5 October, 2013

The Dead, the Undead, and Some Art

So. Life. It has a tendency to demand that I sit increasingly less and less in front of a computer– I suppose that’s a good thing, isn’t it? A new house, a new year, and a new set of adventures…

In keeping with the documentation of great moments and great things that have made their way to my awareness, I do have some archival presents. I was browsing around Society6 today, and I (re?)discovered Terry Fan, whose art is both whimsical and interestingly syncretic, fusing lots of nerdy things with attractive design aesthetic, pairing the absurd with the kitschy and cool.

Winged Odyssey

 

 

Revenge of the Whale

 

It’s All Relative

Check out his full collection of available works at Society6. I kind of want to go on a tote bag buying spree now. If his style looks vaguely familiar, it’s probably because he’s done a number of shirts for Threadless.com.

What else can I offer you, Internet?

A few irreverant things for posterity, perhaps?

Vaguely scarring Nick Cage Pokemon Mash-up? Check: http://pokemonxniccage.com/

Hilarious photography? Wish granted: http://terriblerealestateagentphotos.com/

Harry Potter x Carl Jung? Bam: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/what-harry-potter-character-fits-your-personality-type
(I fall somewhere between Luna Lovegood and Remus Lupin, for the curious)

Brilliant parenting x eternal Internet shame? Ta-daa: http://www.reasonsmysoniscrying.com/

And that’s all for now.

16 June, 2012

Book Review Dump

Alright, so compared to last semester’s meager showings, this semester I read a lot. I apologize for the general silence on this blog over the past several months– I think you can get a sense of what was keeping me occupied, however. With no further ado:

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – Great
I may have been tempted to give this novel a higher score before writing on it. In a lot of ways I find it spectacular, insightful, and beautiful. Housekeeping follows a family of women living in a small town in Idaho, their family legacy (or curse), and the way anything abnormal causes small town America to collectively lose its lunch (albeit, with some good reason). I love Robinson’s style of writing– poetic without being purple, elegant without being overwrought. I wrote on it, hence my now vaguely listless feeling about it. I’m kind of tapped out on Housekeeping, and Robinson in general. On a critical note, I think the gendered aspects get over-emphasized at the expense of some really striking and interesting themes, such as psychological aspects of mind and memory and identity. It’s hard to talk about this book without trying to make it about any one things– and it’s not. One of the things that makes it great is its complexity. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in meditative, lyrical examinations of the self and its place in society, or if you’re looking for a novel that deals either with rural or Northwestern America. It also has my favorite boat-stealing scene of all time. Seriously.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Great
One thing about Marilynne Robinson that’s almost unavoidable is her intellectual fascination with religion. She is a devout, practicing Christian, and that comes through in a lot of her works (take, as one example, her essay collection Death of Adam). In Gilead, her narrator/protagonist is an elderly pastor. It’s a beautiful work (same notes on style I made for Housekeeping hold true here, too, of course). While this novel doesn’t have boat stealing, it does come with a rather delightfully morbid horse-in-a-hole story. A lot of my interest in this novel comes from the way it unravels and unpacks family and community secrets, and deals with prejudice. Honestly, if you’ve ever lived in a small town in America, there will be a lot that feels and sounds familiar to you. Very beautiful writing.

Taming Wild Thoughts by Wilfred R. Bion – Good
Obscure psychoanalysts for 500, Alex. Bion is really interesting, as a historical figure in psychoanalysis– he deals mostly with trauma, the unknown known (something you know, but cannot express or realize is there, essentially– in Bion’s work, these are called Beta bits). Taming Wild Thoughts is itself a pretty interesting book. It is essentially two things: an explanation of Bion’s grid, which describes different mental capacities, functions, and activities, and transcriptions of two audio recordings he made. The back half of this volume is him spouting interesting thoughts, unedited, as they occurred to him. It’s pretty cool.

Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag – Fantastic
I have a little bit of a scholarly crush on Sontag after this monograph. Illness as Metaphor came packaged with AIDS and Its Metaphors, which wasn’t relevant to my research, so I haven’t read it yet. Illness deals with some pretty interesting ideas about the characterizations, historically, of both cancer and tuberculosis. Her dichotomy is a little bit forced at times, but very useful if you’re talking about disease and literature. Highly recommended if you’re interested in diseases, contagion, the social characterization of disease, or historical interests in disease.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Good
Though occasionally guilty of trying too hard, History of Love is a pretty interesting book. It plays with space and does strange things with timelines and narrators, which means there’s a pretty good chance I’ll like it, or at least find it interesting. It’s probably the most shatalogical novel I’ve ever read– you’re always completely aware of Leo’s bowel movements, and there are parts of the narrative that I just don’t buy. I personally don’t buy into Bruno: not because I didn’t see it coming and I feel hoodwinked (I enjoy clever turns in books), but because it solidly didn’t compute. The signs and space were diverse enough that Bruno’s “reality” causes a lot of other “events” to become questionable to me, and I don’t think that’s what Krauss was going for. I apologize for being cryptic, I’m trying to complain without spoiling. It’s a solidly interesting book. Recommended for people who are interested in meta-books (books about books), Holocaust literature, Jewish literature, American immigrant narratives, and books with multiple narrators.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang – Fantastic
This collection of short stories is a really great primer, in a lot of ways, for the genre of science fiction. If you’re looking to jump in, here’s a good one to do it with. Stories vary in length, and each deals, very cleverly, with what it means to be human. It has everything from ancient Babylon to future evolutionary advances. It deals with homunculi, angels, automatons, and a whole mess of other things. I highly recommend it.

