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Memorial Day



It is not an image. It is a feeling.
There is no image of the hero.
There is a feeling as definition.
How could there be an image, an outline,
A design, a marble soiled by pigeons?
The hero is a feeling, a man seen
As if the eye was an emotion,
As if in seeing we saw our feeling
In the object seen and saved that mystic
Against the sight, the penetrating,
Pure eye. Instead of allegory,
We have and are the man, capable
Of his brave quickenings, the human
Accelerations that seem inhuman.

Wallace Stevens
from "Examination of the Hero in a Time of War"
Parts of a World (1942)

Kalte Ente/Canard Froid/Cold Duck

True, the whole thing's in German, but Art is a universal language, is it not?

You must, must, must, dear readers, examine this site for Die DUCKOMENTA, an exhibition currently on view at the Schloss Salem am Bodensee revealing the history of capital-A Art as told through depictions of -- well that would be telling, wouldn't it?

[Link lifted without compunction from Jesse Walker at Hit & Run.]

Working Actors

"I don't need an education: I'm going to be an actor!"
-- Pinocchio, to J. Cricket

"What's an actor need a conscience for, anyway?"
-- J. Cricket, to himself

James Lileks' Bleat for this past Monday [May 24] was a typically wide-ranging affair, but I was stopped cold by this photo that appears midway through:

Mamo, Maimiti or madeleine?

This is a still from the 1935 Gable/Laughton version of Mutiny on the Bounty, and I know I have one reader [Hi, Bridget!] who will recognize immediately that this photograph depicts the actress Mamo in the role of Maimiti, Fletcher Christian's Tahitian beloved.

Mamo gets only one name in the Bounty credits, but she appears elsewhere in the late 30's -- always it seems as an Island Girl or Native Maiden or such -- under the name of Mamo Clark. The reason to tell you all this, however, is that I knew her some 40 years after Bounty as Mamo Rawley, the wife of James Rawley, better known to those of us who attended Granada Hills High School in the mid- to late 70's as "Mr. Rawley" or "J.R.," the drama teacher.

J.R. had an interesting history himself: he studied acting with the first wave of Moscow Art Theatre veterans to come to the U.S. bearing the "Method" of Stanislavski but had a distinctly spotty film and television career. His largest film role, I believe, is as "Dr. Johnson," part of the surgical team that allows the Creature from the Black Lagoon to breathe with lungs instead of gills in the 1956 sequel The Creature Walks Among Us; he can be seen very briefly cowering as a fearful elevator operator during the heist at the beginning of the original Steve McQueen version of The Thomas Crown Affair, etc. He had a recurring role on Bonanza as the telegraph operator in Carson City. Unfortunately, over the long course of that series only two telegrams ever needed to be delivered.

J.R.'s acting career serves as a reminder of what a challenge it is actually to make a living in that line of work. He was a fine and enthusiastic teacher, though. Under his influence, I was bitten by the acting bug for several years: I wound up playing the title roles in high school productions of Julius Caesar and The Man Who Came to Dinner and the Mayor in Gogol's The Inspector General and, when I went on to college, spent at least as much time hanging around the Dramatic Art department at Berkeley [Hi, Rick!] as I did in pursuing my English major. I had figured out by that point that the law pays rather more regularly than acting, but the hammy impulse remains with me still. This occasionally makes me the despair of our eldest son (age 16), but his brother (13) is usually amused. *Sigh*

So, Mamo it seems has served as a sort of Proustian madeleine carrying me back down the carefree paths of the past. [Hums quietly: Mem'ries light the corners of my mind/Misty water-colored mem'ries of the way we were . . . . (Fade out.)]

Pre-Raphaelite to the Max

`Oh, very pleased to meet Mr Ruskin, I'm sure'

May 20 marked the 48th anniversary of the passing of "the incomparable" Max Beerbohm, and ::: wood s lot ::: marked the occasion with a link to a Beerbohm caricature of Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a child, "Precociously Manifesting ... that Queer Indifference to Politics ..." by lounging on the floor with a book while all about him his father and company loudly debate Italian freedom and such like issues of the day. It is one in a series of pencil and watercolour works in the Tate (bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole) in which Beerbohm depicts Rossetti and his friends. A complete collection of those items in the Tate's holdings in which Rossetti appears is compiled here. (The highly flexible searchability of the Tate's site is a thing of delight in itself, by the bye.)

