Friday, July 31, 2015

Life at Gravity Payments

In April, Dan Price announced that he would be raising his company’s minimum salary to $70,000. I cheered. An OCA reader thought that the story would have to take a twist. The New York Times reports today that things aren’t working out well at Gravity Payments.

Khoi Vinh on what’s wrong with iTunes

Khoi Vinh calls iTunes “a convoluted mess”:

More than a textbook case in how not to design usable software though, iTunes has for me come to represent all the things that Apple is doing wrong, even as the company’s profits continue to snowball. On just one level, the application is an executional mess that speaks to the company’s worrying inattention to detail. iTunes is slow and bloated; it’s a terrible, poky, unreliable network client; it’s embedded into the operating system and yet works well with few other apps; its management of iOS devices (for those who don’t use iCloud) is painfully inelegant. And if all that weren’t enough, it just looks incredibly ugly.
I’ve begun to think of iTunes as Microsoft Word for music.

[Please, no arguments about Word. That’s my analogy. Feel free to substitute another application to make an analogy of your own.]

Proprietary time

When did television weather forecasters begin speaking of time as personal property? Your morning, your evening. Time owns us .

*

3:14 p.m.: I fixed the misspelling in the title. Ouch.

Notebook sighting


[The Spiral. And Marilyn Monroe as Iris Martin. Click for a larger view.]

Home Town Story (dir. Arthur Pierson, 1951) is a fable that smacks of a Reader’s Digest article or Paul Harvey monologue. A failed politician turns crusading newspaper-editor and strikes out against “big business,” until he realizes how wonderful big business is. With Donald Crisp as Charles and David Koch. (Kidding.) As Marilyn Monroe as the newspaper’s secretary. (Not kidding.)

Home Town Story has fallen out of the hands of big business and into the public domain. The film is available at archive.org. The People’s Netflix.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder at the Vanities : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : The Woman in the Window


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reading Rainbow at Netflix

A former student sends the news that Reading Rainbow episodes will soon be streaming at Netflix. But you don’t have to take his word for it: he included a link to a Times-Picayune article.

Recalling why the PBS show ended offers an opportunity to think about the why of reading. (Hint: it’s not to practice skills.) As you may already know, LeVar Burton has created new Reading Rainbow episodes, available at YouTube.

Thanks for sending the news, Zayne.

A related post
Reading Rainbow ends (A sad day for PBS)

Pocket notebook sighting


[As they say at Field Notes, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” Click for a larger view.]

Here is a pre-Code notebook, as seen in Murder at the Vanities (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1934). It’s a fun film that teaches us that The Show Must Go On: a musical revue runs smoothly while murders are committed and solved backstage. Bonus points for Kitty Carlisle, Duke Ellington, and “Cocktails for Two.” This film introduced the song — and that notebook.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : The Woman in the Window

Paper campaign unfolding

The Washington Post reports on the paper and packaging industry’s campaign to promote its products: “Take note: The paper industry is planning a big comeback.” The campaign’s website: How life unfolds. That’s enough paper-based puns. I fold.

Related reading
All OCA paper posts (Pinboard)

[Has anyone else been surprised to see the commercials?]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bryan Garner on “The fallacy of intelligibility”

Bryan Garner, from “The fallacy of intelligibility,” a short piece about the idea that it doesn’t matter how you write it as long as they understand what you mean:

Nonstandard, ungrammatical language irks educated readers. It distracts them and makes them less likely, even unwilling, to align themselves with you. Wrong words are like wrong notes in music: they spoil the tune. And wrong words make readers stop thinking about your message and start pondering your educational deficits.

If anyone tells you otherwise (that is, if someone says it don’t make no never-mind), don’t believe it.
Who would tell you otherwise? Well, there is the familiar construction, beloved of some teachers of writing, “This is not a grammar class.” But teaching writing without attention to grammar is like teaching painting without attention to color and form, or teaching music without attention to playing or singing in tune. Things come out wrong.

What Bryan Garner says about writing is plainly true. Teachers who encourage their students to think otherwise are cheating them.

Related reading
All OCA Garner-centric posts (Pinboard)

Duke Ellington, The Conny Plank Session


[The back cover.]

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. The Conny Plank Session (Grönland, 2015). Total time: 29:21.

