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Blogs Round Up

Gills, Gills Gills


A 33-ton shark tank in a Shanghai mall exploded, injuring up to 16 people and leaving three sharks and dozens of turtles and fish dead. It was a ghastly event that makes for an ecologically apocalyptic moving image. Going beyond the real-life scenario of such a thing happening—and ‘such a thing’ has actually happened—I’ve been grappling with its symbolic power, that is, some way to answer for the fact that I watched it on loop a dozen or more times. (That’s more times than Open Water and Open Water 2: Adrift, but not much more.) The what of the image is clear: what is the how of what it’s doing?

It is a truthful moving image not only because it is real (in contrast to the Spielberg and Hirst works that are framed as fiction or art, or the variety of viral hoaxes) but because it delivers on the dystopia of a false ambient environment. You wanted a giant decorative aquarium? Here’s your giant decorative aquarium.

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A moment of dreaming about higher education

As university education becomes a more highly valued commodity—as you pay fourteen thousand a year for a UC education, instead of nothing—the university experience has, indeed, become more a pleasurable self-cultivation, since university administrators prefer customers to workers. This is why universities spend more and more money on new dorms, new campus programs, and new ways of making their campus experience an attractive prospect for incoming freshmen: as universities transition towards a customer-payment model, they moving out of education business into the production of education products. They spend less and less money on classrooms and teachers, the spaces where student work happens, because they are, quite literally, not interested in student work. Their financial interest is in student-customers, and it shows.

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For to what lying necromancer have I not been a fortune?

In which Propertius, discussing the affliction and folly of love, also defines the relation between debt -

like love, a description of a present condition that insists upon the future constancy of the subject (because “I love you“ means “I will love you forever”, which means “There will continue to be a constant I, which is bound both to the I that loves you now and the you to which it says it,” no matter how much chatter there is about growing and changing together, sure, growing and changing like how the flesh learns to treat a long-ago misplaced fishhook like a small extra bone, the kind found in fish, because fish carry their own barbed nooses inside them, like debts, and they stick in our throat) and therefore becomes a prescription, cursing the future to be ever and always as if the present: in love, in debt -

and death: For to what lying necromancer have I not been a fortune?

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Poet-Taster (1)

The Kitchen Weeps Onion

The kitchen weeps onion

because the cook is dead. Pans strike chorus

and the ladles keep a knock-kneed stride.

Burners gleam more brightly. Chives,

chives, and chives. Everyone seems so tired

but the diners can’t sleep. The kitchen tonight

weeps onion, so everyone else must weep.

What’s the use in talking? Let’s touch,

and turn apart. The cook is quiet,

cold, unearthly, and the turnip

breaks its heart.


Book Review: The Beauty Experiment

The relationship between subject and object lies at the core of our relationship with beauty. The most obvious example is that women play dress-up to turn ourselves into objects under a system where men are the subjects. But in the new-ish strain of thinking about beauty, women have reconfigured beauty work not as a way to keep themselves objectified but as a liberation or expression of the “true self.” It’s a neater, more progressive response to objectification on the behalf of men, yet using “but I do it for me!” as the end to the conversation would be a mistake. For then, the relationship merely shifts from making oneself into an object for others to making oneself an object for ourselves.

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New lows

now 29 almost 30, my life is clearly moving into more boring crap.

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Blogs Round Up

Book Covers of the Year 

One of the best ways to judge a book is by its cover.

Here are some of the better book covers of the year, as selected for the New York Times by “people in an around the world of graphic design.”

I love John Gall’s cover for Houellebecq’s latest (slide 1) and Keith Hayes’ design for Bloodland (slide 13). I also like slides 4 and 18, but many of the other covers bored me somewhat. One of my least favorite is slide 6, for Chris Ware’s Building Stories, chosen, as it turns out, by the very same John Gall whose own designs I adore. What do I dislike about it? The tricksy but depthless cartoonishness of it, as opposed to the cartoon-like mystery of the Houellebecq. I can see that it’s good, but I don’t love it. I like a book design to contain some element of worry. But so many people have recommended Ware’s book that I will read it anyway.

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Consumed by Abstraction

The amazing thing here is that the derivatives market is now so much bigger than the “real” market, that it has gone ahead and purchased it. The transactions abstracted from the reality of the marketplace are now more important than the marketplace itself. It’s kind of like when The Simpsons became a bigger mainstream hit than the sitcoms it was satirizing, or when the deepest level down in Inception turned out to matter more to reality than reality.

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Hosed: Conservatism and the Return of Pantyhose

Bare legs—at least according to the Hollywood Reporter, which, well, whatever—are now beginning to look “tawdry” and “cheap.” So let me get this straight: Pantyhose was once thought dowdy, and now appearing without it might be tawdry. Virgin/whore, anyone? Between the association of bare legs with “cheapness” and pantyhose with somewhat conservative fields and regions, I’m actually wondering if there is some sort of connection between pantyhose and conservatism, even if most of its wearers—like myself—don’t consciously think of it that way. I wore it in earnest for years and still do, but at least now I can play it up as a sort of “retro” thing à la Mad Men—a show that was born from America’s conflicted relationship with conservatism.

Certainly one of the complaints against pantyhose—that it looks like one is trying too hard—registers with this line of thought. “Trying too hard” can take a lot of different forms, but it has immediate associations with a sort of over-the-top femininity that goes hand-in-hand with the conservative “let women be women again!” mind-set.

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The Hinterland: A Travelogue, Part 2

There’s a time for precision, he went on.  And there’s a time to stay whole.  Sometimes they aren’t the same time.  Just remember this: it’s subtracting from another whole that will doom you.  You could never be partial, because you weren’t that from the get-go.  You know that.  But you could become less.  So know that.  Unwhole.  Do you know?  (He didn’t wait.)  Taking a part of something else that deserves to be whole or to be allowed the chance to fall away into nothing, to take that part like it was an entire partial, I mean, hell, partials, do what you want with them, they flit anyway, go ahead and stitch them together, use them as a jack to change a tire, whatever, make a demi-scarf, fist them like hollow doghouses.  But to subtract something from a whole and add it to yourself… No, that’s what we can never allow.  He had the gun out yet again, for good easure, as he always did when we hit this topic, and on every point of emphasis, it swung just a touch too far in its expressive arcs and scraped lightly on the glass.  Because that’s what separates us…

Yes, I said. The subtraction.  That.

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The Hinterland: A Travelogue, Part 3

I wondered also if Spinoza had actually displayed his little placard, would he have bothered to put on trousers or just compounded the situation by appearing in his dressing gown, his long glass-dusted legs gleaming in the sun like the armor of the righteous?  Then I just listened to my eyes reddening. By degrees.  Click.  Click.

It sprawled out inside of me as best it could and composed, keening:





      Every part

            of me is

                  40 minutes

            from every other

part of you.  

Nope, I said, we are not.  Not so fast.  Or yet.

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Gut Reaction

“Food provokes an internal pleasure: inside the body, enclosed in it, not just beneath the skin, but in that deep, central zone, all the more primordial because it is soft, tangled, permeable, and called, in a very general sense, the intestines.”

— Roland Barthes