The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Jun 20 24 2020

Truffle Shuffle

Truffle Shuffle

COVID house fouled up a lot of business plans. Here’s one.

Truffle Shuffle is a San Francisco startup, planned by some French Laundry alumni. Its purpose was to sell truffles to restaurants in a more sensible and reliable fashion. That makes great sense, but along comes COVID and their customers are closed and the entire restaurant business is in peril.

Undaunted — and with lots of truffles on hand — Truffle Shuffle pivoted to what’s left: home cooks. So this Sunday, they’re teaching a hands-on (but socially distant) class on truffle risotto. I just received my kit, complete with a little satchel of truffled rice, some truffled salt, and even ingredients for making a cocktail shaker of Bees Knees with truffled honey.

This makes a lot of sense. People like risotto, but my impression is that they don’t cook it that much. There’s a lot of tosh about risotto — indeed about lots of Northern Italian cooking — that amounts to speculative distinctions between really good and even better. It helps if you occasionally eat chicken, and therefore have stock on hand, but nowadays you can buy decent stock at the store. The mechanics of risotto aren't hard, and they’re actually easier at home, where you can hang out for a few minutes around the stove and chat, than in a restaurant where people are waiting for dinner. But there’s enough variation that it will be interesting to see and hear how serious cooks approach it.

The course and its kit serves two (four if this is a primi) and costs $125. You can save 10% with the coupon Eastgate10. I’ve been comped, though I was planning to order a kit anyway. The class is 4PM Pacific/7PM Eastern this Sunday.

The 2020 Summer Festival Off Artisanal Software is here.

It’s been a terrible year. Summer is coming. We have work to do.

We have COVID to cure. We have sick people to care for, and threatened epidemic waves to avert. We have a looming economic disaster to address. Many of us need to reimagine our workplaces and our workflow. We have kids to raise, degrees to pursue, new jobs to find.

Summer is the time for new plans and fresh projects and great new ideas. Whether you’re mapping out your next novel, finishing your dissertation, planning a product, or writing memories for your grandkids, these great tools will help.

by Suzanne Collins

The passion and care that animated The Hunger Games has been worn away by the sequels, the films and the hoopla. This prequel examines how the Hunger Games got started and how they became the reality show we all came to know. I had always thought that Collins could write a fine book about Mentors, and this novel tries.

The Katniss novel is told in the first person, which creates a technical problem: there’s lots that Katniss doesn’t know, and lots that she knows so well that she’d never give it a thought. Those constraints helped Collins build a rich world, one where much was half hidden in the shadows. This time, she sticks to third person, perhaps to provide some distance. There is, in the end, so much distance that the shadows are wiped away.

My COVID work

  • Worldvent, a low-cost ventilator from an all-volunteer team based at the University of Washington. We hope to have tens of thousands of these, this summer.

It’s an emergency. Don’t wait: do what you can to find a place where you can pitch in.

My Research

Conference Papers Of Interest To Narrascope

My Books

Critical Theory

The best starting point is probably Terry Eagleton’s After Theory. People trained in science and engineering may find the Theory literature unpleasant; for them, the best entrance is George P. Landow’s masterful Hypertext 3.0. If you can find a copy, Silvio Gaggi’s From Text To Hypertext is a very accessible introduction to postmodernism in art.

Janet Murray’s Hamlet On The Holodeck is indispensable even though I believe it is mistaken.

Louis Menand’s wonderful piece on Pauline Kael, “Finding It At The Movies,” debuted in the New Yorker and can be found in his American Studies. Do not miss Menand’s wonderful study of The Cat In The Hat, Cat People” (The New Yorker, 16 Dec 2002)

For narratology, the best entry point is unexpected: N. J.Lowe, The Classical Plot And The Invention Of Western Narrative.

Sooner or later, we all seem to write a version of Little Red. For mine, see my paper “On Hypertext Narrative”. For a look at the tale’s reach, see Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre. Be wary of structuralism and other formal story grammars, keeping in mind (Darnton always does) that Propp’s movement has much in common with phlogiston.

For understanding “the digital” and what is yet to come, nothing beats Lars Spuybroek, The Sympathy Of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology Of Design.

Fiction

You will find a wealth of insight and guidance in imagined futures of narrative. Of particular interest are some recent titles:

Artifacts And Performances

by Ross King

The dome of Florence’s Duomo was wider and taller than any dome since antiquity, and remained the world’s largest for a very long time. It was raised without interior scaffolding, saving forests of trees. It was raised without proper mathematics. This solid retelling of how Brunelleschi designed and built the dome is fascinating, though it tends to dwell too much on the politics of the day and spends too little time explaining just how the dome stands up.

by Elizabeth van Arnhim

Two married women live in Hampstead, shop in London, and are members of the same uncomfortable club on Shaftesbury Avenue. They know each other by sight. Mrs. Wilkins reads an advertisement in The Times:

To Those Who Appreciate Wisteria And Sunshine. Small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.

It is a rainy February day in London, and Mrs. Wilkins thinks that yes, she does appreciate Wisteria And Sunshine. She proposes to Mrs. Arbuthnot, whom she does not properly know, that they go halves. They decide that it cannot hurt to make inquiries.

This delightful vacation fantasy was written in 1922. In 1932, Peter Fleming would read an equally odd advertisement in The Times and launch on his Brazilian Adventure, becoming the template of his little brother’s James Bond.

Thirty years ago (!) I wrote a little paper about a tool for suggesting new links for a hypertext. I’d started the paper expecting to show that then-current techniques couldn't do a decent job, but the code worked surprisingly well. I’ve revisited similar things from time to time — notably in Twig, but also in the Tinderbox Get Info ▸ Similar Notes pane.

