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robertogreco : samanderson   6

New Sentences: From ‘Lower Ed,’ by Tressie McMillan Cottom - The New York Times
"We are a nation obsessed, from our founding documents on, with radical individualism. Our revolutionary forefathers, we are taught, heroically untethered us from the weight of collective history, and so we imagine ourselves as exceptions — totally unlike, say, Italians or Brazilians or Indians, who are pushed and pulled by historical tides from which we are magically exempt."
tressiemcmillancottom  samanderson  2017  exceptionalism  individualism  collectivism  history 
september 2017 by robertogreco
The Unselfie - The New York Times
"What do you look like?

You are the world’s leading authority on the subject. You have studied your face for many years, with life-or-death intensity, in almost every mirror and tinted car window and unrippled pond you have ever passed. You are the Sir Isaac Newton of your own face: the one true discoverer of its laws of motion, its particular gravity.

You are also, simultaneously, the very least qualified person in the world to know what you look like. You have no idea. You have never actually seen your face — not truly, from the outside, the way other people see it. This is because of a nonnegotiable quirk of the human anatomy: You have to use your own face to look at your face. You are both observer and observed.

Selfies make us unhappy (those of us who disdain them) not for the reasons we say they do — the primping, the vanity, the narcissism — but because they isolate this basic discomfort at the center of human life. They flog us with the lumpy, rock-solid knot of subject versus object. Whether or not we ever decide to show our selfies to the world, we all take these images mentally, simply by existing. We present ourselves, and we think about that self-presentation. Even a hermit presents himself in his hermitude.

When he joined Instagram in 2013, the photographer Alec Soth felt the urge to post a selfie. Instead, he started posting a series of photos he labeled ‘‘unselfies.’’ These were selfies in which his face was obscured — by snow, mist, motion, a glass of water. In his unselfies, Soth balances right on the mirrored edge of the selfie paradox. He gives in to the urge as he undermines it. The unselfie documents and annihilates. What we most want to see, what the traditional selfie most wants to show, is absent — and so we are forced to look even harder. SAM ANDERSON"
alecsoth  samanderson  2015  photography  selfies 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Edmund de Waal and the Strange Alchemy of Porcelain - The New York Times
"The sculptor and writer wants us to rediscover our sense of touch by working with our hands."



"Within a few minutes of my meeting Edmund de Waal, he was putting things in my hands. He handed me, for instance, a 1,000-year-old Chinese porcelain plate — the kind of object you would expect to see in a climate-controlled glass case in a museum, protected, at great expense, from clumsy, meaty, oily, inexpert hands like mine. De Waal just passed it to me as if it were nothing. To understand an object, he believes, you have to touch it.

In my fingers, the plate felt both fragile and indestructible. It was older than printed books, older than every traceable generation of my family. I could have snapped it in half or thrown it on the floor. Instead, I just stood there, probing its edges with my finger pads, weighing it in my palms, tracing the precise volume of space that it was displacing in the world. If all went well, this delicate thing would outlive us all by many more generations. My fingers felt this as they felt the plate. I was touching not only space but time.

De Waal kept handing me objects: perfect things, ruined things, priceless things, worthless things. We were standing in the room where he writes, in his studio in London, and he was pulling these specimens off a shelf near his desk. He is 51 and very tall, with short slate-gray hair and round glasses that rest on large, protrusive ears: ears that are somehow childish, ears to be grown into. He has unusually big hands, too; all the objects looked relaxed and at home in them, like young birds in the grasp of an animal handler. He passed me an imperial stem cup, many hundreds of years old, the rim of which seemed to be wilting. ‘‘It’s collapsed in on itself,’’ he said, ‘‘but look at the fineness of it.’’

He handed me a rough lump of Cherokee clay: a clod of petrified dirt, a meatball from outer space. He handed me shard after shard after shard of ancient porcelain dishes. He seemed delighted by all the ruination. ‘‘Part of the DNA of porcelain is getting messed up,’’ he said. One of the shards was a big, chunky encrustation that looked like a particularly ugly seashell. It was, de Waal said, an odd overlapping of worlds: porcelain that had been cooked too hot, so that its delicate white layers had fused, permanently, with their rough outer molds; perfection and failure welded together into something more interesting than either on its own.