Astute readers may have noted prior clues disclosing my fondness for D.G. Rossetti -- one of those not-fashionable tastes I mentioned earlier. For instance, I contorted an entirely unrelated post to permit reproduction of a Rossetti picture and its accompanying poem just below. Rossetti's translation of Dante's Vita Nuova came in for praise here, and is a work that I revisit on a near-annual basis. I will allow as how his sister Christina was the better poet of the two. His brother Michael was the owner of a pet wombat, which has been speculated to have been the inspiration for the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and is definitely alluded to by Christina in Goblin Market (e.g., line 75). But I digress.

The Blue Bower
My favorite out of the Beerbohm Rossettis is the depiction, reproduced in miniature to the right and subject to enlargement if clicked, of Fanny Cornforth being introduced to John Ruskin. In the background is a portrait -- or so I judge it to be from its handcarved frame, it may actually be a disapproving spirit -- of Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Siddal, the subject of many of his paintings, with whom he infamously buried his poetry only to reexhume it for publication several years later. (To say the least, Rossetti's relations with women should not be taken as a model for emulation.) Miss Cornforth served at various times, singly and in combination, as Rossetti's mistress, chief model and housekeeper.

Beerbohm's depiction is not particularly flattering to any of its subjects (see the Tate's caption for more on that line); in the interest of balance, it must be said the Miss Cornforth appears to better advantage in Rossetti's paintings, such as "The Blue Bower," reproduced beneath the Beerbohm.


A cause for perplexity: nearly a third of all traffic through here today seems to be derived from this post from last December, which drew a rather feeble connection between the world of weblogs and a comment in Erasmus. It referred to Erasmus' spokes-deity, the Goddess of Folly, and it is she that is drawing that traffic: from more than a dozen different IP addresses and across at least three time zones, some critical mass of persons using Google and Yahoo is searching the phrase "goddess of folly" and clicking on through. Why this sudden convergence? That is the foolish question of the moment.

When He's 63

Bob Dylan turns 63 today.

A recent link out of ::: wood s lot ::: led me to the online outlet of maisonneuve, a self-proclaimed "a high-end general-interest magazine " ("the new New Yorker of the younger generation") publishing in English out of Montreal. [This serves to continue that Canadian theme I promised below.] Appropriate to the occasion, music columnist Paul Winner -- who has "never known a world without Bob Dylan" -- offers up an appreciation of the Mighty Bob, including this:

Dave Eggers said this not long ago, that Dylan’s music, especially the early music, which everybody can rally behind, can ward off evil. Listen to his acoustic work and its strange deadpan honesty reveals--there is no other word--its goodness. His is an original text, pure because we sometimes believe it to be pure, the sound of old virtue and probity and righteous anger and Blake’s notion of beauty and music--folk-level music, a guy making some fingering mistakes on a crap guitar and singing even though he can’t sing (Barry Hannah said that Dylan has the desperation of not being able to sing, which is always better than Glenn Campbell, who can sing)--and it’s all an embodiment of what is good about popular music. Just the song titles: 'It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),' 'It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.' Dylan is on stage intoning these words, this ancient text. The words can ward off evil. Like I said, if you believe they can, then they do.

Sign Your Name with a Star

L'oiseau chante avec ses doigts. Je repète. Deux fois. L'oiseau chante avec ses doigts ...
-- Message over the car radio in Cocteau's Orphee


It appears that several upcoming posts here are going to feature the themese of (1) things cultural and Canadian and/or (2) my unfashionable tastes in the visual arts. For starters, here's an item that features both.

From Canada's The Walrus magazine comes a profile by Toronto critic John Bentley Mays of Jean Cocteau, triggered by a seemingly enormous retrospective exhibition running through the summer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (having originated at the Centre Pompidou, Paris):

'Cocteau's work is strewn with references,' writes François Nemer in the catalogue of this show. 'These references are not taken from the further fringes of Western culture, but from its main, classical and academic trunk, the one that underpins the public education system and provides illustrated dictionaries with their imagery. They suggest not so much the elitist arrogance of a son of the cultivated bourgeoisie as the rather confined atmosphere and gentle nostalgia of a floor littered with open books, holiday souvenirs, photographs of friends and family and postcards in a sick child's bedroom.'

