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« October 14, 2007 - October 20, 2007 |
| October 28, 2007 - November 3, 2007 »
October 26, 2007
New York readers of Brainiac, I hope you will attend a party to celebrate the publication of "Taking Things Seriously," a book of photos and essays about "ordinary objects with extraordinary significance" that I co-edited with Brooklyn-based designer Carol Hayes.
WHEN: Friday, November 2, from 8 p.m. to midnight.
WHERE: HQ of the journal n+1, 195 Chrystie St. #200, in Manhattan near Chinatown
Click here to see the official invite
PS: I've been trying to not to self-promote too much via Brainiac. But I just have to share these recent reviews of "Taking Things Seriously."
* On October 17, the Boston Globe reviewed the book. Excerpt:
As the old sayings go, art is in the eye of the beholder and one person's junk is another person's treasure. "Taking Things Seriously" is a fun, off-center collection of objects and stories that will have you looking at the objects around you with fresh eyes and strange questions, like "Would Christopher Walken autograph my burned bagel?" or "Is it a good thing to get military ordnance for your birthday?"
Reviewer Chuck Leddy's use of the words "offbeat," "bizarre," "quirkiness," "bizarre" (again), and "off-center" indicates that he wouldn't want most of the contributors' objects in his own home. But he still praises the book! So: Many thanks, indeed.
* "Taking Things Seriously" made "The Must List" in the October 26 issue of Entertainment Weekly, where it rubs elbows with the likes of "The Abstinence Teacher," "Survivor: China," "Desperate Housewives" newbie Dana Delany, and the David Lee Roth/Van Halen reunion. Excerpt: "Proving one man's trash is another's treasure, this collection of photos and essays shows how the unlikeliest things can provide inspiration."
Click here to view the EW page. Then use the arrow key to scroll down to no. 9.
* Wow, Entertainment Weekly and Inside Higher Ed, two of my favorite periodicals, in the same week? It's too much. On October 24, IHE's "Intellectual Affairs" columnist Scott McLemee published a Q&A with yours truly about "Taking Things Seriously." Excerpt:
Q: My left shoe and the coffee table it is beneath are both undoubtedly objects, but neither has much of an aura of meaning or mystery. I value them. They are useful. Their absence would get my attention. But it probably wouldn't be possible to write an essay about either one that would belong in your gallery. So what’s the difference between any old object and "things," in your book?
A: I, too, value my left shoe and my coffee table! But I haven't invested them with mental or emotional energy, with complex ideas or strong feelings. Contrariwise, these particular possessions of mine aren't "notional," in the Victorian sense of the term: they don't demand my attention, they don't fascinate me.
It might be tempting to argue that such commonplace items a priori cannot be "objects with unexpected significance," to quote the book's subtitle. But to do so would be a mistake. (After all, Heidegger found Van Gogh's shoes endlessly evocative; and one of the significant objects in Taking Things Seriously is a coffee table of sorts rescued by Ingrid Schorr from a dead neighbor's apartment.)
My interest in someone's extraordinary object -- a grandfather's bayonet, a beloved pet's cremains, a GI Joe whose kung-fu grip still works -- is merely polite. What I find so charming about other people's totems, fetishes, fossils, and talismans is precisely this: Somehow, a perfectly ordinary object has taken on extraordinary significance. How? Why? I never get tired of hearing the answer.
PS: If you want to see me get raked over the coals by IHE readers who seem to know a lot more than I do about material culture studies and philosophy, read the comments appended to the IHE interview.
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 10:22 AM
October 23, 2007
You've undoubtedly already heard the news -- on Friday, October 19, "Hary Potter" author J.K. Rowling outed Albus Dumbledore, the kindly and wise headmaster of Hogwarts. Potter readers had speculated about Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past... but now it is official. Dumbledore is gay.
Or is he?
Columbia Law professor Michael Dorf uses this bombshell to explain "originalism" in Constitutional interpretation. His essay, "Harry Potter and the Framer's Intent" asks: Does J.K. Rowling's intent to make Dumbledore a gay character without ever mentioning it in the text in fact mean that the character is, in fact, gay? An Originalist, like Justices Scalia and Thomas, who believe that the Constitution should mean what its writers intended it to mean, would say yes.
Not an Originalist? Then you can go ahead and argue -- as Salon's Rebecca Traister seems to do, when she writes, "In [Rowling's] desire to control and describe [the Potter universe], she's turning a modern assumption about what authorship means inside out" -- that no one, not even the author herself, can insert new meaning into an old text.
I'll stay out of this complicated philosophical argument. While we wait for it to be decided, here's another stumper for you: How should originalist "Harry Potter" fans cope with this news? My answer: Celebrate, of course... by sporting an awesome t-shirt!
Available at DumbledorePride.com.
UPDATE: Bush Seeks to Ban Marriage Between Fictitious Gay Characters.
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 09:35 AM
October 23, 2007
to Boston's City Hall.
Sent in by reader Mike S., who writes: "You should get your army of loyal Brainiac readers to flood the streets with these, all that's required is a Phillips-head screwdriver!"
