Face Of The Day

Nov 22 2014 @ 6:13pm


Scott Chasserot‘s portrait series Original Ideal explores how people envision their ideal selves:

The experiment is actually fairly straightforward and easy to understand. First, his subjects have their portrait taken in the most unadorned, simplest terms possible. Then, the photos are modified many times over into 50 different versions of the original that are all shown to the subject, one-by-one, while monitoring their brain activity using an Emotiv EEG brain scanner.

Based on the data from the brain scanner, Chasserot can pinpoint the photo that generated the strongest positive reaction. Finally, he posts the original image and the ‘ideal’ image side-by-side so you can see the differences.

See more of Chasserot’s work here, and check out a video about the project below the jump:

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Hot Cookin’

Nov 22 2014 @ 5:32pm

Claire Lower mulls over the links between “food pornography” and the real thing:

Food porn, like pornography, is all about visual stimulation. Food is posed,painted, injected with fillers (chicken legs are made plumper with mashed potatoes), and masterfully lit for maximum appeal. Sometimes, the food you think you are seeing is something else entirely. For illustration, we need look only to the radical differences between promotional photos and the real thing when it comes to fast food. Like a 15-year-old boy whose only view of naked women has been online, we may be less aware of the artifice and may become distraught when real-life food doesn’t live up to the fantasy of food porn.

This was apparent when Martha Stewart – whose magazine is quite well known for its air of effortless perfection – shared some photos of some fancy food she was enjoying. The photos appeared to be taken on a camera phone in very poorly lit places and the results were – to put in mildly – not very attractive. The subsequent uproar was intense, and maybe a little undeserved. Though some of the photos were truly terrible, anyone who has ever Instagrammed a meal could see that this was a case of terrible restaurant lighting plus camera phone flash, two things which one is taught to avoid in Food Photography 101. Though no one should be surprised to find that Martha herself does not take the photos for her magazine and website, people were quite surprised to find that the reality of what Martha eats to be so far removed from the exaggerated representation of what Martha eats that we are so used to seeing in her cookbooks.

A Short Story For Saturday

Nov 22 2014 @ 4:46pm

We haven’t featured any of Raymond Carver’s short stories on the Dish yet – a major oversight, given the writer’s reputation and influence. “Cathedral” generally is considered one of his finer works, and here’s what Carver said about it in an interview:

The story “Cathedral” seemed to me completely different from everything I’d written before. I was in a period of generosity. The character there is full of prejudices against blind people. He changes; he grows. The sighted man changes. He puts himself in the blind man’s place. The story affirms something.

The story begins this way:

This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-laws’. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

That summer in Seattle she had needed a job. She didn’t have any money. The man she was going to marry at the end of the summer was in officers’ training school. He didn’t have any money, either. But she was in love with the guy, and he was in love with her, etc. She’d seen something in the paper: HELP WANTED – Reading to Blind Man, and a telephone number. She phoned and went over, was hired on the spot. She’d worked with this blind man all summer. She read stuff to him, case studies, reports, that sort of thing. She helped him organize his little office in the county social-service department. They’d become good friends, my wife and the blind man. How do I know these things? She told me. And she told me something else. On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose – even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her.

Read the rest here. This story also appears in the collection that bears its name, Cathedral. Peruse previous SSFSs here.

Mental Health Break

Nov 22 2014 @ 4:20pm

A beautiful blast-off:

Finding Antigone In Ferguson

Nov 22 2014 @ 3:34pm

In an interview about her book Citizen: An American Lyric, the poet and playwright Claudia Rankine recalls visiting Ferguson, Missouri a week after the protests began this summer. She describes how visiting the memorial reminded her of classical tragedy:

It was a very hot day, and there were a lot of people standing around, waiting for something to happen. Things were happening at night, the police force was coming out at night, but during the day they were just sitting in their cars, watching out the windows. And so there was a kind of odd, steamy, hot August waiting happening.

Really, I just kind of looked at the memorial and stood. And then I found myself being approached by people. A man stood next to me, and saw a picture of Michael Brown at the memorial, and said, “He looks like me.” I didn’t want to say yes, because I didn’t want to align him with a person who had passed away. So I said nothing. And then he said it again, he said, “He looks like me.” So at that point I looked at him and looked at the photo, and he did look like Michael Brown. And I began to think, I wish there was a way to stop him from identifying with somebody who is dead. But the real understanding was that he too could be dead, at any point. He just stood there. He was a teenager. He was still in his pajamas.

