At Yahoo, focus is an important part of accomplishing our mission: to make the world’s daily habits more entertaining and inspiring. To achieve this focus, we have sunset more than 60 products and services over the past two years, and redirected those…
I am genuinely, not in the least ironically, nostalgic about the end of an internet era. I remember those first years on the Web when the Yahoo Directory was the only way to find out what was happening online. There were certain categories in the directory I knew so well that when I logged in and saw that yellow “New!” image next to a category I almost got heart palpitations.
Farewell, Yahoo Directory. Even though I have used you in fifteen years, you served us well in our hour of need. We will always remember you with great affection.
The pundits who say that President Obama has failed to demonstrate leadership have never considered whether the public is capable of following him, or even their own train of thought. The American public is not even capable of not following him in any recognizable way. We might have been dropping bombs in Syria against Assad to the benefit of ISIS a year ago had it not been for the hearty “No” vote in the British Parliament that denied Obama the fig leaf of multilateralism. A democratic people should be bewildered that their president was urging them to join one side of a civil war a year ago, and now joins them to another. But the American people are as responsive to this stimulus as a cattle herd is to the conclusion of a Dostoyevsky novel.
Among a people that flatter themselves as democratic, nothing is more gauche than the expectation of democratic exercise. To demand as much is to wander dirty in the streets with a sign saying “Wake up, Sheeple!” So, forget I mentioned it. Fifty more years? No way. But, whatever, sure.
“Closely related is the sheer exhaustion of being constantly tapped into in the network. Every tweet I read or write elicits some small (or not so small) emotional reaction: anger, mirth, puzzlement, guilt, anxiety, frustration. I’ve tried to prune my following list so that when I do find myself engaging in a genuine way, it’s with a person I genuinely want to engage with. But there’s a limit to how much pruning can be done, when unfollowing a real-life friend is the online equivalent of punting his puppy across the room. So all day long, I’m in and out of the stream, always reacting to whatever’s coming next. Setting aside the question of how distracting this is when I’m trying to get work done, the fact is that I have a limited capacity for emotional engagement, and the code-switching that’s required when the character of my response is supposed to change every 140 characters only increases this overhead. A life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions. I want to be pouring these energies into my family and my friends and my work.”—Boone Gorges
Students in my history of architecture course are amused to discover that the final exam offers a choice of questions. Some are bone dry (“discuss the development of the monumental staircase from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, citing examples”) and others deliberately open-ended (“General Meade overslept at Gettysburg and the South has won the Civil War; you are commissioner for the new national capital and must tell us which architects you will choose and what instructions you will give them.”) In offering this whimsical range of options, I do nothing original; my own professors at Haverford College did much the same in their day.
But a peculiar thing has happened. When I began teaching twenty-five years ago, almost all students would answer the imaginative question but year in, year out, their numbers dwindled, until almost all now take the dry and dutiful one. Baffled, I tried varying the questions but still the pattern held: Given the choice, each successive cohort preferred to recite tangible facts rather than to arrange them in a speculative and potentially risky structure. In other respects, today’s students are stronger than their predecessors; they are conspicuously more socialized, more personally obliging, and considerably more self-disciplined. To teach them is a joy, but they will risk nothing, not even for one facetious question on a minor exam.
“The spirit of truth can dwell in science on condition that the motive prompting the [scientist] is the love of the object which forms the stuff of his investigations. That object is the universe in which we live. What can we find to love about it if it isn’t its beauty? The true definition of science is this: the study of the beauty of the world.”—Simone Weil, The Need for Roots (1943)
In the essay On the Greatness of Richard Wagner, [Thomas] Mann explains that Wagner was incapable of working without “palpable expressions of an extravagance of taste” which included, “wadded silk dressing-gowns” and “lace-trimmed satin bed-covers embroidered with garlands of roses.” Buttressed by these things, Mann writes, Wagner “sits down mornings to the grueling job, by dint of them he achieves the ‘atmosphere of luxury and art’ necessary to the creation of primitive Nordic heroes and exalted natural symbolism.” Is this a tacit admission on Mann’s part that the artist cannot create until first he is properly dressed?
Mann described the clothing of his fictional characters so impeccably not out of empty volupté, but because he knew the world he described was going extinct. His craftsmanship is an homage to another kind of craftsmanship. The disappearance of handmade clothes and furniture as a result of mass manufacture, and the erosion of the material culture of old Europe had in William Morris its utopian denialist, in Thomas Carlyle its Jeremiah, and in Mann its quiet, bourgeois eulogist.
Mann was willing to fight for discernment in clothing, food, manners, and furniture, all of which he grouped together in the phrase bourgeois competence in a June 1926 speech given on the occasion of the 700 year anniversary of his home city, Lübeck. “Bourgeois competence” as Mann deploys it signals a sort of spacious capacity for the leisurely, deliberate prosecution of one’s affairs in a world where appreciation for the arts is central…. It is presented as a positive spiritual value (the speech itself is entitled “Lübeck as a spiritual way of life.”)
