tasty good and justlikehome. Why the fuck do I bother with the weird sandwich varieties, the prawn, the “coronation chicken,” the mexican (don’t ask),  the hawaiian (who knew that philly cream cheese was so big on the big island – I guess they’re referring to the part during the luau when the pig is yanked off the spit and dropped into a big vat of cheezspread!) when I could have a medium Big Mac meal for £3.60 each and every day?

[Update: ooops. Another annoying NYT columnist, David Brooks this time, has beat me to the punch today:

The folks at Pew asked one other interesting question: Would you rather live in a community with a McDonald’s or a Starbucks? McDonald’s won, of course, but by a surprisingly small margin: 43 percent to 35 percent. And that, too, captures the incorrigible nature of American culture, a culture slowly refining itself through espresso but still in love with the drive-thru.

OK. Now I feel a little bad. Sated, but bad…. I’ll make up for it by going to Starbucks in a few hours….]

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February 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in empire

“though he were dead, yet shall he live”

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Ah yardwork, not gardening, for I am ineluctably American. I do not finesse and I do not plant little flowers. I chop and rip, I should have a machete, not clippers.

My daughter sat in her cat chair and rhapsodized a song about a heroine who built the “tower, the Tower of London” and then is imprisoned in said Tower, only to be rescued by a boy named Elmer. Fucking Disneyplots! Still, the song was lovely….

As for me, I was happily and mindlessly raking up the thick coat of leaves until I struck and killed a hidden toad with my rake. This was upsetting, for he was huge and sentinent looking. And he looked, in his inverted dead state, like a full-sized human heart, just laying there damp on the scruff.

I turned my attentions to other parts of our pocket garden. I thought about writing a poem about it, the rake bit, the toad bit, the heart bit. Random death from the air at the end of a HomeBase bought metal rake, all in the midst of warm and wet and animally leaf-sleep.

When I turned back to see once again, the toad was gone! Lazarus toad! I started to tell my daughter about Lazarus when she asked, but couldn’t make it through for it is a silly, silly story.

The fucker ruined the poem too. But I’m glad he’s still alive, if poked and bleeding and less certain about his world than he was a few minutes ago…

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February 17, 2009 at 10:48 am

Posted in such as it is

“personally, i always preferred lipton’s”

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I promised the Voice That Whispers in My Ear at Night (hereafter VinE – I mean for this post and future posts) that I would a) read for two hours then b) write not-blogposts for an hour or two. Ooops! I will make it up by posting something serious and potentially work-facilitating.

I’m the comments to my post on macroeconomic microfictions / fiction in the aggregate, Dave suggests (if I have it right) that I work from individual focus toward panoptic aggregation via a terminal wide-angle shot, one that reveals that the selfsame story is going on for a whole bunch of people at the very same time. I could do this, and will do I’m sure, but let me show you something that I think about, unreconstructed modernist that I am.

Some of you, I know, won’t like this clip, but allow it me it as it shows something relatively quickly and clearly.

(Now: if you have 15 minutes, watch the whole thing. If you have 8 minutes or so, you’ll be ok. Watch the first 8 minutes and you’ll figure out the trick if you’re paying close attention. If you only have 4 minutes, just watch the first 2 and the last 2 minutes, you’ll still get the point…)

So it’s Anthony Minghella’s 2000 version of Beckett’s 1963 Play. I happen to think it’s pretty fantastic. OK, Minghella’s bit is OK, but the play itself is head-slammingly perfect. And I actually really like the performance by the britishy superstars involved.

Let me just say it again. I absolutely love every single thing about this play. If you’re looking for me, where my heart lies aesthetically, this is a fairly good crystallization in 15 minutes. I’ll say why, I hope, in the course of writing this post and answering Dave’s comment.

Just to keep things simple, let’s talk about Minghella’s version, as it is a bit different from the scripted version of the play. And in fact, his variations speak to exactly the question that I’m trying to get at in writing this. (Oof. Right there, all of a sudden, this fell into being something that I should write for real, not for blog. Did you see that? Started sounding like someone who actually writes about drama….)

Now, Beckett / Minghella’s Play drives at the generic from two different angles, in two different ways. The first way is the Minghella addition. Those panning shots that reveal, most strikingly at the end, that we’re in some sort of place where everybody is chattering on in just the same way, perhaps about exactly the same sort of thing, except, we are led to imagine, in their own way. Same yet different. What other sort of story do we expect these other urn-dwellers would tell?

