In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Women’s Magazines Are Bad for Your Mental Health
  2. Salingaros on Tschumi 6
  3. Britney Fans
  4. Elsewhere
  5. Salingaros on Tschumi 5
  6. Rewind -- Lit Writers vs. Genre Writers
  7. Timothy Taylor on Immigration
  8. Better? Or Just Older?
  9. Is this the Reason Men Vote Republican?
  10. Salingaros on Tschumi 4

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Women’s Magazines Are Bad for Your Mental Health
Michael: I couldn’t help but pick up this copy of Glamour magazine at my local 7-11 the other day. As I was waiting to pay for my purchases, I kept seeing more reasons to nominate the editor for the 2004 Nobel “General Rottenness To Humanity” Prize. Here are five from the cover alone: 1.“Dress and Feel Sexy At Any Size.” If sexiness is possible at any size, why do we mention size at all? Heh, heh. 2. “THE SCARY PAP TEST RESULT EVERYONE’S GETTING.” If everyone is getting scary results on their pap tests, they can’t be accurate…which means the reassuring result you got on your last pap test probably wasn’t accurate, either. 3. “Attention curvy girls, skinny girls, big chests, flat chests: instant confidence clothes inside.” Since you curvy, skinny, busty and flat-chested girls weren’t hip to our clothing-recommendations before reading this magazine, any confidence you had in your sexual attractiveness was obviously misplaced. 4.“The 31 SEX & LOVE thrills no woman should miss.” Since you can’t instantly rattle off 31 sex and love thrills you’ve ever had, your sex life is clearly inadequate. But we knew that. 5. “FREE! FREE! WE’RE GIVING AWAY THE WORLD’S MOST FLATTERING JEANS.” And the way you look, honey, you better pray that you get a pair. I still can’t understand why women go looking for anything except masochistic abuse in women’s magazines. When you see one of their editors coming to pat you on your back, you better check to see how big a knife she's holding. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 24, 2004 | perma-link | (18) comments

Salingaros on Tschumi 6
This is part six (of eight) of a new Nikos Salingaros essay. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, and part five here. We'll put up part seven on Monday. Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros 6. Programming that emulates a pathology. Architects and architectural critics have become expertly adept at fancy wordplay, sounding impressive while promoting the deconstructivist style's unnatural qualities. This linguistic dance is used to justify a meaningless architecture of fashion. The problem is that criticizing an empty but flowery discourse is like shadow boxing with phantoms -- one can never win a debate against an opponent who creates an impressionistic cloud empty of tangible facts. My solution is not to debunk the style of contemporary architectural writing (even though that is sorely needed), but to try and explain what it models. I would like to draw some interesting analogies between architecture and biology, psychology, and computer science. These analogies help to explain the peculiar language used to validate architecture as a fashion. In my article "The Derrida Virus", I achieved some insights into how deconstruction acts by considering it to be analogous to a virus (or "meme", as an informational virus is otherwise known). I now wish to stretch the analogy further and to suggest possible parallels with a pathology of the human brain, which would make the action of the Derrida virus more directly biological. La Fresnoy: Multiple meanings? Or scrambled anti-sense? Studying deconstructivist writings gives me the impression that except for Derrida, who is very cleverly and deliberately obfuscating, their authors are suffering from some sort of brain damage. The normal, evolved mechanisms that enable human analytical thought have apparently been scrambled, so that those authors seem mentally incapable of expressing a direct, logical statement. Their writings almost make sense; but not quite. The deconstructive method avoids closure. Altogether, this mimics the effects of a lesion that has destroyed part (but not all) of the brain, preserving linguistic facility and memory while damaging the ability to synthesize thoughts. Since synthesis depends on connectivity, which deconstruction erases, this suggests some new type of mental pathology with observable effects. Louis Sass has drawn an interesting parallel between deconstructivist discourse and the speech patterns of schizophrenics. He finds the following common features: Disorienting changes of direction. Meandering sentences that never come to a point. BLOCKING, or halting in the middle of a train of thought. The use of meaningless words or phrases. Cryptic references, along with the impression that they are essential to make sense of the present message. GLOSSOMANIA, where speech is channeled by acoustic qualities rather than by meaning. Flow that is governed by normally irrelevant features of the linguistic system. DEICTIC AMBIGUITY, i.e. insufficient contextual cues to establish thematic coherence. A focus on multiple but normally irrelevant alternative meanings of words. LINGUISTIC ALIENATION, where a word is divorced from its object. Banal and pompous phrases spoken with an exaggerated emphasis (as... posted by Michael at April 24, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, April 23, 2004