De Waal is himself multiple things fused together, an odd overlapping of worlds. He is, first of all, one of the most celebrated living potters. His stark white porcelain vessels, painstakingly arranged in groups on shelves, can be found in private collections throughout Europe and North America, as well as in the permanent collections of such august institutions as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He is also one of the most adventurous nonfiction writers at work today. His 2010 book, ‘‘The Hare With Amber Eyes,’’ was a surprise best seller and is now being turned into a film. It is a memoir told through objects: a collection of 264 small Japanese carvings called netsuke, whimsical and intricate depictions, in ivory or wood, of hungry wolves or ripe fruit or sleeping servants or couples making love. Netsuke are roughly the size of a walnut shell. They are designed to be handled: carried in pockets, compulsively tumbled around in your fingers.

In the book, de Waal traces the history of these intricate little sculptures, which he inherited from his great-uncle Iggie, from 18th-century Japan to 19th-century Paris to Holocaust-era Vienna, where they were hidden in a mattress by the family’s maid to protect them from the Nazis. Through meticulous research, he tried to resurrect all of the many hands that have tumbled them over the centuries. The tiny netsuke become great repositories of human experience; they contain generations of Jewish aspiration, delusion, exile and loss."



"In 2009, the museum invited de Waal to contribute a major piece to its collection. He grew up visiting the museum, so he knew its porcelain collection well. He knew its loneliness, its isolation. He came up with an ingenious solution. De Waal designed a huge red aluminum ring, 120 feet in diameter, to nest inside the museum’s dome. The red ring is actually an elegant circular shelf: inside of it, all the way around, are pieces of porcelain by de Waal, large and extremely white, inspired by the museum’s collection. There are 425 of them, flashing against the red like teeth in a violent mouth. When visitors enter the museum, on their way to the better-known galleries closer to the street, their eyes are almost inevitably drawn up to this colorful ring hanging, very distantly, over the grand lobby. It’s like the hint of a scandal up in the attic, a sudden reason to make that long trip.

‘‘The White Road,’’ de Waal’s new book, performs an analogous trick. It rescues porcelain from the cultural attic — makes the subject feel vital, modern, interactive. In the book, de Waal refers to ‘‘Moby-Dick’’ several times (the whiteness of the whale, etc.), and he writes about porcelain as Melville writes about cetaceans: as one of the central elements of the universe. Porcelain is not just porcelain, it’s the essence of displacement. Touch a piece of it, and you travel through time, place, states of being, from ancient Chinese peasants harvesting clay to German alchemists suffocating in castle basements to emperors bankrupting their kingdoms in order to feed their collections. ‘‘Porzellankrankheit,’’ Germans called it — ‘‘porcelain sickness.’’ It is a delicate subject with a feverish history.

De Waal has his own special case of porcelain sickness, of course, and in ‘‘The White Road,’’ he follows it around the world. He visits primordial white hills in China, France, Germany and England. For 500 years, de Waal writes, the West had no idea how porcelain was made: People speculated that it was the crushed-up umbilical cords of fish that had been buried underground for decades. In fact, it is only clay. But it is clay of a very special kind: an extremely smooth combination of two minerals, petunse and kaolin, mined separately and mixed together in exactly the right proportions. When fired at extremely high temperatures, porcelain clay fuses into a kind of glass, hard and white but still slightly translucent. It is this paradoxical combination of qualities — hardness, softness, solidity, translucence — that has made people throughout history go so bananas.

‘‘The White Road’’ is a book of excess. It goes too far. It gets lost. It repeats itself. De Waal takes us all over the world, all over history: Jesuit priests, Spinoza, Constantinople, manhunts, self-immolation, Hitler, Cherokees, Quakers, modern Chinese street vendors selling ‘‘sixteenth-century porcelains from last week.’’ His prose style is like his pot style: He gets drunk on simplicity, on repetition. ‘‘The car turns off the new highway on to the old road and off the old road on to the old track rising between two farmers’ houses.’’ It could have been an easier book, more linear and contained. But then ‘‘Moby-Dick’’ could have been easier, too. One of de Waal’s core beliefs is that messes are interesting. There’s so much to feel inside of them."



"De Waal is an evangelist of touch. As he wrote in ‘‘The Hare With Amber Eyes’’: ‘‘Touch tells you what you need to know: it tells you about yourself.’’ As he writes in ‘‘The White Road’’: ‘‘Thinking is through the hands as well as the head.’’ Hands are the great universal human fact. Our opposable thumbs are the tools that helped launch us out of the forests and into the world we know now. Some of the earliest art is simply handprints on cave walls — a high-five across 30,000 years. Even in our postmodern, postindustrial, increasingly virtual digital world, we depend on our fingertips to decode for us, instantly, the crucial outlines of our environment: whether an object is hot or cold, whether it’s something to drink or peel or squeeze, something your teeth will be able to penetrate, a volume button or a power switch. We are still affectionate animals who greet each other with hands: handshakes, fist bumps, high-fives, hugs.

