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Posts tagged gestures and postures

a Jezebel post by SadieStein, 27 June 2008 :: first posted here 27 June 2008

Researchers at Northwestern have found that feeling powerless leads people to shell out for expensive status items to bolster their egos — explaining why those deep in debt continue to spend. “After recalling situations where they were powerless, participants were willing to pay more for items that signal status, like silk ties and fur coats, but not products like minivans and dryers. They also agreed to pay more for a framed picture of their university if it was portrayed as rare and exclusive.” Okay, can’t really comprehend a situation demeaning enough that we’d be willing to pay any amount of money for a framed picture of our alma mater but who hasn’t restored a flagging sense of self with a handsome necktie from time to time? [Science Daily]


Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.

On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.

The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people,” Petty said. “But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.”

"Everything is Everything: Alternate Version for Single Channel," by Koki Tanaka, 2007 :: via Coudal Partners

Smokers who crushed computer-simulated cigarettes as part of a psychosocial treatment program in a virtual reality environment had significantly reduced nicotine dependence and higher rates of tobacco abstinence than smokers participating in the same program who grasped a computer-simulated ball, according to a study described in the current issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior.

from "Dream and Delirium," Mark Harris's review of Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’, by Werner Herzog, New York Times Book Review, 29 July 2009 :: via 3quarksdaily

“Fitzcarraldo” — which Herzog did indeed finish — has endured long and well in the hearts not only of movie lovers but of connoisseurs of production disasters, partly because the film itself seems to mirror the story of its making. It’s a half masterpiece, half folly about a gesture both grand and grandiose — an attempt by a would-be impresario (Kinski) to build an opera house in the wilds of Peru, a venue he imagines might someday showcase Enrico Caruso. This desire necessitates the deployment of hundreds of Indians to haul an immense ship up a steep mountain ridge, a Sisy­phean metaphor that’s no less effective for being so explicit.

The movie and its making are both fables of daft aspiration, investigations of the blurry border between having a dream and losing one’s mind. So it’s no surprise that in some ways, the back story has lingered longer than the story.

from Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks, p.248 (1983 epilogue)

One patient, who was so eloquent on the subject of music, had a great difficulty in walking alone, but was always able to walk perfectly if someone walked with her. Her own comments on this are of very great interest: ‘When you walk with me,’ she said, ‘I feel in myself your own power of walking. I partake of the power and freedom you have. I share your walking powers, your perceptions, your feelings, your existence. Without even knowing it, you make me a great gift.’ This patient felt this experience as very similar to, if not identical with, her experiences with music: ‘I partake of other people, as I partake of music…’

by Nate Barksdale for Culture Making

University of Colorado psychologist Geoffrey Cohen has done a couple of studies showing an easy way to help black students perform better on standardized tests. Simply having them spend 15 minutes writing about a value they held dear (family, music, sports, politics, friends, art), either right before the exam or just several times a semester, led to a jump in test scores compared to peers (majority culture students did not experience a similar boost).

Meanwhile, a study from Radbound University Nijmegen showed that students playing a computerized word game performed better if they took a step backward before each round than if they took a step to the side or no step at all. The physicality of adding distance to widen one’s view apparently triggers a mental analogue.

:: via VSL:Science, 27 and 28 May 2009

Finally, a joint Canadian–American study suggests the ways that exposure to brands can elicit certain types of improved performance: “Participants primed with Apple logos behave more creatively than IBM-primed and controls; Disney-primed participants behave more honestly than E!-primed and controls.”

:: via The Annals of Improbable Research

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Truly, the coolest and jaw-droppingest thing that has happened to me this spring was getting these photos from Austin’s redoubtable David Taylor, who was hanging around SXSW last month (in his smooth, I-live-in-Austin-so-of-course-I-hang-out-at-SXSW way) when he ran across Justin Girdler, a local filmmaker and director based at Gateway Church.