Britney Fans
Dear Friedrich -- So shoot me: I enjoy Britney Spears. Not her music -- heaven forbid -- but Britney the public figure. She may well represent the final decline of Western Civ; that's a conversation that needs to be had. Nonetheless, as everything that really matters goes to hell, I can't help being amused by her existence among us as the all-triumphant porno-pop princess. I love her clumpy, graceless dancing; her clothes-shedding rivalry with Cristina; her Daisy-Mae grit and determination; the whimsical way she treats herself to boob jobs (great big ones last year, streamlined smaller ones this year -- and why not?); her morning-after soap-opera messups; her cheerily shameless need for attention. As The Wife points out, Britney's got the figure of a girl who's dying to put on 40 pounds -- that's lovable too, in a National-Enquirer-reader kind of way. She's a Gen-Y Cher, an I'll-do-anything survivor with a cast-iron diva's consitution. One day she'll crack up, go into hiding, and then try to rehabilitate her career by acting in a John Waters movie. That'll be fun too. I enjoyed Michael Musto's campy appreciation of Britney, here. Visiting a Britney concert, Musto notices that 9/10ths of Britney's fans are young girls, and writes of the show: "It's a choreographed, disembodied-sounding romp into bubble-headed estrogenland" -- that's pretty good. And it's not just Musto and me: I can report that opera-lovin', fancy-starchitecture-lovin' Felix Salmon, here, has been spotted in the hipper districts of NYC wearing an "I Love Britney" t-shirt. Plus -- what can I say? -- I can't resist trashing my own pretentions to being a trustworthy cultural commentator, let alone a man of substance. Not that anyone has ever mistaken me for any such thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 23, 2004 | perma-link | (18) comments

Dear Friedrich -- * Chip McGrath, the former editor of the New York Times Book Review section, is now covering quirky cultural subjects for the newspaper. He has an interesting piece here about a cache -- 2000 pages' worth! -- of previously-unknown F. Scott Fitzgerald screenplay work that was just sold at auction. * Will e-book reading devices -- not ebooks as pieces of writing, but the standalone pieces of hardware made to display them -- ever take off commercially? For many good reasons, none have so far. But this new Sony device here, soon to be released in Japan, seems like the most plausible candidate yet. * Still in her beloved Poland, Maureen giggles at Polish rap, and finally figures out when it's OK to wear her Manolos and when it's better not to, here. * That buffalo-stampede rumbling you hear? It's the sound of movie critics all over the country hustling to fax resumes and clips to the NYTimes' arts editor. Why? Because, as Gawker (here) reports, rumors have it that Elvis Mitchell, the Times' snazzy film critic, has resigned. Talk about a much-coveted position. * Is there such a thing as rational irrationality? I certainly think so, and I'm glad to see that at least one real live philosopher, Alfred Mele, thinks so too (here). * Visitors who enjoy wrangling with notions of "utility" and "satisfaction" should get a kick out of this Martin Seligman interview about happiness, here. FWIW, I read one of Seligman's books years ago; it struck me as humane and solid. Arts and Letters Daily (here) links to another review of the current Barry Schwartz book about how too much choice can make people feel depressed, here. * Good lord: I neglect to visit Alice Bachini's blog (here) for a few weeks, and when I return it's only to discover that she's given up blogging. I'm sorry to learn that. Alice has always been a unique combo of brains, earthiness, larkiness, insight and sparkle. I was so amused and dazzled that I've been perplexed that her blog never became a bigger Web phenomenon than it did; if Alice doesn't have blogwriting star power, I don't know who does. But she's off to new challenges and parties now. Many thanks to Alice for a great show. * And talking about charmante: have you ever run across the one-of-a-kind jazz singer Blossom Dearie? Her voice may be a little Bettie Boop and a little Goldie Hawn, but there's a sly musician's mind at work behind the scenes as well; she's a sophisticated, mock-naive cartoon golddigger, roughly. I'm no scholar of her work, but I do know that whenever I hear her she puts a big smile on my face. If you go to this page here and click on "blossom_dearie-always_true_to_you_in_my_fashion.mp3" you can listen to her version of the wickedly deadpan Cole Porter song "Always True to You in My Fashion," also a fave of mine. Hey, wait: you can download the file too. Can this... posted by Michael at April 23, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Salingaros on Tschumi 5