The Conny Plank Session is the only Ellington release I know of to be named for a recording engineer. Conny Plank (1940–1987) was an acclaimed producer and engineer who would become known for his work with Brian Eno and and Kraftwerk, among other musicians. I don’t suspect an undiscovered Ellington–Plank affinity: my guess is that Plank just happened to be the engineer in the Cologne studio where Ellington was adding yet another session to the countless sessions that formed the stockpile — music recorded at his expense to test ideas and document work in progress. Suffice it to say that the band sounds great: bright, clear, rich, and well-balanced. The work of the piano player in particular has startling presence.¹

This session — two tunes, three takes each — gives us the Ellington band in July 1970. Or 1970 A. H., After Hodges, the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, who had died on May 11. “Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same,” Ellington wrote on that day. Yet the band continued, as ever, as a collection of idiosyncratic voices (who sometimes, it’s true, modeled themselves on earlier Ellingtonians). Wild Bill Davis was on board as organist: he had just appeared to great advantage (along with Hodges) on “Blues for New Orleans,” the opening section of Ellington’s New Orleans Suite. Fred Stone, trumpeter and flugelhornist, had played with Clark Terry-like fleetness on the Suite ’s “Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte.” Norris Turney played a Hodges-like alto and was an important presence in the Suite as a flutist, the first band member to play flute on an Ellington recording (on “Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies”).² Davis, Stone, and Turney all have prominent parts in this session.

“Alerado,” by Wild Bill Davis, is the slighter of the two tunes here. It’s named for the record producer Alexandre Rado, who supervised the French RCA Integrale LP series of Ellington reissues. The tune is little more than its attractive chord changes, which evoke (strongly) the bridge of Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” and (less specifically) Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke.” Turney (flute, alto), Stone (flugelhorn), and Paul Gonsalves (tenor) solo briefly in what was likely designed as a concert showpiece for Davis.

Ellington never stopped listening: in his last official concert recording (Eastbourne, 1973), he was parodying the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other avant-gardists, giving the audience a taste of “the future” (as he derisively called it) with an atonal explosion that turned into “Basin Street Blues.” “Afrique,” a section of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), is a more genuine engagement with the new: it gives us the band playing on a single chord (B minor, of all things) in a latter-day version of the so-called “jungle music” that established Ellington in the ’20s. (“Chinoiserie,” another section of the Eclipse, is another late engagement with the new: particularly in a 1973 performance that gives us the Ellington band hitting “the one,” the defining element of James Brown’s funk.)

The 1971 “Afrique” (released on LP by Fantasy in 1975) is primarily a vehicle for piano, trombones, and reeds, with Russell Procope (clarinet), Harry Carney (baritone), Gonsalves, and Turney (alto) engaging in call and response. The three 1970 takes are markedly slower and more devoted to exploring the atmosphere established by Rufus Jones’s untiring drumming. They are tremendously exciting music. Trombones, organ, and Gonsalves’s tenor are the key elements here, with Ellington’s piano at its most percussive. The third take is one of the wildest Ellington recordings I’ve heard, with an unidentified singer who evokes Adelaide Hall’s growls (“Creole Love Call”) and Alice Babs’s soaring vocalise (“T. G. T. T.,” from the Second Sacred Concert ). The profane and the sacred, in one voice! I can only wonder what further treasures remain in the stockpile.

Grönland’s presentation of The Conny Plank Session is less than satisfactory. The musicians are identified in nothing more than a line of abbreviations reproduced from W. E. Timner’s Ellingtonia: The Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and His Sidemen (2007):


[Got that?]

The line is partly hidden behind the CD spindle, with some of its text barely readable. But for anyone with some prior knowledge and a little time at Google Books, it’s easy enough to put together the band:

Cat Anderson, Mercer Ellington, Fred Stone, Cootie Williams, Nelson Williams, trumpets, with Stone doubling (?) on flugelhorn

Chuck Connors, Malcolm Taylor, Booty Wood, trombones, with Connors on bass trombone

Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Russell Procope, Norris Turney, reeds

Duke Ellington, piano; Wild Bill Davis, organ; Joe Benjamin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums
The liner notes identify the brass soloist on “Alerado” as Cat Anderson, but it must be Fred Stone: the instrument is flugelhorn, not trumpet, played with the same facility as on “Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte.” NPR and other sources identify the singer on “Afrique” as Lena Junoff but offer no explanation.

