Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress (December 1, 1862)
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Dust jacket to later edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock. The full title of the original was The Savoy Cocktail Book: Being in the main a complete compendium of the Cocktails, Rickeys, Daisies, Slings, Shrubs, Smashes, Fizzes, Juleps, Cobblers, Fixes, and other Drinks, known and greatly appreciated in the year of grace 1930, with sundry notes of amusement and interest concerning them, together with subtle Observations upon Wines and their special occasions.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet, and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverses the common order of nature, it is evident they belong to different systems. England to Europe: America to itself.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Je forme une entreprise qui n'eut jamais d'exemple, et dont l'exécution n'aura point d'imitateur. Je veux montrer à mes semblables un homme dans toute la vérité de la nature; et cet homme, ce sera moi.
Moi seul. Je sens mon coeur, et je connais les hommes. Je ne suis fait comme aucun de ceux que j'ai vus; j'ose croire n'être fait comme aucun de ceux qui existent. Si je ne vaux pas mieux, au moins je suis autre. Si la nature a bien ou mal fait de briser le moule dans lequel elle m'a jeté, c'est ce dont on ne peut juger qu'après m'avoir lu.
Que la trompette du jugement dernier sonne quand elle voudra, je viendrai, ce livre à la main, me présenter devant le souverain juge. Je dirai hautement: Voilà ce que j'ai fait, ce que j'ai pensé, ce que je fus. J'ai dit le bien et le mal avec la même franchise. Je n'ai rien tu de mauvais, rien ajouté de bon; et s'il m'est arrivé d'employer quelque ornement indifférent, ce n'a jamais été que pour remplir un vide occasionné par mon défaut de mémoire. J'ai pu supposer vrai ce que je savais avoir pu l'être, jamais ce que je savais être faux. Je me suis montré tel que je fus: méprisable et vil quand je l'ai été; bon, généreux, sublime, quand je l'ai été: j'ai dévoilé mon intérieur tel que tu l'as vu toi-même. Être éternel, rassemble autour de moi l'innombrable foule de mes semblables; qu'ils écoutent mes confessions, qu'ils gémissent de mes indignités, qu'ils rougissent de mes misères. Que chacun d'eux découvre à son tour son coeur au pied de ton trône avec la même sincérité, et puis qu'un seul te dise, s'il l'ose: je fus meilleur que cet homme-là.
I HAVE begun on a work which is without precedent, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I propose to set before my fellow-mortals a man in all the truth of nature; and this man shall be myself.
I have studied mankind and know my heart; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature has acted rightly or wrongly in destroying the mold in which she cast me, can only be decided after I have been read.
I will present myself, whenever the last trumpet shall sound, before the Sovereign Judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, "Thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous, and sublime; even as Thou hast read my inmost soul: Power Eternal! assemble round Thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his
heart, and if he dare, aver, I was better than that man."
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions, Book I (1782)
English translation, W. Conyngham Mallory
From the series: Opening Lines
Monday, December 01, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
In the end, pure white light was to survive only as the weapon of the Secret Police interrogator, the brain-washer and the terrorist. But before that relegation to the underworld of Western culture, it had almost a two-decade career in the visible and progressive overworld, as architects of the International Style—with the noblest aspirations, and clear consciences which the clarity of the light was supposed to symbolise, no doubt—subjected doctors, art-collectors, publishers, teachers and the other law-abiding bourgeois who were the clients, to Gestapo-style luminous environments, with light streaming from bare, or occasionally opalescent, bulbs and tubes and glaring back from white walls. Even when allowance is made for the fact that many of the interiors they designed were for the specialised purposes of exhibitions, and may have needed unusual intensities of lighting, the published record of the work done by the Bauhaus and like-thinkers down to 1934, combined with the memories of survivors, leaves an impression of a luminous environment close to the threshold of pain, probably mad e tolerable only by the notorious willingness of intellectuals to suffer in the cause of art.
Reyner Banham, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment (1969)
From the series: Architecture
Monday, November 17, 2008
We (the indivisible divinity that works in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it resistant, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and firm in time, but we have allowed slight, and eternal, bits of the irrational to form part of its architecture so as to know that it is false.
