Originally published in 1934 and out of print for decades, this book by the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author is a huge, skaldic treat filled with satire, humor, pathos, cold weather and sheep. Gudbjartur Jonsson becomes Bjartur of Summerhouses when, after 18 years of service to the Bailiff of Myri, he is able to buy his own croft.
It was described to me as social realism as it follows the harsh reality agrarian Iceland, debt bondage, and the things that are lost in the quest to be free of obligation to anyone. Set across multiple vignettes of Iceland’s history it trace’s the family’s arc from servitude to owners of a sheep farm during World War 1.
It’s a sad story. The protagonist experiences loss after loss in pursuit of his independence. The dream of being indebted to no man comes up against the hypocritical fantasies of the upper classes and their own views of what constitutes a free life.
I am by no means living the kind of homesteading life of the rural agrarian Icelandic people. But the tragic losses that come as part of seeking to be less reliant on systems that enrich others (the church and local landed gentry feature) resonates. It is not easy to be independent people.
I was doing some fall shopping today. I’ve got upcoming trips for work in the next two months for which I am excited to dress.
In my past life I worked in fashion. While I mostly worked with luxury brands, I did a stint in-house at one of the heritage American sportswear brands Ann Taylor.
American Sportswear or the American Look doesn’t refer to athletic or athleisure wear. Rather it’s specific historical movement in which American fashion designers freed themselves from British and Parisian norms of Saville Row custom suiting and haute couture
Sportswear is an American fashion term originally used to describe separates, but which since the 1930s demonstrates a specific relaxed approach to design, while remaining appropriate for a wide range of social occasions. The American Look included garments whose modesty, comparative simplicity, and wearability treated fashion as a “pragmatic art” which was lived in.
Sportswear was designed to be easy to look after and an expression of various aspects of American culture, including health ideals, democracy, comfort and function, and innovative design.
You probably think isn’t this just how clothing is made? Not until the Americans democratized fashion. Easy to wear and simple to look after separates (as opposed to matched suits & evening gowns) which could be mixed and matched into many outfits was it’s hallmark. It includes items like dresses designed to be easy to put on and wear in many social situations
American Sportswear was a unique style born out of burgeoning middle class wealth and a desire for more active independent lifestyles that included leisure time, a concept previously reserved for the upper classes. No ladies maids or butlers are required for a Claire McCardell popover dress.
Ann Taylor become a dominant best selling brand in the American Sportswear style beginning in 1954 and rose to prominence in the 70s and 80s. Unlike other designer who went for a slightly pricier market like Donna Karen, Calvin Klein, or Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor stayed true to the history of The American look by serving the aspiring middle class throughout.
It began by offering tailored dresses in its first store in New Haven. It’s name comes from the Ann dress which was its best seller. It eventually grew to become the choice for women balancing office jobs and home life.
When I worked there in house, Ann prided itself on quality fabrics in quality cuts. You could get fully lined wool suit jackets and silk blouses for under $250. A leather kitten heel could be had for $150. Those prices now recall fast fashion brands likes Zara and certainly wouldn’t involve cashmere or Italian leather.
But the great bifurcation of American classes had already begun. In 2010 when I was there a dwindling vestige of working girls and upward mobility demanded versatile clothing that still put quality fabric, pattern work, and cuts at the forefront.
There was demand for looking professional and not simply just being “trendy” as there were still professional women & financially secure housewives looking for polish over flash and seasonal novelty. Instagram was only just stirring and yes I was the one who put the brand on Facebook, Instagram and blogs.
I left for greener pastures. The pioneering brand president dedicated to revitalizing the brand was fired . Eventually Ann Taylor was bought by a private equity firm which just a few years later went bankrupt. The middle market of middle class women was dwindling. And hollowing out the margins for PE didn’t help much.
Now if you are looking for clothing in that price point of $150-$350 you will struggle. A suit jacket from other middle market brands like Theory now $850 for something with poor fit and no lining. You can pull off something that looks like a suit jacket from a fast fashion retailer but if you want natural fabrics like cotton, silk or cashmere the chances are good you have to trade up into the luxury market.
