Aug 282014

Molly Crabapple‘s only peer as an illustrator / artist / journalist is the great Joe Sacco. The tone of their work is very different, though. Whereas Sacco’s reporting is dispassionate and ironic, Crabapple’s is emotional and argumentative. Sacco’s art – black and white illustrations – is famously detailed, and everybody, including the artist, has ugly faces. Crabapple works in colour as well as in black and white; all of her portraits and her scenes are exuberant; even pictures that convey mourning or disapproval are done with a Dionysian, fluorescing density. She hasn’t given up on life, anywhere.

This is from her wonderful piece called “We Must Risk Delight After a Summer Full of Monsters,” published by the irreplaceable

Journalism often feels like vampirism. Before Ferguson or Gaza, I’d been reporting from Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria. Before that, Guantanamo. Sources told me about repression and violence. A journalist on the disaster beat told me to be a funnel for this pain. “Let it go through you. Get it down truthfully. Move on.”

I could not.

Writing about others’ trauma bears no relation to living it. Yet I was a ruin more and more. The word “burnout” is dead from overuse. Constant exposure to pain burns in.

Quinn Norton once advised me to write about what I loved. Rage came more easily. I’d make my lines bloody, my words damning. I didn’t know how to write about happiness. What did it mean, the night I danced on the street in New Orleans? A brass band howled. I’d woven flowers into my hair, but they dissolved beneath the Halloween rain. My friends and I danced for hours. …

Power seeks to enclose beauty—to make it scarce, controlled. There is scant beauty in militarized zones or prisons. But beauty keeps breaking out anyway, like the roses on that Ferguson street.

The world is connected now. Where it breaks, we all break. But it is our world, to love as it burns around us. Jack Gilbert [in “A Brief for the Defense”] is right. “We must risk delight” in the summer of monsters. Beauty is survival, not distraction. Beauty is a way of fighting. Beauty is a reason to fight.


[reposted from basil.CA]

Aug 232014
Virginia Postrel

Virginia Postrel

Virginia Postrel‘s book The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, published in 1999, has long been one of my favourite libertarian works: smart, funny, level-headed (that is, not dogmatic). Her more recent work has focused on the nexus of business and aesthetics:  The Substance of Style came out in 2003, and The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion was published last year. For an online discussion this summer organized by the Cato Institute, Postrel returns to the subject of politics, contributing a nifty piece called “No Fireworks on the Fourth of July?” A couple of snippets:

In an ideal world, political discourse would consist only of logical arguments backed by empirical evidence. Visual persuasion would have no place.

There would be no fireworks on the Fourth of July; no pictures of the president speaking from the Oval Office or grinning at children or greeting soldiers or reaching over the sneeze guard at Chipotle; no “Morning in America” or “Daisy” commercials; no “Hope” or “We Can Do It” posters; no peace signs or Vs for victory or Black Power salutes; no news photos of gay newlyweds kissing or crowds celebrating atop a crumbling Berlin wall or naturalized citizens waving little flags; no shots of napalmed girls running in terror or the Twin Towers aflame; no Migrant Mother or dreamy Che Guevara; no political cartoons, Internet memes, or Guy Fawkes masks; no “shining city on a hill” or “bridge to the future”; no Liberty Leading the People or Guernica or Washington Crossing the Delaware; no Statue of Liberty.

In this deliberative utopia, politics would be entirely rational, with no place for emotion and the propagandistic pictures that carry it. And we would all be better off.

At least that’s what a lot of smart people imagine.

It’s an understandable belief. Persuasive images are dangerous. They can obscure the real ramifications of political actions. Their meanings are imprecise and subject to interpretation. They cannot establish cause and effect or outline a coherent policy. They leave out crucial facts and unseen consequences. They reduce real people to stereotypes and caricatures. They oversimplify complicated situations. They can fuel moral panics, hysteria, and hate. They can lead to rash decisions. Their visceral power threatens to override our reason. …

As political persuasion, fireworks are a liberal remnant of the pageantry and magnificence used by authoritarian rulers to inspire popular loyalty. Think of Elizabeth I’s annual progresses, the coronation of Napoleon, or Moscow’s recently revived May Day parades. You give the public a show that simultaneously provides aesthetic pleasure, makes people feel part of something bigger, and reminds them that you can wield some pretty impressive force. Even in its darkest forms, such as Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, magnificence aims primarily at winning and reinforcing followers’ uncoerced allegiance. While the spectacle may be intimidating to outsiders, within the group it engenders pride, devotion, loyalty, and love. Fear is mostly a side effect.

Other types of political spectacle do, however, seek to instill terror as a means of enforcing compliance.

The piece is worth reading in total.


 Posted by at 9:12 am  Tagged with:
Aug 232014

Vivek Wadhwa crowd-funded the publication of his new book, Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology (cowritten with Farai Chedey). He also “crowd-created” it with the help of more than 500 women who contributed research and writing. In this podcast with knowledge@wharton, Wadhwa explains the genesis of this intriguing approach to authorship and publication. He also assesses the current situation of women in the high-tech industry and how it might be improved. Here he explains how the project started:

I came to Silicon Valley to research its immigrant networks: Why had Silicon Valley been so successful in fostering immigrant entrepreneurship? Why is it one group — in particular, Indians — had been so successful? I was really fascinated with Silicon Valley, and I imagined, I believed and I said it was the world’s greatest meritocracy — until I came over here. I used to do a lot of writing for [tech blog] TechCrunch, and we happened to be at a big TechCrunch event, one of their major conferences, and my wife said, “Vivek, do you notice something strange over here?” I said, “Yeah, we’re sitting next to Mark Zuckerberg.” It was amazing to be in the middle of all of this innovation and the amazing things that happened over here. She said, “Vivek, no, look around. What don’t you see?” That’s when the light went off in my head … there weren’t any women there, and it was a shock to realize that half of the population is being left out of the innovation economy. …

What I learned was that there was really no difference between women and men; they had the same strengths, the same weaknesses, the same motivation. I systemically went in, opened up my research papers in the past. I went through my own data sets, and I realized that I was so ignorant that I had never recorded the gender of the people I was interviewing, so I had to [go back and] look at it again, and I was surprised that there was literally no difference. The question was, if there’s no difference, then why is it that women are left out? Why don’t we see women in tech conferences? Why is it that there are no women on the boards of Silicon Valley companies? Why are the executive teams all male, when there’s really, literally, no difference between women and men?

 Posted by at 8:29 am  Tagged with: