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Toward it

January 9, 2019

Unskilled and Unaware


People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

— “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Journal of Social Psychology. 1999 Dec;77(6):1121-34. [Link]

January 8, 2019

“What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades”

“Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.”

“That variability may itself be a learning tool. ‘When a kid produces a messy letter,’ Dr. James said, ‘that might help him learn it.'”

— NYT/What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades”

January 6, 2019

Fonts You Have & Fonts You Use

Design Professor Shares Witty Wisdom in Honest Charts About Creative Life

December 28, 2018

Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse (WRD) 104

December 26, 2018


Learning about substratum with the artist Kathryn Trumbell Fimreite:

Substratum: Latin: substrātum underlying layer, background; an underlying principle on which something is based; a basis, a foundation, a bedrock; a permanent underlying thing or essence in which properties inhere, more commonly called substance (philosophy); an underlying stratum, esp. that beneath the soil or other surface feature (geology); a lower class or stratum of society, esp. one which is characterized by poverty or criminality (sociology); a language spoken in a particular area at the time of the arrival of a new language, and which has had within that area a detectable influence on the elements or features of the new language (linguistics)


December 17, 2018

“Saying Goodbye to Glamour”

“It should have been bigger. More momentous. When you are holding something in your hands that is the last of its kind, you feel as if it ought to be more … special. A collectible. Something worthy of a time capsule, or a memory box.”

“But the last regular print issue of Glamour, which landed on newsstands on Tuesday, ahead of the magazine’s complete pivot to digital (with, O.K., the occasional special physical product, exactly when to be determined), is an anemic little thing, not even 100 pages.”

“There’s no drumroll for the “goodbye to paper,” no editor’s letter extolling the virtues of the more immediate future — we’re off the newsstand but on all your devices! There are no clues that this is a milestone moment in the struggle for survival of old media, and how women relate to the sisters-in-arms-advice-over-wine voice of the magazine, one that is now moving from their mailboxes to their inboxes.”

— NYT/Friedman: Saying Goodbye to Glamour”

December 4, 2018

DePaul, Friday

December 1, 2018

Poetry in the Age of Consumer-Generated Content

The replacement of the consciously curated Web by a more automatized, algorithmically driven network mirrors the evolution of the financial markets alongside which it has developed in the modern information economy. The investment market segment of that economy has been adapting to the realization that the curatorial choices of professional money managers and actively managed funds could not outperform randomly indexed big-data sampling of the market as a whole. Recognizing the significance of this paradigm shift, Paul Stephens has written with keen insight about “strategies of passive indexing” in the economic world of big data and its correlation to conceptual writing practices.”

Dworkin, Craig. “Poetry in the Age of Consumer-Generated Content.” Critical Inquiry 44 (Summer 2018).

November 27, 2018

“Lost in an iPad: Narrative engagement …”

Equally important for engagement in a narrative is the unobtrusiveness of the display or substrate on which the written text appears. Readers do not want to be interrupted by being forced to pay attention to the paper, binding, or spine on which they engage narrative stories; they want to become “lost” in a book (Nell, 1988). Analogously, interface features of digital devices should recede into the background during reading, enabling engagement with the narrative story world. This requires, for instance, that readers ignore the ergonomics of page turning and text navigation. The failure of dedicated, electronic literature (e.g., hypertext novels) to reach a wide audience is plausibly related to the fact that the reader has to engage actively in navigational decisions during reading and interact — cognitively and physically — with the work. This constant interaction, Holland (2009) argues, makes immersion in the “world” of the hypertext story or poem impossible: “The [real] world cannot evaporate, nor can we feel transported into the world of the story. Instead, we are busy at the computer.” (p. 41). Given such apprehensions, it is important to determine empirically whether readers’ engagement with a literary narrative is affected by whether they read it in print or on a tablet. The experiment reported here was designed to do so.

Theoretical background “Sense of the text” on paper and screen Empirical research has examined cognitive aspects of text reading on paper and screens, and the available results are mixed. Some recent studies report little or no difference in comprehension between paper and screen reading (Margolin et al., 2013; Kretszchmar et al., 2013), whereas other studies suggest that reading lengthy linear texts on screen may impede the high-level processes underlying comprehension, metacognition, and recall (Ackerman & Goldsmith, 2011; Jeong, 2012; Kim & Kim, 2013; Mangen, Walgermo, & Brønnick, 2013; Wästlund, Reinikka, Norlander, & Archer, 2005). Of particular relevance to the present study is research demonstrating the adverse effects of the spatio-temporal intangibility of digitized texts on reading comprehension (cf. Mangen et al., 2013). When reading on paper, readers have immediate sensory access to text sequence, as well as to the entirety of the text. They can discern visually, as well as sense kinesthetically, their page by page progress through the text; the paper substrate provides physical, tactile, and spatiotemporally fixed cues to text length (Mangen, 2006; Sellen & Harper, 2002).

