Thursday, February 24, 2011

Accidental Tableau

It just happened. I don't how they piled up or even how they ended up in the teacup. Morning, afternoon, evening, I realize as I stare quizzically and groggily at them: the cup and one spoon are from this morning's five am cappuccino. Another spoon from yogurt and honey I'd had as a snack when I got home this afternoon; the third... oh yes, I'd had tea after falling asleep on the couch mid evening. I'd used a different cup, and even rinsed it. But put the spoon in with the others. They are still there. Markers of an ordinary day and the whole of it evidence of an unplanned evening nap, and the peacefulness of a late evening where some things, cups and spoons and worries and work, must just be left to rest.

Perhaps I should also add, that in this peaceful evening, in fact, making a habit of having a little time for one each night, I have been reading, resting quiet and undisturbed under my covers as my spoons under water, Peter Høeg's The Quiet Girl, Den stille pige, and while missing dearly the snowy and still, suspended, landscape of Smilla's Sense of Snow, have been finding it a fascinating piece, virtuosic and odd, a page-turner and luringly suggestive of what various critical theories could make of it (and is up to it). I won't recount it here, only my deep surprise that it was not well received in Denmark (and who knows: maybe not here either), a fact I only discovered when I looked for information on its English language publication date (2007). It came out in Danish in 2006 and The Danish Literary Magazine has an article by the Norwegian author Kjaerstad on his own surprise at the novel's reception. It doesn't really give anything of the plot away, so feel free to read it here. Kjaerstad calls the novel, or one aspect of it, "high baroque," and I think this does capture the over all tone of the work, though it is all at once a detective story, science fiction, and more. More often than not, the scenes between characters recall to mind Isak Dinesen's stories and I wonder if anyone else has sensed this. Is there such a thing as a Danish-baroque sensibility ?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What We Live With

Dear Reader:
I promise to read something else. Rather, I promise to blog about something other than what I've read in the NYTimes, lest you begin to suspect that this is my only source of information/stimulation outside of the cappuccino and Excedrin combo to which I often also refer, and, alas, have resorted to again this morning as I also munched on toast and read the aforementioned publication in the predawn light (it turns out, apparently, that when one


gets up way too early on purpose, going to bed just a little earlier and hoping to sleep just a little later does not work. Wide awake at 5:40. Drat.).

In fact, for days, I have had in mind to write a post about something else, somewhere far away, that has nothing to do with some things, but here it was and here I am, brain not quite in gear enough for that post, but with enough wherewithall (these are all puns, people..) to post less of a post than notes for one, so here we are: the Magazine, which I usually resist until later on Saturday and then only for the puzzle at first, h

as a brief article on a blog phenomenon I had been unaware of, i.e. people posting photos of their stuff, but their artfully arranged things. Rob Walker, the columnist, offers several observations and a sound working theory of why this is happening, wherein, again, I learn a vocabulary word, or rather a new use for an old one, curation:

...the most satisfying examples now often depict more workaday stuff, treated with an unusual level of observatory respect; they frequently echo the “humble master pieces” featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of that name several years ago: just as that show prodded viewers to reconsider the paper clip or the matchstick as “marvels of design,” these (humble) blogs recontextualize things most people ignore. Perhaps some of us are in more of a mood to accept beauty in the everyday, rather than aspire to the latest gleaming luxury.

And then there’s the way this stuff is arranged. There’s certainly nothing naturalistic about it; these are practically inventories. It has become a cliché to talk of “curation” as the great skill of the info-saturated online world, but probably what matters here is the overt display of that skill — the de facto announcement that someone is in charge. After too many years when stuff seemed to rule many lives, these things have been culled, sorted and mastered.