Fashion has bifurcated in the social media fast fashion age. And what constitutes a luxury brand isn’t particularly luxurious in its fabrics or patterns. Just it’s price points. You can go cheap or you can go for pricey but the struggle to find something that is actually a decent garment meant to last has become much worse.
I’d tell you where I did my shopping but I’m afraid the brand might not be long for this world just like Ann Taylor. It’s eponymous designer is in her seventies. And she prefers a technical fabric to a natural fabric so has been able to maintains her price points. If you DM in private I’ll tell you. If I needed a decent suit jacket I don’t think I could find one at a middle class price point anymore. The bifurcation is here with us to stay.
Greetings, citizens We are living In the age In which the pursuit of all values Other than Money success fame glamour Has either been discredited Or destroyed Money success fame glamour For we are living in the age of the thing
I wasn’t a club kid in the Iraq War era. I had not yet rebelled. Like all class jumpers I was safely ensconced at a private university where I studied great books. I was however a club kid in the era of indie sleeze which arrived at an even more bleak sociopolitical nadir.
The Global Financial Crisis imploded expectations for how middle class millennials might pay off loans for expensive educations while we redeployed our working class to Afghanistan. But we’d elected Obama so like our politics were a little weird. Yes, we can’t? It’s was a dissonant age.
The remnant aesthetics from that era are somewhat shameful (as is all true youth culture) and yet here we are repeating them as the twenty year cycles of cultural remixing arrive to demand their due from my youth. 2003 is reappearing in 2023.
Logan Paul cannot marry a slut just as Britney Spears should never have given it up to Justin Timberlake. Elite social mores are not for the Bourgeoisie to emulate.
I encourage you to revisit an artifact from the 2003 called Party Monster to explore this aesthetics original form. It stars Chloe Sevigny, Seth Green (remember him) and McCauley Caulkin. The music video for the big hit from the soundtrack is titled “Money, Success, Fame, Glamour”. I quoted it at the top.
With lyrics that rooted so deeply in modernist materialism I’m tempted to yell “Eat your heart out Walter Benjamin!” The Marxist continental philosopher was a sexy club kid. Consider the engraving on tombstone in Portugal where he died fleeing the Nazis.
There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism
Theses on the Philosophy of History
Benjamin was a great historian of German romanticism and it’s impact on fascist political aestheticism. So consider that history and ponder it’s relationship to the 2003 era counter cultural artifact.
The “Money, Success, Fame, Glamour” lyrics are materialism distilled and reflective of the nihilism of the Bush era. Forever wars and inflationary spending on empire was harder to smooth over with propaganda as the internet fought back. But in the aughts we still hadn’t quite realized we’d never be rid of our elites after the shocks of reactionary terrorism.
Maybe in our twenties we thought eventually we might take over and do things differently. I’m turning forty this year, and well, Joe Biden is president.
The most you can hope for now is that some millennial will turn your influencer work into a Netflix comedy in which you show off your cultural savvy by going to a queer club party themed 2003 in Bushwick. No the Kim Cattrall vehicle Glamorous is not very good.
So I’m browsing through Airbnb trying to see what could be a home base for me. I’m always looking for spaces that are livable. Function is more important than form.
I focus on kitchens, bathrooms and living areas that are built for comfort. Alas, this is actually a fair amount of labor as much of Airbnb is optimized for what can most kindly be referred to as an InstaHo aesthetic.
Now I’m not saying that this Apartment Therapy circa 2015 look isn’t easy on the eyes. It’s pleasant and bright. I’m sure if I had colorful outfits I photographed daily and sold some personal brand based how cute I am this would be my first choice for an Airbnb. Alas I’m a professional not an influencer.
I’m sure the algorithms reward being as aesthetically pleasing to as wide a range of people as possible. I was once an Airbnb super host myself so I’ve taken my fair share of over saturated photos. But can’t we just get a couch that is comfortable to sit on while you work?
Does no one else but me require a little spinal support? Is being cozy just too hard to photograph well? Why is everyone stuck with some hideous globalization chic when it’s not even that comfortable or functional?
If anyone has an apartment in Tallin or Prague do please let me know. I am actively looking for a spot.
