Stuff I like
A quick break from my paper writing (about corporate personhood and vampires!!) to give a shout-out to things I like. I figure I spend enough time on here being negative… might as well point out some things that spark my interest/enjoyment. Today I chose two: one old, one new. The new: this wonderful little capsular world from artist Thomas Doyle. He constructs miniature, emotionally-weighted worlds inside glass jars! He says he was obsessed by dioramas as a kid! I was too: I used to cull grass and moss and flowers from the yard and create miniature “gardens” inside shoe boxes, only to be tragically distraught when they inevitably died. And, seeing as how I have such problems with much of modern art, and how a trip to the MoMa for me is generally like Dante’s trip through purgatory (fascinating, but not exactly enjoyable), it was thrilling to find myself so captivated by Doyle’s work.
The old: therumpus.net, which is where I found the interview that introduced me to Doyle’s belljar worlds in the first place. But it’s done so much more than that: since starting early last year, The Rumpus has quickly and quietly grown to become one of my regular reads, in fact probably the only cultural magazine that I check on a daily basis. (And I’ve been reading them since they were in “beta” mode, meaning one day I can be that annoyingly pompous kid who “knew them before they were big.”)
It’s hard for me to find the words for what I like about The Rumpus. Part of it might be that they take art seriously without taking themselves seriously. As simple as that sounds, it’s a surprisingly difficult balance: on the one hand you have the arch elitism of many “mainstream” (such as they are) literary publications – magazines and journals which might as well come with a complimentary stick for you to shove up your ass; on the other, the “pop culture worship under a pseudo-intellectual veneer” blogs à la Jezebel. (Sorry, cheap shot. But seriously: jezebel is like popcorn (or pop-porn) for the guilt-ridden cultural consumer.)
And then most of the mags that try to walk the tightrope between the two end up falling hard into one corner or the other or (like Salon or N+1) somehow bouncing manically back and forth in a sort of giant identity crisis: publishing a serious (and occasionally self-serious) piece one minute and the next minute giving us a lengthy analysis of Britany Spears’ new hair. (That was sort of off the cuff, but actually I think it’s a pretty decent summary of both those sites.) Which is not to say that you can’t write a compelling piece about Britney (maybe), or that you can’t intermix earnestness and levity, but simply that it’s a damned hard line to walk.
And (to totally mix my metaphors) The Rumpus usually hits it on the nail. They’re witty and thought-provoking and manage to introduce me to all kinds of crazy new stuff; the tone is laid-back and conversational without seeming to be trying too hard, and they really like Roberto Bolaño. Oh, and they also published a piece by my friend Michelle Threadgould on Aaron Cometbus, which you should totally check out here. In fact the only negative I can find, after searching, is that I sometimes question the choices for their “Sunday politics” round-up.