This is part five (of eight) of a new Nikos Salingaros essay. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here. Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros 5. The collapse of French deconstruction, and its implications for architecture. Let us turn to Greek Mythology for a critical analogy. Two monsters that wreaked havoc but could not easily be defeated were Antaeos, the mythical giant who gathered superhuman strength from touching the earth -- and the many-headed Hydra, whose heads kept growing back after being cut off. The hero Herakles (Hercules) was able to vanquish Antaeos by lifting him off the ground, thus cutting his contact and source of strength. Herakles got the better of the Hydra by cauterizing the wound with a flaming torch after cutting off each of its heads. Just like in the cases of both Antaeos and the Hydra, deconstructivist architecture draws its strength from somewhere, regenerating itself after each devastating attack. It has seemed impervious to criticism, always reaching back to its philosophical power base for new strength. Realizing where the source of this strength lies, I recently wrote a paper that presents a new interpretation of the French deconstructivists. (It can be read here.) Instead of accepting their writings as philosophy, as has been customary, I suggest that they are a kind of mental virus, whose purpose is to destroy ordered thinking and stored knowledge about the world. In my paper, I draw detailed analogies between this type of mental virus (also referred to as a "meme") and the ways that biological viruses act. In honor of deconstruction's founder, I named this ingenious mechanism for meme propagation after Jacques Derrida. I should mention that in expressing this innovative and controversial thesis, I am by no means acting alone, and in fact draw support from distinguished allies in philosophy, science, and architecture. Tschumi's Lerner Student Center at Columbia University This discussion opens up a Pandora's box of questions that eventually need to be answered. It has nothing really to do with any individual architect, but is a phenomenon tied to the current architectural establishment. If the French deconstructivists are not only exposed as being without intellectual merit, but their method as actually dangerous to our society and institutions, where does that leave deconstructivist architecture? Will it be able to survive as a style cut off from its traditional intellectual power base? It could indeed; for the following reason. In addition to its intellectual power base, deconstructivist architecture possesses a considerable political power base in those persons and institutions that have profited from it, and therefore have the most to lose if it ever collapses. What is immediately obvious is that, following the collapse of French deconstruction, deconstructivist architecture will henceforth likely be judged as a fashion -- a sensational stylistic play for fun and profit. Finding itself without the crucial support of French intellectuals, deconstruction in architecture appears simply as a visual provocation, a... posted by Michael at April 22, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Rewind -- Lit Writers vs. Genre Writers
Back in early blogging days, we Blowhards had next to no visitors -- this place was one very lonely Internet outpost. Yet we were doing some fiery and original writing, or so we like to imagine. Sad to think of these postings mouldering unread in the archives. These days the blog is hopping; we feel like lucky restauranteurs whose eatery has somehow caught on. What a treat to welcome so many lively visitors. So we hope our current crowd will forgive us if we occasionally see fit to re-run some of our early-on writing. Perhaps a few of these golden-oldie postings will amuse and provoke. Since the topic of genre and artistic forms has cropped up recently, here's a quickie posting I wrote comparing American literary writers with genre writers. Note: I've met a lot of examples of both categories and know plenty of exceptions to the general observations I make below. But as rough overgeneralizations and smudgey rules of thumb, my observations seem to me valid. Plus, what can I say, I just like making rough overgeneralizations. And exceptions are always allowed for. Friedrich -- Another entry in our ongoing attempt to put into words the things people know but that don't make it into the official sources... In a general sense, there are real