Friday, October 30, 2009

the red and the green

Behind that ugly outward face lay van Gogh’s resolute schedule of artistic self-education – he would reason out each procedure in a letter as he executed it, giving 19th-century art theory a test report. But behind that, the correspondence pivoted on a deeper contradiction. Artists – pre-eminently Millet, the great programmatic painter of 19th-century peasantry, the compassionate visionary who ‘reopened our thoughts to see the inhabitant of nature’ – were founts of self-will, imbued with genius: if that art theory had Realist trappings, its core was wholly Romantic. Having studiously admired that role from without, he had now taken it to heart. But the same picture-trade education also told him that what mattered was the market-worthy product, not the producer. In that light, how could he hold his head up, at once unemployable and unsaleable, a puppet on a remittance? What did this inner authorial voice amount to, first whispered into his ear by his brother?I am trying to analyse why the second and third sections of this six-volume set contain some of the most uncomfortable reading I can remember undergoing. ‘If it’s at all possible send me another 10 francs, say. A week’s work depends on it.’ ‘I promised to pay my landlord 5 guilders … I hope you’ll send me what I so greatly want.’ ‘In a few days, you understand, I’ll be absolutely broke’. That juncture was one that nearly all the letters, however long, eventually came round to. Was it – so both writer and reader must have wondered – what all the verbalising eventually boiled down to? Was the driven man of vision no more than a beggar with an act? And therefore, since the mirage of commercial viability – ‘It won’t be long before you no longer have to send me anything’ – never seemed to draw any closer, Vincent flailed.

Julian Bell
in the LRB on the new translation of Van Gogh's letters.

so glad you came

Behind a glass wall there was that bank of recording equipment you see in pictures. In the main room, where we were, there were some mikes, a set of drums, a fridge and a sofa. I said that I was only 14 and he laughed. No, I wasn’t, he told me. I was, I said. He pushed me on to the sofa and I repeated that I was 14, and – I was pleading now, knowing I was in trouble – I was a virgin. I was at any rate young enough to think that telling him that would give him pause. No, I wasn’t, I was not 14 and I was certainly no virgin, he laughed, as he pushed up my skirt. I have no idea whether he believed what he was saying or not.

Jenny Diski on Polanski at the LRB

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Wondering if Boulez has ever been to a dog show, I leave early in the morning with Eloise sound asleepLink on the back seat and a bag of pricey dog food in the trunk.

John Adams

  • Try not to panic if you can’t recognize that noise coming from the stage as something you wrote. The players, even those who’ve seriously practiced their parts, are nonetheless holding on for dear life. From their vantage point inside the churning machine they very likely have no idea at all what you mean nor how what they are playing is supposed to fit into the grand plan. They have only their individual parts, which are strange and incomplete road maps full of rests, occasional notes and then more rests. Even the very best of them will miscount on a first encounter.
also John Adams

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

some exercise of power

Ana Maria Pacheco's Some Exercise of Power will be in a show at the Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood, Kent from Nov 2 to Nov 19. (Paddock Wood is apparently somewhere in the neighbourhood of Tunbridge Wells.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

arga warga revisited

Courtesy Janet Reid, MOMA's Warhol Not Wanted letter on the Rejectionist.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Tony Harrison on sculpture:

There is a monument to Heine in a park outside the Frankfurt Opera which is used by heroin addicts. Heine's hair was covered in blood sprayed from the veins of junkies when their injections went wrong. Another Heine was in Corfu in the palace of Sissi, Empress of Austria, who adored the poet. At her assassination the palace was bought by the German kaiser, and his first act was to get rid of what he called that "syphilitic Jew".

Saturday, October 24, 2009

the subversive scribe

On Words Without Borders, María Constanza Guzmán interviews Suzanne Jill Levine, whose The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction has recently been published by Dalkey Archive.

MCG: North American translators are subject to what Lawrence Venuti has called the "canon of fluency," i.e., to certain standards and norms of English writing. How do you negotiate market demands, translation demands, and publishing demands, in the English in which you render your works, how do you deal with questions of readability and smoothness? What would or wouldn’t you compromise?

SJL: That is a complex matter. With all my books, including the biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman, and in general with any book that anybody writes, there is someone who mediates between you and the reader, and that’s the editor. Depending on the editor’s culture and the culture of the publishing house itself many things can happen. I have worked with publishers accustomed to dealing with experimental fiction, but nonetheless sometimes they had questions or they wanted to use a solution for something that seemed to me like a conventional compromise. It was a back and forth. And you accept some compromises and not others, but you definitely want to get the book out there. One of the most interesting experiences I had in that regard was when I worked with Simon and Schuster, a big commercial house. I was doing the last novel of Puig’s. My editor at that time said to me, "there is a problem because we don’t know who is talking." I explained that this was part of the style, but she said "Well, can’t we put names?" I said: "Definitely not," and there was a huge battle, but I won. Because part of the point is that in the novel Puig is using film script format but without the names. It is very important how he plays with that, and it is up to the reader to find out who the speakers are. In a way you are what you speak. So that was the story, and I thought it was rather interesting; it was quite invasive of the editor; I had never encountered that before. Then again, the book wasn’t exactly a runaway bestseller either. I think that sometimes I’ve really taken control of the text and sometimes the editor might have been right.

(Much, much more in this extremely interesting interview, the rest here)

arga warga

Daniel Maia has started up Arga Warga (courtesy of Russell Hoban) to publish graphic novels and art books; his blog (in Portuguese) tells more.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

lots and lots of fried ants revisited

Andrew Gelman links to this article by Gretchen Chapman and Jingjing Liu

Previous research has demonstrated that Bayesian reasoning performance is improved if uncertainty information is presented as natural frequencies rather than single-event probabilities. A questionnaire study of 342 college students replicated this effect but also found that the performance-boosting benefits of the natural frequency presentation occurred primarily for participants who scored high in numeracy. This finding suggests that even comprehension and manipulation of natural frequencies requires a certain threshold of numeracy abilities, and that the beneficial effects of natural frequency presentation may not be as general as previously believed.

Fans of Gigerenzer's Reckoning with Risk take note. (This is exactly what I need for book 7.71, so unbelievably great. Thanks, Andrew! And thanks, Keith, who told Andrew!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Also courtesy MR, Cory Doctorow on a publishing experiment. Including, among other things, a limited hardback edition with a cover illustration by Randall Munroe. Form an orderly queue.

invisible hand and the economics of economics departments

Courtesy MR, article by Daniel B. Klein on The Ph.D. Circle in Academic Economics.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Award in Environmental Journalism for Ilya Gridneff

Ilya has just received an award in environmental journalism for his reporting on the carbon trading market, story here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

unaccustomed as i am

TARARTRAT has posted an audio clip from John Chris Jones' talk about the Internet and Everyone at café ck on 2 October, with a brief introduction by me. John Chris is poised, self-possessed, articulate; I, on the other hand, seem to have entered the 2-minute 'you know I mean' babble competition. (Just how many times is it possible to say 'you know' in a single sentence? Hard to say, but I think Caroline Kennedy's record has been beaten handily.)

So this is, of course, horribly embarrassing - I need to take lessons, clearly, from the pro - but John Chris is worth hearing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the 140-character solution

Alan Rusbridger on Twitter and Trafigura and John Wilkes. (Trafigura tried to have the Guardian silenced by injunction.)

But the plan began to unravel rather rapidly on Monday when it transpired that an MP, Paul Farrelly, had tabled a question about the injunction and the awkward document in parliament. That was bad enough, what with the nuisance of 300-odd years of precedent affirming the right of the press to report whatever MPs say or do. There was a tiresomely teasing story on the Guardian front page. And then there was Twitter.

It took one tweet on Monday evening as I left the office to light the virtual touchpaper. At five past nine I tapped: "Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?" Twitter's detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters. My 104 characters did just fine.

By the time I got home, after stopping off for a meal with friends, the Twittersphere had gone into meltdown. Twitterers had sleuthed down Farrelly's question, published the relevant links and were now seriously on the case. By midday on Tuesday "Trafigura" was one of the most searched terms in Europe, helped along by re-tweets by Stephen Fry and his 830,000-odd followers.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Got this email today from Camfed

Dear Helen DeWitt,

On Wed., Oct. 7, the Case Foundation, Parade Magazine and launched America's Giving Challenge, a competition designed to encourage more people to participate in philanthropy. Don't worry, you don't have to be in America to participate, and we're calling on our supporters worldwide to join in!

The terms are simple: The charity on with the most individual donations by Nov. 7 wins the $50,000 prize. In order to send more girls to school in Africa, Camfed is participating in this challenge, and we need your help!


To win $50,000, between now and November 7th we have to get more people to donate $10 to our Cause than any other. (Each person can donate once per day and have it count as a unique donation.) We can also win daily awards of $1,000 if we can get the most people to donate in any 24-hour period.


1) Donate $10, which will provide a year's worth of school supplies-notebooks, pens, pencils-to a girl in Africa. To donate, visit

2) If you can give more, take the time to donate once a day throughout the competition-your generosity will greatly increase our chances of unlocking the $50,000 prize.

3) Forward this email, post a message on Facebook or Twitter, or simply talk to your friends about this competition and Camfed. Ask them to get involved and make a donation.

If you've never given on Facebook Causes before, now's the time. Your $10 donation may be worth $50,000, which would provide a year's worth of school supplies to 5,000 children. One person really can make a difference.

Thank you for all your support!

The Camfed Team

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sweet Thames, flow invisibly

Design Observer on the Tube map sans Thames. Ken Garland's book, Mr Beck's Underground Map, is one of my favourites, by the way - a must-have for design fanatics.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Does anyone know what the hourly rental charge would have been for an IBM Selectric Composer?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

sweetness & light

Mithridates Agonistes.

not in the room

A C Danto has a new book out on Andy Warhol, review of this and others by Richard Dorment at the NYRB.