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The Geek Atlas

The Geek Atlas has rounded up 128 great candidates from around the world. The Atlas calls them “places where science and technology come alive.” I think of these destinations as places that make you think. The possibilities run the gamut from birthplaces of famous inventors and scientists (yawn) to really cool tours of working technological systems (a nuclear power plant, a dam turbine, a solar furnace) to a spectrum of interesting but little known museums, to just cool places like the prime meridian. A lot of these destinations are in the US and UK, but a fair number hail elsewhere. In addition to a description of a destination, author Graham-Cumming writes up a page explaining the key concept behind each spot. I’ve visited a dozen of these science hot spots and they are well worth a short detour, or in some cases a trip just for the purpose. You could probably fill another volume of brainy tourist traps missed by this book: I predict a sequel.

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What Is an Andy Warhol?

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In this conceptual approach to making art, Warhol inherited the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, an artist he knew, admired, painted, and filmed. Like Duchamp’s ready-mades, the ultimate importance of a work by Warhol is not who physically made each object, but the ideas it generates. As the son of immigrants, Warhol in his early works returned again and again to the theme of America itself. What else are the paintings of cheap advertisements for nose jobs and dance lessons concerned with if not the American dream and the price of conformity it exacts? As soon as he’d examined the American obsession with celebrity and glamour in the portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, he was quick to show its race riots and electric chair. Unlike Duchamp’s, his was a highly public art, one that criss-crossed between high art, popular culture, commerce, and daily life.

Everything that passed before Warhol’s basilisk gaze—celebrities, socialites, speed freaks, rock bands, film, and fashion—he imprinted with his deadpan mixture of glamour and humor, then cast them back into the world as narcissistic reflections of his own personality. This is what makes him one of the most complex and elusive figures in the history of art. As Danto explains in his brilliant short study of Warhol, the question Warhol asked is not “What is art?” but “What is the difference between two things, exactly alike, one of which is art and one of which is not?”

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Monsters ink

One of this fall’s most anticipated films is “Where the Wild Things Are,” which attempts to bring the 338 words and 18 pictures of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book to life on the big screen. The stakes are high because the book is perfect; its simple story, about a misbehaving kid named Max and the creatures he meets on his imaginary voyage, is now a revered parable about growing up, staying young, and dealing with the unknown. With an army of puppeteers and CGI effects, the filmmakers will also be reacquainting audiences with one of the great supporting casts in children’s books: Sendak’s monsters. The Wild Things – fierce but charming beasts with bulging eyes, fangs, and claws – became, for generations of the book’s fans, iconic. With mismatched animal bodies and goofy, humanoid features, they looked like a cross between ogres and teddy bears. And they promptly claimed a spot in our pop culture bestiary, along with Godzilla, King Kong, and Barney the Dinosaur, where they’ve roamed ever since.

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Post-partum à Istanbul

Y aurait-il des romans pour hommes et d’autres pour femmes ?

J’y repensais l’autre jour en lisant Lait noir (Siyah Süt, traduit du turc par Valérie Gay-Aksoy, 339 pages, 22 euros, Phébus). La stambouliote Elif Shafak y fait la chronique de la société dans laquelle elle vit à travers les cas de conscience de ces femmes qui se veulent à la fois mères et artistes. George Steiner a écrit à ce sujet quelques pages dans Réelles présences. Les arts du sens qui firent scandale en 1991. Il y soutenait que le monopole masculin dans les arts, la littérature et surtout la composition musicale n’était pas le résultat de l’asservissement domestique, de l’oppression phallocratique ou des conditions socio-historiques mais bien d’autre chose :”La capacité biologique de procréer, d’engendrer la vie qui est le propre de la femme, n’est-elle pas de quelque façon, à un niveau absolument essentiel à l’être de la femme, tellement créatrice, tellement épanouissante, qu’en comparaison, la création de personnes fictives qui est la matière même du drame et des arts plastiques, en pâlisse ?” On s’en doute, ce n’est du tout le discours que tient Elif Shafak : son Lait noir oscille plutôt entre Le Deuxième sexe, Une Chambre à soi et Doris Lessing.

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Manual of Architectural Possibilities
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Open the poster up and there are habitats excavated directly from the ice, their dimensions and size based on the carving radius of industrial digging machines; there are seed archives entombed throughout the polar glaciers, marked only by GPS; there are abandoned airplanes all hooked together into a grounded megastructure and reused as research labs; there is a catalog of snow crystal geometry; and there is a photo-survey of exploratory housing for visiting scientists.

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Why are we still reading Dickens?

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As someone who teaches and writes about Dickens, the question of why we still read him is something that’s often on my mind. But that question was never more troubling than one day, nearly 10 years ago, when I was standing as a guest speaker in front of a class of about 30 high school students. I had been speaking for about 20 minutes with an 1850 copy of David Copperfield in my hand, telling the students that for Victorian readers, Dickens’s writing was very much a “tune-in-next-week” type of thing that generated trends and crazes, much as their own TV shows did for them today.

Then a hand shot up in the middle of the room.

“But why should we still read this stuff?”

I was speechless because in that moment I realised that, though I had begun a PhD dissertation on Dickens, I had never pondered the question myself.

The answer I gave was acceptable: “Because he teaches you how to think,” I said. But lots of writers can teach you how to think, and I knew that wasn’t really the reason.

