The New Yorker has done it’s first major redesign since 2000, although it’s so far only been rolled out to the front of the magazine.
Personally, the return to a more highly stylized typeface is welcome. But I am disappointed that they’ve made the magazine look like more like everything else in the racks. It’s not a lack of originality that bothers me. Rather, it is the retreat from text.
There’s no less text and so far the writing style seems to be the same. Rather, the previous design presented a wall of text, broken up with occasional insets of text, with empty spots filled with text. For example, “Tables for Two” used to be a small, two-column insert into the Goings On section. The type size was the same as the directions on a tube of toothpaste. Now it’s a single column that takes up the entire right-hand three-fifths of a page, in a perfectly readable font, with a quarter-page color photograph at the top, as if to say, “Well look at us! We have so much room that we’re filling it up with a merely pleasant photo.”
There are at least two results in how we take that page. First, “Tables for Two” has turned from a lagniappe into a column. Second, the magazine doesn’t feel like it’s so bursting with things to write about that it had to shoulders goodies into whatever nooks it could find or force.
Sections now are headed by a graphical emblem (e.g., a Deco knife and fork on a plate for the Food & Drink section) that signals that the New Yorker thinks the section titles themselves are not enough for us. Really? What part of “Food & Drink” does The New Yorker think we don’t understand? Why does the New Yorker now believe that mere words are not up to the task?
The New Yorker used to be for people unafraid of climbing a sheer wall of text. It demanded we make judgments about what to read based solely on the text itself; this was even more the case before Tina Brown put the authors’ names at the beginning of the article instead of at the end. But now it’s pandering to the graphical-minded among us. The graphical folks have plenty of other magazines to thumb through lazily. The New Yorker was a text-based trek that had to earn our every footstep.
Don’t go soft on us, New Yorker! We’re not afraid of words. Bring ‘em on!
More to read:
Tagged with: culture
• new yorker
Date: September 22nd, 2013 dw
NO SPOILERS until the big red notice.
Actually, I take it back: BROAD THEMATIC SPOILERS AHEAD. No plot points, however.
Breaking Bad has become one of my favorite shows ever. Yours too, probably. But it didn’t start that way for me.
The first season was driven by its premise: what would happen if a kindly chemistry teacher had to cook meth to cover his medical bills? (Ok, so that spoiled the first episode for you. Really?) That season was a series of set pieces, the sort of things you’d imagine if you took that as your premise.
The next two seasons were driven (it seemed to me) by the escalating plot and by letting Walter grow into a role, as if the writers said, “What would happen if Walt became a Tony Montana, or a Tony Soprano, except really really smart?”
But in the last two seasons, the show became a living thing, driven not by premise, role, or plot. It has become emergent. And this is enabling it to explore themes — e.g., What is the nature of evil? Is there justice? Can we know ourselves? — without severing those themes from the people who are living through them.
[Still no spoilers] This is how the great dramas have worked. I’m reluctant to make the comparison, but there is no separating the character of King Lear, Macbeth, or Huckleberry Finn from the themes their works explore. Because the themes are worked through by highly specific people, it becomes impossible to decide exactly what the general lessons of the text are, which tells us something about the nature of morality. I like what Emma Smith says in her wonderful podcast lectures on Shakespeare: His plays unsettle questions.
Breaking Bad has become truly unsettling, and not just because of the violence or even because we can see ourselves in all of the characters. It is unsettling because it is pursuing themes through fully realized people in a world with no simple rules.
 I am here echoing a line of thought pursued variously by Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Murdoch, and others, often focusing on Jane Austen. E.g., Philosopher’s Beard, Rose Woodhouse responds, Gilbert Ryle pdf
How Breaking Bad won’t end [SPOILERS about the story so far!!!]
SPOILERS about the story so far!!!
SPOILERS about the story so far!!!
So, here’s how I think the show will end, where “I think” should be read as “I know I’m wrong.”
The most recent episode, Ozymandias, was one of the best hours of TV ever. But one thing bothered me about it: Gomie. We see his body in the dirt, but not his face. The episode didn’t spend a second on the death of the only (almost) unsullied Good Guy in the series.
Now, maybe that’s the point. But it felt wrong. So here’s certainly how the next two episodes won’t go (a.k.a, proof that I am not Vince Gilligan).
I do think Walt has bottomed out and has begun the turn. He’s done the thing that even he has defined as the worst possible: turning Jesse over for a slow death, after tormenting him with how easily Walt could have saved the love of Jesse’s life. (I will accept the argument that ever since Walt poisoned the kid, he’s been running in circles at the bottom of the moral barrel.) But Holly’s “Ma ma ma” (wow, that kid can act!) has made him see that he doesn’t have a family and doesn’t deserve a family. So, he begins to do the best thing he can for his family, which is to pretend to be as evil as he actually is by lying about it having been all his fault, which of course it was. (Genius scene.)
