Our Faculty, Elsewhere on the Web #2

Our faculty are hard at work not only for the Brooklyn Institute but also in other venues. Please check out some of their recent work around the web:

Christine Smallwood, Return to the Meadowlands at Triple Canopy

“Bryan Zanisnik’s photo essay “Beyond Passaic documents the author’s illegal wanderings in New Jersey’s heavily polluted and largely neglected Meadowlands. Inspired by Robert Smithson, himself famously inspired by the region, Zanisnik walks abandoned train tracks, finds discarded objects, and discovers a hobo encampment under a bridge. While Smithson was drawn to “geology and rock quarries, monumental vacancies and ruins in reverse,” Zanisnik is interested in the legal ambiguity of the space, its toxicity, and the people living on its waste. For Zanisnik, the worst fate that could befall the Meadowlands—worse than its destruction by corporate behemoths, and worse than its reclamation as a mall named the American Dream—is to be put on a map.

Abstraction is death. Zanisnik’s photographs of underpasses, oil drums, and mossy rocks evoke a feeling that no squiggly lines could capture—certainly not the map that hit the Internet a couple weeks ago, in which cartographer-hobbyist Joe Steinfeld renamed New Jersey counties with tags like “The Hill People,” “Old People and Asians,” and “Ghetto in the Woods.” I think he’s got the Meadowlands buried in the “Vast Wilderness of Rednecks and Retired Hippies” and “Friendly White Families,” but it’s hard to tell. A little bit may trickle into “Poor Minorities.””

Ajay Singh Chaudhary and Abby Kluchin, “Neal Stephenson and the Impossible Desire for the Secular” at Rethinking Religion

“In his 1960 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller wrote of the “Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz,” a monastic order whose members—quite literally—religiously copy the texts of the scientists of a pre-apocalyptic age. While maintaining the practices and beliefs of Catholic monks, they painstakingly recreate electronic schematics, hydraulic plans, and pages of fragmented statistical research findings and journal articles, each new version copied by hand, gilded, margins adorned with smiling cherubim and mythical creatures. They didn’t have the slightest idea what any of it meant. They did not know what this “science” was—just that it was practiced by “saints” of old and had allowed them to work great wonders. This point is driven home when Brother Francis, one of the heroes of the piece, is lucky enough to find and copy a sheath of notes of the Blessed Saint Leibowitz himself. In the sheath, alongside that most holy of discoveries, a blueprint, is a curious note from the Blessed Saint that reads: “Pound pastramican kraut, six bagels—bring home for Emma. In complete ignorance of the meaning of this message, not to mention their Blessed Saint’s Yiddishkeit, this too is copied, illuminated and, preserved.

Miller’s novel may seem an odd excursus from Neal Stephenson’s public conversation with Alfred E. Guy Jr., but it was a reference point to which we continually returned in our discussion of Stephenson’s remarks, as we waited for the subway at 116th Street. For a recurring theme of the discussion was the attempt to sequester “religion” from “religious practices,” and to separate “religion,” “literature,” and “technology” into discrete categories. And yet this neatness, this orderliness, kept collapsing…”

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