Friday, August 31, 2012
Out and about, I heard someone on a phone, spelling to make herself understood: “No, no, p-a-c-k r-a-t-s.” And then she spoke the words: “Pehk rehts! ” That’s one small instance of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. The person on the other end of the conversation must have been in a different gear.
Thanks, Rosemary, for confirming that this pronunciation is a matter of the shift.
By Michael Leddy at 8:04 AM
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I thought that Western Civ had come to an end when the Vermont Country Store started selling vibrators.¹ But now the VCS is selling replica Blackwing pencils, only (or “only”) $3.90 each. This little bit of copywriting adds another layer to the Blackwing story:
That can only be Howlin’ Wolf, composer of “Smokestack Lightning” and the latest member of the Blackwing pantheon. Welcome!
¹ They do. Really.
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
Blackwing Pages (a website devoted to the Blackwing pencil)
By Michael Leddy at 2:06 PM
Online for a limited time: All Things Strings: Inside Elderly Instruments, a documentary about what may be the greatest guitar (and banjo and mandolin and ukulele) store in the world. Elaine and Ben and I made a visit last year, and when we weren’t trying instruments (and bows), we admired the tone balls.
By Michael Leddy at 9:45 AM
We were taking a walk before buying tickets to see Monsieur Lazhar. For some reason or no reason, we decided to look into a former department store that’s been turned into office space. The back entrance was unlocked on a Sunday afternoon: an invitation to adventure.
We followed the obtuse angles of a long hallway, which brought us to the front of the building. Along the way, we saw no sign of activity. But we did see this mail chute and letter box in the lobby.
[O dowdy world, that had such boxes in it.]
Diane Schirf on mail chutes
Molly Dodd, Molly Dodd, Molly Dodd (with a mail chute)
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
A philosopher and mechanic on finding problems:
When you do the math problems at the back of a chapter in an algebra textbook, you are problem solving. If the chapter is entitled “Systems of two equations with two unknowns,” you know exactly which methods to use. In such a constrained situation, the pertinent context in which to view the problem has already been determined, so there is no effort of interpretation required. But in the real world, problems don’t present themselves in this predigested way; usually there is too much information, and it is difficult to know what is pertinent and what isn’t. Knowing what kind of problem you have on hand means knowing what features of the situation can be ignored. Even the boundaries of what counts as “the situation” can be ambiguous; making discriminations of pertinence cannot be achieved by the application of rules, and requires the kind of judgment that comes with experience. The value and job security of the mechanic lie in the fact that he has this firsthand, personal knowledge.This insight in this passage seems to me applicable in many ways. In terms of writing instruction, I think of the difference between a grammar exercise and the work of revising an essay. With an exercise, one knows what to look for, and often, though not always, there’s a rule to follow to make things right. With revision, who knows what the problems are? One must figure out what they are, problems of all sorts, wherever they might be. Is a paragraph too long? Is a sequence of sentences right? Answering such questions is a matter not of rules but of “the kind of judgment that comes with experience.”
Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin, 2009).
Betty Flowers: madman, architect, carpenter, judge
Crocodile (“A problem is just a challenge that hasn’t been overcome.”)
Matthew Crawford on higher education
By Michael Leddy at 7:20 AM
[Zippy, August 29, 2012.]
Zippy and Griffy as Nancy and Sluggo. Stage left, Bill Griffith has placed the mystical configuration of “some rocks.” Scott McCloud explains:
Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie’s way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be “some rocks.” Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate “some rocks” but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of “some rocks.”A related post
Nancy + Sluggo = Perfection
By Michael Leddy at 7:19 AM
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
From Danny Eccleston’s profile of Van Dyke Parks, in the September 2012 issue of Mojo:
For years, his mother displayed a yellowed cutting from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner on the refrigerator — her only evidence of her son’s status as a showbiz personage.Read it all at Bananastan Records.
“It was 1980,” relates Parks. “I was just back from Malta, playing piano with Kinky Friedman in a place in North Hollywood, and we’d been collared by a reporter. The piece ran, ‘Van Dyke Parks, when asked what he felt about Bob Dylan becoming a Born Again Christian, said, “Well, there goes the neighbourhood.”’”
All Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)
[Malta: That would have been Popeye. I think he must’ve said neighborhood.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:51 AM
Monday, August 27, 2012
[“Students sitting in circle listening to teacher outside on campus of New Trier High School.” Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Winnetka, Illinois, June 1950. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view. Or choose the jumbo economy size.]
There’s a maturity and sense of purpose in this photograph that I find difficult to reconcile with “high school.” But New Trier was and is no ordinary public high school. In a country committed to equality of opportunity, every school would be able to offer its students the possibilities available at New Trier.
Jonathan Kozol contrasts life at Chicago high schools and life at New Trier in his book Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1992). A November 2011 Chicago Tribune article sugests that little has changed since 1992: in 2011, the poorest school districts in Illinois spent less than a third of what the wealthiest districts spent per student.
[Notice the second suited man, seated at 12:00. Perhaps the class is team-taught. Notice too the striped socks at 3:00, the surfing shirt at 8:00, and the matching dresses at 11:00. Twins, or best friends?]
By Michael Leddy at 8:11 AM
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Google’s explanation is kinda vague:
An auto[-]generated channel is created when YouTube algorithmically identifies a topic to have a significant presence on the site. It might be because there are a minimum number of videos or watch views about this topic. We also determine if the quality of the set of videos in that channel meets some thresholds.Thanks, Google. Thanks a lot.
[Rachel and Ben, what did you do to make Duke so angry with you?]
