• From the Editors
    • November 7, 2012
    West 86th Reviewed in the TLS

    West 86th was reviewed in this week’s Times Literary Supplement. Among the highlights of the review:


    “Articles are meticulously referenced and supported by photographs and graphics. The result is both stylish and comprehensive. Of interest both to the expert and the amateur enthusiast, West 86th is a splendid addition to scholarship on material culture in all its facets.”


    The article is in the Nov. 2nd print issue of the TLS and resides behind a paywall on line (http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/reviews/other_categories/article1157912.ece)

    • From the Editors
    • October 9, 2012
    The Material Record

    What good is an archive anyway? An Oxford college principal’s to decision to destroy the physical admissions records from its early years causes consteration. From the TLS blog.

    • From the Editors
    • October 8, 2012
    “A monument more lasting than bronze…”?

    James Davidson reviews the Bronze exhibition, on display at the Royal Academy until December 9th, an extradorinary display of objects spanning nearly 6000 years. From the LRB.


    • From the Editors
    • June 8, 2012
    The Mysterious Origins of California Design

    The old narrative that California Modern is the technological expression of European Modernism adapted to a sunny paradise on earth may never have been quite right. But what is it then? Where did it come from? Alan Hess explores in his LARB review.

    • From the Editors
    • March 29, 2012
    Towards a Materialization of Consciousness?

    Or towards a materialization of the soul? Can everything be reduced to mere neuroscience? Of course not, but an article by Roger Scruton in the Spectator argues against neuroaesthetics as a legitimate discipline, while neuroscientists such as Semir Zeki and Eric Kandel, whose work is featured in an article by Alexander Kafka in the Chronicle Review, show that the humanities ignore recent discoveries at their own peril.


    From Roger Scruton in the Spectator:


    When it comes to the subtle features of the human condition, to the byways of culpability and the secrets of happiness and grief, we need guidance and study if we are to interpret things correctly. That is what the humanities provide, and that is why, when scholars who purport to practise them, add the prefix ‘neuro’ to their studies, we should expect their researches to be nonsense.


    From Alexander Kafka’s article in the Chronicle Review:


    Of neuroaesthetics, Zeki says, “I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t explode in the next 10 to 15 years.” He expects [Kandel’s] The Age of Insight to be embraced by neurobiologists and the general public, but says it will be a further “irritation to people hostile to the idea” that cognition can be traced to specific neural correlates.


    Zeki’s message to art historians, aesthetic philosophers, and others who chafe at that idea is twofold. The more diplomatic pitch is that neuroaesthetics is different, complementary, and not oppositional to other forms of arts scholarship. But “the stick,” as he puts it, is that if arts scholars “want to be taken seriously” by neurobiologists, they need to take advantage of the discoveries of the past half-century. If they don’t, he says, “it’s a bit like the guys who said to Galileo that we’d rather not look through your telescope.”


    • From the Editors
    • by Jeffrey Schnapp
    • September 15, 2011
    Serial Quickening

    Spinners is the first installment of Quickening (An Anthropology of Speed) that Jeffrey Schnapp—our newest Contributing Editor—will be publishing in West 86th in serialized form. From the Forward:


    Human existence is defined by a set of “natural” paces and cycles: paces of walking, talking, breathing, and sensory perception, and cycles of wakefulness and sleep, activity and inactivity. Enabled and constrained by the capabilities of the human body, these spatiotemporal, perceptual, and communicational rhythms are embedded, in turn, within those of the natural world: day and night, seasonal flux, growth and decay, birth and death. When the relationship between the two is altered, the human as a category is pressed outward toward its boundaries: those with other orders of creatures, with more than “natural” forms of being and bodily expression, and with alternate modes of cognition, consciousness, or intellection. These boundary lines are themselves movable markers whose location shifts as a function of the everyday rhythms that characterize a given culture, conditioned by social conventions and technological possibilities. When mail coaches, trains, and automobiles first arose, their impact was traumatic and ecstatic; decades later, their velocities had been naturalized and normalized, absorbed within everyday routines. Speed, in turn, sought a home elsewhere: at the speedway, in the sky, between the planets, beyond the solar system, in atomic particles.


    Quickening will take us through the impact of motion on our senses and examine the material manifestations of speed that have altered our thought and history. In Spinners, we begin our journey with the wheel.

