Category Archives: ideas

coarseness of thought and feeling; want of grace and taste; numerous allusions to matters of merely local interest

Via Dangerous Minds, here is Fran Lebowitz talking about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she has a bracingly compelling, funny, and well-reasoned dislike of:

It’s from a book launch party for While We Were Sleeping: NYU and The Destruction of New York. As soon as I finished watching it I sent the link to my most scornful Bloomberg-scorning friend, who recently had me reaching for a notepad when he said that “living in a city where this little cunt is in charge of things is like living in 18th-century Paris.” Is it? It kind of is. Someone really ought to make a list about that. And why am I not trying my hand at writing libelles? Those topical, subversive, witty little pamphlets or one-sheets that flourished in France between the 16th and 18th centuries, often anonymously written because of nastiness or seditiousness or both, were quite obviously the blogs of their day. But not all blogs are libelles.

Am I qualified? I’m somewhat mordant by nature, not short on opinions, and I enjoy hitting the “publish” button but my very full-time day job gets in the way. Working in shorter, sharper forms holds considerable appeal. In my mid-twenties I was pretty thoroughly knocked out by Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the first thing of his I’d ever read, and, although a work of fiction, my first meaningful glimpse of libelles. I didn’t mind the notoriously detailed and lengthy description of printing press technology that occurs very early in the book, and the further I read the more I thought it was utterly brilliant. The main character is an aspiring poet from the provinces who later finds himself mucking about with Parisian journalists and libellistes, and Balzac’s determination to capture the pragmatic aspects of how technological progress changes things alongside the social aspects was exciting to me; it tickled the same vaguely Marxist parts of my brain that my college professors did when they talked about Dziga Vertov’s socialization of the movie camera. Prior to the libelle era, people simply could not vitiate public figures or distribute their most profane little thoughts in print affordably or with any great efficiency because printing presses hadn’t caught up with their urgent need to comment on the culture around them. I was delighted to read more Balzac and see that this was a theme with him — to see, for example, that in Cousin Bette someone seems to be setting up a trust for someone else every other page or so. My understanding — somewhat spotty, but reasonably well informed from having read about this some years ago — is that the trust was fairly new legal technology at the time, a creation of the Napoleonic code; before then, people could not arrange to distribute their money or property outside of the traditional family lines in any sort of reliable way. To provide for a lover outside of marriage or a gay lover, for example, was suddenly a possibility. (To this day the law of succession and probate in the state of Louisiana is quite different from that of other U.S. states because, being a former French territory, it is the only state whose law is based on the Napoleonic code rather than English common law). Anyhow, where was I? I think I was getting around to suggesting that someone ought to study Bloombergian culture in a Balzacian manner, with special attention to the nefarious money-grubbing Ms. Lebowitz so capably describes.

underground journalist

A libelliste’s mechanisms at work, scanned from The Forbidden Best Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France by Robert Darnton. Specifically, he’s “from the frontspiece to Le Gazetier cuirasse, ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France by Charles Theveneau de Morande, 1771.” I haven’t read the book yet but I’ve got the same author’s The Literary Underground of the Old Regime in my going-out-of-town bag this weekend.

*****

That same friend I sent the video to has a recurring fantasy about running into Bloomberg someplace — our mayor does take the subway every once in a while, and gets into and out of shiny black SUVs all over town — and loudly exclaiming, as if unaware of himself “I can’t believe he’s so tiny in person!”

*****

Did you know that in Marie Antoinette’s time women wore dioramas in their hair? The trend apparently started with the use of wire forms padded out with wool and horse hair, which gave them impressive volume, and before long they were perching entire allegories up there. Appraiser and interior architect Soodie Beasley writes that

[w]omen placed in their hair little figurines made from fabric and small objects made from papier maché. Their hairdresser arranged them as sceneries or landscapes. Sometimes, they used their hair as a stage to replicate historical scenes or sometimes to communicate an emotion — sentimental pouf — this type of do was called.

. . . . Marie Antoinette wore her pouf a’ la inoculation in support of the small pox vaccination which showed Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree.

She wore these hairstyles at court and in town, and this had a swift and contagious effect . . .