In contrast, when reading on screen, readers may see (e.g., using page numbers) but not kinesthetically sense their page by page progress through the text. Hence, overview of the text’s organization and structure (Eklundh, 1992; Piolat et al., 1997) — the reader’s “sense of the text” (Haas, 1996) — may be diminished. While such loss of text length overview and of location in the text may matter for reading in general, having a “sense of the text” may matter especially for narrative genres. On the one hand, because narratives are based on a chronological ordering of actions and events, a parallel kinesthetic sense of the unfolding reading event may support immersion in the narrated world. On the other hand, separation from this kinesthetic sense of the physical reading event may be precisely what prevents immersion in the narrative world — and becoming “lost” there. Research to date does not enable affirmation of either of these conflicting possibilities.

—  Mangen, A. & Kuiken, D. (2014) “Lost in an iPad: Narrative engagement on paper and tablet.” Scientific Study of Literature, Volume 4, Issue 2, Jan 2014, p. 150 – 177.

November 23, 2018

Poetry & typography

November 22, 2018

Sometimes we can’t tell why

“ … what Jonathan Edwards (Yale, class of 1720; appointed president of Princeton in 1758) called “beauties that delight us and we can’t tell why — as when “we find ourselves pleased in beholding the color of the violets, but we know not what secret regularity or harmony it is that creates that pleasure in our minds.”

— Jonathan Edwards, 1752.
— Quoted in Andrew Delbanco: College: What It Is, Was, and Should Be (p. 40), 2012.

November 19, 2018

May Day, NYC

More here: May 1st.

November 14, 2018

William Morris & Kelmscott Press

“For Morris, the books of his time were symptomatic of the shortcomings of modern society: they were ugly, badly made and mass-produced.”

via Hornbake Library, University of Maryland’s College Park


“… why the libraries are built like cathedrals and surrounded by meadows and flowers.”

“The assumption now current, that the test of a university is its success in vaulting graduates into the upper tiers of wealth and status, obscures the fact that the United States is an enormous country, and that many of its best and brightest may prefer a modest life in Maine or South Dakota. Or in Iowa, as I find myself obliged to say from time to time. It obscures the fact that there is a vast educational culture in this country, unlike anything else in the world. It emerged from a glorious sense of the possible and explored and enhanced the possible through the spread of learning. If it seems to be failing now, that may be because we have forgotten what the university is for, why the libraries are built like cathedrals and surrounded by meadows and flowers. They are a tribute and an invitation to the young, who can and should make the world new, out of the unmapped and unbounded resource of their minds.”

— Marilynne Robinson, “Save Our Public Universities: In Defense of America’s Best Idea”

November 10, 2018


“Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in a 1919 letter that his work ‘consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part which is the important one.’ In theology, apophaticism refers to the idea that what we cannot say about God is more fundamental than what we can; in literature and other works of art, Knight argues, it functions as a way of continuing to speak and write even in the face of the unspeakable.”

— Knight,  Omissions are not Accidents: Modern Apophaticism from Henry James to Jacques Derrida. University of Toronto Press, 2010. 

Marianne Moore, “Preface” to The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1982.

November 9, 2018

When Walt Whitman Reported for The New York Times

“Reporting on Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration just over a month before Robert E. Lee’s surrender, a New York Times reporter juxtaposed the scene of the inaugural ball that took place in the patent office in Washington to his memory, two years earlier, of when the same location housed the wounded and dying.”

“Tonight,” he wrote. “Beautiful women, perfumes, the violins’ sweetness, the polka and the waltz; but then, the amputation, the blue face, the groan, the glassy eye of the dying, the clotted rag, the odor of the old wounds and blood and many a mother’s son amid strangers, passing away unintended there.”

“That reporter was the poet Walt Whitman. During the Civil War, The Times employed a large staff to cover the war all across the country, sending information with unprecedented speed by way of railroad and telegraph. The rapidly evolving and war-torn country provided tales of journalists that were as rich as their reports.”