By Michael Leddy at 10:29 AM
Pregnant — I mean expecting — and fearful, Lucy Ricardo has hired a tutor, Percy Livermore (Hans Conried), to ensure that she and Ricky and Fred and Ethel will speak proper English around the baby:
Mr. Livermore: We must rid our speech of slang. Now besides okay, I want you all to promise me that there are two words that you will never use. One of these is swell, and the other one is lousy.In the Degrees-of-Separation Department: My dad once said hello to Hans Conried.
Lucy: Okay, what are they?
Mr. Livermore: One of them is swell, and the other one is lousy.
Fred: Well, give us the lousy one first.
“Lucy Hires an English Tutor,” I Love Lucy, December 29, 1952.
By Michael Leddy at 8:33 AM
Friday, August 24, 2012
I like this brief exchange from Chris Albertson’s 1979 interview with clarinetist and alto saxophonist Russell Procope (1908–1981). From 1946 to 1974, Procope was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Here Procope recalls his growing awareness of older musicians in the mid-to-late 1920s:
Procope: They used to talk about Joe Oliver and Johnny St. Cyr, and all those old guys, you know.The cornetist and bandleader Joe “King” Oliver was born in 1885; the banjoist and guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, in 1890. By the mid-to-late ’20s, they were past twenty-five, though hardly old. But age varies with perspective, right? Older than you is old.
Albertson: They weren’t really that old then.
Procope: Well, they were older than I was. I was about seventeen, eighteen, nineteen; they were probably about twenty-five. I called them old. [Laughs.]
Chris Albertson’s interview offers the rare opportunity to hear Russell Procope talk about his life and work: Part One, Part Two. And here, courtesy of YouTube, is one of Procope’s finest moments with Ellington, “Second Line,” from New Orleans Suite (1970).
By Michael Leddy at 8:27 AM
At Contrapuntalism, a great statement from Nadia Boulanger: “Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.”
As more and more attractions and distractions compete for our eyes and ears, I think that the ability to pay attention, to attend, will become ever more prized in the twenty-first century.
Two related posts
Free advice for Bill McKibben
Richard Wollheim on looking at art
By Michael Leddy at 8:25 AM
Thursday, August 23, 2012
A philosopher and mechanic, on higher education:
When the point of education becomes the production of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: “All human beings by nature desire to know.” Students become intellectually disengaged.
Maybe we can say, after all, that higher education is indispensable to prepare students for the jobs of the information economy. Not for the usual reason given, namely, that there is ever-increasing demand for workers with more powerful minds, but in this perverse sense: college habituates young people to accept as the normal course of things a mismatch between form and content, official representations and reality.
Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin, 2009).
By Michael Leddy at 7:41 AM
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
[Zippy, August 21, 2012. Click for larger views.]
Dingburg poet laureate Slouch Gavitsky looks and sounds a lot like Charles Bukowski.
Nancy + Sluggo = Perfection
Read Charles Bukowski 4 what?
[The Bukowski photograph is by Sam Cherry and appears in Post Office (1971). I found it here.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:30 AM
[Henry, August 22, 2012.]
In May 2012 post on shoe repairmen as the new typewriter repairmen, I wrote: “I can remember as a boy sitting in a stall-like structure with a swinging door, waiting while new heels were put on my shoes. Was that common?”
In Henry, it still is.
March 29, 20913: It seems they were called “shoe booths.”
Other Henry posts
Betty Boop with Henry
Henry, an anachronism
Henry and a gum machine
Henry buys liverwurst
Henry, getting things done
Henry’s repeated gesture
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The latest edition of the Beloit Mindset List is now available. I would call it the 2012 list, but Beloit calls it the 2016 list, to mark the anticipated year of graduation for this fall’s college freshmen. (A bit optimistic, that. Has Beloit not heard of The Five-Year Plan?) The new list, like lists before it, collects odd, tacky, and often unconvincing markers of changing times. A sampling:
“Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes ‘American Royalty.’” News to me.
“Herr Schindler has always had a List; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.” In other words, Schindler’s List received Oscars in 1994, the year of a hypothetical eighteen-year-old freshman’s birth. This item is particularly tasteless and tone-deaf and would be so even without the grotesque pun on Oskar and Oscar. I’m surprised this item withstood institutional scrutiny.
“If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.” No, if “they” — or I — want to catch The Daily Show, the destination is thedailyshow.com.
“They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as ‘tapes.’” The closest we’ve come to this goofy scenario in our household is with the words album and record, which do indeed still describe recorded works, analog or digital.
“Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.” Bauds?
“They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of ‘electronic narcotics.’” Electronic narcotics? No wonder they call it the Information Superhighway. Seriously though, the term “electronic narcotics” has little currency beyond the Beloit Mindset List. A Google search for “electronic narcotics” -beloit -2016 returns a mere 935 results.
My real objection to the Beloit Mindset List though concerns not its particulars but the mindset behind the list. As I wrote in a post on the 2010 (or 2014) list:
What bothers me about the Beloit list involves some unspoken assumptions about reality and young adults. The list reads like a nightmare-version of the proposition that begins Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921): “Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.” “The world is all that is the case” — all that is the case, that is, in the life-experience of a hypothetical eighteen-year-old American student.If you want to read more:
Re: the Beloit Mindset List (on the 2010 list)
The Beloit Mindset List: 2011 edition
[In my lifetime, Bix Beiderbecke, Emily Dickinson, Juan Gris, and Fats Waller have always been dead. And the point is — what?]