‘Everybody was talking of the poufs created by the firm of Bertin . . . one famous pouf was that of the Duchesse de Lauzun. She appeared at a reception wearing a most delicious pouf. It contained a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore, someone on the point of shooting one of them; on the top of the head there was a mill, the miller’s wife being made love to by an abbe, whilst near the ear the miller could be seen leading a donkey.’

The last paragraph there quotes Émile Langlade’s Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette. I think the contemporary equivalent (in Manhattan, at least) is people doing unspeakably overwrought things to cocktails, which have become so burdened by displays of creativity that even bartenders are starting to wonder whether their preening is turning people off, and whether we haven’t turned some sort of corner yet. Delightful, innovative, gaudy, pompous, and inane — people have always been this way and always will be, and at any given moment the counterweights may be in need of rebalancing.

Miss Juniper Fox

Miss Juniper Fox, 1777, from the Lewis Walpole Library
via Soodie Beasley.

*****

The title of my post comes from a scrap of commentary on the ancient Greek poet Hipponax I found floating around on the internet. It used to appear on his Wikipedia page but I don’t see it there now. These qualities are supposedly reasons why his “witty, abusive” verse was not more popular. (He is nonetheless sometimes credited with having invented parody, and his deft dealings with the sordid side of life in Ephesus seem to have made quite an impression on people). The first time I saw it I was struck by the idea that this particular scrap would make a very good manifesto of sorts for a blog, not unlike the mumbo-jumbo in the header on my food blog. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful to limit and sharpen one’s focus, however perplexing the operational rules may appear to others.

*****

creative constipation + its antagonist

For a long while now I’ve been aware of and mildly interested in Momus without bothering to investigate. (More on this below). Every so often I’ll stumble across or be pointed towards something of his, and that’s that. I recently found myself watching this new-ish video from him and liking it a lot.


Momus and John Henriksson, “Love Wakes The Devil”

I circulated it to a few friends with the qualification “I have mixed regard for this guy” or something(s) to that effect, and I got some interesting responses. One person helpfully pointed out that the mystery man in the video — perhaps a long-forgotten robot built to compete with Elvis, shelved for awkwardness? — is reminiscent of this other guy. Another asked why the mixed feelings? “I think maybe it’s his voluminous and incessant output,” I answered. “All the blogging, etc. I guess I’m a bit suspicious of someone who is endlessly interested in their own utterances, for years and years and years at a time. Or maybe I just resent him for having so much of himself out there, because it makes it sort of impossible for me to evaluate him as a casual listener.” Which is silly, obviously, for several reasons. Why should anyone be graspable in one grab? Of course they should not be, and I tend to actively dislike people who are. Why not put a ton of yourself out there is a discrete, messier and more interesting question, I think, and my friend’s perceptive response made me rosy with self-consciousness:

He’s definitely a certain kind of person. I think he is very comfortable expressing himself. I don’t think he is self-critical (I mean this in a positive way). I don’t think he is trying to make a ‘great work.’ I think he sees himself in the tradition of folk music. And in his mind giving something to world — no matter how imperfect — is better than keeping it stifled up. As a result he has really added something to the world where most of us are trying so hard to be perfect we never actually do much.

I don’t think he meant really for real on a granular level (individual albums, songs, what-have-you), but you get the idea. I’ve struggled with the trying-to-be-perfect thing at moments but the biggest issue for me is wanting to have everything in place before I start a new project. Which is, yeah, a form of wanting everything to be perfect. I find it very difficult to start something new unless I feel I can completely throw myself into it, and how can I completely throw myself into something unless my “spare” time, my energy, and my reasons for wanting to do it are all heaving with abundance? And would you believe I have some trouble getting these things synced up? Of this bundle of idiotic expectations I have, the time-related one seems to be the most manageable; I think it’s a relatively straightforward matter of learning new habits (getting comfortable working in small chunks of time rather than big blocks, for example). Where I really run into trouble is in navigating the ambivalence I develop about my reasons for taking on any potential project, my questions about why do z instead of y or x, and is it worth bothering with at all. Not because I believe in greatness-or-nothing but because I believe in deliberateness-or-nothing. Just about every book or song or arty-whatnot that’s ever really meant anything to me was made by someone who seems to have been working from a series of rigorous aesthetic and intellectual decisions (versus working from a mindset of “oh hell, I’ll just try it and see where it goes”). My ideal is work that appears unstudied coming from someone who has studied the fuck out of it. One example, a curious one considering I don’t particularly like the Ramones: A couple weeks ago this article by Johnny Ramone came out, and in it he talks about the formation of the band and the decisions they made in the earliest days. The four skinny guys in jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets (or, the four skinny guys in jeans, t-shirts and leather jackets) took six months to decide that that’s what they would wear:

