News 31.05.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

News 31.05.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

If you’ve been enjoying these curated article summaries that dive into cultural, creative, and technological currents, you may find the discussions and analyses on our Substack page worthwhile as well. There, I explore themes and ideas that often intersect with the subjects covered in the articles I come across during my curation process.

While this curation simply aims to surface compelling pieces, our Substack writings delve deeper into topics that have piqued our curiosity over time. From examining the manifestation of language shaping our reality to unpacking philosophical undercurrents in society, our Substack serves as an outlet to unpack our perspectives on the notable trends and undercurrents reflected in these curated readings.

So if any of the articles here have stoked your intellectual interests, I invite you to carry that engagement over to our Substack, where we discuss related matters in more depth. Consider it an extension of the curation – a space to further engage with the fascinating ideas these pieces have surfaced.


The current Internet landscape sometimes feels like the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker”: directionless, inexplicable, bound to change in confusing ways. Our social-media feeds don’t offer much except the forward acceleration of algorithmic recommendations. Google and other forms of search are becoming clogged with content generated by artificial intelligence. Knowing what you’re looking for doesn’t always help you chart a path, because niche communities can be difficult to locate and to keep up with. We are in a transitional phase of digital culture, and thus more in need than ever of friendly faces, personable human guides (not unlike a “stalker” in the Zone), to help us navigate this treacherous ground. Such guides go by many names—call them influencers, or content creators, or just “this one guy I follow.” Guided by their own cultivated sense of taste, they bring their audiences news and insights in a particular cultural area, whether it’s fashion, books, music, food, or film.

Perhaps the best way to think of these guides is as curators; like a museum curator pulling works together for an exhibition, they organize the avalanche of online content into something coherent and comprehensible, restoring missing context and building narratives. They highlight valuable things that we less-expert Internet surfers are likely to miss. Andrea Hernández, the proprietor of Snaxshot, a newsletter and social-media account dedicated to “curating the food and beverage space,” told me recently, “Curation is about being able to filter the noise.” (I follow Hernández for her skill at discovering the wildest examples of direct-to-consumer drinks startups, such as Feisty, a purveyor of “protein soda.”) She continued, “I go out and I scour through the Internet and I come to you with my offerings.” Unlike a museum curator, however, the digital personalities I have taken to following also become the faces of their work, broadcasting recordings of themselves, on TikTok and Instagram, as a way of building a trusting relationship with their followers.

One such curator is Derrick Gee, a former online radio d.j. who lives in Australia. I first encountered Gee on TikTok and was pulled in by his architect-ish look: thin wireframe glasses and stylishly baggy, often monochrome outfits. He records videos of himself talking into a microphone in a low, soothing voice, breaking down trends in contemporary pop music and reviewing high-end audio equipment. Gee has become a fixture of my feed; I am one of his more than three hundred thousand followers. He has introduced me to the world of Korean alt-rap, provided a playlist of ear-tickling minimalist piano instrumentals, and explained why Mitski’s latest album feels so vintage (because of an effect called “slap-back echo”). I trust him not only to show me something cool but to teach me something new. “I’m connecting the dots between cultures and sounds and eras,” he told me. When Gee was a teen-ager, his electric-bass teacher played a similar role for him when he exposed Gee to James Jamerson, the Motown bass player who put jazz runs into pop songs. “That opened my whole world up,” Gee said.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Let’s say it while there’s still time: Jorie Graham is our most important living poet. “Our” being readers of American English; the time being late, inexorably approaching an end; “important” being as much a measure of the aim as the attainment. The judgment would be a little ambivalent even among her devoted admirers. Graham is an indulgent artist, and this indulgence has led away from easy pleasure. On the page, what Graham has wanted Graham has got. She denies herself no unlovely line break, no syntax clipped or extended beyond the ear’s sympathy, no recourse to abstraction or knotty elaboration natural only to its maker. Ever since her third book, The End of Beauty (1987), she has achieved a kind of escape velocity, ascending to a plane of self-license on which general criteria no longer apply. But no matter: she rigged the game. For nearly forty years her poems have issued from a voice so desperate and imposing that it has served as the guarantor of its own words. Do whatever she likes and she can’t quite lose. But the wins have not come as they once did.

Graham’s project increasingly rested in depicting the sundering to which mind and spirit are subjected in our arid modernity. The compositional attitude ran in the other direction, offering an air of unmistakable self-belief, abetted, surely, by the privilege of her existing accomplishment. None of her peers rendered doubt, dispersal or inner dissonance with greater certitude and command. Early on she seemed to hold the whole of the old gift in her grip: a thinking that made music, a seeing that returned thought. But more and more she didn’t use the gift in the customary ways, and in time she lived up to her audacious title. A conception of beauty no longer led her. And likewise, she had sought an ending, an outer limit to lyric delight, since long before landing on the climate story. Where the aesthetic principle once was, a sterner conception of responsibility was set. No more unwarranted refuge in lucid composure. Gone the little pleasure of a perfect line, the miracles of concision. Instead of rest, a frantic mapping of the damage. Instead of stillness, pace. Instead of compression, ceaselessness. Like this Graham traveled from relatively conventional beginnings, building, book by book, an invention all her own. Well before her latest volume, To 2040, she had left the syncretic plane of pure poetic contemplation for a direct encounter with the age, and her singular high style was marshaled to convey an unremarkable view: the age is not well.

To begin at the beginning, Graham’s first book, Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (1980) and its first poem, “The Way Things Work,” are surely among the more confident career-openers of the last half century. It was there in the titles, the promise of a poet with unusual access to the mystery, inaugurating a method that would braid the natural world with the phantoms of cognition. Though the book was thick with God, philosophy and the great dead, her voice was unfreighted, nimble, hopping birdlike on a wire of verbs. “The way things work / is that we finally believe / they are there, / common and able / to illustrate themselves.” A profession of the poet’s faith: mere presentation may be revelatory. That was the payload of the wakefulness to which the poems called us by force of attraction: the whole of the eternal in the nick of time rightly attended to, in the plain thing ravenously seen.

If Graham was on the scent of the old themes, the writing itself never felt rearguard. This, too, was part of her lesson: the mysteries were not lapsed but active, ever renewing. She was in thrall to all of it. Late but not belated. Her senses desirous but her intellect disciplined; the voice was eager though not yet rushed; awake, not yet manic; its engine appetite, not yet compulsion. Unmissable, too, was her sense of belonging in the visionary company, the certainty of election: “Step, anywhere you go / is yours.” In their avid apprenticeship to the deep life of spirit, matter and mind, the saints and artists she referenced were her equals, and her long career has paid out a great faith to this early sense of vocation.

Read the rest of this article at: The Point

News 31.05.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

For most of advertising history, “red” or “blue” as partisan loyalty signaled more your taste for Coke or Pepsi than your identity as Republican or Democrat. Mass markets, by definition, necessitated selling to both sides of the aisle.

As with so much else, the presidency of Donald Trump — built upon a self-conceived human brand — radically upended those norms.

Post-2016 election, one Adweek column thundered, “Brands cannot expect to play Switzerland as the rest of the world picks a side.” Consumer culture suddenly became the vehicle for political expression, with Madison Avenue giving voice to countless causes. The staid “corporate social responsibility” morphed into the more muscular “brand purpose,” which beget impassioned activism. Social justice became “trendy;” politics, the means to signal commercial “integrity.”

Today, just as during the Trump presidency, controversial issues abound, protesters convulse public spaces, and a divisive election looms. The world is picking sides — on abortion and Gaza and Trump’s trials. And from brand-land? By and large, the sound of silence.