By Michael Leddy at 7:58 PM
Wally (Wallace Shawn), in My Dinner with André (dir. Louis Malle, 1981):
“In the Middle Ages, before the arrival of scientific thinking as we know it today, well, people could believe anything. Anything could be true: the statue of the Virgin Mary could speak or bleed, or whatever it was. But the wonderful thing that happened was that then in the development of science in the western world, well, certain things did come slowly to be known and understood. I mean, you know, obviously, all ideas in science are constantly being revised; I mean, that's the whole point. But we do at least know that the universe has some shape and order and that, you know, trees do not turn into people or goddesses. And there are very good reasons why they don't, and you can't just believe absolutely anything.”I think that Todd Akin is living in the Middle Ages.
August 22: Todd Akin’s theorizing about rape and pregnancy dates back at least to the late thirteenth century.
By Michael Leddy at 4:58 PM
At davemadden.org, a brief guide to David Foster Wallace’s contributions to the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus . Wallace contributed a couple of dozen notes on usage to the OAWT, at least some of which are available in the Mac’s version of the thesaurus.
Now I’m wondering if Wallace might have had something to do with a very strange sample sentence in the OAWT : “I observed this wheelchair dude in the vestibule waiting for me.” Infinite Jest is filled with men, dangerous men, in wheelchairs. I’m thinking in particular of a scene in the novel in which Rémy Marathe, posing as a survey-taker, sits in a hotel hallway and knocks on a door. The only vestibules in IJ though are found at the Enfield Tennis Academy. Is this “wheelchair dude” waiting for Hal Incandenza?
The “wheelchair dude” has disappeared from the Mac’s OAWT but lives on in this 2010 post.
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 1:48 PM
[Frontispiece to Sheridan Baker’s The Practical Stylist (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1962).]
Sheridan Baker’s The Practical Stylist is a much-acclaimed, long-lived textbook for college writing classes. The above frontispiece comes from the tenth printing (1967), whose cover design and typography are credited to Guy Fleming. Perhaps the frontispiece appears in earlier printings too. Bravo to the publisher who thought it fitting to give a lovely bouquet of letters and punctuation marks to a textbook.
Who was Guy Fleming? The New York Times has a 1956 wedding announcement for a Guy Fleming and a Ruth Foster. The Guy Fleming in question was then attending the Yale School of Graphic Arts. I think he must be our man. A 1961 Times review of James Joyce’s Scribbledehobble: The Ur-Workbook for Finnegans Wake, says that “Guy Fleming, who designed the book, is the only person to emerge from the enterprise with enhanced reputation.” A comment on a 2008 post about Fleming’s work says that Fleming died “about four years ago.”
Here are six sources for more of Fleming’s work:
Guy Fleming jackets (Dreamers Rise)
More Fleming jackets (Julian Montague Projects)
One more Fleming jacket (Bennington College)
Another jacket (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Still another (Robotspaceshiptank)
One more (The Ward-O-Matic)
September 20, 2013: I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Guy Fleming’s daughter Faith Fleming. Guy Fleming (1931–2001) did indeed study at Yale (bachelor’s in Art History, 1953; master’s in design, 1955). Faith describes her father as “a book designer, jacket designer, typographer, cartographer, illustrator, painter, and wood carver.” An excerpt from her e-mail (used here with permission):
My memories are a bit sketchy about the publishers he worked with but the list included a number of the major trade publishers of the time: Knopf, Harper & Row, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, etc. After a few years he and my mother moved to Eastern Long Island (where my mother’s family had a potato farm) and he began working from home with weekly trips to the city. At some point, he went freelance and worked by mailing his designs and mechanicals to the publishers. In the early 1960s we moved to Maine where he would work as a freelance designer until he had to retire due to poor eyesight.Good news for anyone who admires Guy Fleming: Faith plans to share photographs of her father’s work online.
I remember when he worked on the jackets for Gabriel García Márquez. I would visit his studio daily after school and loved watching him work and talking with him. His studio was unheated except for a massive woodstove, usually included a sleeping dog and or cats, a radio playing a classical radio station, and a lot of cigarette smoke. He read a majority of the books he designed and all of the ones he did jackets or illustrations for. He was extremely well read, witty and passionate about his work.
By Michael Leddy at 7:29 AM
Monday, August 20, 2012
[Life, August 17, 1959.]
[An old coot turns the pages of Life and finds this ad.]
“The kids today . . . what with their hula hoops and rocket ships. And cartridge pens! A pen should fill from a bottle!”
Be cool, imaginary coot. I like the picture of things this ad presents: high schoolers and college students thinking about their writing instruments. If you click on the ad, you’ll get a larger view with readable text. Let me prove it. Here’s what Sally Cunningham, a junior at Birmingham (Michigan) High School has to say:
“By carrying Skrip cartridges in your pocket or purse, you can fill your Skripsert pen right during a class or exam! And quickly!”Very practical, Sally! No embarrassing ink spills for you!
Mike Redman, Yale freshman, says:
“In addition to my Skripsert fountain pen, I’m taking a matching pencil back to school! After all, whoever heard of going through a year of solid trigonometry without an eraser?”Smart choice, Mike! Your enthusiasm — and your sense of humor — are contagious!
What makes this ad especially great is the appearance of Ann Marget Olsson (last name misspelled as Olson). Yes, Ann-Margret. Yes, Ann-Margret, who indeed attended Northwestern.
I’m so stuck on fountain pens that at first I didn’t realize what should be immediately clear to any reader of this ad: Sheaffer is trying to keep the kids away from b-ll-p--nts. Shh.
[All kidding and coots aside, bottled ink is a better choice for fountain pens: far less expensive. The fountain-pen cartridge is the precursor of the inkjet-printer cartridge.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:51 AM
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Good advice from Helen and Scott Nearing:
No job is overwhelming if you have a general idea of what you are about, break the project into manageable units, put through these units one at a time and have the thrill of fitting them into the over-all pattern.A related post
Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World (New York: Schocken Books, 1970).
