A bi-weekly round up of recommendations from around the interwebs by TNI’s editors and staff.
Willie Osterweil, Editor
Comic: Cul de Sac
"Comic strips are a mighty yet dying art form" Petey Otterloop says in the final Cul De Sac strip, and there are, to my knowledge, five strips that prove this definitively: Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and the web-comic Achewood. Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac's huge evolution in a scant five years indicates it would have been amongst their number had Parkinsons not cut his work short earlier this year. Comic strips are all too often about little kids because they are for little kids, but Cul de Sac, like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes before it, instead captures childhood without sacrificing wit or depth. Cul de Sac is the kind of strip where all its characters feel like your friends, but its beautiful art and surrealist sense of humor keep it from mere sitcom relatability. You can read the whole five-year run here.
Samantha Hinds, Editor
Blog: The Letting Go by Michael Popp
"This is chemotherapy. The color is gorgeous."
Rob Horning, Executive Editor
Art: Aneta Grzeszykowska, Album (2005)
Perhaps everyone has the feeling at some point that they don't belong to their family, that a cosmic mix-up has deposited them with a uniquely unsympathetic group of should-be strangers. Grzeszykowska literalizes that feeling in this photo album, in which she has digitally erased every trace of herself from her family photos, as if she were victim of a Stalinist purge. Family history seems as fragile and arbitrary as political history, readily "fixed" with artful reconstruction.
Malcolm Harris, Senior Editor
I know we're on the digital side of the great war, but I have secret print sympathies. And some people are experimenting smaller than the standard book but above the zine. Sarah McCarry (otherwise known as The Rejectionist) is commissioning (not to mention printing and binding) a series of beautiful small pamphlets. I just read Violence which is the first in the series and a conversation between Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch about violence and femininity in literature, and I can't think of a better way to wait for a train. Next is Bojan Lewis' Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona. And Sylph Editions -- winner of 3:AM Magazine's best publisher award and project of the Center for Writers and Translators at The American University of Paris -- has been putting out a series of pamphlets in the Cahiers series. The latest is Her Not Her, a play by one of my favorite authors Elfriede Jelinek. It complicates the American reception of her as a one-trick Marxist feminist. Print lives blah blah blah.
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Editor at Large
Belog is a depository for widely-strewn tchotchkes of Iraniana. In-jokes abound, but the wide world of weirdness emanating from immigration, exile, and diaspora may prove sheepishly universal. Like all highly subjective archives, it holds a sublime yet formidable potential, turning the deadly serious into the uncanny and the sentimental into the strange. It is sometimes offensive and often unclassifiable. From a map of the United States (the state names filled in Persian for recent immigrants) to the 'Notable Eyebrows' tag it is farce in Farsi, and it's fun. Once, it was a jumping-off point. Drawn at random, I bring the reader's attention to an excerpt from Andy Warhol's diary entries about his encounters and dealings with the Iranian monarchy in New York. At a dinner at the Iranian embassy in 1977: 'The princess ate a lot, but the queen when she was there didn't eat much at all, maybe because she was afraid of poisonings, although the food is pre-tasted.'
Erwin Montgomery, Associate Editor
Film: It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books
In 1995 director Richard Linklater released Before Sunrise, a film about a single night a postcollegiate abroad named Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and a French student Céline (played by Julie Delpy) spend in each other's company. Early in the film, while on a train bound for Paris but scheduled to stop in Vienna, Jesse and Céline fall into conversation, and at one point he shares with her a project he has conceived. "I have this idea for this show that would last twenty-four hours a day for a year straight," he tells her. "What you do, is get three hundred and sixty-four people from cities all over the world to do these twenty-four hour documents of real time, right, capturing life as it's lived." Among these activities include "a guy waking up in the morning, and, uh, you know, taking a long shower, eating a little breakfast, making a little coffee, you know, and, uh, reading the paper" — activities that Céline understandably dismisses as "[a]ll those mundane, boring things everybody has to do" but that Jesse insists go to making "the poetry of day to day life."
Some ten years before the release of Before Sunrise, Linklater actually made a film in that spirit. The feature-length It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books you might consider something of a treatment for Jesse's vaster, more ambitious project. It's Impossible's story, such as it is, centers on a character played by Linklater himself, an unmotivated Texas university student who decides to extend his winter break by skipping school to light out for Missoula, Montana, where a friend of his lives and studies. The bulk of the film covers his there and back again trek — his preparations, train ride, moseying, meandering and eventual homecoming, with a trip to his parents' home thrown in for good measure. Indeed, Linklater treats viewers to such drama as doing laundry, brushing teeth in an Amtrak car restroom, awaiting a plane departure, trying to start an old Mazda, and even reading. All these he serves up in real-time diegetic slabs without any edits or soundtrack save that of whatever incidental noises the camera happened to capture (scene).
It's Impossible appears to take its cues from the work of Chantal Akerman, but comes across as vaguer and less pregnant with import than anything the Belgian filmmaker ever produced. You'll have trouble finding it online, so you're best bet is to rent Criterion's deluxe edition of Slacker, a two-DVD set that includes It's Impossible as a bonus. Once you snag it, pop it in and decide for yourself whether before your eyes appears mundanity or poetry.
Imp Kerr, Creative Director
Article: Ritual and Signature in Serial Sexual Homicide (pdf)
Ritual and Signature in Serial Sexual Homicide is a paper for those who wish to expand their knowledge in crime scene behaviors.
Adrian Chen, Editor
Book: The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling
In the early 1990s, hackers and other digital miscreants were breaking into big phone companies' networks and learning a little too much about how the phones worked. Hoping to bring some order to the increasingly important "electronic frontier," the U.S. Government launched an unprecedented crackdown on the trade of illicit technical information in the digital underground. Many users of the early internet were touched by the ensuing chaos, including members of the Austin, Texas science fiction community of which Hacker Crackdown author Bruce Sterling was a part. With cyberpunk flair and an impressive amount sympathy for both sides of the fight, Sterling details the crackdown of the early 90s and shows how it gave birth to the cyberlibertarian movement, which remains a powerful voice in internet politics. Best of all, Sterling secured a deal with his publisher to release the book for free online, and you can download it in a number of formats from Project Gutenberg.
The book was published in 1992, but I recently re-read it to try to understand how we got the point where Aaron Swartz was willing to risk his mental and financial health for the cause of information freedom, and why his prosecutors were so eager to make him pay for it.