(011) All About Beauty
"Beauty was a curse. It stood between me and who I was."
My friend once told me he’s intrigued by and attracted to people who sometimes look beautiful and sometimes don’t. I never forgot that, because it genuinely surprised and also comforted me. Now I think I understand what he was getting at, and I agree: It’s frisson. The intrigue of learning about something over and over, never quite pinning it down. Life feels like that, too. And per the theory, that’s exactly what keeps us going. — Haley Nahman in #66: What if I told you I have a theory
Inputting doll imagery through the ages (often central to young girls and conceptions of beauty) as well as comments from the Instagram accounts of female influencers, we get Ugly Bitches: an edition of 500 images trained on a GAN (generative adversarial network) by artists Ann Hirsch and Maya Man.
We changed the comment: any time any kind of qualitative, beauty-related word was used, we swapped that out with “ugly.” And if any kind of woman-based noun was used, like babe or baby, then we swapped that out with “bitch.” The backgrounds are DALL-E-generated images based on spots that influencers like to take photos in front of.
An excerpt that got me thinking about what beauty is (and maybe how beauty can be understood more simply as the ways in which beauty is performed and replicated):
What I’ve found is that beauty, acceptable beauty, is just always an imitation of what has come before. Like, the people who are the most beautiful, the most celebrated, are the best at imitating what they believe beauty is, or what a woman is and what a woman should be. Beyoncé does the absolute best imitation of femininity and beauty. She’s just flawless. Everything looks amazing. Compare her to Miley Cyrus, who objectively is beautiful, but when you watch her, you see the imitation—you see her working so hard to try to be this sexy thing, and it comes off really awkward (which is actually why I really like Miley Cyrus). With the GAN we used, it’s a similar process. It’s trying so hard to imitate beauty, recreating these dolls, but it just fails miserably. — Ann Hirsch
Telfar’s Dynamic Pricing — A bid for anti-luxury
This is one of the most interesting things I’ve come across in a while re: fashion. Telfar, of the notorious “Bushwick Birkin”, is launching a new collection next week which will follow a new pricing model.
When customers start shopping, they’ll find that prices aren’t fixed. Instead, there will be a dynamic pricing tool on the website that ensures the most popular, fastest-selling products are cheaper. The whole experience is designed to flip the script on the fashion industry, where brands tend to charge more for popular items. And it reinforces Clemens’ mission of making his products affordable, so they are accessible to anybody who wants them.
I’ve been thinking about how inverting the incentives of whatever field you’re in leads to new models and interesting outcomes. Strongly encourage reading the whole article to find out more about how the value of an item is tied to perception, accessibility and manufacturing.
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On Practices by 56
A great editorial offshoot by 56 diving into the creative practices and toolsets of a bunch of different people. Featured below, an excerpt from an interview with Charles Broskoski, one of the founders of are.na. Also throwing it back to a talk he did with Forefront about internet culture & tools for creativity. Notorious for their slow and organic approach to growth, are.na remains one of the rarer examples of software made (and maintained) with care.
Diversifying your media diet
As Murakami once cautioned:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
Ironic, perhaps, coming from a recommendation newsletter but I hope you’re encountering a smattering of things here that aren’t being recommended en masse elsewhere.
A slew of maybe/maybe not vaguely controversial things I’ve read lately:
Agnes Callard’s Marriage of the Minds by Rachel Aviv — so much ~discourse about this one everywhere. I still don’t know how I feel about it, but it certainly gave me something to think about. A more errant sidenote as a commenter noted: Would this have been intellectualised in the same way had it been a male professor jumping ship for his female student? Was the intellectualisation shrouding a reach for polyamory? Or is there really something to attempting to live one’s life “philosophically”? In contrast, check out: The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships and Alain de Botton’s immensely popular NYT essay Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.
The Devouring Mother of the Digital Longhouse / “Honey, I broke the kids” by John Carter — some sensationalist language aside, where did it all go wrong? A rollercoaster ride through the plethora of factors wreaking havoc on young generations. Something particularly of note is the question of whether culture shapes technology, or whether technology shapes — or even produces — culture. Reminds me of McLuhan here: the medium is the message if arguing for the latter. Carter advocates:
The problem, I think, is primarily cultural, not technological. We have been introduced to a powerful stack of novel technologies, and as always happens, we’re hypnotized by their promises, blind to their dangers, and have to get a good taste of the downsides before we can innovate the cultural safeguards that enable us to enjoy the benefits without suffering the worst of the injuries […] We need to adapt the culture, and we need to do it ourselves, from the bottom up, and without waiting for permission from the government, in order to build up psychological resistance to these technologies on an individual level, and resilience on a social level.
Amidst the many comments, one stood out: “Everything we see now is the price of not paying the price”. The current tenuous state of banking and potential collapse is ample proof of that.
Ne quid nimis / Call it sex negativity or common sense, there’s a backlash around the corner by Mehreen Kasana. An underlying question I’ve been considering lately is what “freedom” really means, especially in the face of “youth” (generally conflated with excess). An excerpt dealing with the “divorce of sex from consequence” and Gen Z’s embrace of what’s being labelled as “sex negativity”:
A counter-wave is inevitable. Generational cycles, you know how it goes. But I argue this pushback against sex positivity, if conducted with calibration, could restore meaning and health to our currently maladaptive society. Since the 1960s, there has been an aggressive effort to divorce sex from consequence. The general idea among this type of free love movement is that sex can be rule-free. A bulk of feminist polemic and similar progressive activism has attempted to socially engineer this dangerous fiction. It’s a fiction that pretends that one can divorce sex from responsibility, risk assessment, power, children, love, tyranny, that sort of thing.
A book of iPhone images
Sean Brown’s “In No Particular Order” is a book (now with two volumes) that epitomises one of the most prominent visual characteristics of of our time: the curated iPhone photo dump. That’s the entire concept and it’s beautiful. Recently, he released “the book, but in tumblr form”. Enjoy it here.
The following via David Perell:
Scruton argues that we've descended into a world of fakeness and kitsch. He begins by showing how the idea of expressing fake emotions would've been foreign to the ancients. Culturally, the idea of fakeness begins with King Lear, when his three daughters express a fake love for their father. But today, fakeness is everywhere. It's thriving in the areas of amusement parks, plastic surgery, and other simulacra. Kitsch is similar. You see it in the art of Jeff Koons. He doesn't even try to be deep or meaningful. And yet, he sold the most expensive piece of art in history. Though I clicked on this video for Scruton's critique of modern art, this quote about originality is what'll stuck with me: “Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium, and most of all, the refined sensibility and openness to experience that have suffering and solitude as their normal cost.”
Photography by Noah Dillon
“Beauty was a curse”
It culminated in my cutting my face with a razor blade in a fit of cocaine psychosis. I developed a violent hatred of my appearance, of my face, of beauty itself. Didn’t it get me into all this trouble in the first place? Beauty was a curse. It stood between me and who I was.
From Faithfull: An Autobiography by Marianne Faithfull
Thinking of someone? Forward this.