Jorge Luis Borges, "Avatars of the Tortoise" ["Avatares de la tortuga"], Discussion [Discusión] (1932)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The directions in which the tragedy of this planet has trained our human feelings to play, and the combinations into which the poetry of this planet has thrown our human passions of love and hatred, of admiration and contempt, exercise a power for bad or good over human life that cannot be contemplated, when stretching through many generations, without a sentiment allied to awe. And of this let every one be assured—that he owes to the impassioned books which he has read many a thousand more of emotions than he can consciously trace back to them. Dim by their origination, these emotions yet arise in him, and mould him through life, like forgotten incidents of his childhood.
Thomas de Quincey, "The Literature of Knowledge and the Literature of Power" (1848)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
And these are the things we must be concerned about—we must be concerned about because we love America and we are out to free not only the Negro. This is not our struggle today to free 17,000,000 Negroes. It’s bigger than that. We are seeking to free the soul of America. Segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. We are to free all men, all races, and all groups. This is our responsibility and this is our challenge and we look to this great new state in our Union as an example and as the inspiration. As we move on in this realm, let us move on with the faith that this problem can be solved and that it will be solved, believing firmly that all reality hinges on moral foundations and we are struggling for what is right and we are destined to win.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Address to the House of Representatives of the First Legislature, State of Hawaii (September 23, 1959)
Monday, November 03, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I'll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don't see happiness in the picture, at least they'll see the black.
Sans Soleil d: Chris Marker (1982)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Frank Lloyd Wright was, very probably, the last of the true Americans. This is not intended to suggest that he was of Red Indian origin (which he wasn’t) or that his ancestors came over on the Mayflower (which they didn’t). It is intended to mean that Wright was the last great representative of all the things this country once stood for in the world when “America” was still a radical concept, rather than a settled continent: a symbol of absolute, untrammeled freedom for every individual, of as little government as possible, the end of classes and castes, of unlimited and equal physical opportunities for the adventurous, of the absence of all prejudice—excepting prejudices in favor of anything new and bold; of the absence of form and of formality, and finally, a symbol of a society of many individuals living as individuals in individual settlements—not a society of masses living in giant cities.
Peter Blake, The Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright (1970)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" (1923)
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Once, from eastern ocean to western ocean, the land stretched away without names. Nameless headlands split the surf; nameless lakes reflected nameless mountains; and nameless rivers flowed through nameless valleys into nameless bays.
George R. Stewart, Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (1945)
Saturday, September 27, 2008
It is one of the many grotesque ironies of our acceptance of technological totalitarianism that its most eager advocates among architects and all other categories of designer do not realize that they are committing themselves to voluntary castration. The artificial obsolescence syndrome has much deeper implication than the petty larceny of depreciation without service. It implies hatred of designed environment, an inability to love the things that make an identification of man and world possible. The inevitable and totally logical climax of this alienation by obsolescence is the spending of billions of national capital on a moon landing. Man's future in a space suit on a planet where neither organisms nor shapes nor continuity in time can be maintained will mark the final victory of the technocrat over man.
Sibyl Moholy–Nagy, "The Invisibility of Design" (Autumn 1962)
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Given an old culture in ruins, and a new culture in vacuo, this externalizing of interest, this ruthless exploitation of the physical environment was, it would seem, inevitable. Protestantism, science, invention, political democracy, all of these institutions denied the old value; all of them, by denial or by precept or by actual absorption, further the new activities. Thus in America the new order of Europe came quickly into being. If the nineteenth century found us more raw and rude, it was not because we had settled in a new territory; it was rather because our minds were not buoyed up by all those memorials of a great past that floated over the surface of Europe—a movement carried on by people incapable of sharing or continuing a past. It was to America that the outcast European turned, without a Moses to guide them, to wander in the wilderness; and here they have remained in exile, not without an occasional glimpse, perhaps, of the promised land.
Lewis Mumford, “The Origin of the American Mind” in The Golden Day: A Study in American Experience and Culture (1926)
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
De Tocqueville stands out as one of the noblest examples of an attitude which may be called the Counter-Revolution. This must not be confused with Reaction, which refuses to recognize the just element in the Revolution and wishes to regard it as a simple rebellion. The Counter-Revolutionary has no wish to return to the condition which preceded the outbreak of revolution; he wishes rather to save the revolution from failure through the inevitable over-emphasis and over simplification of the revolutionary party.
The central issue of the world revolution at present in progress is the right of every human body to the food, light, housing, medical attention, and so forth necessary for health. Its symbols are the naked anonymous baby and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The body knows nothing of freedom, only of necessities, and these are the same for all bodies. Hence the tendency of the revolutionary party in concentrating on this one goal to deny all liberty and all minority rights. In so far as we are bodies, we are or ought to be revolutionaries; in so far, however, as we are also souls and minds, we are ought to be counter- revolutionaries, and in our struggle, the books of De Tocqueville belong, together with Thucydides, the Seventh Epistle of Plato, and the plays of Shakespeare, in the small group of the indispensable.
Review of The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, in The Nation (April 8, 1950)
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Visual Arts 188 exam from taught by Farber at the University of California, San Diego [early 1970s]
1. How many characters does Herr R. bludgeon when he runs amok?
2. Who are the characters Herr R. bludgeons when he runs amok?
3. Rank the following films in terms of the amount of objects likely to be found in a scene from their movies: a. Resnais' MURIEL or any of his film; b. Jancso's RED PSALM; c. Duras' DESTROY, SHE SAID.
4. How much (much, some, little, or none) camera movement is in the following films? a. DESTROY, SHE SAID; b. Godard & Gorin's LETTER TO JANE; c. Fassbinder's WHY DOES HERR R., d. Snow's LA REGION CENTRALE; e. RED PSALM; f. MURIEL; g. Gehr's SERENE VELOCITY.
5. In what film does a camera run amok in a college classroom?
6. Every director in this course uses a long, continuous take in one form or another. One definition of the long take: a single piece of unedited film, which may or may not constitute an entire sequence. Identify the director who uses the long take to:
a. Suggest impersonal, all-over-the-body sexuality;
b. Create a ritual effect of religious mortification in a grassy land or hellscape;
c. Build a comic-strip essay about consumerism and housewife prostitutes in a combination nursery-brothel;
d. Build a picture of the stupefying daily rituals experienced by a family's breadwinner
7. A truly radical formalist makes a deep cut into film practice with at least one inventive maneuver, a way of assembling the elements of film that deeply affects his or her contemporaries. Identify the director.
a. He's adamantly against applied soundtracks. He did one film against the murmur of traffic, which supplies the tonal variations given to other films by a musical score. His is a purist's argument: if you can add a juke box in the background, why not add ten other layers of sound?
b. Still light years more emancipated than the erotic revelations of LAST TANGO IN PARIS. But that's not all he dared to do. By dispensing with tension and development, and using real time, he created an alternative to traditional movie language.
c. He's changed the image from fronted to engulfing. Compared to his movie, where the spectator is in a planetarium situation, engulfed by the dynamics of a very controlled camera, the spectator in other films is in a theatrical situation, removed at some distance from an event that is played toward him, billboard-fashion.
d. The director is exploring how far you can take a movie into becalmed quiescent territory. By emphasizing sensuous tactility (with tempered movements, mannered voices), this anti-aggression director questions the amounts of noise, zap, excitement that a movie needs.
8. A five-part question on the role of women: assign the correct director's name to the following treatments of women in these films:
a. They're usually romantic, anxiety-ridden, and fluttery; for instance, the glimpses of a darting woman in short intense moments, as though seen through a prism. They have an incandescent, luminous, feverish quality. The director emphasizes the plasticity of bodily and facial movements and is very sharp on the woman’s precise position within a situation that smacks of soap opera.
b. He stereotypes his peasants. Their arms often crossed demurely over their breasts, his women move within a divorced and simplistic treatment that sexually humiliates them. They’re always pretty and virginal, moving lyrically and silently through the cruel landscape.
c. Woman is the brainier, testier, wittier, and more active gender. She expresses herself in an incessant nasal drawl, taunting any males in the vicinity.
d. She is always stoical, right-minded, even the buxom-blonde in a lemonade stall in the railroad station – always a pure luminous person. There is never any sense of great contact, emotion, or conflict in her low-key, cooled-off effect. The stoicism comes partly from the sense of a figure pushed to the back of the shot by an angular feeling in the composition.
e. The Woman often seems sentimental, woebegone: a neutralized inexpressive face is supposed to keep your attention dispersed over the image of her environment. The dumb expression, the lacrymosity inherent in the tepid handling of a dish, a dress, or a word suggests a woman trivialized by her director.
