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Washoe the chimpanzee is famous for being the first of her species to learn sign language. Her other claim to fame is coining what is probably the first verbal insult invented by an ape. Washoe was raised exclusively amongst humans and, after meeting other chimpanzees for the first time, she was asked what they were. She infamously replied “black bug”.
Her trainer, Roger Fouts, wrote that “along with everything else she had learned from her foster family, Washoe had apparently learned the lesson of human superiority”. Washoe was familiar with real black bugs—she apparently enjoyed squashing any that appeared in her enclosure—so it seems reasonable to assume that she used the term with derogatory intent, although it’s impossible to say for sure.
Some commentators have pointed out that wild chimpanzees also live in very hierarchical social groups, and that therefore Washoe’s apparent sense of superiority might not be simply an unfortunate by-product of human contact. Rather, the capacity to possess a superiority complex may be as common to both species as the substantial chunk of shared DNA.
Emily Gould is a writer, editor, publisher and journalist from New York. She has written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Slate, Medium, and the New Yorker, and is former co-editor of Gawker.com. She blogs and Tumbls regularly and is a veteran Twitter user. In 2010 she published a book of essays about being ‘young and literary’ in New York, called And The Heart Says Whatever. She has been the subject of dismissive reviews, live-to-air take-downs, and novella-length diatribes. She won’t stop popping up on my newsfeed. I feel like I know everything about Emily Gould.
Like many post-internet writers—including me—Gould is an obsessive self-documenter. She belongs to a generation of digitally-engaged autobiographers, which effectively means all her experiences are available online. Idle googling reveals not just Gould’s own take on her life, but her life through the lenses of her friends, enemies and ex-lovers, all of whom are as plugged in as she is, all creating a spectre of Emily Gould: writer, that makes it really hard to read her new novel, Friendship, without feeling her looming in the background.
Loom as she might, I do think that separating an author and their work is the responsibility of the reader, however googlable that author may be. It remains our job as engaged consumers to realise and remind ourselves that a protagonist is not necessarily an author’s avatar, despite what similarities we might pick up on thanks to their Tumblr. And yet—when a writer like Gould, who has chosen to make so much of her life public, writes a novel with such unavoidable parallels to that public life-documentation, it becomes increasingly difficult to tease the two apart.
The short stories below are the result of a meeting of infallible machine and imperfect man: my computer and me. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound very different from how other stories are written—a connection between stumbling fingers and a dirty keyboard—but these have been more ‘put together’ than ‘written’.
With the exception of this introduction, every sentence here is sourced from the New Oxford American Dictionary as it appears on a 2010 MacBook. The spelling of certain words has been altered to conform to Australian English, and some punctuation has been added in order to link sentences. Apart from these minor changes, however, each sentence is as it appears in the MacBook dictionary.
What these stories leave behind is something beyond the usually parochial thoughts of my own mind: a harbinger of societal decay.
Of course, to renounce all agency is a cop-out. But if these are not my ideas, where do they come from? Is this a distillation of our collective psyche? An illustration of an innately pessimistic language? Maybe these sentences are a cipher, clues to the Oxford American Dictionary’s worldview. Maybe some subversive programmer inserted them into my Mac’s peachy, bright-eyed, life-is-beautiful operating system to rattle Apple Inc’s foundations. Maybe I’ve been reading the dictionary for too long.
Whatever the case, the message is clear: worry about the future.
Jane is a theatre critic. Simon is her editor. Two weeks ago, they went to see The Importance of Being Earnest: Jane for the fourth time, Simon for the first. They spent the next five days emailing each other about the production, exploring its jokes, oddities, and hidden meanings–and ultimately gaining a richer sense of the play than either had foreseen. This is their conversation, as published by email between August 9 and August 13.
Thanks for coming along to see The Importance of Being Earnest last night, I had a wonderful time and it was really nice in such an unexpected way to take someone who wasn’t familiar with the play. I think it made me enjoy it all the more. I think sometimes I can get bogged down a bit in the thought of analysing theatre as work—especially when it’s a work like Earnest, for which this was the fourth (!) production I’ve seen—and it’s good to have a jolt away from that.
