Literary Desire


In this review of Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critiquethe author looks at contemporary literary criticism.

Felski asks what might happen if we looked not “behind the text” but “in front of the text, reflecting on what it unfurls, calls forth, makes possible.” In doing so, she seeks to rehabilitate the validity and importance of what we might call “literary desire”: the force that drives you to reread your favorite book yet again; or to finish that work of genre fiction even when you know the ending; or to press a beloved book awkwardly into a distant acquaintance’s hands in hopes that she, too, will come to love what you love and might one day talk with you about it.

First Things

Painting by Brianna Keeper

Calibri’s Scandalous History


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Somehow Calibri font seems to be there in recent scandalous events.

Since 2007, Calibri has figured in several other forgery allegations. In 2012, the Turkish government accused approximately three hundred people of plotting a coup, on the basis of documents that had been printed in Calibri but were purported to date from as early as 2003. De Groot sent a form letter in response to the many inquiries he received from Pakistan. “In my opinion, the document in question was produced much later” than 2006, he wrote. While Microsoft had by then released a beta version of its Office suite that included Calibri, de Groot pointed out that only “computer nerds” and “font lovers” were using it. “Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document?”

The complete article

Ross Arbes — The New Yorker

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What the Minotaur can tell us about Picasso


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His Minotaurs appear in scenes both of rape and of tender eroticism, as monsters and as victims and as heroes. In one piece from 1937, Minotaure dans une barque sauvant une femme, the monster is a saviour, hoisting a limp woman into his boat. In the Minotauromachie, the Minotaur, hulkingly huge on the right of the etching, reaches his arm out to block the light from a little girl’s candle. The girl is entirely unafraid; the monster, apparently, scared to be seen. But then he is also, as the viewer can hardly fail to notice, beautiful – a self-portrait that, once again, reads as a confession masking a boast, and vice versa.

The complete article

Tim Smith-Laing — Apollo

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FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: A FORCE OF NATURE


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It is said that the character of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was inspired by the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “The self-proclaimed “world’s greatest architect” was an inspired talent-spotter, employing brilliant female assistants”. Today’s needull talks about this aspect of Wright.

Driven by big ideas and a desire to reach nationwide audiences, Wright mastered any number of presentation techniques, from coloured pencil drawings to books, magazines, exhibitions, monographs, films, radio and television. He even appeared on the popular TV quiz show, What’s My Line? He also knew—the MoMA exhibition is very good on this—how to attract talented young assistants, some straight from high school, who, quite simply, drew beautifully. In fact, the MoMA exhibition reveals many of the set-piece Wright drawings to be the work of assistants, notably Jack Howe, known as “the pencil in FLW’s hand”, who, joining the studio in 1932 aged 19, was its chief draughtsman from 1937 when Fallingwater in Pennsylvania—one of the most renowned of all US buildings—was under construction.

The complete article

Jonathan Glancey — The Art Newspaper

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Deconstructing Edvard Munch’s famous painting


Today’s needull looks at Munch’s famous painting “The Scream”. There is something about the painting which is timeless. In today’s world of hyper connectivity and noise, this painting has a meaning for me.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

The complete article

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The Fate of the Critic in the Age of Clickbait


Do Twitter and Facebook spell the end of the critic?

Criticism of any kind is increasingly unwelcome at the digital-age paper. Consider a controversy that flared up in Canada last year. Arthur Kaptainis, who had long been the critic of the Montreal Gazette and more recently had been writing freelance for the National Post, reviewed a Canadian Opera Company production of Rossini’s “Maometto II.” The Canadian Opera asked for a couple of corrections, whereupon the Post took the bizarre step of removing the review from its Web site. Amid the resulting hubbub, a Post arts editor was quoted in an e-mail: “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” The same mantra is heard at culture sections across America. Reviews don’t catch eyeballs. They don’t “move the needle.”

The logic seems irrefutable. Why publish articles that almost nobody wants? On closer examination, some shaky assumptions underlie these hard-nosed generalizations. First, digital data, in the form of counting clicks and hits, give an incomplete picture of reading habits. Those who subscribe to the print edition are discounted—and they tend to be older people, who are also more likely to follow the performing arts. A colleague wrote to me, “The four thousand people reading your theatre critics might be extremely loyal subscribers who press the paper on others. People in power often speak of ‘engagement’ and ‘valued readers,’ yet they still remain in thrall of the big click numbers—because of advertising, mostly.”

The New Yorker

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

Curating a New Literary Canon


Who would you put in a museum of the best American writers? Hemingway? Kerouac? Bukowski? Note those are all white guys. The author visits a new museum devoted to writers to ponder the question of “who (and what) deserves to be in America’s first museum dedicated to writers?”

Walking through Chicago’s new American Writers Museum a week before it opened to the public, I felt like a cross between that eleven-year-old (wide-eyed, thirstily trying to absorb the canon, inspired by history) and that twenty-one-year-old (tallying up gender and race and queerness on the 100-author “American Voices” wall of fame and doing some quick math).

The museum’s creators faced an impossible task, the same one undertaken perennially by anthologists and English professors: How can we represent four hundred years of American literary history in a way that doesn’t reinforce the unfortunate hierarchies of those four hundred years?

Electric Literature

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper