Edgy Stuff: September 2015 Recommendations
The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
This month I recommend The Infrastructure Toolbox, a mélange of anthropological explorations on various infrastructures, here conceived of as both analytic devices and material forms. The pieces in this edited volume of Cultural Anthropology are thought-provoking and I imagine quite useful for scholars throughout the environmental humanities.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this live webcam of brown bears fishing for sockeye salmon under Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska, is worth at least a few more. The salmon run generally lasts from mid-spring until mid-fall. If you’re interested in learning more, the National Park Service website has a list of frequently asked questions about the “bearcam.”
Preparing for my first-ever experience co-teaching portraiture through the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project, I’ve been mentally collecting artists whose work exemplifies creativity as daily practice, nothing fussy about it. At the top of that list, for those with a visual bent: Warsaw-based graphic designer Agata Nowicka’s enigmatic illustrations (see above); Seth S. Clark’s multimedia renderings of decaying Pittsburgh houses; and Eleonor Anderson’s “Subway Sketches” that precede her recent turn to clay. These artists remind me, as do the participants in my Oakhill class: just put pen to paper. Just go for it.
What does it mean to have a conversation in 2015? Do we assume any longer that “conversation” means verbal and face-to-face? If not, is the digital connectivity that characterizes so much of everyday life eroding the benefits of conversation—that is, empathy, intimacy, and even a sense of place? These questions have received a lot of attention in recent years, but their implications remain no less fascinating. MIT professor Sherry Turkle has just published an eloquent and urgent essay about the decline in conversation and about why we need, as a society, to intervene in our own behaviors. Even “keep[ing] our phones in the landscape” of our interactions, Turkle argues—on the table, for instance—”disconnects us” from other people and from the places we’re inhabiting. (For a counter-argument, take a look at cognitive scientist Stefana Broadbent’s TED Talk from 2009, in which she argues for the ability of technology to furnish a more powerful sense of intimacy).
Vikram Chandra’s Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code and the Code of Beauty was at the top of many “best books of 2014” lists and I’ve just finally gotten to it. Simply put, Geek Sublime is a dazzling meditation on language—especially its capacity to change our sense of being in the world. Chandra weaves together his experience shuttling between India and the West, interpretations of classical Indian literature and mythology, and commentary on today’s tech culture. In the midst of a struggle to program an interactive map, I can’t help but think of his comparison of the programmer’s search for effective, trim, and ultimately beautiful code with how the best prose and poetry can shake the soul.
Four years into my graduate work in Geography, I have become a person who loves debating the merits of maps. (See, maps aren’t what we study, but then again, they are). We know that maps distort reality, and that those distortions have lasting impacts on how we understand the world. This interactive map of true area may show you just how far off your understanding is. Play around with moving countries across the globe and watch how their relative size changes with the map’s projection. It just might change your world!
Kaitlin Stack Whitney
One of my favorite scholars engaging with environmental themes in bold new ways is Dr. Elizabeth R. Johnson, who is in the Department of Geography of the University of Exeter and a former Mellon postdoctoral scholar at UW-Madison. This month she has an essay in The New Inquiry, “Lying Like Cuttlefish.” Her excellent piece explores embodiment, eco-modernism, and yes, marine organisms. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.