Writing is an intellectual contact sport, similar inThe Silent Season of a Hero, Gay Talese
some respects to football. The effort required can be
exhausting, the goal unreached, and you are hurt on
almost every play; but that doesn’t deprive a man or
a boy from getting peculiar pleasures form the
I was saddened by the passing of young and exciting new designer Virgil Abloh. He was so young and fresh in his thinking about pop culture and how it intersected with fashion. I had met him a while ago at the launch of the Apple Watch, and we talked about sneakers and pop culture. It was not difficult to get in a conversation with him. I have followed his work from the time he worked with Kanye West. In his obituaries, this one paragraph from the accompanying text for his exhibition, Figures of Speech stood out.
Tourist and purist, that’s my main device to understand the sections of culture, that move culture forward. You have a purist, that’s like, I know the whole art history of everything, you can’t do this, this was done 20-times before you thought of it. Like, this is the pure institution. Then there’s the tourist, who’s bright-eyed, curiosity-driven, that has a lust for learning, and they support whatever.
In an interview with Vogue, Abloh elaborated in even simpler terms:
“It’s my organizing principle for my point of view when I make things. A tourist is someone who’s eager to learn, who wants to see the Eiffel Tower when they come to Paris. The purist is the person who knows everything about everything.”
I have written in the past — the hardest thing for me is to unlearn everything to make room for new things in my thinking. This organizing principle just might be Abloh’s best gift to us, who run the risk of finding ourselves in the expert trap.
I get bored easily—no less with my own ideas than with those of others. Writing for me is a process of constantly throwing out stuff that doesn’t seem interesting enough.Janet Malcolm
Janet Malcolm, a writer for The New Yorker, and author of several books, passed away last week. Malcolm was known for her, how should I put it, (perhaps) well-deserved scorn for her chosen profession and those who practiced it. I came across an interview with her in The Paris Review about her approach to writing, the realities (and inanities) of journalism as a profession. Here are some great zingers and wisdom from this conversation with Katie Roiphe, the Cultural Reporting and Cricistim program director at New York University. In her own words:
- Sources (or subjects) will “tell their story to anyone who will listen to it, and the story will not be affected by the behavior or personality of the listener; just as (“good enough”) analysts are interchangeable, so are journalists.”
- “The “I” character in journalism is almost pure invention. The journalistic “I” is an overreliable narrator,” she says, “The presence of this idealized figure in the narrative only compounds the inequality between writer and subject that is the moral problem of journalism as I see it. “
- “When I started doing journalism, a degree from a journalism school wasn’t considered necessary. In fact, it was considered a little tacky.”
- “I don’t know whether journalists are more aggressive and malicious than people in other professions. We are certainly not a “helping profession.” If we help anyone, it is ourselves, to what our subjects don’t realize they are letting us take. “
- “I’m definitely more a cabinetmaker than a tormented artist. Not that writing comes easy. I don’t know about cabinetmakers, but I often get stuck. Then I get sleepy and have to lie down. Or I make myself leave the house—walking sometimes produces a solution. The problem is usually one of logic or point of view. I keep regular morning hours. The first hour is the most productive one. “
I picked these quotes from the interview because I agree with her — the narcissism of establishment journalism is an ongoing source of annoyance, perhaps because I am an outsider who can clearly see the hypocrisy of the games people play. I used her words because, as Malcolm says in her interview:
Well, the most obvious attraction of quotation is that it gives you a little vacation from writing—the other person is doing the work. All you have to do is type. But there is a reason beyond sloth for my liking of quotation at length. It permits you to show the thing itself rather than the pale, and never quite right, simulacrum that paraphrase is.
Nine years ago yesterday, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, died. He is gone, but never far from my mind. I am not alone, for all the right reasons. I often think about him and his approach to products. And not to mention some great quotes and wisdom he left behind in his many interviews. I wrote The Tao of Steve when he passed.
I leave you with another piece of wisdom from Steve:
"I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed"
A friend recently shared this paragraph from Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal. I was reminded of this when I lay in bed thinking about the past 72-hours and my parents. It is pretty clear how the pandemic has changed everything for all of us. And if anything, we should start appreciating the frail nature of … Continue reading Time redefines our horizons