By Michael Leddy at 8:00 PM
Friday, August 17, 2012
When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
By Michael Leddy at 4:46 PM
From the New York Times obituary for Helen Gurley Brown:
Ms. Brown routinely described herself as a feminist, but whether her work helped or hindered the cause of women’s liberation has been publicly debated for decades. It will doubtless be debated long after her death.Reading about Brown’s life and work, I remembered that I had — where? — a copy of Sex and the Office (1965), the lesser-known sequel to Sex and the Single Girl (1962). So I looked, and looked, and there it was, on a shelf in, no joke, my office, with several passages marked. I must have used these passages when teaching. Here are two passages that I marked. Do they help or hinder the cause of women’s freedom?
It's okay to butter up anybody . . . boss, clients, visitors, brass, workers, even people who are a little creepy.“Some girl”? Some feminism! I think I must have used this book when teaching Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. Nora too was engaged in a pleasing and manipulative performance.
I can see your mouth corners turning down . . . being nice to people you hate is phony. All right, Miss Pure Motives, have it your way — but in my opinion, a business office is not the place to discriminate between the worthy and unworthy recipients of charm. You can draw the line in your personal life if you wish, although I never do. (I positively slather over the milkman to get certified raw skim milk delivered to my door, and he looks more like a tugboat than a dreamboat.)
Send the congratulatory wire. Take the vice-president’s wife to tea. Carry on over a new crew-cut. Carry on and carry on. No matter what your motives are, you’ll make people feel nice and that’s always good.
Listening, babying, flirting (except when it would embarrass the object of your attention) are all things you should do with impunity . . . and a little style. And there just may be room at the top for you to cheer a Chairman.
You have to make up your own mind about sleeping with people to get ahead, but there’s nothing wrong with talking to a man. Long, probing, business-friendship talks are delicious, whether they improve your perch or not.
I could name ten corporation executives whose real business confidante is a woman — not a secretary, in these cases, but some girl who has a terrific grasp of executive problems.
I also marked a passage that suggests buying books to spiff up an office:
Books look marvelous and say good things about you. (Anybody who owns books can’t be all dumbbell.) Five dollars should buy ten to fifteen books in a second-hand store. (It’s better if they are books you’ve really read and liked.) Paperbacks look nice too.[All ellipses are Brown’s.]
Thursday, August 16, 2012
From a February 2011 post:
New York Times book-reviewer Michiko Kakutani is known for her frequent (some might say too frequent) use of the verb limn. Nearly as frequent is her use of the adjective messy.I made my case by collecting appearances of messy and mess, from 1979 to the then present.
The first mess of 2012 appeared in Kakutani’s tactless paraphrase of a line from Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”: “They mess you up” for “They fuck you up.” This past Sunday’s Times has the first messy of 2012. It appears in a review of Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works, a book of essays Kakutani calls a “hodge-podgy collection”:
He even gives himself little rules concerning his annotation of books: no messy underlining or highlighting in yellow or pink, just a discreet little dot in the margin next to something he approves of — dots so discreet that they “could almost be a dark fleck in the paper” — and, also, no more than 10 or 15 dots per book.Look at “Narrow Ruled,” the essay in question, and you’ll see that “messy underlining” reflects Kakutani’s sensibility, not Baker’s. Yes, Baker prefers making dots to underlining, but what he says about “the dot method,” as he calls it, is that it is “unobtrusive.” And making dots is not a matter of “little rules”: it’s just the way he likes to mark passages in his reading for later hand-copying. That’s why “it’s best” (Baker’s words) to make ten to fifteen dots: there’s no rule involved, aside from the narrow-ruled notebooks into which Baker copies.
This review seems to mark the first appearance of hodge-podgy in Kakutani’s prose. Hodge-podge though has appeared often.
Michiko Kakutani, messy
First messy of 2011
“They mess you up”
By Michael Leddy at 11:14 AM
Jacques Barzun examines a truism of higher education:
Defenders of the system as it is often say that good teaching is inseparable from research and that the man who ceases studying at twenty-five is a dried-out and dull teacher ten years later. These are two statements that only seem to be the same. Of course the teacher must keep reading and thinking abreast of his time, but this does not mean that he must write and publish. The confusion hides a further absurd assumption, which is that when a man writes a scholarly book that reaches a dozen specialists he adds immeasurably to the world’s knowledge; whereas if he imparts his thoughts and his reading to one hundred and fifty students every year, he is wasting his time and leaving the world in darkness. One is tempted to ask what blinkered pedant ever launched the notion that students in coming to college secede from the human race and may therefore be safely left out when knowledge is being broadcast.Broadcast, as Van Dyke Parks likes to point out, takes us back to agriculture.
Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945).
All Jacques Barzun posts
[Irony: Barzun of course has published as much as any forty or fifty everyday academics.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:49 AM
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
[Mark Trail, August 8 and 15, 2012.]
The art has suffered, or the hair stylist has gone on break. But a memory card has replaced the “chip,” and that’s a good thing. If there were a report card, I’d be torn between Needs Improvement and Shows Improvement. But not yet Satisfactory.
“Remember, we took the memory card out”: remember, the memory card? Like Mitt Romney, I live for laughter. Hahaha.
Earlier Mark Trail posts
By Michael Leddy at 8:59 PM
At kottke.org, a trailer or partial trailer for the forthcoming third season of Downton Abbey.