    • From the Editors
    • September 12, 2011
    Comparative Bureaucracy

    “The computer is lifeless, but there’s a sheer joy in manual typing,” From the LA Times: the death of the typewritten word is at hand—even in India.

    • From the Editors
    • August 26, 2011
    Literary Matters

    Literary theory has long been targeted as overly politicized and irrelevant. But the study of literature has given insights into human history and into the human condition at least as profound as anything claiming to be solely based in fact. “Knowing the past means knowing what people carried in their pockets, what they did with their sewage, where their dogs slept,” says Scott Herring in the Chronicle Review. Could grounding the study of literature in objects offer a lifeline to a tired discipline, divorced (at least in public opinion) from reality or from anything that matters?

    • From the Editors
    • June 8, 2011
    The Elephant in the Room

    “There will be no records or CDs on the shelves of the future, few if any books,” writes Sven Birkerts. “Everything will live in bits, in files — and how can this not modify the general atmosphere? We are removing the physical markers of culture from our collective midst. For a record store was not just a place to get records, as a bookstore was not only for finding the needed read. These were sites where the love of music and literature announced themselves across a spectrum of tastes. And though they were commercial entities, these emporia also symbolized the presence, the value, of their product to the community.” Read more.


    Does the dematerialization of the arts—of books, music, movies and the stores and spaces they once occupied—signify something darker? The end of a deeper and more primal tie to material things in general? Did these everyday objects (soon-to-be artifacts) of our existence tie us into nature and does our newfound existence in the cloud presage an even greater age of alienation?

    • From the Editors
    • May 4, 2011
    Books Not Dead or Dead as Always

    All this talk of the Death of the Book is nothing new, expounds Ben Ehrenreich in the Los Angeles Review of Books (which, for what it’s worth, exists only online). “The Book is a mountain,” writes Ehrenreich, “a goatskin, a forest, a slab of clay, a knotted string, a blinking screen, a reed, a flock of finches. It is a chorus line of electrons. Don’t freak out . . . ” To what extent is the Book or the Idea of the Book bound up in materiality? And is it finally time for the newest age of biblionecrophilia to come to an end?


    • From the Editors
    • by Daniel Lee
    • February 1, 2011
    No Narrow Manifesto

    Today marks the launch of West 86th Online, the digital supplement to West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, published by the University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. We’d like to welcome you and give you a taste of what our journal has to offer. As Paul Stirton, our Editor-in-Chief, mentions in his introductory comments in the first pages of the first issue of our new journal (Vol. 18 No. 1, due out later this month), “West 86th aims to bring interested scholars together. There is no narrow manifesto, and no methodological axe to grind.” Words to live by, whether in print or online.


    This site runs parellel to both our print journal and the digital version of the journal available to subscribers through JSTOR. Some things you ought to know about it: first, it is entirely free; second, its contents are unbound and may range further afield than what we allow into typesetting, printing, and binding; third, some of what appears here first—like Tony Cutler’s authoritative article Carving, Recarving, and Forgery: Working Ivory in the Tenth and Twentieth Centuries, and Ben Kafka’s lovely piece on the value and meaning Roland Barthes placed in what most would regard as the humdrum of everyday administrative work—will appear in forthcoming print issues; and fourth, there is always room for improvement.


    To quote Paul again (something I have grown rather fond of since I began working with him), “It may seem reckless to be launching a print journal in 2011.” In part, that is why this site exists—to stave off recklessness. But it is here in the digital arena where we also hope to make some of our biggest discoveries and experience some of our highest moments (along with the inevitable lows of formatting for the web, sorting through frivolous and sometimes sordid comments, and competing for a domain name with a barely active neighborhood association in Indiana). Along with publishing selected articles and reviews from our print publication, we also want to break new ground by publishing first online and allowing authors and scholars to experiment with new forms, new lengths, and new modes of communication. We’d like our articles to begin conversations that can continue on this site and spin off in directions that may lead to new articles that will begin new cycles of publishing and conversation. The more participation we get, obviously the healthier this site will be and the more incentive we’ll have to publish more content online.


    So to get the ball rolling, please let us know what you think. Feel free to take issue with us, our authors, and our reviewers.


    Daniel Lee
    Managing Editor


© 2020 Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture
West 86th is a publication of the Bard Graduate Center and the University of Chicago Press