group differences between American literary-fiction writers and American writers of genre fiction (horror, romance, mysteries, erotica, graphic novels, etc). It breaks down this way: Literary writers tend to feel that what they do is a vocation -- ie., a religious calling. Genre writers tend to view what they do as something that's fun -- which doesn't mean that they aren't committed to what they do, or don't fundamentally take it seriously. Lit-fict writers tend to feel harshly conflicted (a word we New Yorkers love) about money and careers. How could they not? Trust funds make people feel guilty, jobs take up too much time. Everyone hopes to be touched by the magic wand -- to win the respect of the bigtime, and to earn enough money from the writing to pay the bills. Yet nearly everyone winds up next-to-unread, and chasing academic jobs and grants. And isn't it kind of anti-artistic to fret over money and prestige anyway? So pretences and rivalries abound. Genre writers tend to experience no conflicts at all about money and career. Most seem to know that writing fiction-between-covers is an absurd field, but hope to win readers and make money at it anyway. They're straightforwardly happy when and if they do. Self-serious creatures on an artistic crusade, dependent on a sense of mission and destiny that's forever in need of recharging, lit-fict writers tend to be serious and touchy people -- and difficult on the personal level, to say the least. (Depression, jealousy and resentment are common ailments.) Lugging around egos that are both big and fragile, they make high-maintenance friends and acquaintances. Genre-fict writers tend on the personal level to be easy friends and colleagues. They've got a... posted by Michael at April 22, 2004 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Timothy Taylor on Immigration
Dear Friedrich -- I may get a little annoyed when my side in a debate loses, but I'm driven absolutely batty when one team is preventing a worthy debate from happening at all. That's how things stand with the topic of immigration; the pro-high-rates crowd has succeeded in blocking a perfectly legitimate conversation from taking place. There are cheering signs that the logjam is beginning to break up, thank heavens; Britain's Tony Blair is deep in the midst of a multiculturalism-and-immigration crisis in Britain, for instance. But immigration in this country is still a dicey topic to raise in polite circles. Yet what could be more fundamental to conducting a nation's affairs than open discussion about borders, about who's allowed to become a citizen, and on what basis? These are topics as basic to running a nation as national defence; they ought to getting regular public airings. What the pro-high-rates crowd has mostly got people afraid of is of being called racist, I'd guess. But that's ludicrous. For one obvious thing: since when is "Mexican" a race? Mexicans range from thoroughly Euro to 100% Indian. Being for high rates sounds, in any case, generous and bighearted -- like a position that guarantees you a place on the side of the angels. Yet current rates and policies can be hard to defend on idealistic terms. For instance, they have already had the effect of pushing our African-American population out of its traditional position as the country's biggest minority. American blacks, when told about this, say in large numbers (and understandably) that they're upset this has happened. So perhaps the racists here are the pro-high-rates people who -- while patting themselves on the back for their openhearted generosity -- have done a disservice to their country's African-Americans. The pro-high-rates crowd's other p-r triumph is to get many people thinking that the current situation is unavoidable. What's the use in raising the topic when there are all those miles of border between the U.S. and Mexico? I'm surprised by how many people seem to consider it inevitable that the American Southwest will soon become Mexican. Their attitude seems to be: Why not just hand it over now? Yet there's no reason policies can't change. The history of immigration in this country shows a regular back-and-forth movement. A few decades of high immigration are followed by a few decades of very low rates; there are periods when the country takes in lots of newcomers, and periods when the country decides that the time has come to incorporate what it has ingested. It's quite possible that the time has come, as it was often found to have in the past, to clamp down and recover from our current, almost-40-year-long binge. And as for that Mexican border? Well, prior to 1970, there wasn't really all that much immigration across it. The fact is that there's no way to be "liberal" on the subject in one sense that doesn't make you a hardass in another. Another example:... posted by Michael at April 21, 2004 | perma-link | (27) comments

Better? Or Just Older?
