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August 2008

Positively Radiant

Ladies, there’s been a miracle breakthrough. Mary Huang creates “transformative fashions” - specifically, luminous knitwear

Radiant Radiant_2 Radiant_3 Radiant_4

Readers with “a sense of magic and mystery” can own a scarf and dress embedded with two dozen LEDs. Thankfully, both items can be powered by batteries or from the mains for extra fabulousness. And, as Ms Huang points out, “When not being worn, the pieces double in function as lamps, avoiding the fate of hanging neglected in a closet.”

Let’s Play Bamboozle!

Further to this, a few more thoughts on postmodernist prose.

Behold_my_mystique_2It’s sometimes argued, not always convincingly, that the opaque and technocratic language of “critical theory” is necessary in order to “interrogate [the] tacit presumptions [of common sense] and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world.” And, furthermore, that “some of the most trenchant social criticisms are often expressed through difficult and demanding language.” The implicit gist of such claims - which are remarkably short on persuasive examples - is that if you find this kind of language “difficult” it’s your own damn fault for being an unsophisticated heathen. A version of this argument goes something like this: “You wouldn’t mock specialists in quantum chromodynamics just because their work can be difficult to follow, so why don’t you give theorists of rhetoric, who are every bit as clever and important, the same benefit of the doubt?”

There is, of course, a difference between prose that’s difficult out of necessity – because it deals with fine or esoteric distinctions or describes ideas that are primarily conceptualised in mathematical terms - and prose that’s politically loaded and gratuitously difficult for less edifying reasons. As, for instance, when Ralph Hexter and Daniel Selden insist that clear writing is bourgeois and ideologically contaminated, being as it is, “the approved mode of expression for the society and values of the newly empowered middle class.”

There are plenty of writers who grapple with technical or unobvious ideas, and the good ones make it as easy as possible for the reader to follow the thinking and determine whether or not it’s sound - and if not, to determine where the doubt or error is. Such-and-such a mistake happens there. Or, this doesn’t follow from that. Or this other thing could be the case. This preference for transparency starts a process of critical thinking, or is at least amenable to it. It also entails honesty and the risk of public correction, as opposed to posturing and the hope one won’t be rumbled. This is a matter of no small importance, especially if the ideas in question are supposed to justify an adamant political worldview. Clarity invites dispute, possibly refutation, and refutation of one’s politics can, for some, be intolerable.

Continue reading "Let’s Play Bamboozle!" »

Friday Ephemera

Toe Jam. Amusing nakedness. Let it load. (Low-res version here.) // CERN rap. The Large Hadron Collider gets superfly. // LHC centrefolds. (h/t, Andy.) // The mathematics of origami. // More wall-climbing robots of note. // Photographs of Iceland. // Britain, from above. With GPS ‘trails’. // A bubble map of Olympic medals. // The Hand Drawn Map Association. (h/t, Coudal.) // The Egyptian Unique Moustache Association. See if you can spot where it stops being funny. // An interview with Geert Wilders. Michael Buerk, aghast, repeats usual guff. // Calligraphy with light. // Lightmark. // Total solar eclipse, China. // Japanese sex museums. // When viruses get sick. // More ancient cities of colour. // Bug sculptures. How to make your own. (h/t, Drawn!) // One man and his dog. // Give yourself elf ears. // Martha Nussbaum kicks sand in the face of Judith Butler. // Then Peter Risdon swipes her towel. “It is always a pleasure to read a self-refuting argument.” // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Marlene Dietrich.


Busy today, but here are a few ditties from the ephemera archives.

Kirstie MacColl: In These Shoes. (2000)

Greta Keller: Blue Moon. (1935)

Flanagan & Allen: Any Umbrellas. (1939)

Noise of Human Art: Balkan Hot Step. (2003)

Xiao-Peng Jiang and the Chinese Orchestra of Shanghai Conservatory: Tune for Chinese Opera. (2005)

The Reverend Robert Wilkins: That’s No Way to Get Along. (1929)

The Ink Spots: Pork Chops n’ Gravy. (1938)

Sun Ra and the Blues Project: Batman. (1966)

The Lovers: La Dégustation. (2005)

Scala and the Kolacny Brothers: Teenage Dirtbag. (2002)

Ah. Something for everyone.

