Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
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from "Axis Mundi," by Leonard R. Klein, First Things, 1 April 2010

The sacrifice of Christ is the only true revolution. All the other revolutions have turned out to be merely adjustments in the way things are done, for better and far too often for the worse.

The American Revolution was an event of great world historical significance, yet in many ways it was just an adjustment in well-established English ways of living and thinking. The French Revolution replaced the absolute monarchy of France with a government just as absolutist and more bloody, which became the ancestor of all the bloody tyrannies of our era.

Then there is the Scientific Revolution. It has brought much good, but it has also given us greater abilities than human moral capacity can easily manage. It has brought healing, conveniences, communications, and knowledge unimaginable in earlier times, but on the other hand it has brought advanced killing technology, pollution, and embryonic stem cell research. It has provided a convenient excuse for childish atheism and shattered many aspects of human community and family life.

Human revolutions are merely adjustments in human life, not human nature. They leave us unchanged and the real human problem of sin, death, and the devil unaddressed.

The Eucharist—celebrated constantly throughout the world and this night with a particular intensity—turns our world upside down. It announces that at the center of the universe is the crucified Jew, Jesus.

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"The Jolly Flatboatmen" (detail), oil on canvas, 1846, by George Caleb Bingham, from the exhibition American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 12 October 2009–24 January 2010 :: via Coudal Partners
Nate:
Andy:
from "A Power to Persuade," by Virginia Postrel, The Weekly Standard, 29 March 2010 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

[G]lamour always contains an illusion. The word originally meant a literal magic spell, which made the viewer see something that wasn’t there. In its modern, metaphorical form, glamour usually begins with a stylized image—visual or mental—of a person, an object, an event, or a setting. The image is not entirely false, but it is misleading. Its allure depends on obscuring or ignoring some details while heightening others. We see the dance but not the rehearsals, the stiletto heels but not the blisters, the skyline but not the dirty streets, the sports car but not the gas pump. To sustain the illusion, glamour requires an element of mystery. It is not transparent or opaque but translucent, inviting just enough familiarity to engage the imagination and trigger the viewer’s own fantasies.

Glamour can, of course, sell evening gowns, vacation packages, and luxury kitchens. But it can also promote moon shots and “green jobs,” urban renewal schemes and military action. (The “glamour of battle” long preceded the glamour of Hollywood.) Californians once found freeways glamorous; today they thrill to promises of high-speed rail. “Terror is glamour,” said Salman Rushdie in a 2006 interview, identifying the inspiration of jihadi terrorists. New Soviet Man was a glamorous concept. So is the American Dream.

Glamour, in short, is serious stuff.

Nate:
a Futility Closet post by Greg Ross, 15 March 2010

Ordered to join a jungle snake cult in his native Togo, Tété-Michel Kpomassie chanced to find a book about Greenland in a local Jesuit library. At the first opportunity he ran away.

Kpomassie’s 1981 autobiography, An African in Greenland, tells of his odyssey through West Africa and Europe seeking a route to the frozen island. He finally arrived in the mid-1960s, a black giant among the Inuit:

As soon as they saw me, all stopped talking. So intense was the silence, you could have heard a gnat in flight. Then they started to smile again, the women with slightly lowered eyes. When I was standing before them on the wharf, they all raised their heads to look me full in the face. Some children clung to their mothers’ coats, and others began to scream with fright or to weep.

Kpomassie happily spent the next two years driving a dogsled and hunting seal in a kayak. After eight years, he had reached the land of his dreams — a country with no trees and no snakes.

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"Street Musicians," by William H. Johnson, serigraph on paper, c.1940, from William H. Johnson's World on Paper, Smithsonian/Flickr
Nate:
Nate:

Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. Made haphazardly, it probably made itself, if not actually against the will of its authors and actors, then at least beyond their control. And this is the reason it works, in spite of aesthetic theories and theories of film making. For in it there unfolds with almost telluric force the power of Narrative in its natural state, without Art intervening to discipline it. And so we can accept it when characters change mood, morality, and psychology from one moment to the next, when conspirators cough to interrupt the conversation if a spy is approaching, when whores weep at the sound of "La Marseillaise." When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion. Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystical energy, so too the height of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime. Something has spoken in place of the director. If nothing else, it is a phenomenon worthy of awe.

Nate:
from "Portion Sizes in 'Last Supper' Paintings Grew Over Time," by Andrea Thompson, LiveScience, 23 March 2010 :: via kottke.org

Wansink teamed up with his brother Craig Wansink, a religious studies professor at Virginia Wesleyan College, to look at how portion sizes have changed over time by examining the food depicted in 52 of the most famous paintings of the scene from the Last Supper.

"As the most famously depicted dinner of all time, the Last Supper is ideally suited for review," Craig Wansink said.

