jan 08

1/28/2008

LITERATURE THAT PAINTS A PICTURE

In the new issue of Modern Painters, Brian Dillon writes about the authors that are popular among artists. Naturally Beckett and Borges are named, but Ballard, Houellebecq, Calvino, Perac, Huysmans, Alasdair Grey, Robbes-Grille, W.G. Sebald, and “the Melville that wroteBartleby, the Scrivener” are quickly gaining recognition in art circles.

I wrote about Pompidou Centre Beckett exhibit last spring and noted how Ballard seems to inspire artists moreso than other writers. Dillion seems to argue that artists are using their literary influences like objects, less for their words than their ideas and concepts. “The reception of literature in the art world is partly a matter of adjectives: today any work that raises the topic of technology and catastrophe, for example, is automatically Ballardian.” But I’d argue that list includes a good part of the best writers of the last century.

Sebald, who Dillon says, “may in the coming decade have the same fate that Beckett had in the previous,” is equally respected among literary types, and every novel these days seems to owe something to Calvino, but the other authors he lists are unlikely to be found on your average creative writing student’s bookshelf.

Literary types chose their science-fiction gingerly (e.g. Modern Library’s P.K. Dick retrospective,) or else with a detached kitsch factor. The same goes for experimental works. If I were to quiz an artist and a contemporary author about the Dalkey Archive’s library, my money would be on it that the artist knows more titles.

Dillon points out that Lanark is on the self of nearly every Scottish artist. Is it on the shelf of nearly every Scottish author? I doubt it.

Ballard is not just popular among architects and artists, he is also hugely influential among musicians, from Ian Curtis to Madonna (2001’s “Drowned World” tour.) But, at least in this country, he’s considered more Boing Boing than Book World. This puzzles and disappoints me.

Clive Thompson’s new column, articulates this point far better than I could:

If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

 

From where I sit, traditional “literary fiction” has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting — well — bored.

Why? I think it’s because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I’d read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, “OK. Cool. I see how today’s world works.” I also started to feel like I’d been reading the same book over and over again.

Speculative fiction authors loved by the art community are too many to count. In several years, Flann O’Brien, Max Frisch, Ann Quinn, Boris Vian, Ingborg Bachmann, Unica Zurn, and Anna Kavan might grow to influence many artists … if not, unfortunately, other writers.

Posted by site admin at 2:13 pm |

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1/3/2008

ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL’S LOVELINE

 

I meant to post a few things this week, but then I got distracted by Gawker Media’s insanely fun new future-minded blog, IO9. Very much liked the post on Alexander Graham Bell’s great love

One of the little-known facts about the years leading up to Bell’s controversial patent is how distracted he was by an overwhelming crush on one of his female students, Mabel Hubbard.

Gardiner Hubbard, her telegraph magnate father, had hired the young inventor to teach his deaf daughter Mabel how to speak. Bell was known at the time for pioneering a new method for teaching the deaf to enunciate. In fact, it was Bell’s early interest in teaching speech that led him into the telephone field.

Bell became so distracted by his love for Mabel that he could barely work. Finally, he told Mabel’s parents he would confess his love to their daughter no matter what they had to say about it. This was pretty bold, especially for the era – and considering that Hubbard was also funding Bell’s work on the telephone. Mabel, for her part, was independent-minded, and took Bell’s ardor in stride. She suggested they get to know each other better before making any decisions. After their marriage, both agitated for female suffrage.

The weirdest part of all this was that Papa Hubbard may have inadvertently inspired the lusty Bell to cheat on his patent applications. He threatened Bell that he would refuse to let him marry his daughter unless he applied himself to inventing the telephone.

One commenter adds, “I remember reading that when Bell was courting Mabel, and they were walking along the street in the evening, family and friends noticed how they would hurry through the dark stretches – then slow down near the streetlights, because that was where she could read his lips. I always found that pretty romantic.”

Says another comment, ” I read somewhere (it may or may not be true) that they were both willing to discuss at length how the telephone might eventually be be used to initiate contact with the dead.”

So, yeah, IO9 isn’t just awesome, the people that read it and comment on it are great too. And for a good time, click their “space porn” tag.

Posted by site admin at 5:58 pm |

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THIS HOT HOUSE IS NOT A HOME

Clive Thompson, whose Wired column is always the first thing I flip to in the magazine, explains “solastalgia,” a term coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe the “homesickness one gets when one is still at home.’” And what explains the rising number of solastagics in Oz? Global warming, of course. As a country (/continent) deeply in touch with nature, Australians feel deeply pained as they watch their landscape change. Plants that always grew in their gardens, no longer grow. The coral reef is dying, and familiar birds never come back. People feel displaced although they never left home. “They no longer feel like they know the place they’ve lived for decades,” Albrecht says.

Thompson’s observation is succinct and insightful:

It’s also a fascinating new way to think about the impact of global warming. Everyone’s worrying about resource management and the spooky, unpredictable changes in the ecosystem. We fret over which areas will get flooded as sea levels rise. We estimate the odds of wars over clean water, and we tally up the species — polar bears, whales, wading birds — that’ll go extinct.
But we should also be concerned about the huge toll climate change will inflict on our mental health. In the modern, industrialized West, many of us have forgotten how deeply we rely on the stability of nature for our psychic well-being. In a world of cheap airfares, laptops, and the Internet, we proudly regard mobility as a sign of how advanced we are. Hey, we’re nomadic hipster capitalists! We love change. Only losers get attached to their hometowns.
This is a neat mythos, but in truth it’s a pretty natural human urge to identify with a place and build one’s sense of self around its comforts and permanence. I live in Manhattan, where the globe-hopping denizens tend to go berserk if their favorite coffee shop closes down. How will they react in 20 or 30 years if the native trees can’t handle the 5-degree spike in average temperature? Or if weird new bugs infest the city in summer, fall shrinks to a single month, and snow becomes a distant memory? “We like to think that we’re cool, 21st-century people, but the basic sense of a connection to the land is still big,” Albrecht says. “We haven’t evolved that much.

Posted by site admin at 5:11 pm |

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