One of the matriarchs in my life died this morning. I am devastated. Because, of course, you are devastated when you lose someone you love. To not know the pain of mortality is to not know your own humanity.
We spend so much of our lives in the art and literature of the human condition that we can sometimes forget we are actually living it out right now every single day.
Your own life is just as rich a tapestry of meaning anything Dostoyevsky ever wrote. Losing someone close to you who really lived their life occasionally gives you sparkling moments of crystalline clarity on what matters.
All of living is struggle. We find the boundaries of the world through trial and error. We find each other as we negotiate the rhythms of each other’s lives.
The old cunt had the balls to die on the summer solstice. She was extremely Swedish so on aesthetics grounds I feel happy about her moment of passing. Midsummer. What a witchy thing to do. I love it for her even as I am weeping.
The last thing she said to me was so poetic it almost makes me angry. She told me that she had repeated herself a lot across the years. I said I knew and I appreciated that she’d helped me learn the tunes by repeating the songs with me even as I stumbled to commit things to memory.
Her response? Now that you have sung the melody with me, you can sing it on your own. Which is a very beautiful good bye worthy of anything I’ve ever read in a book or seen on screen.
But also the fucking temerity of that woman to deliver folkloric wisdom on the way out. Our elders know a thing or two.
The singer lasts a season long, While the song, it lasts forever
Unknown (to me at least) folk song
May your solstice be as bright and true as mine. I will be trying to carry this tune on my own and if you like I’ll try to teach you to sing along with me. May we have a chorus of love songs on our longest day in the sun.
I have led a complicated life. I didn’t really know as a child that being raised by syncretic vaguely nomadic hippies looking for utopias wasn’t really all that relatable. Aside from the general revivalism ethos of America, most folks tend to ride middle of the herd.
There I was not realizing I had a nose for powerful evangelism. I missed that boarding schools and colleges were meant to put you in a certain place in society. Then I didn’t know that spending time inside cultural institutions like fashion was an aspiration. I didn’t really clock that startups, or venture capital, or fucking around online would be a nexus of power either. I just thought all those places looked cool so I showed up.
Maybe I was simple. Maybe I just flowed like water towards the chaos before it became the big show for everyone. I am someone who understands the Thursday Styles problem of timing and I like to get there a little bit ahead of time. Get good seats and sell picks and shovels. From there it’s just a matter of having the stomach for the ride.
But knowing where the boundaries on consensus are is what keeps you from being swept up in the madness, as a movement meant for small mysteries and initiates suddenly sees the harsh glare of vox populi.
And so I am called to remember it is a gift to be simple. It’s a Shaker tune if you recall. Speaking of religious revivalism. The internet’s second brain tells me they were a millenarianrestorationistChristiansect with a dualist view of God and equality between the sexes. Quakers and Shakers clearly impressed American’s hippies with this catchy tune. I know I learned it by heart as a child’s.
Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where I ought to be; And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed; to turn, turn, will be my delight. Till by turning, turning we come round right.
Maybe you also live a complicated life. Or maybe you are working to simplify your life. Whatever you do remember you can have more agency than you think. I’m sending you that message from the valley of love and delight that is Gallatin Valley.
As you may have seen in past posts, I am a fan of reality television. I believe it shows us a lot about popular culture and the human dramas that resonate this us.
There is something about being let into someone else’s life that is perhaps too titillating to resist. If you watch you will begin to empathize. And as we are social animals we will want to engage. We project some of our own things onto other lives that we see only dimly through the filters of editing and Instagram accounts.
I’ve been watching Love is Blind with a group chat. To say that the messages are spicy is an understatement. We are all engaged in the high human drama of dealing with your bullshit, finding a life with someone, and seeing your boundaries with a partner. Basically it’s trauma porn. You are seeing people’s open emotional wounds. But it’s also edited to make you feel that way. And we want to look because we might learn something about ourselves.
So the last weeks I’ve spent a bunch of time having opinions about Kwame and Chelsea and Micah and Paul. I care about what happens. And not just because someone’s mom is a stripper. It’s no wonder I’ve developed a parasocial relationship with television characters.
