Friday, December 18, 2009

Order of the Universe #31, Christianity #9, History #16

There are no simple congruities in life or history. The cult of happiness erroneously assumes them. It is possible to soften the incongruities of life endless by the scientific conquest of nature's caprices, and the social and political triumph over historic injustice. But all such strategies cannot finally overcome the fragmentary character of human existence. The final wisdom of life requires, not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (1952)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Word of the Day #31


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Walker Evans Wayside #6

Walker Evans, view from train, shot for Fortune magazine (1950)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

America #53

To an Englishman landing upon your shores for the first time, travelling for hundreds of miles through strings of great and well-ordered cities, seeing your enormous actual, and almost infinite potential, wealth in all commodities, and in the energy and ability which turn wealth to account, there is something sublime in the vista of the future. Do not suppose that I am pandering to what is commonly understood by national pride. I cannot say that I am in the slightest degree impressed by your bigness, or your material resources, as such. Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation. The great issue, about which hangs a true sublimity, and the terror of overhanging fate, is what are you going to do with all these things? What is to be the end to which these are to be the means? You are making a novel experiment in politics on the greatest scale which the world has yet seen. Forty millions at your first centenary, it is reasonably to be expected that, at the second, these states will be occupied by two hundred millions of English-speaking people, spread over an area as large as that of Europe, and with, climates and interests as diverse as those of Spain and Scandinavia, England and Russia. You and your descendants have to ascertain whether this great mass will hold together under the forms of a republic, and the despotic reality of universal suffrage; whether state rights will hold out against centralisation, without separation; whether centralisation will get the better, without actual or disguised monarchy; whether shifting corruption is better than a permanent bureaucracy; and as population thickens in your great cities, and the pressure of want is felt, the gaunt spectre of pauperism will stalk among you, and communism and socialism will claim to be heard. Truly America has a great future before her; great in toil, in care, and in responsibility; great in true glory if she be guided in wisdom and righteousness; great in shame if she fail.

Thomas H. Huxley, American Addresses (1877)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Manhattan #42

The firmament that is New York is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. It is a city and it also a creature, a mentality, a disease, a threat, an electromagnet, a cheap stage set, an accident corridor. It is an implausible character, a monstrous vortex of contradictions, an attraction-repulsion mechanism so extreme no one could have made it up. New York, which has been called the capital of the twentieth century, as Paris was that of the nineteenth, would seem on the face of it to be founded on progress, on change, on the bulldozing of what has faded to make way for the next thing, the thing after that, the future. The lure of the new is built right into its name; it is the part of the name that actually registers, since the “York,” a commemoration of a colonial lineage, carries no resonance and exists only as a vestige. New York is incarnated by Manhattan (the other boroughs, noble, useful, and significant though they may be, are merely adjuncts), and Manhattan is a finite space that cannot be expanded but only continually resurfaced and reconfigured. Manhattan is a wonderland of real estate speculation, a hot center whose temperature cannot but increase as population increases and desirability remains several places ahead of capacity. The myth of Manhattan, therefore, is cast in the future tense. It does not hark back to a heroic past, lacks its Romulus and Remus (except in the image of that transaction between Peter Minuit and the Canarsies, which is simply the first clever deal, the primordial ground-floor entry). New York has no truck with the past. It expels the dead.

The dead, however, are a notoriously perverse and unmanageable lot. They tend not to remain safely buried, and in fact resist all efforts at obliterating their traces. Cultures that glorify and memorialize their dead have simply found a clever way to satisfy and therefore quiet them. When the dead are endlessly represented in monuments, images, memorials, and ceremonies, their vigor passes into these objects and events; it is safely defused, made anodyne. New York, which is found on forward motion and is thus loath to acknowledge its dead, merely causes them to walk, endless unsatisfied and unburied, to invade the precincts of supposed progress, to lay chill hands on the heedless present, which does not know how to identify the forces that tug at its rationality.

Luc Sante, Low Life (1991)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My God, I Shot the Wrong Architect #4

Seule la main qui efface peut écrire: the hands of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (1956)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Aphorisms #8, Order of the Universe #30

What happens to Golden Ages is that they are supplanted by ages symbolized by baser, more practical metals.