De Waal’s hands are rapturously attentive to the weight, grain, proportions and personalities of objects. For years, he says, he could remember every single pot he ever touched. In the same way that Bobby Fischer could run into someone at a tournament and say, about a game they had played 15 years earlier, ‘‘You should have moved your bishop to e7,’’ de Waal can recall exactly the way a particular vase swelled or tapered toward its rim, or if the heft of a teakettle was particularly well-balanced. Recently, he says, his memory has filled up, and old pots have started to drop out of it.

De Waal worries that modern humans are beginning to lose our fluency in touch. He thinks that we live in a world impoverished by a lack of attention to tactility. Our culture has a deeply embedded shame of the body, shame of skin, shame of ‘‘mere’’ sensation — a desire to transcend the animal coarseness of nerves, hair, blood flow. To live in clean, noble abstractions: things that we think will last. All of our digital technology, all of these portable virtual worlds, only make it easier to live in touchlessness. If you put on virtual-reality goggles, there will be plenty to look at and pretend to touch, but nothing to actually feel. But touch, de Waal insists, is fundamental to the human experience. If we can’t fully inhabit and value the world of touchable objects, de Waal told me, then we can’t fully value other human beings.

Despite our culture’s squeamishness, there is no escape from touch, and there is no escape from time, and these two facts are intimately related. All of the hands that exist … [more]
edmunddewaal  samanderson  senses  porcelain  touch  touchlessness  messes  messiness  netsuke  objects  worrybeads  fidgettools  anti-anxietydevices 
november 2015 by robertogreco
David Foster Wallace's Unfinished Novel - and Life - NYTimes.com
[Quoted here, but never bookmarked. Thanks, Nicole, for resurfacing.
http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/6839277872/unfinished-brian-eno-and-konrad-glogowski ]

"Fortunately, one of the human brain’s many tricks is that it automatically finishes unfinished things. This is remedial psychology — Sensation-Perception 101. If we see part of a circle, our mind closes it. If we see part of a word, our mind fills in the mssng lttrs.

Something analogous happens, I think, with unfinished novels: we always end up finishing them with something. We fill in the blanks, unconsciously, with what is closest at hand: the gestalt, the legend, the vibe, the tone, the aesthetic of the author in question. This is, after all, part of what a great author does: he trains us not just to receive his vision but also to extend it — to read the world (its landscapes, people, events, texts) in the peculiar way that he would have read them. He infuses the world, almost like a religion. (After a few Dickens novels, everything starts to look Dickensian.) So it makes sense that we would carry that vision through to an author’s own last work.

This explains an uncanny aspect of unfinished novels: the way their real-life back stories usually seem like something the authors themselves might have written. Max Brod’s famous nonburning of Kafka’s unpublished writing, for example, only reinforces one lesson of the unincinerated work: that the suffering individual is no match for the big bullying system of the world. Similarly, Nabokov’s “Original of Laura” (the blockbuster unfinished novel of 2009) played out like something out of “Pale Fire”: a mysterious manuscript written on index cards, squirreled away from the public for decades, then released with an elaborate apparatus that makes you wonder, slightly, if the editors were actually crazy. The publication of Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” (the blockbuster posthumous novel of 2008) mimicked a Bolaño story: porous and unresolved, with the tantalizing possibility that there’s still more of it secretly out there somewhere, getting ready to leap out at us and unsettle everything. It’s as if an author’s unfinished work is his last and best (or the least improvable) fiction."



