Rembrandt: A child being taught to walk

. . . the single greatest drawing ever made. Look at the speed, the way he wields that reed pen, drawing very fast, with gestures that are masterly, not virtuoso, (David Hockney)


Said Norman Geras, much missed:

We should be, without hesitation or embarrassment, utopians. At the end of the twentieth century it is the only acceptable political option, morally speaking. I shall not dwell on this. I will merely say that, irrespective of what may have seemed apt hitherto either inside or outside the Marxist tradition, nothing but a utopian goal will now suffice. The realities of our time are morally intolerable. Within the constricted scope of the present piece, I suppose I might try to evoke a little at least of what I am referring to here, with some statistics or an imagery of poverty, destitution and other contemporary calamities- But I do not intend to do even this much. The facts of widespread human privation and those of political oppression and atrocity are available to all who want them. They are unavoidable unless you wilfully shut them out. To those who would suggest that things might be yet worse, one answer is that of course they might be. But another answer is that for too many people they are already quite bad enough; and the sponsors of this type of suggestion are for their part almost always pretty comfortable.


Soprano?

These guys all look like they were extras on Sopranos: Roman Portraits


Antisemitism is something more than garden-variety bigotry or racism; it is deeper than mere tribalism or xenophobia; it is more complicated than religious chauvinism; it is more sinister than an esoteric and elaborate conspiracy theory.

The Poisoned Chalice

And though I have my doubts and concerns about a lot of the content on Substack, Der Durchwanderer is one writer there that I can only read and admire.


I am an artist

A little blurry but you can see a lot is going on!


Still life
Andre Kertesz  Washington Square Park

Andre Kertesz’s Photos From His Window


A slow-brewed Goldberg Variations from Víkingur Ólafsson. Very good, IMHO. Of course, pristine sound quality and all, but also yet another way of playing this cornerstone of the repertoire. Does not diminish my admiration of Gouldx2:, but more relaxed and conventional.


One other thing Reed has come to embody: a New York that exists only in memory, a city of unbridled id and romantic sleaze, “something like a circus or a sewer,” as he sang. He connects us to a place where degradation was currency but redemption always in the offing—by some measures, the recipe for a perfect rock song. New York ain’t what it used to be. But as long as we pretend otherwise, Lou Reed will be its mirror.

The Canonization of Lou Reed


Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

Bonhoeffer on Stupidity


Full moon above The Souter, a sea stack near Fast Castle, Scottish Borders, Scotland.

The Perimeter is a photography project by Quintin Lake based on walking 11,000km around the coast of Britain in sections.


Højbro Plads by Viggo Rivad

Viggo Rivad, a Danish photographer that made the ordinary extraordinary with his vision and his humanity. Also: a cab driver to make a living.


Skye

Legendary photographer Albert Watson exhibits his stunning Skye landscapes


Japanese website design

Why Japanese Websites Look So Different


Dewey and Whitman wanted Americans to continue to think of themselves as exceptional, but both wanted to drop any reference to divine favor or wrath. They hoped to separate the fraternity and loving kindness urged by the Christian scriptures from the ideas of supernatural parentage, immor­tality, providence, and — most important — sin. They wanted Americans to take pride in what America might, all by itself and by its own lights, make of itself, rather than in America’s obedience to any authority — even the authority of God. Thus Whitman wrote:

And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God.

‘Democracy’ as a civic religion


It bears repeating:

Silicon Valley is a creature of public investment. Without federal funding, the technologies that form the basis of what we now call the tech industry wouldn’t exist. This is not a new or controversial point, but it bears repeating, because the industry—or, to be more precise, those authorized to speak on its behalf—tends to have a short and selective memory.


Sebald's photo from The Hague

The photos that Sebald commented on do not show him to be an accomplished photographer. Or do they? Clearly, these snapshots of no technical merits show exactly what he wanted:

Report has it that when the house [the Mauritshuis] was opened in May 1644, three hundred years before I was born, eleven Indians the Governor had brought with him from Brazil performed a dance on the cobbled square in front of the new building, conveying to the townspeople some sense of the foreign lands to which the power of their community now extended. These dancers, about whom nothing else is known, have long since disappeared, as soundless as shadows, as silent as the heron I saw when I set off once more, flying just above the shining surface of the water, the beat of its wings calm and even, undisturbed by the traffic creeping along the bank of the Hofvijver. Who can say how things were in ages past?