Related listening, via YouTube
“Afrique” (1971)
“Chinoiserie” (1973)
“Creole Love Call” (1927)
“T. G. T. T.” (1968)

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

¹ Why piano player and not pianist ? Because Ellington mock-deprecatingly referred to himself as “our piano player.”

² Harold Minerve would soon play flute and piccolo (and alto). The trombonist Art Baron played recorder in the Third Sacred Concert (1973). I used to write papers this way in grad school, adding little bits of extra detail in endnote after endnote.³

³ But HTML limits superscripts to 1 , 2 , and 3 .

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Recently updated

2015 workspaces Now with an aerial view of my desk.

2015 workspaces

Here’s a six-second clip, attributed to the Harvard Innovation lab, purporting to show the evolution of a workspace from the 1980s to 2015. App by app, the machine subsumes everything. All your desk are belong to us! All your wall are belong to us! Everything, in fact, but your sunglasses and your phone (another machine) are belong to us.

This image of a proper workspace — with nothing, or little more than, a single machine — is everywhere online. (Here’s a tasteful example.) If it works, great. My sense of a workspace is somewhat different.


[One corner of a carrel to the left of my desk. I tried to get a decent aerial view of the desk and failed, because its contents spill over the sides. All four sides. Am I proud of that? No. But neither am I ashamed. That’s a kitchen timer in the front.]

*

1:19 p.m.: Elaine was disappointed that I gave up on the aerial view. So here it is. I sheared off the photo to show the desk itself, no feet or carpet below.


[Click for a larger, messier view. That’s a lampshade upper left.]

Related posts
Five desks
“Why shouldn’t your desk be messy too?”

[Yes, lowercase for lab . For “All your . . . ,” see Wikipedia.]

The verb to contact

Another Mencken footnote:

During the heyday of Babbittry (c. 1905–29) to contact was one of its counter-words. In 1931 Mr. F. W. Lienau, an official of the Western Union, forbade its use by employés of the company. “Somewhere,” he said, “there cumbers this fair earth with his loathsome presence a man who, for the common good, should have been destroyed in early childhood. He is the originator of the hideous vulgarism of using contact as a verb. So long as we can meet, get in touch with, make the acquaintance of, be introduced to, call on, interview or talk to people, there can be no apology for contact.” See the Commonweal , Dec. 9, 1931, p. 145. But Mr. Lienau’s indignation had no effect, and to contact is still widely used.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
I would have guessed that animus toward to contact had its origin in The Elements of Style (1959):
As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. Do not contact anybody; get in touch with him, or look him up, or phone him, or find him, or meet him.
But it would seem that E. B. White was following Lienau.¹ In the fourth edition (2000) of Strunk and White, the ban on to contact stands, but the language has become inclusive:
As a transitive verb, the word is vague and self-important. Do not contact people; get in touch with them, look them up, phone them, find them, or meet them.
Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage has this observation about to contact:
Brevity recommends it over get in touch with or communicate with ; it should not be considered stylistically infelicitous even in formal contexts.
He adds: “If, however, the meaning is clearly either call or write , the specific verb is preferable.” Garner notes that while Mencken shared what he called the “priggish loathing” of contact , he conceded that “there is plenty of excuse for it in the genius of the English language.”

I’ve used to contact mainly in letters of recommendation:
If I can be of further help, please contact me by telephone (KLondike 5-5555) or e-mail (ML@ivoryt.edu).
At some point, I began saying things more simply, well before reading Garner’s entry about to contact. It just happened:
If I can be of further help, please call (KLondike 5-5555) or write (ML@ivoryt.edu).
Those letters of recommendation worked well too.

Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman
“[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty”
“There are words enough already”
The -thon , dancing and walking

¹ It’s White’s work. William Strunk Jr.’s 1918 Elements says nothing about to contact . Nor does the first edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926). The second edition (1965) approves of the verb.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The -thon, dancing and walking

Mencken writes great footnotes. Here’s one:

The first use of dance marathon to designate a long-distance dancing-match was in 1927. After a while the promotors introduced rest-periods, during which the dancers were free to walk about. In 1930 a promoter in Des Moines called such an ameliorated contest a walkathon , and the word quickly spread. I am indebted for this to Mr. Hal Jay Ross of St. Louis, and to Mr. Don King, endurance-shows editor of the Billboard (Cincinnati). I have been informed by other authorities that the use of walkathon was encouraged by the passage of laws in some of the States forbidding dancing for more than eight hours on end. The cops, it appears, were easily persuaded that a walkathon was really a walking-match, which had no time limit.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alred A. Knopf, 1936).
Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman
“[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty”
“There are words enough already”

