here and there

I spend all day gobbling down the web. It's selfish of me not to regurgitate some of it for you. In fact, it's hypocrtical of me, since I've always said that I feel like a mother puffin when I blog. Time to let you all stick your beaks down my throat. But you better be a baby puffin, is all.

On the Arts Journal Daily website I found a link to Joseph Epstein's essay "The Literary Life at 25," a follow-up to his 1982 piece on the state of the humanities. At first I was disappointed by the tone of twee self-regard, but I soon cheered up when I realized what the piece was: a knifing of the last quasicentennial of the life of the mind. He starts with a few whittles at the figure of the 'public intellectual', starts nicking away at Susan Sontag ("it was only reality of which she was ignorant"), but by the time he gets round to poetry, it's stabbin' time:

Poor poetry, it is the Darfur of twenty-first century literature. Everyone wants to do something about it, but nobody quite knows what is to be done. Money is poured into it (think Miss Ruth Lilly’s $100 million bequest to Poetry magazine), prizes and titles are awarded to poets roughly every thirty-five minutes (think Poet Laureate of the State of New Jersey), new poets are produced roughly at the rate of rabbits (don’t think, lest serious depression set in, of all those endless MFA programs turning out more and more people who will themselves go on to teach in MFA programs).
"The Literary Life at 25"

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Mark Kermode explores his personal history of film-over-TV snobbery in The Guardian. Then he rates the state of current television.

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I’m looking forward to watching Le Samourai and 2 Days in Paris tonight, which I am assiduously leeching from the internet. Ahh, sue me. In the meantime, David Thomson will tell you all you need to know about Jean-Pierre Melville in this essay here.

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Anthony Lane of the New Yorker drools over the Leica in 6,000 words of nicely wrought prose.

A Leica viewfinder resembles no other, because of the frame lines: thin white strips, parallel to each side of the frame, which show you the borders of the photograph that you are set to take—not merely the lie of the land within the shot, but also what is happening, or about to happen, just outside. This is a matter of millimetres, but to Leica fans it is sacred, because it allows them to plan and imagine a photograph as an act of storytelling—an instant grabbed at will from a continuum. If you want a slice of life, why not see the loaf?

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As we all sorta know but do not care to imagine, incarceration policies in the United States are warping its society and letting its minority population bump around in the endless drying cycle of penury and poverty:

In surveys conducted by Pager, 62 percent of Milwaukee employers said they'd consider hiring an applicant with a nonviolent drug offense in his past. But in her field study, Pager found that her black applicants with criminal records got called for an interview - or to interview on the spot, as they applied in person - a mere 5 percent of the time. That compared with 14 percent for the black applicants without a criminal record. Meanwhile, the white applicants with a record were called back 17 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent for the white men lacking the blotch on their résumé. "Two strikes" - blackness and a record - "and you're out" is how Pager summarizes her findings. (Pager has replicated this study in New York City, with similar results.)

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Here’s a piece from the New York Times about the increasing proportion of TV screen space being overtaken by ads. I think we can all agree that ads suck, and that the nature of ads is to suck mightily. Let’s think of it in terms of accident and essence. Advertisements are the ape of art: the artistic qualities of an ad are costumes that can be changed at a moment's notice. It is a mistake to distinguish any commercial on television, say, from the one that precedes or follows it - they are all different outfits worn by one entity. What gives shape to the fabric is a rhetorical structure, which for the sake of visualization I'll call The Greedy Sucking Monkey That Wants Your Mind. The monkey wants you to believe that it is natural and inevitable, that its powers of disguise and occasional philanthropic missions qualify it as a permanent citizen of our imagination. But the next time you see an ad that empowers women by selling them wrinkle cream, or an ad from an oil company that touts the beauty of nature, remember the Greedy Sucking Monkey.