Dear Friedrich -- I don't know about you, but my tastes have changed over the years. Or maybe not my tastes so much as the the ways in which my curiosity about culture and the arts express themselves. As an arty kid, what interested me was excitement and daring; I loved what turned me on, basically. I loved plunging into the thick of art-things there to discover my reactions, which in turn spurred me into exploring the art world (and occasionally even learning a bit about it). These days, I seem to operate in a different way. I'm more interested in reflective, even anthropological questions: the role of art, for instance, and how we see art, and how we experience and use it. My own reactions to actual artworks are what they are, but they seldom fascinate me much. So far as individual works go, I'm more curious about questions of form and genre than I am about questions of expressiveness, let alone excitement. Comfort, respect, pleasure, limitations, modesty -- all these things mean a lot to me these days. I see potential in them that I didn't used to. I don't crave the kinds of bustin'-out experiences I once did -- been there, done that, if always grateful for a thrill. I've awakened into a philosophical mode -- however amateurish -- and into a phase when my tastes are veering more Classical than Romantic. Happy to admit that much of this change has to do with age. Happy to admit, in fact, that in this as in so much else I'm a walking cliche. Still, what gets me scratching my chin is this: I can't help feeling that I've earned this way of going about things, and of experiencing things. I know consciously that the change in my p-o-v is 99% due to biochemistry and aging. But I feel that my current p-o-v is superior, and that it's hard-won; I feel that it represents an achievement, not an inevitability. And I wonder why this should be so. As a kid, I thought there was something unique, special, and remarkable about my experience. I'd get annoyed that older people had this ... equanimity, or something. They were failing to engage with the excitement that was so important a factor to me -- what was their problem? What were they fighting? Why weren't they knocked out by what knocked me out? Why didn't they understand how important these matters were? In a word: my own experiences, thoughts and reactions hit me with the force of revelation. This was it! Wowee! (Talk about young and dumb ... To my shame, I also remember being unable to avoid the feeling that the real cause of my Dad's problems during the years when his health was failing was that he wasn't trying hard enough. I knew perfectly well that this feeling of mine was absurd. But I also couldn't deny that I had the feeling.) These days, when I have an art-reaction, an art-thought,... posted by Michael at April 21, 2004 | perma-link | (16) comments

Is this the Reason Men Vote Republican?
Michael: As I mentioned, I’ve been reading Spencer Wells’ book, “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey.” (You can buy it here.) In it he traces the probable routes and timetables by which anatomically modern humans ("AMHs") settled the world outside of Africa. His main ‘tools’ in this analysis are family trees generated by mutations in mitochondrial DNA ("mtDNA")—which passes solely from mother to daughter—and by mutations in the Y-chromosome—which passes solely from father to son. Both of these show, by the way, that humanity’s most recent common ancestors—‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’, so speak—lived in Africa prior to the dispersal of humanity across the rest of the world. Unlike the Biblical Adam and Eve, however, these two universal ancestors were by no means the first AMHs. Both of these figures had AMH ancestors of their own stretching back thousands of years; and each had many contemporary AMHs who were also busy having children. It is simply that all the other father-to-son-to-son and mother-to-daughter-to-daughter ‘lineages’ that were around at the same time as ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ have died out over the subsequent years. Although for many purposes the two types of genetic data (that is, male-to-male and female-to-female) complement each other, there are instances where they show very interesting divergences. One of the most striking divergences is how much more geographically precise the information revealed by Y-chromosome mutations is. In the words of Mr. Wells: When the Y was first studied as a marker of population affinity, one of the results that kept popping up again and again is that it connected people to a particular location. With a few DNA polymorphisms, it was possible to achieve incredible geographic resolution—there were even Y –chromosome polymorphisms that were limited to particular villages. If you imagine population genetics as a game of twenty questions, most genetic systems, including blood groups and mitochondrial DNA, needed all twenty to identify even the coarsest pattern, such as which continent the individual came from. In contrast, the Y could typically identify subcontinental regions with a few questions. The observation, then was that Y-chromosome lineages were geographically localized—they tended to define people as coming from a particular place. While this was fabulously useful to people studying population