The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Ruined… For Life — Yuka Igarashi on the consequences of copy-editing at Granta:

There is a danger to copy-editing. You start to read in a different way. You start to see the sentence as machinery. You focus on the gears and levers that connect words to one another; you hunt for the wayward semicolon, the unintentionally ambiguous phrase, the clunky repeated word. You even hope they appear, so you can kill them. You see them when they’re not even there, because you relish slashing your pen across the paper. It gets a little twisted.

As with any kind of technical knowledge or specialization, it is possible to take copy-editing too far, to be ruled by it, to not quite be able to shut it off when it ought to be shut off.

(As if to prove the point, the article itself is copy-edited in the comments)

The Undercoat of Modernity — Mathias Schreiber on Berlin in the ‘Golden Twenties’ for Der Spiegel:

Looking back on the period, playwright Carl Zuckmayer… who lived in Berlin from 1924 to 1933, wrote: “The arts blossomed like a meadow just before being mowed. This explains the tragic yet brilliant charm that is associated with this era, often seen in the images of poets and artists who died prematurely.”

The realization that this euphoria could not last undercoats the best works of art of these years with the metallic tone that soon became the trademark of artistic modernity. This applied, quite literally, to the refined simplicity of the anti-plush, steel-tube furniture of Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer and the architecture of the same movement, fashioned from strictly functional steel skeletons… Metaphorically speaking, the tendency toward metallic, unadorned expression also applied to the literature of the period, and certainly to the objectivist collage technique employed by Alfred Döblin in his novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1929). Döblin blends together the sound of wind, the rhythmic thud of the steam pile-driver, quotations from newspaper advertisements, stock market reports, soldiers’ songs, nursery rhymes and prostitutes’ patois with expressive, poetic flights of fancy, and injects all of these noises and fragments of language into the protagonist’s stream of consciousness… This first important big-city novel in the German language was also the first great 20th-century novel about the working classes.

And finally…

Purpose in the Wreckage — Simon Hattenstone’s endlessly quotable interview of media-shy musician Scott Walker, for The Guardian:

When [Walker] returned in 1995, it was as a fully fledged modernist composer. On the surface, there couldn’t have been a more unlikely transformation – imagine Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen. Yet in a way it was all of a piece. His latest album, Bish Bosch, is only his third in 17 years, all of them elaborate, epic and inaccessible. It is a post-apocalyptic opera of sorts, with blasts of rams’ horn, dog barks, scraping swords, machetes. The music nods at Gregorian chant, doffs its cap to Shostakovich, gives a thumbs up to industrial metal, and is uniquely Scott Walker. The lyrics reference sexual disease, brown dwarf stars, court jesters and dictators, all delivered in a strangulated baritone, as if Walker’s testicles were being squeezed. At times there’s a terrible beauty to his poetry (“Earth’s hoary/fontanelle/weeps softly/for a/thumb thrust”) while at others there’s a bloodthirstiness that could be straight out of Jacobean tragedy (“I’ve severed my reeking gonads, fed them to your shrunken face”). It’s brilliant and bonkers. The opposite of a guilty pleasure: a guilty torture.

And why not?

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