A joke in the traditional manner

My dad, who turns eighty-seven today, is still turning out jokes. To wit: What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How is cod shipped to a supermarket? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He must take credit for all but the cow coloratura, the squirrel-doctor, and Santa Claus.]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Definitely NPR

It was almost eight o’clock. I woke up, walked downstairs, turned on the radio. What did I hear? “Definitely feelin’ the summer vibe. This is Weekend Edition.” You won’t hear this bit in the online broadcast. But it was there in the air in my kitchen, right before the start of the show’s second hour.

Oh NPR. The mock-with-it-ness sounds so hollow. It’s almost enough to make me want to send back my lapel pin.

Complaining about NPR is a tiny OCA sideline. If I had caught the Kim Kardashian interview, the sideline might have grown into a line, at least a short one. And I could have commented on how the interviewer defended the interview by calling its critics crabby, persnickety monks. But I missed that opportunity.

Related posts
At the crib : NPR, sheesh : The Real Housewives of NPR : A yucky Wednesday on NPR

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Keeping it reel


[Henry, July 25, 2015.]

In the Henry world, all mowers are reel.

The definition of lawn mower from Webster’s Second :

A machine pushed by hand or drawn by a horse or driven by a motor, and usually with a spiral blade or blades revolving against a tangential horizontal knife, used to clip the grass on lawns.
And from Webster’s Third :
a hand-operated or power-operated machine for cutting grass on lawns.
*

July 26: Earlier this year, Diane Schirf wrote about the reel mower as an American relic.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Friday, July 24, 2015

“[S]o much sky”


Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

The Three Graces

The New York Times had an article earlier this week about the benefits of walking in nature. Conclusion: walking in nature decreases brooding, aka “morbid rumination.”

Elaine and I went walking in a version of nature recently. Visting the Indianapolis Museum of Art, we ended up, for the first time ever, walking around Oldfields, the twenty-six-acre Lilly family estate, now part of the IMA grounds. I imagined the life of a pharmaceuticals baron. You could say “I shall go for a walk now” and never leave your front yard.

Oldfields felt to us like a modest version of the Huntington Library: gardens, paths, unidentified sculpture. I stopped at the end of an allée to take a picture of the Three Graces. They were neither walking nor morbidly ruminating.


[Artist unknown. Click for a larger view.]

I know the Graces best from James Joyce’s “The Dead”:

— He says we are the Three Graces, Aunt Julia, said Mary Jane.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: mutual

Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day concerns the word mutual :

It’s possible to refer to a couple’s mutual devotion, but not their mutual devotion to their children. The reason is that whatever is “mutual” is reciprocal — it’s directed by each toward the other. E.g.: “So consider the matter a quid pro quo, a mutual exchange of affection between Zereoue and Mountaineer fandom.” Michael Dobie, “More-Famous Amos,” Newsday (N.Y.), 14 Nov. 1997, at A103.

But when the sense is “shared by two or more,” then the word is “common” — not “mutual.” So “friend in common” is preferable to “mutual friend,” although the latter has stuck because of Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend (the title to which, everyone forgets, comes from a sentence said by an illiterate character).

Careful writers continue to use “friend in common.”
Today’s tip is well-timed: Elaine and I just started Our Mutual Friend.

You can subscribe to the Usage Tip of the Day at Oxford University Press.

“[F]orming and moving all day long”


Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Fresca’s favorite films

Fresca at l’astronave is posting, in installments, a list of one hundred favorite films. It’s Fresca’s blog that led our household’s recent Aki Kaurismäki spree.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why one should watch the fifty-two-minute dashcam video

I don’t know what to make of anomalies or edits in the dashcam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest. But I think I know what to make of the encounter that precedes the arrest. That encounter can be seen at the start of the fifty-two-minute dashcam video. I would suggest watching before this video disappears.