The Missionary by Sydney Owenson – Great
What does an Romantic-era Irishwoman writing about colonial Portuguese and Spanish figures in India have to say? A whole lot. Some of the most interesting themes in this book are religious. For instance, what does it mean to be converted, and what lengths should a person go to in order to achieve conversion? Hybridity and syncretism are really interesting issues in this novel, as well. It’s a really interesting, really unusual book, and you’re not expecting it. Especially if you have the Broadview edition, which features the wonderful Father Fabulous (naming credits to a Certain Fellow). Also, I’ll admit it freely: I did not expect the Spanish Inquisition. Highly recommended for people interested in European depictions of India (Owenson’s geography actually makes sense– no small accomplishment in the Romantic era), powerful female heroines, and post-colonialism– particularly if you’re interested in religious contact zones (to borrow from Pratt’s vocab.)

The Wild Irish Girl by Sydney Owenson - Good, at times Great
Spoiler: Glorvina is not wild at all. She runs around like a giant little kid, but don’t get too excited– she’s still pretty much the Romantic heroine. This novel totally wins the award for worst courtship ideas (climbing the side of a mouldering old castle to peep in on someone and then falling to your almost-death is NOT the way most successful relationships begin). Great book for looking at early Romantic historical novels, women, Ireland as part of the internal empire, and religion as part of a philosophical/cultural debate.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth – Good
I started thinking about this one as a geneology of failure after a while. Edgeworth is a Romantic writer who loves herself a good Protestant work ethic and moral system. Therefore, anticipate that. If you’re into narratology, however, you can have a lot of fun with the narrator and his son. The son is definitely a shyster, and you can (if so inclined) entertain yourself by reading his father, the narrator, as similarly deceitful. It’s a pretty straightforward family tale, but it deals with property, ownership, and inheritance in some interesting ways.

Early Black British Writing edited by Alan Richardson and Debbie Lee – Great
Not a lot of scholarship is done with early black British writers, which is kind of a shame, because they’re very interesting. I read pretty much everything in this volume, and it covers a lot of really interesting personalities– everything from Ignatius Sancho writing letters to Lawrence Sterne in the style of Tristam Shandy to Robert Wedderburn (whose ultra-radical pseudo-religious crazy is pretty awesome.) Really interesting for post-colonialists, but also interesting for people who like immigrant narratives, African writing, travelogues, and nineteenth century religious oddities. The volume includes Sancho, Gronniosaw, Cugoano, Equiano, Jea, Wedderburn, Mary Prince, Phyllis Wheatley, and Juan Francisco Manzano. Fair warning: Equiano’s narrative is fascinating. His poetry is awful.

The Giaour by George Gordon, Lord Byron – Fantastic
Alright, so I totally have a love affair with Lord Byron going, but really, it’s a match made in whimsy heaven. The man loved turbans and menageries. I love turbans and menageries. Seriously, who couldn’t love a man who wears hair curling papers at night and travels with badgers and crocodiles? Sartorial and lifestyle love affairs aside, The Giaour is also basically tailor made for me– multiple perspectives, trauma, narrative gaps, jumps in time… and it’s fancy. It’s such a weird, wonderful piece. If I’d had the chutzpah, I’d have written on this one this semester.

Waverly by Sir Walter Scott – Good
Scott is long. We need to get that out of the way. Scott feels long. That is also true. However, Scott is also funny, and his characters are interesting. If you’re into English civil wars, Scotland, or historical fiction, I recommend it. On the note of historical fiction, this novel sort of started that frenzy. Also, kilts being cool outside of the high lands? You can thank him for that, too.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – Good, at times Great
MfP suffers from the same long and feeling long problem that Waverly does– it isn’t the length that gets me. I’m fine, often thrilled, with long books. However, you have to realize with these novels that it takes a hundred pages or so for something resembling a plot, direction, or point of interest to arrive. However, I did really enjoy MfP, despite the fact that Edmund and his grooming process is creepy. I’ve also added Fanny to list of Austen characters who I’m convinced is secretly autistic. It’s interesting for postcolonialists, as well. Class, geography, and hegemony are all extremely interesting in this work.

