tuesday, february 27, 2007
In the Proustian scheme of things, a work of art is an object that implies something that it cannot directly represent. The thing in question is the associative network that guides the stream of thought of the artist. This network of relationships cannot be experienced directly, but it does control the entry of sensory representations into the focus of consciousness. By presenting us with an ordered set of sensory surfaces, the artist implies the structure of the mind that ordered them, and thus conveys an essential aspect of experience that would be otherwise inexpressible.
From “Consciousness, art, and the brain: Lessons from Marcel Proust”, by Russell Epstein (PDF).
monday, february 26, 2007
A survey of common weedflowers in Isla Vista, California:
None of them are native plants. (More about buttercups.)
What are the weedflowers in your area? Show me! You have an exception from this assignment if you live here too.
sunday, february 25, 2007
I have an innocent-looking folder that holds 77.5 megabytes of tiny OS X icons, carefully sorted into 20 top-level folders and a zillion sub-folders. In each folder, the icons are visually organized by subject, and I’ve renamed most of the icons to make more sense. Here are screenshots of two folders, “clothes” and “furniture”:
Two of the other folders are organized as follows:
- food (16 icons, plus the ones in the following sub-folders)
- meals (26)
- breakfast (20)
- sushi (11)
- drinks (28)
- fast food (7)
- fruit (29)
- café (26)
- dessert (39)
- hot topic (72)
- alien faces (8)
- bloody (14)
- dust (8)
- gargoyles (16)
- gas masks (4)
- ghosts (9)
- medieval (9)
- mutant heads (5)
- sea monsters (13)
- wild things (7)
I don’t remember where I got most of my icons. They are stripped of copyright information and recontextualized into arrangements of associations, etc. Here are some of my favorite icon-makers, though:
- Marmalade Moon — flowers, bird eggs
- I Heart New York — Magnetic Fields songs, mutant faces, domo-kuns
- Pixel Press Icons — pirates, moleskines, canoe paddles, feng shui, instruments
- Afterglow — New Zealand stuff, brains on carts
InterfaceLIFT is the best place to find many more, if you would like to fall into this hole of low-level insanity with me.
thursday, february 22, 2007
Books I have re-read or read or am-reading recently:
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward R. Tufte — re-read because my New Media professor assigned an article titled “Cornerstones, Pillars, and Pitfalls of Charting” (written in the 1960’s) and I had to give myself an antidote. It reminded me to use circles, not squares, to represent places on a map I am making for the class, and to make street lines thinner:
I first read that book a few years ago, and I felt how good it looked: soft and proud and correct. Now I know a little bit about small-caps and linespacing, and some of its typographical magic is lost in semi-jaded half-conscious analysis.
The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker — the only non-assigned fiction that I remember reading and enjoying in the past year or two, which is probably because its subject is minutiae (shoelaces, soda straws, footnotes, memory). I like how the book archives things that are now archaic: record players, backless park benches, and grooveless escalator steps, among others. People who are older than me remember those things, like they remember the references in old Bob Dylan songs, but they are less likely to tell me about ancient perceptions of the Rite-Aid brand than to explain a lyric associated with old emotions.
The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan — I got this from the library today and read it all at once. I found it laying face-down on the shelf, with an unlabeled spine; I picked it up, and it surprised me. Of course this book would be full of interspersed and full-bleed images of all kinds, strangely large Helvetica, and clever page-turns, but I didn’t realize any of that before I looked inside. Of course! Anyway, now I know what people mean when they talk about this guy as a prophet; I read him as bursting with joy about the potential of the Web in 2007 when he was thinking about the potential of television and telephones in 1967. One of the best parts of this book is the comments in the margins by other students:
I have started reading Type & typography: highlights from Matrix, the review for printers and bibliophiles. I requested the book through InterLibraryLoan because Design Observer linked to it, and today my copy arrived here from — where else? — The University of San Francisco. I miss that city. The first article in this collection tells some history of the tension between beauty and utility in typography; I think the articles about setting math and music and bibles and Bengali will be more interesting.
monday, february 19, 2007
Note: A guest post by my little sister.
Structures by Britta and Douglas. Pictures by Lizzy.
“I AM A LEGO STATUE OF NEON TRANSLUCENT DOOM”
“MY NAME IS PAPA FROG THE SKELETON. I’M GOING TO EAT YOUR HAT AND FEED IT TO MY FAT BABIES”
monday, february 12, 2007
More about W.G. Sebald and “how seven British artists have responded to his work and the landscapes that inspired him”:
It was a recurrent theme in Sebald’s conversation, not just his writing, that remembering is a completely random process generated by echoes, affinities and connections.
