Week of May 30, 2011

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 2:39 am

Table of Contents

Talk of the Town:

Comment: On the Syrian Spring. Ends up talking about Israel-Palestine; not very interesting.

Paris Postcard: DSK situation. The French think he’s fucked. Mildly interesting.

Dept. of Loopholes: Osama Bin Laden’s porn collection placed in the context of ancient Arab porn. Boring.

Also there was something or other about the interior decoration of bomb shelters, mildy interesting.

The Financial Page: I like James Surowecki. But I this week’s piece on the uses of an internet-based alternative to the consumer price index was kind of a bloop single.

Onward and Upward with the Arts: Futurism

Somewhat interesting piece on Cory Arcangel, who’s apparently the youngest artist to have a solo show at the Whitney. I was kind of curious about him — as I read it, I realized I’d actually heard of some of his stuff: He’s the guy that made a video piece where he stripped everything out of the old SuperMario Bros but the clouds, so that the game becomes this infinite blue horizon. He’s done a lot of other stuff with modding video games and playing around with obsolete technology in general. As an article though, a bit weird: A lot of what Arcangel’s doing seems kind of interesting, but the writer, Andrea Scott, did not seem particularly insightful either as an art critic or a character sketch artist. You don’t really get a good sense of what he’s like as a person, and I found her explications of his works — there was some attempt to shoehorn him into Beckett’s absurdist legacy — just didn’t ring true to me, but can’t quite put my finger on why. But I don’t think I have enough understanding and appreciation of the genres of video and contextual art to really comprehend his influences in that respect.

Shouts and Murmurs: Extended riff on Relationships as Baseball. As per usual, an idea that was funny as a one-liner steamrolled remorselessly into a 500-word essay.

Dept. of Food: Strange Fruit. On the rise and fall of the acai berry as a wonder-fruit, and the Black brothers, two bro-dude entrepreneurs who brought it to the US.  I fell asleep reading this about ¾ of the way through the “rise” portion of the tale; YMMV. I’ll probably eventually get around to finishing the “fall” bit, though. Has a bit of a flavor of that emblematic New Yorker “elevator” piece — you can see how good the pitch would have been, how ripely New-Yorkerish,  yet another fascinating story to be uncovered on this omnipresent yet-unexamined facet of modern life, dotted with petty intrigues and obscure facts. And then when the writer actually got there and actually started talking to people it turned out there weren’t nothin’ to it. There is, in fact, nothing all that exciting about elevators, even when you do dig into them deeply. Similarly, the story of the acai berry seems to be: Two dudes tasted a weird fruit in Brazil, found out it had lots of fashionable nutrients, and did fairly well selling it to juice bars and suchlike for a while, until the fad passed.

Our Local Correspondents: Madoff’s Curveball. How the owner of the Mets, Fred Wilpon, got sucked into Madoff’s Ponzi scam and the chances of his involvement forcing him to sell the Mets. Wilpon’s an interesting guy — there are bjillionaire sports franchise owners, and there are former elite athlete sports franchise owners (mostly managers), but he’s the only one I’ve ever heard of who was a former elite athlete who never played pro (got a scholarship to Michigan for baseball and blew out his shoulder while there)  and nevertheless became an owner by making it big in real estate.  A tiptoe over the edge of the magic circle indeed. Get the feeling while reading this that Toobin developed a soft spot for him while reporting the piece; makes me trust his conclusions about Wilpon’s involvement with Madoff a little less.

Annals of Health: God Knows Where I Am. This was a fascinating article about the collision between preserving mental patient’s rights and successfully treating them, as exemplified by the case of a particular New Hampshire woman. I’d talk more about it but it’s hard to do so without going too much into the particular patient’s circumstances, and the slow revelation of her story is part of what gives the piece its power. But she raises a really interesting point about the reliance of modern psychiatry on the notion of “insight” — the patient’s own comprehension of the fact that they’re nuts — as a necessary precursor to pronouncing them cured, the reasons why patients resist this and the difficult paradoxes that results in when the mental health system slams up against the legal one.

Fiction: M&M World, haven’t read it yet.


Essay: Anthony Lane on Terrence Malick. I like Lane and this essay has flashes of his wit; movie sounds a bit ponderous though. On the other hand, I don’t know that you can ask “So, Tony, this deeply earnest filmic attempt to wrestle with the most profound questions of existence, is it worth seeing?” and expect a useful answer, given his temperament and proclivities.

Adam Kirsch on Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore’s a Bangladeshi writer who enjoyed a tremendous vogue in the west in the early part of the 1900s, winning the Nobel Prize in 1913. I knew that and pretty much only that going in, and so was extremely curious to read more about him. A preponderance of my curiosity was satisfied.

There was also a review of a book on vaccination and the resistance to same, throughout history; author’s sympathy is with the resistors. This seems dumb.

Oh, and there was a review of a play called Stage Kiss which sounded amusing but which is playing in Chicago.

Cliff notes:

Worth Anyone’s Time: “God Knows Where I Am,” “Paris Postcard”

If You Like That Sort of Thing: “Futurism” “Madoff’s Curveball,” Malick.

  1. I remember that a buncha years ago the Whitney stuck a bunch of Cory Arcangel’s video game mods in a little closet space room between two other huge spaces; one of these spaces was holding those antler-shaped lamps that became a thing in restaurants [Lodge, anyone] that wanted to look woodsy. The little space worked, because they were beeping with mod-ed Super Mario noises but it was a cramped place to try and figure out if 16 bit (?) clouds fading into the distance were moving or not. I think they were, and it was a little better than clever.

  2. This is why I need this service! I will now find a copy of that article about mental health, probably enjoy in thoroughly, and have a chance to walk around in a bubble of “did you see that piece in the New Yorker recently?” superiority that comes from reading The New Yorker…. without having to actually read it! This is either a dystopian revelation or a valuable service for our post-print age 🙂

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