I cannot hear what you say for the thunder that you are

November 28, 2013 § Leave a comment


Dear Mr. Maxwell,

I am dreadfully upset by the following coincidence. The Olympia Press (headquartered in Paris) are bringing out LOLITA, a novel of mine, on which I have worked for four years and which is scheduled to appear by September the 1st. Before I sold them the book, it had been seen by Viking, New Directions, Straus and Doubleday, and not only by their readers but also by the friends of their readers. There is a story entitled LOLITA in the last issue of The New Yorker by Dorothy Parker.

Please do find out if the term “coincidence” I have used above needs some qualifications; and in any case would you consider my contributing a note in regard to both Lolitas to your Department of Corrections and Amplification? Or any other appeal, complaint, yelp or distress?  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Delaney Allen

if I knew anything about [thing] I’d be way better at it than [person who does thing]

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


In his best work, everything was charged and nothing was forced: even the smallest gestures and the most marginal characters contributed to the unfolding of the drama.  read more


I am almost frightened out of my seven senses

June 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


I went out during the day and recorded sounds that I thought might be useful and evocative. It turned out that most of the sounds – even the church organ in Southwark Cathedral – seemed to converge around a common rhythm. It’s a bit too good to be true – that every large city should have its own rhythm, but here it is.

Byrne’s claim that London has a fundamental rhythm of 122.86 bpm could be generously described as a poetic truth. The most common rhythmical sound outdoors in the city is footsteps, the individual rate of which is usually between 80 and 100 steps a minute…
There is an atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.
This must be true for some parts of Paris, but it also seems likely that there will be others which don’t sound very different to their equivalents in Lyon or Toulouse. If people’s voices are excluded, they may not be easily distinguished by ear from many cities throughout the industrialised world. Economic development tends to reduce the variety of public sound environments at the same time as it multiplies what you can choose to hear in private.
Let’s set aside the issue of comparisons and consider if it’s worth asking what the characteristic sound profile of a single city might be, a bit like how astronomers have tried to discover the average colour of the universe. This is the sort of question which journalists like to ask – so, what exactly is the sound of London? – and one which Byrne astutely foresaw. Unfortunately, it’s also ill-posed. First, any measure along a single dimension, such as London’s average sound frequency being x-number of hertz, doesn’t contain much information of interest. What understanding could such a fact lead to? Second, differences in what’s sampled and how will produce wildly different results. You can’t record everything.  read more

One can approve vulgarity in theory as a comment on vulgarity, but in practice all vulgarity is inseparable

May 30, 2013 § 2 Comments


One of the great proponents of moving walkways was Jesse Wilford Reno (1861-1947). In 1891 he applied for the first US patent for what we would recognize as a relatively modern moving walkway (granted 1892). However this early concept had to wait while Reno concerned himself with a slightly different idea.

Reno’s first machine was installed in 1896 as a mere pleasure ride at Coney Island, New York, at the Old Iron Pier. He termed it his ‘inclined elevator’ and it was inclined at 20 degrees and had a rise of only seven feet and a speed of about 75 ft/minute. In fact it was provided to act as a means of demonstrating its capabilities to potential customers, such as the trustees of the Brooklyn Bridge and subway and elevated railway operators. This ploy seems to have worked as machines were deployed at each end of the bridge (I think in 1896). Strange to say that it was only after this that the idea of constructing a horizontal machine was suggested, initially as a means of crossing the bridge, but this was not pursued.