Via NYT.

November 8, 2018

God and Man at Yale (1951)

September 28, 2018

Student Composition Book, 1871-1874

Library note:

The book, which collects what may have been considered representative work of the school’s award-winning writers, is composed of a collaboratively written story, letters, and essays in series on miscellaneous topics—likely assignments—all of which immortalize the voices, but also the bodies, of some of St. John’s first students.

One of the most intriguing sections of the book is composed of three essays on “the (un)certainty of death,” by William Maguire, Thomas Ward, and Wilson Durack. Ward’s essay is dated February 7th, 1873, which suggests that all three essays may have been composed within the same (academic) year.

— Via St. John’s University Archives and Special Collections

August 29, 2018

Remystifying the Interface

August 28, 2018

From The Onion: “Third-Grader Watching Another Year Of Back To School Commercials Suddenly Realizes He’ll Die One Day”

From the article’s conclusion:

“‘And what of me? For the moment in third grade, but next year it’s fourth, and then fifth, and then ninth, and then college, and then middle age, and then, in time’s fullness, I’ll altogether cease. Oh, my life. What am I doing with my life?’ Jacobs has since taken his mind off the subject by trying to find school binders that don’t have totally stupid graphics on them.”

Onion: “Third-Grader Watching Another Year Of Back To School Commercials Suddenly Realizes He’ll Die One Day”

August 27, 2018

Rhetoric in the Liberal Arts




More than any other of the subjects of the mediaeval curriculum, Rhetoric shows the distinctive characteristics of the age. While in the other branches, grammar especially, the methods and ideals of the later Empire were largely followed, being modified only to meet the changing requirements of new conditions, the study of rhetoric assumed an entirely new character. On the one hand the old practical rhetorical training of the Roman period was almost entirely discarded or was reduced to a mere mastery of the technical rules of the science. On the other hand, one insignificant phase of classical rhetoric the study of the Epistle and “Dictamen” was overemphasized and developed to such an extent as to displace in the curriculum the study of rhetoric proper.

This change was not made without reason. The decadence of the rhetorical schools of Rome was caused by the deadening formalism which resulted from perpetuating the ideal of training orators at a time when the world had no use for orators. In the days of Cicero the training in oratory was in harmony with the spirit of the age. Since its noblest use was then the defense of liberty, his seven works on eloquence were timely treatises indeed. But in the later empire, in spite of changed conditions, this formal training in oratory remained, as we have seen in a preceding chapter, the same as in the period of Cicero. Such an artificial and lifeless system of education could not but be debasing in its influence. Now, as was also shown in a former chapter, while the Christianized Roman world permitted the pagan schools to die, it was not averse to appropriating for its own purposes the essential elements of the culture which these various schools imparted. But it could not, from the nature of things, accept the educational ideal of the ancient world the training of the orator. Therefore rhetoric, the basis of education in the Empire, lost its importance in the middle ages and could no longer be the keystone of the educational arch. (pp. 52-53)

Abelson, The Seven Liberal Arts, a Study in Mediaeval Culture, 1906.

August 13, 2018

Earl Shorris

Earl Shorris: I’ve argued that the humanities provide the most practical education. If we can stipulate that knowing is better than not knowing, then the comparison is between education, as in studying the humanities, and training, as in learning to operate a computer or mop floors or pull a tooth or make out a will. We can start from the simplest kind of training, that is, training to repeat the least complex task, which might be mopping floors or repetitively entering numbers into a computer. Such work is poorly paid, with little or no chance for advancement. Historically, the poor have been trained to do such tasks as a way of maintaining a low cost labor force. During the industrial revolution, an ethic (Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is the best description of it) developed that kept the poor “happily” at their labors.

Training for complex tasks, such as dentistry or engineering, is more demanding, but nevertheless training, in that it teaches the student to do something that has been done before: pull a tooth, build a bridge, and so on. Compare even that kind of training to education in the humanities—philosophy, art, history, literature, and logic, in Petrarch’s formulation. The distinction is between doing and thinking, between following and beginning. Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish student of the humanities, with no formal training in astronomy, quite literally turned the universe inside out. Few ideas in modern history have had more influence on scientific thinking than the Copernican Revolution. Similarly, Descartes, whose method is at the base of technological activity, was not himself a technologist or even a scientist; he was a philosopher. If America is to remain a leading nation, it will do so because of the humanities, not because of training, even of the most sophisticated kind.

