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 Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins 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, March 2, 2015

February 23 & March 2, 2015 Issue

“As I write this, The New Yorker is dead,” claimed Renata Adler, in her bitter Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker (1999). Well, that was sixteen years ago, and The New Yorker is still with us, more vibrant than ever, as the current issue – the loaded and layered 90th Anniversary Issue – vividly shows. Of its many pleasures – Mary Norris’s "Holy Writ" (“Chances are that if you use the Oxford comma you brush the crumbs off your shirtfront before going out”), Ian Frazier’s "The Cabaret Beat" (“Portrait photographers emphasized Ross’s hair, which grew straight up and which a famous actress said she would like to walk barefoot in”), James Wood’s "Look Again" (“It is the writer who sees everything, hears everything, and reserves the right to fiddle with the aperture”) – the most piquant, for me, is Ian Parker’s brilliant "The Shape of Things to Come." It’s a profile of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice-president of design. Its materials are vast and finely woven: people [Ive, J. J. Abrams, Robert Bruner, Michael Ive (Ive’s father), Steve Jobs, Powell Jobs, Clive Grinyer, Bob Mansfield, Tim Cook, Eugene Whang, Dan Riccio, Jeff Williams, Marc Newson, Bart André, Richard Seymour, Jeff Williams, among others]; events (a launch of new Apple products and services, a visit to Apple’s industrial design studio, a tour of Apple’s future campus); things [“a black steam-punk watch,” “three eight-foot-high computer-numerical-control (C.N.C.) milling machines,” “dozens of custom sketchbooks that had padded blue covers and silver edging,” “Ive’s black Bentley, which is as demure as a highly conspicuous luxury car can be,” “a Rams-designed Braun MPZ2 Citromatic juicer,” “an Apple Watch … in rose gold, with a band of white rubbery plastic,” “a glass-topped Apple Watch display cabinet, accessible to staff from below, via a descending, motorized flap like the ramp at the rear of a cargo plane”]. It brims with inspired sentences (e.g., “Ive’s aesthetic is not austere: one could think of the work done here as a reticent man’s idea of exuberance, with rapture expressed in the magnetic click of a power adapter”; “But others may have had the thought, or the half-thought, that the sounds made the phones more coherent – a more natural accompaniment to glass, aluminum, and Helvetica Neue”). Best of all is Parker’s liberal use of the first-person. He’s not only an observer; he’s a participant (“I spoke to Dye at a table by the lawn at Infinite Loop”; “Inside the shed, I tried on a watch, and its stainless-steel bracelet, guided by magnets, fell into place with the click of someone stacking nickels”; “The next day, I visited Ive in his studio”). “The Shape of Things to Come” is a masterpiece. I enjoyed it immensely.

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