I made a radio documentary for the BBC about the influence in the 1930s of a cult book, An Experiment with Time, that seemed to rationalise spirituality and to promise a very peculiar form of fatalistic consolation, just right for an age of dread. Contains early aircraft design, a chocolate box of achingly British voices, and umpteen different versions of ‘As Time Goes By…’
Geeks claim to know what it’s like to love art that’s been neglected or reviled by their culture. Well, this is the status of fans of traditional high culture now; those who like opera, jazz, experimental fiction, theater, and other types of traditional high culture are generally ignored in our mass media. When they are thought of at all, it is as snobby and irrelevant. Geeks now need to recognize their great fortune, enjoy it and extend a little sympathy in the direction of us sad few who prefer other things.
Yet I wonder if any such recognition is even possible at this point. My fear is not merely that the geeks will never come to acknowledge their triumph, as comfortable as they are in their self-professed victimhood. I fear too that we have come to so thoroughly associate fandom with grievance that the two are now inextricable. That, I suspect, is the long-term consequence of the rise of the geeks: that we no longer know how to enjoy art without enjoying it against others. That’s a bitter, juvenile way to approach art, and if it’s the real legacy of the rise of the geeks, it’s an ugly legacy indeed.
“In other words, the Christian alternative to the post-religious spirituality outlined earlier is not simply ‘religion’ as some sort of intellectual and moral system but the corporately experienced reality of the Kingdom, the space that has been cleared in human imagination and self-understanding by the revealing events of Jesus’ life. Standing in this place, I am made aware of what is fundamental and indestructible about my human identity: that I am the object of divine intention and commitment, a being freely created and never abandoned. Standing in this place, I am also challenged to examine every action or policy in my life in the light of what I am; and I am, through the common life of the ‘Assembly’, made able to change and to be healed, to feed and be fed in relations with others in the human city. Faced with the claims of non-dogmatic spirituality, the believer should not be insisting anxiously on the need for compliance with a set of definite propositions; he or she should be asking whether what happens when the Assembly meets to adore God and lay itself open to his action looks at all like a new and transforming environment, in which human beings are radically changed.”—The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing? - Rowan Williams. I can’t imagine a more important paragraph for today’s Christians to meditate on. Seriously, this whole address is absolutely vital.
“Instead of accepting a common opinion that Twitter is slowly replacing RSS readers, we should flip that around. What kind of changes could be made to RSS readers to embrace microblogging and make Twitter itself less important? Because once we do that, we get back control of our own short-form content and at the same time encourage open tools that will survive independent of whatever happens with Twitter and Facebook in the future.”—Microblog links | Manton Reece. EGG-ZACTLY.
Revolutionaries readily sacrifice living people to achieve the glorious future. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, they tell us, but while the eggs are surely broken, the omelet is never made. If people are sacrificed for an ever-receding goal, Herzen argues, then sacrifice is all there will ever be. The greatest tyranny results from the attempt to abolish it altogether. In the book’s most quoted passage, the skeptic asks:
If progress is the end, for whom are we working?… Do you truly wish to condemn all human beings alive today to the sad role of … wretched galley slaves, up to their knees in mud, dragging a barge filled with some mysterious treasure and with the humble words “progress in the future” inscribed on its bows?… This alone should serve as a warning to people: An end that is infinitely remote is not an end, but, if you like, a trap; an end must be nearer — it ought to be, at the very least, the laborer’s wage, or pleasure in the work done.
Each present moment, and each human life, is precious in itself, not just as a means to some exalted goal. This is a lesson revolutionaries never seem to learn.
He said a day came at the hospital when his doctors summoned him down to a room, where he sat “like a monkey, hunched over on a stool,” while about 10 people looked at him. At this point, he was labor-camp thin. “Unshaved for weeks.”
One of them said, “You’re very sick, and you’re very psychotic, and we can take care of you.”
They told him they wanted him to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. He could take time to think about it. A nurse led him back into the hallway and down to his room.
The news destroyed him. Not because he didn’t believe them, that it was the best thing for him, nor even because he feared the procedure itself (though naturally it terrified him to face it), but because he believed it would mean the end of him as a writer. That his talent would be scattered. His brains scrambled. The mechanism disassembled. Not to write? A living death. What would it even mean to go about your day?
Also he felt that it was, he said, “a confirmation that I would never leave hospitals.”
He sat down on a chair. “Not 20 minutes later,” he said, “a patient called out, ‘Mr. Antrim, there’s a phone call for you.’ ” He shuffled down to the phones near the medication dispensary. He picked up.
