Charles and Ray, Designers From the Near Future

Loved this passage from Sam Jacob’s essay “Context as Destiny: The Eameses from Californian Dreams to the Californiafication of Everywhere,” published in the satisfyingly chunky The World of Charles and Ray Eames (2016):

For architects and designers like [Peter and Alison Smithson, who were British], the Eameses’ Californian-ness opened a dazzlingly bright window into another world, a sun-kissed world far from the origins of European modernism weighed down by all that Old War baggage — by history, politics and war, by notions of an avant-garde, by post-war reconstruction and the serious politics of the welfare state.

To the Smithsons and their ilk, the Eameses appeared as if designers from the near future. They saw in the American couple a ‘light-hearted thinking in featherweight climate-bits-and-pieces seeming off-the-peg-architecture … [a] do-it-yourself out of gorgeous catalogues, the Sears-Roebuck thinking … [a] whole blow-up, plug-in, camp-out, dump-digging type of thinking and living.’ They saw in Charles and Ray the kind of design practice that they themselves were struggling to imagine — a form of design practice that combined the modernist legacy of social improvement with new sensibilities of popular, mass-produced modernity. They saw a lightness of touch, with a direct connection to lifestyle and an easy ability to reach out across the traditional boundaries of design and out into the wider world.

Paul Ford's Latest

Any new Paul Ford piece is a must-read for me. No one else I know of writes about technology with such a combination of literary style and wit and hands-on knowledge. (Once the Web Editor of Harper’s, he’s now the CEO of the digital product studio Postlight.)

Here’s the opening to Ford’s latest Wired cover story, “Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry”:

Nerds, we did it. We have graduated, along with oil, real estate, insurance, and finance, to the big T. Trillions of dollars. Trillions! Get to that number any way you like: Sum up the market cap of the major tech companies, or just take Apple’s valuation on a good day. Measure the number of dollars pumped into the economy by digital productivity, whatever that is. Imagine the possible future earnings of Amazon.

The things we loved—the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms, the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs, the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our dusty jeans—these very specific things have come together into a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I am proudshamed.

Teju Cole on Embedding Hesitation

Really enjoyed this substantive recent conversation on Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast. At one point, Tippett quotes Cole’s Blind Spot, one of my favorite books from the last few years: “To look is to see only a fraction of what one is looking at. Even in the most vigilant eye, there is a blind spot. What is missing?” She tells Cole, “I find that useful language.” The ruminative Cole responds:

Well, thank you. I find it very fortifying as an idea, to think about what is not evident, what’s not apparent. I have a real struggle, especially when I’m writing for the Times. I have a very sympathetic, understanding, and encouraging editor, who lets me get away with all kinds of things, but I’m always trying to lower the volume of my essays. Very often, I’m trying to write and not say more than can justly be said. I want to reduce the number of sparks. I want to embed hesitation and lack of certainty in it.

Remnick on Buddy Guy and the Blues

While not personally a blues guy, I loved every paragraph of David Remnick’s terrific New Yorker feature exploring Buddy Guy’s long career, the change of blues’s place in culture and what the future holds, if anything, for the genre as Guy’s been playing it. Toward the end of the piece, Remnick turns to his magazine’s own poetry editor — poet and essayist Kevin Young — for this insightful description of the form:

The blues contain multitudes. Just when you say the blues are about one thing—lost love, say—here comes a song about death, or about work, about canned heat or loose women, hard men or harder times, to challenge your definitions. Urban and rural, tragic and comic, modern as African America and primal as America, the blues are as innovative in structure as they are in mood—they resurrect old feelings even as they describe them in new ways.

“What We Lose”

Finished “What We Lose,” the debut novel from Zinzi Clemmons about a young woman living through the death of her mother. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a debut with four-plus pages of major press kudos at the start — good for Clemmons. I was not as thoroughly wow’d as some of the reviewers, but I was definitely impressed (strong voice, ideal format) and I’m glad I read it.

Terry Theise on "a Fine Kind of Melancholy"

From the wine importer’s crisply written and life-philosophy-framing book Reading Between the Wines, a favorite of mine from last year:

Such wines are not easy to find. We drink them just a few times in our lives. But we never forget them, or the places they lead us to. A few weeks before writing this, I dined with my wife in the Austrian Alps, in a restaurant whose chef worked with wild local herbs. We drank two stunningly brilliant dry Rieslings that buzzed and crackled like neon, and then we drank a '93 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa, a so-so vintage but fully mature. To go from giddy, giggling clarity of those Rieslings into the warm murmuring depths of that Barolo was moving in a way I grope to describe. It was as if the Riesling prepared us somehow, it reassured us that everything was visible, and then that smoky twilight red wine ... like the moment it gets too dark to read, and you get up to turn on the light and see a tiny scythe of moon low on the horizon and you open the window and smell the burning leaves, night is coming on, and there will be dinner and the sweet smells of cooking, and then at last the utter dark, and the heart beating darkly beside you.

I did something I seldom do — got just a bit plastered that evening, for which I blame the altitude, though I knew better. But I wasn't letting a drop of that Barolo go to waste. It stirred the deepest tenderness because it possessed the deepest tenderness. Tenderness is different from affection. Tenderness has a penumbra of sadness, or so I have always felt. Tenderness says there is an irreducible difference separating us, although we might wish to dissolve it. But we can't quite, however close together we draw; it is there as a condition of being. And then we see the sadness that surrounds us, wanting to merge into one another and finding it impossible; and then comes a compassion, it is this way for all of us sad hopeful beings; and then the membrane melts away, even without touching it melts away.

I don't know how it is for other people, but I myself know a wine is great when it makes me sad. Not a bitter, grieving sadness, but the thing the Germans call Weltschmerz, "the pain of the world," a fine kind of melancholy.

I came to reading Theise only last year, but, interestingly, my life overlapped with his wife’s years ago. Odessa Piper founded and ran L'Etoile, a Madison, Wisconsin, farm-to-table all-star years before that became an established phrase. Tamara and I had a special-occasion meal there during our time in Madison (2005-06), living together for the first time just before we got married and really settled into life together. While we were able to venture upstairs for a proper dinner only once, most weekends we would nibble fantastic croissants and sip terrific coffee in the building’s first-floor café, a stop during our morning walk around the Capitol.

Ah, memories of that simple time in our lives... A fine kind of melancholy, indeed.

Fjord Trends 2019

Thought-provoking framing of “what’s ahead for the future of business, technology and design.” From #2, “Silence is golden”:

We’re seeing a dramatic escalation in the rate at which people disconnect, unsubscribe and opt out to stem the barrage of content and messages that clutter daily life. As consumers, we’ve come to realize that it’s no longer simply a lifestyle choice, but a serious mental health issue. As we put up more barriers between ourselves and digital technologies, organizations must learn how to offer value to users who crave quiet in a noisy world.