Modern Antiquarianism

August 18, 2008

If the movement to Modernism can be defined as owing in large part to the collapse of distance (of any type of flows), then modern Post-Modernism can be defined by the move towards instantaneous communication and the new systems of flows and ideas. This instantaneous communication has even led to the phenomenon of “instant nostalgia”: wistful storytelling describing what has just occurred or is in the process of happening.

My problem is that I’m something of a modern antiquarian. I want to be able to communicate by snail mail, but I don’t like wondering whether or not people have sent letters. I can wait for the mail, but not wait to find out if it ever got there. There needs to be some sort of system akin to the way bookmooch works. where you indicate the status of letters. Twitter seems a little too inclusive; everyone would know that you were writing, and sending an email points to the fact that you could have just sent an email. Sadly, with the loss of the telegram, twitter might be the best bet.

It’s the curse of the modern antiquarian. We want everything to be as it once was, without giving up on what makes today so different.

Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. But, I do need to report that rumors of Derek Jeter visiting Austin are true. While visiting the legendary Bryan from Cake City and Hash Browns…and Toast!, said Bryan and I went to the Austin Four Seasons where we were told that Derek Jeter was there with some very attractive women. I did a once over of the room, and sure enough he was there. About 20 minutes later I decided to actually say something to him. For no reason whatsoever, I had “Huey Lewis and the News” on my mind. And, because the piano player wouldn’t play “Hip to Be Square,” I decided to ask Mr. Jeter what he thought of the band.

After Bryan told a clearly uninterested Jeter that he wasn’t a Yankees fan but really respected him as a ballplayer, I decided to tell Mr. Jeter that we had bet on whether or not he liked Huey Lewis and the News. He asked me what I said, I said that he did, and Mr. Jeter, looking nonplused, said “That’s right,” as if it was somehow possible not to like Huey Lewis and the News.

No, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the band’s merits, but still something that the world should know about.

And, in other Huey Lewis news, did you know that they’re Academy Award nominees for “The Power of Love”? Huey Lewis 1, Donald Sutherland, Bruce Willis, Martin Sheen 0

Step 1) Cock a mean eye

Step 2) Promptly write Isaac Bashevis Singer. Here’s a great letter I found in the archives (I hope that this constitutes fair use):

“Dear Mr. Singer:

I don’t think it had anything to do with my delightful luncheon with you yesterday, but I must hurry to tell you, in all seriousness, that at about 1:00 last night I woke up to find a poltergeist in my bedroom. The last one I saw was about 20 years ago. It was not the same old chap I had seen three times before. This was a new one, not very scary, not as flowing and gaseous as the first one. I simply cocked a mean eye and dared him to move toward me. Fortunately he simply faded out, and I was pleased.

I thought you would be interested to know about it.”

I don’t know what to tell you should said ghost actually be Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Greetings, Foreign Friends!

August 12, 2008

Dash was recently excited to learn that almost 30% of Yesterday’s Salad readers come to us from India. Lo, what divine providence! I can only assume that this is because people from India love reading about developments in global mass transit. To wit, I refer them to the recent news that the inventor of hotmail wants to play a real-life version of Sim City in their fair country, replete with Bus Rapid Transit. My advice to our Indian friends: demand a monorail and/or light rail.

This reminds me of SaladGlobalMedia’s efforts to make a real-life version of monopoly. The pitch: convince a bunch of real-life tycoons to buy and sell properties in Atlantic City whilst being filmed (maybe our use of “whilst” led to all our Indian readers?). Dramatic conflict would ensue as entire neighborhoods would be torn down to build green houses and red hotels. The only parts we haven’t figured out are how to keep large amounts of money in the middle of town without people just grabbing it, and how we can convince our capitalist competitors to spend nights in prison. This idea may only work in Russia.


