Read Two: From severed heads to art cut to the bone

How to Take a Picture of a Severed Head Or not. IS is working very hard to manage its media presence, and it’s working. By Sebastian Meyer and Alicia P.Q. Whitmeyer at Foreign Policy. H/t Alex Horton. Photo via Reuters via Foreign Policy.

Mirwan was recruited to document IS’s recent attack on the town of Sinjar, he says – the same takeover whose aftermath has prompted U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. There, he was photographing fighting until a few members of ISIS called him over. Thirty men lay waiting facedown on the ground, hands bound behind their backs. Three or four women were standing by, watching. It was an execution.

Take the pictures, he was told.

Speaking of PR, the pay gap between journalism and public relations is growing. But the scarier part is how badly journalists are outnumbered.

The salary gap between public relations specialists and news reporters has widened over the past decade – to almost $20,000 a year, according to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. At the same time, the public relations field has expanded to a degree that these specialists now outnumber reporters by nearly 5 to 1 (BLS data include part-time and full-time employees, but not self-employed.).

Google’s autofill algorithm seems to think women can’t teach themselves calculus. But this woman wrote the book on it. By Ben Lillie.

Google’s algorithm is based on cues from what other people are searching for and uses context to try to figure out what an user meant. But algorithms, “are never as neutral as they appear.” So while no one thought “only men would teach themselves calculus,” it’s also true that that’s what the culture as a whole has decided, at least in aggregate. Whether we like it or not, we associate something about that phrase with men more than women. This has happened before, and will likely happen many times again. One of the wonderful things about relying on computers to help us is that if we’re not careful they’ll tell us who we really are. In this case that we’re living in a quite deeply sexist culture.

The deep irony, though, is that while people are responding to this quite strongly, Ouellette’s name isn’t in the tweet that’s going viral. The same algorithm that held up this rather unfortunate mirror ensures that neither Jennifer Ouellette’s name nor the name of her book, The Calculus Diaries, is getting attached to that mirror.

Two essays examine how artists — Hemingway and Beethoven — cut things near to the bone:

Hemingway’s Hidden Metafictions in “The Sun Also Rises”. Ian Crouch, at The New Yorker.

All of this was cut at the suggestion of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, after reading the version that Hemingway had sent to Perkins, wrote a long, dismayed-sounding letter to Hemingway, in which he said, “I think that there are about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbings-at-nothing that mar the whole narrative up to P. 29 where (after a false start on the introduction of Cohn) it really gets going.” Though Hemingway would later downplay Fitzgerald’s editorial influence, the published novel begins with the sentence: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”

In the letter, Fitzgerald also criticized Hemingway for injecting his own writerly persona into the text: “That biography from you, who allways believed in the superiority (the preferability) of the imagined to the seen not to say to the merely recounted.” With this fragment of a sentence, Fitzgerald gives Hemingway the familiar writing-class advice—show, don’t tell; less is more; and what is left out can sometimes be more meaningful than what is included. Earlier versions of the novel contained even more of this “biography”; Fitzgerald had caught the remnants of nervous self-consciousness that Hemingway himself had curtailed as he wrote.…

Jeremy Denk, writing on a new Beethoven biography, considers some dangers of minimalism that apply to writing too.

In Mozart and Haydn, these same units, these triads and scales, are lurking behind the surface; but generally there is a film or veil concealing the girders from view. In Mozart, the ends of phraselets are often decorated with little dissonances, elegant deflections; in Haydn, the same role is often played by witty cross-accents, or unusual figurations. But you can notice, more and more, in later Beethoven — for example the slow movement of the last violin sonata, or of the “Archduke” Trio, both of which should be on any essential listening list — the way he purges his music of these artifacts of elegance, and prefers having harmonies on the main beats without decoration or deflection.

There is a danger in relying on rudimentary materials. They can be felt as an emptiness, a skeleton, a mere outline — Beethoven sometimes uses this expressive effect, calling our attention to the flesh that isn’t there. But more often they are felt as a strength, a frame, something to hold on to. By the late years, an uncanny duality develops: On the one hand, the sense that Beethoven might do anything, harmonically, that he would venture to the far ends of the musical earth; on the other, always there, rock-solid, the triads, the tonic and the dominant, the familiar landmarks of classical harmony. The sense of the world dissolving into the modern, the ground disappearing beneath your feet, and yet … the ground reassuringly remains. Beethoven somehow gets to have it both ways — absolute liberty and total control.

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Early notes on “The Sun Also Rises” give readers a sense of how different Hemingway’s novel might have been:

“At the start, it seems, Hemingway was attempting to write a novel very different from what would become ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ which made his name as one of ‘those ones with their clear restrained writing.’ He imagined a book in which the ‘whole business’ of life gets expressed, in all of its messy detours and associations.”

Photograph by Robert Capa/Magnum.

Virginia Woolf On Writing Quickly

"One thinks one has learnt to write quickly; and one hasn’t."

