The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Tick, Tick, Tick… — A lovely essay by Zadie Smith about Christian Marclay’s art film The Clock — a 24-hour montage of film and television clips about time — for the NYRB:

Marclay manages to deliver connections at once so lovely and so unlikely that you can’t really see how they were managed: you have to chalk it up to blessed serendipity. Guns in one film meet guns in another, and kisses, kisses; drivers in color wave through drivers in black-and-white so they might overtake them.

And still The Clock keeps perfect time. And speaks of time. By mixing the sound so artfully across visual boundaries (Marclay’s previous work is primarily in sound), The Clock endows each clip with something like perdurance, extending it in time, like a four-dimensional object. As far as the philosophy of time goes, Marclay’s with Heraclitus rather than Parmenides: the present reaches into the future, the past decays in the present. It’s all about the sound. The more frequently you visit The Clock the more tempted you are to watch it with your eyes closed… Nostalgia is continually aroused and teased; you miss clips the moment they’re gone, and cling to the aural afterglow of what has passed even as you focus on what is coming, what keeps coming.

The Real Story — An interesting and passionate post by the publishers of Two Ravens Press about the whys and wherefores of being a small press and the economic realities they face:

Why do small publishers bother? There are undoubtedly as many reasons as there are small publishers, but for people like us it’s because we’re tired of seeing the same old stuff on the bookshelves year after year after year. Safe books, based on the books that sold millions the previous year. Books that take few chances, books that fail to do anything to change the way we look at the world or ourselves. I wanted to go into a bookstore and be surprised. I wanted writing that was different, language that sang. And that’s why we started Two Ravens Press: to publish those books that big publishers were hardly bothering with any more. That’s also why the glib so-called ‘solutions’ to all the problems of an independent publisher like us that consist of helpful statements like ‘you need to have the commercial successes to fund the losses you’ll make on the literary, innovative stuff’ make absolutely no sense at all. Everyone else is publishing the commercial stuff. I don’t want to. Not doing that is my whole raison d’être. That’s the whole point! I don’t LIKE commercial stuff. I don’t think it ought to be banned, I don’t look down my nose at it, sometimes (but not often) I’ll even read it. But I don’t want to be yet another publisher churning out more of the same old writing. I want to do something different. I want literature.

See also: Lynn Michell, director of Linen Press on The Guardian Book Blog.

The Sound of Science — The New York Times on the unlikely success of WNYC’s innovative science show Radiolab:

This approach — a smaller number of shows, painstakingly assembled and treated more like small movies than like regularly scheduled programs — addresses a different tension, around new habits of media consumption. That is the tension between relevance and disposability. Discussions of technology and media tend to focus on speed — what’s the fastest way to break the story, consume the story, influence the story? After all, media consumers today seem like info-rats chewing through heaps of micro-facts and instant-expiration data points.

But the other interesting thing about media these days is that it can stand perfectly still. In fact it loiters: shows don’t simply spill over the airwaves and evaporate; they linger on DVRs, DVDs, various online services. Newspaper articles pile up in Web “archives.” And clearly we still accept, still crave, some deeper media experience too. In experimenting with a show that produces (at most) 10 episodes a year, WNYC was specifically thinking of HBO’s success in building powerful cultural franchises that ignore the mores of traditional broadcasting.

And finally…

Wall of Sound — Nikil Saval on how the iPod has changed the way we listen and respond to music:

The great 1990s magazine the Baffler spent its first half-decade analyzing how the culture industry managed, with increasing success, to recognize new musical trends and package them and sell them back at a markup to the people who’d pioneered them. The Baffler looked back to the punk scene of the early ’80s for inspiration; it spoke up for small labels that sold music to local constituencies. If you couldn’t get what you wanted on the radio, you would have to find it left of the dial—and keep looking over your shoulder for the man.

The danger now is different. The man no longer needs a monopoly on musical taste. He just wants a few cents on the dollar of every song you download, he doesn’t care what that song says. Other times he doesn’t even care if you pay that dollar, as long as you listen to your stolen music on his portable MP3 player, store it on his Apple computer, send it to your friends through his Verizon network. To paraphrase Yeltsin’s famous offer to the Chechens, take as much free music as you can stomach. We’ll see where it gets you.

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