Elaine and I watched the first two seasons this summer and agree with our daughter Rachel: first season, great; second season, meh. The first season is driven by character; the second, by increasingly improbable melodrama. Or to say it plainly: the show turned into a soap opera. But I’m curious enough to watch the third season: I can’t just abandon these people. Sense of duty and all that.
[Dang: someone else has thought of Petula Clark.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:08 PM
As a boy under the spell of the silents, Tim Page made films with the neighborhood kids. From his memoir Parallel Play (Anchor Books, 2009):
I wrote detailed, surprisingly objective critiques of our films, some of them quite brutal. Here are my thoughts on The Affairs of Peter Lawcerse, which, I noted, had been “released” on November 13, 1966: “This is the stupid and unintelligible story of a man who has an affair with his mother and is finally shot by his best friend’s wife. Bad sets, bad acting, bad photography. . . .” But I liked most of The Immigrant: “From the beginning, everything works. All acting, except for Tim Page, is perfect. The film merits comparison with every film up to Opus 21 [which I made a year later] and nearly all after. It is short and to the point and can still move a sensitive viewer.”That charming last sentence in particular makes me think of J. D. Salinger’s Seymour Glass.
And I mimicked a feature that has been running in Sunday newspapers for some fifty years now — the celebrity question-and-answer column called “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade.” There I addressed such deathless questions as “Is Betsy Page off the screen for good, now that her contract has expired?” (“She hasn’t renewed it,” I replied to myself tersely — we must have had a tiff.) I wrote capsule, breathlessly hyped biographies of all my players: “Dean Cook is probably the fastest growing star in the industry. His first picture was the recent The Fall of a Nation, in which he gave such a fine performance that his position with the finer actors was assured.” Or — my favorite — “Becca Brooks is Debby Brooks’s sister. She made her debut in the Anne Beddow film The Widow’s Villa. She was the perfect choice for the little girl, for she has that rare thing in kindergarteners — realism.”
The first edition of Parallel Play bore a subtitle — Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s — that helps explain what’s going on here. Parallel Play is a beautifully written memoir of a life with great deficits and great gifts.
In 1967, young Page’s filmmaking became the subject of a short documentary by David Hoffman, A Day with Filmmaker Timmy Page. You can read more about it and watch the trailer here. Let me also recommend Hoffman’s unrelated 2008 four-minute TED Talk.
By Michael Leddy at 8:31 AM
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
directed by Philippe Falardeau
French with English subtitles
Monsieur Lazhar joins Être et avoir (dir. Nicolas Philibert, 2002) as one of the great films about teaching. Philippe Falardeau’s film is also about displacement, loss, memory, and guilt, and it offers a reminder that every participant in a classroom, student or teacher, enters with a history whose details might be impossible for others to imagine.
Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, billed as “Fellag”) is an Algerian immigrant in Montreal, working as a substitute teacher in a classroom of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. He is an old-school fellow, arranging the desks in rows and requiring daily dictation (Balzac, at first). But he is no martinet: he is compassionate, funny, and devoted to his students. He is no Robin Williams character either: there’s no treacle here. That M. Lazhar succeeds is testimony both to his ability and to his students’ willingness to accept a newcomer and learn on his terms. His terms: the only other men at the school are a gym teacher and a janitor.
As Elaine observes, it’s easy at times to forget that this film is a fiction and not a documentary. The acting is a matter of understatement; the cameras are often handheld. Fellag and young Sophie Nélisse (as Alice L’Écuyer, M. Lazhar’s favorite student) give brilliant performances. I saw the film with an audience that must have been full of teachers: the laughter came from those on the inside.
My favorite moment: M. Lazhar’s discourse on the classroom as a place of friendship, work, and courtesy. May it ever be thus.
Monsieur Lazhar arrives on DVD on August 28. Three cheers for east-central Illinois’s Art Theater for getting hold of this film.
[Do Canadian schoolchildren typically call their teachers by their first names? Inquiring minds want to know.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:11 AM
Monday, August 13, 2012
By Michael Leddy at 3:23 PM
[Nancy, September 5, 1944.]
The horror. Nancy awakens in the final panel to say “WHAT AN AWFUL DREAM --- AND IT’S TRUE.” Notice though that even in nightmares, school opens after Labor Day, not in the near-middle of August.
The lines radiating from Nancy’s head on a Tuesday in September 1944 radiate from my head today. School opens next week. And now if you’ll excuse me.
Other Nancy posts
The greatest Nancy panel?
Nancy is here
Nancy meets Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo)
Nancy meets Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch)
Nancy meets Stanley Kubrick (The Shining)
[Nancy panel by Ernie Bushmiller, from Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943–1945 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012). Yes, in Nancy, three hyphens --- “some hyphens” --- constitute a dash. See Art Speigelman’s explanation of “some rocks.”]
By Michael Leddy at 9:07 AM
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“Then all the Trinidadians in LA saw the goat peering out of the trunk of the car just before the barbecue. It was outside the box, and so is this record”: Van Dyke Parks, in a short film by Richard Parks, Van Dyke Parks on Discover America.
Discover America is a 1972 VDP album of calypso and calypso-influenced songs, recently re-released on the Bella Union label.
Also by Richard Parks
Van Dyke Parks on Song Cycle
By Michael Leddy at 10:38 AM
Friday, August 10, 2012
Good advice from David Sparks for keeping things secure online: Good Luck Social Engineering My Security Question Answers.
By Michael Leddy at 4:39 PM
[Click for larger views and stiffer fines.]