Guy Davenport

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

In Memoriam #16, Apocalypse #21, Cats #2

Claude Lévi-Strauss


The world began without the human race and it will end without it. The institutions, manners, and customs which I shall have spent my life in cataloguing and trying to understand are an ephemeral efflorescence of a creative process in relation to which they are meaningless, unless it be that they allow humanity to play its destined role. That role does not, however, assign to our race a position of independence. Nor, even if Man himself is condemned, are his vain efforts directed towards the arresting of a universal process of decline. Far from it: his role is itself a machine, brought perhaps to a greater point of perfection than any other, whose activity hastens the disintegration of an initial order and precipitates a powerfully organized matter towards a condition of inertia which grows ever greater and will one day prove definitive. From the day when he first learned how to breathe and how to keep himself alive, through the discovery of fire and right up to the invention of the atomic and thermonuclear devices of the present day, Man has never save only when he reproduces himself done other than cheerfully dismantle million upon million of structures and reduce their elements to a state in which they can no longer be reintegrated. No doubt he has built cities and brought the soil to fruition; but if we examine these activities closely we shall find that they also are inertia-producing machines, whose scale and speed of action are infinitely greater than the amount of organization implied in them. As for the creations of the human mind, they are meaningful only in relation to that mind and will fall into nothingness as soon as it ceases to exist. Taken as a whole, therefore, civilization can be described as a prodigiously complicated mechanism: tempting as it would be to regard it as our universe s best hope of survival, its true function is to produce what physicists call entropy: inertia, that is to say. Every scrap of conversation, every line set up in type, establishes a communication between two interlocutors, levelling what had previously existed on two different planes and had had, for that reason, a greater degree of organization. Entropology, not anthropology, should be the word for the discipline that devotes itself to the study of this process of disintegration in its most highly evolved forms.


Man is not alone in the universe, any more than the individual is alone in the group, or any one society alone among other societies. Even if the rainbow of human cultures should go down for ever into the abyss which we are so insanely creating, there will still remain open to us provided we are alive and the world is in existence a precarious arch that points towards the inaccessible. The road which it indicates to us is one that leads directly away from our present serfdom: and even if we cannot set off along it, merely to contemplate it will procure us the only grace that we know how to deserve. The grace to call a halt, that is to say: to check the impulse which prompts Man always to block up, one after another, such fissures as may be open in the blank wall of necessity and to round off his achievement by slamming shut the doors of his own prison. This is the grace for which every society longs, irrespective of its beliefs, its political regime, its level of civilization. It stands, in every case, for leisure, and recreation, and freedom, and peace of body and mind. On this opportunity, this chance of for once detaching oneself from the implacable process, life itself depends. Farewell to savages, then, farewell to journeying! And instead, during the brief intervals in which humanity can bear to interrupt its hive-like labours, let us grasp the essence of what our species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society: an essence that may be vouchsafed to us in a mineral more beautiful than any work of Man; in the scent, more subtly evolved than our books, that lingers in the heart of a lily; or in the wink of an eye, heavy with patience, serenity, and mutual forgiveness, that sometimes, through an involuntary understanding, one can exchange with a cat.

Conclusion, Tristes Tropiques (1955)
John Russell, English translation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

History #15

After all, history isn't the real thing. Past time is only evil at a distance; and of course, the study of past time is itself a process in time. Cataloguing bits of fossil evil can never be more than an ersatz for eternity.

Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer [a.k.a After Many a Summer Dies the Swan] (1939)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Word of the Day #30


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Alcohol #11

L'alcool est le monarque des liquides et porte au dernier degré l'exaltation palatale: ces diverses préparations ont ouvert de nouvelles sources de jouissances; il donne à certains médicaments une énergie qu'ils n'auraient pas sans cet intermède; il est même devenu dans nos mains une arme formidable, car les nations du nouveau monde ont été presque autant domptées et détruites par l'eau-de-vie que par les armes à feu.

Alcohol is the monarch of liquids, and takes possession of the extreme tastes of the palate. Its various preparations offer us countless new flavors, and to certain medicinal remedies, it gives an energy they could not well do without. It has even become a formidable weapon: the natives of the new world having been more utterly destroyed by brandy than by gunpowder.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du goût (1825)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Word of the Day #29


Thursday, October 08, 2009

America #52, Time #20

It's all very well for you to look as if, since you've had no past, you're going in, as the next best thing, for a magnificent compensatory future. What are you going to make your future of, for all your airs, we want to know?—what elements of a future, as futures have gone in the great world, are at all assured to you?... No, what you are reduced to for "importance" is the present, pure and simple, squaring itself between an absent future and an absent past as solidly as it can.