movements and origins genetically, why it was so was a puzzle. A hypothesis explaining it was suggested in 1998 by Mark Seielstadt, then a student working with Professor Cavalli-Sforza: Seielstad’s interpretation of these two patterns was that women moved more than men, dispersing their mitrochondrial lineages among neighbouring populations, producing a relatively homogenous mtDNA distribution. The men, meanwhile, stayed at home… The extent of this ‘staying at home’ is underlined by the fact that some 70 percent of human societies (constituting far more than 70% of the world’s population) practice patrilocality. This means group membership follows the male line; when a woman marries she goes to live with her husband and adopts his clan identity. As a result, a man’s position in a patrilocal society has more to do with who... posted by Friedrich at April 21, 2004 | perma-link | (15) comments

Salingaros on Tschumi 4
This is part four (of eight) of a new Nikos Salingaros essay. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here. Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros 4. Institutional validation of Tschumi's work. I recently joined a debate over Bernard Tschumi's New Acropolis Museum being built in Athens. It was supposed to be ready for the Olympic Games, and to possibly house the Elgin Marbles if ever they are returned. In an earlier essay (which can be read here), I gave my opinion of the project (not a positive one, I am afraid), and used criticisms by other authors of Tschumi's writings and his previous work to support my point of view. Some commentators noted that the New Acropolis Museum could have played a role (albeit a minor one) in the downfall of the Greek Government. Tschumi's design for that building -- consisting of a glass box on stilts -- is only one of several problems facing this project. There are serious objections to erecting something on an unexcavated archaeological site, and critics allege that artifacts were destroyed while digging the building's foundations (which led to a lawsuit to block the project). New Acropolis Museum I believe there exists a philosophical relation between these two points. Deconstructivist design violates ordered structure in some way -- more obvious in some deconstructivist buildings than in others. It represents a lack of respect (to put it mildly) for the ordered coherence embodied in traditional architecture and in the vast majority of human artifacts. Deconstructivist buildings make no effort to connect to and blend with their surroundings, for the simple reason that they wish to stand apart from them. Indifference to what exists on and around the site (in this case the Classical style of the Parthenon; the Neoclassical style of the New Greek State; local residents; unexcavated antiquities) can be understood as being consistent with the general disconnecting method handed down by the French deconstructivists. Tschumi forged an alliance between architecture and French Deconstruction, applying Jacques Derrida's precepts to the pavilions at Le Parc de La Villette built on the outskirts of Paris. The architectural establishment propelled Tschumi into a brilliant career as architect, lecturer, teacher, and university administrator. In the 1980s, architecture was desperately seeking a philosophical underpinning; something to give it both justification and renewal; anything unusual and exciting upon which to base a new movement in design. The profession seemed stuck in the modernist rut (the postmodernist stylistic fruit salad notwithstanding). To those who had bought into French deconstruction, Tschumi was seen as an ideal candidate to lead a progressive school of architecture. In the same year (1988) that Tschumi was appointed Dean of Columbia University's Architecture School, the Deconstructivist Show at the Museum of Modern Art validated all its main practitioners. Even those of my acquaintances who applaud Tschumi's earlier role happen not to like his latest work very much, however. They consider him passé. No-one could explain to me... posted by Michael at April 21, 2004 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Genesis Updated
Michael: I’ve been reading an interesting book, “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey” by Spencer Wells. (This can be bought here.) Wells, a former postdoctoral fellow of Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s at Stanford, uses genetics to lay out the general migrations of anatomically modern humans out of Africa and across the world over the past 50,000-60,000 or so years. Granted, it may be exaggerating a bit to call Mr. Wells’ (Dr. Wells, one presumes) reconstruction “history” at this point, as his account is not based on written records. Nonetheless, it would appear—assuming that he and the rest of the scientific community has done their work right—that we now possess a sort of roughed-in view of what’s been happening over that time span. And because we believe in public service here at 2blowhards, we’ve decided to share a brief outline with you. Making only one, albeit much larger, assumption: that I’ve succeeded in taking accurate notes from his book, the following maps should give you some ideas of how and when the various parts of the globe were inhabited. Remember, there will be a quiz. Please note: the