So far as I have been able to establish, his 7 ft demonstrator only ran for two weeks but had the peculiar property that passengers were required to sit on it, as though it were some kind of inverted ski lift. It was therefore a passenger conveyor, but not a walkway. I am yet to discover more about this, especially as it is reputed to have gone to Brooklyn Bridge to impress the managers there (I believe for two months but struggle to confirm this). There is an image, produced below, of a sitting-down type conveyor at Coney Island, probably made by Reno, but it is obviously much more than 7 ft high and has a permanent look about it. Perhaps it was installed soon after as a result of a successful trial. It is apparent that this design departed very considerably from his 1892 patent and does not seem to have been repeated. Though Coney island is frequently cited as ‘the first escalator’, the evidence tends to suggest it was very different in conception and not part of the mainstream development of passenger conveyors.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Richard Perkins

the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s profiles of five types of book thieves: the kleptomaniac who cannot keep himself from stealing; the thief who steals for profit; the thief who steals in anger; the casual thief; and the thief who steals for his own personal use

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Guy Abeille, age 62, a former senior Budget Ministry official and “the inventor of the concept, endlessly repeated by all governments whether of the right or the left, that the public deficit should not exceed 3% of the national wealth,” told the newspaper –

We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money. […] We needed something simple. 3%? It was a good number that had stood the test of time, somewhat reminiscent of the Trinity.  read more

FILM: Yolanda Domínguez

Hilarious Foreign Uncle Becomes Viral Star For Expressing Deep Emotion About Death Caused by Family Members VIDEO

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


Beck’s Paris Metro map is clearly related to his schematic map for the London Underground, all its angles at either 90 or 45 degrees, any unnecessary details erased. The Seine river’s meander through the city is stylised into a symmetrical sweep across the map’s bottom left quarter, its bracket-like shape broken only by the Île de la Cité. The smaller Île Saint-Louis has been erased off the map: unlike its larger neighbour, it doesn’t have a metro stop.

Capturing the Paris Metro in a schematic map proved even more challenging than reducing the London Tube to the now-famous diagram: the Parisian stations were more concentrated in the centre, and its lines were much more interwoven, leading to a higher number of interchanges – and to some very curvaceous lines. Beck picked out a few metrolines to form what seems to be the eternally recurring, basic matrix of a metro map: an axial line (the Ligne 1, running east-west), and a circular line (by juxtaposing Ligne 2 and Ligne 6 on the map to form a rounded rectangle). He added in the other lines, straightening them out as much as possible.

Beck’s initial proposal was rejected by the Paris Metro operator RATP – but the same fate had befallen his first suggestions for the London Underground. Undaunted, the draughtsman returned to his drawing board. But his second, improved, full-colour map, presented in 1951, was also given le cold shoulder. Some speculate that Beck’s oversimplification of Parisian geography was simply too unpalatable for local tastes. It could also be argued that the map looked too ‘British’ for Paris. The map fell into oblivion, and was only published for the first time in Mark Ovenden’s 2008 book on the Paris Metro.

But in the end, Beck won – albeit posthumously.  read more

ART: Martin Creed

If the director of the CIA can’t maintain his privacy on the internet, we’ve got no hope

March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

The greatest scam of all literature (excluding those we don’t yet know about!) happened in Paris between 1974 and 1981. A well-established, widely-read novelist with an unfashionable profile among the literati of Saint-Germain-des-Prés – he was a war hero, a Gaullist, a millionaire, a jet-set celebrity, an ex-diplomat, the ex-husband of one of the world’s most beautiful women, and a journalist to boot – published a novel under a false name. In itself that is quite ordinary: Molière, Voltaire, George Sand and George Eliot didn’t use their real names either. But Romain Gary’s special twist was to make sure that his publisher didn’t know who the author of the new novel was either, and that took a good deal of extra-literary cloak-and-daggery. The manuscript was handed in by an accomplice in an envelope that purported to come from a French exile living in Brazil. Against all statistical odds, the publisher’s reader spotted the text–called at this stage The Loneliness of a Python in Paris, and recommended it strongly to the editorial board. A contract was signed by exchange of letters with a fictional entity called Émile Ajar, and Gary had another unwitting accomplice sign it, so he should not himself be guilty of forgery. Gros-Câlin – the title finally chosen by the publisher – appeared in the autumn of 1974 and was a runaway success. An entirely fictitious author-biography was circulated, and accepted as true. Gary set about writing the sequel, which turned out to be the highest-selling French novel of the twentieth century: La Vie devant soi (“Life Before Us”) by Émile Ajar, to which the Académie Goncourt awarded its 1975 prize, the greatest accolade available for a French novelist, including non-existent ones.