Henry James, The American Scene (1907)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Word of the Day #28

Tempora mutantur

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Titles Without Context #7

Radio-cuisine : chroniques gastronomiques diffusées par t.s.f.

Édouard de Pomiane (1933-36)

Apocalypse #20

No future in this. Alas yes.

Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (1983)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manhattan #41, Order of the Universe #29

New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Lost City” (1932)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Walker Evans Wayside #5

Walker Evans, view from train, shot for Fortune magazine (1950)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Memoriam #15, America #51

Ted Kennedy


I am confident that the Democratic Party will reunite on the basis of Democratic principles, and that together we will march towards a Democratic victory in 1980.

And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith.

May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.

And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

1980 Democratic National Convention Address (August 12, 1980)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Time #19, Books on Books #6

[L]a plupart des grands auteurs contemporains, Proust, Joyce, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Gide, V. Woolf, chacun à sa manière, ont tenté de mutiler le temps. Les uns l'ont privé de passé et d'avenir pour le réduire à l'intuition pure de l'instant ; d'autres, comme Dos Passos, en font une mémoire morte et close. Proust et Faulkner l'ont simplement décapité, ils lui ont ôté son avenir, c'est-à-dire la dimension des actes et de la liberté.

Most of the great contemporary authors, Proust, Joyce, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Gide, and Virginia Woolf, have tried, each in his own way, to distort time. Some of them have deprived it of its past and future in order to reduce it to the pure intuition of the instant; others, like Dos Passos, have made of it a dead and closed memory. Proust and Faulkner have simply decapitated it. They have deprived it of its future, that is, its dimension of deeds and freedom.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1939)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Plausible Historical Analogies #1, The Animal Kingdom #15

The G.O.P. elephant shuffles off this mortal coil under the watchful eye of spectral megafauna.

The card in the brontosaurus's mouth reads, "Ancient Order of Extinct Animals. Membership Ticket."

Puck (November 27, 1912)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cinema #44, Memory #8, Time #18

To speak—perhaps to write?—of Casablanca is like looking at an old photograph: there you are but somehow that is not you: in between there is memory, the time that went by and the renewed photofinish, its battle with time won—and lost. Time does not pass: you pass through time and as in a narrow hedge of brambles you leave your clothes and skin on the thorns too. In short, time is like the bank in roulette: it always wins. (It wins even when it loses.) And it has won against Casablanca. It that obsolete, distant, almost ridiculous and false movie the one which you so lovingly remembered? Is the petulant part of Claude Rains the perfect portrayal of a gentleman in cynic’s clothing that we treasured in our memory? And Humphrey Bogart, isn’t he a caricature of what he pretends to be, with his absurd existentialist gallantry? And isn’t Paul Henreid ridiculous as the hero of the Resistance that they oblige him to be? Instead of conspiring underground and keeping himself hidden he devotes himself to conducting the Marseillaise in front of all the Germans, like a laughable apprentice of Leopold Stokowski? And what about Conrad Veidt, with his real German accent made into a phony one by the falseness of his role as a stupid Prussian gentlemen? To the cronista’s questions, the reader can in turn ask: “So, then, why the four points (the sign of excellence), what are they for?” They are for memory.

G. Cain (a.k.a. Guillermo Cabrera Infante), “Time v. Cinema” (June 2, 1956)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Architecture #40, Cinema #43

The face of Vincent Prince superimposed over Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House, Los Angeles, California.

From the opening sequence of House on Haunted Hill d: William Castle (1959)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Death #6, Order of the Universe #28

All the Flowers of the Spring
Meet to perfume our burying:
These have but their growing prime,
And man does flourish but his time.
Survey our progresse from our birth,
We are set, we grow, we turne to earth.
Courts adieu, and all delights,
All bewitching appetites;
Sweetest Breath, and clearest eye,
Like perfumes goe out and dye;
And consequently this is done,
As shadowes wait upon the Sunne.
Vaine the ambition of Kings,
Who seeke by trophies and dead things,
To leave a living name behind,
And weave but nets to catch the wind.

John Webster, from The Devil's Law-Case (c. 1623)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dead Presidents #47

Philippines Governor-General William Howard Taft rides a water buffalo. (c. 1903)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monumental Fictions #3, Cinema #42

San Francisco Disaster, American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.

Camera, G.W. "Billy" Bitzer, shot at the Biograph studios, New York City (May 19, 1906)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Annals of Photography #4

[T]he camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time ; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.

James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Age of Print #16

The Novels of Dashiell Hammett, Alfred A. Knopf, publishers (1965)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Aphorisms #7

I live for syntax.

