Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 14, 2012 Issue

The Innovator Issue is here, loaded with amazing items. I hover over it like one of those Nano Hummingbirds that Nick Paumgarten so vividly describes in his excellent “Here’s Looking At You” (“Keennon removed the Hummingbird’s dappled magnetic shell to show off the innards: tiny cables and pulleys and pushrods”), scanning for thisness. (Thisness is “any detail that draws abstraction toward itself and seems to kill that abstraction with a puff of palpability, any detail that centers our attention with its concretion”: James Wood, How Fiction Works, 2008.) I find at least a half-dozen prime specimens: (1) the Kees van der Westen espresso machine at Thirstbaràvin, “as sleek and sexy as a motorcycle” (Hannah Goldfield, “Tables For Two”); (2) Pedrito Martinez thumping on the conga, “abandoning the subtle math he’d been sketching for almost a minute” (Sasha Frere-Jones, “Beat Happening”); (3) the “dozens of Puma drones in black caskets the size of guitar cases” on the shop floor at AeroVironment (Nick Paumgarten, “Here’s Looking At You”); (4) the young woman “with a lug-nut washer tattooed on her shoulder … daubing aquamarine paint on a cascade of small wooden dowels” (Andrea K. Scott, “A Million Little Pieces”; (5) Daniel Nocera’s ingenious “artificial leaf” – “a cheap, playing-card-size coated-silicon sheet that, when placed in a glass of tap water and exposed to sunlight, split the water into hydrogen and oxygen” (David Owen, “The Artificial Leaf”); (6) the “humongous metal lizards” that The Avengers’ Banner slings around the canyons of Manhattan (Anthony Lane, “Double Lives”). My favorite line of the whole, rich issue is Nick Paumgarten's delightful, surprising, quasi-surrealist, “As a visitor, you must present your passport and surrender your phone, which is a shame, because you come across skunk-work marvels that make you itch to text smartphone snapshots to gadget-geek friends.” Now there's a sentence that enacts the innovation it describes!

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