I’ve had an opportunity to revisit the link apprentice today, and to test its performance I tried it out on this weblog’s working file (3,478 notes, half a million words). Some similar notes to The Cactus League include:

  • Jewish Comedy: A Serious History
  • The Chalk Artist

That’s interesting, though perhaps not very useful. Let’s try The Art Of Escapist Cooking:

Some top choices for last month’s post arguing that “In social media, we actually encounter monsters”, we get

  • Five Days In London
  • The Hunger Games
  • Prizes, a note about my paper with Clare Hooper on “Villainy in Web Science And New Media”

One of the related notes to this note — appearing as I write, is John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. That’s interesting, too, though some other suggestions are mysterious. Jo Walton’s Farthing? An old piece of Tinderbox fan mail? Still, not bad for an afternoon.

by Emily Nemens

A charming and atmospheric book about the world that surrounds major league baseball, the perplexities of coaches, writers, agents, wives, and even of the minor league stadium organist. There is surprisingly little baseball here: occasionally, some part of a play might be mentioned but there's scarcely a trace of the game itself. Even so, the Nemens does get the details right and avoids the ancient stereotypes when possible. There’s some echoes of Annie Savoy, but perhaps that’s because art becomes life.

Feb 20 18 2020

Loons

A while ago, I joined and did some chores for an online New England group combatting anti-semitism.

Alas: the loons have descended. They’re eager to denounce Linda Sarsour. They’re eager to denounce Bernie Sanders. They’re eager to denounce Islam. They denounce the illuminati, praise Trump, praise Russia, and muddy the waters.

In part, this is the old story of two Jews, three opinions. But I expect that in good part it’s a planned campaign from our old friends in St. Petersburg. Send a few trolls to stir things up. Get them to spread some Trump talking points: it might help. Slip in a few blood libels and Illuminati: that’s always fun. Start promoting “Islam is Evil!”: maybe we can get the Jews and the Moslems to exterminate each other, bringing on the End Times or giving Russia a nice Mediterranean port.

And if someone tries to object, shout ,“Censorship!” And shout, “Incivility!”

by Mandy Lee

A fascinating food book. Most of the best food writing has pursued what Adam Gopnik calls the “mystical microcosmic” — “sad thoughts on the love that got away or the plate that time forgot.” Mystical microcosmic writers — M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman — implicitly argue that they are like us, that we would enjoy what they enjoyed, that thoughtful eating can improve your life. Julia went to a fish place in Normandy and found a future husband and beurre blanc, and much of her best writing implicitly concerns the pursuit and care of each.

Mandy Lee’s book comes from a different place. In 2012, Lee was deeply depressed and living in a city she hated. Lee was born in Taiwan, grew up in Vancouver, went to grad school in (and loved) New York. Now, she was in Beijing, and everything in Beijing was awful: so awful that she could seldom get out of bed. She became an obsessive cook because focusing on elaborate and time-consuming recipes (and on elaborate and lovely photography of the prep) meant she could spend hours — days — locked in her home. Her cooking is not fun or easy or fast: her cooking is very angry, and she knows it.

Lee is always cooking for herself. (She’s cooking for her husband too, but he’s even more in shadow here than were M.F.K. Fisher’s lovers.) There’s no patron, no restaurant, no one to please but herself, and Lee is not easy to please. Her tastes are unusual, and for this she offers no explanation or apology. Reading between the lines, she likes savory and bitter breakfasts on the Chinese model, but she also really likes cheese. A few of her recipes reinvent what Minnesotans call a Juicy Lucy — hamburgers infused with tons of cheese — but hers represent a systematic study of how much cheese is possible in a burger and also feature green chili aioli, poached eggs, spicy pork or lamb patties, and sweet potato buns.

Most of the recipes concern spectacular and complex interplay of contrasting flavors and textures — finding ways to combine hot and sweet, crisp and unctuous and sour in each bite. There’s a lot of prep and plenty of challenging ingredients. In my first foray into cooking one of these, I struck out on one ingredient not only at Whole Foods but also at Super 88, an big Asian store that has two separate freezer cases of frozen buns, a whole aisle of fish sauce, and family-size packages of beef penis.

The book has a chapter on elaborate home-cooked dog food.

This is not, in other woods, a replacement for The Joy Of Cooking. But it’s got some very fine (and hilarious) writing, some nifty food ideas, and a nice insight into what cooking means to many of us.

Feb 20 11 2020

Flesh And Bone

For various reasons, I’ve been keeping strange hours lately, and this has given me some spare moments to rewatch Moira Walley-Beckett’s Flesh And Bone. It’s a brilliant, if shaggy, look at art and the people who make art. It’s very complex, masquerading as simple. I don’t think I know anyone who has seen it. (It’s easily watchable: 8 episodes, only one season. They gave up after one season because dance injuries kept exploding the schedule, but I think the end of season one says everything that they wanted to say.)

Two of the subplots involves two very different people who are writing stories. One is a world-famous choreographer, commissioned to create a ballet that revisits a dance chestnut — a girl becomes a woman — with a modern, #MeToo sensibility. It starts out a travesty: sappy, awkward and doomed. By opening night, we’re not sure. (This is also the central subplot of Robert Altman’s underrated The Company.). At the same time, we meet a homeless guy, Romeo, who hangs around one of the shabby, cheap apartments in which the dancers live. He’s clearly disturbed, and he keeps trying to map people in the neighborhood into his weird Henry Darger fantasy of dragons and rats. He, too, is making a story — and he writes it down by taking a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit and turning it into an artist’s book. It’s a very good artist’s book, though he’s still nuts, and as he writes it he’s not quite sure where he fits into the story. “I thought I was the middleman,” he says, “the sayer of things and the seer of things. Maybe even the prophet. But now I’m concerned.”