At that point, we were still dressed in partial glitter. I had these silver-lamé pants made of Mylar, and these black spandex pants I’d wear, too. I was the only one with a real Perfecto leather jacket—what the Ramones would later be identified with—which I had been wearing for seven years already. I also had this vest with leopard trim that I had custom made.

We were still evolving into the image we became known for, but it was trial and error at first. I’d give Tommy a lot of the credit for our look. He explained to me that Middle America wasn’t going to look good in glitter. Glitter is fine if you’re the perfect size for clothes like that. But if you’re even five pounds overweight, it looks ridiculous, so it wouldn’t be something everyone could relate to.

It was a slow process, over a period of six months or so, but we got the uniform defined. We figured out that it would be jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, and the tennis shoes, Keds. We wanted every kid to be able to identify with our image.

I’ve never cared about wanting to make anything people can identify with but I do care deeply about singularity, and I think it generally comes from that same process of refining one’s ideas to the point where everything that’s there represents a series of decisions. (To use another Ramonesian example, think of them playing “Happy Birthday”: it would sound 100% like a Ramones song, and we can easily visualize how they would look playing it, the way they’d be standing or holding their instruments, and pretty much everything else about it). It’s not that I think a uniform or an identifiable stance are essentials or that it should necessarily be a slow or anguished process; it’s more about starting from a place that isn’t aesthetically or intellectually bankrupt, and paring away any crap going forward.

Do any of you have secret tricks for working through these pre-working choices, for wading through the muck between having an idea and commencing work on the idea? Please murmur them into my comments section. Highly recommended drugs that enable you to start a hundred weirdo side projects while blogging like a fiend will also be considered.

This and that No. 3

bio-digester

The Philips microbial kitchen, via The Guardian. Click on the images to read more about it.

I wish I were making this Thanksgiving’s pies in this lovely microbial kitchen. It is the kitchen of the future, says Philips. The heart of it is the bio-digester island, which is basically a poop- and vegetable scrap-repurposing contraption: burning methane powers the stove, and the “residue” (blessedly, magically dehydrated) can be used as fertilizer.

the larder
the larder close up

The larder.

The part of the microbial kitchen that really excites me is the larder, which has “a twin-walled terra cotta evaporative cooler” consisting of “compartments and chambers [that] vary in wall thicknesses and volumes . . . designed to keep different types of food at different optimal temperatures.” I am ready for this now. I am already mentally arranging my mushrooms and cheeses. You know what this reminds me of, this amazing styrofoam kitchen of the future from 1978:

containerization

Styrofoam kitchen by Lino Schenal, from Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin’s High-Tech(1978).

I got High-Tech after seeing this outdoor hangout room from it over at Wary Meyers. There are loads of good ideas in the book and the styrofoam kitchen has stuck with me. I often bring home new kitchen equipment that I don’t have just the right spot for, and with a kitchen like this I could scoop out a compartment for, say, my new ice cream machine. It isn’t as high-tech as the microbial kitchen, but how great would it be to combine the two, with terra cotta inserts for the scooped-out wall, like the larder? Such that one could open a little door to a personal-size cheese cave? Or a mushroom-growing cabinet. I have been trying to grow mushrooms inside my componibili and this would be an improvement. One could have a mushroom-growing cabinet right next to a pipe carrying cool, clean water and have one’s mushrooms misted automatically. Or via phone.

