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9 Complicated Literary Movements Explained Simply

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Wikimedia Commons

Books can be complicated, and the culture surrounding literature and its various theories and ideas can even trip up Ph.Ds and Gaddis-quoting Brooklynites.

Sometimes, though, you need a little straight-talk to understand why your favorite author keeps getting described as having been decontextualized, which makes these particular statements by critics and writers on various literary concepts incredibly illuminating.

1. MODERNISM

“Make it new!”
— A phrase attributed to Ezra Pound that he in fact lifted from a 17th-century B.C. Chinese text, which in itself is a pretty good summary of modernism

2. POSTMODERNISM

[Describing the postmodern era:]
“On the one hand, there’s sort of an embarrassment of riches for young writers now. Most of the old cinctures and constraints that used to exist—censorship of content is a blatant example—have been driven off the field. Writers today can do more or less whatever we want. But on the other hand, since everybody can do pretty much whatever they want, without boundaries to define them or constraints to struggle against, you get this continual avant-garde rush forward without anyone bothering to speculate on the destination, the 'goal' of the forward rush.”
— David Foster Wallace (above) in conversation with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction

3. STRUCTURALISM

“Structuralism is a theory of humankind in which all elements of human culture, including literature, are thought to be parts of a system of signs. Critic Robert Scholes has described structuralism as a reaction to '"modernist" alienation and despair.’… Roland Barthes, among others, sought to recover literature and even language from the isolation in which they had been studied and to show that the laws that govern them govern all signs, from road signs to articles of clothing.”
— Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms

4. DECONSTRUCTION

“I’ve already in a way started to respond to your question about deconstruction, because one of the gestures of deconstruction is to not naturalize what isn’t natural—to not assume that what is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is natural.”
— Jacques Derrida speaking on his own indefinable theory of deconstruction, which is often discussed in terms of what it is not rather than what it is

5. SURREALISM

…A method “by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought.'”
— Andre Breton, the father of surrealism, in his First Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924

6. DADA

“Dada Means Nothing.”
— Tristan Tzara in the Dada Manifesto, 1918. He doesn’t mean it has no meaning, but rather that it means “nothing,” i.e. the opposite of something; Dada was created as a rejection of the logic and reason that its artists believe led to World War I

7. AESTHETICISM

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. … Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
— Oscar Wilde in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

8. MAGICAL REALISM

“Surrealism runs through the streets.”
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9. HYSTERICAL REALISM

“Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism's next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence. This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity.”
— James Wood, describing the work of Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and others

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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