Let’s apply that practicality to a person living in the second or third generation of poverty. If one has been “trained” in the ways of poverty, left no opportunity to do other than react to his or her environment, what is needed is a beginning, not repetition. The humanities teach us to think reflectively, to begin, to deal with the new as it occurs to us, to dare. If the multi-generational poor are to make the leap out of poverty, it will require a new kind of thinking—reflection. And that is a beginning.

— Mass Humanities, Social Transformation through the Humanities: An Interview with Earl Shorris

August 11, 2018

Gast: “American Progress”

“This illustration resonated with U.S. residents in the post–Civil War era in part because the vision of expansionism as “progress,” and progress defined as the introduction of domesticity to the wilderness, fit with the hegemonic gender norms of the era. After the upheaval and staggering violence of four years of Civil War, survivors turned away from heroic individualism and looked toward work and home for meaning. The growth of the country, “from sea to sea,” in the decades before the war was idealized as an essentially peaceful process, a period when harmony reigned and Americans were unified in pursuit of their destiny. American Progress is a vision of expansionism, both domesticated and restrained.”

From Amy S. Greenberg, Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire — Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Also as the book cover on Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism.

August 8, 2018

User-Friendly Ideology

“Compared to the phosphorescent garbage heap of DOS – an intimidating jumble of letters and commands – the world one entered into when flicking on a Macintosh was a clean, well-lit room, populated by wry objects, yet none so jarring that it threatened one’s comforting sense of place. It welcomed your work.” (Levy 157)

In the Old Testament there was the first apple, the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which with one taste sent Adam, Eve, and all mankind into the great current of History. The second apple was Isaac Newton’s, the symbol of our entry into the age of modern science. The Apple Computers symbol was not chosen purely at random: it represents the third apple,  the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future. (Gassée 10-11)

This chapter, then, concerns itself with two significant aspects of this roughly ten year period: first, the shift from seeing a user-friendly computer as a tool that encourages understanding, tinkering, and creativity to seeing a user-friendly computer in terms of an efficient work-station for productivity and task-management and the effect of this shift particularly on digital literary production. Second, tightly connected to the first, this chapter concerns itself with the rupture marked by the turn from computer systems based on the command-line interface to those based on “direct manipulation” interfaces that are iconic or graphical (GUI) – a turn driven by rhetoric that insisted the GUI, particularly that pioneered by the Apple Macintosh design team, was not just different from the command-line interface but it was naturally better, easier, friendlier. As I outline in the second section of this chapter, the Macintosh was, as Jean-Louis Gassée (who headed up its development after Steve Jobs’ departure in 1985) writes without any hint of irony, “the third apple,” after the first apple in the Old Testament and the second apple that was Isaac Newton’s, is “the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future.” (11)

Despite studies released since 1985 that clearly demonstrate GUIs are not necessarily better than command-line interfaces in terms of how easy they are to learn and to use, Apple – particularly under Jobs’ leadership – successfully created such a convincing aura of inevitable superiority around the Macintosh GUI that to this day the same “user-friendly” philosophy, paired with the no longer noticed closed architecture, fuels consumers’ religious zeal for Apple products. I should note that I have been an avid consumer of Apple products since I owned my first Macintosh Powerbook in 1995. However, what concerns me is that ‘user-friendly’ now takes the shape of keeping users steadfastly unaware and uninformed about how their computers, their reading/writing interfaces, work let alone how they shape and determine their access knowledge and their ability to produce knowledge. As Wendy Chun points out, it’s a system in which users are, on the one hand, given the ability to “map, to zoom in and out, to manipulate, and to act” but, she implies, the result is is a “seemingly sovereign individual” who is mostly an devoted consumer of ready-made software, ready-made information whose framing and underlying (filtering) mechanisms we are not privy to (8).

Thus, the trajectory of this argument culminates in chapter four, in which I make it clear that the logical conclusion of this shift to the ideology (if not the religion) of the user-friendly via the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is, first, expressed in contemporary multi-touch, gestural, and ubiquitous computing devices such as the iPad and the iPhone whose interfaces are touted as utterly invisible (and so their inner workings are de facto invisible as they are also inaccessible); and, second, this full realization of frictionless, interface-free computing born out of the mid-1980s is in turn critiqued by works of activist digital media poetics. From this perspective, it is, then, no coincidence at all that Apple had actually designed something like an iPhone in 1983; at the same time that Macintosh designers were hard at work, Hartmut Esslinger, the designer of the Apple IIc, built a white landline phone complete with a built-in, stylus-driven touch-screen. (“Apple’s First iPhone”). The Apple IIc was in fact a close relative of the Macintosh in terms of portability and lack of internal expansion slots which made them both closed systems; the IIc was also released in 1984, just three months after the Macintosh.