Not that I don't suspect that these photographers aspire to the MOMA ideal (and even an exhibition or book contract of their own), and not that I don't on some level find Walker's control theory compelling. In fact, the highbrow (if that is what it is) intellectualization (ditto) of the whole simplification movement ---or, let's be kinder--- its transformation from merely throwing stuff out to arranging what one has in order to enjoy it anew is refreshing, but the example blogs (see below) that Walker cites appear to me as cataloguing than curation. Yes, it is a kind of artful cataloguing, but this is what catalogues are nowadays, and I mean certain mail order catalogues, not exhibition catalogues. I confess, up front, I have not stopped the onslaught filling my physical mailbox, in part because of the visual pleasure of, say, the Garnet Hill, Sundance, even J.Jill catalogues (this is still an ad-free, unsponsored blog. I merely state the truth. Deal). I shop online for these things, if at all, but I do enjoy an afternoon cup of tea with a slew of new catalogues, the ones which arrange a rather minimalist number of items per page, quite artfully photographed, with descriptions that do mimic those other, i.e. museum collection catalogues: "unique shapes overlap to create modern artisanal styles;" "the long shirt;" etc. There is a cataloguing impulse/device/gimmick out there in the blogosphere, what I ate, what I knitted, what I photographed, cats in sinks; even Stuff White People Like is, at root, a catalogue. Were I to go all academic about this, there would be a lot to say here about the reinscription and performance of display, i.e. how it has been reappropriated and repurposed (optimistic) and how life is now structured by advertising techniques that we are supposed to be savvy and ironic enough to recognize (pessimistic, though not unrelated). The columnist notes, although he does not use this term, that the objects in the blogs he examines are decontextualized (he says "recontextualized") from everyday life: grouped against neutral backgrounds, a collection of bobbins or measuring spoons offer themselves as interesting in se ipsis, but one gets tired of walking with Certeau, so to speak, no matter where the walk goes. So I am less interested in this manipulation of the quotidian as a socio-anthropological phenomenon, clear on the fact that things arranged well give us pleasure (neatness counts, goes the aphorism: you'll like/use your stuff if you can find it, says common sense; you'll appreciate what you have if you maintain it, says mom, yes, sew the buttons on, etc.), than the groupings or arrangments that arise in context. Yes, I suppose this is the backbone of every decorating magazine and even of a certain spirituality (remember the "home altars" movement ?), but I do not mean faux context or creating a context (spiritual space, e.g.). After having read the column, I just poked my head up and peeked around: what have I bothered to arrange, I thought, and aside from the visual pleasure, what might it say ? That's all: lots of writing here to serve as an excuse for the first thing I thought of, my rather transparently readable arrangement of glassware, stored in, as is probably obvious, what should be a liquor cabinet, pictured at the start of this post. Enjoy. Let me know.

Blogs mentioned in the NYTimes column: A Collection A Day 2010; Things Organized Neatly

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Late Winter Afternoon

The snow itself seeks
a roost in the trees' branches.
Inside: tea on, rest.

I am borrowing from Liz at Cassandra Pages (see sidebar), who as a disciplined and actual writer, did not abandon her blog, but wrote only short prose pieces and poems, haikus among them, for all of January. Determined not to become a once a year poster to my own blog, I sat down this evening too tired to really write anything, so decided to risk embarassment and take up haiku myself for one night to get started. I've been fussing over the last line, but what the heck. Too bad "the welcome arms of home" has six syllables is what I've been thinking, because that is much more the general idea.
It is wintery here, all right, today, and coming home this afternoon after some tense meetings at Greenhouse City and running errands finds me fairly wiped out. Now the oven is on and dinner is cooking, and I could really do with that cup of tea. I've saved it for myself for later, having fought off a pounding headache with an extra cappuccino this morning (so much catching up to do: I replaced my broken machine here with a Sirena machine bought on the cheap, in case you've been waiting for the end of that story...).
At the right is a picture of Snowland, not my snowy land, which has so far escaped the full force of the storm now in place, but the Snowland where my love lives and where we may make a home (complexities abound, but in middle age, all kinds of configurations seem possible that in younger years may not have appealed). So that's it, tonight: a post about snow and love, fatigue and possibility, and just about how the thought of a cup of tea can get one through the last hours of a long day.