Raymond Chandler

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Titles Without Context #5

Travels of a Republican Radical in Search of Hot Water

H.G. Wells (1939)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Archaeology of the Poster #8, Medicine #2, The Animal Kingdom #14

The WPA promotes treatment for syphilis through ancient saurians. (c. 1937)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Time #17, History #14, Order of the Universe #27

Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History,” Essays, First Series (1841)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Order of the Universe #26, Music #14

Peut-être est-ce le néant qui est le vrai et tout notre rêve est-il inexistant, mais alors nous sentons qu’il faudra que ces phrases musicales, ces notions qui existent par rapport à lui, ne soient rien non plus. Nous périrons mais nous avons pour otages ces captives divines qui suivront notre chance. Et la mort avec elles a quelque chose de moins amer, de moins inglorieux, peut-être de moins probable.

Maybe it is the nothingness that is real and our entire dream is nonexistent, but in that case we feel that these phrases of music, and these notions that exist in relation to our dream, must also be nothing. We will perish, but we have for hostages these divine captives who follow and share our fate. And death in their company is less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps less probable.

Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann
English translation by Lydia Davis

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Emotion is in the Emulsion #1, Dead Presidents #46

President William Howard Taft fights in vain against the physical destruction of the record of his Denver handshake.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Order of the Universe #25

This shining moment is an edifice
Which the Omnipotent cannot rebuild.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, May 25, 2009

Architecture #39

Architecture is a very good test of the true strength of a society, for the most valuable things in a human state are the irrevocable things—marriage, for instance. And architecture approaches nearer than any other art to being irrevocable, because it is so difficult to get rid of. You can turn a picture with its face to the wall; it would be a nuisance to turn that Roman cathedral with its face to the wall. You can tear a poem to pieces; it is only in moments of very sincere emotion that you tear a town-hall to pieces. A building is akin to dogma; it is insolent, like a dogma. Whether or no it is permanent, it claims permanence like a dogma. People ask why we have no typical architecture of the modern world, like impressionism in painting. Surely it is obviously because we have not enough dogmas; we cannot bear to see anything in the sky that is solid and enduring, anything in the sky that is solid and enduring, anything in the sky that does not change like the clouds of the sky. But along with this decision which is involved in creating a building, there goes a quite similar decision in the more delightful task of smashing one. The two of necessity go together. In few places have so many fine public buildings bee set up as here in Paris, and in few places have so many been destroyed. When people have finally got into the horrible habit of preserving buildings, they have got out of the habit of building them. And in London one mingles, as it were, one’s tears because so few are pulled down.

G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Age of Print #14

Front and back covers of first American edition of The Life of Alfred Nobel. (1929)

Monday, May 18, 2009

My God, I Shot the Wrong Architect #3

Mies van der Rohe relaxes at home in Chicago in furniture decidedly not of his own design. (c. 1956)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Annals of Typography #1, Age of Print #14

Line three enlarged:

John Donne, fragment of “The Flea” (c. 1610)

The long “s” (ſ) gives the line “Me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee” two possible readings.

Please notify William Empson.

Page from Poems on Several Occasions: Written by the Reverend John Donne, ... With Elegies on the Author’s Death. To this Edition is Added, Some Account of the Life of the Author
By John Donne
Published by printed for J. Tonson, and sold by W. Taylor. (1719)

Order of the Universe #24

[W]hat are called advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition--a more accurate expression, by words in logy and ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries.

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Age of Print #13, Architecture #38

Cover of first edition of Louis Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats on Architecture, Education and Democracy (Washington, D.C.: Scarab Fraternity Press, 1934)

Diptych #11, Archaeology of the Music Video #7

Peggy Lee sings "Johnny Guitar". (c. 1954)

The Spotnicks play an instrumental version of "Johnny Guitar". (1962)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Seasons #5

Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise!