The question nagged me for years, and for years I told myself answers, but never with complete satisfaction. We read Dickens not just because he was a man of his own times, but because he was a man for our times as well. We read Dickens because his perception and investigation of the human psyche is deep, precise, and illuminating, and because he tells us things about ourselves by portraying personality traits and habits that might seem all too familiar. His messages about poverty and charity have travelled through decades, and we can learn from the experiences of his characters almost as easily as we can learn from our own experiences.

These are all wonderful reasons to read Dickens. But these are not exactly the reasons why I read Dickens.

My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student ()

Book ‘Em –It’s criminal how much some people love books.

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Whatever their motivation, however, book collectors help to preserve this physical culture and ensure that our printed matter will still exist in the future. They are the most likely to fight libraries for the preservation of old newspapers or dig around estate sales and attics to find lost manuscripts by writers like Poe or Blake. Book thieves, on the other hand, not only destroy our cultural artifacts, but also hinder an understanding of our history. Most book thieves are misunderstood by the criminal justice system as petty criminals, and they are let go with slaps on the wrist. Gilkey was one such criminal until members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America banded together under the watch of Ken Sanders and assisted in sting operations and helped document his crimes. The ABAA continues to fight for longer sentences and heftier fines, as many of these book thieves are repeat offenders. Hopefully more judges will follow the lead of the one presiding over the trial of Daniel Spiegelman, subject of Travis McDade’s 2006 The Book Thief, whose bounty totaled $1.8 million in rare books and documents, including a 13th-century Euclidean geometry textbook. In her decision, the judge stated, “This crime was quite different from the theft of cash equal to the appraised value of the materials stolen, because it deprived not only Columbia [University], but the world, of irreplaceable pieces of the past and the benefits of future scholarship.”

Reading Bartlett’s descriptions of book collections and the attachments people have to them was particularly bittersweet

(for @Maikwl =)

Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia at The Quarterly Conversation

Excerpted from:
Pornografia, Witold Gombrowicz (trans. Danuta Borchardt). Grove Press. $23.00. 176 pp. November 2009.

The book is a sardonic depiction of a place Gombrowicz never saw: WWII Poland (he was stranded in Argentina). It follows two men as they attempt to defile two youths, and the book skillfully mixes elements of Eros and Thanatos, young and old, purity and obscenity.

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The carriage moved on. Karol sat on the driver’s seat, next to the coachman. She, in the front—and where her little head ended, there he began above her as if placed on an upper story, his back toward us, a slim contour, visible yet featureless—while his shirt billowed in the wind—and the combination of her face with the absence of his face, the complement of her seeing face with his unseeing back struck me with a dark, hot duality. . . . They were not unusually good-looking—neither he nor she—only as much as is appropriate for their age—but they were a beauty in their closed circle, in their mutual desire and rapture—something in which practically no one else had any right to take part. They were unto them-selves—it was strictly between them. And especially because they were so (young). So I was not allowed to watch, I tried not to see it, but, with Fryderyk in front of me and sitting next to her on the small seat, I was again persistently asking myself: Had he seen this? Did he know anything? And I was lying in wait to see a single glance of his, one of those supposedly indifferent ones yet sliding by surreptitiously, greedily.

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Digital Fabrications : Architectural and Material Techniques

Digital Fabrications (…) celebrates the design ingenuity made possible by digital fabrication techniques. Author Lisa Iwamoto explores the methods architects use to calibrate digital designs with physical forms. The book is organized according to five types of digital fabrication techniques: tessellating, sectioning, folding, contouring, and forming. Projects are shown both in their finished forms and in working drawings, templates, and prototypes, allowing the reader to watch the process of each fantastic construction unfold. Digital Fabrications presents projects designed and built by emerging practices that pioneer techniques and experiment with fabrication processes on a small scale with a do-it-yourself attitude.

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Poetry in translation takes off

Poets steal. T.S. Eliot concealed this offhand assertion in plain sight 90 years ago in his essay on English playwright Philip Massinger: “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” It had the effect of recalibrating readers’ expectations for originality. All readers. Granted, this was the same effect Emerson achieved in his essay, “Quotation and Originality,” but the recursion supports Eliot’s point. Literary culture alternates between those periods when it refuses to look at anything new, and those when almost nothing like the old is allowed. As for the literary influence of other times and places, the emphasis shifts between defensive isolation and expansive engagement. At the moment, major anthologies of contemporary poetry from Germany, Russia, and Vietnam are appearing in the United States. Though the influence of these poetries on American letters has been muted, or at least restricted to a narrow list of headliners for the last fifty years, that may be about to change.

Where Emerson insisted that “genius borrows nobly,” Eliot used his borrowing to establish a hierarchy of poets, with small-time artisans at the bottom, and at the top, barons of text who, having identified valuable resources to extract as well as a means of converting them to finished goods, integrate operations vertically, overseeing the marketing plan right down to the reviews. This makes it sound like a world-historical crime, but there is a motive on the up-and-up for this behavior: in order to stop talking about themselves, to be inspired, to say something recognizable in an unfamiliar way, poets make believe, generalize, extrapolate from an overspecific detail, and otherwise appropriate what is not theirs. Translation and signaling foreign influence are some of the more prestigious means to effect this escape from the self and its unchallengeable rules, even if they only lead to alien rules, equally unchallengeable. Indeed, Eliot, a bit of a rule freak, emphasized both the importance of stealing from sources “remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest,” and making what is taken into something better. ()