From the 52 paintings, which date between 1000 and 2000 A.D., the sizes of loaves of bread, main dishes and plates were calculated with the aid of a computer program that could scan the items and rotate them in a way that allowed them to be measured. To account for different proportions in paintings, the sizes of the food were compared to the sizes of the human heads in the paintings.

The researchers' analysis showed that portion sizes of main courses (usually eel, lamb and pork) depicted in the paintings grew by 69 percent over time, while plate size grew by 66 percent and bread size grew by 23 percent.

Nate:
from "Awe and the Machine," by Christine Rosen, In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues, 1 March 2010

In the early age of machines, they inspired awe by proving capable of doing what man could never do alone (such as power an entire factory), or what we once believed only man could do (play chess). Now we expect our machines to do just about everything for us, from organizing our finances to writing our grocery lists. Our machines not only ease the mundane burdens of daily life (cooking, cleaning, working), but also serve, increasingly, as both our primary source of entertainment and the means for maintaining intimate relationships with others. Henry Adams’s dynamo has been replaced by Everyman’s iPod, and awe has given way to complacence and dependence. Your computer’s e-mail program doesn’t inspire awe; it is more like a dishwasher than a dynamo. Nineteenth-century rhapsodies to the machines that tamed nature, such as the steam engine, have given way to impatience with the machines that don’t immediately indulge our whims.

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"Discover the Unknown Spreaders!," 28 x 39cm print, National Tuburculosis Association, United States, c.1940, from the exhibition An Iconography of Contagion, US National Library of Medicine, February 2010 :: via MetaFilter
Nate:

There is a God. There is no God. Where is the problem? I am quite sure that there is a God in the sense that I am sure my love is no illusion. I am quite sure there is no God, in the sense that I am sure there is nothing which resembles what I can conceive when I say that word.

Simone Weil

Nate:

People living in San Francisco can find a soil tasting in a nearby art gallery; the rest of us can e-participate through a website (tasteofplace.info) run by performance artist and "agricultural activist" Laura Parker. Parker strives to answer the question "how does soil touch our lives and affect our food; and why does it matter?" To stimulate public dialogue, Parker fills wine goblets with various soils and adds a few teaspoons of water to release the aromas and flavors. The soils aren't ingested, but participants place their noses deep into the wine bowls, inhaling the newly released molecules to the backs of their tongues, where taste receptors lie. The website even provides "Tasting Notes," such as the soil of "Apple Farm-Indian Camp Ground, 'Arrowhead Reserve,'" which has a "texture like ground espresso between your fingertips with a rich, chocolate color. The nose is both flinty and grassy with finesse and subtlety." After the soil tasting, participants dine on food grown in the various soils and identify the qualities of the dirt in the food to strengthen the connection between what we eat and where it's grown.

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from "IKEA Subway Display in Paris : An Insane Idea or A Genius Promotion Campaign?," posted by Lavina, freshome, 12 March 2010 :: via Coudal Partners
Nate:
Nate:
from "Saint Cesar of Delano," by Richard Rodriguez, The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2010 :: via more than 95 theses

The speech Chavez had written during his hunger strike of 1968, wherein he compared the UFW to David fighting Goliath, announced the Mexican ­theme: “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally ­non-­violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be ­men.” (Nearly three decades later, in the program for Chavez’s funeral, the wording of his psalm was revised—“humanity” substituted for “manliness”: To be human is to suffer for others. God help me to be human.)

Nothing else Chavez would write during his life had such haunting power for me as this public prayer for a life of suffering; no utterance would sound so Mexican. Other cultures in the world assume the reality of suffering as something to be overcome. Mexico assumes the inevitability of suffering. That knowledge informs the folk music of Mexico, the bitter humor of its proverbs, the architecture of its stoicism. To be a man is to suffer for others. The code of machismo (which in American English translates too crudely to sexual bravado) in Mexico derives from a medieval chivalry whereby a man uses his strength to protect those less powerful. God help us to be men.

Nate:

And yet, here are Cameron Moll and Bryce Knudson managing to impart all kinds of aura and ritual to the reproduction. The reproductions are weirdly more authentic than the original which is just a file with dubious forward-compatibility.

I enjoy this alchemy, made possible by the presence of easier reproduction techniques. It transmutes the time needed to make a letterpress work into painstaking labour when, at the moment of invention, it was labour-saving. Imagine the salespeople and inventors of these machines learning that their long term legacy would be assured by how difficult they are to use, compared to their displacing successors (yes, yes, I know there are special features of the resulting print that are unique to the process but the video is all about the process itself).

What I’m deeply curious about is what comes next. At what point will the techniques have morphed and changed to that point that lovingly submitting PDFs to be printed “by hand” on colour printer feels more authentic than whatever’s replaced it? I suppose we’re about due for dot-matrix nostalgia.

I think we’re already seeing some glimpses of that sentiment in essays like this one: I want to make things, not just glue things together.

from “The danger of a single story,” by Chimamanda Adichie, TED.com, July 2009

Christy:

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