Monday, November 30, 2009

The Technology of Craft: Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter

TECHNOLOGY COMES FROM THE Greek word technae, which means "art" or "craft." One wonders what the relationship might be between the technology of Cormac McCarthy's typewriter (above) and the art produced on it. Form does, after all, follow function. Or, in the case of clipped sentences, does function determine form?

McCarthy recently announced that he plans to sell his Olivetti typewriter since it's showing signs of wear and tear.

A couple of years ago, while in Havana, I saw the typewriter Alejo Carpentier wrote most of his novels on. A piece of paper was still spooled around the roller, part of a manuscript page frozen in time, partially typed and intertwined like a clingy but devoted lover around the body of the machine. I remember how stirring it was to see the implement of art-making making art. Its tactileness was just so much cooler than my laptop.

It's those love hickeys, disguised as battle wounds, that stand out on McCarthy's machine.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mad (that the season is over) Men or Mad Men and the Middle East


Important enough for George Packer--the New Yorker journalist whose main projects have been dissecting the complex inner workings of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the American military--to take time out from analyzing the Middle East to address the lure of this beguiling show. Exactly how leapable is the chasm separating Karzai from Don Draper? "Mad Men is all about repression," asserts Packer, "every

character has a tell-tale tic, and stiffness reigns over every scene—but it’s also about the license to indulge
impulses that would soon be socially forbidden."

Packer would never claim that Mad Men is a tenable lens through which the problems in Afghanistan might come into clearer focus, but it's not a stretch to claim a cultural and semiotic overlap. The ability to see through layers of cultural coding, the interpretative ability to understand how social norms shape human behavior play similar roles whether you're trying to figure out the representations of Kabul today or Manhattan in 1963.

The boardroom is war, we know this. But, the workplace--the contact zones between desks, the closed-door battlefields of mid-level managers--is its own form of combat. We have been throwing ourselves into the capitalist line of fire for so long now, we've internalized this struggle not in military terms but economic ones. But, as Packer will confirm, the distance between the two might be narrower than those separating Don and Hamid.

If the previous century was about the regimes of aggression, this new one is showing itself to be a century of the regimes of repression. No surprise, then, if a show like Mad Men feels like it is about more than smoke and mirrors.