9. Identify the movies which provide posterity with the following great lines:
a. “This is the face that says it knows a lot about something.”
b. “How many breakfasts in the Cafe Kroner?”
c. “I have nothing to say and my students sleep in class.”
d. “We’ll be leaving the neighborhood soon. My husband’s getting a promotion.”
e. “He’s going to come toward me, he’s going to take me by the shoulders, he’s going to kiss me…he’ll kiss me…and I’ll be lost!”
f. “You were made to the measure of my body.”
g. “No one’s ever crossed our family before.”
10. Draw the room in WAVELENGTH, the way it looks from the camera’s original setting; include (and label for clarity) all the important objects.
1. There are there premises of this Radical Film course: (1) each movie is an example of a sustained austere form, (2) each director has discovered an image that evokes philosophical thought about the categories of being, and (3) each director has pushed at least one stylistic concern that has influenced or changed the working style of his contemporaries. How does Warhol, the most masked and cunningly defensive director in covering his tracks, answer all the requisites of this course? Fifty words more or less, and cover each premise.
2. Fassbinder and Warhol both use groups of people, long takes, and blatant color; yet in one the tensions within a group are emphasized, while the other exploits the freedom and anarchy within a group. What in their films shows this difference?
3. Michael Snow and Ernie Gehr are often called structuralists and minimalists because the restrict themselves to a barren empty space and build their films out of the raw material of this space. One way or another they try for a fresh perception. Show how by discussing in depth at least one film of each director. Keep in mind that this is a question about the development or manipulation of a perception.
4. This is a question about the philosophic meaning behind the movies in this course. WAVELENGTH (Mike Snow’s movie about a forty-five minute zoom from one end of a room to another) is a confrontation of real fact and movie fact, facing a spectator with an actual chair and the illusion of one, a real girl making a phone call and the “ghost” or filmic image of a girl transparently making a phone call. The verbal jousting in Warhol’s MY HUSTLER, the totally random life enclosed within the single frame of a small bathroom, makes you think of the difference between the most mundane, ordinary reality and the aesthetic reality of an abstracted single-frame movie. Using one or two or three sentences for each director, what is the metaphysical meaning behind Resnais’ MURIEL, any of the Straub films shown here, and Godard’s TWO OR THREE THINGS. (If you don’t know the answer to any part of this question, substitute another director studied in this course.)
[originally published in the May-Jun 1975 issue of Film Comment]
Monday, June 23, 2008
Top: President John F. Kennedy and Air Force Union of Staff General Curtis LeMay point at a fireworks display staged for the president. (May 4, 1962)
Bottom: Original caption: Swapping his Air Force uniform for a bright sport shirt, General Curtis LeMay, Head of the U. S. Strategic Air Command, sharpens his shooting eye with some target practice at the Marine Base at Quantico, Virginia. LeMay sandwiched in the shooting session during the three-day conference on Defense Matters, at the base. (June 17, 1957)
Friday, June 20, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horserider, a piece which is covered over and over again with decoration. The man of the fifteenth century would not understand me. But modern people will. The supporter of ornament believes that the urge for simplicity is equivalent to self-denial. No, dear professor from the College of Applied Arts, I am not denying myself! To me, it tastes better this way. The dishes of the past centuries which used decoration make the peacocks, pheasants and lobsters appear more appetizing produce the opposite effect on me. I look on such a culinary display with horror when I think of having to eat these stuffed animal corpses. I eat roast beef.
Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime” (1908)
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
No critic of experience will return to a discussion of the terms “romanticism” and “classicism” with anything but extreme reluctance; no subject has provoked so much but extreme resistance; no subject has provoked so much weary logomachy since the Scholastics argued themselves out on the question of nominalism. I only take up the discussion again (eating my own words in the process) because I think that Surrealism has settled it. So long as romanticism and classicism were considered as alternative attitudes, rival camps, professions of faith, an interminable struggle was in prospect, with the critics as profiteers. But what in effect Surrealism claims to do is resolve the conflict—not, as I formerly hoped, by establishing a synthesis which I was prepared to call “reason” or “humanism”—but by liquidating classicism, by showing its complete irrelevance, its anaesthetic effect, its contradiction of the creative impulse. Classicism, let it be stated without further preface, represents for us now, and has always represented, the forces of oppression. Classicism is the intellectual counterpart of political tyranny. It was so in the ancient world and in the medieval empires; it was renewed to express the dictatorships of the Renaissance and has ever since been the official creed of capitalism. Wherever the blood of martyrs stains the ground, there you will find a doric column or perhaps a statue of Minerva.
Herbert Read, introduction, Surrealism (1936)
Friday, May 30, 2008
Advertisement for the "Uncle Sam" Range, Manufactured by Abendroth Bros., New York City (1876)
The menu in the world's hand reads:
BILL OF FARE
For the Uncle Sam Range.
Saddle de Horse
Donkey a la Mode
Rats Fricassed with Watermelon Seeds
Friday, May 23, 2008
Sunday, May 18, 2008
The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover's quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored in his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist's fidelity has strengthened the fibre of our national life.
If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.
If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society—in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having "nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope."
John F. Kennedy, Remarks at Amherst College in memory of Robert Frost (October 26, 1963)
Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee—
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wash’d them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts:—not so thou;—
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves' play—
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now.
Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,—
Calm or convulsed—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime,
Dark-heaving—boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of eternity, the throne
Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.
Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV, Stanzas 182-183
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Thy glasse will shew thee how thy beauties were,
Thy dyall how thy pretious mynuits waste,
The vacant leaues thy mindes imprint will beare,
And of this booke, this learning maist thou taste.
The wrinckles which thy glasse will truly show,
Of mouthed graues will giue thee memorie,
Thou by thy dyals shady stealth maist know,
Times theeuish progresse to eternitie.
Looke what thy memorie cannot containe,
Commit to these waste blacks, and thou shalt finde
Those children nurst, deliuerd from thy braine,
To take a new acquaintance of thy minde.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt looke,
Shall profit thee, and much inrich thy booke.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXVII
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Idle curiosity is an ineradicable vice of the human mind. All of us like to discover the secrets of our neighbors, particularly the ugly ones. This has always been so, and, probably, always will be. What is relatively new, however—it is scarcely to be found before the latter half of the eighteenth century—is a blurring of the borderline between the desire for truth and idle curiosity, until, today, it has been so throughly erased that we can indulge in the latter without the slightest pangs of conscience. A great deal of what passes today for scholarly research is an activity no different from that of reading somebody's private correspondence when he is out of the room, and it doesn't really make it morally any better if he is out of the room because he is in the grave.
Introduction to Signet Classic edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets (1964)
From the series: Auden
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The forces which mould the thought of men change, or men’s resistance to them slackens; with the change of men’s thought comes a change of literature, alike in its inmost essence and its outward form: after the world has starved its soul long enough in the contemplation and the rearrangement of material things, comes the turn of the soul; and with it comes the literature of which I write this volume, a literature in which the visible is no longer a reality, and the unseen world no longer a dream.
Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899)
From the series: Books on Books
Monday, April 28, 2008
Today Europeans have begun to dress for the eye, American-style, just at the moment when Americans have begun to abandon their traditional visual style. The media analyst knows why these opposite styles suddenly transfer their locations. The European, since the Second War, has begun to stress visual values; his economy, not coincidentally, now supports a large amount of uniform consumer goods. Americans, on the other hand, have begun to rebel against uniform consumer values for the first time. In cars, in clothes, in paperback books; in beards, babies, and beehive hairdos, the American has declared for stress on touch, on participation, involvement, and sculptural values. America, once the land of an abstractly visual order, is profoundly "in touch" again with European traditions of food and life and art. What was an avant-garde program for the 1924 expatriates is now the teenagers' norm.