One of these artists delves into the life of Sebald’s friend who was obsessed with apples, making a film that “uses a fractured structure that emphasises something lost or obscured”, and there are other artists with photographs of ruins, taxidermied birds, recorded nature scenes. This is all very appealing, and it reminds me that I have an unopened copy of The Emigrants at my mom’s house, bought optimistically in a book store in San Francisco along with novels by Italo Calvino and Marguerite Duras that I never read either.
But the apples. The apples are important. I read The Rings of Saturn for a class, and our assignment was to go on a walk and write something Sebaldian, and I wrote about my obsession with apples and other kinds of fruit. People liked it, and you can read it now.
wednesday, february 07, 2007
I made my first home page in sixth grade, so it involved an interesting dilemma: how could I balance telling the world all about myself with my concerns about internet stalkers finding me? The result is detailed yet vague, a portrait of my interests in 1999 — complete with animated clip art and stolen images — that does not include my name. Here it is. Note how I mocked the web-counter trend by including an applet that looked like a counter but gave you a random number instead.
Now, what if I was sent back in time to create my home page as a 12-year-old, knowing all my 2007-era web skillz? You might get something that still looks bad.
Tonight I found Axess: “a magazine, based in Stockholm, devoted chiefly to the liberal arts and social sciences”. It contains lovely articles about excellent things, and I will quote from them because that’s what I like to do.
I’m trying to write an economic-individualist mock epic poem in the voice of Paris Hilton as a libertine (which I chose for my homework), so I enjoyed this cultural history of the libertine. Parts are relevant for my study of celebrity, like some definitions of the libertine:
…concentrated eroticism, seduction as a selfish but elegant game or a kind of gallantry with more daring overtones…questioned the church, marriage and other social institutions…thoughtless, bold individual, guilty of all kinds of vices…cultivated primarily by the idle and financially independent aristocracy…”the art of maintaining one’s independence in contact with other people”…a nomad — he shrinks from partner relationships, marriage, a permanent home, indeed anything that would cause him to put down roots…
The libertine seducer challenged accepted moral rules and with his apparently unbridled libido undermined the structure of society. The libertine writer with his outspokenness defied prevailing literary conventions and his texts were accused of being reprehensibly pornographic or dangerously atheistic, or both…In the city hunts the sensualist, an individual given to sexual debauchery who is not interested in the refined games of the libertine.
I think I can stretch that to apply to sex videos, The Simple Life, and publishing CDs and perfumes. She’s something of the sensualist, but with a crafty economic-individualist bent that gives her lifestyle some intellectual substance. (This is for “Home and World in British Literature”; context is the Earl of Rochester and Daniel Defoe in the seventeeth century.)
Then I poked around Axess and found a review about W.G. Sebald and memory, among other things. I loved The Rings of Saturn, and I keep wondering about that book in the context of my memory=literature+neuroscience class, so here are passages that may substitute for original thought on my part:
The introductory story in [Schwindel] reproduces, for example, an episode in Stendhal, whose vivid memory…later proved to derive not from an actual visual impression but from the memory of an engraving of the same view. So in Stendahl an artistic image has replaced the original memory and repressed it to the same extent as it has encapsulated it and retained it. We distort and destroy the past every time we attempt to approach it; we falsify those tracks we think we can find, and use up our memories until they are beyond recall. ¶ As Freud points out in his essay “Childhood and concealing memories,” our memories from childhood are rarely reliable but are often tendentious constructs, created to correspond to subconscious, present-day needs.
…as he says about his almost manic information-gathering that it “acted as a surrogate, a compensating memory.” This must certainly be a key to the literally headlong flights of meanings in Sebald’s texts (especially perhaps in the almost paranoid, depressive, circular, leaden Die Ringe des Saturn); the constantly tempting, constantly elusive and infectious accumulation of strange and apparently imperative coincidences and signs. But here a contradiction also opens up, a question that Sebald did not succeed in solving…is memory-loss a deliberate (and therefore reprehensible) suppression of a trauma, of such a perfect break with everything that hitherto has constituted the world of the individual that he/she cannot perceive it or even retain it in their memory?