Maira Kalman isn’t the only artist to have illustrated The Elements of Style. These covers are from a copy of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace trade edition, now in the Cornell University Library. A digitized version is available from the Internet Archive. I’m joking about fines: a better explanation might be that with a scarce book, almost any used copy is welcome. I’d like to know what the artist wrote in the upper-right corner. My best guess for the leftmost writing above the desk: Strunk. The words that follow are clear: AND HOW!
Strange: a copy of the 1920 edition now for sale has a drawing of a dolphin on its cover.
All Elements of Style posts (via Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 11:07 AM
The New York Times reports that the writer David Rakoff has died. He was a frequent contributor to This American Life. I’m listening again to “Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather,” which aired in May. It’s unforgettable.
August 11: This American Life has posted the video of “Stiff as Board, Light as a Feather” to YouTube. Thank you, TAL.
By Michael Leddy at 10:38 AM
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Seven-year-old Seymour Glass writing about his five-year-old brother Buddy:
The very first and last thing you must remember about this small, haunting chap is that he will be in a terrible rush all his life to get the door nicely slammed behind him in any room where there is a striking and handsome supply of good, sharp pencils and plenty of paper.[This post is for the pencil lovers among us.]
J. D. Salinger, “Hapworth 16, 1924” (1965).
By Michael Leddy at 11:40 AM
Scroll down any post or page on Orange Crate Art and you’ll see in the sidebar a silly slogan and an odometer. The odometer is of course a counter, from StatCounter, a service I highly recommend.
As you can see, Orange Crate Art just had its millionth visitor. Millionth feels odd, spoken or typed. In the Major Leagues of the Internets, a million visits is all in a few days’ work. Here in Double-A, it’s a big deal. I’ve been watching and waiting, having added a seventh digit to my counter earlier this week. Millionth is an approximation: I didn’t begin using a counter until Orange Crate Art was five months old. Some visits are not logged; others, logged, have been mine, from computers not my own. I think it all evens out.
The millionth visitor was a reader from Cincinnati, Ohio, who’s been here, I believe, on several occasions, this time to the most recent post, on J. D. Salinger and The Elements of Style.
Thanks, everyone, for reading.
By Michael Leddy at 8:37 AM
What follows is speculation:
In “Hapworth 16, 1924” (1965), J. D. Salinger’s last published work of fiction, seven-year-old Seymour Glass, writing a letter to his parents and three of his siblings from summer camp, acknowledges — at length — that he needs to improve his writing:
While bearing in mind that my loss of you is very acute today, hardly bearable in the last analysis, I am also snatching this stunning opportunity to use my new and entirely trivial mastery of written construction and decent sentence formation as explained and slightly enriched upon in that small book, alternately priceless and sheer crap, which you saw me poring over to excess during the difficult days prior to our departure for this place. Though this is quite a terrible bore for you, dear Bessie and Les, superb or suitable construction of sentences holds some passing, amusing importance for a young fool like myself! It would be quite a relief to rid my system of fustian this year. It is in danger of destroying my possible future as a young poet, private scholar, and unaffected person.That conspicuous reference to “that small book, alternately priceless and sheer crap”: could it be meant to suggest The Elements of Style? Harcourt, Brace brought out a trade edition of William Strunk’s book in 1920, just fifty-two pages long. By 1965, The Elements was well known as “the little book.” Seymour’s habits of writing are, as the above passage shows, far from Strunkian. But the target of playful mockery here might more likely be “Strunk and White,” E. B. White’s 1959 revision of The Elements of Style. It’s the 1959 text that condemns Seymour’s pet phrase “in the last analysis” (fourteen appearances in “Hapworth”) as “a bankrupt expression.” And it’s the 1959 text that cautions against over-relying on adjectives and adverbs. Seymour is crazy about adjectives, slightly less so about adverbs, and they make for delightful, hilarious, improbable sentences:
[I]t is all too easy for a boy of my dubious age and experience to fall easy prey to fustian, poor taste, and unwanted spurts of showing off.
I am personally very hopeful that great layers of unnatural, affected, stilted fustian and rotten, disagreeable words will drop off my young body like flies during the crucial period to come! It is worth every effort, my future sentence construction quite hanging in the balance!
A decent, utterly frank criterion is always of splendid, temporary use to a young person.But Seymour’s doing his best to — like the man says — omit needless words:
I am freely saddling you, one and all, parent and child, with a very long, boring letter, quite filled to the brim with my stilted flow of words and thoughts.
Oh, my God, you are a risible, amusing kid!
If the rest of my letter seems a little too brisk and impersonal, please excuse it; I am going to devote the remainder of the letter to economy of words and phraseology, quite my weakest point in written construction. If I sound quite cold and brisk, remember it is for my own practice and that I am not feeling cold and brisk where you, parent and child alike, are concerned; far from it!That a work of fiction in the form of a transcription of a 1924 letter seems to make veiled reference to a 1959 publication — well, that would hardly be the most extraordinary thing about “Hapworth 16, 1924.” That a work of such exuberance and strangeness met with such a cold and brisk reception baffles and saddens me. Personally, I’m still hopeful that this work and other, hitherto unpublished Salinger works will, in the last analysis, appear in book form in the not distant future.
All Salinger posts (via Pinboard)
All Strunk and White posts (via Pinboard)
[It’s the 1959 text that let the common reader know the phrase “the little book”: in his introduction, White mentions it as Strunk’s way of referring to The Elements. New Yorker subscribers can find “Hapworth 16, 1924” in the June 19, 1965 issue in the online archive.]
By Michael Leddy at 6:54 AM
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The Oxford English Dictionary has it:
nemophilous, adj.The combining form -philous creates “adjectives with the sense ‘having an affinity for or thriving in (a particular kind of habitat or environment).’”
