Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Sonic Youth as Philosophy

Literary Hub attempts to give the early grunge-rock band Sonic Youth a full, high-end literary treatment. It falls comically short. But if you can put aside the pretentiousness – and the subtitle, “How their iconic sound brings us to the edge of our own mortality” – you’ll find some pieces worth reading: 

At its most severe, Sonic Youth’s sound assaults—bashing, screeching. It’s indeed painful to the ears of a sensitive listener. Even at its most serene, critics have repeatedly described this sound asominous, and it’s true: 99 percent of the songs could background a scene in a horror film.

2. “Nothing Will Change in Hollywood”

Actress Ally Sheedy, part of the famed Brat Pack that starred in  1980s teen films, has published a searing indictment of Hollywood culture. For Sheedy, the problem isn’t only harassment. It’s also casting directors, for whom a woman’s appearance overshadows everything. An excerpt:

So I dieted. All. The. Time. I learned that whatever I might contribute to a role through talent would be instantly marginalized by my physical appearance. I learned that my success would be dependent on what the men in charge thought about my face and my body. Everything I had learned back home had to go out the window as I adapted to these new requirements: what I looked like was paramount.

3. Steve Jobs’s Management Style

Will we ever tire of recollections about Steve Jobs? John Carmack, veteran software developer and now CTO at Oculus VR, posted some reminiscences of what it was like to work for the Apple founder:

Part of his method, at least with me, was to deride contemporary options and dare me to tell him differently. They might be pragmatic, but couldn’t actually be good. “I have Pixar. We will make something [an API] that is actually good.” It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about, like the price of memory for video cards and the amount of system bandwidth exploitable by the AltiVec extensions. But when I knew what I was talking about, I would stand my ground against anyone. 

When Steve did make up his mind, he was decisive about it. Dictates were made, companies were acquired, keynotes were scheduled, and the reality distortion field kicked in, making everything else that was previously considered into obviously terrible ideas.

4. Is Writing a Novel Easy? 

Even better than the cascade of obituaries for Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe are these two interviews from the archives of The Paris Review, in which each author describes the art of writing fiction. Here’s Roth:

Beginning a book is unpleasant. I’m entirely uncertain about the character and the predicament, and a character in his predicament is what I have to begin with. Worse than not knowing your subject is not knowing how to treat it, because that’s finally everything. I type out beginnings and they’re awful, more of an unconscious parody of my previous book than the breakaway from it that I want… I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive.  

And Wolfe:

I found it extremely difficult to shift from nonfiction to fiction and for reasons that surprised me. One was that I didn’t face up to the most obvious thing of all... which is that in nonfiction you are handed the plot. You are handed the characters. It just didn’t dawn on me how much I was now depriving myself of… It took me a long time to realize that I could enjoy the kind of freedom that I’d had in nonfiction where I was operating without any rules to speak of.  

5. Soothing the Savage Breast

Classical music has lost a place in popular culture. But for Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms there is a bright spot: crime prevention. The LA Review of Books reports:

In 2005, the London metro system started playing orchestral soundtracks in 65 tube stations as part of a scheme to deter “anti-social” behavior, after the surprising success of a 2003 pilot program. The pilot’s remarkable results — seeing train robberies fall 33 percent, verbal assaults on staff drop 25 percent, and vandalism decrease 37 percent after just 18 months of classical music — caught the eye of the global law-enforcement community. Thus, an international phenomenon was born. Since then, weaponized classical music has spread throughout England and the world: police units across the planet now deploy the string quartet as the latest addition to their crime-fighting arsenal, recruiting Officer Johann Sebastian as the newest member of the force.

6. The Personality of a Genius

On what would have been his 100th birthday, Nature reviews the life and personality of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, surely the most influential physicist since Einstein: 

His pranks, including safe-cracking and sneaking through security fences, and his passion for playing the bongos, were arguably as memorable as his science. Feynman loved telling stories about himself and observing the reaction — the more stunned, amused or horrified the better.

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