Monday, October 5, 2009

Links for a Monday

---Lawrence Weschler, writing for The New York Review of Books, describes the development of a new medium for art in David Hockney's iPhone Passion, in which the famous water colorist gets hooked by the possibilities of iPhone technology:

Hockney first became interested in iPhones about a year ago (he grabbed the one I happened to be using right out of my hands). He acquired one of his own and began using it as a high-powered reference tool, searching out paintings on the Web and cropping appropriate details as part of the occasional polemics or appreciations with which he is wont to shower his friends.

But soon he discovered one of those newfangled iPhone applications, entitled Brushes, which allows the user digitally to smear, or draw, or fingerpaint (it's not yet entirely clear what the proper verb should be for this novel activity), to create highly sophisticated full-color images directly on the device's screen, and then to archive or send them out by e-mail. Essentially, the Brushes application gives the user a full color-wheel spectrum, from which he can choose a specific color. He can then modify that color's hue along a range of darker to lighter, and go on to fill in the entire backdrop of the screen in that color, or else fashion subsequent brushstrokes, variously narrower or thicker, and more or less transparent, according to need, by dragging his finger across the screen, progressively layering the emerging image with as many such daubings as he desires.[2]

Over the past six months, Hockney has fashioned literally hundreds, probably over a thousand, such images, often sending out four or five a day to a group of about a dozen friends, and not really caring what happens to them after that. (He assumes the friends pass them along through the digital ether.) These are, mind you, not second-generation digital copies of images that exist in some other medium: their digital expression constitutes the sole (albeit multiple) original of the image.

I'm particularly fascinated with the discussion of technique:
I've noticed that most users of the Brushes application tend to trace out their brushstrokes with their pointer finger. (The screen measures changes in electrical charge, and can be operated only with a conductive object—like a finger—rather than a pen-like stylus.) As I discovered on a recent visit, Hockney limits his contact with the screen exclusively to the pad of his thumb. "The thing is," Hockney explains, "if you are using your pointer or other fingers, you actually have to be working from your elbow. Only the thumb has the opposable joint which allows you to move over the screen with maximum speed and agility, and the screen is exactly the right size, you can easily reach every corner with your thumb." He goes on to note how people used to worry that computers would one day render us "all thumbs," but it's incredible the dexterity, the expressive range, lodged in "these not-so-simple thumbs of ours."

Wechsler provides a few astonishing examples of Hockney's iPhone paintings images. Have to say that my respect for the opposable thumb has been positively soaring lately.

---Tansy Rayner Roberts reviews Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward's Writing the Other: A Practical Approach for As if! Australian Specfic in focus, and concludes
Where Writing the Other is strongest is in its exploration of the nuances and subtleties that come from writing characters whose experience is outside your own, and particularly in addressing the various problems with or arguments against such writing. For such a slender volume, it packs a very useful punch, and I am sure I will be referring back to it on multiple occasions. I haven't come across a better, simpler or more elegant work which so clearly explains the many complex issues of constructing characters of different cultures/race/sexualities etc. in such a non-judgmental, empathic way....

While Writing the Other is framed as a “how to” book for writers, I would suggest that anyone - reader, editor, critic - who is interested in the representation of diversity in fiction could benefit from reading it. Apart from anything, it provides some great material to help a reader understand and empathise with other readers of different backgrounds and why they might interpret fiction differently - and could also provide some helpful back up for people trying to explain these issues to those who blindly argue against the necessity for diversity in fiction, speculative or otherwise.

---In Are You Happy? Katha Pollitt, writing for The Nation, takes strong issue with antifeminist claims based on the suppposed "declining female happiness" in the US, recently proclaimed at the Huffington Post by Marcus Buckingham, claims that rest on the statistical interpretation of a survey made by Wharton's Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (which U Penn professor Mark Liberman took a critical look at a couple of years ago here, here, and here at the Language Log). But Pollitt doesn't only take issue with interpretations of the survey data: she also expresses basic skepticism on the inherent meaningfulness of such a survey to begin with:
Am I happy? What a stupid question. Do you mean happy as in content? Joyful? Hopeful? Relieved? Counting my blessings? Intent on absorbing work? Depending on your definition--and when you ask me, and who you are--I could give a dozen different answers. If you really want to know how I feel about my life, you would have to get to know me and ask me a whole lot of particular questions, which could not necessarily be boiled down to a single answer, and could certainly not be used to compare my happiness with someone else's--because how can anyone know if what I mean by happiness is what that other person means? Keats was happy when he wrote "Ode to a Nightingale," Eichmann was happy when he met his daily quota of murdered Jews, and I am happy to be living this year in Berlin. Only a pollster (or an economist) would conflate these things. In fact, only a pollster would think that people tell pollsters the truth.

---Check out The Resistance: Why Writing about Sex Matters by a vflox at blogher. She reflects
In a sense, we've come a long way. Sexuality, once locked up and hidden from view, is once again able to flow freely across the blogosphere in a beautiful return to the tradition of storytelling. But it would be inaccurate to say that this indicates that social perceptions of sexuality have changed much—after all, how many people writing about their sexual experiences are doing so under their real names?

The truth is that we are living in a strange duality—an open culture which politically seems to encourage and support sexual self-expression, and a “don't ask, don't tell” society where people do still judge those who share about their bodies, their desires and their sexual choices.

It makes me think of something the philosopher Alexandre Koyré once said:

I have been saying that modern science broke down the barriers that separated the heavens from the earth, and that it unified and united the universe. And that is true. But, as I have said, too, it did this by substituting the world of quality and sense perception, the world in which we live, and love, and die, with another world—the world of quantity, or reified geometry, a world in which, though there is a place for everything, there is no place for man... True, these worlds are everyday—and even more and more—connected by praxis. Yet they are divided by an abyss. Two worlds: this means two truths. Or no truth at all.

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