- Virginia Woolf, 11 Oct 1929, as she worked slowly, slowly through the first starts of what would become her novel The Waves. (Which would take her two years

Virginia Woolf on writing fast

One thinks one has learnt to write quickly; and one hasn’t.

Virginia Woolf, 11 Oct 1929, as she moves slowly through the first starts of what would become her novel The Waves. Which would take her two years.

Virginia Woolf is happy, but not with D.H. Lawrence, not at all

In the fall of 1932, the same year she fell apart in March and fainted in August, Virginia Woolf went on a happy compositional tear in October and November, writing 60,000 words in about 60 days. “All flowing into the stream of its own accord,” as she put it elsewhere. Amid this she recorded this happiness:

I don’t believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism.… >I’m interested in watching what goes on for the moment without wishing to take part — a good frame of mind when one’s conscious of power. Then I am backed now by the downs: The country: how happy L. and I are at Rodmell: what a free life that is—sweeping 30 or 40 miles; coming in when and how we like; sleeping in the empty house; dealing triumphantly with interruptions; and diving daily into that divine loveliness— always some walk; and the gulls on the purple plough; or going over to Tarring Neville—these are the flights I most love now— in the wide, the indifferent air. No being jerked, teased, tugged.

… and then, irritated with D.H. Lawrence’s *Letters*, finishes the diary entry by giving him a good proper spanking.

It’s harrowing: this panting effort after something…the brutality of civilized society to this panting agonized man: and how futile it was. All this makes certain gasping in his letters. And none of it seems essential. So he pants and jerks. Then too I don’t like strumming with two fingers— and the arrogance. After all, English has one million words: why confine yourself to 6? and praise yourself of so doing.… >And why does Aldous say he was an “artist”? Art is being rid of all preaching.
“Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.”
— Virginia Woolf, in her penultimate diary entry, 8 March 1941. Four years earlier she had written, “Nothing is real unless I write it down.”

Virginia Woolf faints

This from her diary, Wednesday, August 17th, 1932. She had been depressed that spring, but was recovered and would soon go on a writing tear. But this summer day something went amiss.

>Shall I then describe how I fainted again? That is the galloping hooves got wild in my head last Thursday night as I sat on the terrace with L. How cool it is after the heat! I said. We were watching the downs draw back into fine darkness after they had burnt like solid emerald all day. Now that was being softly finally failed. And the white owl was crossing to fetch mice from the marsh. Then my heart leapt: and stopped: and leapt again: and I tasted that queer bitterness at the back of my throat; and the pulse leapt into my head and beat and beat, more savagely, more quickly. I am going to faint, I said, and slipped off my chair and lay on the grass. Oh no, I was not unconscious. I was alive: but possessed with the struggling team in my head: galloping, pounding. I thought something will burst in my brain if this goes on. Slowly it muffled itself. I pulled myself up and staggered, with what infinite difficulty and alarm, now truly fainting and seeing the garden painfully lengthened and distorted, back, back, back, back—how long it seemed—could I drag myself?—to the house: and gained my room and fell on my bed. In pain, as of childbirth; and then that too slowly faded; and I lay presiding, like a flickering light, like a most solicitous mother, over the shattered splintered fragments of my body.
“The curation was probably the most difficult part of the entire exercise, but the most important: if you take and show a thousand excellent images, none will really stand out or be memorable. If you only show ten of those, they’ll be outstanding. Similarly, if you shoot a 990 crap images, but show the 10 good ones, nobody will suspect you’re not shooting like that most of the time. As photographers, we are only judged on what we show, not what we shoot*.”
The Havana Masterclass report – Ming Thein | Photographer Same goes for writing. It’s about revision as much as it is creation. Or: revision is creation.

Was there ever a better, more endlessly surprising and juicily gossipy letter writer than Virginia Woolf? I could research this chapter forever…

Showing Versus Telling: The Art of the Quick Sketch

Young writers are constantly told to show rather than tell. Here, in a sketch of Virginia Woolf’s father in…

William Faulkner Is One Tough Interview

Willam Faulkner’s grave, with accessories. Credit Bridgman Pottery, rights reserved.

I’ve been…

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My TL,DR version of “Die, Selfish Gene, Die”

Many have liked  “Die, Selfish Gene, Die,” my Aeon piece challenging Richard Dawkins “Selfish Gene” meme. Quite a few readers have objected to and disagreed with the story, sometimes sharply. Some readers have both liked it andobjected to it. I thank…

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This week’s Story Collider podcast: At age 7, Deborah Blum starts a mystery when she interrupts her parent’s dinner party. So their guest, famed biologist E.O. Wilson, investigates.

I love this. Deborah Blum has become famous as the Queen of all things poison, the guest you definitely…

No one does scary science better than Deb Blum. And she’s a born aural storyteller. She tells the scariest and weirdest stuff in the world in a voice very close to that of someone reading a bedtime story — reading it perfectly. Which makes scary, creepy, or strange stories — the kind she loves to tell — even more unsettling.