Memory evolved to be useful to the present looking towards the future, not to the past looking at itself. And information-gathering as surrogate memory? People call their blogs and hard drives “outboard memories” on purpose. Memory is something elusive and accumulative; traumatic memory-loss is not deliberate, and those memories aren’t “lost” anyway — they’re more “frozen”, encapsulated, unconscious, coming back to bite you again and again unless you incorporate them into yourself. Then again, we read a lot of psychoanalysis today because in memory class, Tuesdays are mostly literature and Thursdays are mostly neuroscience.
There was a third article I liked, about American universities:
Acquiring not immediately useful (and often cursory) knowledge about, for example, literature, history and art often comprises a form of demonstrative superfluous overconsumption which tends to create a feeling of having been chosen, of having been initiated into an esoteric society. This is the “cultural capital” which engenders in the children of the elite the feeling of having legitimately conquered the position that they were born to.
Freedom of choice and the necessity of adapting to an educational market has caused many, and not merely conservative, critics to worry about a superficiality and an undermining of those educational ideals which once supported the liberal arts tradition…But, seen through European eyes, the remarkable thing about higher education in the USA is nevertheless its ability to combine high intellectual competence — indeed, even at times a classical humanism — with market thinking and a shameless pandering to the public.
Is my college education just an accumulation of cultural capital? Well yeah, sort of. I am acquiring the knowledge-flinging skills that will allow me to become part of the creative class. Yeah, sounds horrible. I like to think I avoid some of the sense of entitlement, but I’m not sure.
sunday, february 04, 2007
Following up on my other quotes about CCS and Mudrick, here’s more from a lovely New York Times review of one of his books:
Mr. Mudrick is rude, contentious, incorrigible, comma spliced, headlong, raunchy, scornful and know-it-all…He plays, wonderfully, to the peanut gallery, and we clap so hard our hands and heads fall off, and then we go home and sleep, alas, with Hamlet: if only he weren’t real.
Also, from his University of California memorial, written by CCS Literature professors:
…he reminds his readers that no artistic statement can be separated from the human being who has made it…Like the voices of his favorite authors, the voice in his writing reproduces his own living voice in an almost uncanny way. That voice is cantankerous, loving, aggressive, spiteful, charming; it abounds with energy and fierce humor. His very funny wordplay remains, and his gift for parody as well as his enormous love for, and need for the arts, as though his own life has depended on them.
There were subjects about which he could never be persuaded to alter his opinion, and this represents a weakness in his idiosyncratic approach. Personality was so important to him, the unstinted expression of a strong individuality was so much part of his own critical method, that he sometimes assumed that the personality of an artist lay closer to the surface than it sometimes does.
His capacity to aggravate was great, but so was his genuine pleasure at being opposed by people he liked…some of the College’s most spectacular successes have been in areas where Mudrick himself had little expertise—for example in the sciences. This bears out the premise on which his College was founded, that similar qualities of curiosity and independence are necessary in order to excel in any subject.
And one I made a few years ago:
friday, february 02, 2007
Last year I took a biology class titled Evolutionary Medicine, where we discussed human diseases and treatments in terms of our “environments of evolutionary adaptedness” (caveman days) and how they relate to modern environments (walmart and indoor toilet days). So I like that kind of thing now, and this quarter in Memory: A Bridge Between Neuroscience and the Humanities, we’re discussing evolutionary hypotheses about schizophrenia. There are some interesting bits about brains in general in this review article:
…in the first evolutionary step some 5-6 million years ago a more complex inter- and intrahemispheric connectivity emerged…These brain circuits evolved due to increasing demands of the social environment of early hominids and had been crucial for increasing social cognitive capacities. In a second more recent evolutionary step 150,000 years ago, some unknown genetic mutation may have enhanced the vulnerability of these connections, which could be associated with the evolution of metacognition and ‘theory of mind’. Thus, according to Burns, schizophrenia may be seen as a trade-off of the evolution of the human ‘social brain’.
Many cognitive, emotional, and behavioural capacities ‘hard-wired’ in the human brain evolved as adaptations to our social environment. This includes the capacities, among others, (1) to infer what others think, intend, pretend and desire, referred to as having a ‘theory of mind’, (2) to ‘read’ signals of con-specifics such as facial expressions of emotions, (3) to travel mentally in time back and forth, and, (4) language.
These aren’t new ideas, but it’s neat to learn about how my brain evolved, and how craziness in a few people is related to saneness in others.
The Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder genetics blog — what a nice and direct title — has some good further reading on this stuff, but it also has an odd affinity for animations and requires registration for comments (and my requested registration email never arrived).