But while chronologically proceeding from the era of the typewriter, using a media archaeology methodology to understand this particular rupture in media history means that activist media poetics plays out quite differently in the 1980s as it was an era newly oriented toward the efficient completion of tasks over and beyond a creative use or mis-use of the computer. Arguably one reason for the heightened engagement in hacking type(writing) in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s is that the typewriter had become so ubiquitous in homes and offices that it had also become invisible to its users. It is precisely at the point at which a technology saturates a culture that writers and artists, whose craft is utterly informed by a sensitivity to their tools, begin to break apart that same technology to once again draw attention to the way in which it offers certain limits and possibilities to both thought and expression. There are indeed examples of digital media activist poems that also inherit an emphasis on making, doing, hacking but – once again – it seems to me that the vast majority of these works do not appear until both the personal computer and the user-friendly computer whose GUI is designed to keep the user passively consuming technology rather than actively producing it become practically ubiquitous.

As I discuss in the first section of this chapter, activist media poetics in this particular time period mostly takes the form of experimentation with digital tools that at the time were new to writers – an experimentation that, at least under the terms set by Mckenzie Wark’s Hacker Manifesto, certainly could be framed as hacking (Wark infamously writes that “Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world” [004] and that “The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied” [006]). However, as I will discuss, work by Invisible Seattle, Nichol, Paul Zelevansky, Geof Huth, and Robert Pinsky is not working to make the (in this case) command-line interface visible so much as it is openly playing with and tentatively testing the parameters of the personal computer as a still-new writing technology. This kind of open experimentation almost entirely disappeared once Apple Macintosh’s design innovations as well as their marketing made open computer architecture and the command-line interface obsolete and GUIs pervasive.

— From Lori Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound (University of Minnesota Press, June 2014)

August 6, 2018


August 2, 2018

Sylvia Plath at Mademoiselle, 1953

Photo taken on the first day of her summer internship — and as part of a group of college guest editors — at Mademoiselle, June, 1953:

Scene recreated in The Bell Jar:

‘Come on, give us a smile.’

“I sat on the pink velvet loveseat in Jay Cee’s office, holding a paper rose and facing the magazine photographer… I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry but I knew that if anybody else spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week….

“‘Show us how happy it makes you to write a poem.’”

— Plath, Bell Jar, chapter nine.

July 30, 2018

“Innocent Eye Test”

innocent eye

“Tansey presents a scene depicting a cow being presented a painting of two cows by the seventeenth-century painter Paulus Potter, as a group of educated-looking gentlemen in lab coats, perhaps connoisseurs (if I were a connoisseur of connoisseurs), stand attentively observing the cow. The art experts consult the cow to determine whether a work depicting cows is convincingly rendered. For the art connoisseurs, their cultivated gaze cannot judge the work adequately, because their vision is structured by aesthetic discourse. They need an innocent eye, a bestial eye. In the cow’s gaze and the anticipation of her reaction to the work, we have an echo of a similar story from antiquity concerning an artistic competition between the painters Zeuxis and Parhassios. For the competition, Zeus paints an image of grapes, fooling a bird, which comes to peck at the painting …”

— Richards, Derrida Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts, 2008.

Innocent Eye Test at the Metropolitan Museum

July 29, 2018

User-Interface as an Expression of Political Ideology

Key words: User-interface, ideology, values, ethics, manipulation, persuasion, rhetorics.


The user interface of interactive systems is the meeting point of people with
interactive communication technology (ICT). As a human product it forms a part of culture that determines us, often without our full realization. The user-interface (UI) is constructed according to a set of values of the designer and other stakeholders in the production process. Their values and goals are implicitly encoded in the interface and the documentation but can
be in conflict with the values of the user. This means the UI directs the user interaction in a way that should follow user’s intentions, but is often more subject to the intent of the designer or simply by what the system allows for by itself. This is when both the intentional and unintentional manipulation with the user starts, because he or she is presented with choices or even goals, that are inappropriate for his or her intent.