Phantom Subtext (2)

Bizarre allegations of subtextual racism have been noted here before, but this one, spotted by Darleen at Protein Wisdom, is, well, stunning. A flip Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chozick on Barack Obama’s slight build has driven Slate’s Timothy Noah to heights of righteous umbrage:

…any discussion of Obama's ‘skinniness’ and its impact on the typical American voter can’t avoid being interpreted as a coded discussion of race.

Can’t it be avoided, even among sane people?

Chozick insists that she didn't intend her playful feature about Obama’s physique as potential electoral liability to carry any racial subtext. “I can't even respond to that,” she told me. “That’s ridiculous.” […] Bob Christie, Dow Jones’ vice president of communications, phoned me in a flash to reaffirm that message. I believe Chozick and Christie when they say that the Journal never intended skinniness to serve as a proxy for race… But I firmly disagree that a racial reading of Chozick’s story is “ridiculous,” and I would counter that any failure on Chozick’s part to recognize such is just a wee bit clueless. […] 

When white people are invited to think about Obama’s physical appearance, the principal attribute they’re likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama’s other physical attributes can’t help coming off as a coy walk around the barn. […] Chozick wasn’t asking (and, I feel sure, would never ask) whether Americans might think Obama’s hair was too kinky or his nose too broad. But it doesn't matter. The sad fact is that any discussion of Obama’s physical appearance is going to remind white people of the physical characteristic that’s most on their minds.

Noah’s determination to detect some lurking racist intent is a tad convoluted and, it seems to me, positively neurotic. Notice how Noah has to insinuate what Chozick really meant, or what she would supposedly be taken to mean, even though he can’t find any of Chozick’s own words to support that insinuation: “Would you want a whole family of skinny people to move in next-door?” Those are Noah’s words, not Chozick’s, and this substitution is done repeatedly. In effect, he’s an indignant ventriloquist. It’s rather like slipping a whoopee cushion on someone’s chair and then looking shocked by the subsequent rasping noise. And, it has to be said, Obama is remarkably thin as presidential candidates go. In fact, the thinness of his neck (rather than its colour) was the thing that caught my attention when I first saw him on TV. It’s just a neck too thin for television. Whether thinness of neck has any relevance to being president, or indeed being black, I really couldn’t say.

Toy Barricades

Poking through the comments following this, I rediscovered a quote from an essay by Roger Scruton, first published in the New Criterion, February 2003. He’s talking about the Paris riots of 1968, but readers may spot some connection with the sentiment of this.

That evening a friend came round: she had been all day on the barricades with a troupe of theatre people, under the captainship of Armand Gatti. She was very excited by the events, which Gatti, a follower of Antonin Artaud, had taught her to regard as the high point of situationist theatre - the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life. Great victories had been scored: policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed. The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy…

What, I asked, do you propose to put in the place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom you owe the freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? What vision of France and its culture compels you? And are you prepared to die for your beliefs, or merely to put others at risk in order to display them?

…She replied with a book: Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the “discourses” of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue - by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies - that “truth” requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the “episteme,” imposed by the class which profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds.

Related: Rebellion, Foucault’s Suit, Foucault and the Ayatollah, A Romantic Hostility. (h/t, pst314)

Friday Ephemera

12 Glowing Men. Still angry, but now glowing. (h/t, Coudal.) // The Microsoft Surface Sphere. // Unnecessary knowledge. // The musical Pikachu. Oh, you’ll never tire of that. // Social skills 101 for Japan’s hikikomori. // A keyboard without keys. // Meet Gore-Al. // When galaxies collide (2). // The 50 megaton Tsar Bomba. “Its enormous size made the bomb impractical for warfare purposes.” (h/t, Things.) // Soviet atomic weapons tests. // Filmed effects of atomic weapons. // Details of warp drive remain somewhat sketchy. Requires energy equivalent to entire mass of Jupiter. // At last, the jetpack. // Zoom with Motorola. They’re saving the world. // Fallen. A meteor’s tale. // Beluga whales and bubble rings. // Guardian hypocrisy shock #37. // The periodic table of videos. // The periodic coffee table. // The table is melting. (h/t, Artblog.) // An archive of magazine first issue covers. // Heather MacDonald on maths and gender. // The political correctness of academic disciplines. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Fats Waller.