kottke.org posts about Adam Gopnik

The A train: the Amazon of New York CitySep 10 2012

In a photo slideshow with jazz accompaniment, narrator Adam Gopnik takes us on a short tour of NYC's A train, which runs from the top of Manhattan all the way out to the beaches of Rockaway.

From Harlem and upper Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and the Atlantic Ocean - New York city's A Line subway route covers over 30 miles, takes two hours to ride from end to end, and is the inspiration for one of jazz's best known tunes.

Here -- with archive images and vibrant present-day photographs from Melanie Burford -- New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik takes a ride on one of today's A trains, and explores the communities living along the route.

(via @davehopton)

The Bible's book of Revelation explainedJun 26 2012

Adam Gopnik reviews Elaine Pagels' book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, for the New Yorker. Like much of the Bible, Revelation is largely a reaction to what was happening in that part of the world at the time.

Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It's essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the "Left Behind" books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. "When John says that 'the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's and its mouth was like a lion's mouth,' he revises Daniel's vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all," Pagels writes. "When he says that the beast's seven heads are 'seven kings,' John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time." As for the creepy 666, the "number of the beast," the original text adds, helpfully, "Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person." This almost certainly refers-by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system-to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John's vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.

You'll have to read through the article to discover what early Christianity has to do with this ad for Prada perfume directed by Ridley Scott and starring Daria Werbowy:

The 40-year cycle of pop cultural nostalgiaApr 16 2012

In the new issue of the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik talks about pop culture's 40-year cycle of nostalgia.

So it seems time to pronounce a rule about American popular culture: the Golden Forty-Year Rule. The prime site of nostalgia is always whatever happened, or is thought to have happened, in the decade between forty and fifty years past. (And the particular force of nostalgia, one should bear in mind, is not simply that it is a good setting for a story but that it is a good setting for you.)

If you combine this with Kurt Andersen's recent piece about the slowing rate of change of pop culture, perhaps there's another lesson here other than Gopnik's assertion that we'll be nostalgic for the Obama age 40 years from now. Maybe we've reached Peak Nostalgia and in an effort to find more and more nostalgia for an ever-increasing audience, culturemakers are mining more from those eras outside of the appointed 40-year era and as a result, pop culture is feeling more timeless, echoing all eras, until it becomes a culture that can't draw upon anything but itself.

And if not, I'm looking forward to the return of 70s-style moviemaking in the coming decade.

Searching for JesusJun 04 2010

From a recent issue of the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik surveys a recent selection of books about who Jesus was.

The American scholar Bart Ehrman has been explaining the scholars' truths for more than a decade now, in a series of sincere, quiet, and successful books. Ehrman is one of those best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins and Robert Ludlum and Peter Mayle, who write the same book over and over -- but the basic template is so good that the new version is always worth reading. In his latest installment, "Jesus, Interrupted", Ehrman once again shares with his readers the not entirely good news he found a quarter century ago when, after a fundamentalist youth, he went to graduate school: that all the Gospels were written decades after Jesus' death; that all were written in Greek, which Jesus and the apostles didn't speak and couldn't write (if they could read and write at all); and that they were written as testaments of faith, not chronicles of biography, shaped to fit a prophecy rather than report a profile.

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