Lyrical Ballads (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth – Great
I wrote on this, this semester, hence its appearance on the list. Yes, I’d read it before. I recommend it. It’s so full of disaster and doom and gloom and other interesting things. Personal favorites: Goody Blake,  Female Vagrant, Ancyent Marinere. Plus, basically all of Coleridge’s other contributions (there aren’t that many.) Plus, if you get the Broadview edition, you get MAPS. I love maps.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Great, at times Fantastic
I really enjoyed this book– hated most of the women in it, but Diaz is a talented writer, and he creates fascinating, multi-faceted, rich worlds for his characters. One of its stronger selling points, I think, is the sense of alienation it gives you– jumping back and forth between different frames of reference, settings, and themes, it’s a rare person who can’t learn something from this book. It’s fluid, tragic, raw, and weird– all great things for a book to be. The ending is frustrating, but understandable… even if it participates in my least favorite trend in contemporary American literature (for the sake of spoilers, I won’t tell you what it is, though the title basically gives it away).

Drown by Junot Diaz – Great
Both this book and Diaz’s other, Oscar Wao, are curious experiments in genre, falling somewhere between vingette, novel, and short story. Yunior narrates both, and it’s interesting to see the overlaps and parallels– the faceless man, youth in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, and struggles with self image– and it’s also a fascinating set of stories in its own right. Highly recommended.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli - Fantastic
This was a really thoughtfully, beautifully executed graphic novel– full color. And by full color, I mean everything but black. The “key” on most pages is a dark purple. Mazzuchelli does a masterful job delineating difference and compromise and personality and conflict and all sorts of other things through the graphic medium. It’s a nuanced, smart, grown up look at relationships and growth, it’s a beautiful piece of art, and I highly recommend it.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud – Fantastic
This is one of those books that, given my background and my reading tastes, and my almost blanket-love of theory, I should have picked up a long time ago. I really think McCloud’s book begins to approach the medium of comics from a critical, clever, and insightful view. He manages to illustrate and explain complex concepts in a really interesting, approachable manner. His sections on gutters, time, and transition are fascinating, especially to me, as an artist who works with a lot of multiple register / frame pieces.

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun – Great, frequently Fantastic
I really enjoyed this book, and honestly, I need to revisit it– it got read in awkward chunks, and I feel like it was deep, meaningful, interesting, and stranger than I can give it credit for at the time being. There’s so much in this book, in terms of gender, family responsibility, postcolonialism, storytelling (a narratologist could have sooooooooooo much fun with its ending sequence), etc. Recommended, especially if you have an interest in gender.

Homeboy by H. M. Naqvi – Good
This one came to me via my class on terrorism and nationalism last fall– it was a very interesting take on the popular neurosis: what happens when the wrong person gets taken in on terrorism charges? The cast is large, and sometimes difficult to keep track of, but ultimately very interesting, and very relevant. In a lot of ways, it’s a grown up version of Guantanamo Boy (see my earlier review of that title for more details).

Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – Great
A key text in African postcolonial lit, Weep Not deals with two brothers growing up in colonial Kenya– one a craftsman, one a scholar. Like some of the other African fiction I’ve read, it deals prominently with culture clash, British imperialism, family responsibility and structure, and civil rights. It’s a short, but very meaningful read, and I recommend it, especially to anyone interested in education, colonial schools, or East Africa.

Bring on the Books for Everybody by Jim Collins – Okay
A pretty interesting look at the state of literature and genre fiction in the United States today. Collins has some fascinating points about the types of reading and writing that are being conducted in the United States, and why. It’s not an earth shattering read, and given another few years it’ll be too dated to feel relevant, but it is a nice documentary on the types and styles of reading being encouraged in our country.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Great
McCarthy’s language is lovely. Even in a dystopian, pared down universe, he still has a prose style that pulls you along effortlessly. Even when babies are being eaten, and there are sixteen-wheelers and basements full of gore and horror, I was still like, “What a lovely sentence… ew.” A lot of people read this a dystopian future, I think you can also read it as an alternative history– a Cold War gone differently. Nuclear winter, plus cannibals. It doesn’t get much bleaker, but it still managed to be a really compelling, moving read. Not for everyone, but if you’ve got the stomach, I highly recommend it. You’ll be surprised how quickly it reads.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead – Good
It was fine. If you like zombies, you’ll think it’s really neat. I do like them, but honestly, Whitehead’s central metaphor in this one was just kind of like, “Yes. We’re zombies. I get it. We’re drones, okay. Yes.” His writing is lovely, if occasionally over the top. Mediocrity and survivor’s guilt play really interesting roles in this book. In terms of apocalypses, Whitehead does manage to give you a pretty interesting one– the only things that survive are the mediocre…and bureaucracy. Where there’s a pulse, there’s paper work, apparently.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – Good
While I liked each of Lahiri’s short stories, individually, as a collection they were sort of exhaustingly uniform– rich people from the Indian subcontinent with advanced degrees, struggling with relationships. Her writing was precise and pleasant, but I wasn’t enthralled, really. Living in Boston, I do enjoy her use of specific names, streets, and places, and the general sense of “hey I’ve been there!” (However, I’m pretty sure I’d have to pay someone off to get past the absurd security in Widener library to be able to use the bathroom…) Also: the Tsunami ending is awful and melodramatic– if you read, you’ll know what I mean.

