We’re onto something here…

Something very disturbing.

It pains me to see birch wood– [oh, the beautiful birch! Jewel of the subarctic! It serves me peaceful reminders of cooler days with its snow-white bark when I look upon it from behind a cloud of June-horny blackflies. It burns hot and easy (I like my women like I like my birch wood), and is a sauna’s perfect match. I can peel thy skin and answer the thrush on your branches. After the rains you exhale the very embodiment of “aroma”, and I go a-roaming. oh, the beautiful birch…..!]– reduced to this. You see what’s going on here? First it was books, now it’s wood! The bookends of the timber industry have been fetishised. And indeed, Marx knew it was going to happen long ago.

Logging is my father’s new favorite hobby. Let’s see how he reacts to this.
This actually leads me to a general problem I have with globalization. We were on the road to instant gratification far before the internet. Many centuries ago, we began exchanging goods heavily as trading routes opened up between the larger civilizations. Today we move a lot of shit. By wing, wheel, or hull. Either us to the product/good, or the product/good to us. Both consume massive amounts of energy. In the short run, the benefits may seem great. But is it sustainable in the long run? One numbnuts step, at least for us architects, towards significantly cutting costs is bringing in materials from as close to the worksite as possible.
What is embodied energy? Here’s Sustainablog. (Be sure to check out the video.) The big idea: cutting down on shipping costs means that we strive to “control all aspects of our lives.” More abstractly speaking, a physicist would say that of all processes involving Work (aka energy expended in using a Force to move a Mass), the human body itself is among the most efficient in the long run. Inevitably, because we do not live in a vacuum (which I until recently could not remember how to spell until I realized it’s being pronounced wrong– if you pronounce it like a word of the same suffix, like continuum, the spelling becomes obvious), ALL work done and energy produced involves some “loss”. Usually it’s through friction. There is a long and still-unsolved history of finding the perfect machine. But this waste can come in many forms, from sensible heat to sound. One could calculate the waste produced in walking 10 meters there and 10 meters back– a theoretically zero-sum exercise, and compare it to driving 100 meters there and 100 meters back. Assigning as many tasks as we can to that which we can achieve with our own bodies is a very clear definition of sustainability. This is a call to immediacy.

I digress. We used to have to wait till summer to eat our avocados and peaches and bananas. Now we can get them year round. In sidestepping spoilage of our food, we have spoiled ourselves. Let’s hope the small-but-growing trends in support of localization can become… well, global.

Designer firewood brings to mind an incident I was present for several years ago at an old friend’s brownstone in Kips Bay. Her grandmother and uncle had just flown in from London and the hosts (my friend and her mother) decided to light a fire in the fireplace. I gave a “Eeeeeeh” but the only response was “Don’t be silly.” Somehow they light some wood that’s been sitting there, immaculately arranged (almost edibly arranged), and we all take a seat around it and chat. Smoke starts rising into the room. Hm. Soon the mantel (or where the mantel normally is) is completely black with soot, and smoke is filling up the room. The uncle keeps insisting, “No, no, don’t open the door. No, no, don’t put the fire out. I like this smell. It’s nice and… woody. It’s supposed to smell woody, isn’t it?” The fire alarm begins howling. By the time the fire department arrived, I could stand on one side of the living room and not see anyone at the other end (which I think I did intentionally to disassociate myself with them as much as possible). I think the firemen were dumbfounded and just didn’t have the heart to tell us “Next time, you should check if your fireplace has a flue. You know what a flue is?” Instead they told us not to ever use that… unusable… fireplace again.

For now I’m not complaining about the cold, and instead I’m enjoying the excellent oranges. Oranges often play a pivotal role in my feeling good during wintertime, partially because since orange juice is so sugary and the fruit is disgustingly dry in warmer months, my anticipation builds.

What is your favorite season? As kids the answer was obvious. But as I’ve learned to give trivial matters more and more unnecessary thought, fall has emerged as the new frontrunner (it’ll stay my favorite so long as it continues to support color diversity). Especially in New York, the weather gets dryer and cooler, right into that long-sleeved sweetspot. People all return from the holidays. And of course fall is the season of the harvest, the season of the fire, and the season of homecoming and storytelling. To come full circle here, fall is when we remember to work with our hands, together, and reap the rewards.

Share this at your own discretion. Do you have this word, discretion?
Share this at your own discretion. Do you have this word, discretion?

 

True true blue

If you Google most words (I tried “apple” and then “death”) the mosaic of images has a fairly consistent palette.
You consider, then, the now-known innovations of Google’s search engine– piggybacking what people are actually visiting, bumping up on the list websites most-linked-to– and one can say that what you see (after a torturous 0.35 seconds of waiting) is a sort of consensus.
You’ll see where I’m going with this– in the meantime I tried “desire” with hilariously one-sided results.
So it occurred to me when tinkering with the RGB bar on a rendering how gooey everything is and how nobody really knows anything about anything– in other words, as Goethe said, colors are just manifestations of light, which is really depressing to imagine (“Van Gogh went crazy thinking about it and cut his ear off. Get it?” “Yeah, yeah, totally…”). Not only is it depressing, it makes color quite subjective. Is the sky blue, or is this link blue? Sometimes, lying in bed on one side for too long, I find that my left and right eyes will see colors in different shades. Is there a definitive blue? Well, insofar as we exist in and depend on Google, I’d say the mosaic of images Google gives under “blue” must be the true true blue, and same with “red” and “green,” thus forming the basis of our additive color spectrum.