That’s because, despite prior pretense, advertising follows, not leads; it needs markets, not morality. That silence, therefore, says much about our sociopolitical moment: As culture warriors find themselves on the defensive, brands, wary from the backlash against Bud Light’s use of a trans influencer, no longer show interest in advancing their causes.

Indeed, today’s primary “cause” — and, arguably, election issue — is lower on the hierarchy of needs: cost of living. That makes for a more practical, less symbolic battleground for commercial content.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 31.05.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

Though 1957’s On the Road is widely considered to be Kerouac’s “debut,” the author’s first novel, The Town and the City, was in fact published in 1950. By all measures, it flopped. Between that book and the launch of On the Road, Kerouac started working with the literary agent Sterling Lord, who believed he could be the voice of his generation and laid the groundwork for his public reception as such. What, exactly, did Sterling Lord do to prime Kerouac’s audience? From 1953 to 1957, he leveraged his own professional connections to place excerpts of On the Road in magazines like The Paris Review and New World Writing, building hype for the young novelist’s next bookThis is common practice today, but in the fifties, it was a novel solution to the name-recognition problem faced by unknown writers.

After a few years of seeing Kerouac’s byline in print, the thinking went, readers would pay attention when they recognized his name on the cover of On the Road. It was one of the first literary “debuts” of its kind, explains Temple University professor Laura McGrath, author of the forthcoming book Middlemen: Literary Agents and the Making of Contemporary American Literature. McGrath argues that Sterling Lord created the blueprint for the literary “debut” phenomenon we still see today.

But unlike in the late fifties, when there were only a handful of venues for reaching the public—national magazines with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, a few television channels—today’s overstuffed, under-resourced media landscape means that book coverage is more fractured and reaches fewer readers. These days, an unknown author’s chances of success hinge on cobbling together an audience through aggregate. Last fall, while reporting Esquire’s “Future of Books” predictions, I asked industry insiders about trends they’d noticed in recent years. Almost everyone mentioned that debut fiction has become harder to launch. For writers, the stakes are do or die: A debut sets the bar for each of their subsequent books, so their debut advance and sales performance can follow them for the rest of their career. For editors, if a writer’s first book doesn’t perform, it’s hard to make a financial case for acquiring that writer’s second book. And for you, a reader interested in great fiction, the fallout from this challenging climate can limit your access to exciting new voices in fiction. Unless you diligently shop at independent bookstores where booksellers highlight different types of books, you might only ever encounter the big, splashy debuts that publishers, book clubs, social-media algorithms, and big-box retailers have determined you should see.

Read the rest of this article at: Esquire

News 31.05.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

If there was a moment—a single shot, in fact—when the chemical composition of men’s tennis changed, it came on September 10, 2011, in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, as Novak Djokovic faced Roger Federer. At the time, Djokovic had won just three Grand Slam tournaments, compared with Federer’s towering 16. Federer took a two-sets-to-love lead and appeared to be cruising to victory. But Djokovic—who had improved his fitness in recent years, taking up yoga and giving up gluten—won the next two sets, sending the match to a fifth and deciding set.

The fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium stood strongly behind Federer. This annoyed Djokovic. At times, he grimaced at the fans and mocked them, bringing jeers. At 4–3 in the fifth set, Federer broke Djokovic’s serve to seize a 5–3 lead, providing him the opportunity to serve out the match. The crowd rose to its feet, cheering wildly. Federer then took a 40–15 lead, giving him two match points. Victory was a serve away.

What happened next is revealing: Djokovic is sneering; he appears disgusted with the whole scene. Federer hits a hard serve out wide to Djokovic’s forehand. It’s a good serve. But Djokovic, powered by what appears to be pure disdain, smacks the ball as hard as he can—like he doesn’t even care, like he’s not even trying to win the point, an insolent whip of the racket—for a where-did-that-come-from? cross-court winner. The fans roar, and Djokovic eggs them on sarcastically as though to say, So now you’re cheering for me?

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic