Quote of the day: SMARTPHONES

February 10, 2019


I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings. I am most alarmed by such distraction and inattention when I see young parents staring at their cell phones and ignoring their own babies as they walk or wheel them along. Such children, unable to attract their parents’ attention, must feel neglected, and they will surely show the effects of this in the years to come…

These gadgets, already ominous in 2007, have now immersed us in a virtual reality far denser, more absorbing, and even more dehumanizing. I am confronted every day with the complete disappearance of the old civilities. Social life, street life, and attention to people and things around one have largely disappeared, at least in big cities, where a majority of the population is now glued almost without pause to phones or other devices—jabbering, texting, playing games, turning more and more to virtual reality of every sort.

Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media. Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently. They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.

A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion about information and communication in the twenty-first century. One of the panelists, an Internet pioneer, said proudly that his young daughter surfed the Web twelve hours a day and had access to a breadth and range of information that no one from a previous generation could have imagined. I asked whether she had read any of Jane Austen’s novels, or any classic novel. When he said that she hadn’t, I wondered aloud whether she would then have a solid understanding of human nature or of society, and suggested that while she might be stocked with wide-ranging information, that was different from knowledge. Half the audience cheered; the other half booed.

–Oliver Sacks, “The Machine Stops”

Illustration by Seb Agresti

In this week’s New Yorker

February 10, 2019

The February 11 issue of the New Yorker is especially juicy with good stories:

* Carrie Battan on Pamela Adlon, showrunner of Better Things;

* a posthumous publication of an essay by Oliver Sacks on smartphones and what’s lost when we spend so much time fixated on our devices;

* Ian Parker’s very long, very thorough examination of the curious case of Daniel Mallory, author of the best-selling thriller novel The Woman in the Window (below, illustration by Kristian Hammerstad),and the fictions he has created about his own family and medical history;

* Burkhard Bilger on Roomful of Teeth, the contemporary vocal ensemble, an occasion for some fascinating observations about the human voice;


* David Denby’s excellent essay about legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht, inspired by Adina Hoffman’s new biography.

Interviews: Physique Pictorial interview about THE PARADOX OF PORN

February 8, 2019

The latest issue of Physique Pictorial, the reboot of Bob Mizer’s legendary beefcake magazine, features an interview with me about The Paradox of Porn, conducted by Kevin Armstrong. You can order the issue online here, or buy it at bookstores like the Bureau of General Services Queer Division at the Center on 13th Street.

Quote of the Day: SILENCE

January 25, 2019


In interviews, silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it—as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer. Two of fiction’s greatest interviewers—Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and John le Carré’s George Smiley—have little devices they use to keep themselves from talking and to let silence do its work. Maigret cleans his ever-present pipe, tapping it gently on his desk and then scraping it out until the witness breaks down and talks. Smiley takes off his eyeglasses and polishes them with the thick end of his necktie. As for me, I have less class. When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s.

–Robert A. Caro

December 11th 2017: author Robert Caro inside his offices in New York City USA. Photo by Phil Penman

Culture Vulture: Best Theater of 2018

January 24, 2019

Best Theater of 2018:
(somewhat arbitrary ranking)

  1. After – Andrew Schneider’s spooky high-tech meditation on what happens to the dying body (Under the Radar)
  2. 24-Decade History of Popular Music – Taylor Mac’s temporary queer utopia (all 24 hours in Philadelphia)

  3. The Damned/NetworkIvo van Hove’s intense, upsetting staging of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film about the rise of Nazism — performed by Comédie-Française at Park Avenue Armory with his usual peerlessly inventive multimedia design team — was eerily resonant with today’s shifting political landscape. Ditto van Hove’s London-to-Broadway stage version of Sidney Lumet’s 1976 movie depicting electronic media’s uncanny ability to turn grass-roots political rebellion into cash-generating consumer culture; Bryan Cranston gave a towering performance as the disillusioned newscaster who’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”
  4. The Emperor – Colin Teevan’s adaptation of Ryszard Kapuśiński’s portrait of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie at Theater for a New Audience with stunning performances by Kathryn Hunter and musician Temesgen Zeleke
  5. The Head and the Load – William Kentridge’s spectacular, appalling pageant depicting the involuntary participation of Africans in World War I, at Park Avenue Armory

  6. Dance Nation – Clare Barron’s fascinating, constantly morphing ode to girl power at Playwrights Horizons
  7. In and Of Itself – Derek Delgaudio’s melancholy mind-blowing philosophy-seminar-as-magic-act
  8. Three Tall Women – Joe Mantello’s exquisite revival of Edward Albee’s play with ferocious Glenda Jackson
  9. Is God Isdespite everything I didn’t like about Taibi Magar’s production at Soho Rep, I was knocked out by Aleshea Harris’s crazy/bold language and theatrical imagination
  10. In the Body of the World – Diane Paulus’s beautiful staging of Eve Ensler’s raw cancer memoir

Other remarkable manifestations: Toshi Reagon’s music for The Parable of the Sower and Dickie Beau’s stealth AIDS memoir Re-Member Me, both at Under the Radar; Vox Motus’s puppet epic Flight at the McKittrick Hotel; the Performing Garage incarnation of the Wooster Group’s hommage to Tadeusz Kantor, A Pink Chair (in Place of a Fake Antique) ; Joe Mantello’s Broadway revival of The Boys in the Band ; Oneohtrix Point Never’s trippy theatrical concert Myriad at Park Avenue Armory; the brief, timely revival of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus in Central Park; Craig Lucas’s brave play I Was Most Alive with You at Playwrights Horizons, starring the mesmerizing Russell Harvard; Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s spectacular staging of Six Brandenburg Concertos (above) at Park Avenue Armory (do you detect a theme? the Armory programming rocks — hats off to executive producer Rebecca Robertson!); Elaine May and Joan Allen in Lila Neugebauer’s fine production of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery ; Daniel Fish’s bold reimagining of Oklahoma!  at St. Ann’s Warehouse; Heidi Schreck’s righteously outraged What the Constitution Means to Me ; Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s tough immersive drama The Jungle with its gigantic international cast at St. Ann’s; Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on Broadway with another terrific huge ensemble, among whom Justin Edwards especially stands out; and Jeremy Harris’s edgy, form-smashing Slave Play at New York Theater Workshop.

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