"These complications are further complicated by the fact that it’s hard to even talk about how “unfinished” “The Pale King” is. The book is a collation of material that was left in Wallace’s office at the time of his death — 12 polished chapters stacked neatly on his desk, the remaining hundreds of pages scattered through notes and files and disks in various stages of revision. All of which is yet further complicated by the fact that, in his finished work, Wallace always used incompleteness, very consciously, as a narrative tool. (“Infinite Jest” ends nowhere, with a million big questions unresolved.) A truly unfinished Wallace novel, then, is exponentially hard to chart — it’s as if Picasso had accidentally tipped a bucket of blue paint over the corner of one of his blue-period paintings. How do we distinguish between intentional and unintentional blue? What does unfinished unfinishedness look like?"
davidfosterwallace  2011  samanderson  unfinished  thepaleking  cocreation  writing  death  incomplete  unknowing  notknowing  posthumous  novels  books  publishing  vladimirnabokov 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Why Basketball Won’t Leave Phil Jackson Alone - NYTimes.com
"Jackson’s life is organized around stark polarities. On one hand, he preaches a Zen acceptance of reality as it is. On the other, he is a man with very strong ideas about the way things should be — or as his opponents have often put it, he can be a bit of a whiner. (Non-Lakers fans will detect a certain radioactive irony in Jackson’s frequent complaints about referees.) As a player, Jackson was an unglamorous nonstar, and the triangle is designed to help that kind of role player flourish. And yet he’s never won an N.B.A. championship without superstars. His two homes, Montana and L.A., are complete opposites: anti-ego Buddhist reclusion versus the fame-drenched ego-circus of what is arguably the most scrutinized franchise in sports. He likes to portray himself as an anti-establishment loner, and yet he’s become deeply entangled in the Lakers organization, in part because of his relationship with Jeanie Buss and in part because the team has not been able to establish an identity since Jackson left; it seems as if every plot twist in the franchise’s ongoing soap opera somehow involves him. In his books, Jackson’s declarations of egolessness sometimes emanate strong whiffs of ego: “In that split-second all the pieces came together,” he writes in “Sacred Hoops,” “and my role as leader was just as it should be: invisible.” If this is invisibility, it is a highly visible form of it. These paradoxes — Jackson’s apparent ability to sit, happily, at opposite poles at the same time — are what make him one of the most mesmerizing personalities in sports.

Of the many plays that Phil Jackson diagramed for me, the one I couldn’t stop thinking about was something called the Drake Shuffle. The scheme was invented in the 1950s by a coach in Oklahoma, to be used by teams that lack a dominant scoring threat — no Wilt Chamberlain or Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan to dump the ball to and get out of the way. Jackson described it to me as a “continuous offensive system,” which means that — unlike many plays, which have a definite endpoint or morph into something else when they get too much pressure — the Drake Shuffle never stops. You could run it, theoretically, forever. All five players move in coordinated motion, taking turns with and without the ball, until they’ve exhausted an elaborate cycle of screens and cuts and passes — at which point the play doesn’t end but starts all over again, with each participant now playing a different role within the same cycle. Everyone on the floor keeps moving, probing, trading off.

The Drake Shuffle sits at the center of a particularly Jacksonian nexus of ideas. It’s a scale-model democracy, a metaphor for the life cycle, a parable of the Buddhist idea of rebirth, one of the Lakota Sioux’s sacred hoops. Jackson’s career itself, with its endings and renewals, its retirements and unretirements, seems like a kind of existential Drake Shuffle, played out over 45 years. He’s gone from player to coach to retiree to whatever it is he’s doing now: cooking, writing, gardening, hiding, self-promoting, advising weary pilgrims from his sacred mountaintop, tantalizing struggling teams, driving endless Internet rumors. He’s in, he’s out, he has the ball, he doesn’t have the ball, he’s moving, he’s moving, he’s moving."

[via: http://randallszott.org/2013/05/24/john-cage-as-a-basketball-coach-phil-jacksons-artistry/ ]
[see also (sketches): http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/the-rembrandt-of-basketball/ ]
sports  basketball  movement  philjackson  2013  visibility  invisibility  flow  drakeshuffle  coaching  cv  offense  continuity  continuous  buddhism  samanderson  drawings  diagrams  flagfootball 
may 2013 by robertogreco
Sam Anderson on When the Meganovel Shrank - The 00's Issue -- New York Magazine
"What new species of books, then, have proved themselves fit to survive in the attentional ecosystem of the aughts? What kind of novel, if any, can appeal to readers who read with 34 nested browser tabs open simultaneously on their frontal lobes? And, for that matter, what kind of novel gets written by novelists who spend increasing chunks of their own time reading words off screens?"
2000s  bestof  literature  writing  media  books  culture  fiction  newmedia  reading  attention  technology  robertobolaño  googlebooks  samanderson  davidmitchell  michaelchabon  davidfosterwallace  infinitejest  postmodernism  daveeggers  junotdíaz  toread  00s 
december 2009 by robertogreco

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