To explore someone else’s interiority is not just to flash, at this moment, to what you think the other person might be thinking or feeling. It’s a layered, almost literary thing, to imagine the history of their experiences (known and unknown, actual and possible) and to think through those experiences, thoughts, and feelings all the way through to the end.
If the film has a point, it is that “discerning a point” is harder than ever in a world where mediated experiences of “beauty” are more ubiquitous, accessible and customizable than ever, but less and less tied to rubrics of meaning.
I really liked this essay by Brett McCracken.
I’m sure the Germans or the Japanese have a word that means, precisely, “Life-changing ideas that do not change our lives because we only read about them once, agree enthusiastically, and then forget them before we act on them.”
If not, we could use one. How many times has your mind been set ablaze by a profound truth from a book, podcast, article, or a speech, only for the idea to fade before you could do anything with it?
One thing I’ve been pondering lately: making space for good stuff I already know about. After I ported over thousands of old tumblr posts, the ongoing clean-up process has resurfaced a bunch of old stuff I forgot I ever experienced.
I loved this Robert Moor essay on environmentalism and masculinity.
Even as progressive men renounce the traditional notion of subordinated femininity, many still harbor conflicted notions about manhood. They want to feel individually reckless, but not socially irresponsible. They want to minimize carbon emissions, but not to scold, scrimp, or carry tote bags. They want to be pure of deed but wild at heart. So they dig ever deeper into the past, searching for a way of life that existed before “real” men and their ecological consciences parted ways.
His book On Trails was one of my faves of 2017.
It’s not Wikipedia that we binge on all day.
“Because modern horror is usually this masochistic titillation bullshit, a lot of people in interviews will tell me [The Witch] is not a horror film, it’s a psychological suspense thriller with supernatural elements,” he said, putting on a tone of faux-snobbery. “And I’m like, ‘O.K., that’s cool.’ But then fucking Edgar Allan Poe isn’t horror, either. “What’s important to me about horror stories,” he continued, “is to look at what’s actually horrifying about humanity, instead of shining a flashlight on it and running away giggling.”
I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.
There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!
That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.
And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.
Be wary of tools that solve a problem that didn’t exist before the tool. GPS helped solve a problem that existed for a long time before it came along (how do I get where I want to go?), so did Google (how do I find this piece of information I need?). Snapchat, by contrast, did not. Be wary of tools in this latter category as they tend to exist mainly to create addictive new behaviors that support ad sales.
Alone time is a gift many people don’t feel comfortable asking for, and not having it when needed is a common cause of stage sighing and other put-upon theatrics.
Fantasy, even when it’s rooted in practical details and doesn’t involve any metaphysical impossibilities, is the hardest genre to pull off, for the simple reason that life is interesting. A drama or a comedy that sticks close to experience has the intrinsic virtue of documentary—and, as with documentary itself, less is usually more.
In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.” There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation. Why not just say what is wrong with the view? How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”? Good or bad? Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different? Can’t we just debate the question itself?
The same is true in politics. Let’s say someone favors free trade and the First Amendment. Is that “radical”? Or is it mainstream and thus non-radical? Does labeling it radical further the debate on whether or not those are the correct positions?
Making leisure your labor, an elaboration of “working from home,” can be a profound comfort. Collapsing the public and private can mean protection from both realms — stripped of some of the obligations of traditional professionalism, your public life can be more intimate and casual. And when you “be yourself” for a living, your private self can be infused with the armored posturing of a public persona. This elision can also, truly, drive a person crazy.
I had to ask myself, Is this as fast as you can possibly run right now? and when the answer was No, making myself try harder for no other reason than that trying hard matters.
Twitter puts its users in the uncomfortable position of spectating people’s tirades and honest outpourings of hurt while being almost entirely powerless to respond in a meaningful way.