History of Nourjahad by Frances Sheridan – Great
Romantic era orientalism at its most entertaining. Like many other orientalist pieces, part of the appeal of this short novel is its exotic local and its take on morality. It dichotomizes eastern and western moral systems through decadence and frugality, and through rational and superstitious understandings of reality. She does it through the introduction of a king and his best friend / adviser (Nourjahad). In a ridiculously entertaining and elaborate version of Punk’d, Nourjahad experiences immortality and immeasurable wealth, and a life on fast forward. It’s really fun. Recommended.

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – Good
The single most interesting thing about this book is the point of view it is told from. The entire book is told in first person plural– it is always the group of Japanese immigrant brides telling their stories, never an individual. Though names are given, characters are never developed. In this way, it reads more like a testimony than a novel, which itself is rather interesting. Highly recommended for those interested in Japanese immigration and WWII on the home front, as it covers the Japanese relocation and internment that went on during the war.

The Symposium by Plato – Fantastic
So, this was the first thing I read this summer. Nerd, party of one. I missed my Greeks. I missed my Plato. I needed to know all about the rotary octopods (Aristophanes) and I needed my dosage of Alcibiades. Who doesn’t, really? What I like about this dialogue is that it’s whimsical, silly, and thoughful, while still representing a lot of different, totally understandable (or absurd) views on love, its nature, and its meaning. Also, some of the descriptions of Socrates cracked me up.

Madness: Invention of an Idea by Foucault – Fantastic (mostly)
This little text is an interesting, relatively early work of Foucault’s, and some of the chapters are more noteworthy than others. I particularly liked his idea of madness as several levels of civilization being stripped away from a person, reducing him, as the madness increased, to more and more basic, primal instincts. That was cool, and I’m not really doing it justice here. He includes a long chapter that’s essentially Freudian, which is the nadir of the work, but otherwise, it’s a fascinating read.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Good
I love me some dysfunction and dystopia. That’s no secret. There were things I liked, and things I was suspicious of in theHunger Games. I liked the angle of reality TV, and the weirdness of the hybrid animals. I didn’t so much like some of the more ambiguous bits, like the geography, which was driving me insane (I need maps to be happy). I was also some what frustrated with Katniss (which I think is actually pretty normal). Part of my frustration with her was what feels like a burgeoning love triangle. Why can’t girls just be friends with their guy friends? Why, always, must things lead to a coupling up? I hate that impulse in fiction. Over all, it was a very fun read, and when I get the chance I’ll certainly read the next one in the series.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – Fantastic
I thought this graphic novel was brilliant. Simple, elegant, funny, and really interesting. Bechdel manages to simultaneously tell the story of her own sexuality, her family’s childhood home, and her father’s personal struggles, which is no small feat. It’s a thoughtfully, honestly rendered memoir. I also had a charmed reading experience with a library copy of the book. It came with 5 Euros tucked in it and a post-it on one of the pages that earnestly attested to the impact the book had made on a previous reader’s life. Nothing but love. Highly recommended, especially if you’re keen on David Sedaris (which I am. Any day of the week.)

Habibi by Craig Thompson – Great (with reservations)
Jury’s still out on this one, really. Objectively, the art was beautiful, the treatment of religion was fascinating and respectful, the philosophical discussion of shape and calligraphy at the end was extremely moving, and the narrative was interesting. I have some reservations about the depiction of gender in the book, mostly with the female protagonist, Dodola. She’s obviously intelligent, compassionate, frugal, clever, and fiercely loyal, but the only skill she can capitalize on is her body. Honestly, this is just depressing, more than anything else– I understand why it is that way. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to shake her. The other thing that bugs me is time. It totally falls into the orientalist trap of placing “Arabia” outside of time. I found the realization that we’ve been in modern day the whole time really abrupt and unpalatable, and I wish there had been subtle but consistent indications throughout of time period. I also couldn’t divorce myself from a Freudian reading, which meant that their relationship at the end of the novel was way, way, way too creepy for me to get behind.

The Unwritten vols. 1-4 by Mike Carey – Fantastic
This series is gorgeous. Its art is really interesting, its constant literary allusions keep my inner nerd happy, and I really enjoy the magic door knob and the scraggly flying cat. Honestly, if you love Fables or Sandman, I’d recommend this series in a heart beat. It manages to be both funny and sophisticated, thoughtful and glib, by turns. Another similar title is the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.