But then the joy for me in watching it for the fourth time (and I’ve probably read it another three or four times besides) is knowing these plot twists and jokes and having the opportunity to analyse how the director Geordie Brookman made the jokes land (or, occasionally, failed to make them land), what emphasis he put on the physical comedy, etc. Occasionally when I felt the show lulled a bit (because, say, it was focusing on plot rather than the humour for a few minutes) I was just ready for it to speed up, and then it was really lovely to sit next to you and know that when these jokes landed they were landing with you for the first time, when the plot twisted it was twisting for you for the first time. And it felt like there were a lot of people in the audience for whom this was their first Earnest! It was delightful.
A similar feeling, perhaps, to what I get when I’m watching children’s theatre—it all feels new to the audience. It’s nice to think that a 120 year old play is new to people. Would love to know more about how you were feeling as you were taken on the ride, while I was just sitting there waiting for Lady Bracknell exclaim “A hand-bag?”
Death has been kind to Jack Kerouac. Half a century after the fact, there is little trace of the angry, disappointed alcoholic of his waning years. The guy who drank himself to extinction in his mother’s house is gone – in death, he is both corporeal and ethereal, a strange, shifting tableau of fact and fancy. At last, he embodies the duality of spirit and flesh—what he chased through his writing—that eluded him in life. When viewed from some angles, he still resembles the zombie he became even before death: querulous, confused, puffy with drink, sluggish with self-loathing. But then he’ll catch you with a turn of phrase and his blue eyes will spark and suddenly he’s evergreen again, the perfect embodiment of Sal Paradise, King of The Beats, father of the counterculture, Kerouac’s autobiographical avatar, dreamy all-American hero from his immortal roman-a-clef of On the Road.
“It’s not so bad, being dead,” he assures The Lifted Brow, grinning the weary-jock half-smile that shines from a million book covers. “Although, of course, there is the miserably weary fact of dying itself, and the feeling that everything is dead.”
To celebrate the release of The Lifted Brow: Digital's Space Issue (Volume 11, Issue 1), we asked writer, FBi radio host, and general man about town Luke Telford to make us a Space-themed mixtape.
Here’s what Luke had to say about it:
Space is a human concept. We use it to position ourselves within systems that are completely beyond our comprehension or control.
Some people peer into space and think they see the universe, the purpose of humanity, our precariousness, our preciousness. But really, that endless void shows us nothing but our own insignificance and futility staring back at us. Like Narcissus gazing into emptiness.
No wonder that space should inspire such intense and heady music.
This is a collection of pieces that engage with the idea of space in one way or another. Some of them are deadly serious. Some are delirious and ridiculous. All of them beautiful failures.
- There And Back – Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet
- Triangulum Galaxy – Pulse Emitter
- Fabric of Space – 1991
- Hapless Gatherer – Lawrence English
- Mirror – Emptyset
- Paralell World – Actress
- V – Lortica
- 08 Space Crimes – M.O.B.
- Solar Ship Voyage – Sun Ra
- Meissa – Robert Fripp & Brian Eno
- Ariel – Tom James Scott
- Thunderstorm – Kate Carr
- Old Star – Andrew Chalk
- Marple Libradome ‘91 – Leyland Kirby Presents V/Vm
- Fool – Michael Pisaro
- Let the Silence Float – Deru
- Showers of Meteors – Loren Connors
- The Angels Of Comfort – Iasos
- Miru – Vikki Jackman
- Have I Forgotten? – Sean McCann
Get the app and start reading The Lifted Brow: Digital now.
15th August 1977. Released only a few months earlier, Star Wars ignited America’s imagination unlike anything before. For two hours, audiences are spellbound by aliens, droids, weird worlds and metaphysical forces set in a galaxy far, far away. While the setting and characters of the film are appreciated by the public as fiction, at 11:16pm on 15th August 1977, a computer inconspicuously records six typographic characters onto a print out at The Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University. The characters are 6 E Q U J 5. These six symbols are overwhelmed on a single page smothered by thousands of 1s and 2s – two digits that plague all the other pages too.
The calendar reads Monday, and nobody will pay attention to the special print-out until midweek. What is considered, with much controversy, to perhaps be mankind’s first recording of a radio signal from an intelligent, extraterrestrial being, sits on top of Dr Jerry R. Ehman’s desk, waiting to be noticed by human eyes.