The more mysterious biological and transformative aspects of the future kitchen remind me of this fallen tree that Mr. Lunar Camel Co. and I recently encountered at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Are these the ghosts of insects struck by lightening? Whatever happened here happened to the entire length of the tree.

Alpine-20111105-00699

Alpine-20111105-00698

This and That No. 1 is here.

This and That No. 2 is here.

Halloween who, what, and how

creepy baby at Chelsea Market

creepy baby at Chelsea Market

It’s nearly too late now to get a costume together but I have a few last-minute ideas:

The woods at night. Black unitard covered with pairs of googly eyes of various sizes. Better get started on this one right now so the glue will have time to dry.

googly eyes

Yayoi Kusama dots obsession. Red unitard covered with white pompoms or felt circles, or white with red, or white with multicolor, or yellow with black. I kind of want one of these for wearing around the house this winter. It would improve just about all of the things I do around the house.

Yayoi Kusama self-obliteration by dots

Yayoi Kusama red and white dots obsession

Yayoi Kusama multicolor dots obsession

Lunar Camel Co.-size bucket of pom poms

Noosha Fox. A good closet-shopping costume. Have you (or your girlfriend, if you’re a guy and not too burly) got velvet hotpants and a satin cape, or maybe a pink vintage dress and raspberry tights like she wore on that album cover? (I’ve got these Falke ones in rose and can vouch for their perfection, but surely others would do). Not having to shop for a costume leaves you more time to curl your hair. I’m including a photo for reference but the best way to get a sense of Noosha’s style is to spend some quality time at YouTube. Here she is on Top of the Pops in 1975, and here she is in the cape you see below on Australian teevee in 1976, and here she is on Top of the Pops again in 1976 wearing a straw hat.

Noosha Fox bow and cape

You know, screw Halloween, I think you should dress like Noosha Fox pretty much all the time. It’s tricky in cold weather but you’ll just have to line your cape with something warm. Here’s a very Noosha-esque contemporary look from the Guardian for further inspiration. Click on the photo to be taken to a slideshow of more.

so Noosha-ish

Somewhat-pretentious non-costume for a group of friends arriving at a party sans costumes: Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, Vali Myers, Wolfgang Hutter, and Mia and Hubert Aratym in Vienna, 1952. OK, it is more than somewhat pretentious, but I think they look great — warm, too — and all you need is sweaters and black eyeliner.

Vali Myers and co.

Vintage anatomy guide. This requires only a flesh-colored unitard — so versatile! — and some fabric paints. Like Slim Goodbody, but you haven’t got time to paint yourself a whole suit, so you’d better focus on just the sex organs or the digestive system or whatever parts you fancy. There are some amazing illustrations over at 50 watts to inspire you. Click on the ones below to see loads more from Le Livre de la Sante, a 1967 French anatomy book. Don’t forget to attach, to your unitard, an index card that says les organes genitaux. If you’re ambitious you can identify each part.

Le Livre de la Sante manparts

Le Livre de la Sante ladyparts

Morgellons sufferer. It’s cruel to poke fun at the diseased but few people know what Morgellons is, so think of this as educational outreach. It’s a condition that causes terrible itching as mysterious, possibly alien, colored fibers emerge from the skin.

morgellons close-up

close-up of Morgellons fibers by Vitaly Citovsky/SUNY Stony Brook via the Guardian

No one knows what causes it or how to cure it, but if you dress as Morgellons, pretty much everyone at the party is going to learn what Morgellons is by the end of the evening, and that can only be a good thing. You’ll need a flesh-colored unitard — see, they are super-versatile — and some colorful bits of yarn and lurex thread and holiday ribbon and whatnot to attach to it. Joni Mitchell has Morgellons so if you have long blonde hair you can be Joni Mitchell suffering from Morgellons.

Bed-in. An ideal costume for a couple. Hair peace, bed peace! I’ve written about my enthusiasm for bed-ins before. Being a bed-in for Halloween requires much less of a time committment than an actual bed-in and all you really need is a sheet to wrap yourself in and a sign.

hair peace bed peace

your moist little brain

Birgit Jürgenssen little fur

Photo (untitled self-portrait?) by Birgit Jürgenssen.