Wallace Stevens, journal entry (March 4, 1906)

Apocalypse #19, Death #5, The Automobile #18

If speed and safety were the only considerations, there is no reason why the auto industry, once it awakened from its self-induced narcosis, should not "go with" this movement and make greater profits than ever. For it is easy to foresee the theoretic ideal limit toward which both the automotive engineer and the highway engineer have begun to move: to make the surface of this planet no better for any form of organic life than the surface of the moon. To minimize road accidents, the highway engineers have already advocated cutting down all trees and telegraph poles within a hundred feet of each side of the road. But that is only a beginning. To provide maximum safety at high speed, the car will either have to be taken out of the motorist's hands and placed under automatic control, as M.I.T. researchers have, on purely mechanical assumptions, worked out; or else turned into an armored vehicle, windowless, completely padded on the inside, with front and rear vision provided on a screen, and a television set installed to amuse the non-drivers, just as if they were in a jetplane. Along those lines, the motor car in a not-too-distant future would become a space capsule, a mobile prison, and the earth itself a featureless asteroid. Meanwhile, a further consolidation of the megamachine, with autos, jet planes, and rockets forming a single industry; the profits of that ultimate combine should exceed the wildest expectations of even General Motors.

Lewis Mumford, "The American Way of Death" (1966)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Annals of Photography #3

Ambulance and photographic wagon, Carson Desert, Nevada. Timothy O'Sullivan, photographer. (1867)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walker Evans Wayside #4

Walker Evans, view from train, shot for Fortune magazine (1950)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In Memoriam #14, Apocalypse #18

J.G. Ballard


From the very start, when I first turned to science fiction, I was convinced that the future was a better key to the present than the past. At the time, however, I was dissatisfied with science fiction’s obsession with its two principal themes—outer space and the far future. As much for emblematic purposes as any theoretical or programmatic ones, I christened the new terrain I wished to explore inner space, that psychological domain (manifest, for example, in surrealist painting) where the inner world of the mind and the outer world of reality meet and fuse.

Introduction to Crash (1973)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Order of the Universe #23

An epoch not only dreams the one to follow but, in dreaming, precipitates its awakening.

Walter Benjamin, "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Exposé of 1935"

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Age of Print #12, Cinema #41

Cover to Dutton edition of Andrew Sarris's American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (1969)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Order of the Universe #22, Love #22

Language has not the power to speak what love indites:
The soul lies buried in the ink that writes.

John Clare, fragment

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Annals of Outer Space #1

NASA scientists place the golden Sounds of Earth record aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft. (1977)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Age of Print #11, Food #13, The Animal Kingdom #13

Twenty-First Annual Capital Bicycle Club Banquet dinner menu. (February 3, 1900)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Apocalypse #17, War #12

Robert Mitchum discusses Vietnam. (1966)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Art #19

To write something which was of enduring beauty, this was the ambition of every writer: as it was the ambition of the joiner and architect and the constructor of any kind. It was not the beauty but the endurance, for endurance was beautiful. It was also all that we could do. It was a consolation, even a high and positive joy, to make something true: some table, which, sat on, when it was meant only to be eaten off, would not splinter or shatter. It was not for the constructor that the beauty was made, but for the thing itself. He would triumph to know that some contribution had been made: some sort of consoling contribution quite timeless and without relation to his own profit. Sometimes we knew, half tipsy or listening to music, that at the heart of some world there lay a chord to which vibrating gave reality. With its reality there was music and truth and the permanence of good workmanship. To give birth to this, with whatever male travail, was not only all that man could do: it was also all that eclipsed humanity of either sex could do: it was the human contribution to the universe. Absolutely bludgeoned by jazz and mechanical achievement, the artist yearned to discover permanence, some life of happy permanence which he by fixing could create to the satisfaction of after-people who also looked.

T.H. White, The Goshawk (1951)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alan Lomax's South #1, Music #13

Top: Handwritten on back: "Angola, Louisiana"; "N66-1"; "N67-1."

Bottom: Handwritten on back: "Prison compund No 1. Angola, La. Leadbelly in foreground."

(Photographed c. 1934)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Age of Print #10

Advertisement for the book Many a Monster in the New York Times (March 25, 1948)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Entrails of Finance #2, Manhattan #39, Architecture #37

The present-day money pit rises from an actual pit in the ground: work on 70 Pine Street, the future headquarters (from 1976 onward) of American International Group, a.k.a. AIG.
(Pictured 1930 and 1931)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Order of the Universe #21

The heavens are wrath—the thunders rattling peal
Rolls like a vast volcano in the sky
Yet nothing starts the apathy I feel
Nor chills with fear eternal destiny

My soul is apathy—a ruin vast
Time cannot clear the ruined mass away
My life is hell—the hopeless die is cast
& manhoods prime is premature decay

Roll on ye wrath of thunders—peal on peal
Till worlds are ruins & myself alone
Melt heart & soul cased in obdurate steel
Till I can feel that nature is my throne