“Donald,” a voice said, “this is Dave Wallace. I heard you were in bad shape.”
“Future shock is over. Apple Watch reveals that we suffer a new affliction: . The excitement of a novel technology (or anything, really) has been replaced—or at least dampened—by the anguish of knowing its future burden. This listlessness might yet prove even worse than blind boosterism or cynical naysaying. Where the trauma of future shock could at least light a fire under its sufferers, future ennui exudes the viscous languor of indifferent acceptance. It doesn’t really matter that the Apple Watch doesn’t seem necessary, no more than the iPhone once didn’t too. Increasingly, change is not revolutionary, to use a word Apple has made banal, but presaged.”—Future Ennui
“In romantic thought, repetition is the enemy of freedom, the greatest force of repression both in the mind and in the state. Outside romanticism, repetition has a very different import: it is the sustaining and renewing power of nature, the basis for all art and understanding…. Repetition lost its moral value only with the spread of the industrial machine and the swelling of the romantic chorus of praise for personal originality. Until two hundred years ago virtually no one associated repetition with boredom or constraint. Ennui is ancient; its link to repetition is not. The damned in Dante’s Hell never complain that their suffering is repetitive, only that it is eternal, which is not the same thing.”—Edward Mendelson, Early Auden
I wrote this for the Oxford American a long time ago (Issue 27/28). I’ve added YouTube links.
Forget about the marriage — his third, her first — to the thirteen-year-old cousin, Myra Gail Brown. (“I plumb married the girl, didnít I?” he asked, plaintively, not comprehending the outrage that almost ruined his career; to him, it wasn’t as though he had seduced and abandoned her.) Forget that both Jimmy Swaggart and Mickey Gilley are his cousins. Forget all the stories — for example, the one about how his career as a preacher-to-be ended when he was expelled from Bible college for turning the hymns he played into raucous roadhouse anthems. Forget the Lewis Ranch, in Nesbit, Mississippi, that scaled-down Graceland which occasionally gets attached by the IRS but currently features for its guests “The Killer’s Kar Kollection.” Forget the plain-faced bragging: “My only regret in life,” he said not long ago, “is that I’ve never sat in the audience and watched a Jerry Lee Lewis show.” There are many other things people claim he said, most of them being braggadocious too; forget all of them.
Of course, I’m asking too much. Long, long ago Jerry Lee Lewis became those stories, those reports, those scandals: taken together, they constitute The Killer. But every now and then I almost forget, and when that happens I hear the songs. Not “Great Balls of Fire,” not “Whole Lotta Shakiní Goin’ On.” I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear those again. But take another song, a relatively unknown one: when “Great Balls of Fire” came out in 1957, the B-side was a Hank Williams cover, “You Win Again.” When Hank Sr. did it, it was terrific, a classic guitar-based country blues. But Jerry Lee and his piano take it altogether elsewhere: the rolling boogie-woogie bass line in the left hand, sounding almost like Fats Waller at times, the gospel chords and blues licks with the right, the max-reverb vocal soaring above it all — it’s a masterpiece, nothing less, and though Hank wrote the song Jerry Lee makes it utterly his own. Listening to “You Win Again” you wonder, for a moment, why Elvis is Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis just another “legend of rock and roll.” You think, the momentum could have swung the other way.
But, largely because of the disastrous marriage to Myra in 1958, it didn’t. When the news got out, promoters canceled Lewis’s concert dates and record store managers swept his records off the shelves. It would be the better part of a decade before Jerry Lee could reassemble his career into something reasonably whole, and he achieved the reassembly, in large part, by preserving and even exaggerating every quirky trait that he had become famous for in those early days: the heavy-fisted glissandos, the constant thundering boogie rhythms, the vocal squeals and hiccups — and yes, stomping on the piano, that kind of thing too. But eventually Lewis extracted a kind of magnificence even from self-parody.
Twenty-three years after “You Win Again” he released his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” in his hands a song completely without restraint or taste. “You Win Again” sounds demure in comparison. Someone once said that Casablanca is a great movie not because it avoids film clichés, but because it joyfully employs every possible cliché into its two hours; Jerry Lee’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is like that. He simply wonít acknowledge the clash between his trademark mannerisms and the song’s style and structure: he takes the old classic and unhesitatingly filters it through his sensibility, making no compromises and taking no prisoners. It goes in Judy Garland and comes out the Killer. As I listen to the song, a part of me says that he’s simply crazy, laughably crazy; but I also recall that we sometimes have another name for this abject refusal to swerve or be sidetracked. That other part of me says: if this ain’t genius I don’t know what is.