7 February, 2012

Too Early to Be Dead and Dying

So it’s too early in the semester for me to be as bad about posting photos as I have been. I’m going to claim a lack of time sitting in front of the computer (not a bad thing, right?), and an excess of Grad Student Guilt (also known as “I would, but I have to muddle through some Derrida tonight.” Not applicable, oddly, when the distraction involves alcohol.)

I do have photos, and I will try to post them, but for now here’s a weird little song that’s part David Bowie and part I don’t even know what.

Golden Silvers – Another Universe

Lyrics after the break… Continue reading

22 January, 2012

Art and Curses

I love urban legends. I also love art. Hence, when they come together, it’s a good day for me. A Certain Fellow brought this to my attention earlier this evening and I actually thought it was entertaining enough to share, especially because there’s a sequel to the painting, which is really interesting in terms of both form and content. The transformation and reiteration of characters in space is interesting, especially considering how much the style has changed. So, here’s the haunted painting, along with its sequel:

space

space

The original with the little boy, is called “The Hands Resist Him” and the sequel painting is “Resistance at the Threshold.” The urban legend suggests that the figures in the first, known also as the “haunted eBay painting”, get out and/or move around the painting at night. Thanks for the nightmares, right? There’s more to the legend, too–apparently there are a couple of deaths associated with it. The Wikipedia page is pretty informative to that end.

The artist, Bill Stoneham, has a pretty great gallery. He’s a surrealist, and a lot of his work his heavily loaded with myth and symbolism.

Similarly, I ran across the “Curse of the Crying Boy”, which is urban legends at their most ridiculous– tabloids and painting burnings. Apparently, kitschy paintings in the UK have been blamed for house fires. I legitimately like “The Hands Resist Him” as a piece of art, though– it’s creepy, it’s uncanny valley territory, it’s unsettling, and it’s compelling to look at. The legend grows out of a very interesting, creepy painting with an interesting provenance. The legend is almost better because the artist is contemporary, and able to respond to and contribute to the painting’s myth. There’s an indulgent goofiness there that I really find charming.

20 January, 2012

A quick note on current media events and the nature of intellectual property

I have a lot of thoughts about what’s going on with SOPA and PIPA right now, mostly focusing on the way this impacts me as an artist, and the way it impacts things such as Creative Commons licensing and “copyleft.”

First, here’s a great TED talk that outlines both the history of media and law, and what we actually need to be worrying about. This is bigger than shutting down sharing websites like MegaVideo and MegaUpload, Clay Shirky suggests.

I also want to take a moment to highlight “copyleft.” We are very much entrenched in the idea that creative property is the creator’s and the creator’s alone. We also tend to believe that that is the natural way of things, when actually, “copyright” as a concept is very new, coming only with the advent of the printing press (even then, at that early juncture, it was sort of trampled on).

We’re so interested in the worth of intellectual property that we lose sight of the power of copying. Dissemination is the best way to become known. Sharing achieves what, ultimately, should be the goal of any creator who publishes their work in a public forum: to have their creation be known. Am I saying copying is right, always, and screw proper attribution? No. But that’s what worries me with the current high-profile pieces of legislation– they seem to be criminalizing dissemination, even accidental or fully attributed dissemination.

According to Wikipedia: “Copyleft is a form of licensing and can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works such as computer software, documents and art. In general, copyright law is used by an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the author’s work. In contrast, under copyleft, an author may give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute it and require that any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement.” (Copyleft)

The way I see it, this is a much healthier–much less grabby, at least– of looking at intellectual property and rights. It will, of course, never be taken up by the producing industries (to borrow a term from Shirky) because it has little or no potential for direct financial gain, and the loss of absolute control over the intellectual property, is a decided financial loss. As producers, I think it’s incredibly important that we know our options, however. Creative Commons and Copyleft are great things, and by participating in them, we strengthen them.

As both consumers and producers, however, it’s very important to know your rights. If you take one things away from this long-ish, rambly post, let it be this: fair use. We cannot let fair use be eroded. Exercise your rights regarding fair use. By doing so, keep them safe.

17 January, 2012

Running All Over Town Before Grad School Runs Me Down

So I cleverly bought myself a week and a half before the semester slammed into me where I could just explore Boston and play and have a grand time before the soul crushing academic grind began again. Of course, I squandered most of my time catching up on TV shows and revisiting old haunts (I really didn’t need three new used books from Raven Books…), but I also continued my quest for the perfect Boston coffee spot.

So, with no further noise on my part, here is how I spent my time:

January 7

My parents are horrific creatures of habit (so am I), so, despite my whining and wincing, we ended up eating at the same places while they were here. My dad didn’t want to know anything about Little Italy or my favorite Turkish diner. New England = sea food. Period. Thus, Legal Seafood. However, Legal serves their tea in these incredibly cool cast-iron teapots. All was well. By the way, the wealth of plaid in the background is my mother’s outerwear.

