Summer reading / link roundup
I’m going to slow down the pace of publishing here at RUINS. I’ll be able to deliver a better-quality product if I don’t tie myself to the self-imposed demands of a weekly schedule, so I’ll try to publish less often, and give myself more time to develop my theses. There are one or two pieces which are almost ready for publication and which will come out on the normal schedule, but after that—who knows. For now, though, here’s a roundup of some things I’ve been reading / looking at / listening over the past month or so.
Omaha area people: The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts is still showing Maya Dunietz’s Root of Two until September 18. It’s a fascinating experience, connecting the worlds of visual art and sound in unique and memorable ways. When I was there over the weekend, I saw this spectacularly amazing sign:
Elliot Ritzema on the craft of the editor, and how it is actually a calling to sympathize. As he memorably puts it:
We have to understand how a writer thinks and feels, understand what a reader thinks and feels, and bring them closer together by helping the writer communicate in a way the reader can understand and relate to. I’m less of a grammar enforcer and more of a literary marriage therapist.
Mónica Belevan on AI art generators and their similarity to several aspects of surrealist art practice. Hers is one of the most level-headed assessments of the value of such things as DALL-E or Midjourney; she sees them as tools in the artist’s arsenal.
A good painting: Ferdinand Hodler, The Woodcutter, 1910.
Etienne Fortier-Dubois analyzes how a unifying aesthetic vision can promote an ideology; he lists some readily recognizable ideological aesthetics (like North Korean propaganda posters) and bemoans the lack of an aesthetic in the Effective Altruism community. Whether or not you admire the EA crowd, it’s certainly true that they don’t have any defining visuals. A question to ponder: what is your personal aesthetic, and what does it say about your worldview?
Drew Austin on the decline of the music snob and concurrent offloading of our memories onto algorithmic music discovery platforms. Is this a good or bad thing? In response to Austin’s essay, Ludwig Yeetgenstein argues that a carefully tuned algorithm is actually a very helpful way to discover hopelessly obscure, but still very good, musical treasures. However, Breanna notices that as people are becoming dissatisfied with algorithmic offerings, we are seeing a growth of curated recommendations services, which have the human touch that algorithms lack. Perhaps curated lists are like having your own personal music snob telling you what’s good?
Here is Josh Dzieza’s disturbing and riveting look at AI-generated fiction, which seems poised to be the future of fiction writing, for better or for worse. Bonus: Kristen Radke, author and illustrator of Seek You and Imagine Wanting Only This, did the design for the piece, which in itself is stellar.
David Malki’s essay on the recontextualization of beloved comic strips is old, but still very relevant—perhaps even more so in this age of TikTok mashups. I mentioned this piece in my discussion of Malki’s Wondermark—but that was when there were only sixteen readers of this Substack newsletter so it’s time to mention it again.
Victoria Emily Jones shares a wealth of information about icons—what they are, why they exist, and what they mean in their particular faith contexts. Whatever your theology of images might be, this is a fascinating subject, and an important part of many Christians’ experiences of their faith. Jones’ curated selection of links, videos, and interviews are well worth a closer look.
Here’s a Spotify playlist I made a while back with all sorts of good songs on it—some well-known and some obscure, some serious and some silly, some old and some new. I hope you enjoy!