red ellipses represent the areas historically populated by anatomically modern humans at roughly the date shown, while the green ellipses are the new areas being colonized at that time. Neither set of ellipses attempts to show the precise area of settlement or the size of the population that it contains; heck, they’re entirely schematic. In fact, the word “population” might be a gross overstatement in this case. Some of these migrations may have been undertaken by ludicrously small groups of people, at least by modern standards. To take one example, a breeding pool of a mere 10 or 20 individuals crossing the land bridge into North America 15,000 years ago could have provided for all the existing genetic variety of modern Native American populations. North America may have been 'settled' by a group of no more than a few hundred people. Map #1—c. 60,000+ Years Before the Present Anatomically modern humanity is confined to Africa, where it arose from 300,000 to 160,000 years ago. Map #2—c. 50-60,000 Years Before the Present The first group to head out of Africa (which was apparently suffering drought) did so by taking the “beach” route along the South Asian coast and reached Australia in remarkably short order. This was the easiest road out of Africa at the time as sea-level was 100 meters lower than today because of the Ice Age. Consequently, many modern water barriers—like the Persian Gulf —were river deltas and passable on foot. Also, the skills necessary to survive in a coastal setting had been mastered by anatomically modern humans in Africa and were easily transferable to their new geographical setting. (Venturing into the interior of the Eurasian landmass, with its largely temperate climate, would involve developing a whole new set of hunting and gathering skills, and was thus a much tougher nut to crack.) Map #3—c. 45,000 Years Before the Present Brief, wetter... posted by Friedrich at April 20, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, April 19, 2004

TV Alert
Dear Friedrich -- I notice that the Ovation network is re-running a couple of arts documentaries that are well worth (IMHO, of course) setting your Tivo to record. Lee Strasberg: The Method Man. (Ovation. Saturday 4-24 from 6-7 pm EST; and Monday 4-26 from 8-9 pm EST.) A decent, informative show about one of the acting-guru gods of the Method world, full of good cultural history. You get to meet some of the key Method people; you get a sense of where they were coming from and what they valued; you get a taste of the beauty, the passion, the nonsense and the craziness. (For a much more comprehensive treatment of the Method, I recommend Steve Vineberg's book "Method Actors," which is buyable here. Here's a posting where I express my own not-very-enthusiastic view of the Method.) Although movie performing has, by and large, moved on, the Method's impact is still all around us. That whole sensitive-boxer thing? Those actors who mumble, who "physicalize," who grope for words, who peer out from under hurtin' eyebrows, and who make a big show out of how much they hate stardom? Those blondes in underwear acting slutty and having breakdowns? Well, all of that imagery and all of that iconography has its sources in the Method. And Strasberg -- the acting coach as prophet and psychoanalyst -- was a key Method figure. Sidney Bechet: Treat It Gentle. (Ovation. Thursday 4-22 from 4-5:15 pm EST.) A good-enough documentary with a great subject. The jazz reedman Bechet (pronounced "buh-shay") started out in New Orleans in the early days and died an expatriate in France in 1959. During the '20s, he was known as one of the few soloists in the same class as Louis Armstrong, but he was also as graceful being part of a group as he was being a star. And although he stayed true to his traditional New Orleans jazz roots, Bechet became an influence on musicians as different as Johnny Hodges and John Coltrane. He's one of the more undersung of the true jazz giants. This CD here is a terrific introduction to his music. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments

Roots of Ornamentation
Michael: I spotted an interesting story in the Los Angeles Times on April 16. Written by Robert Lee Holtz, it was headlined—rather wittily, I thought—“With Ancient Jewelry, It’s the Thought That Counts.” (You can read it here.) The story comes out of a continuing excavation of the Blombos cave in South Africa, which began in 1991. This excavation, one gathers, was designed to address several significant controversies in paleontology. While a variety of physical and genetic evidence points to the development of anatomically modern human beings in Africa (somewhere in the range of 300,000 – 160,000 years ago), the earliest evidence of creative and symbolic thinking dates only from around 40,000 years or so—and comes largely from the Upper Palaeolithic sites outside of Africa, including the cave art of Western Europe and from artifacts dug up in Bulgaria, Turkey and Russia. (I blogged about European cave art here.) This large gap in time and place raises at least two interesting questions. Did the anatomically modern humans wait until they got to the Mideast and Europe to start thinking creatively and symbolically, or had they been doing it when they were still back in the ‘old country’—i.e., Africa? (The “Africanist” camp