Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Live-blogging from DNC 2008!

It's been an amazing couple of days here in Denver! There have been many, many lights and colors and people saying things into a microphone on a big stage almost all the time! And then a bunch of other people write about what those people on the stage said. And then some other people write about what the other people wrote about....It's all so crazy and pithy! Everything is fun and fluffy and funny, like in elementary school!

Anyway, that was a lot of words. People here seem to like looking at things more than thinking about things, so here is some footage of the convention from tonight!

Bonus! I got to sneak into the super-special Republican "war room" they have set up here--"No Democrats Allowed!" See? It's just like being a little kid again! Here's a picture I snapped:

(Portishead video via clusterflock. George Grosz's "Eclipse of the Sun" from here. War room tip via clusterflock.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

the singer not the song

The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently posited that "on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed." Why that particular date? Mr. Brooks tells us, "That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone." The iPhone, he goes on to explain, puts the medium in front of the message: content doesn't matter any more. How you get that content is much more important: the Kindle is more revolutionary than any book that might be read on it, Ptichfork more cutting-edge than any actual music found on it, the mobile device flashier than any substantive use of it. The focus on technology, Mr. Brooks suggests, shifts the cultural hierarchy from connoisseurship to "one-upsmanship." This anxiety about the media shaping the message to deleterious effect is nothing new, but it's still hard not to feel that, somewhere, somehow, Mr. Brooks has a valid point.The focus on technological frameworks does seem to overwhelm any potentially interesting content; even the most interesting content on the internet tends to bend back to the technology itself. Ahem.

Rob Walker offers a slightly less excited appraisal of the column:
I’m thinking (hoping?) that what Brooks is talking about isn’t a tectonic shift, but a phase. I think we’re having a little trouble sometimes figuring out the relationship between technology and culture — which shapes which, and how. But at some point the focus will shift from “imagine the potential” to “here is the new cultural expression that has emerged that is exciting on its own, because of its message, not because of the medium.”

This eventual sorting out of the problem and settling back into a focus on content seems inevitable. But, as was the case with hipsters, history seems to suggest that this confusion has almost always occurred. The publication of Addison and Steele's first issue of The Spectator could just as easily be marked as the date that "human character changed."* Of course, in that case, the focus wasn't on the technology per se. Still, it undoubtedly "revealed" just as much "about mankind’s narcissistic tendencies and the vital importance of human connection" as the iPhone did.

*In fact, it has, according to Wikipedia: "Jurgen Habermas sees The Spectator as instrumental in the 'structural transformation of the public sphere' which England saw in the eighteenth century."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon."

The Orwell Prize is presenting George Orwell's diaries from August, 1938 as a blog. The title of this post is taken from his entry for August 10, 1938; as a blog post it's garnered 39 comments.

Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th-century London diarist who witnessed the fire of 1666 and invented Peeps marshmallow treats as a way to humorously explain the pronunciation of his name*, has been digitally resurrected in a similar fashion. On august 11, 1665, he was thinking about "wind" and his dietary habits:
so long as I keepe myself in company at meals and do there eat lustily (which I cannot do alone, having no love to eating, but my mind runs upon my business), I am as well as can be, but when I come to be alone, I do not eat in time, nor enough, nor with any good heart, and I immediately begin to be full of wind, which brings my pain, till I come to fill my belly a-days again, then am presently well.

Would Pepys have kept a blog had he been born in another time? Would Orwell have kept one? It's equally impossible to infer an author's intent or answer time-traveling hypothetical questions, so it might be more fruitful to ask what, if anything, changes, in the translation from one format to another. Though they weren't meant for publication, the diaries nonetheless make for interesting reading. This is partly a property of the writing itself: it's engaging. But it is also a property of the history and culture that has surrounded the figures behind the diaries. Blogs don't necessarily possess either property. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two forms is the relation of direct experience as opposed to an endless reference to other parts of culture. Experience is always at the forefront of these diaries; culture stands a distance back. Which is all to say that what matters most is content, not the format--a concept so rarely embraced on the internet that it takes some time to recognize it when encountered.

*This is not true. Pepys did witness the fire, but Peeps were invented by Robert Oppenheimer as a way to atone for his guilt about having helped to create the atom bomb**.

**This is also not true.

Update: The New York Times has weighed in on this same topic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

death of philosophy

Philosophers, despite everything, die too. Some of them have done so in spectacularly odd ways. Simon Critchley, a British philosopher and failed activist, punk musician and poet, has collected some of the more outlandish tales of philospher's meeting their end (an end that doesn't necessarily mean a cessation of consciousness, according to AJ Ayer--number 9 on the list). The Guardian has Critchley's top ten posted on their website. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) comes in at number six (pardon the British punctuation):
During a particularly cold winter, Bacon was travelling with a Scottish physician and fell upon the idea that flesh might as well be preserved in snow as in salt. They got out of the carriage at the foot of Highgate Hill and bought a hen from a poor woman who lived there. Bacon then stuffed the hen with snow and was immediately taken ill with a chill. Unable to return home, he was put to bed at the Earl of Arundel's house in Highgate. Sadly, the bed was so damp that his condition worsened and, according to Hobbes, "in 2 or 3 days, he dyed of Suffocation".

(via The New Yorker's Book Bench)