I’ve started to care about them because I see myself in them. But it’s messier and weirder so it’s safer. Surely we are better. And yet we see ourselves in them. It’s empathizing with humanity. And quite honestly I think more of you should watch these shows. It’s good to recognize the breadth of human love as revealed in all trashy glory that is reality dating shows. Honestly it’s fucking art.
Here is a mindfuck for you. Pretending works. The mimicry of the thing occasionally, though not mostly, can lead to having the real thing. Fake it till you make it” works if you’ve got a long enough runway to allow for take off. If you’ve judged the resources correctly is more art than science but you should still be able to do the math.
In discussing whether it is better to fire founders or product managers on Twitter today I got to see a lot of the cargo cult culture of Silicon Valley coming off a high. A lot of people can perform innovation and we’ve maybe even got it down to being well liked by financial markets. But sometimes you actually do have to go and do the thing. And you can’t fake it.
If you aren’t familiar with kayfabe, it’s a term used in wrestling. It means you don’t break character loosely. You keep the secret even if everyone is in on it. You can take things a bit too far and the blending of fiction and reality has now given us a reality tv president.
But what happens when you don’t make the jump? Does reality crash in? Will the market punish you for not delivering on a convincing enough value proposition? Do you have to keep your ambition within some scope that can exist in our agreed upon reality? Yes of course. Fuck you it’s called civilization. But every once in a while someone goes from vapor ware to the Revolution. Don’t be so sure you can spot the difference though. Kayfabe doesn’t just fool rubes.
I’ve not had a lot of spare time for entertainment and recovery in what turned out to be a very busy month. This left me in a small quandary as Alex and I finished both a comedy and a hour long drama right before all hell broke loose.
My husband and I tend to always have a short form sitcom and a longer prestige piece in rotation depending on how tired we are at the end of the day. We’d run through all the comfort shows and couldn’t fathom testing a new something more serious.
I’m not entirely sure how but we decided to pick up two classic 90s era shows. For our comedy we picked That 70s Show and for our drama we picked the procedural NYPD Blue. Our expectations were that these would be easy to watch simple shows without much depth. And boy were we wrong.
I don’t recall watching a ton of television when I was a kid and I doubt I would have been allowed to watch gritty cop dramas. But the way folks kvetch about how network television sucks I went in expecting middle brow fare. Millennials have had both streaming and cable for so long we’ve come to expect tv that caters to our preferences tend to look down on anything made for the masses.
As it turns out, having to appeal to broad swaths of people actually has some advantages. Both shows are steeped in deep emotions and relatability. The writing is snappy and straight forward. The characters are multifaceted even as they work through their personas.
The fact that I’m relating to the struggles of a shitty racist balding drunkard detective and a pack of Wisconsin teenagers is probably a positive thing. Shared humanity is getting lost in consumer preferences and social identities.
We think unless we see ourselves on the screen we couldn’t possibly relate. And I’ll say I’ve appreciated more representation in entertainment as I often feel hopelessly un-relatable. A
nd yet I’m enjoying relating to humans that never even existed as portrayed by professional liars. So maybe there is something in that. The human experience is the thing, not that the experience must demonstrate it’s connection to your life.
I’m a big fan of Star Trek. I have attended conventions, worn a Captain’s uniform for Halloween, and most damning of all, saw the reboot sequel on a first date with my husband. I am a huge nerd and some credit is due to Star Trek.
Now I’m not saying I live in Montana because the aliens are coming, but I am fascinated by the role the Rocky Mountains play in alternative histories. It’s a particular nexus for science fiction. The future happens in the west and nothing is as canonically western as purple mountain majesty.
So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that as a doomer I am absolutely thrilled that Montana has now been the center of two ridiculous science fiction narratives recently. We had the Chinese weather balloon last week and Saturday night we had a full on unidentified flying object “alien” invasion over Montana.
Whatever it was ended up over Michigan, but for a brief glorious moment we got to consider whether Bozeman Montana would be the actual site of First Contact. But it’s not yet 2063 and I haven’t invented the warp drive so I’m not holding my breath.