That Confucius’s characterization of the [Zhou] period as a golden age may have been an idealization is irrelevant. Continuity with a “golden age” lent his vision greater authority and legitimacy, and such continuity validated the rites and practices he advocated. This desire for historical authority and legitimacy—during a period of disrupture and chaos—may help to explain Confucius’s eagerness to present himself as a mere transmitter, a lover of the ancients. Indeed, the Master’s insistence on mere transmission notwithstanding, there can be little doubt that from his study and reconstruction of the early Zhou period he forged an innovative—and enduring—sociopolitical vision. Still, in his presentation of himself as reliant on the past, nothing but a transmitter of what had been, Confucius established what would become something of a cultural template in China. Grand innovation that broke entirely with the past was not much prized in the pre-modern Chinese tradition. A Jackson Pollock who consciously and proudly rejected artistic precedent, for example, would not be acclaimed the creative genius in China that he was in the West. Great writers, great thinkers, and great artists were considered great precisely because they had mastered the tradition—the best ideas and techniques of the past. They learned to be great by linking themselves to past greats and by fully absorbing their styles and techniques. Of course, mere imitation was hardly sufficient; imitation could never be slavish. One had to add something creative, something entirely of one’s own, to mastery of the past.
Thus when you go into a museum gallery to view pre-modern Chinese landscapes, one hanging next to another, they appear at first blush to be quite similar. With closer inspection, however, you find that this artist developed a new sort of brush stroke, and that one a new use of ink-wash, and this one a new style of depicting trees and their vegetation. Now that your eye is becoming trained, more sensitive, it sees the subtle differences in the landscape paintings, with their range of masterful techniques an expression. But even as it sees the differences, it recognizes that the paintings evolved out of a common landscape tradition, in which artists built consciously on the achievements of past masters.
“[A] kimono is made from exactly one bolt of fabric. The way the pattern of a kimono is constructed, not one scrap of fabric remains after the garment is completed. Once the kimono showed signs of wear, it began a long line of transformations - from Sunday best to an everyday item of clothing. When it was further worn, the kimono would be used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make an outdoor jacket. When further worn, the jacket would be turned into a bag or an apron. Finally, layers of scraps were sashiko quilted together into dust cloths. But sashiko was also used to strengthen fabric and in the north, it was used to secure layers of fabric together for protection against the elements. What began as utilitarian stitching began to be used as a decorative element as well and patterns evolved from the daily lives of the quilters.”—Sashiko by Cortney Heimerl (via lizettegreco)
I don’t have any advice [for younger writers]. You are asking me to live in an era other than the one that formed me. But I will tell you this: An editor in New York told me the other day that, even as the reading audience for serious prose has diminished, the unsolicited manuscripts she receives are better than ever. Even while I think we are leaving the splendid Victorian age of serious popular literature—novels and poetry—we may be entering the Elizabethan Age, when few in London read, but there was an intensity of thought and beauty to the prose, and the poetry, and, of course, the plays.
Religion still reveres the book—just visit a yeshiva if you want to see devotion to the weight of the holy word. But in our secular lives the digital revolution seems to have eroded the great age of the middle-class reader. And without readers what are we? Half-writers whose sentences are never completed by the stranger’s eyes.
I tell young writers not to give a single sentence away. Charge for every noun! Beyond the matter of strategy, the question really is whether our society needs complicated thought or expressions of beauty that reveal themselves only slowly and with difficulty. The question is whether a civilization can forget the pleasure of difficult, beautiful writing so thoroughly as to ignore its loss.
If history matters – and I think it does just like sentiment and family matter – then whatever this place’s shortcomings and mistakes it’s worth recalling that it’s also the country of William Wilberforce and Alan Turing as well as Adam Smith and Thomas Paine. That should count for something. We are different but not separate. I think of it as being like the relationship between Boswell and Johnson. They complement one another. You may even think they complete one another. There’d be a smaller Johnson without Boswell but a lesser Boswell without Johnson. They improved each other.
Most of all, I like that when you get the train to Scotland from London or Peterborough or Newcastle north and you cross the border in the gloaming you feel your heart soar and you cry hurrah and yippee because you know you’re home now without having been abroad. I like that and think it matters. I don’t know if I know why it does or why it suddenly seems so valuable but I know I do. But that’s the Britain I know and like; a place in which I’m always Scottish but also, when it suits, British too. A country where you travel to very different places and still always come home without having been abroad.
“If Reddit wants to be thought of as a government, we’ll call it what it is: a failed state, unable to control what happens within its borders. At minimum, Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice. It might be forgivable if we were talking about taxing cigarettes and booze, but we’re not talking about that. What we’re talking about is more like sexual assault, condoned by a state that earns revenue from it. “Reddit doesn’t have much of an interest in banning questionable content,” Wong wrote last year. “‘Family-friendly’ is out, ‘edgy’ is in.” Are those the words of a president, or a pimp?”—Reddit is a failed state | The Verge. Agreed — But it’s a failed state that thinks of itself as a model and pattern for all other states. That’s the scary part.