The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

Who'd invent a job like that?

My first impulse was to post these things separately—so I decided to combine them instead. I’m pretty sure they are quite unrelated, but perhaps the illusion of connection will make some interesting things happen in your brain.

Here goes:


The writer David Markson died. Sarah Weinman has a terrific post about him, as well as pointers to other terrific posts. She says:

In a way, David Markson needed the Internet, or more accurately, vice versa, to find his rightful place in the literary world. Quotation approprations, short declarative sentences, quick bursts with acres of thought, meditation on artists and writers at work, and a tremendous study of consciousness marked Markson’s output since WITTGENSTEIN’S MISTRESS (1988) opened with the phrase “In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.” And as our collective attention spans decreased and dovetailed from mass-market pursuits, there was Markson to clue us in to something greater, more amorphous perhaps, but something that pinged the outer reaches of what he termed “seminonfictional semi-fictions.”

I mean: exactly, right? I’d love to know if Markson used the web much, and/or what he thought of it. Because Sarah is right: his books read like refractions of everything we’re worried (and excited) about right now, right here, on these screens.

Now: if “artists and writers at work” is a subject that appeals to you, I want to specifically recommend The Last Novel. It’s short. It’s declarative and bursty, as Sarah says. It feels good in the hand. It’s one of the few books in the universe I’ve read more than twice. And I think it should be required reading for writers, designers, and makers of all stripes.

I have a secret agenda, of course: I want David Markson’s books to last a thousand years. In order for that to happen, Team Markson needs to grow. You need to fall in love with one of his books, too, and pass it on.


Maybe I’ve said this before in some other post, but let me say it now, on its own and clearly: my single favorite characteristic of the iPhone and the iPad alike is the full bleed.

I mean, finally: no more windows! Death to the desktop! Goodbye to all that—on the iPad and the iPhone (and, to be fair, on game consoles and some other things, too) every experience gets the entire screen, edge to edge. This is a big deal. The difference between this picture…


…and this picture…


…is not ten or twenty percent. It’s everything. It’s the difference between being on your computer, watching a video—and being in Mr. Fox’s den.

There’s an analogy to that argument from Chris Anderson: the difference between one cent and free is not one cent. It’s an order of magnitude, a step function. It’s everything.

Full bleed means you can dim the lights. Full bleed means you get to set the rules. Full bleed means you get my full attention (and not just for video, either). Full bleed short-circuits the cruel clicky calculus of the web. Thank goodness.


A little while ago, on a lark, I watched Three Days of the Condor on Netflix. (By the way, have you seen this deck on Netflix’s present and future? It’s basically all about people streaming Three Days of the Condor, and movies like it, on a lark.)

If you haven’t seen it: it’s a muted spy thriller from 1975. Robert Redford plays a CIA employee—well, here’s how he explains it:

Listen. I work for the CIA. I’m not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world, and we—we feed the plots—dirty tricks, codes into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. I—I can—who’d invent a job like that? I—listen! People are trying to kill me!

I mean: exactly, right?


There are no explosions, and only a few bullets. There’s some great whirring-clanking computer analysis, and some even better phone-system hacking.

The movie reminded me—no surprise—of All the President’s Men, which is one of my all-time favorites. So here’s what I want to know:

  • Is this genre of muted mid-70s suspense movie (optionally starring Robert Redford) a recognized thing? Does it have a name and/or a key director?
  • What haven’t I seen? (Hint: I’ve only seen the two I just mentioned.)
  • And here’s the really urgent question: why don’t they make these anymore? I like them so much, and it’d be so do-able. Talk about low-budget; they’re basically set in offices. You could shoot one on a Canon 5D Mark II. All the nerds would watch it.


Really. The Last Novel.


Thanks for the recommendation Robin; I’m on it.

Incidentally, I found this in a review of Wittgenstein’s Mistress:

A series of irreverent meditations on everything and everybody from Brahms to sex to Heidegger to Helen of Troy.

… which struck me as an amusingly narrow set of examples to encompass “everything and everybody”…

(I actually couldn’t get through Wittgenstein’s Mistress. I think Last Novel is 100X better.)

Kyle H says…

That genre would be generally known as the “paranoid thriller” or the “conspiracy thriller”, needless to say a genre that was known well before the 70s but was essentially fueled by the rise of the CIA/Watergate/Nixon’s tapes and the general surveillance state.

They basically just took the film noir genre and made the bad guys the government instead of the mob.

They still make these movies today (Enemy of the State) but now we’ve moved to the international thriller. Maybe one day we’ll have the extraterrestrial political thriller?

Some recommended movies:

The Manchurian Candidate (the grandaddy of the conspiracy thriller)
The Parallax View
The Conversation
Marathon Man
The Domino Principle
Executive Action
I For Icarus
Capricorn One

Saheli says…

Ah yes, I was going to chime in with the Parrallax View & The Conversation as must watches. I’m not sure why we stopped listening to them; the issues definitely didn’t go away.