At least he knew something. Intelligent young North Americans nowadays have very little general culture, or much easy acquaintance with history, art, mythology, architecture — things that, only a few decades ago, were acquired as a matter of course by anybody who wanted an intellectual life. Contemporary aesthetic culture takes little pleasure in Cocteau's brand of light, broad learning. In due course, one suspects, generalists like him will probably disappear altogether, and we will be poorer for that. Even now, our taste for highly specialized learning and our suspicion of dilettantes disincline us to take anyone seriously who does it all. And Cocteau, indeed, did it all: wrote and directed plays, made his great film Le Sang d'un poète in 1930, decorated a chapel, designed a 20-centime French stamp. The diversity of his art-making has always been among the most grievous offences held against him by critics. (Another was letting himself be turned into a celebrity in the 1950s — but why not? Years of gazing at himself in the mirror had taught him how good he looked to the camera, and he did love to talk.)

Mays' view is that it is Cocteau's work as a filmmaker that will last -- the subjects of his photographs are more interesting than the photos themselves, and Cocteau's drawings show only "lazy refinement, . . . with hardly a trace of the imaginative vigour and breadth of a Matisse or Picasso or Modigliani" -- at least until there is some generational sea change in our views of art.

It is for another generation to enjoy, without a skeptical smile, the visual imagination of the man who, late in life, wrote this little manifesto of evasion: 'Man seeks to escape himself in myth, and does so by any means at his disposal. Drugs, alcohol, or lies. Unable to withdraw into himself, he disguises himself. Lies and inaccuracy give him a few moments of comfort, the trifling feeling of escape experienced at a masked ball. He distances himself from that which he feels and sees. He invents. He transfigures. He mythifies. He creates. He fancies himself an artist.'

I could wish that I had some excuse to get to Montreal, if only to try to get my hands on a copy of the very attractive poster for this show. [That's not it, up at the top of this post; you can see it on the Museum's site. It's blue and filled with stars and based on a photo of Cocteau by Man Ray.] Cocteau's drawings are delicious trifles: they don't linger, but they are full of pleasures at the moment you happen to be contemplating them. The films -- particularly Beauty and the Beast and Orpheus -- are things of permanent wonder, however.

An Incidental Treat for the Fans: Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast remains for me one of the most truly and unironically magical films ever made. Those who share my enthusiasm will no doubt be tickled by this site, in French, taking us away to the actual château de la Bête. "Alors, cher monsieur, vous me volez mes roses. . . ."

[Update: And shame on me for initially failing to credit Arts & Letters Daily as the source for the link to the Walrus article.]

Sold to the Hy-est Bridder

Iain Murray, in a more than slightly peculiar column for Tech Central Station, reports on (or perceives) something of a consumer backlash on hybrid gas-electric automobiles, such as the Honda Civic hybrid, the upcoming Ford Escape hybrid SUV and my own beloved Toyota Prius. Hybrid adopters, Murray says, are "very different from conventional car owners" in Green, eco-pessimistic, Al Gore-like ways (note the grinchy-green-Gore graphic that accompanies the story) for which he cites a recent J.D. Power report:

'Issues on which the owners of hybrid-electric cars hold extreme positions are: interest in helping reduce vehicle pollution, willingness to pay extra for "green" products, and thinking of oneself as an avid recycler. Owners of hybrid-electric cars also have the most extreme expectations that fuel prices will be higher in the future.'

[Funny, that's not what I saw when I looked in the mirror this morning.] Murray goes on to suggest that the claimed mileage gains through hybrid technology are overstated:

[E]ven those who already own hybrid electric vehicles are beginning to turn restive. It seems, for instance, that the owners are simply not getting the fuel efficiency they thought they were buying. John DiPietro, a road test editor of the automotive website, explained in a recent article on ("Hybrid Mileage Comes Up Short", May 11, 2004) that hybrid drivers hardly ever experience the actual miles per gallon advertised by the EPA (Brock Yates alerted TCS readers to this issue back in 2002). Most automobiles would have actual miles per gallon performance of approximately 75 to 87 percent of the EPA's rating. However, data from Consumer Reports' extensive road tests suggest that the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius averaged well under 60 percent of the EPA's reported miles per gallon when operating on city streets. The Civic Hybrid was getting only 26 mpg in the city.

I'll let pass without comment the odd hairpin turn (to the left or the right you may judge for yourselves) that Murray skids into at the end of the column, in which the hybrid question as such is abandoned in favor of the assertion that "lack of access to affordable automobiles [is] contributing to the black-white employment differential".