The start of the video shows the final moments of trooper Brian Encinia’s encounter with another driver, a college student. I have transcribed Encinia’s words:

“You’re gonna need to see if you can get with your dad. He can give that, uh, send you an e-mail or something, you know what I mean? Get that copy of the insurance, okay? You okay? [Laughs.] This here is a warning: there is no fine, there is no penalty, but you just need to follow the posted speed limit, okay? What year are you here at school? Sophomore? You here for summer school, or? Taking a lot of classes? Just two? Okay. Here’s a copy of the warning. There’s no fine, no penalty, okay? And there’s your driver’s license, all right? Be careful, all right?”
Consider: he has stopped a driver for speeding, a driver who turns out to have no proof of insurance. And yet Encinia is a model of tact. He’s even chatty. He lets the driver off with a warning. He repeats, no fine, no penalty — for speeding and no proof of insurance.

Why Encinia takes such a different approach in his encounter with Sandra Bland has to remain a matter for speculation. It would help to know something about that first driver. She (I think it’s a young woman) speaks three audible words — “sophomore,” “just two.” Who is she? Why did she merit such different treatment? I want to ask to a simple question: was that first driver white?

The fifty-two-minute video also makes clear that Sandra Bland changed lanes for a reason. A police car was coming up behind her with increasing speed. She did what any driver in that situation would be likely to do: she got out of the way. Or tried to.

Telephone exchange names on screen

From Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (dir. John Rawlins, 1947). A killer, Steve “The Claw” Michel (Jack Lambert), has fled after starting to use a payphone with his Captain Hook-like hook. Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) notices scratches, “brand-new,” on the dial. Back at the office, Tracy schools Pat Patton (Lyle Latell). A model payphone happens to be there, as if by magic:



Tracy: “I’ll tell you what these scratches give us, Pat. What's the first thing you do when you dial a telephone number?”

Pat: “Why, I, uh, look for a nickel.”

Tracy: “Oh, no, no.”

Pat: “Oh — I dial the exchange.”

Tracy: “That's right. You dial the first two letters of the exchange.”

Tracy: “Now these scratches appear only in the first two holes.”



Pat: “I get it, Dick. The exchange the killer was dialing has got to be here.”



Tracy: “Correct. In checking a list of exchanges, you’ll find there’s only one exchange with the combination of these letters: B-A for BAnning. ”

Pat: “But what about these other two scratches?”



Tracy: “That’s even simpler. Since they appear in the first hole, the killer can only have been dialing the number 1 twice.”



Pat: “Then we know the number the killer started to dial was BAnning-1, 1-something-something .”

And Pat gets the thankless job of checking every number in town to find the something-something . As John Milton said, they also serve who only sit and check telephone numbers.

Bell Telephone’s 1955 list of Recommended Exchange Names has four names that go with 2-2 : ACademy, BAldwin, CApital, and CAstle. The Telephone EXchange Name Project has many, many more. But no BAnning.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City 3 : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

[I’m surprised to see Al Bridge and Jimmy Conlin from the Preston Sturges world in this low-budget movie, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. An actor would have called it working .]

A list from BrownStudies

My list prompted BrownStudies to make a list: What we’ve been watching (and reading).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Maxwell, Melville, Cather

“Writers — narrative writers — are people who perform tricks”: William Maxwell, from “The Writer as Illusionist,” a speech given at Smith College, March 4, 1955. Maxwell then reads and comments on some opening sentences, first Wuthering Heights, then “The Open Boat.” And then,

Call Me Ishmael . . . .” A pair of eyes looking into your eyes. A face. A voice. You have entered into a personal relationship with a stranger, who will perhaps make demands on you, extraordinary personal demands; who will love you in a way that is upsetting and uncomfortable.

Here is another trick: “Thirty or forty years ago, in one of those gray towns along the Burlington railroad, which are so much grayer today than they were then, there was a house well known from Omaha to Denver for its hospitality and for a certain charm of atmosphere . . . .

A door opens slowly in front of you, and you cannot see who is opening it but, like a sleepwalker, you have to go in.
I found this speech by chance this past weekend, while browsing in a Library of America volume. Crazy synchronicity: Maxwell’s sequence is the sequence of things in our household’s Summer Reading Club, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick followed Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady. For the first time ever, Elaine and I are reading the same book at the same time, same number of pages a day. It’s a great pleasure. We are now finishing Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, to be followed by Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend and Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada. We use two copies so that there’s no fighting. And we have side books: Elaine, Swann’s Way ; me, A Briefer History of Time . We have started as a Vacation Reading Club but plan to keep going come fall, meeting almost every day, after lunch, on the sofa. We should probably read some William Maxwell too. (I’ve read only So Long, See You Tomorrow.)