But what had started as a change of writerly identity and an escape from a public persona that Gary found increasingly oppressive turned into a quite different kind of experiment. Because a Goncourt Prize puts the author into the media spotlight, and because neither the publishers nor the press had yet met “Émile Ajar”, Gary decided he would create him – not on paper, but for real. He enrolled his cousin’s son, Paul Pavlowitch, to play the role of Ajar in interviews and in discussions with publishers. Gary would write the script and fund all the travel (meetings were held in Geneva and Copenhagen, as the Ajar cover story made the writer a fugitive from French justice). Pavlowitch just had to follow the instructions. But the identity of the stooge was discovered by reporters, and his relationship to Gary uncovered. What Gary then did took literary subterfuge into a different realm. Instead of giving his game away and exulting in the victory of literature over the literary establishment, he doubled the stakes and lied his head off.  read more

FILM: Leigh Singer

A band of dense cumulus massed on the banister

February 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


There are currently no known cures for most autoimmune diseases. They are discussed as chronic conditions that must be in a lifelong process of mitigation through biomedical means. My doctors would plead with me, as I shuffled into their offices with my walker, to take Humira. Biologics are a new class of drugs, barely a decade old, used to treat a few autoimmune conditions. Humira, which carries a black box warning, is an exact clone of a human antibody. It’s a human protein cultivated in the bodies of mice. These biologics function as immune-suppressants, essentially shutting down the body’s immune system to prevent it from attacking itself.

But, left without its defenses, the body becomes vulnerable to fatal cancers, other autoimmune diseases, and opportunistic infections; Humira’s medicine-as-technology counteracted my body’s self-destructive but “natural” behavior. Forget the dualistic mode of thought, in which nothing was wrong with me, but something was wrong with my body. The idea is that I was deficient, and the only way to become the optimal version of myself was to embrace a drug that would make me do no more than function, all for $3,000 a month.

My doctors’ assurance was that I would get well. I would be able to get a job with benefits that would allow me to pay for insurance. Biomedical treatment operates on a capitalist understanding of time. Rather than embracing the regenerative powers of the body, the idea is to get back to work as quickly as possible. It is the body’s radical autonomy that resists commodification. To spite our optimal productivity, it gets sick. Sickness can be masked and treated but the body responds nonetheless. It reacts. It may take longer to recover than is convenient to your boss. We do not have time to get you better. We have time to make you functional.

You are too young to live like this!” became my well-intentioned doctors’ refrain. “What a shame! We can get you back to work! You should be out living your life!” And so, they perpetuated the supposed narrative of health and death: illness is something which comes late in life, right before the end. They acted as if I was experiencing an inconvenience. As if I wasn’t living my life anyway. They didn’t understand that this experience had stripped and shed a light on me, making it simply impossible to carry on as before. There was no return to “normal.”

They often asked me about what I did before I became sick. As if that was me, and this a brief interlude of discomfort. In fact, most discussions in doctors’ offices are about pain or discomfort. These are important issues. Proust wrote, “Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.”

As my life came to be ruled by the sensation of pain, it became impossible to think about anything except the sensation of pain. But pain is only the partial story of the body, a symptom of an underlying problem, whether an injury or a systemic issue. Pain is the body calling out for your attention. I wanted to be healthy again, not simply living without pain. I wanted a medical practice that addresses the true health of the body.

I resisted starting Humira for this very reason. My doctor explained that the way to eliminate the pain and inflammation was to clamp down my overactive immune system. Doing this would prevent it from attacking my joints and my intestines, leaving me pain-free. But it didn’t take care of the underlying problem: my immune system is confused. Eliminating my immune system sounded like a bad—an incomplete—idea.

Most of my friends and family urged me to take what was offered. Even the people that I’d identified or had self-identified as radical or left-leaning were suspiciously unsuspicious of the biomedical industrial complex: that every other industrial complex demanded rigorous scrutiny, but in matters of health and the body, medicine was unmarked and depoliticized.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Lindsey Fast

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