Entries from September 2010

Virginia Woolf: By hook or by crook

By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Categories: Writing    Tags: · ·

Tumblng

Tumblr is having a moment. A big profile in the Times, a lot of buzz in the geekier precincts of the interwebs, phenomenal growth (the service adds 25,000 new accounts daily). For the uninitiated, Tumblr is a platform for “short-form blogging,” meaning that a “tumblelog” is a blog with very short posts, usually a single, found object — a quote, image, song, or video — offered with little or no comment. “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks,” the Tumblr web site used to explain helpfully. Essentially it is a place to share the little interesting things you find as you wander around the internet. It is not a place for long, navel-gazing essays. Here are a few good tumblelogs to give you a sense of it: Fuck Yeah, Literary Quotes, ck/ck, and Laughing Squid.

Lately I’ve been fiddling around with Tumblr and I am smitten. While I was cranking through the final rewrite of my latest novel the last few weeks, Tumblr became my main diversion. (I have so many.)

I can see the enormous potential of Tumblr. It has a social-networking aspect: you can follow people as you do on Facebook or Twitter, and view their posts in a Twitter-like stream. But it is more interesting than either of these, since Facebook does not have interesting content (my feed is mostly filled with snapshots of friends’ kids) and Twitter is straitjacketed by its 140-character format. Tumblr is also beautifully designed and dead simple to use.

The primary drawback of Tumblr, it seems to me, is that there just aren’t enough users yet to make it really compelling. As a link farm, Tumblr’s format kicks Twitter’s ass. The links I find on Twitter are cloaked behind those opaque fortune-cookie messages, and of course they require a click-through to see what the content really is. Very inefficient. My Tumblr feed is a lot easier to read. But Twitter has so many more interesting users than Tumblr that it is still my first stop when I go snuffling around the web for interesting reading material. (My second stop: Google Reader, still.)

Inevitably, I have started my own tumblelog. I will still post my “real” blog entries here at my grown-up blog. But for the little things I find laying around the web — like, say, a video of a naked man putting himself through a hay baler — Tumblr is the scrapbook where I’ll paste them. Come check it out. We’ll see how the new tumblelog develops over the next few months.

(Note: Must … resist … reference … to Culture Club. D’oh!)

Categories: Internet    Tags: · · · ·

The High-Low Problem

The problem [Pauline] Kael undertook to address when she began writing for The New Yorker was the problem of making popular entertainment respectable to people whose education told them that popular entertainment is not art. This is usually thought of as the high-low problem — the problem that arises when a critic equipped with a highbrow technique bends his or her attention to an object that is too low, when the professor writes about Superman comics. In fact, this rarely is a problem: if anything profits from (say) a semiotic analysis, it’s the comics. The professor may go on to compare Superman comics favorably with Homer, but that is simply a failure of judgment. It has nothing to do with the difference in brows. You can make a fool of yourself over anything.

The real high-low problem doesn’t arise when the object is too low. It arises when the object isn’t low enough. Meet the Beatles doesn’t pose a high-low problem; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band does. Tom Clancy and Wheel of Fortune don’t; John le Carré and Masterpiece Theater do. A product like Sgt. Pepper isn’t low enough to be discussed as a mere cultural artifact; but it’s not high enough to be discussed as though it were Four Quartets, either. It’s exactly what it pretends to be: it’s entertainment, but for educated people. And this is what makes it so hard for educated people to talk about without sounding pretentious — as though they had to justify their pleasure by some gesture toward the ‘deeper’ significance of the product.

— Louis Menand, “Finding It at the Movies,” New York Review of Books, 3/23/95

Categories: Art · Books · Movies    Tags: · ·