Etymology: < ancient Greek νέμος wooded pasture, glade (see NEMOPHILA n.) + -PHILOUS comb. form.
Fond of or frequenting woods.
I encountered nemophilous in “Hapworth 16, 1924” (1965), J. D. Salinger’s last published fiction, which takes the form of a letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass, away at summer camp with his younger brother Buddy, to his parents and other siblings: “To my joy and sheer wonder, your son Buddy has turned out to be utterly and thrillingly nemophilous!”
Argyrol : Charlotte russe : Musterole : Sal Hepatica : Stopette
By Michael Leddy at 7:56 AM
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
[From Harold H. Hart’s Hart’s Guide to New York City (New York: Hart Publishing, 1964).]
One more from Maeve Brennan’s Manhattan: Le Steak de Paris. Brennan writes about this restaurant several times in The Long-Winded Lady, more than about any other. In a 1967 piece, she stops in for dinner and learns that the building has been slated for demolition and that the owner, unable to find a new location in the city, is planning to move Le Steak to Long Island. Brennan then describes the restaurant:
Inside, Le Steak has hardly changed in all the years I have been going there. The walls were once covered with printed-paper murals of rustic eighteenth-century scenes. Later there was red-brick-patterned wallpaper. Now the paper imitates polished wooden planks — vertical planks — and there is a cigarette machine where the jukebox that played French records used to be. But nothing has really changed there. The menu is much the same as always — Crème Jeannette, Poulet Rôti, Shrimps Cocktail, Artichaut Froid, and so on. Even the atmosphere is the same, as though finality had stayed where it belongs — out of sight and far away.Le Steak de Paris must have lived a very quiet life in Manhattan: if the New York Times historical index (1851–2007) can be trusted, the paper has not one reference to the restaurant — which would mean no reviews and no advertisements. The 49th Street address still houses a restaurant, City Lobster and Steak.
As for the telephone exchange, CI can mean only one thing: CIrcle.
By Michael Leddy at 10:30 AM
The Eighth Street Bookshop, run by brothers Eli and Ted Wilentz, is one of the now-defunct businesses that make an appearance in Maeve Brennan’s The Long-Winded Lady. The store closed in 1979.The above advertisement appeared in the Evergreen Review 19 (July–August 1961). My copy is a used-book store find.
RealityStudio, a site devoted to the work of William Burroughs, has excellent evocations of the Eighth Street Bookshop by Jed Birmingham and Bill Reed. An excerpt from Reed:
Eighth Street’s regular clientele included Edward Albee, Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof, Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, the curmudgeonly Joseph Campbell, essayist-novelist Albert Murray (every day), author-activist Michael Harrington, cartoonist William Steig, New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, poet-translator (later, MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient) Richard Howard, and Alger Hiss, also the store’s station[e]ry supplier. . . .A related post
Nearly every time you turned around at Eighth Street found you rubbing literary stardust out of your eyes.
From the Evergreen Review
By Michael Leddy at 9:51 AM
If you missed it last night: Pete Seeger with Stephen Colbert. The Seeger segment begins at 10:15. My favorite exchange:
“You’re ninety-three, yes, sir?”If you turn up the volume, you’ll hear that at least some audience members are singing on the choruses.
“That’s what they tell me.”
By Michael Leddy at 9:32 AM
Monday, August 6, 2012
Maeve Brennan. The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009. 268 pages. $15.95 (paper).
Except in our minds, there is no connection between the little American farmhouse and the Hungarian cats and the Hungarian pigeon, but in our minds these stories remind us of what we are waiting for — a respite, a touch of grace, something simple that starts us wondering. I am reminded of Oliver Goldsmith, who said, two hundred years ago, “Innocently to amuse the imagination in this dream of life is wisdom.”Imagine a solitary figure in an Edward Hopper painting who turns from the usual window, moves to a desk, and begins to write of what she has seen: that would be Maeve Brennan. From 1954 to 1981, Brennan (1917–1993) contributed unsigned items to the “Talk of the Town” section of The New Yorker, each item introduced as the work of “the long-winded lady.” That name must have been a matter of a self hard at work deprecating: the fifty-six items gathered in this volume are nothing like long-winded. Almost all are just a few pages long, the work of a writer in search of something that will start her wondering, a writer given to noticing and thinking about her fellow strangers. Brennan is an observer, not a reporter: even when the people she studies seem available for questions, she asks none. She seems to speak only to tobacconists and waiters, and even then her words are implied, not stated.
From “The Farmhouse That Moved Downtown,” first published in the March 18, 1967 issue of The New Yorker.
“There is a great deal of virtue in feeling unseen,” Brennan writes in 1969. Feeling unseen, she looks down to the street from a high hotel-room window (she lives in a series of hotels); feeling unseen, she looks out to the street from a table in a nearly deserted restaurant (she likes restaurants with windows). Or she follows events at another table as she drinks a martini or eats a dish of coffee ice cream. Her Manhattan is a lonely town: quiet, somber blocks without the glare and hum of, say, Frank O’Hara’s city. In Brennan’s Manhattan, there is always just one thing happening, and the writer’s responsibility is to attend to it.