For the purpose of unmasking and decoding the inner workings of the UI we can apply semiotics with the emphasis on pragmatics, as defined by Charles Morris (1970). Semiotics is in this regard a study of semiosis, which has a syntactic, semantic and pragmatic dimension.

Syntactics is “the study of the syntactical relations of signs to one another in abstraction from the relations of signs to objects or to interpreters…” (Morris, 1970: 13) In this dimension we deal with the grammar constituting relations between the perceivable elements, or sign vehicles.

Semantics, on the other hand, “deals with the relation of signs to their designata and so to the objects which they may or do denote.” (Morris, 1970: 21) This dimension is devoted to the relation between vehiculae and the object, content, action, or “meaning” the UI represents and enables.

Pragmatics “deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena which occur in the functioning of signs.” (Morris, 1970: 30). This most complex dimension focuses on how we use or interpret the vehiculaobject relation, i.e., what is the sign‘s purpose? The pragmatic dimension governs how signs are used, or understood in their conventional and symbolic form. Each and every computer-based UI is a result of diverse influences.

Each and every computer-based UI is a result of diverse influences during the design process.

— Jan Brejcha, User-Interface as an Expression of Political Ideology. Magal, Solik, eds. Médiá a politika – Megatrendy a médiá. Trnava: Fakulta masmediálnej komunikácie Univerzity sv. Cyrila a Metoda v Trnave, 2011, p. 245-261.


For example?

D2L Daylight

July 28, 2018

Matisse: La perruche et la sirène

July 3, 2018

NYT Review: Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar, first U.S. edition, 1971

“This story is partly told in the useful biographical note that has been written for the American edition by Lois Ames. The novel was initially rejected by its American publisher and when, after its success in England, Harper & Row sought to publish it, they were refused permission by the family. Sylvia Plath’s mother has insisted that her daughter thought of the book as a “pot-boiler” and did not want it published in the United States. And Mrs. Plath herself felt that the book presented ungrateful caricatures of people who had tried to help her daughter. These sentiments are understandable. But a book published in England cannot be kept away from the United States. Already, the student underground has been smuggling copies from abroad into the country. Literature will out. And “The Bell Jar” is not a pot-boiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures: it is literature. It is finding its audience, and will hold it.”

“The Harper & Row edition is overdue, but very welcome and handsomely done. It has one of the best jacket designs (by Amy Isbey Duevell) I have ever seen, and it includes reproductions of eight pen-and-ink drawings by Sylvia Plath. The drawings are landscapes and still lifes, caught by a meticulous draftsman, who understands almost too well what it means to work in a medium where black is the only color.”

Scholes review: “Esther came back like a retreaded tire,” April 11, 1971

June 29, 2018

Expressionism vs. Impressionism

Click image for larger, readable version:

“Expressionism vs. Impressionism.” Design. 50 (1949). (Now known as Arts Education Policy Review.)

June 25, 2018

Dispositions vs. Circumstances

“I do not say this because I feel dissatisfied with my present station – no, God forbid: – for everybody and everything conspire to make me as contented as possible in it; yet I have too much of the vanity of human affairs to expect felicity from the splendid scenes of public life. I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one, or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.”

Martha Washington, Letter to Mercy Warren (1789)

June 18, 2018

The Lens Part of Photography

“The above is the title of a surprisingly large twenty-live cents’ worth of practical in-  formation concerning photographic lenses,  their properties, functions, and use. It is written by R. D. Gray, a gentleman whose  practical and technical knowledge of photographic optics qualifies him to speak authoritatively. The book is well illustrated, both  with the necessary diagrams to supplement  the text and examples of photographic work  of different kinds. Some idea of the contents  may be gathered from a few of the chapter  headings, amongst which are: Testing Lenses, Table of View Angles. Copying, Shutter Efficiency, and Photographing Tall Buildings.”

“Copies can be obtained, postpaid, upon  receipt of twenty-five cents, from Gray, Lloyd  & Company, Ridgewood, New Jersey.”

— Description from Camera Craft: A Photographic Monthly.
Volume XVIII, San Francisco, 1911.

June 17, 2018

Legibility & Readability

June 14, 2018

Still working on it, Mr. D’Amato

Still working on it.

June 10, 2018

People travel …

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” — St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, 397 AD.

June 9, 2018

Fishing — Mérida, Nicaragua, Summer 2016

May 12, 2018

“Proper Spring”

some “proper spring”
this is!
snow at the gate
Issa (1822)


To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay (1937)

March 13, 2018

Flesch’s The Art of Readable Writing (1949)

“To come right out with it, this is a book on rhetoric. Its purpose is to help you in your writing.