From Emma Markiewicz’s “Matters of the Head” in Cabinet issue 40, which is still laying around my apartment:

In the eighteenth century, hair was conceived of not only as an external indicator of a person’s well-being but also as a part of the body that could itself be affected by ill health. In either case, hair in the medical literature was rarely seen as a separate entity and was commonly discussed in conjunction with other body parts and physical conditions. Some considered it a primary marker for the humoral condition of the head, the intellectual seat of the human body. For instance, Aristotle’s New Book of Problems, Set Forth by Question and Answer, a 1725 volume . . . attempted to answer the question ‘Why does hair grow on the head more than any other body part?’ by asserting that hair is ‘an excrement’ that grows primarily on the head because of the moistness of the brain, and is therefore more likely to grow longer in women whose brains are more moist than men’s.

Birgit Jürgenssen ohne titel / untitled

Ohne titel / untitled by Birgit Jürgenssen.

a few suggestions for people with monolith problems

dun dun DUN DUN

There’s an interesting story in today’s New York Times (via Gothamist) about some people in Brooklyn who have a monolith problem. Specifically, Verizon plopped a big grey fiberglass pole down in Flatbush without consulting anyone. It’s twenty feet high! Obviously Verizon is an asshole. An Episcopalian priest (and Kubrick fan?) who lives in the neighborhood told the Times “[t]he neighbors started gathering around it like it was the monolith in 2001.”

Flatbush monolith

Photo by Josh Haner / New York Times.

So many of our new technologies are small or otherwise unobtrusive or exist only in the cloud — I’m pretty fascinated with the fact that these people have a new object on their block to encircle, inspect, possibly (probably) kick, and figure out how to deal with. It brings to mind a college class I took at Sarah Lawrence called The Philosophy of Technology, in which we read a lot of Herbert Marcuse and talked about the phallocentric nature of rocket ships, that sort of thing. I can’t remember my professor’s name but I can tell you that for sure he’d say it’s not a monolith, it’s a big, late-stage capitalism boner.

I’m not trying to poke fun at it. It isn’t funny, this ugly object. Actually it is quite funny, but I feel bad that these people have a big, shitty technological thing hulking on their block through no fault of their own. I also feel it is contemptible Verizon didn’t have the wit to go full monolith with it — it really is just a big pole, and that is an act of aesthetic cowardice. The company says it is now working with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to identify “alternatives” to plopping down more of them, but in the meantime, a friend and I have come up with some ideas about alternative ways of living with this particular pole:

1. Make it into a candy cane. We feel that the green and white kind are less Christmassy than the red and white kind and more suitable for year-round looking-at. The fruity kind are less Christmassy still, but those don’t seem right for Flatbush.

2. Make it into a Maypole like the one in The Wicker Man.

There has to be a Brooklyn band that could come up with a fantastic new Maypole song for the people of Flatbush.

3. One person greases the pole and everyone else tries to shimmy up it. (Annually, with prizes). I have seen this happen at a country fair in Connecticut. It still happens in other places too. This particular pole is pretty thick so it’s probably a good one for urbane, middle class people with limited pole-climbing skills to start out on.

4. Get Claes Oldenburg to make a sculpture of a giant pair of trainers and hang it off the top of the pole, the way drug dealers supposedly do. Maybe a bit too edgy for a historic district in Flatbush, but it will draw art tourists, and they’ll want to buy some lemonade or kombucha or tote bags or whatever from the locals, so it will bring money in. Voila!

step 1 : find attractive paper

An inspiring quote from Sylvia Townsend Warner, who I can’t believe I haven’t written about here yet. She deserves a proper, wordier post and she’ll get one sooner or later, but in the meantime here is something to think about, from the dust jacket flap for The Flint Anchor (The Viking Press, 1954):

a quote from Sylvia Townsend Warner

She omitted to mention that it is essential to be brilliant. It’s nonetheless heartening to catch a glimpse of a writer saying “I’m a writer because I wrote something,” not “because I obtained a MFA,” not “because I’ve done time in workshops full of thunderingly insipid people who share my high regard for the consensus of People Who Are Into Consensus.” I’m surely a little excessive in my disdainful eye-rolling on this matter but sometimes it looks like the dominant school of thought has come to be that people ought to set about making prose the way they used to set about obtaining, say, a certificate in HVAC repair. Viva anti-professionalism!