In the final two episodes, I think Walt continues to try to turn things around as best he can. I expect no more rank evil from him. But this show is better than most about showing the consequences of our actions. So, how about this:
This Sunday’s episode begins with Gomez’s family coming to grips with his death. The DEA tells them Walter White was the killer. They’re heartbroken.
Walt comes back from the Bad Guy Protection Service in order to try to set some things right with his family. But just as he is about to take the ricin himself, Ms. Gomez shows up with a gun, fires … misses … and kills Skyler. (Maybe Walt Jr. instead, but I’m not made of stone.) Fade out to twangy Breaking Bad music.
If anything like this happens, you all owe me ONE MILLION DOLLARS.
Tagged with: breaking bad
Date: September 21st, 2013 dw
It’s the 40th anniversary of Gateway Arts, a Brookline studio for people with disabilities of all sorts.
The best of the work is just wonderful.
Gateway provides a warm environment for exploration and growth. And you will never find a community that better embodies acceptance than a community of people with a mix of physical and cognitive disabilities, as at Gateway Arts, Zeno Mountain Farm, and Camp Jabberwocky.
I’m very proud that my parents-in-law were honored last night at the Gateway Arts 40th Anniversary event for their loving support of, and persistent advocacy for, my sister-in-law and for all the cognitively disabled and their families.
Tagged with: art
• cognitive disabilities
Date: September 20th, 2013 dw
John Sundman is a heck of an interesting person. He’s been around the technology circuit from the Old Days (we’re peers in the chronological sense) but he also writes damn good fiction, some of which (Cheap Complex Devices [my review][sf site][goodreads]) is pretty sublime.
So how does a talented writer make a living in the Webby world? He and I have a long conversation about that and many other things.
Tagged with: fiction
• john sundman
Date: September 14th, 2013 dw
When I was young man,, when there was a personal tragedy, you went through a grieving period. It was big news when Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief, providing a way of understanding grief as a longer and more complex process. St Kübler-Ross added more stops on that journey, but grief was still a journey that gradually came to end — albeit with occasional flare-ups. (I interviewed her in the 1970s for a newsweekly about her “evidence” for life after death. Anyway.)
It seems to me that the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has changed how we experience grief, at least in some cases. If the death was particularly horrific or unexpected, PTSD provides a framework for explaining grief not as a fairly continuous and predictable process, but as a shock to your system that produces a shower of unpredictable and seemingly irrational reactions. You find yourself crying, or shaking, or angry at provocations that seem to have nothing to do with the person you’re mourning, and these episodes continue long after you’ve gone through the five stages. I’ve experienced this with the death of mother after a long course of lung cancer: for years afterwards, I would begin weeping when in an audience that was applauding. Weird. I shrugged and explained it to myself as a type of PTSD.
I’m not pretending to be a therapist here. I’m not trying to use the term PTSD with clinical precision. Rather, I’m interested in how we explain our grief to ourselves. I find it very interesting that we’ve taken a disorder initially designed to explain the emotional toll on warriors and now apply it far more widely. It implies a different model of consciousness — from a creature that “works through” a loss the way a chord that is struck gradually quiets, to a creature that is far more complex, discontinuous, and and subject to cascades of emotion based on tangentially related triggers.
Steven Johnson gives an example of this in his wonderful book, Mind Wide Open. He finds himself feeling anxious when it’s a crisp, sunny fall day in NYC. He eventually realizes that this is because his brain has connected that particular weather to the weather on 9/11/2001. What was probably a useful adaptation in an uncontrolled environment is of no use in a modern city.
In ordinary parlance we’ve taken PTSD out of its war-time context because it’s gives us a way to make sense of our irrational reactions, which requires a different concept of consciousness. It’s a useful cognitive adaptation of our self-understanding.
Tagged with: grief
Date: September 7th, 2013 dw
We just came from a fantastic production of Love’s Labor’s Lost by Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass. I’ve lauded this company before (often), but this afternoon’s show was among the very best we’ve seen. The second half especially was both hilarious and very touching. At least the way they played it this time — we saw it here years ago — the ending was a criticism of the play’s own wit as a way to dodge true knowledge. That Shakespeare guy really could write!
I’d recommend you see it, but this was the last performance. Which makes me wonder (once again) why a company like this doesn’t video one of the performances and put it up on the Web for free. Why the heck not? It would only encourage attendance, and would raise the company’s prominence.
And Shakespeare & Co. also holds informal talks about their performances. Why not video them and put them up on the Web for people who are about to see any company’s performance of the play?
There may be a simple answer to this. For example, as my nephew pointed out, some of the performers are in Actors Equity and there may be rules against posting performances for free. If so, what a waste and disservice to their members! For example, it would only help Josh Aaron McCabe‘s career for people to see his performance as Berowne this afternoon.
Or it may be simply that the default at Shakespeare & Co. hasn’t switched to open-when-done. But that only requires the Will. I just hate to see this love’s labor lost.