(This runs a bit far from Beckett’s script, which does call for a chorus, but it seems to be a chorus composed of the three characters – the two women and the man – themselves. They are to speak a sort of barely discernable scattershot redux of their previous language. But, no, in Beckett’s version, there are no other urns, no other urn dwellers, there is no whole world or hell of similarity in difference… Minghella’s retraction of the camera to see all these others is his own addition to the work….)

I think Minghella’s tactic actually does work, if cheaply, but works only as an underscoring of what we already should know from what we’ve seen of the three characters themselves and their words. And here is where we find the second, and ultimately more satisfying, mode of rendering the generic available here.

For it is the story itself that we’re bound up in here – this tawdry, ultimately boring story of some sort of utterly predictable love triangle, and the emotional atmospherics that are concomitant with it – that is the first and best vehicle of the genericness of the play. People, Beckett seems to say, get caught up in these things, the things spur endless amounts of chattering solipsism, we cannot stop spitefully talking about them, about ourselves, even if there is no one left to listen, nobody who would possibly stay to listen to what we have to say. The amazing false profundities on display, the cliche takeaway – Adulterers, take heed: never admit! – already tell us all we need to know, before the pan, before the wide shot, about the play’s take on the ostensible subject matter at hand.

The formal devices of the play and the stage-directions work to intensify this effect. First, and most obviously, there’s the fact that the play turns at midpoint only to repeat itself in its entirety, which brings a hellishness to bear that preempts Minghella’s setting of his film version in the place that Clov can see out the windows in Endgame. Whatever individual interest, whatever romantic frisson, is left after the first go-round is decisively killed off when we hear the same damn thing again in full. And the mode of delivery indicated by the directions (and, I think, impeccably followed by Thomas, Stevenson, and Rickman in this version,) only make things worse…. that is to say better.

Faces impassive throughout. Voices toneless except where an expression is indicated.

Rapid tempo throughout.

It’s all fast and underbreath – the voice of neurosis, or of prayer said rote in order to finish quickly and get on to something else. Thy kingdomcome, thy willbedone, on earthasitisinheaven. The impassivity of the speakers signals that the words, the words that press up for no interlocutor,  press up to be said because they, situationally, have to be said, the situation requires their saying. So florid, so ostensibly full of emotion and relevance, uttering them (and that’s what they’re doing here – uttering) undercuts them, leaves them as all too human psychopathology, the stuff you say when your mind is out of your control because you’re caught in an altogether familar situation.

Ack. I need to get to sleep! But for now, let’s just put it this way. The panning move on Minghella’s part would be worthless, a false suggestion of true genericity, if not for all the steps that Beckett’s already taken to make sure that the foregrounded stuff is what it is, is generic. The pan, the wide shot, forces the point – but one should only force (right, VinE?) what’s ready and appropriate to be forced. This is the capacity that I’m looking to develop – the widening out works, but only when there’s generic ready there for the widening. Or in fact, as with Minghella’s version, the widening shot works mostly – only – when it’s there to reindicate, to underscore, to clarify, to intensify. We can see all the other cars in the parking lot, in other words, but that only does what I want it to do once it’s clear that the foreground story is, in a sense, the story of behind all the other cars in the parking lot. I have no problem tipping my hand, but I want to be sure first that I have a hand worthy of being tipped.

Anyway, a post that is not likely to come – as it’s a part of my book that I will dutifully revise MTWTF this summer, has to do with the initial and literal announcement of the generic as the principal issue of what will become modernism at the start of Madame Bovary. This bit, and sorry for the French, but it’s untranslatable, sets it out in writing:

Nous avions l’habitude, en entrant en classe, de jeter nos casquettes par terre, afin d’avoir ensuite nos mains plus libres; il fallait, dès le seuil de la porte, les lancer sous le banc, de façon à frapper contre la muraille en faisant beaucoup de poussière; c’était là le genre.

Now remember, the word genre has a triple meaning in French. Here it’s “the way things are done,” but of course it also means literary genre. Further, it also means gender. But that’s another story altogether, he whispers to the VinE, whom he hopes is pleased that he didn’t totally fuck his night, even if he didn’t quite do what he had promised her he would….

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February 17, 2009 at 1:42 am

Posted in beckett, flaubert, generic, genre