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 08:52 AM
October 23, 2007
to Logan Airport.
I noticed it on the website of Make magazine a couple of days ago. (We Bostonians sit up and take notice whenever a circuit board, LEDs, and a 9-volt battery are anywhere near one another.) The device's maker, "smariotti," explains:
Pumpkin Light uses two high-output 5mm white LEDs, a nine volt battery, a ATtiny13v and a handful of parts to create a flasher that you can put inside a pumpkin or other light-up decoration.
Or you can create a hoax device!
It's up to you. It all depends on whether someone suspects it might be a hoax device.
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 08:34 AM
October 23, 2007
The inspired cartoonist and cultural archaeologist Craig Yoe announced today that he will post "one of a skadillion versions of the Batman Theme" to his blog, Arflovers, every Tuesday from now on.
Click here for the over-the-top first installment, by Davie Allen and the Arrows.
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 08:24 AM
October 22, 2007
This is "Islamofascism Awareness Week," a university and college campus awareness-raising campaign launched by professional anti-liberal David Horowitz and his allies. One response to Islamofascism Awareness Week, on the part of liberal intellectuals and others, has been to question the validity of the term "Islamofascism."
"Islamofascism" is, of course, nearly indistinguishable from the phrase "Islamic fascism," or "fascism with an Islamic face," which were promoted after 9/11 by journalists like Stephen Schwartz (a neoconservative) and Christopher Hitchens (a liberal critical of what currently passes for liberalism, which might sound like a neoconservative but isn't quite the same thing). Like fascists in the past century, according to Hitchens, et al., Islamist terrorists draw inspiration from what they believe to be an earlier golden age; they are outraged by what they regarded as their historical humiliation; they blame the Jews for this humiliation; and they want to use force to establish a new golden age marked by an all-encompassing (totalitarian) social, political, and economic system.
Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation in 2006, claimed that "Islamofascism" is a lousy historical analogy:
Italian Fascism, German Nazism and other European fascist movements of the 1920s and '30s were nationalist and secular, closely allied with international capital and aimed at creating powerful, up-to-date, all-encompassing states. Some of the trappings might have been anti-modernist -- Mussolini looked back to ancient Rome, the Nazis were fascinated by Nordic mythology and other Wagnerian folderol -- but the basic thrust was modern, bureaucratic and rational. You wouldn't find a fascist leader consulting the Bible to figure out how to organize the banking system or the penal code or the women's fashion industry. Even its anti-Semitism was "scientific": The problem was the Jews' genetic inferiority and otherness, which countless biologists, anthropologists and medical researchers were called upon to prove -- not that the Jews killed Christ and refused to accept the true faith.
But Hitchens, writing in Slate today, defends the term Islamofascism, which he claims was coined in 1990 in Britain's Independent newspaper by Scottish writer Malise Ruthven. "Does Bin Ladenism or Salafism or whatever we agree to call it have anything in common with fascism?" demands Hitchens. "I think yes."
Writing at Inside Higher Ed last week, Scott McLemee turned the tables on Horowitz and the other organizers of Islamofascism Awareness Week, whom he calls Islamophobes. Parodying their breathless warnings about Islamofascists, he wrote:
Unfortunately a handful of troublemakers thrive among [the Islamophobes], parasitically. They spew out hatred through Web sites. They seek to silence their critics, and to recruit impressionable young people. Perhaps it is unfair to confuse matters through calling the moderates and the militants by the same name. It would be more fitting to say that the latter are really Islamophobofascists. Some might find the expression offensive. That is too bad. If we don't resist Islamophobofascism now, its intolerance can only spread.
Doing his part, McLemee declared last week Islamophobistfascist Awareness Week.
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 12:28 PM
October 22, 2007
"What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book -- a key part of our planet's cultural legacy." Such a library ought to be online; it ought to be "grandly comprehensive"; and it ought to be "a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data."
So wrote Aaron Swartz, this past July, on the website of the Open Library project.
Swartz, a self-described activist, writer, and hacker who lives in Cambridge, was mentioned by the Globe last year in an article on local Wikipedians. Before that, at age 14, he was a co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification (RSS makes it possible to syndicate blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts); and in 2005, he co-founded the social news ranking website Reddit.com now owned by Conde Nast; he was 18 at the time.
The Open Library is off to a promising start already. Earlier this year, Swartz and others
located a copy of the Library of Congress card catalog, phoned publishers and asked them for their data, created a brand new database infrastructure for handling millions of dynamic records, wrote a new type of wiki that lets users enter structured data, set up a search engine to look through it all, and made the resulting site look good.
Now, they've opened up the demo website, the source code, and the mailing lists. Like Jane Horrock's supermarket manager-turned-British prime minister (in the Masterpiece Theatre miniseries "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard," which I watched last night whenever the Red Sox were making me nervous), the Open Library team is including the public in the decision-making process.
Want to get involved? Swartz will be speaking about the Open Library, at the Berkman Center in Cambridge, tomorrow at 12:30 pm. RSVP is required by noon today.
Via Joho the Blog
Posted by Joshua Glenn at 10:02 AM