I live in love sun of undying light
& fathom my own heart for ways of good
In its pure atmosphere day without night
Smiles on the plains the forest & the flood

Smile on ye elements of earth & sky
Or frown in thunders as ye frown on me
Bid earth & its delusions pass away
But leave the mind as its creator free

John Clare, excerpts from “Written in a Thunderstorm July 15 1841”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Order of the Universe #20, Apocalypse #16

One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay that leads to death has already begun.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History (1938)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Scenes from a Life #23, Aviation #13

Buddy Holly's body lies in front of the wreckage of the Beechcraft Bonanza B35 aircraft that also carried Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. (February 3, 1959)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Entrails of Finance #1,Manhattan #38, Architecture #36

Future zombie tower: preliminary sketches for Citicorp Center. Hugh Stubbins, architect. (1970)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

My God, I Shot the Wrong Architect #2

Edward Durell Stone bestride his grilles. (1958)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

America #50, Founders' Promissory Notes #1

Mixed-race petit jury impaneled to try Jefferson Davis, the first mixed-race petit jury in the United States. (1867)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anniverseries #14, Dead Presidents #45

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809

Cast of Lincoln's face, hands, and Lincoln's suit and hat.

Friday, February 06, 2009

History #13

Concerning the Age which has just passed, our fathers and our grandfathers have poured forth and accumulated so vast a quantity of information that the industry of a Ranke would be submerged by it, and the perspicacity of a Gibbon would quail before it. It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch. If he is wise, he will adopt a subtler strategy. He will attack his subject in unexpected places; he will fall upon the flank, or the rear; he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses, hither-to undivined. He will row out over that great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen, from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity.

Lytton Strachey, preface, Eminent Victorians (1918)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Atomic Age #1

A Nevada sheriff standing against the light from an atomic blast forty miles away.
George Silk, photographer (1955)

Scenes from a Life #22

Orson Welles and Cole Porter confer. (1946)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Apocalypse #15, America #49, Books on Books #5

But it is a great book, a very great book, the greatest book of the sea ever written. It moves awe in the soul.

The terrible fatality.



Doom! Doom! Doom! Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America. Doom!

Doom of what?

Doom of our white day. We are doomed, doomed. And the doom is in America. The doom of our white day.

Ah, well, if my day is doomed, and I am doomed with my day, it is something greater than I which dooms me, so I accept my doom as a sign of the greatness which is more than I am.

Melville knew. He knew his race was doomed. His white soul, doomed. His great white epoch doomed. Himself, doomed. The idealist, doomed: The spirit, doomed.

The reversion. 'Not so much bound to any haven ahead, as rushing from all havens astern.'

That great horror of ours! It is our civilization rushing from all havens astern.

The last ghastly hunt. The White Whale.

What then is Moby Dick? He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature.

And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness. We want to hunt him down. To subject him to our will. And in this maniacal conscious hunt of ourselves we get dark races and pale to help us, red, yellow, and black, east and west, Quaker and fireworshipper, we get them all to help us in this ghastly maniacal hunt which is our doom and our suicide.

The last phallic being of the white man. Hunted into the death of upper consciousness and the ideal will. Our blood- self subjected to our will. Our blood-consciousness sapped by a parasitic mental or ideal consciousness.

Hot blooded sea-born Moby Dick. Hunted maniacs of the idea.

Oh God, oh God, what next, when the Pequod has sunk?

She sank in the war, and we are all flotsam.

Now what next?

Who knows ? Quien sabe? Quien sabe, senor?

Neither Spanish nor Saxon America has any answer.

The Pequod went down. And the Pequod was the ship of the white American soul. She sank, taking with her negro and Indian and Polynesian, Asiatic and Quaker and good, business- like Yankees and Ishmael: she sank all the lot of them.

Boom! as Vachel Lindsay would say.

To use the words of Jesus, IT IS FINISHED.

Consummatum est! But Moby Dick was first published in 1851. If the Great White Whale sank the ship of the Great White Soul in 1851, what's been happening ever since?

Post-mortem effects, presumably.

Because, in the first centuries, Jesus was Cetus, the Whale. And the Christians were the little fishes. Jesus, the Redeemer, was Cetus, Leviathan. And all the Christians all his little fishes.

D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Annals of Photography #1

George R. Lawrence stands astride the lens of his 8 x 4½ ft glass-plate camera, which will be used to photograph Chicago & Alton Railway's Alton Limited. (1900)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Scenes from a Life #21, America #48

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.