October 12, 2012

I just heard about that—yesterday


What’s the word for that experience of suddenly seeing — a word, a name — everywhere — that you never knew before yesterday?

Never mind. I looked it up.

It’s been called the “Baader-Meinhof-phenomenon” (in the comments section of this Alan Bellows post, somebody named Terry Mullen, from St. Paul, MN, takes credit for coining the phrase) or “the Frequency Illusion,” a species of “selective attention effect.”

Wikipedia says a Frequency Illusion is one “in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly appears “everywhere” with improbable frequency” — what I just said.

Arnold M. Zwicky, perennial Visiting Professor of linguistics at Stanford University, who invented this term, also notes:

People who are reflective about language — professional linguists, people who set themselves up as authorities on language, and ordinary people who are simply interested in language — are especially prone to the Frequency Illusion.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about.

A month or so ago our art director, Christopher King, showed me some photographs of some sort of art works by Thomas Allen. I’d never heard of him before. In short order, I ran into more pictures of his work: in Harper’s magazine, and on a New Yorker blog. You can see all of that stuff and much more at Allen’s website.

Then, two weeks ago, I was running down Allen Street (no relation) to an appointment in Chinatown and out of the corner of my eye I saw what turned out to be an announcement of an exhibition of Thomas Allen’s pieces in the intimate confines of the Foley Gallery.

If I seem to be avoiding saying what these things are, it’s because I am.  You’ll just have to see them for yourselves.  Or self. For those of you here in New York City, this is the last weekend to see the show at the Foley.  (Directions here.)

The photographs I’ve seen are constructed from old books. They’re knockouts. A few examples (NOT from the Foley exhibit) in the video below. It’s just one more thing you can’t do with your Kindle edition.



Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.