January 8

Despite my vow that they would not haunt Fanueil Hall (it’s a dangerous addiction) on this trip, we ended up down that way for dinner, anyway, because we spent our day at the aquarium, where we spent a gloriously long time looking at fish, and remarking upon how ugly shark’s teeth were.

January 9

You may not know this (or maybe you’ve sensed the trend) I love shop windows. Especially late at night, when the light gets a little spooky.

January 10

Wandering around Brookline Village it occurred to me that it was January, and there were still green things. Green. These tiny mosses are still alive.

January 11

If you thought this was snow, you’re wrong. It’s baseball diamond sand, which I’m pretty sure is frozen with these footsteps in it.

January 12

Thus begins the frantic travels part of my vacation: two friends and I (yes, I spend time with other humans, hence why I take a lot of late night photos– it’s usually the only time I have a moment to do so) went to the MFA to attempt to finish what a Certain Fellow and I began in October (we failed. A third trip is necessary.) So a Certain Lady, a Certain Fellow, and a Certain Villain went cavorting about the Asian and Buddhist areas of the MFA. Certain Partners in Crime are certainly not in this first photo. Later photos: the funniest thing I saw all day, followed by collection of creepy shadows around a really nifty Japanese Buddhist idol.

YAHHAAAA! I AM AMAZING.

January 13

This is the inside of a great coffee shop whose name I have now forgotten.

January 14

Toured around Newbury St. Signs in stores, sunsets, and other trivial bits. The second one is somewhat hard to read (curses on my tiny camera phone’s screen, which made it look very clear indeed) but it says “keep this little button safe, though humble he could be of great use one day…” Oh, Anthropologie…

January 15

I also love wires and wire intersections. Reservoir Station has a marvelous collection. Plus, sitting down to pleasantly friendly graffiti is always a bonus!

January 16

In the department of new haunts/old haunts, I found a great cafe in Cambridge that I’m now rather partial to (Cafe Crema, to the curious), where I took no photos. Then I prowled around the same stores I always prowl when up in Cambridge. Then a Certain Fellow called to inform me it was snowing. I supply the photographic evidence. All my complaining about the lack of tangible winter has paid off! But first! A picture of feet at the Park St. Station.

15 January, 2012

Book Reviews: Autumn – Winter 2011

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – Fantastic
This is one of the most poetic, beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It was delicate, it was nuanced, it was layered, and it was a deeply cultural experience that dealt with both national and imperial ideas, as well as struggles with identity, history, family, and loyalty. I highly recommend it.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga – Great
This reminded me somewhat of Ngozi’s novel Purple Hibiscus. I was struck by the sense of space and food in this novel, and the way they reflect relationships and reinforce power dynamics and roles within the family. I really enjoyed this one.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Fantastic
I wrote on WSS this semester, and I really enjoyed it. Rhys’s writing is spot-on. It’s gorgeous, and I have a special respect for it because of the research and time I put into the writing I did. Rhys’s connection to Jane Eyre was so personal, so vibrant, and so fearless, and I really admire that. There’s this incredible sense of urgency in this novel– an urgency to exist, an urgency to be heard, an urgency, on a broad scale to legitimize not just the character of Bertha Rochester, but the whole Caribbean world and its cultures. I highly recommend reading it– it’s a fantastic, literary response to a book that I think really earned one.

The Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula – Great
A great expose of colonial-era French Orientalizing postcards. I know that sentence sounds weird, but that’s what this book is. It looks at a body of 50 or so images that romanticize Moorish and North African women for a French market. The essay that Alloula has composed to go with it is thoughtful and insightful– I really admire the job he has done looking at colonialism and exploitation through a different but very concrete lens. Can you tell I did a lot of my work around Orientalism and Colonialism this semester?

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (French) – Good, at times great
This book is an anthem of sorts. A revolutionary cook book. It’s fascinating to look at as a literature student– I do have some issues and questions with the particular translation I read. The best part, I believe, is the last chapter, where he goes through case studies of people he has worked with as a therapist. I found that chapter both terrifying and heartbreaking. Fanon is really at his strongest, I think, when he’s showing you the effects of imperialism and colonialism, showing you why it’s mutually destructive and should be abandoned.

Terrorist by John Updike – Nope.
Nope. That’s all. Oh? More? Updike can’t talk about a woman– any woman, for any length of time, in any context– without mentioning boobs. I’m not exaggerating. His characters are flat, and the affair between the guidance counselor character and the mother wasn’t just distracting and irritating, it was extraneous. If Lifetime Movies ever drafted a team of writers to construct a movie about terrorist cells in America, this book would be the backbone of their plot. Don’t get me wrong, Updike can write very lovely sentences– he’s a stunningly lovely writer when he wants to be. But read a different Updike book. It’s not one of his best.

Islamophobia by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg – Good
This book focused on the treatment of Islam in political cartoons at several key junctures in history. The argument here that I thought was both different and worthwhile was that Islamophobia is not new and is not an isolated reflection on the events of 9/11– it has a history reaching back to the Crusades, according to the authors. They do a rather nice job outlining this history, identifying the key places where visual Islamophobia and Anti-Islam stereotyping have run rampant, and outlining national and cultural symbols which have been weaponized in the process. It’s a niche read, but it’s very interesting, and very approachable. It probably honestly deserves a better rating than I’ve given it here.

Jihad Next Door by Dina Temple-Raston – Good
Written like a novel, but it’s not a novel– it’s an account of the Lackawanna Six. It has its good parts and its bad parts. Her characterizations become annoying in places, and I happen to be from about an hour away from Buffalo, so I have my own set of opinions. Overall it was very readable, and does a reasonably good job humanizing a group of men who became villainized very quickly in the wake of 9/11. It’s an interesting read.

Missing by Sunaina Marr Maira - Good
Maira might have broken my heart a little bit. She interviews a group of young Muslim-American immigrants from a variety of countries, and the sense of struggle they have, reconciling their culture with their new country, is staggering and heart breaking. It reminded me of a lot of students that I’ve worked with. I was also particularly taken with her concept of immigrant time. I think she really has something meaningful and important to contribute to the conversations about immigration happening in the United States and other Western countries. She’s dealing, very effectively, with the impact that our politics and our international maneuvering has on the next generation.

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera – Okay
I wanted more from it. There were parts of it that I thought had so much potential. One chapter slides sideways into experimental fiction, reflecting an altered mental state after torture. That chapter was striking and effective, but it was so isolated. I would have loved for her to have played more with form and genre to reinforce emotional resonance. As far as story line goes, it’s okay, if formulaic. Certain things, like uncertainty about his cousin and his father while he is in Guantanamo, and who exactly reported him and got him sent there, were very well handled.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris- Good
I fracking love the Santaland Diaries. I listen to it every year on NPR. It’s a personal Christmas tradition. I also have a well-documented writer’s crush on Sedaris. I actually treated myself at the end of the semester by reading this book. I’d read about half of it before, between the Santaland Diaries and Dinah, the Christmas Whore, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Fantastic
My favorite thing about Dickens is his villainesses. Madame Defarge is one of the most sinister ladies in literature. Similarly, Miss Havisham is awesomely crazy. She’s just great. She’s sinister, she’s tragic, she’s ridiculous, and she’s just in an alternate dimension about half of the time. Estella, also, is a pretty spectacularly-played bitch. Also, this might tell you a bit about my personality– I liked the original ending better. John Irving wrote a really nice introduction to the edition that I read, and he made a few points that I really agreed with. Particularly, that it was harder to deal with the kindnesses Pip receives from Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch than it is to deal with the horrible cruelties wrought on him by his sister (who never actually gets a first name), Estella, and Miss Havisham. Also, you could have a field day with the names in this book, from an analytical perspective.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Great
I do have a certain pronounced soft spot for Victorian and Romantic Gothic novels. I do count Jane Eyre in that group. I re-read a fairly long portion of this book for a paper, and I was reminded just how well-crafted and how carefully nuanced this book is. There so many details that become so important. She handles dramatic irony so well that the book is almost better as a re-read– now you know what the cause of Rochester’s incessant brooding is, and you ALMOST feel badly for him. Mostly not, though. Then again, Jean Rhys sold me pretty hard on loving crazy Bertha Rochester.

  A Suitable Enemy by Liz Fekete – Great
Fekete is writing about the immigration detention centers and “deportation machine” in Europe. This is the kind of book that really elucidates and complicates the problems presented in novels like Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Like Missing, Fekete is really interested in delineating actual effects of Islamophobia and its politics. If you’re at all interested in racial profiling, immigration, or international politics, I highly recommend this book.

Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole – Okay
I’m struggling to really judge this one because it’s attempting to be medieval instead of 18th century, and because it was freaking hilarious. I will definitely give Walpole props for being creative– of all the ways to begin a book, I would never have thought of DEATH BY SUDDEN AND INEXPLICABLE GIANT HELMET. How big? Big enough that they use it for a prison. I love the ridiculous. I have a well-documented love of the ridiculous. I also loved the giant GHOST!SMASH at the end. Also, there was a portentous nosebleed. Now, outside of all of these beautiful absurdities, it managed to drag through the middle as the scheming prince tried to figure out how to marry his son’s bride, given the sizable obstacles of 1) already being married himself, and 2) her thinking he’s groady. Overall, I’d say read it for the ridiculous, wade patiently through fifty pages of UGH WHERE ARE MY GHOSTIES?! and then be amused by the ridiculous ending.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - Good
This is one of those books that, for no quantifiable reason, read really quickly for me and was really enjoyable. Not a lot happens– actually, the book is more about what doesn’t happen, or what Stevens doesn’t want to admit is happening. Dripping with quiet ironies and crippling English mannerisms, it’s the kind of thing I would definitely recommend to Anglophiles and Austen addicts.

Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson – Great
This is one of those seminal texts that really holds up. Anderson is examining ideas of nationalism and loyalty, nation-building and identity formation. We accept, almost out of hand, that nations exist and have always existed. He has a lot of very marvelous observations, and my one major critique is one of the things I also admired– his cases studies and examples are extremely broadly based. He jumps around everywhere– Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America– and it shows that the trends are pervasive, but it also remains difficult to follow an isolated nation’s thread.

The Boys Vol. 1 & 2 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson – Good, at times great
This series was loaned by a friend, who thought the idea would appeal to me. Other than the occasionally repetitive and gratuitous sex scenes and fixation on perversity and homosexuality in super heroes, the series reads smoothly. It moves pretty quickly, and while there are no great reveals, certainly not this early in the series, it manages to be both tragic and funny, which is the kind of line that interests me. It also manages to engage with the idea of super heroes in an interesting and pointed way. Also, I love the Frenchman. The art style leaves me somewhat cold, there’s nothing really special about it, and I’m not a huge fan of the Butcher’s design.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, illustrated by Gustave Dore – Fantastic
Dore’s work is beautiful, and this is one of his last literary illustrations– second to last, if I remember correctly. The two pieces lend themselves to each other. The compositions Dore creates are really daring and beautiful, and the depth and variety of shade is breathtaking. I’m a printmaker, also, so I’m somewhat biased. However, I also have yet to meet a person who is not taken with the power and precision of Dore’s illustration.

8 January, 2012

So much work to do!

I have, for your viewing pleasure, Boston in an example of Extremely Persistent January Greenness. It simply refuses to be winter, which is extremely frustrating (says the idiot whose commute involves a minimum of ten minutes walking).

My dating system has totally disintegrated in the highly acidic mental environment of the end of the semester, so I will generalize this set as “something in the neighborhood of Dec. 10-19th.”

Something in the Neighborhood of Dec. 10-19th.

Celebrating the season (in spite of snow, or other indications of the season), the cake store put out a gingerbread house. It was actually really lovely, and this picture doesn’t do it a lot of justice.

fabulous Cleveland Circle graffiti doodle, which I have been trying to take a photo of for weeks. My phone likes to die on me before I can be in the right place to take the photo. In a rare display of my prowess over technological demons, I finally got a photo of this dude.

Free medieval opera up in Cambridge. Orientalism and faux antiquity for the win. Some of the costumes were really fabulous. There was one prop I loved– a bedraggled fan that had four really stubborn pink feathers still clinging on. Unfortunately, however, I’m too polite to take camera phone pictures during a performance. So… this is a recital hall.

Porch-roof sitting Santa. What do you do if you have a second story apartment and a plastic Santa you’re dying to display? You put him on the roof of the porch and laugh in the face of gravity.

The cranes above my desk. Read also: a day I didn’t go outside because I was bent double writing papers.

One of many days that I left campus embarrassingly late. I liked the shadows on the sidewalk. This is your brain on grad school finals.

Please note: rain. Not snow. Inappropriate weather. Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200, Mother Nature.

Harvard Square. Please note the guy wearing an entire orchestra… or something. :D

baseballs + December = why is there no snow yet? I don’t get it.

Finally, my favorite part of finals: the detagging of library books, and the deconstruction of the terrible devices I make to keep my brain functioning and fully sensible in the face of sleep deprivation.

More to come– I have book reviews and more recent pictures to put up, too. I took a break from pictures while I was home for the holidays, but now that I’m back in Beantown I’m back at it.

12 December, 2011

Another Diversion: Bergdorf Goodman Window Displays

photo from another normal.com (linked below)

Basically the coolest window displays of all time.

http://maisonchaplin.blogspot.com/2011/11/bergdorf-goodmans-christmas-windows_22.html

Even better news: there’s an archive of these gorgeous things.

http://www.anothernormal.com/?page_id=59

9 December, 2011

A few interesting diversions…

1.

Brilliant Paper and Book Art: the Edinburgh mystery sculptor’s works. I love the notes she leaves with her sculptures.  http://thisiscentralstation.co.uk/featured/mysterious-paper-sculptures/

2.

3.

Grad School Barbie: wondering where I went and why it takes me so long to upload photos? This is a pretty thorough answer. http://ceejandem.blogspot.com/2010/02/graduate-school-barbie-tm.html

4.

This, which I can’t explain in more words than just “YES.” http://selfpoptart.tumblr.com/

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