Marshall McLuhan, "Clothing," Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964)
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the esthetic plane.
The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware of. Consequently, in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal 'art coefficient' contained in the work.
In other works, the personal "art coefficient" is like a arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.
To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this 'art coefficient' is a personal expression of art à l'état brut, that is, still in a raw state, which must be 'refined' as pure sugar from molasses by the spectator; the digit of this coefficient has no bearing whatsoever on his verdict. The creative act takes another aspect when the spectator experiences the phenomenon of transmutation: through the change from inert matter into a work of art, an actual transubtantiation has taken place, and the role of the spectator is to determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.
All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.
Marcel Duchamp, "The Creative Act" (1957)
From the series: Art
Thursday, April 10, 2008
When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
Quentin Compson, in The Sound and the Fury
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
La culture américaine en tant que distincte de la nôtre, comme l'est la culture chinoise, est une invention pure et simple des Européens.
American culture, as distinct from our own as is Chinese culture, is purely and simply a European invention.
André Malraux, Les Conquérants
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Charlton Heston est un axiome. Il constitue à lui seul une tragedie, et sa présence dans un film, quel qu'il soit, suffit à provoquer la beauté. La violence contenue dont témoignent la sombre phosphorescence des yeux, le profil d'aigle, l'arc orgueilleux des sourcils, le saillant des pommettes, la courbe amère et dure de la bouche, la fabuleuse puissance du torse, voilà ce qui est donné, et que le pire metteur en scène ne peut avilir. C'est dans ce sens que l'on peut dire que Charlton Heston, par son existence seule en dehors de tout film donne du cinéma une définition plus que des films comme Hiroshima [Mon Amour] ou Citizen Kane dont l'esthétique ignore ou récuse Charlton Heston. Par lui, la mise en scène peut accéder aux affrontements les plus intenses et les résoudre par le mépris d'un dieu prisonnier, secoué de grondements sourds.
Michel Mourlet, “Apologie de la violence” Cahiers du cinéma (May 1960)
Friday, April 04, 2008
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself." But I wouldn't stop there.
Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."
Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
excerpt from his final speech
"I've Been to the Mountaintop" (April 3, 1968)
Assassinated, Memphis, Tennessee (April 4, 1968)
From the series: Anniverseries
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Sure you’re romantic about American history. What your professor left out of account was the fact that it’s the most romantic of all histories. It began in myth and has developed through three centuries of fairy stories. Whatever the time is in America it is always, at every moment, the mad and wayward hour when the prince is finding the little foot that alone fits into the slipper of glass. It is a little hard to know what romantic means to those who use the word umbrageously. But if the mad, impossible voyage of Columbus or Cartier or LaSalle or Coronado or John Ledyard is not romantic, if the stars did not dance in the sky when the Constitutional Convention met, if Atlantis has any landscape stranger or the other side of the moon any lights or colors or shapes more unearthly than the customary homespun of Lincoln or the morning coat of Jackson, well, I don’t know what romance is. Ours is a story mad with the impossible. It is by chaos out of dream, it began as dream and it has continued as dream down to the last headline you read in a newspaper, and of our dreams there are two things above all others to be said, that only madmen could have dreamed them or would have dared to—and that we have shown a considerable faculty for making them come true.
Bernard DeVoto to Catherine Drinker Bowen (c. 1940)
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
The result would inevitably be a state of universal rest and death, if the universe were finite and left to obey existing laws. But it is impossible to conceive a limit to the extent of matter in the universe; and therefore science points rather to an endless progress, through an endless space, of action involving the transformation of potential energy into palpable motion and hence into heat, than to a single finite mechanism, running down like a clock, and stopping for ever.
