things of little relevance

January 27, 2010, 2:04 am
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No more Yellow Pages could potentially mean fewer charming childhood anecdotes…

When I was 13 I used the Manhattan directory to try to call Philip Roth. I wanted to read him a story I’d written: boy, girl, loss of virginity in Jewish New Jersey. It didn’t occur to me he might be summering in his ‘clapboard farmhouse up in the Berkshires’; I was only vaguely aware that such places existed. I made my way through a dozen P. Roths before one of them asked to speak to a parent. The lack of a centralised email or mobile phone directory makes tomorrows Roths even more inaccessible for tomorrow’s teenagers. But the loss of the phone book will be felt in other ways too: what will my child sit on to help him reach the dinner table? And what will the teenagers of 2020 try to tear in half when drunk – a laptop?


Lucy Surfs the Web
January 24, 2010, 11:46 pm
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Recently I’ve been using Google Chrome to surf the internet, though I may soon switch back to Firefox for its convenient CLIO add-on (this revolutionized my life, no joke)…

One of my favorite Google Chrome features is that whenever one opens a new tab, it shows the eight most-frequented sites. This feature is very telling. When I was using a friend’s computer, I unintentionally learned that he often visited The Guardian (commendable!) and Pornhub (I actually find this commendable. I admire a man who is honest and unashamed about his internet activity). I wonder if the creators of Google Chrome intended the new tab function to be so…revealing.

January 22, 2010, 10:38 am
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In this week’s New Yorker, Jill Lepore explores the cryonics movement. (I’d be happy to give away my copy if anyone finds the article interesting.) Robert Ettinger is an absurd character. He only has two master’s degrees, in physics and math, but he deems himself a scientist because he has “a scientific attitude.” I kid you not.

I especially liked M.I.T. professor Marvin Minsky’s take on cryonics. He plays on Pascal’s Wager with his chart:

Cryonics: Sign up vs. Do nothing

It Works: Live vs. Die

It Doesn’t Work: 

When I die, I want to be skinned and made into a cute little leather jacket for my  granddaughter. That way, when someone compliments her on her jacket she can say, “Oh I’m wearing my grandmother.” Fashion, like a diamond (a lot of people opt for being a ring after death, I want something less…conventional), is forever.

eric rohmer
January 12, 2010, 12:37 pm
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Peter Bradshaw on Eric Rohmer:

What was utterly characteristic was Rohmer’s feel for what the real life of a young person – albeit a certain type of middle-class, educated, young person – was like: that is, not shiny and sexy or grungy or funny in the Hollywood manner, but uncertain, tentative, vulnerable and more often than not dominated by a quotidian type of travel: bus travel, subway travel, train travel; travel to get somewhere for the summer, or to see a girlfriend or boyfriend.

The first Rohmer film I saw was Le rayon vert (The Green Ray), with my girlfriend, when we were both students, at the old Cambridge Arts Cinema in the 80s. I thought then and think now that Rohmer’s films are quintessentially studenty – in the best possible sense. Young, callow-ish people do a lot of talking, in the way we all did, about what was wrong (or right) with their lives and relationships, and about the perfect place to go for the summer.

He gets it so right!

One of my favorite lines ever comes from The Girl at the Monceau Bakery: “She’s ignoring us too completely not to have noticed us.” It epitomizes most of my social (non)interactions.

(The Guardian‘s obituary for Eric Rohmer seems pretty standard, until I scrolled to the end and saw that the obituary writer died before Rohmer did…)

January 3, 2010, 9:41 am
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“The Battle of the Brain”:

In humans, the left hemisphere controls the grasping right hand and the bits of language that enable us to pin down meaning unambiguously. It helps us manipulate and use the world, in pursuit of our aims. The left hemisphere’s world is sharply delineated and certain, along the lines of the general’s strategy map on the command room wall, where the complexity of the world is stripped away. Yet we still need to see the essentially human world as it is before we simplify and disconnect it. A general needs to be in touch with the world in which his soldiers actually fight. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.

The right hemisphere’s take on the world is far more complex and nuanced. Instead of distinct mechanisms, the right hemisphere sees interconnected, living, embodied entities. In communication the right hemisphere recognizes all that is nonverbal, metaphorical, ironic or humorous, where the left is literalistic. The right is at ease with ambiguity and the idea that opposites may be compatible.

There is a reason we have two hemispheres: We need both versions of the world.

I’d say I’m more of a right hemisphere kind of girl.

all the sad young literary men
January 2, 2010, 2:26 pm
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“The Naked and the Conflicted”

The younger writers are so self- conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un toward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life. These are writers in love with irony, with the literary possibility of self-consciousness so extreme it almost precludes the minimal abandon necessary for the sexual act itself, and in direct rebellion against the Roth, Updike and Bellow their college girlfriends denounced. (Recounting one such denunciation, David Foster Wallace says a friend called Updike “just a penis with a thesaurus”).

It means that we are simply witnessing the flowering of a new narcissism: boys too busy gazing at themselves in the mirror to think much about girls, boys lost in the beautiful vanity of “I was warm and wanted her to be warm,” or the noble purity of being just a tiny bit repelled by the crude advances of the desiring world.

Along the same lines, the Guardian hates on Michael Cera:

Since Cera broke out from Arrested Development, lead teen males are now the types who wear newish Sonic Youth T-shirts, stare at their tennis shoes while muttering about Zooey Deschanel and pack as much charm as a destitute leprechaun.