31 October 2009

New op-ed piece

An op-ed piece on the cityscape that I wrote for the West Coast edition of the Architect's Newspaper has just been posted on the AN blog.

28 October 2009

Electric Literature

The NYT (28 October 2009) profiles this new literary magazine, which aims to leverage the augmentative possibilities of digital media. Electric Literature (EL) is available as a print-on-demand publication, and also on Kindle, etc., the iPhone, and as an audiobook. There are related YouTube posts and haiku-like Twitterings. Yet EL is running a 12,000-word story ("a bit long for a conventional literary magazine," says the author, Stephen O'Connor), so it's not all concision, despite the editor in chief's assertion that "everyone is reading short-form text." EL has 800 subscribers, which is pretty good for a mag with one issue.

27 October 2009

A class (2)

As the date of my participation in Topher Delaney's class on "writing about place" draws nearer, I've been thinking about how writers translate the sensory, as for example with discussions of music and wine. So while I will provide some examples that are place-specific, my theme might be better entitled "the writer's dilemma."

19 October 2009

A class

On 3 November, I am to participate in a class that the landscape architect and artist Topher Delaney has organized on how place is depicted in literature. I have to organize my thoughts. When she first mentioned it, I remembered the scene in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway when Clarissa Dalloway goes out to buy gloves. Lampedusa's The Leopard is another example - chock full, in fact. Place is ubiquitous in literature, needless to say, but I need examples that add up to a thesis.

18 October 2009

Things read

Stephanie Clifford in the NYT (national edition, 14 October 2009): Online magazines are now eligible for awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). "Just what defines an online magazine will largely be left up to the publications and judges, she writes, citing ASME chief executive Sid Holt. "If it defines itself as a magazine, we would accept the entry," he said of the Huffington Post.

15 October 2009

Two new articles

Just published: an article on Shanghai as a global financial center (with Gensler's Michel St. Pierre) in Urban Land 9/09; and a review of the four "Waste" issues of Arcade, the Seattle design mag, in arcCA 09.3 - excerpted in print, with the full text as a PDF online (a likely sign of things to come).

12 October 2009

Counter-narrative (2)

A counter-narrative would ask, Why do most new highrise towers resemble each other? The narrative points to what it considers exemplary, but this is the tip of a huge, unexamined iceberg. By understanding what brings it into being and perpetuates it, those who labor in these vastly broader fields might discover avenues of difference, possibilities of breaking through by tackling received wisdom in its own terms.

11 October 2009


I had a conversation with the man behind the counter at University Press Books in Berkeley, who said that editors must need a lot of empathy to work with writers who are often difficult or reclusive. (This is obviously less true of journalism than more rarefied forms of writing, like poetry. We were discussing Frederick Seidel, who mostly shuns publicity, but agreed to be interviewed by his publisher. My impression from the interview is that Seidel edits himself. His depiction of how he writes sounded a lot like how I write, whereas James Ellroy's description, in an interview in the same issue (190) of the Paris Review, absolutely didn't, unless you count storyboards or a list of a few would-be section headings.) Editors are impresarios: they create occasions for writers. They also have to get those occasions out the door, which means, besides empathy, they have to be able to cajole.

10 October 2009

Seidel on form

"The minute you use rhyme, or regular meter, you are doing things to the subject matter. Just as you might very much, even desperately, want to get into your poem the astonishingly gray eyes of the person you're writing about but find the poem doesn't really want those gray eyes, or maybe doesn't want eyes at all. That sort of thing. The poem is making its demands of you as you make yours of it. All the while in this process something is being made, a thing is being made." (Frederick Seidel, Paris Review 190, page 155.)

Computers and writing

Frederick Seidel (in the Paris Review 190, page 163): "It's my feeling that working on the computer puts less distance between me and the poem I'm writing than my own handwriting does. The computer is nearly transparent to me. The more important thing is that it allows me to see the poem on the screen and, immediately after, on the printed-out page, much more quickly than when I was using a typewriter. I revise endlessly, and print the poem out as it progresses hundreds of times. How the lines look, how the stanzas look to the eye, is an important part of weighing them, hearing them, getting them to balance properly."

A counter-narrative of architecture

What would it be like? It could begin by admitting that very little of what's labeled architecture really is. Perhaps a counter-narrative would blow the category open. Or it might limit itself to the real thing, but take the rest seriously enough to ask why we get it more often than not, even when real architecture seems appropriate and desirable. It might note if architecture sometimes answers a question in a unique way that needs to be respected, even if we don't understand the question anymore, or it's lost its original meaning. Needs to be respected: so the counter-narrative would say so with real force: Don't be an idiot! It would condemn architects for their hubris, not just for their delusions. And it would do so in time.

08 October 2009

Peter Gowan, RIP

The current issue (59) of the New Left Review has an interview with the late Peter Gowan, born a year before me (to the day), and dead from an asbestos-derived cancer "probably contracted in the ramshackle postwar building that housed Barking Tech" where he taught early on. (I was reminded of this, glancing at an article in the New York Times today about the ill effects of Chinese drywall.) Gowan described his work as an "effort to perceive what's going on in the world from a non-provincial perspective: to try to make sense of it from the angle of the great mass of the world's population." Buildings have consequences, but then so do markets, ideologies, and fears of the loss of hegemony. To read Gowan is to read a counter-narrative. Cities need one, too, and architecture perhaps most of all.

05 October 2009

Gourmet, RIP

Although signs of print's demise abound, I was still taken aback by the apparent death of Gourmet. Perhaps the idea was to go out with the mag intact, which it was, despite plummeting ad revenue, but it's unfortunate - Gourmet was well done, and it also straddled the class divide in an interesting way, rarely putting anything absolutely out of bounds, and more typically celebrating the obtainable. Several issues in the past few years were standouts. I still have them. Not very many mags warranted keeping. This was one. It used to be family owned, like Sunset. Not many mags survive that transition. Well, there's still Gastronomica!