The book itself is inspiring me too, to collect blue books and keep them all in one place. As in this photo from the lovely Bookride:

blue books! from Bookride

The Flint Anchor cover

In the comments on that post there’s a tantalizing mention of a collection of books with mirrored covers. It brings to mind — to my mind, anyhow — the idea that it would be a worthwhile pursuit to fill a room with such books, all four walls, floor to ceiling, like Andy Warhol’s Factory for the obsessively literary, a combination library / bar / installation where people could pull a random book off the shelves and browse, or just admire the room. A 100′ roll of mylar is only $53. Have you got a spare room and some amphetamines and nimble hands for folding, comrade?

it is time to go back to bed

merde!

merde! click on the pillow to get yourself one

I just discovered this morning that my food blog, which I’ve had since 2006, was deleted by the Gawker hackers. I’m hoping Google’s elves will be able to restore it but in the meantime I’d just like to go back to bed. Which I think would be an entirely appropriate gesture, both as a personal comfort and as a counter fuck-you of the non-confrontational variety. I have been meaning to write about this lately anyhow, but: refusing to get out of bed is severely under-rated as an act of dissent. It’s the ultimate No, it doesn’t hurt anyone or anything, and it’s way, way more fun than spending hours hunched over your keyboard.

famous bed-ins of history, Exhibit A

Famous bed-ins of history, Exhibit A.

I think the last time I had a proper bed-in was maybe around 1999, an inexcusably long time ago. It lasted three days — just a practice run, really, but nonetheless effective — and all provisions were delivered by Sunnie and Annie’s. I highly recommend that you have your own bed-in within the delivery range of a good full-service bodega, one with excellent sandwiches, cold Red Stripe, reliably fresh coffee, printer paper for your manifestos, and, if you are age 22 or so, your favorite cigarettes. Back in the olden days we also needed the print NYT sent over with our breakfast every morning, and I do think the contemporary bed-in is better off without it. The internet version will not leave smudges on your sheets and your bed-in will be more successful if you keep those reasonably clean. Crumbs can be brushed aside, damp spots will dry, ink remains grubby.

On a related note, I recently sent the ex-Mr. Lunar Camel Co. a Susie Bubble blog post about her vintage 30s pajamas. He’s a former designer and I knew he’d appreciate them. He did, and he informed me that the people of Shanghai are very advanced in this regard — that they are in fact so devoted to wearing fantastic pajamas that the government tries to stop them from doing so.

Susie Bubble's pjs

Apparently meant to be cocktail pajamas, but I heartily endorse them for commencing a bed-in.

Anything the Chinese government is against is worth at least considering, if not doing, right? Maybe. This topic will require further consideration in bed, while propped up on my best thinking pillows. There are various explanations as to why the Shanghainese people cannot, will not be separated from their pajamas — a blurring of boundaries between private and public spaces, a suitable climate — but one needn’t sort this all out before deciding to join them as a sympathizer.

red pjs, Shanghai circa 2005 or so

red pjs, Shanghai, captured by photographer Justin Guariglia (via The Year in Pictures)

blue pjs, Shanghai, also by Guariglia

blue pjs, Shanghai, with bonus fuck-you lady bag as man bag, also captured by Justin Guariglia (via National Geographic)

pjs with sneakers, Shanghai

yellow pjs, Shanghai (via a Boing Boing post about the crackdown); another benefit of having a bed-in is that you won’t need to wear trainers with your pajamas

If you’re going to be starting your bed-in tonight, you’ll want to have a light but nourishing meal first, perhaps just some food for your eyes and your mind. Trust me, there will be plenty of time later for elaborate Seamless Web meal-planning. Here, comrade, are some flux sausages to get you started:

flux sausages

flux sausages from the fluxshop (via I’m Revolting)

May your dreams be pleasantly, non-violently seditious.