William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) “On the Age of the Sun’s Heat" (1862)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Frank Lloyd Wright, Plan for Greater Baghdad
"Dedicated to Sumeria, Isin, Larsa, and Babylon" (1958)
Plans for Crescent Opera later adapted by Talisien Associates as Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1962-1964)
Friday, March 21, 2008
There now hangs that sacred Body upon the Crosse, rebaptized in his owne teares and sweat and embalmed in his owne blood alive. There are those bowells of compassion, which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their light: so as the Sun ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Sonne of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soule (which was never out of his Fathers hands) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Fathers hands; For though to this God our Lord, belong’d these issues of death, so that considered in his owne contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery, which they had made upon his sacred Body, issued his soule, but emisit, hee gave up the Ghost, and as God breathed a soule into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soule into God, into the hands of God. There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his teares, there suck at his woundes, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till hee vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas’d for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood.
John Donne, conclusion of Death’s Duel
Or, A Consolation to the Soule, Against the Dying Life, and Living Death of the Body
Delivered in a Sermon at White-Hall, before the Kings Majesty, in the beginning of Lent, 1630, Being his last Sermon, and called by Majesties household The Doctors Owne Funerall Sermon
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke
I see no reason to apologize for science fiction, whether intended for juvenile or adult readers. Stories of fantastic adventures in real or imaginary worlds have always been popular among all age groups and all periods of time: the explorers of peculiar planets at the edge of the Galaxy are direct descendents of Odysseus and Sinbad. Science fiction is therefore no new invention—a by-product of the atomic age.
“Sinbad in Space” (1952)
From the series: In Memoriam
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
But my quarrel does not lie with this isolated article by Collins. Coming directly after my return from the [Society of Architectural Historians] Baltimore Convention, it intensified a sense of dismay and protest that had accumulated during the sessions of the historians. They have succeeded in perverting the meaning of "scholarship" to a point where it indicates the exact opposite of its original function. This function was to rise by intense studies and creative contemplation to an all-inclusive knowledge of a particular field of human endeavor. What we got in Baltimore, with the exception of papers read by Horn and Millon, were minute details—proven or conjectural—bearing no relationship whatsoever to the building as a body-space-structure-context totality. It might be perfectly all right for the art iconographers to hold an International Conference to decide in how many cases the Virgin carries the Christ Child on her left biceps, and in how many cases on the right; or why one putti in an inhabited frieze swings its little foot upward while the other does it downward. Architecture is a matrix of life and not a piece of carrion to be dissected into narrower and narrower strips of dead tissue. A recent reviewer in the London Times Book Section spoke contemptuously of American scholarship as "the battle of the typewriters" which I would modify into an endurance test of "Sitzfleisch" (posterior muscle strength).
It is the tragedy of architectural historians that they try to compensate for a rampant inferiority complex vis-a-vis the older "science" of fine arts theory by aping its method, ignorant of the fact that architectural history developed and must bejudged by totally different methods and standards.
Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, letter to Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, in response to Peter Collins' December 1962 article, "The Origins of Graph Paper as an Influence on Architectural Design" (February 3, 1962)
[postscript: "Footnotes on request"]
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Franklin Pierce (photograph, 1851)
He comes before the people of the United States at a remarkable era in the history of this country and of the world. The two great parties of the nation appear--at least to an observer somewhat removed from both--to have nearly merged into one another; for they preserve the attitude of political antagonism rather through the effect of their old organizations, than because any great and radical principles are at present in dispute between them. The measures advocated by the one party, and resisted by the other, through a long series of years, have now ceased to be the pivots on which the election turns. The prominent statesmen, so long identified with those measures, will henceforth relinquish their controlling influence over public affairs. Both parties, it may likewise be said, are united in one common purpose--that of preserving our sacred Union, as the immovable basis from which the destinies, not of America alone, but of mankind at large, may be carried upward and consummated. And thus men stand together, in unwonted quiet and harmony, awaiting the new movement in advance which all these tokens indicate.
It remains for the citizens of this great country to decide, within the next few weeks, whether they will retard the steps of human progress by placing at its head an illustrious soldier, indeed, a patriot and one indelibly stamped into the history of the past, but who has already done his work, and has not in him the spirit of the present or of the coming time,--or whether they will put their trust in a new man, whom a life of energy and various activity has tested, but not worn out, and advance with him into the auspicious epoch upon which we are about to enter.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Life of Franklin Pierce (1852)
Sunday, March 09, 2008
If history could be that which annihilated all memory of past things from our minds it would be a useful tyranny.