At Austin’s Transforming Culture Symposium last year, I gave a talk about the importance of the arts and artists in the Christian community. I observed that artists are professionally committed to two perfectly unuseful and absolutely essential things: play and pain. Art is, in a deep sense, play—in the sense that musicians “play”—an exploration of the beauty, fruitfulness, and wonder of the world. Yet art also inevitably brings us into pain, confronting the mystery of our suffering and brokenness. In fact, I suggested, we need artists who are willing to do both at once, neither to play without pain (escapist entertainment) or inflict pain without play (which ends up as masochism and cynicism).

As readers of Culture Making know, you can never predict what new culture will be created in response to your own creativity. So here’s what Justin created . . . and somehow it’s appropriate that a tattoo embodies, so very literally, play and pain itself. May all authors live to see their words taken so seriously!

tattoo intertwining words play and pain

picture of Justin Girdler
Photos by David Taylor used by permission of the photographer and the tattoo-ee.

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.

—David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear :: via Cool Tools,

Museumgoers in front of Georgio de Chirico's "La Comedie et la Tragedie" (1926), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, AFP photo from "de Chirico in Paris: Über das Vertrauen, die Zeit anhalten zu können," by Werner Spies, FAZ.NET, 17 February 2009 :: thanks Ben!

When I am among evangelical Christians I find that they seem to be more avidly consuming the latest offerings of commercial culture, whether Pirates of the Caribbean or The Simpsons or The Sopranos, than many of my non-Christian neighbors. They are content to be just like their fellow Americans, or just perhaps, driven by a lingering sense of shame at their uncool forebears, just slightly more like their fellow Americans than everyone else.

Culture Making, p.89


It is not necessary to be Russian in order to appreciate holy fools however it seems to help.

There is a long tradition of fools for Christ’s sake in both Western and Eastern Christendom, containing both real fools and fools ex officio. In the West for example, St. Francis of Assisi exhibited some of the characteristics of holy folly, as did the order he founded. But it is Eastern Orthodoxy especially in Russia, that has produced the richest collection of holy fools. In the case of Russia the argument could actually be made that holy folly became a major theme in the national culture, both oil the popular and literary levels Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot being the undisputed literary climax of the tradition). Holy folly in the Eastern church may go back to the early days of the desert saints of Egypt, but the phenomenon became prominent in the sixth century Famous cases are those of Theophilus and Maria of Antioch, and of St. Symeon of Emesa Theophilus and Maria came from aristocratic families. They were engaged to be married, instead decided to become fools for Christ’s sake. They roamed the streets of the Syrian metropolis, he dressed as a jester, she as a prostitute, outraging the populace with bizarre and often obscene behavior. Gradually, it was recognized that this behavior was an expression of unusual piety. St. Symeon was an anchorite in the lands east of the river Jordan. He too began to roam through the towns and villages of this area. He would throw walnuts at people in church, overthrow the stalls of street vendors, dance with prostitutes in the street, burst into women’s bath houses and conspicuously eat on fast days. At first, of course, the reaction to this behavior was outrage. Then it came to be accepted that the behavior symbolized great religious mysteries…

from "Why have Catholics stopped confessing?," by Andrew Santella, Slate, 17 November 2005 :: via Alan Jacobs

The biggest barrier between Catholics and the confessional, however, may be the real effort it requires. Unloading your transgressions on the Internet takes a few computer clicks—you can do it on your coffee break. But done right, Catholic confession demands a rigorous examination of conscience and real contrition, to say nothing of the prayers you may be assigned for penance and the thinking a priest may ask you to do about the ways you’ve let yourself and God down. No wonder we are more comfortable with the Eucharist service, which demands only that we line up like consumers and accept something for free. Dorothy Day wrote of having to “rack your brain for even the beginnings of sin.” That’s work.

from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, 1974

At the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, “Come down to the water.” It was an extravagant gesture, but we can’t do less. If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.

"Lifting a wounded or sick soldier," photographer unknown, from United States Sanitary Commission records (1861-1865), NYPL Digital Gallery :: via Hoefler & Frere-Jones
from "Poetry for Primates," Fed by Birds, 20 September 2008

There’s been increased interest lately in monkey languages after discoveries were made about how putty-nosed monkeys combine sounds to create a basic syntax:

* Hack-hack-hack-hack: “There’s an eagle over there!” * Pyow-hack-hack-pyow-pyow-pyow: “I’ve seen a leopard, let’s move away!” * Hack-hack-hack-pyow-hack-hack-hack-hack-hack “There’s an eagle over there, let’s move away!”