August 11, 2008

We’ve mentioned Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever before, the book in which he so eloquently argues for something, and along the way allows for the existence of “real” ghosts; or, at least, explains Freud’s position on this so well that it seems like he believes it too. The opening argument about the book concerns theĀ  “domicilation” of knowledge, the ways in which material is archived into a private domicile then becomes public. Derrida could have referred to “domestication,” but there’s no sense in not making up a word when you have cart blanche to make up words.

This tension between public and private spaces really does inform archives. For example, did you know that you can find Isaac Bashevis Singer’s credit card statements at his archive? I’m conflicted about this; part of me wants to know what vices Singer might have charged; the other part doesn’t want anyone to have access to that information about me. Of course, this doesn’t compare to the reams of unpaid bills in Max Weinreich’s archive. I found invoices from the Yiddish PEN club for back membership dues (these, oddly, were written in English). Still, it’s not like they were going to kick him out. The same can’t be said for his sewing machine. I really don’t know how he spent so much money on dry cleaning–or, rather, how he didn’t spend so much money on dry cleaning. It was a welcome bit of iconoclasm, and made me feel better. I may not be able to speak 10 languages, but I can at least pay (most) bills on time.

Best of?

August 9, 2008

With bostonist now providing excellent film commentary, there isn’t quite as much need for regular film criticism here on the salad, and I plan to transition back to word/transit blogging for the hundreds tens of people still reading (maybe we can even find a new ten or two!). But every so often, ideas so ridiculous come about that Dash is left with no choice but to comment. In an amazing act of hubris, Boston magazine decided to release their Best of Boston issue THIS SUMMER, as if nothing could possibly happen in the remaining 4 and a half months of the year. So, as an amateur Oscar prognosticator who likes to misuse statistics, I decided to play around with numbers to see what’s the best picture of the year so far, and whether or not that movie has any chance of actually being nominated for best picture.

I decided to use metacritic scores to figure out what movies had the best chance of being nominated. This gave me 8 years of data (40 movies) and information about this year. Some useful information:

  • The lowest scoring movies nominated were Gladiator and Chocolat, both scoring 64s. The highest scoring movies were Sideways and Return of the King at 94
  • 20% of nominated movies have a score of 90 or higher, 47.5% have a score in the 80s, 17.5% in the 70s, and 15% have a score in the 60s
  • The year in the study with the highest average score was 2007 (86.2) and the lowest was, not surprisingly, 2000 (76)
  • The average nominee’s score is 81.375
  • The best movie relative to its year was Sideways, 6.82 SD above; the worst movie relative to its year was Gangs of New York, 8 SD below
  • 18 eligible movies scored higher than 90 in the time period. 8 of them went on to be nominated for best picture

Let’s take last year as an example. Here are the scores of the nominees:

There Will be Blood, 92

No Country, 91

Atonement, 86

Michael Clayton, 82

Juno, 81

Three other eligible movies scored higher than 90: Ratatouille, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Persepolis. Two of these were nominated for Best Animated Feature and the other for Best Director. In short, it’s good to score over 90.

Only one movie in 2008 has thus far scored a 90 or above: Wall-E. No animated movie has been nominated for best picture since Beauty and the Beast. And though 8/18 movies receiving a score of 90 or above are nominated, the best comparables to Wall-E (Ratatouille, Incredibles, even The Triplets of Belleville) did not.

The only other movie with any momentum (critical, box office, or word of mouth) to be equal or better to the average nominee thus far released is The Dark Knight, with a score of 82. As an action movie based on a literary source, you could argue that The Dark Knight is comparable to Lord of the Rings (though they all scored much higher); you could also argue that it’s similar to Gangs of New York, or Gladiator for that matter.

It’s obviously still early. None of the movies nominated for BP last year had been released in the US by August. But, if we were to have to pick the movie already out with the highest shot of being nominated, that would have to be The Dark Knight, the likely-to-be-second-highest-grossing-movie-of-all-time, not adjusted for inflation.

(I’m linking to awards daily in the hopes they find this)