What I Read This Week - 6th May

Sort of a weird week. But plenty of good stuff to read. - Anatomy of a Dissection (Miranda Trimmer at The New Inquiry)

The squid was unsurprisingly strange: all tentacles and ooze and sets of sharp hidden teeth. But the dissection was strange, too. The longer I dissected, the less clear my agenda seemed to be. I poked around in the squid with a flagging sense of purpose and the nagging feeling that I was missing something important.

I read this and I thought almost immediately and effortlessly of the book that I'm working on. There was a point early on in the week where I had the sense that I'd pretty thoroughly dissected something, but I no longer remembered what the animal had been before I had taken it apart, why I was deconstructing and painstakingly examining it, or what I was meant to do with either the knowledge I'd gained or the remains. The trouble comes with thinking too much about something (like saying a word over and over again until it stops making sense, I guess); but of course, it's hard to write anything unless you think a lot about it. Suspended between vacuity and the vertigo of too much is a tightrope that's very hard to walk.

- The Art of Fiction No. 21 - Ernest Hemingway (The Paris Review)


How much rewriting do you do?


It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.


Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?


Getting the words right.

- Science fiction no more: The perfect city is under construction (Will Doig at Salon)

Cities are more than the sum of their parts because it’s not their parts that make them great. It’s the thing in between those parts — if you live in a city, you know what I’m talking about. “Cities built from scratch have generally failed because they don’t become cities that people evolve through,” says Shepard. “Quite often, it’s the productive friction these places produce that make them dynamic.”

- The Mutability of Truth: An Interview with Patrick Flanery (Malcolm Forbes at the Millions)

To “reflect” a country’s social or political situation suggests that there is one coherent narrative of what that situation might be, and also that it is the job of fiction to be “reflective.” Absolution tries to destabilize such ideas, to argue that there are many simultaneous, competing narratives, not only about traumatic events of the past, but also about the way in which the everyday life of a country unfolds.

- The Current Rage In Branding: Fake Authenticity Is Now A-Okay (Michael Raisanen at Fast Company)

The common denominator in this trend seems to be a yearning for the “authentic.” Interestingly, things don’t need to actually be authentic as long as they feel authentic. In fact, they can be completely fake. In fact, they can be completely fake. Take Hipstamatic or Instagram, apps that let you simulate the look and feel of different types of old film photographs right in your iPhone, transforming your life as seen through Twitter and Facebook into a French new wave cinema storyboard. People have the ability to edit and broadcast their lives, and a lot of them are choosing to do so through an idealized analog retro filter in which they candidly appear as if they weren’t aware of being watched.

Perhaps a postmodernist would call this inauthentic authenticity.

But is inauthentic authenticity more than a mere nostalgic trend? A cycle in the speeding pendulum that swings between the futuristic sportswear made of high-tech fabric and the retrospective L.L. Bean limited-edition wood-and-canvas canoe? Or is there something real in the zeitgeist: Are people reacting to an overproduced reality in which Hollywood fake is held up as an ideal? I think it is too early to tell.

Interesting that this has become an aesthetic (related to - but bigger than, or also distinct from, the faux-vintage aesthetic). I think in some ways it's a very political idea. I immediately thought of something I read as an undergraduate, in a book called Thinking Points by George Lakoff. Lakoff uses President Ronald Reagan as a case study for political success of a certain ilk. “Reagan connected with people,” Lakoff writes. “he [...]appeared authentic - he seemed to believe what he said.” As a consequence: “voters identified with Reagan; they felt he was one of them...because they believed in the integrity of his connection with them as well as the connection between his worldview and his actions”. I was struck then, and remain intrigued, by the inherent disagreement in the phrase "appeared authentic". Isn’t there something funny about that? Voters trusted Reagan as a leader not necessarily because his beliefs and background matched theirs but because he gave the impression of honesty; he seemed to embody his own values. But appearing to be a certain way does not necessarily mean you are that way; you can appear just as you are, but there is also no reason why you cannot appear as you are not. To appear authentic is by no means to actually be authentic.

I'm reminded, too, of the beginning of Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust: "The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Norfolk jacket and Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain, but an insurance office; and the girl in slacks and sneakers with a bandanna around her head had just left a switchboard, not a tennis court" - an apt impression of Hollywood also captured by Wodehouse: "What looks like a tree is really a slab of wood backed with barrels. What appears on the screen as the towering palace of Haroun al-rashid is actually a cardboard model occupying four feet by three of space. The languorous lagoon is simply a smelly tank with a stagehand named Ed wading around it in bathing trunks."

I have a feeling I have more to say about this.

- Augmented information and the reproduction of visibility (Mark Graham)

This may seem like a relatively trivial or uninteresting story. However, I think it nicely illustrates how geographic representations don't just influence how we think about places, but also, in a very real sense, influence how we move through, interact with, and enact place.