But research at the Great Ape Trust using the sign language Yerkish reveals the primates are capable of far more linguistic sophistication. Primate Poetics sets out a manifesto to enrich this new language, starting, ambitiously, with a translation of the epic Gilgamesh:

“We will learn Yerkish. We will translate human literature into Yerkish. We will invent words, word-tricks, word-jokes, word-games to show the apes new ways of using (their) language. We will become knowledgeable and original enough to be invited by the researchers of the Great Ape Trust to read our Yerkish translation of Gilgamesh to Kanzi, Panbanisha and all the others.

“We are not here to compare and to compete with the ape but to appreciate its language for its own beauty. This is emphatically not about some lone genius monkey penning the Great Primate Novel.”

Closely linked with the popular idea of fundamentalism is the idea of withdrawal from culture into a sanctified and safe world of fellow believers. Of course, the fundamentalists did not condemn cultural goods like sturdy church buildings or modest clothing. They were even innovators in the use of new communication technologies like radio and television. Likewise, it is not really true to say that the fundamentalists “withdrew” from culture. To withdraw from culture is to wander naked into the rain forest or the desert and never be seen again. While a handful of human beings have done exactly that, the fundamentalists did not. They, like all of us, were cultural beings.

Culture Making, p.84

excerpt Failed writers
from "Robert Giroux, Publisher, Dies at 94," by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt,, 5 September 2008

His ambition to write may have prompted an exchange with T. S. Eliot, then in his late 50s, on the day they met in 1946, when Mr. Giroux, “just past 30,” as he recalled the moment in “The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes,” was an editor at Harcourt, Brace. “His most memorable remark of the day,” Mr. Giroux said, “occurred when I asked him if he agreed with the definition that most editors are failed writers, and he replied, ‘Perhaps, but so are most writers.’“

Making the Best of It

Those who find their work meaningless and who lack significant personal relationships will find much encouragement in a consumer-oriented society to devote themselves to new forms of gadgetry and to establish a firm decorative control over their limited personal environment. These evasions of freedom, along with the forms of indulgence more usually associated with “sensuality,” must be seen as genuine forms of sin.

. . . We must also identify a form of institutional sin that elicits sensuality or sloth from persons by demanding commitments that preclude responsible attention to the range of choices and responsibilities that they ought to be attending to for themselves. The “up or out,” “publish or perish” career trajectories imposed by businesses, law firms, and academic institutions provide familiar examples of this sort of pressure. . . . Those who yield to these pressures are often pictured as ambitious, “fast-track” achievers whose chief temptation would seem to be to emulate the pride of their seniors and superiors. In fact, however, their achievements are often expressions of sensuality and sloth. The rising executive or scholar abandons the difficult balancing of obligations that marks a life of freedom constrained by human finitude, and substitutes a single set of goals defined by outside authorities.


The sense of success and inclusion is harder to resist than the wrath of the state. Carrots are more corrupting than sticks. This phenomenon is powerfully described in Vasily Grossman’s novel “Life and Fate” (1960). One of its central characters is Viktor, a talented physicist who stoically defends his science in the face of likely arrest, but becomes weak and submissive when Stalin calls him to wish him success. “Viktor had found the strength to renounce life itself—but now he seemed unable to refuse candies and cookies.” . . .

Russia today is much freer than it was for most of the Soviet era. However undemocratic it may be, it is not a totalitarian state. The room for honest speaking is far greater than Russian intellectuals make use of. As Marietta Chudakova, a historian of Russian literature and courageous public figure, puts it, “Nobody has been commanded to lie down—and everyone is already on the ground.” The media is suffocated by self-censorship more than by the Kremlin’s pressure. Nikolai Svanidze, a Russian journalist who works for a state TV channel, admits: “There is no person who tells [me] what you can and what you can’t do. It is in the air. If you know what is permitted and what is not, you’re in the right place. If you don’t, you are not.”