I was also going to mention The Conversation, which actually seems quite appropriate for our modern over-analyzing society (though it perhaps bears most resemblance to the 60s movie Blowup.

Thanks for the list, Kyle. I haven’t seen most of those, and am going to add them to my ever-growing Netflix queue. 🙂

Kyle H says…

Coming in way late to reply to my own post:

Has anyone checked out the sneak preview AMC is running of their new show Rubicon? It’s basically set in Robert Redford’s Three Days of the Condor workplace.

The setting is deliberately vague, but apparently they look through both traditional intelligence (bank statements, satellite photos of missle sites, etc) and regular media for cyphers and other communication. And additionally they are kind of a New World Order-style “conspiracy generation” firm.

Anyway, seems really up your alley if you liked the initial premise of Three Days of the Condor.

Ooh. Hadn’t seen. Will check out. Thanks for the tip!

I don’t know if it has a name … a branch of cinema of paranoia? … but a few more good examples might be Coppola’s amazing “The Conversation” (1974), and “The Parallax View” (also ’74, and from the same production team that made “President’s Men”). It would be interesting to pin down what makes these movies such a distinctive genre to themselves: uniformly quiet, with a very distinctive look and feel, and where the danger (aside from violence) is that you can’t be sure that what you’re inferring from the data is really there. Cinema of pareidolia. Maybe? (Somehow this feels connected with “Medium Cool,” all the observation of daily life for signs of a larger event, and the voice that shouts “Look out, Haskell, it’s real!”)

Matthew Battles says…

We did a post on HiLobrow about Three Days of the Condor recently; the hacking in the movie is especially sweet.

I think a story like Condor could be told brilliantly as a webcam movie. Maybe take the MeFi human trafficking thread as inspiration/mashup source?

Andrew says…

Have you seen “The Conversation” with Gene Hackman? Also in the muted-thriller genre. Lots of stuff like this, I guess. “Blow Up” if you expand the definition just a bit, maybe “The French Connection.”

Tim says…

I @-messaged Robin on Twitter suggesting “The Conversation.” I kept “Blow-Up” in my pocket, although I think the success and critical/creative influence of that film is a big reason you saw a lot of these movies in the early-to-mid 70s.

Tim says…

Ooh! And this reminds me of my favorite idea for a new kind of spy movie. I saw the first of the Daniel Craig Bond films (can’t remember the title, it’s like the third remake of Thunderball). Bond’s chasing some international arms dealer who’s got ties to a couple dozen terrorist groups and dictatorships. But nobody knows anything about him or who he is. Meanwhile, Bond’s all dressed in tuxedos, blowing up hotels, living like a pimp.

I remember thinking, “crap, in real life, the arms dealer would be the spy.” But Bond’s a great character, because he’s so fearless and audacious. So what if you had a movie where the Bond character was someone who robbed and fought terrorists, governments, but he was the criminal? Like if you crossed Jason Bourne with Omar from The Wire? Wouldn’t that be bad-ass?

I feel like a) the solution to everything is “cross X with Omar from The Wire,” and b) I need to finally watch The Wire.

Saheli says…

Ha, everyone brought up The Conversation. Snark movie night?

Post script to that–Sneakers is sort of the Happy 80s end of that series; the hackers fix everything, freedom is preserved. The end of Cryptonomicon is similarly positive. Was that an illusion we let ourselves buy into?

I feel like the conspiracy thriller has been too played out to be used straight in mainstream Hollywood (which may be why it’s ripe for re-discovery), but its successors frequently take a position resembling “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity” — i.e., we no longer worry that the government is out to get us, because we realize how rare it is for the government to actually have something approaching reliable knowledge and control. Exhibit A: The Informant!, which starts off like a fairly serious thriller but gradually becomes more convoluted and preposterous.

On the subject of full bleed: we’re seeing that experience work its way into the desktop as well, and I agree that it’s tremendously valuable. I rarely watch video for more than a few minutes without going into full-screen mode, and the same goes for word processing. Email, research, and cross-referencing bricolage, though — for these tasks you need a workspace, somewhere you can keep ticklers out and accessible. Did you — could you — compose this blog post on an iPad?

Haha great point with The Informant!. It’s the anti-Bourne. 🙂

Yes! You’re right, I think The Informant is absolutely a modern heir to these movies (with a twist). Good call.

Tim Carmody says…

Colin Dickey on Twitter reminded me of another movie that isn’t a spy movie, but has a similar feel to these smart, understated 70s thrillers — Zodiac, which I marvel at more and more as time goes by.

Whoever has rights to “This Is Not A Novel” and “Reader’s Block” most certainly should turn them into some kind of Shit David Markson Says on Twitter. He is the master of narrative in limited bites, and these are the masterpieces.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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