, open access
Tagged with: shakespeare
Date: September 1st, 2013 dw
I’ve started reading Revolution in Time by David Landes, a history of clocks and time. It’s delightful.
Landes notes that in the mid-eighteenth century, a clerk to the Chinese Emperor acknowledged that Western clocks were “finer than the old methods used in China.” But, the clerk adds, Western clocks need to be maintained and repaired. “Therefore among the court officials there are some who possess these things, but they still forget meetings.” The clerk concludes, “…those in the court who never miss meetings are the ones who do not own clocks.” (pp. 50-1.)
(I’m truly sorry to say that David Landes died a few days ago.)
Tagged with: clocks
Date: August 26th, 2013 dw
Yesterday I clicked on a link to a Forbes.com post and was greeted by a an insterstitial page that said only:
Kindness is a language which the deaf and the blind can read.
This raised a few questions:
What was going through Forbes’ head when it decided to show us this pap? Does Forbes think that maybe we’re on the verge of kindness and just need this nudge?
Did Twain ever actually say this?
Why is there any question about what the deaf can read?
So I turned to Google. Herewith my findings:
1. There are a number of variations, including the more logical
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
2. At Google Books, there are 1,800 results for “mark twain” kindness deaf. The ones I poked at do not provide a source for the quote, although The Gratitude Attitude footnotes it…but Google Books doesn’t show the page with the footnote.
3. If you search Google Books by author for the words “kindness,” “blind,” and “deaf”, you get nine results. None of the four that have the quote cite a source for it.
4. Google Books has an Advanced Search page: http://www.google.com/advanced_book_search. It produces a query at plain old Google of the form:
kindness deaf blind inauthor:”Mark Twain”
Two paired über-conclusions:
1. Mark Twain did not say this quote OR Mark Twain said it but it was not recorded in a work indexed by Google Books.
2. My searching skills are inadequate OR I just don’t care enough.
QuoteInvestigator.com (twitter: Quote Investigator) has taken up this case and reports the following (earliest at the top):
Tagged with: google books
• mark twain
Date: August 17th, 2013 dw
According to Ross King’s excellent The Judgment of Paris, there was a day in the summer of 1874 when Manet showed up at Monet’s home and painted The Monet Family in their Garden at Argenteuil, a scene of Monet’s wife and son, and Monet puttering around in the garden.
Later that afternoon, Monet painted Manet Painting in Monet’s Garden, showing Manet in a wide-brimmed hat, painting Monet and his family.
Then Renoir showed up, “borrowed paints and a canvas from Monet and started his own work, Madame Monet and Her Son.”
Holy cow. Holy holy cow.
Tagged with: art.monet
Date: August 10th, 2013 dw
A mailing list I’m on is discussing GenderAvenger.com. Here’s the text from the home page:
Be A Gender Avenger
Don’t Accept It. Change It.
Panel of all men? Conference with no women speakers? Book of essays with no women authors? Do something, something simple: Point it out. Opportunities — sadly — abound. How could that be in 2013? They can be found among iconic institutions and in seemingly small bore infractions.
Seeing can be believing. Everywhere possible when women are unrepresented or underrepresented, a gender avenger will take note, take action or ask someone else to take action. No excuses. This effort requires speaking out even when it is uncomfortable. Try it. The outcome could make you smile or groan. Either way you will have a story to tell that could influence others.
The site does a poor job of explaining exactly what it wants by way of input and what the outcome will be, but the email you receive if you decide to sign up anyway cites a HuffPo article about the idea, encourages you to publicize male-dominated conferences, etc., and asks for your participation in a discussion about how to make the idea work.
In the course of the back and forth on the mailing list, one participant got angry about the site and quoted the dictionary definition of “avenger”:
verb (used with object), aÂ·venged, aÂ·vengÂ·ing.
1. to take vengeance or exact satisfaction for: to avenge a grave insult.
2. to take vengeance on behalf of: He avenged his brother.
This person knows that we know (and Gina Glanz, the site’s creator, knows) what the word “avenger” means. He’s not correcting a misuse, the way he might if she’d used “revenge” as a verb. So why is he telling us what he knows we all already know?
Very likely he’s saying that the way people take a word is how the word is defined in a dictionary. But since this mailing list has been together for well over a decade, and since no one on it has ever recommended violent action (it’s moderated by a pacifist), and since the language of the site itself talks about “speaking out even when it’s uncomfortable,” to think that the site or its supporters mean “vengeance” in its dictionary sense requires dropping a whole lot of context in favor of a slavish devotion to Mr. Webster. It would be perfectly reasonable to push back on the word because it carries bad connotations or because it doesn’t quite fit the intended meaning, but neither of those conversations is advanced by citing the dictionary definition of a common word. Rather, the argument is over territory beyond the sovereignty of a dictionary.
In short (or as the kids say, TL;DR), if you’re citing a definition of a word that everyone understands, you’re probably missing the point.
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