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 Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 8 & 15, 2013 Issue

Nicholson Baker’s “A Fourth State of Matter,” in this week’s issue, does something very cool, very inspired. It takes an item most of us use, but have no clue about, namely, the ubiquitous LCD screen, and traces it to the source of its production, in South Korea. It’s essentially a “visit” piece, sort of like a long Talk story, about Baker’s attendance at the International Meeting on Information in Seoul. It’s absolutely brilliant! I devoured every line. Baker is an LCD poet. He says, “Liquid crystal’s aim is basically peaceable – it wants to give eyes what eyes want to look at.” In another memorable line, he says, “This was a liquid that could make light perform a pirouette.” My favorite part of “A Fourth State of Matter” is Baker’s splendid description of his visit to LG Display’s factory in Paju:

We gazed through the glass at the Piranesian vastitude of one part of the factory – an ultra-clean metropolis of automated modules, silver ducts, and rectilinear interconnections, all lit by a straw-colored light, in the midst of which a multiply jointed robot the size of a tree was nimbly sliding six-foot-long slabs of almost paper-thin mother glass into and out of the narrow inlets in something that looked like a pizza oven, except much bigger. The robot arm, fitted with what seemed to be faintly hissing suction cups, never hesitated, never paused to consider its next move. Inside the pizza oven, the glass received its subpixel matrix of color filters, using a photolithographic process of masking and deposition and removal. Each glass sheet shuddered slightly as it was turned this way and that, in the impossibly fragile manner of airborne soap bubbles, and my own arms kept going out toward it, as if to save the sheet from crashing to the floor – but, of course, no glass crashed. This was the place that made all Best Buys possible.

“A Fourth State of Matter” beautifully displays Baker’s awesome descriptive powers. Reading it is rapture. 

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