Now, it is a fact universally acknowledged that one of the chief temptations lying in wait for proprietors of weblogs is to generalize shamelessly from personal experience. I am not immune to that temptation. Friends, for whatever it may be worth to you, I remain entirely pleased with my own 2001 model Prius, which is fast approaching its 39,000th mile and is averaging 46.5 miles to the gallon. I drive it up hill and down, running air conditioners, radios and even headlights, and have not found that it requires any peculiar driving techniques in order to achieve that mileage. I cannot speak to the merit or demerits of the Civic hybrid -- Honda's hybrid design approach differs significantly from Toyota's -- but the Prius is certainly worthy of your consideration. Consumer Reports has spoken highly of the current version of the Prius, and prefers it to the Honda. (Ford has built its Escape hybrid SUV around technology licensed from Toyota.)

Coming soon: the Hybrid Hummer, with something to appeal to everyone. It runs on a combination of gasoline and electric power, but the electricity will be provided by small nuclear plant in the trunk . . . .

Update 6/24/04: A somewhat revised version of Iain Murray's article is now available through The American Enterprise.

Encylopedia Miscellannica

Poetry and Pachyderms -- At Kasey Mohammad's {lime tree}, Wallace Stevens dances with elephants:

Stevens continues to be one of the most popular modernist poets, among academics and casual readers alike. I see the reason for this as evidence of both Stevens' genius and his shallowness, which are inseparable from each other: the poems work as philosophical candies, mouth-poppable sugar snacks in a phenomenological wrapper.

Play It, Salmon -- For my readers in the Pacific Northwest (you know who you are), or who wish they were in the Pacific Northwest (ditto), and who aspire to scale the Mt. Hood-like literary heights, a primer: How to Write a Great Northwest Novel. [Link via Colby Cosh, who is a bit to the northeast of the Northwest himself.]

Sighted at Other Sites -- A C Douglas has not returned from hiatus, but he has been spotted in the commentary to Aaron Haspel's anatomy of Snobbery. Superior person that you are, you already knew that.

Living Law Vida Loca -- I have been meaning to link for more than a week to Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass for her consideration of English majors who go to law school, which begins with this:

It's a truism that one of the wisest things you can do with a degree in English is go to law school. English majors who want their degrees to pay off--or at least to open doors to an eventual payoff--often choose law school over publishing, grad school, teaching, and, it must be acknowledged, working in a coffee bar (that so many humanities majors do wind up behind the counter at Starbucks or similar should tell us something about how humanities departments, in their highminded commitment to Liberal Arts [mustn't teach marketable skills, mustn't do any practical training, mustn't even ensure that majors can actually write competently], participate in a truly insidious form of economic degradation. But that's fodder for another post, another time).

A cautionary tale follows from that.

I am an English major who went to law school, but I did it on purpose and can't say as I have any regrets. Those who pursue the law for lack of anything more practical to do with their undergraduate liberal arts degree, however, stand a good chance of consigning themselves to a life of misery. Valuable safety tip: No one should enter the legal profession by accident or default. There are quite enough unhappy lawyers in the world as it is. (I trust you have deduced that I'm not one of them (the unhappy ones). Now if you'll excuse me, I'd best get back to work.)

And In Conclusion -- Also at Critical Mass, a detailed explanation of why God can't get tenure.

. . . All Right, Just One More -- DID YOU KNOW?!?

Many of the Cicadas in this year's strain stand over 3 feet tall and weigh over 50 pounds.

If you think you can handle it, click through for more of the awful truth about Cicadas. This is probably more amusing for those of us on the side of the continent that isn't having to live with cicadas at the moment. [Link via a prominent gay conservative who shall remain nameless.]

Entering the Lists

Thanks to Kimberly Swygert's Number 2 Pencil, I have found the source of the book list below.

The list comes from The College Board, where it is presented as "101 Great Books: Recommended for H.S. Students & Readers of All Ages". A comment to my prior post noted -- as one always can with lists, especially those that seem to have been put together because they are Good For You -- some sins of inclusion and omission, notably the absence of John Milton. As it happens, the Board also offers two supplemental lists, one of Classic Cultural and Historical Texts and another of Poetry (which still excludes Milton). Both are to be found here.

For the benefit those who are playing along at home, I have reproduced the additional lists in the extended portion of this post, with bolding and comment as before.

Continue reading "Entering the Lists" »