“Chances are, you learned how to write-indirectly-from Aristotle. Look up the history of English grammar, composition, and rhetoric teaching; you’ll find that it all started a couple of centuries ago when people first hit upon the idea of teaching English-speaking boys and girls not only Greek and Latin, but English too. Courses and textbooks came into being; naturally, what was taught was simply Greek and Latin grammar and rhetoric, applied to English. Now since all Greek and Latin grammar and rhetoric go straight back to Aristotle (as any encyclopedia will tell you) and since the principles of English teaching are still much the same as they were two hundred years ago, what you were taught in school really comes down from Aristotle.

“So, whether you like it or not, you are an umptieth-generation Aristotelian.”

— Chapter 1: “You and Aristotle”

March 7, 2018

O. Sacks on Reading

“Reading is a hugely complex task, one that calls upon many parts of the brain, but it is not a skill humans have acquired through evolution (unlike speech, which is largely hard-wired). Reading is a relatively recent development, arising perhaps 5,000 years ago, and it depends on a tiny area of the brain’s visual cortex. What we now call the visual word form area, or V.W.F.A., is part of a cortical region that evolved to recognize basic shapes in nature, but can be redeployed for the recognition of letters or words. This elementary shape or letter recognition is only the first step.”

“From this visual word form area, two-way connections must be made to many other parts of the brain, including those responsible for grammar, memories, association and feelings, so that letters and words acquire their particular meanings for us. We each form unique neural pathways associated with reading, and we each bring to the act of reading a unique combination not only of memory and experience, but of sensory modalities, too. Some people may “hear” the sounds of the words as they read (I do, but only if I am reading for pleasure, not when I am reading for information); others may visualize them, consciously or not. Some may be acutely aware of the acoustic rhythms or emphases of a sentence; others are more aware of its look or its shape.

— Oliver Sacks: “Reading the Fine Print”

December 21, 2017

WSJ: millennial misstep

“Millennials” has become a sort of snide shorthand in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. We have blamed them for the housing shortage, their fickle shopping habits or for fleeing New Jersey. We have had a laugh at their expense over behaviors such as a fear of doorbells or their discovery of the TV antenna. And at other times we have treated them like an alien species (“If You Have 29 Credit Cards, You’re Probably a Millennial” or “Facts to Silence Your Smug Millennial Nephew This Thanksgiving”). Comedian and late-night host Stephen Colbert even mocked our coverage on an episode of “The Late Show.” What we usually mean is young people, so we probably should just say that. Many of the habits and attributes of millennials are common for people in their 20s, with or without a snotty term.

But it is worth remembering, too, that millennials are an important group of WSJ readers (not to mention many of your colleagues). We risk alienating them if we write about them with such disdain. Increasingly, we are not just covering how economists or marketers perceive this generation. We are writing for and about a group of people who are building major companies, altering the way we work and live and challenging long-held notions of family and society.

Let’s also be precise when referring to this group and resist the temptation to use stereotypes, apply a blanket label or let the term become a crutch in our stories. Occasionally, we’ve referred to millennials when we really meant teenagers. Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are commonly defined as people born from about 1980-2000. That means the oldest millennials are approaching 40 and the youngest are seniors in high school. Such explanations are worth including in articles that are centered on millennials.

WSJ Style & Substance: Vol. 30, No. 11: Millennials
WSJ Style & Substance archive


December 11, 2017

Susan Sontag

“… love words, agonize over sentences,” “pay attention to the world,” and, crucially, “be serious.”

Susan Sontag

December 8, 2017

The New York Times typographical standards, 1927

December 5, 2017

North Avenue Beach, Chicago

December 4, 2017

“There never was a Democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.”

“Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to Say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and no where appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud Violence and Cruelty. When clear Prospects are opened before Vanity, Pride, Avarice or Ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate Phylosophers and the most conscientious Moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves, Nations and large Bodies of Men, never.

John Adams, in a letter to John Taylor, 17 December 1814

November 30, 2017

Stephen Shore

“In the art world of the 1960s and 1970s, the photograph came to have a multiplicity of functions: it could document a performance (as in the art of Carolee Schneemann), advocate a social message (Danny Lyon), underpin a conceptual practice (Sol LeWitt), or relate a fictional narrative (Eleanor Antin). And today, now that cameras are ubiquitous and cloud-compatible, we often expect photography to serve as a tool for other efforts. But a photograph can still — we forget sometimes — have no function than to be itself.”

