"A shortwave radio dial travels restlessly, keeping insomnia company. Bamboo xiao and silk-stringed sanxian carry tradition through electricity`s hum, with resignation more than mourning. They speak of toil, more than burden. Hostesses' laughter mutates to mogwai shrieks. Foxes transform. Masks…
A passion for storytelling brings an unlikely cultural intersection into focus
The excerpt above finds Grace Lambert, an elder on the Spirit Lake Dakota Indian Reservation, reflecting on her childhood memories of growing up alongside the Scandinavian immigrants who also called the territory home. Amusing though it is, this seemingly small fragment of memory points to larger dichotomies. With this example comes a brief collision of ideas about public and private space and property, a product of the intersection between two distinct cultures. Exploring the complexities of intersections like these are at the heart of Karen Hansen’s compelling sociological work, Encounter on the Great Plains.
A good friend reflects on blowing trees with the legendary astronomer
Q: What was Carl Sagan like when high?
A: He was the same wonderful person, only definitely more relaxed. He had a great sense of humor, which really came out. He loved to smoke a joint before we went out to dinner, to stimulate his appetite. And he was always eloquent—could speak spontaneously like no other person I’ve ever known. We always had fun when we got stoned, and we had such wonderful discussions. It was exciting to smoke with Carl.
Dave Eggers' latest, The Circle, is an allegory for the information age
I can’t always articulate what feels creepy to me about Facebook and Google and Apple. I use their products every day. All three of ’em, almost without fail. I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I’ve watched the TED Talk on filter bubbles, and I’m at least vaguely aware of all the NSA stuff no one seems to care that much about. There a million voices out there, some cautionary, some expository, some just concertedly observational, all of them trying to frame a relationship with technology that’s increasingly unframeable. And yet, having listened to lots of those voices, and soaked up all that perspective, I’m still lining up to hemorrhage personal information every day. The addiction is strong. I’m not big on conspiracy bullshit, but just the objective facts themselves seem like cause for concern. We’re all plunging headlong into a massive, ongoing exercise in sharing and archiving with no articulable end goal. Someone, somewhere is sitting on that admittedly mostly-worthless stockpile of information. On a more individualized scale, we’re all recording and documenting ourselves and gawking at each other, and we’re all internalizing it, one way or another.
I don’t want to set this one up too much (i.e. you’re better off skipping my intro and reading it yourself), but Dave Eggers’ The Circle gets at a lot of that uneasiness I’m feeling. The excerpt from Eggers’ latest novel, published in The New York Times Magazine last week, isn’t all that sensationalist in its storytelling. It kinda creeps up on you. The Circle tells the story of Mae, a fledgling employee at The Circle, a fictional Silicon Valley company that’s recently consolidated massive amounts of information, technological innovation, and near-universal good will. It’s an inspiring, idyllic place full of big, efficient ideas and friendly words like “imagination”, “connectivity” and “transparency”. It’s also a place that unsubtly encourages cult-like devotion and participation on the part of its disciples. Within the confines of its massive, amenity-rich campus, the value of its goals and ideals are pretty much unquestioned.
If this little piece The Circle reads like satire, it’s the kind that’s effective based on an eerie similarity to reality, rather than a massively overblown caricature of it. Like, the that doesn’t seem too far away or implausible kind of satire. There are echoes of Office Space and Infinite Jest, though the tone never quite goes over the top. In any case, it’s Eggers, so it’s awesome, and like most great fiction, it’s helpful in illuminating things about the world around us. Maybe even ourselves. Full disclosure: I’ve only read the excerpt–which is excerpted from a magazine, and a book–and only off my computer screen. Read an abridged version below, or go buy a book like a grown-up at your local indie bookstore.
Illusions, trips, and visions, explored by the formidable Oliver Sacks
From Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks:
Hallucinations have always had an important place in our mental lives and in our culture. Indeed, one must wonder to what extent hallucinatory experiences have given rise to our art, folklore, and even religion.
Do the geometric patterns seen in migraine and other conditions prefigure the motifs in Aboriginal art? Did Liliputian hallucinations (which are not uncommon) give rise to to the elves, imps, leprechauns and fairies in our folklore? Do the terrifying hallucinations of night-mare, being ridden and suffocated by a malign presence, play a part in generating our concepts of demons and witches and malignant aliens? Do “ecstatic” seizures, such as Dostoevsky had, play a part in generating our sense of the divine? Do out-of-body experiences allow the feeling that one can be disembodied? Does the substanceless of hallucinations encourage a belief in ghosts and spirits? Why has every culture known to us sought and found hallucinogenic drugs and used them, first and foremost, for sacramental purposes?