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Not long ago, we featured Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” as our Saturday short story. This week, she accepted the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards, and gave a brilliant acceptance speech, seen above, in which she stated her desire “to share the honor with her fellow-fantasy and sci-fi writers, who have for so long watched ‘the beautiful awards,’ like the one she’d just received, go to the ‘so-called realists.’” And then Le Guin reminded us of why fantasy matters:

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The Man Who Made Mapplethorpe

Nov 22 2014 @ 1:27pm

Philip Gefter’s Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, his new biography of the curator Sam Wagstaff, reveals how Wagstaff’s romantic relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe aided the latter’s rise as a highly celebrated and controversial photographer in the 1970s and ’80s. In a preview of his book, Gefter describes their meeting this way:

In 1972, when he was a 50-year-old man about town, he met and fell in love with Mapplethorpe, a struggling artist half his age. Mapplethorpe, who attended Pratt Institute, a pre-eminent art school, had gotten his cultural education at Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel but had not yet claimed photography as his medium. He was still making collages and assemblages with found photographs from physique magazines and Polaroid self-portraits, often naked. Wagstaff thought they were in keeping with the conceptual work being done in that period, but the unapologetic homoerotic component was completely new.

Fan Zhong’s review of the biography sketches a telling scene of what Wagstaff did for Mapplethorpe:

On February 5, 1977, a floppy-haired boy from Queens named Robert Mapplethorpe truly arrived. Following the opening of the 30-year-oldphotographer’s New York exhibitions at Holly Solomon’s venerable SoHo gallery, where he showed refined studies of flowers, and at the Chelsea alternative art space the Kitchen, where he showed refined studies of S&M acts, 200 guests in black tie filled One Fifth, a stylish Art Deco restaurant off Washington Square. Diana Vreeland, Catherine Guinness, Elsa Peretti, and Halston; the art dealers Klaus Kertess and Charles Cowles; Danny Fields, the notorious manager of the Ramones and Iggy Pop; and Arnold Schwarzenegger all circulated amid a riot of downtown’s demimonde. Mapplethorpe turned up in a velvet dinner jacket—the feral photographer at his art world cotillion.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley famously declared poets to be the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Adam Kirsch updates the sentiment, claiming that “the social role of poetry has actually changed very much in the last 200 years…. No one in power in 1814 was asking for Shelley’s views on the Congress of Vienna, just as no one in power in 2014 is asking for John Ashbery’s views on climate change”:

There are, however, two significant differences between our time and Shelley’s, both of which work to the disadvantage of 21st-century poets. The first has to do with cultural literacy — the kinds of things that educated people, who then as now furnished the personnel of government and business, are expected to know. In the Victorian age, when a critic like Matthew Arnold addressed the public, he could expect it to know and care about the classics of English poetry. That is why writing about literature, for Arnold, could serve as a way of writing about society and even politics. Today, no such knowledge can be taken for granted; neither the poetry of the past, nor still less the poetry of the present, can be readily invoked in public discussion, because only specialists are familiar with it.

This in turn may explain the second difference between then and now: the imaginative confidence of poets themselves. Shelley was wrong to think that writing poems like “Queen Mab” or “Prometheus Unbound” would bring revolutionary change to England, but his conviction that they would is what allowed him to write the poems in the first place. Today, poets with a grasp of reality must start from the premise that nothing they write will be much read or have much influence on public discourse. A poetry written under such circumstances may have its own virtues, but they will not be the virtues of the Romantics — conceptual boldness, metaphysical reach, the drive to bring religion and politics themselves under the empire of art. As if in recognition of this fact, poets in our time prefer to imagine themselves not as legislators, but as witnesses — those who look on, powerless to change the world, but sworn at least to tell the truth about it.

Recent Dish on political poetry here.

The View From Your Window Contest

Nov 22 2014 @ 12:00pm


You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.

Last week’s results are here. You can browse a gallery of all our previous contests here.

When Literary Fame Comes Late

Nov 22 2014 @ 11:10am

In a conversation about the novelist John Williams – most famous as the recently rediscovered author of Stoner – Charles J. Shields and William Giraldi compare his posthumous reputation with that of Herman Melville, riffing on why his writing resonates now:

Charles J. Shields: The literary parallel that comes to my mind is what happened to Melville. He died in such deep obscurity that more than one New York newspaper began his obituary with a sentence like, “The current reading generation will not be familiar with the name Herman Melville, but there was a time when the writer’s work was on everyone’s lips.” The Melville Revival didn’t occur until 45 years after his death. Williams didn’t die unknown of course in 1994, but he saw nothing during his lifetime like the attention that’s been given to his novels recently. And I bring up the Melville-Williams connection for another reason, too. You mention “the architecture of an expert craftsman.” As an experiment, I broke one of Melville’s shorter chapters in Moby-Dick into free verse — it read and sounded gorgeous. Williams was that sort of craftsman, too. … What’s your opinion about why Williams is being carried into the pantheon dead instead of living?

William Giraldi: Our need for beauty and wisdom is such that we will find it: sooner or later, one way or another, beauty and wisdom will have out.

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