points out, rather reasonably, that many Western European and Middle Eastern sites have been exhaustively excavated for the past 100 years while hardly any sites in Africa have received an equivalent examination.) Second, was the development of such creative and symbolic thought gradual over the history of our ancestors, or did it happen in a sort of intellectual ‘big bang’? (One non-gradualist theory assumes that a genetic mutation affecting the brains of anatomically modern humans occurred roughly 60,000 years ago and led to the development of syntactically-complex speech, creative thinking, and an almost immediate inclination to head out for the territory ahead and settle the whole big wonderful world, as the African climate was worsening and consequently restricting the local food supply.) 75,000 Year Old Find Well, in a development that must cheer the “Africanist” and the “gradualist” camps, the busy paleontologists at Blombos have claimed a big discovery. In the words of Mr. Holtz: In a handful of pierced seashells found in a South African cave, scientists believe that they have discovered the world’s oldest known jewelry and the earliest reliabile evidence of creative symbolic thought at work. The 41 tiny shells, unearthed at Blombos Cave, were strung as beads more than 75,00 years ago, making them at least 30,000 years older than any other reliably dated personal ornaments, an international team of researchers said Thursday. As ancient jewelry, the orange and black beads are a priceless curiosity—decorative tokens of prehistoric vanity that are the forerunners of hip-hop bangles and all the cultured glitter of Tiffany’s and Cartier. But to those trying to understand the origins of the human mind, the pea-sized shells also are tangible evidence of one of the most mysterious events in the history of evolution: the advent of symbolic thought. Naturally, all of this... posted by Friedrich at April 19, 2004 | perma-link | (18) comments

Salingaros on Tschumi 3
This is part three (of eight) of a new Nikos Salingaros essay. You can read part one here, and part two here Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros Part 3. Psychological association in Tschumi's texts. Trying to pin down anything in Tschumi's writings is very frustrating; but there is something I wish to note. In "Architecture and Disjunction" (page 187), we are offered a supposedly scientific explanation of the design for Le Parc de la Villette. The stated concern of the project was to apply theoretical concerns on a practical level, to move from the 'pure mathematics' of The Manhattan Transcripts to applied mathematics ... The other strategy involved ignoring built precedents so as to begin from a neutral mathematical configuration or ideal topological configurations (grids, linear or concentric systems, etc.) that could become the points of departure for future transformations. And again (page 197): La Villette was the built extension of a comparable method; it was impelled by the desire to move from "pure mathematics to applied mathematics. Applied mathematics? Now, in addition to being an architectural theorist, I also happen to be Professor of Mathematics, and I can find no obvious mathematical content (either pure, or applied) in Tschumi's writings and buildings. One could (although he himself does not do this) describe Tschumi's buildings as intentional but selective randomness introduced into ordered form. His designs destroy the order achieved by having a multiplicity of subsymmetries; he undoes those symmetries in order to define structures that are partially, though not totally, incoherent. Breaking vital connections and symmetries between component parts amounts to violence in terms of undoing the mathematical richness of coherent form. Such a drastic severing of internal connections kills biological organisms. In "Architecture and Disjunction", Tschumi had already (sort of) summarized his basic idea: The concept of violence also suggests different readings of spatial function -- that the definition of architecture may lie at the intersection of logic and pain, rationality and anguish, concept and pleasure" (page XXVIII). This may be the key to understanding what is really going on. A psychological state of excitement, anxiety, and sensual urges (especially those triggered by the forbidden pleasures of combining violence with sex) is subtly created by the text and photographic images. I am not presenting the above quotes in order to criticize them, since I don't know exactly what Tschumi wishes to communicate. Nevertheless, the theme of violence is evident throughout his work. He reproduces the defenestration photograph from "The Manhattan Transcripts" again on page 100 of "Architecture and Disjunction", enlarged just in case someone missed it in its earlier, smaller, incarnation. Back in "The Manhattan Transcripts", I recognized two shocking, revolting frames from the 1928 Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí film "Un Chien Andalou", in which a young woman's eye is slit open with a straight razor (page XXIV). Just in case we missed them then, these images are presented again in "Architecture and Disjunction" (page 158), therefore Tschumi must consider them... posted by Michael at April 19, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments