i bought the most amazing book from my favorite store in the mission: gravel and gold. the book is called gunta stölzl: bauhaus master. through writings and artworks from stölzl from about 1917-1931, the book gives an incredibly intimate look at the bauhaus’ only female instructor. the images are so well printed that i found myself repeatedly touching them with my finger to confirm that they were not pasted in. highly recommended!
Category Archives: books
juliet koss, my former professor, recently published an epic book entitled modernism after wagner. i don’t want to say the book is entirely dedicated to me, but chapter six is called “the specter of cinema.” so draw what conclusions you will…i certainly have.
the title and dedication aside, koss’ “the specter of cinema” follows her usual genius pattern of eloquently bringing together seemingly disparate phenomena. in this case, koss thoughtfully explores cinema’s role in mass consumer culture by attempting to understand the perception of flatness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
in 1873, friedrich nietzsche nicely summarized the popular conception of flatness in conflict with a fully cultivated and educated individual when he wrote that modern man “lets himself be emptied until he is no more than an objective sheet of plate glass.” but, as modernism progressed, flatness became increasingly associated with technological efficiency, including the technology of cinema. the initial connection is simple: obviously the screen itself is flat, and physically the viewers are arranged in flat rows. conceptually, the shared, communal cinema viewing creates a flat experience in which there are no dimensional individual understandings. in fact, siegfried kracauer claimed that films “drug the populace with the pseudo-glamour of counterfeit social heights, just as hypnotists use glittering objects to put their subjects to sleep.” whew!
the first ever serious film critic hugo münsterberg believed that the flatness of the film screen forced viewers to use their imagination in order to create dimensionality, and this effort is what makes cinema a legitimate art form. “by calling attention to the artifice of its images, it demanded a greater effort from its spectators, who were forced to confront flatness and depth simultaneously,” koss writes.
so, because film is two dimensional, the viewer must insert their own ideas onto the screen in order to make the projection real. this idea reminded me a lot of a great new york times article i read a few years ago about perceptions in the mirror. the object inside the mirror is imaginary and only exists via our interpretation. disturbingly, people tend to have a very skewed idea of what the mirror is reflecting, both in the size of the image on the glass (it’s actually only half the size of our real self) and in the level of attractiveness depicted (people see themselves as more attractive and others as less attractive). films require a similar self-awareness, which makes placing ourselves as viewers into the moving picture all the more dangerous. narcissus killed himself staring at his own reflection; could films, as kracauer believes, transfix us to the point that we can no longer function outside their virtual environment? read modernism after wagner to find out…
thoughts on where i was from by joan didion
the past tense in didion’s title, where i was from, reveals the author’s detached relationship with the state, and appropriately sets the tone of the entire book. california’s conflicting foundations are ripe for study, but didion delves into these stories with such obvious contempt that she misses the irresistibility that makes these issues so interesting in the first place. with so many problems, how does the state continue to glow with such shiny allure, and why do we keep returning to this unfulfilling myth? she views the appeal of the land and the warmth of its embrace as the imaginings of the naïve. she admits that she was once seduced by california’s falsehoods, but she has since matured beyond it.
didion has made me wonder what i’m doing in california when so much artifice and disappointment exists here. there’s no way to reconcile the plentiful dream that the state promises with the realities of our state’s ecological and financial limitations. the current state budget crisis signals an impending doom without any concept of a solution. what does california have, concretely, to provide for its citizens? our education, welfare and healthcare systems are not providing the tools of success. our water supply is dwindling. we are not creating; we are consuming and ravaging.
yet, like any californian, i love this place. honestly, i feel the land vibrating beneath my feet. i feel the history of this place, i feel what it has provided. i don’t need to see the fruits it has borne, or any kind of evidence at all really. i just feel it.
so i know there’s a problem. this kind of irrational love is unhealthy, and it blinds us to the realities of our situation here. we cannot move forward or change or build anything at all if we do not understand what we have to build off of. at the same time though, i will miss this dream. i want to keep living in it, to keep loving the fantastical california in my mind. shouldn’t we be allowed to make up stories? especially when the story is as great as the golden state?
tauba auerbach is a san francisco born artist who visually explores chaos theory: she tries to find order in that which is seemingly random. my favorite works of auerbach’s search for intentionality in tv static.
imagine my delight when i discovered that auerbach is bffrs with the very talented cameron mesirow of glasser, and actually designed the cover of glasser’s apply ep.
the album cover is a part of auerbach’s shattered glass series. to make these works, auerbach places large glass panes on top of a panel and covers them with a sheet of cardboard. she is unable to see the fractures created when she strikes them—ostensibly creating random designs in the glass’s surface. removing the glass fragments one at a time, she fills in the area beneath each shard with a single hue.
i spent all of saturday getting sunburned and reading just kids, patti smith’s beautiful tribute to her friend robert mapplethorpe. i couldn’t put the book down, not even to apply sunscreen. smith, as always, writes poetically and articulately while also offering a window into the fabulous process of starving artistic genius. to my extreme pleasure, the work additionally serves as the ultimate gossip guide to the cool and elusive stars of 1970’s new york city. i know this was not exactly smith’s intention, but i couldn’t wait to see who janis joplin would try to seduce next or which starlet would replace edie sedgwick as andy warhol’s muse. then there is patti smith herself, a woman i deeply admire and full-heartedly relished feeling close to throughout the book’s 304 pages. highly highly recommended.
look at this great book i got at the 826 valencia pirate store! it’s a reissue of a book first published in 1863 called spectropia or surprising spectral illusions. the book is full of colored figures against a white background.
if you stare hard at the images then look away from the page, your eyes will continue to see a ghostly representation of the figure. it’s an old optical trick, a trick that the book attempts to explain in great scientific detail. in fact, the primary purpose of the book is to disprove the existence of phantoms by allowing the reader to purposely create their own.
the author writes, “one thing we hope in some measure to further in the following pages, is the extinction of the superstitious belief that apparitions are actual spirits, by showing some of the many ways in which our senses may be deceived, and that, in fact, no so-called ghost has ever appeared, without its being referable either to mental or physiological deception.”
a germane quotation from paulo freire’s classic pedagogy of the oppressed:
“the pedagogy of the oppressed, as a humanist and libertarian pedagogy, has two distinct stages. in the first, the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation. in the second stage, in which the reality of oppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation. in both stages, it is always through action in depth that the culture of domination is culturally confronted. in the first stage this confrontation occurs through the change in the way the oppressed perceive the world of oppression; in the second stage, through the expulsion of the myths created and developed in the old order, which like specters haunt the new structure emerging from the revolutionary transformation.”