Post-Rumble in the Jungle, Muhammad Ali affirms his greatness
Excerpt from I Am King: A Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali:
Immediately after knocking out George Foreman, the ‘Heavyweight Champion of the Whole Planet Earth’ speaks…
“I kept telling him he has no power, I kept telling him he don’t hit hard, and guess what he did in the end? He started fighting dirty. But I’m smart, I’m a pro see? I was good wasn’t I? I was talking to him throughout the fight too. Ain’t I the greatest of all time?
I proved that Allah is God, Elijah is his messenger. I have faith in him that regardless of the world and the pressure, I made it an easy fight, because Allah has power over all things. If you believe in him, even George Foreman gonna look like a baby. It wasn’t a close fight was it?
Let everybody stop talking now – Attention! I told you, all my critics, I told you all that I was the greatest of all time when I beat Sonny Liston. I’m still the greatest of all time. Never again say that I’m going to be defeated. Never again make me the underdog. Until I’m about 50, then you might get me.”
Aziz lends his thoughts on how to find love in the digitized world
Excerpt from A.V. Club
AVC: There’s a bit on Dangerously Delicious about what a terrible sign it is for a relationship if it starts with a woman meeting a drunk guy at a club. Where would you advise people to go looking for love instead?
AA: I have no fucking clue. I talked with a friend about this last night. Where do you meet classy men and women? When I talk to men and women, a general sentiment is just, “Where are the good, normal, nice, non-crazy people?” This is when people say things like “go the grocery store” or “go to a museum.” I’ve gone to both, and it doesn’t quite work out. But maybe if I spent as much time at Whole Foods as I do drinking at bars, I’d have a different experience. I would also be a weirdo that hangs out at grocery stores way too long. I would have to live off those little samples. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief
From Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
“I have spent much of my career examining the effects of religious beliefs on people’s lives–historically, a far more profound influence on society and individuals than politics, which is the substance of so much journalism. I was drawn to write this book by the questions that many people have about Scientology: What is it that makes the religion alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? How can seemingly rational people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create a kind of public relations martyrdom?
These questions are not unique to Scientology, but they certainly underscore the conversation. In attempting to answer them in this book, I hope we can learn something about what might be called the process of belief. Few Scientologists have had a conversion experience–a sudden, radical reorientation of one’s life; more common is a gradual, wholehearted acceptance of propositions that might have been regarded as unacceptable or absurd at the outset, as well as the incremental surrender of will on the part of people who have been promised enhanced power and authority. One can see by this example the motor that propels all great social movements, for good or ill.”
A brief excerpt from Thompson's Gonzo masterpiece, Hell's Angels
So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head….but in a matter of minutes I’d be out at the beach with the sound of the engine in my ears, the surf booming up on the sea wall and a fine empty road stretching all the way down to Santa Cruz…not even a gas station in the whole seventy miles; the only public light along the way is an all-night diner down around Rockaway Beach.
There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. The momentary freedom of the park was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon. I would come out of the park near the soccer field and pause for a moment at the stop sign, wondering if I knew anyone parked out there on the midnight humping strip.
"I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place…
David Byrne's latest book finds the Talking Heads' mastermind reflecting on the power of music and its context
Records were fairly cheap for much of the twentieth century–cheaper than a concert ticket. And as they became more widely available, people in small towns, farmers, and kids in school could now hear giant orchestras, the most famous singers of the day, or music from their distant homeland–even if they’d never have the opportunity to hear any of those things live. Not only could recordings bring distant musical cultures in touch with one another, they also had the effect of disseminating the work and performances of singers, orchestras and performers within a culture. As I suspect has happened to all of us at some point, hearing a new and strange piece of music for the first time opens a door that you didn’t even know was there. I remember as a tween hearing “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds and, as would happen again and again over the years, it was as if a previously hidden part of the world had been suddenly revealed. This music not only sounded different, it was socially different. It implied that there was a whole world of people out there who lived different lives and had different values than the people I knew in Arbutus, Maryland. The world was suddenly a bigger, more mysterious, and more exciting place–all because I’d stumbled onto some recording.
Music tells us things–social things, psychological things, physical things about how we feel and perceive our bodies–in a way that other art forms can’t. It’s something in the words, but just as often the content comes from a combination of sounds, rhythms, and vocal textures that communicate, as has been said by others, in ways that bypass the reasoning centers of the brain and go straight to our emotions. Music, and I’m not even talking about the lyrics here, tells us how other people view the world–people we have never met, sometimes people who are no longer alive–and it tells it in a non-descriptive way. Music embodies the way people think and feel: we enter into new worlds–their worlds–and though out perception of those worlds might not be 100 percent accurate, encountering them can be completely transformative.
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.