Let us not forget that Derek Parfit, also was a photographer and that his photos also seem (in some strange and inverted way) to talk to his writing:

Parfit, Venice

Martin Scorsese might be an old curmudgeon by now. But, then, so am I. I totally agree:

Martin Scorsese is once again making it clear that he’s not a fan of blockbuster comic book-inspired films — which he once likened to “theme parks” in the past. In a new profile with GQ, Scorsese slammed comic book movie culture, asserting that it’s negatively impacting audiences who aren’t familiar with other types of film.

“The danger there is what it’s doing to our culture,” he said. “Because there are going to be generations now that think movies are only those — that’s what movies are.”

Scorsese continued, “They already think that. Which means that we have to then fight back stronger. And it’s got to come from the grassroots level. It’s gotta come from the filmmakers themselves. And you’ll have, you know, the Safdie brothers, and you’ll have Chris Nolan, you know what I mean? And hit ‘em from all sides. Hit ‘em from all sides, and don’t give up. Let’s see what you got. Go out there and do it. Go reinvent. Don’t complain about it. But it’s true, because we’ve got to save cinema.”

Martin Scorsese believes comic book movies threaten our very culture: “We’ve got to save cinema”

But I think he is overly optimistic. Given the constellations of late capitalism, the movie as an art form – as we knew it – may well be yet another art form that is cast aside. Perhaps surviving as small, semi-amateur projects? One benign (among very few others) side effect of late capitalism is that the equipment necessary to create some form of movie and tell some form of a story is now right here in my pocket.


Frank Lloyd Wright

Arne Jacobsen


The Life and Loves of Jacques Henri Lartigue


So: football players left, right, and centre are being picked up by the Mickey Mouse-league in Saudi Arabia (four top teams have the same owners; these teams sign all the talent; so, basically a four-horse race and a bunch of walk-overs?). Is there a silver lining? Perhaps if these players (although so far they seem to be of the ageing variety) are removed from the ‘super clubs’ in Europe, perhaps the European leagues will be levelled a little more, and we could have a lot more real competition? Just a thought.


The previous post sounds somewhat negative — although also realist — and really is about living memory: Some fine day, the last person who actually experienced World War I is gone; the last person born into slavery in the USA passes; and so on.

Yet, there is another side to this: how close we are to things in the past, and although the living memory horizon passes, we are still only a few degrees removed from the past. One story I always liked was this: a person who wrote for the local newspaper, and whom I was once in a room with, mentioned that when he came to Copenhagen to study, he rented a room with a very old lady. She once told him that when she was a child, her father came home one day and told her that Hans Christian Andersen had just died. See how few degrees suddenly take us back to a past that seemed so very distant?

So while we fade from immediate memory, there are things we leave behind that will persist and connections in degrees. We were actually here.


Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?

― Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Crooked Timber-blogger John Quiggin writes a rather defeatist piece called How dangerous is the European far-right? in which he, among other things, calls Marxism ‘a dead-end’. How one can talk about ‘Marxism’ as a political trend alongside, say, the Green parties, is a mystery, not just to me but also to the person who added this comment:

In Germany there’s a lot of crossover between Green ideas and Far Right. I’m inclined to think that has something to do with the petty bourgeois roots of both and is why we need a materialist class-based politics but as a dead-end Marxist I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Oh, dear: class-based! Some dirty word in this age of identity. But needed.


Ah: Ernst Jünger. The refined aesthete who skirted around Fascism but never really donned the uniform. Hiding his vile views in highfalutin language, and therefore making it possible to always doubt what he really was. And as Carl Schmitt having a long afterlife and as the fervour of 1960s radicalism chilled and the restless intellectuals looked for new guide posts — back in fashion.

Alex Ross summarizes most of this, and points out:

For many critics, this elder-hipster pose made Jünger all the more dangerous. Although he had retreated from his high-fascist phase, he had not renounced it, and his skepticism toward democracy never wavered.

Surprising that the mystic aesthete (today he would probably be a vegan and an anti-vaxxer) remained a Fascist. Or maybe not. The path from being a performative radical to being a Fascist is, as always, a straight one.


“As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases”

And

“The more expensive the car, the less likely the driver was to stop for the pedestrian—that is, the more likely they were to break the law. None of the drivers in the least-expensive-car category broke the law. Close to 50 percent of drivers in the most-expensive-car category did, simply ignoring the pedestrian on the side of the road.”

Yeah, that old dude in the Bentley convertible (remarkable here in Denmark) who slowly rolled past the red light and into the intersection the other day all the while finishing an important phone call … Never batted an eye, never say the pedestrians.

6 studies of money and the mind


And that, my dear, would seem fairly evident — but now also fairly proved:

“We find that use of model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects in the resulting models.” Specifically looking at probability distributions for text-to-text and image-to-image AI generative models, the researchers concluded that “learning from data produced by other models causes model collapse — a degenerative process whereby, over time, models forget the true underlying data distribution … this process is inevitable, even for cases with almost ideal conditions for long-term learning.”

Researchers Warn of ‘Model Collapse’ As AI Trains On AI-Generated Content


Cool skater

Skateboarding in NYC in the 1960s


Perhaps:

So, there you have it. The interiors of our homes, coffee shops and restaurants all look the same. The buildings where we live and work all look the same. The cars we drive, their colours and their logos all look the same. The way we look and the way we dress all looks the same. Our movies, books and video games all look the same. And the brands we buy, their adverts, identities and taglines all look the same.

The age of average

But the article is way too optimistic: yeah, let us all do something about it and create something exciting. Dude: you are staring late capitalism straight in the face. It will only get worse. We are but manufacturing and consumption machines. Sleep, work, watch TV. Repeat ad nauseam.


Always the same old story, and always amazing that the ‘digital nomads’ (who used to be called something else but are still, by and large, spoiled Western brats and trust-fund babies) cannot possibly comprehend they are doing anything wrong. Just travelling and writing a bit, right?


Elias Canetti: The Last Cosmopolitan: “He was the kind of intellectual who can both evince the particularities of his milieu and transcend them—a rare enough quality in the intellectuals of his time, and perhaps even rarer today. Canetti was also a scholar without being an academic. He was neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist, neither a full-time novelist nor a conventional poet. Rather, he was many writers at once.”

Canetti was the kind of writer — and man — that we need now more than ever: polyglot, travelled, well-read, belonging to no nation, instinctively on the side of the oppressed. In other words: a rootless cosmopolitan and an ally in our darkening times.


Gwen John

‘She was always searching for grandeur’: the revolutionary life of artist Gwen John


I linked to a very good article about enshittification of platforms down below, and this post discusses it further, and adds this:

Whatever sort of technological or reputational capital you build has to exist outside, because on the platform it is whatever the platform managers want it to be this week. Hence the vital importance of things like personal websites and email addresses, both yours and having other people’s. In the simplest terms, having a Twitter subscriber or being highly-ranked on LinkedIn is an ephemeral sort of parasocial capital: you might have worked hard to convince people that you were worth paying attention to, and they might have chosen to, and yet whether that channel can work, or what you can do with that, depends on neither of you. Having somebody’s email is very different from having somebody follow you on Twitter, Substack, or wherever: you can email them, and Elon Musk can’t do anything about that. It’s not a perfect substitute for a direct relationship, but it’s orders of magnitude less susceptible to hyperfast reparametrization to maximize somebody else’s profits. Being in someone’s DMs might be more fashionable than being in their email inbox, but it’s not the same.

And try and have that email somewhere stable and serious (hey: I am sometimes wondering about keeping my main private email with Google? Only that I do not want to ever again manage my own mail server, so the alternative is a paid account with someone like Proton. It is not ruining my sleep — yet? — but I do ponder and wonder).

And don’t use your current work email as your one and only and primary email. The reasons are manifold and should be obvious.


Chocolate factory

Japanese Buildings that are Shaped Like the Things They Sell


I was just wondering: what would my list of best movies look like? I would think you need a couple of criteria: it must be a movie you have seen more than once, and it must be a movie that you will want to see again. I am aware that this produces a certain bias against newer works, but so be it. Here it is:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. Casablanca
3. Dersu Uzala
4. Great Expectations
5. Jules et Jim
6. Les Enfants de Paradis
7. Once Upon a Time in the West
8. Taxi Driver
9. The Searchers
10. The Third Man

No surprises, really.


“Writing a century ago, H. L. Mencken bemoaned America’s “libido for the ugly.” There exists, he wrote, a “love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States.” (Why Is Everything So Ugly?).

But probably not just the USofA. How often have you heard someone say that ‘this cheapo food I am buying is good enough for us’? The inverse snobbery: we don’t need anything beautiful or tasty or nice: we are just plain and humble salt-of-the-Earth. Close the door on your way out. We do not want to flourish.

Yet: “In the early writings, Marx contrasts ‘political emancipation’ with what he calls ‘human emancipation’. This comparison has two central elements: political emancipation is flawed but extant, whilst human emancipation, although it avoids the ‘incompleteness and contradiction’ of its political counterpart, is not yet realised in the world.” (David Leopold in ‘The Young Karl Marx’). I believe that Ernst Bloch later called this Heimat, as in ‘Heimat’ is ‘etwas, das allen in die Kindheit scheint and worin noch niemand war’. The key is in noch.


The pizza effect:

This term was coined by anthropologist Agehananda Bharati in 1970. It captures the pattern that unfolds when an insignificant cultural item or practice is exported to another country, whereupon it achieves a level of success unheard of in the native country. The native country then looks on in befuddled amazement at the value placed on something they took for granted. The object in question is then reassessed and draped in romanticism. From the new perspective, a potentially lucrative tradition is born. The story of Italian pizza is the quintessential example of this phenomenon, but it reaches beyond food into all aspects of culture, from yoga to salsa music.


How Tokyo’s Farms Have Survived for Centuries


Why Kids Aren’t Falling in Love With Reading:

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

I cannot help but wonder if similar trends show in other countries? Mind you, the Danish school system has also gone through changes and a lot of focus on what is measurable. Even my own kids — says I, the voracious reader — have been less voracious than I was. Of course, there is a lot of competition and all, less time. But, also, and joyfully so: both my sons, now in their earlier twenties, are slowly coming around to the pleasure of reading physical books, unplugged. As one of them said: real literature.


Cuba

The Cuban Collapse – a photo essay


Los Angeles Is a Fantastic Walking City. No, Really.:

In January, I walked a portion of Rosecrans in Fullerton that I hadn’t seen before. Previously, for thousands of years, this was the homeland of the Indigenous Tongva people. The yellow cliffs of the Coyote Hills were on view in the distance, but my eye was on nearer details. A 90-minute ramble revealed L.A.’s familiar extremes: big houses alongside dingbats, the shock of the unexpected coinciding with numbing dullness. But I also saw small green parks, southern views of the basin and an older-women’s jogging group all wearing sun hats that looked like huge black shells. I finished at Rosecrans’s eastern terminus and got a burrito. There was a feeling I’ve experienced only in Los Angeles: I was in the middle of nowhere and at the center of everything, all at once.


Anthony Bourdain said: “Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o’clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you, but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride.”


A Growing Number of Scientists Are Convinced the Future Influences the Past:

But what if this forward causality could somehow be reversed in time, allowing actions in the future to influence outcomes in the past? This mind-bending idea, known as retrocausality, may seem like science fiction grist at first glance, but it is starting to gain real traction among physicists and philosophers, among other researchers, as a possible solution to some of the most intractable riddles underlying our reality.


Woodblocks
Explore Hundreds of Thousands of Japanese Woodblock Prints in a Ukiyo-e Archive


Beyond the white sands of the Maldives, women live in constant fear: Come on, burst my bubble. I just want to take a plane for many hours, soak up some sun, and swim in the nice waters. And now you want me to have to consider that it is perhaps the most woke destination?


The both-sideism of the once-respected New York Times is disgusting and dangerous and in a better world people would simply stop reading the rag. Yikes: As New York Times attacks Dr. Fauci with baseless ‘lab leak’ claims, science points to new suspect.


Speaking about social media:

Its ills flow from that: social media’s monetization through the attention economy means data mining and the nurturing of users’ insecurities; advertising fuels consumerism; and platforms are incentivized to favour the spreading of far right messages – after all, outrage is seductive.

It is from What if…: social media were not for profit?. I am afraid that I am jaded enough to not see any viable solution, short-term or long-term. Doom and misery, doom and misery. Anything nice and free and hopeful in this world will be monetized and monopolized and made utterly useless. Until the world as such changes. One way or the other.


Bonjour cowboy! America through the eyes of a Frenchman


“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”

— John Updike


Why we can stop worrying and love the particle accelerator:

Despite having nothing less than a particle accelerator beam pass through his brain, Bugorski’s intellect remained intact, and he successfully completed his doctorate after the accident. Bugorski survived his accident. And as frightening and awesome as the inside of a particle accelerator might be, humanity has thus far survived the nuclear age.


© Henning Bertram 2024