Back to an earlier thought: Google “fetishism”, and the results are more varied than I expected. Without a doubt there are the inevitable ass shots and stockings and heels, but the consensus is fuzzy. Of course, it is the nature of the word itself. From Marx to Voodoo we have considered fetishism’s evolution both as a term and a phenomenon (of course, “fetishism” is an example of fetishism: the creation of a proxy, a votive figure, a replacement, which is then worshipped disproportionately. Gettin’ meta enough?). But what does it mean when Googling something gives you so many disparate results? Could this be an accurate aggregate of data on words, terms, and topics which are being currently debated? Or do I need to just adjust my parental controls?

One thing there should be no debate over at all (EHEM, Mitt) is the use of the word “marriage” in the US Constitution. There IS NO SUCH MENTION.
Why can’t folks accept that two people with different views want the same civil rights and mutual benefits under lifelong partnership as they do? Geez, if I were president I’d take focus off the word “marriage” entirely (“Fine, conservatives, you can have your semantics. But for this time and this time only, I am putting the substance the word pretends to represent ahead of the word itself!“) by naming all lifelong unions civil partnership or something inoffensive and undefiled like that. Heck– the key here seems to be to find a term that hasn’t been debated over yet, so that it carries no baggage. This, I suppose, is the crisis of every innovation: to find a name for it that is sounds new and exciting, but not too new so as to sound foreign. Sham-WOW. Un-real.
So what’s a good new name for [marriage]?

Feitiço

This for me was a highlight of 2011— organized objectification of books. Neither I nor any hipsters are unfamiliar with the lure of book collection (or any collection, period.)

I first stumbled into Restoration Hardware one lazy afternoon. As I am wont to do, I spent most of my time studying with fascination all the trinkets and decor that the store had clearly put a lot of effort into nailing down. In one room, a tall ficus and a globe. In another, strip flooring worn gray, browning busts of nameless captains, a map of Manna-hata circa 1600, and stacks of books. These books were shelled, still with printed pages in them.

Later that month, I discovered Restoration Hardware’s Bizarro: the decorative books in Banana Republic. Of course I spent more time looking at things out of the line of focus than shopping (though Slate is quite alluring) and I was absolutely floored when I flipped through one of the books on the shelf (roughly 8″x6″) and found it to be BLANK. So, someone had carefully and with very high-quality materials bound a book of blank paper to serve as the gentlemanly backdrop for our exigent, sartorial, commodity fetishism. I had to steal it. Architects love to doodle. We will find anything. In fact, it feels better when we find someplace spontaneous. Well, I had just discovered the fucking Golden Fleece of spontaneous sketchbooks. And with it, my freehand moxie, rediscovered.
(Photos later.)

Thus, the phenomenon of objectifying books becomes a perfect diagram for fetishism itself, wherein a new tradition of books begins to branch off of its ancestor (‘book’, as we have known it for milennia), and explodes in pop-ularity and for a short while appears to usurp the word entirely. Fetishism as a term anticipates artifice through its roots– though one could say that in its current form, fetishism is the least dependent on artifice it has ever been. Its roots in the Latin for making and artificial creation (facticius) suggest a much more primal type of idol worship. It is the creation of stories– stories so powerful they can possess a human being. However, the idol is key. It must be there to see and touch– before it is let go and a stronger faith emerges. These ideas were written on during the Enlightenment– it was only a matter of time before they were viewed in secular terms, first with our good friend Karl Marx and then with Freud. To Marx, a wooden idol equaled a wooden chair– both were raw materials suddenly borne of a transcendent quality which humans put a value to. Nowadays, there is a similar danger– with every subsequent market collapse, instead of rebuilding wealth by returning to our dependence on made objects, we just transfer speculative wealth from one medium to another. With the stock, auto, and real estate markets in bad shape, the next horrible-idea-in-brilliant-idea’s-clothing may be social media. Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, photostreams, yes, even blogs, are all our modern-day idols. First we only just liked them. Then we started liking them a lot. Then we assign value to them. Will we be selling them next? How much will we value Lady Gaga’s Twitter account (Twitter’s most-followed)? Can it be owned by many people, as a corporation? Or perhaps we’ll be leveraging these sole-proprietorships for favors?

–And the world turns to goo once again, when you realize the boggling lack of difference between everything, and especially things that we 1) claim to be the foundation (ethics, morals) upon which we stand and 2) pit against one another (why? because we don’t like unresolved, conflicting worldviews.) Says skeptic Michael Shermer on Freakonomics: “It’s much harder to be skeptical. You first need to understand the claim and then challenge it. That takes an extra cognitive load to carry, and requires greater effort.”

Back to books:

Club Monaco’s in on the fetish too.

I prefer to envision this new unfolding as a reluctant symbiosis. Soon we will live in a world where the difference between book readers and book collectors will not be synonymous with old school vs. new school. Perhaps more like retarded cousins. Lastly, I can’t think of any analogies at this time, and I believe the reason for that to be the fact that books may represent such an early stage in humanness. Now that I think of it, though: it may come close to the difference between those who enjoy Coors Light and those who prefer their craft IPA. At some point one was considered the bastard child of the other– but now both are equal in their appeal, and for their own reasons.

Eventually, that squiggle will become its own thing, incomparable on the same terms to the ‘books’ of yore. Which is not to say that it will necessarily implode like I drew, but I would much prefer it if the codex won out in the end.

I conclude with something of a polished understanding of Aristotle’s matephysics. Between Restoration Hardware and Banana Republic, you have substance without form and form without substance. But their codependent roots cannot be ignored.