That autonomous virtue comes through loud and clear at the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of Stephen Shore’s work: a sprawling, demanding exhibition that sticks up for photography as a discipline in its own right. Mr. Shore, who emerged in the 1970s alongside William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld and other pioneers of color photography, has spent decades shooting landscapes and highways, motel rooms and diner breakfasts, with an unaffected mastery and subtle humor. Not staged, not lit, not cropped, not retouched, his photographs are feats of dispassionate representation, and yet their attentiveness and exactitude make them far, far more than snapshots.

NYT/Farago: Stephen Shore’s MoMA Survey Shows a Restless Reformer as a Master of Photography

November 24, 2017

“… before anyone has a chance to stop it at the border and ask for papers.”

I first saw David Carson’s work, as did a number of others, in the short-lived magazine called Beach Culture, and I immediately wondered what the hell was going on. Who was reading this amazing magazine that seemed to be in the wrong place, directed at the wrong audience? It seemed to act like a popular mag, but sure didn’t look like one. Were surfers really into this radical design? Were they actually more savvy than I gave them credit for? Well, Southern California was the home of Kustom Kars and Low Riders, both examples of beautiful, radical, impractical design of and by the people. Maybe this was another step along those lines? Popular culture proving once again that it could be more revolutionary than high culture.

Then Beach Culture disappeared and we never found out the answers.

I was beginning to despair that rock music culture was becoming square, conservative, stuck. The mass-market mags were all towing some kind of party line, getting excited when they were suposed to, and narrowing their interests and focus until the world started becoming a suburban backyard. And that was what we were trying to escape from!

Then along came Ray Gun, and hey, it’s that guy again! Now we’re talking.

Design was cool again! Suddenly, visual expression was, as we always knew it was, as hip as Rock & Roll. Even the readers were contributing great drawings, paintings and sketches. This was not an isolated designer freaking out, but a catalyst for who knows how many people who knew that there is no difference between anything anymore-between “professional” musicians/artists and amateurs.

For decades, public art programs have tried to “bring art to the people”; museums and great institutions of learning strive to “enlighten the masses”. When all along the “masses” have been doing it for themselves-maybe unrecognized, and in slightly different forms. With guitars and offset fanzines. With kustom kars, surfboards and skateboards.

I suppose a lot will be made of David Carson’s work being the perfect example of Mcluhan’s theory of sprung life-that when a means of communication has outlived its relevance, it becomes a work of art. That print-books, magazines, news-papers will become icons, sculptures, textures-that they will be a means of communication of a different order, and that simple information transfer will be effected by some other (electronic) means. Print will no longer be obliged to simply carry the news. It will have been given (or will have taken, in this case) its freedom, and there is no going back. Print is reborn, resurrected, as something initially unrecognizable. It’s not really dead, it simply mutated into something else.

David’s work communicates. But on a level beyond words. On a level that bypasses the logical, rational centers of the brain and goes straight to the part that understands without thinking. In this way it works just like music does-slipping in there before anyone has a chance to stop it at the border and ask for papers.

— From the Introduction of End of Print by David Byrne (Carson, 1995).

November 23, 2017

Gould Memorial Library, BCC, Bronx

“For more than four decades, Gould has been a landmark in search of a purpose, beyond being an awe-inspiring assembly space and a retreat where students — many of whom are adults with jobs, families and tough lives — can briefly immerse themselves in the calming “sound of time,” as Thomas Wolfe said about Pennsylvania Station (also by McKim, Mead & White).”

“The central rotunda is encircled with 16 columns of richly veined green Connemara marble. Hundreds of rosettes stud the deep coffers of the gilded dome. Glimpsed behind the classical statuary around the drum of the dome are the words of Job 28: “Where shall wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding?””

“The answer used to be: all around the rotunda, where the library stacks were constructed with translucent glass floors to permit the greatest amount of daylight to reach the shelves.”

“Above the main floor, much remains as it was when the books and maps and geological specimens were moved out. The doors of small study rooms, tucked along a balcony between the big Connemara columns, are still labeled “Greek,” “Latin,” “Semitic,” “Romance,” “German,” “English.””

November 22, 2017

NYC this week

The #1 Train

Jane Addams, Bronx Community College

207th Street, Bronx

207th Street, Bronx

Flatiron Building

November 19, 2017