But since it lives in us practically day by day we should fear it. But if it is, as it may be, a tyranny over the souls of the dead—and so the imaginations of the living—where lies our greatest well of inspiration, our greatest hope of freedom (since the future is totally blank, if not black) we should guard it doubly from the interlopers.
Williams Carlos Williams, “The Virtue of History” in The American Grain (1925)
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Turkey and the United States: How They Travel a Common Road to Ruin, Addressed by Way of Warning to President Hayes
Henry Carey Baird (1877)
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
It is no accident that the central rite of the Christian religion, its symbol for agape, love untainted by selfish desire or self-projection, should be the act of eating bread and drinking wine. For such a symbol, a sexual rite would never do. In the first place, since it presupposes two different sexes, it divides as well as unites; in the second, it is not intrinsically selfish enough. Though it is necessary to the survival of the race, the sexual act is not necessary to the survival of the individual so that, even at its crudest, it contains an element of giving. Eating, on the other hand is a pure act of taking. Only the absolutely necessary and absolutely self-regarding can stand as a symbol for its opposite, the absolutely voluntary and self-forgetful. From watching the way in which a person eats, one can learn a great deal about the way in which he loves himself and, consequently, about the way he will probably love or hate his neighbor. The behavior towards others of the gobbler will be different from that of the pecker, of the person who eats his titbit first from the person who leaves his to the last.
“The Kitchen of Life,” introduction to M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating (1963)
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King
From the Edison films catalog:
A burlesque on Theodore Roosevelt hunting mountain lions in Colorado and taken from the New York Journal and Advertiser. The scene opens in a very picturesque wood. Teddy with his large teeth is seen running down the hill with his gun in hand, followed by his photographer and press agent. He reconnoitres around a large tree and finally discovers the mountain lion. He kneels on one knee and makes a careful shot. Immediately upon the discharge of his gun a huge black cat falls from the tree and Teddy whips out his bowie knife, leaps on the cat and stabs it several times, then poses while his photographer makes a picture and the press agent writes up the thrilling adventure. A side splitting burlesque. Length 75 feet. $11.25.
[Note: the signs held by the two men read “The Press Man” and “The Photographer"]
ROOSEVELT: The Peace Victor: The President’s Song
Words and Music by Irvin J. Morgan (1905)
What’s the Greatest Ruler’s Name?
It is Roosevelt, We All Claim!
And He rules the Greatest Nation ‘neath the Sun:
Japs and Russians, All Hurrah!
For our Roosevelt, “Theodore”
Our Beloved President At Washington!
We will raise “Three Cheers,” Hurrah!
For our President, “Theodore”!
For the Japs, and the Russians who flew,
To the Land of the “Red White and Blue”!
We will raise “Three Cheers,” Hurrah!
For our President, “Theodore”!
All Hurrah! For Theodore”!
And the Land of the “Red White and Blue”!
The Mikado, and The Czar,
Are surprised at what we all are;
And they daily ask the question, Can it be;
That the great United States,
Is the Ruler of Our Fates
In these Lands so far across the deep blue sea.
Who was He, who said “Good, Good”?
Who was he, found “Chopping wood”?
Who was He, brought Peace, to Russia and Japan?
Who now has the World’s Renown?
And will wear the Victors Crown?
It is “Roosevelt”
Rise, and Cheer Him, Ev’ry Man!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Half the literature, highbrow and popular, produced in the West during the past four hundred years has been based on the false assumption that what is an exceptional experience is or ought to be a universal one. Under its influence so many millions of persons have persuaded themselves they were "in love" when their experience could be fully and accurately described by the more brutal four-letter words, that one is sometimes tempted to doubt if the experience is ever genuine, even when, or especially when, its seems to have happened to oneself. However, it is impossible to read some of the documents, La Vita Nuova, for example, many of Shakespeare's sonnets or the Symposium and dismiss them as fakes.