Middle Ages, Indian Railways, Fine Art, J.H. Prynne, Maps, Optimism, Genius

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Marc Michael Epstein On Medieval Art

Beatrice Wilford | Five Books | 1st November 2015

"We tend to use medieval as an adjective of derogation: 'ISIS is so medieval'. In fact the Middle Ages were quite a mixed bag. Much of it was as vibrant and dynamic and alive and multi-cultural and multi-perspectival as anything we experience today. To do the Middle Ages justice, we have to think of it as a collection of cultures of encounter, even if we don't like the way cultures were encountering each other" (4,500 words)

Dysfunction Junction

Tom Lasseter | Bloomberg | 2nd November 2015

Indian Railways carries 23 million passengers daily on lines that could run one and a half times around the world. Asia's oldest railway system is India's "most intractable problem". Its accounts are "so opaque as to be inscrutable". Train speeds average 25 kilometres per hour. "Most nations have an annual budget for government spending. India has two. One for Indian Railways, and one for everything else" (1,980 words)

How Auction Houses Orchestrate Sales

Judith Dobrzynski | New York Times | 28th October 2015

Dozens of experts labour for months to put together a big sale at Sotheby's or Christie's — and then the auctioneer has two hours to sell a hundred pictures for a billion dollars. The sale is pure theatre. "Within a sale, artworks are positioned to spark excitement. The perfect Lot 1 will double or triple its presale estimate, igniting high spirits in the salesroom that encourage enthusiastic bidding" (3,070 words)

Photograph Everything

John Clegg | Poetry London | 27th October 2015

J.H. Prynne's later poetry is as deliberately difficult as writing can be without destroying the desire to read it at all. "Sense-making becomes a strategy for the brain confronted by an opaque text". The "occasional excursuses into narrative or causal organization", visible in Prynne's earlier work, have disappeared. Words "strike sparks off each other" but the syntactical relationship between them "appears to be random" (1,470 words)

Tesla And The Future Of Maps

Steve Coast | 15th October 2015

It used to cost millions of dollars to collect data for maps; perhaps billions for Google Maps with its global ambitions and full-time drivers. Now customers do the data-collection for free via sensor packages in their phones and cars. The future of mapping is that every car is taking pictures all the time. The future for maps is that they disappear from the physical world as completely as Encyclopaedia Britannica (1,219 words)

The Banality Of Optimism

Terry Eagleton | Bookforum | 15th September 2015

"The United States is one of the few countries on earth in which optimism is almost a state ideology. To be bullish is to be patriotic, while negativity is a species of thought crime. Pessimism is vaguely subversive. Even in the most despondent of times, a collective fantasy of omnipotence and infinity continues to haunt the national unconscious. Since the truth is often enough unpleasant, it must be trumped by the unflinching will" (1,500 words)

For Whom The Phone Rings

Thomas Frank | Baffler | 29th September 2015

The prizes for genius go, not to geniuses, but to those who have won other prizes. "As the competition between prizes grows more intense, the pressure to associate a prize with safe and unquestionably prestigious figures only grows. Competing prizes within a field always tend to converge on the same individuals, prize magnets who are fated to stagger through life under the weight of their accumulated laurels" (3,100 words)

Video of the day: A Guide To Candy Trading

What to expect: Ze Frank explains how to Pareto-optimise your household after Halloween

Thought for the day

Misery motivates, not utopia
Karl Marx

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