News on the street a century ago

The Whitney’s Lyonel Feininger show is full of delights: the little comic faces, the tiny village of rough-carved wooden houses and people, the eerie and magnificent evocation of twilight.

For me the standout was “Newspaper Readers (1909),” above, which shows that getting your news on the run isn’t anything new. That’s exactly how I stare at my phone on the way to the subway in the morning, hunched, goggle-eyed, and oblivious to passersby. Every month or two I’ll reform briefly — and read only when waiting for the light to change — after twisting my ankle on some hole in the street or crack in the sidewalk.

See also PDAs of the ancient Sumerians and traversing the bridge while reading.

“We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged”

My Riff on the rhetorical gambits of David Foster Wallace — and the Internet — appeared in the weekend’s New York Times Magazine. On Facebook, Alexander Chee described the piece this way: “I loved David Foster Wallace. I loathed editing him out of my students — and myself. Maud Newton on how David Foster Wallace made a David Foster Wallace of us all.”

I didn’t have room to mention that Wallace admitted in 1993 to being preoccupied, at least when writing fiction, with making the reader like him.

I have a problem sometimes with concision, communicating only what needs to be said in a brisk efficient way that doesn’t call attention to itself. It’d be pathetic for me to blame the exterior for my own deficiencies, but it still seems to me that both of these problems are traceable to this schizogenic experience I had growing up, being bookish and reading a lot, on the one hand, watching grotesque amounts of TV, on the other. Because I liked to read, I probably didn’t watch quite as much TV as my friends, but I still got my daily megadose, believe me. And I think it’s impossible to spend that many slack-jawed, spittle-chinned, formative hours in front of commercial art without internalizing the idea that one of the main goals of art is simply to “entertain,” give people sheer pleasure. Except to what end, this pleasure-giving? Because, of course, TV’s “real” agenda is to be “liked,” because if you like what you’re seeing, you’ll stay tuned. TV is completely unabashed about this; it’s its sole raison. And sometimes when I look at my own stuff I feel like I absorbed too much of this raison. I’ll catch myself thinking up gags or trying formal stunt-pilotry and see that none of this stuff is really in the service of the story itself; it’s serving the rather darker purpose of communicating to the reader “Hey! Look at me! Have a look at what a good writer I am! Like me!”

Now, to an extent there’s no way to escape this altogether, because an author needs to demonstrate some sort of skill or merit so that the reader will trust her. There’s some weird, delicate, I-trust-you-not-to fuck-up-on-me relationship between the reader and writer, and both have to sustain it. But there’s an unignorable line between demonstrating skill and charm to gain trust for the story vs. simple showing off. It can become an exercise in trying to get the reader to like and admire you instead of an exercise in creative art…


Image credit: Tom Gauld illustrates Riff every week; that’s a clipped version of his handiwork, above.

Maximus Clarke presents William Gibson, others in 3D

“Maximus Clarke’s digitally manipulated anaglyph portraits take 3D imaging beyond the bounds of cinematic novelty, and explore the paradox of stereography as a simultaneously hyper-realistic and highly artificial medium.”

This Friday, August 19, Devotion Gallery in Williamsburg debuts Max’s 3-D portraits of William Gibson, Lindsey Case, Michael Doyle, Chris Ianuzzi, himself, and me. He’ll be handing out old-fashioned red-and-blue glasses, which you’ll need to view the images in their full glory, but you can see a slideshow of the 3D photos, before deconstruction, at his site.

Ted Hayes’ “Deconspectrum” also opens at the gallery starting that night. The opening reception begins at 7 p.m. and runs through midnight. The split show closes August 28.

Previously, Max — aka the guy I’m married to — talked with William Gibson about his “speculative novels of last Wednesday.”