Brennan attends to the most modest details: an ailanthus tree, a plate of broccoli, a coffeeshop at 5:00 a.m., a Californian waiting for a Fifth Avenue bus, some boors in a bookstore, a newspaper story about cats and a pigeon. The content is sometimes slight, and reading too many of these pieces at a sitting might leave a reader too aware of their sameness. But Brennan is a maker of beautiful descriptive sentences, and that is what most draws me to her work:
Washington Square Park was being very satisfactory the other morning at six o’clock. It was a dripping green morning after a night of rain. The air was mild and fresh, and shone with a faint unsteadiness that was exactly like the unsteadiness of color inside a seashell.I began writing with the intention to comment on these sentences and then thought to let them speak for themselves. I must though point out the adverb exactly in the first passage. Remove it and what remains is merely a strained comparison. The slightly defiant exactly commands the suspension of disbelief and is, here, exactly right. Exactly right too is the word dripping, which seems to me one specific trace of the general influence of James Joyce’s Dubliners on Brennan’s prose, the word recalling the “dark dripping gardens” of “Araby” and the “dripping tree” of “The Dead.”
The few people who were about wore light-colored summer clothes, and they sauntered and strolled and paused to look around like the extras in an operetta just before the principals walk on and take the center of the stage.
The rain that had fallen all day today had stopped, leaving the air damp and the streets wet and shiny, tinted with city lights.
To read The Long-Winded Lady in 2012 is to read about a lost Manhattan. But in this book the city is already disappearing, its three- and four-story buildings giving way to the empire of “Office Space.” The names of now-defunct restaurants and stores appear here like the names of the dead, remembered now by fewer and fewer of the living: the Adano Restaurant, Bickford’s, the Eighth Street Bookshop, International Book & Art Shop, Le Steak de Paris, Longchamps, Marta’s Restaurant, The Old Place, Schrafft’s, Zucca’s. In Maeve Brennan’s writing, these places and their city still live.
[“Maeve Brennan of HARPER’S BAZAAR looking through store window.” Photograph by Nina Leen. United States, 1945. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:03 AM
Sunday, August 5, 2012
About two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, shootings, various voices in media and politics said that it was inappropriate to be discussing gun-ownership rights — not the right time, too early. In the aftermath of today’s shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, it seems that once again it will be too early for such a discussion.
By Michael Leddy at 6:31 PM
Friday, August 3, 2012
The New York Times reports that Stanley Teitel, the principal of New York City’s Stuyvesant High School,
has resigned has announced his retirement. In July the Times reported on widespread cheating at Stuyvesant, one of the city’s top high schools.
The school’s website still shows no school-wide policy concerning academic integrity, or at least none that I can find.
September 8, 2012: The New York Times reports the school’s new principal is thinking about creating an “academic honesty policy.”
A related post
Cheating at Stuyvesant High School
[I’ve crossed out my mistakes in this post: given the situation at Stuyvesant, it’s difficult for me not to read retire as a euphemism for resign.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:18 PM
There’s so much to like in this Academy Award-nominated film, which celebrates reading and scholarship and humankind. The shots of patrons looking through the card catalogue speak — well, volumes. Watch too for other forms of beautiful technology and several musical surprises.
Alexander Hammid directed. The narrator is Ralph Bellamy. The book that the boy is reading at the beginning and end is Lucy Salamanca’s Fortress of Freedom: The Story of the Library of Congress (1942), available from the Internet Archive. The film is at the Archive too, but the print at YouTube is better.
Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for sharing this great find.
[Correction: The film is from 1945.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:44 AM
Thursday, August 2, 2012
John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact has called to me from bookstore shelves on several occasions. The book purports to be the record of seven years of back-and-forth between a writer (D’Agata) and a fact-checker (Fingal). Publisher W. W. Norton calls the book “a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between ‘truth’ and ‘accuracy.’” Notice the quotation marks.
Now that I have the book from the library, I am glad that I resisted the call. What to make of a writer who claims to have changed a seemingly factual “thirty-one” to “thirty-four” because “the rhythm of ‘thirty-four’ works better in that sentence”? Nothing, because that detail alone (on page 16, the second page of the text) made it easy for me to suspect that this book is not worth my time. Some further dipping clinched it.
But wait: there’s more. A piece by Craig Silverman of The Poynter Institute makes clear that the book is not even what it purports to be, a record of a seven-year fact-checking process.
Me, I believe in truth and accuracy in nonfiction, no need for quotation marks around either word. Oh, and no need for made-up quotations from Bob Dylan either.
A related post
George Orwell on historical truth
By Michael Leddy at 11:20 AM
On how to make a subject relevant:
The best way to do it is for the teacher to make himself relevant. Nine thousand times more pupils have learnt a difficult subject well because they felt the teacher’s vitality and energy proved its value than because they chose the subject for its own sake. If a youth, sizing up the professor of medieval history, decides that he is a tremendous expert in the history of the Middle Ages and a deadly bore in everything else, he is apt to conclude that medieval history makes a man a deadly bore. If on the other hand he finds that the man is filled with lively interest in the contemporary world, that he actually knows more about it because, through his training, he understands it better, that the practice of intellectual life, so far from making him vague or remote, has made him wise and competent, the youth will conclude without further evidence that medieval history is a valuable asset.I’d add: being interesting need not be a matter of attempting to prove to “the kids” that one is “hep” or “with it.”
The good teacher is an interesting man or woman.
Gilbert Highet, The Art of Teaching (New York: Knopf, 1951).
[Thank goodness Highet added “or woman” to the last sentence. The language of he and man makes me grind my teeth.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:14 AM
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Vladimir Nabokov, in his 1967 Paris Review interview:
A first-rate college library with a comfortable campus around it is a fine milieu for a writer. There is, of course, the problem of educating the young. I remember how once, between terms, not at Cornell, a student brought a transistor set with him into the reading room. He managed to state that one, he was playing “classical” music; that two, he was doing it “softly”; and that three, “there were not many readers around in summer.” I was there, a one-man multitude.
By Michael Leddy at 9:57 AM