Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Natalie Merchant; The Decay of Contemporary Art; Solar Sails

Natalie Merchant puts poems to music on her new album (released in April this year). See the PBS video above. Canary especially likes Merchant's stated emphasis on rediscovering and exploring the spoken, rhythmic elements of poetry.

Lobster likes Ben Lewis's polemic, "The Dustbin of Art History," in the current issue of Prospect. Some delicious quotes from Lewis:

"The paintings in Damien Hirst’s exhibition at the Wallace Collection last October were execrable. Most critics fulminated that these works of art should never have been hung in close proximity to masterpieces by Poussin and Rembrandt. [...] I made my way hastily to the exit—down the grand staircase past vast pompous canvases of sunrise and sunset by the 18th-century French painter François Boucher, full of pink putti and topless girls in diaphanous dresses—I realised that those critics were wrong. The Wallace, famous for its collection of French rococo, was actually the perfect setting for Hirst’s exhibition, titled “No Love Lost, Blue Paintings.”

For there are compelling parallels between much of the contemporary art of the last two decades—not only the work of the expensive artists who made the headlines like Hirst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, but also many of the conceptual artists patronised by public galleries—and French rococo, a movement that extolled frivolity, luxury and dilettantism, patronised by a corrupt and decadent ancien régime. Boucher’s art represented the degradation of the baroque school’s classical and Christian values into a heavenly zone of soft porn, shorn of danger, conflict and moral purpose. Similarly, Hirst’s work represents the degeneration of the modernist project from its mission to sweep away art’s “bourgeois relics” into a set of eye-pleasing and sentimental visual tropes."

"There is a pattern typical of these end-phase periods, when an artistic movement ossifies. At such times there is exaggeration and multiplication instead of development. A once new armoury of artistic concepts, processes, techniques and themes becomes an archive of formulae, quotations or paraphrasings, ultimately assuming the mode of self-parody."

Finally, on a muggy Sunday morning in New York City, the canary sighs in envy of the silken wings that sprouted this week on the Japanese experimental satellite Ikaros, 6 million miles out in space. Click here for photographs of the Ikaros solar sail. Perhaps one day such sails will take our craft to the stars, powered by the force of sunlight alone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Terje Rypdal; John Brunner.

[Terje Rypdal, from Odyssey, 1975]

John Brunner's The Traveler in Black (1971) is a quiet, unsung gem. I revisited it recently, having purchased a used copy from one of the dealers at Arisia. Uncorking the bottle, I found the wine as full-bodied and heady as it was when I first savored it...I first met the Traveler c. 1970, in the two Traveler short stories that appeared in the Ted White-edited Fantastic.

Less precious than Dunsany, less mordant and cynical than Vance, not so filigreed as Clark Ashton Smith-- though owing a debt to each of these--Brunner in his Traveler tales finds hope in the melancholy, taps into a wry pity for human folly.

I love most of all his terse style. Few fantastistes (Leiber also comes to mind) conjure so much strangeness with so few words. Listen:

" 'Igoroth!' said Gostala in exasperation. 'Dumedinnis! And likewise Algorethon!'

Three odd-looking gentlemen--one in blue, one in white, one in green-- walked through a nearby wall and stood before her. None of them was entirely normal in appearance, though it was hard to say in what particular respect.

'Get rid of that--object!' directed Gostala forcefully.

The three peculiar personages looked at her, then at each other, then at her again. Premeditatedly, they shook their heads, and departed, taking her with them."

And this:

"...after great labor he incarcerated Wolpec in a candle over whose flame he smoked a piece of glass which thereupon showed three truths: one ineluctable, one debatable and one incomprehensible."

And this:

"Tyllwin's huge round head, like a turnip-ghost's, turned to watch them, and a smile curved his dusty lips."

Long live the Traveler in Black!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Jacky Terrasson; Christopher Beha;"Year's Best SF 15"; "Whitechapel Gods"

[Jacky Terrasson and friends]

* Lobster at the lectern:

Christopher Beha (an editor at Harper's) in the current issue of BookForum (page 39), reviewing Gary Shteyngart's latest novel:

"...Chekhov's genius lay precisely in revealing the complex interiority that energizes the most mundane human moments. [//] Shteyngart makes a compelling case that we lose that interiority-- the very thing that gives us depth and richness-- when we abandon literary culture. It may be, as so many want to tell us, that this loss is bad for democracy. But that is almost beside the point: It is bad for our souls."

* Canary in a hammock:

David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer are up to their usual excellent curatorial standard in Year's Best SF 15 (Eos, 2010). A few favorites:

"Edison's Frankenstein" by Chris Roberson, a clever riff on yesterday's future and the perils of prediction. "But he realized now it wasn't a hope for a new world to come, but a kind of nostalgia for a future that could never be" (page 491).

"The Island" by Peter Watts (whose novel Blindsight is one of my favorites of the past few years), a compact meditation on free will and evolution. " 'You're only following orders from a bunch of other systems way more complex than you are.' You've got to hand it to them, too; dead for stellar lifetimes and those damn project admins are still pulling the strings" (page 197).

"The Fixation" by Alastair Reynolds, also focuses on free will, the what-if's of alternate realities, the perils of unintended consequences. "Ghosts are not the souls of the dead, but the souls of people written out of history when history changes" (pg. 317).

* Lobster, after burnishing his claws on the cogs of a sunken ship, is relaxing with Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters. Not done yet, but impressed so far with this tale. Reminds us of China Mieville's work, of Gaiman's Neverwhere and The Light Ages by Ian MacLeod.

Enjoy your Sunday.