Great books—books that change the way we see the world, books that spur us along our paths as people and cultures—are, in their way, patents. They are innovations made manifest. They are ideas that are claimed by an author on behalf of the rest of us. They are cultural products that concern themselves, when they are at their very best, with hammocks.
The artist and developer Sam Lavigne has taken these connections to a delightfully logical conclusion. Over at github, he posted a program that renders texts—literary, philosophical—as patent applications. “In short,” Lavigne explains, “it reframes texts as inventions or machines.”
So! Kafka’s The Hunger Artist becomes “An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy.” Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology becomes “A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth.” And—my personal favorite—The Communist Manifesto becomes “A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement.”
Read more. [Image: Sam Lavigne]
Hildreth Meière’s huge mural commissions were rare for a woman in her day, but it was her fusion of classical and mid-century style that brought her fame.
Read more. [Image: Andrea Monfried Editions, LLC]
The guerrilla graffiti artist Banksy is believed to be behind an artwork which has appeared on the side of a house in Cheltenham. More photos
Photograph: Jules Annan/Barcroft Media
Over the weekend in San Francisco, lines stretched around the block for a Nicolas Cage-themed art show.
Ms. Marvel, the Marvel superhero comic that debuted last month, has gotten a ton of media coverage because of what makes it unique. Mainstream superheroes are almost all white and almost all guys, and women of color virtually never carry their own titles. Even the X-Men’s Storm, a widely recognized and popular character, hasn’t ever headlined an ongoing series. So the fact that the new Ms. Marvel is a young Muslim girl named Kamala Khan is, for superhero comics at least, a long-awaited and much-welcome innovation.
The great thing about Ms. Marvel, though, is not how unusual it is, but how familiar. The second issue came out this week, and as the story goes on, it’s only becoming more apparent that Kamala’s narrative fits neatly into traditional superhero narratives. Like many a Peter Parker-esque nerd before her, Kamala is out of place and uncomfortable. Her parents don’t let her go to parties, and her acquaintances make clueless/mean-spirited comments about her background (“Nobody’s going to, like, honor kill you? I’m just concerned.”). The first scene of the first comic shows Kamala sniffing a bacon sandwich that she can’t eat because of her family’s dietary restrictions—wanting but not quite able to do that thing everybody else does: eat American. She’s the unpopular kid, and then she gets superpowers so she can be admired by all those who rejected her. Thus, it’s an empowerment fantasy.
Read more. [Image: Arthur Adams]
If you don’t want to make art that’s prejudiced, then you need to take conscious, concrete steps to do so—as the game developers behind Desktop Dungeon found out.
Read more. [Image: QCF]
The Soviet monument Bulgarians keep using as a canvas for political art.
More than a century before Coca Cola’s controversial Super Bowl commercial celebrating America as a nation of nations, the melting pot overflowed with people of all races and ethnicities—each subject to its share of mass media abuse. Immigration made America what it is, but not without considerable racist barbing and comic hazing by cartoonists, illustrators, and artists. Blacks, Indians, Irish, Jews, and Asians were the main targets. The last was not just savagely portrayed in media as rat-tailed demons but legally restricted for decades from entering the United States. An insightful new anthology of writing on racist stereotyping, Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fears edited by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats (Verso), describes how demonizing Asian peoples in word and picture was acceptable in America for so long.
With China’s reemergence today, the term “Yellow Peril” is still faintly whispered. Yet the first use of the pejorative “as a modern political tool,” Tchen, an NYU professor and the author of New York Before Chinatown, told me, was Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. Responding to his cousin the Russian Czar’s defeat to Japan in 1905, Wilhelm commissioned an artist draw a “threatening Buddha in a lotus position riding a dragon thundercloud off in the distance.” This was not an effective piece of propaganda by contemporary standards, Tchen says, “but it did get at some basic dynamics: the threatening, evil man marked by certain exaggerated and racialized physical characteristics. It gets the juices going for men to become protectors.”
Read more. [Image: Public Domain]