Matt Thomas of Submitted for Your Perusal has let me know of a reference to Melville and Cather in a New York Times piece earlier this month. The Summer Reading Club must be in sync with a tiny fraction of the zeitgeist, or it with us.

Related reading
All OCA Melville and Cather posts (Pinboard)

Phrasal-adjective punctuation


[Dustin, July 21, 2015.]

+1 for the hyphen.

The punchline: “My friends and I set up text alerts.”

Related reading
Bryan Garner on phrasal adjectives (LawProse) : Graphite-grey : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Kyle Wiens, stickler?

[About the post title: I couldn’t resist turning phrasal adjective into a phrasal adjective.]

Monday, July 20, 2015

“[A] slow proposition on the market”

Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, February 6, 1922. Cather had been invited to lecture at the Bread Loaf School of English. She is wondering whether the school plans to cover her travel and living expenses:

A slow-selling author, who pays little attention to in-come, has to pay attention to out-go, or be in the hole at the end of the year. Now, I am NOT, with tightly compressed lips, throwing your magnificent sales in your face! I’m not a bit sore about being a slow proposition on the market; but I have to cut my plans according to my cloth in order to avoid worrying.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
Related reading
All OCA Willa Cather posts (Pinboard)

“[A]lone with the old things”

Niel Herbert likes being in the Forresters’ house:


[From Willa Cather, A Lost Lady (1923).]

William Tell’s Chapel (there are, in fact, three chapels associated with Tell) was a popular subject for artists: here is one engraving. The House of the Tragic Poet, as it is called, stood in Pompeii. A Getty Museum essay (with several engravings) explains: “Named after its mosaic depicting the rehearsal of a satyr play, the House of the Tragic Poet was decorated throughout with scenes from the epic poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey.” The Captain and Mrs. Forrester’s sitting room has “large, old-fashioned engravings” on its walls.

This passage’s emotional resonance requires, I think, no explanation.

Also from A Lost Lady
“Happy days!” : Weather

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Thomas Browne in the Times

The New York Times in 2012, on Thomas Browne:

it seems that he is now once again in the process of being exhumed and immortalized, as he almost certainly expected he would be.
The article cites a resurgence of interest in Browne: a New Directions edition of Urne-Buriall selling in unlikely places, a New York Review Books edition of Urne-Buriall and Religio Medici edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff, and a forthcoming Oxford University Press edition of all of Browne’s writing. “Taken together,” says 2012 Times, “the efforts represent the most sustained attention devoted to Browne since the 1960s.”

The New York Times in 2015, on Thomas Browne:
Are you feeling guilty yet for not having heard of Sir Thomas Browne? Or, if you have heard of him, for not spending more time savoring his greatest work, an essay on funerary rites alluringly titled Urne-Buriall [ . . . ]? You shouldn’t, really. You are hardly alone. Browne is a “forgotten” man — so concedes what must be his most obsessive contemporary champion, the English science writer Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

In Search of Sir Thomas Browne is Aldersey-Williams’s attempt to do something about this sad state of affairs.
I am amused by the discrepancy between these two accounts. My guess is that 2015 Times didn’t read 2012 Times. And 2015 perhaps trusted too much in Aldersey-Williams’s picture of things.

And as for “forgotten” Browne is likely unforgettable for anyone who has read his work. The rest is buzz.

A related post
Word of the day: quincunx

Pseudo-mondegreen

“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the chasm in my mind.”

Not so much misheard as misremembered, across many years. This song popped into my head yesterday — or, rather, it fell into the chasm in my mind — and now refuses to take its business elsewhere.

A related post
A Fifth Dimension mondegreen

[The song of course is Seals and Crofts’s “Summer Breeze.” You’ve been warned.]

Friday, July 17, 2015

Just one more recommendation

I want to second David Hepworth’s recommendation of Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer’s podcast Criminal. What makes is this podcast exceptional, to my mind, is its unpredictability and variety. It’s also refreshingly low-key, and free of the mannerisms that can make podcasts annoying: no ironic background music here. I’ve listened to five episodes so far, about an ex-addict, a book thief, a killer contemplating revenge, a victim of a romance scam, and a man shot by police in his driveway.

Like The Allusionist (of which I’m also fond), Criminal is a member of Radiotopia.

Any good podcasts anyone wants to recommend?

Porky and Bette

 

I am surprised and happy to see that the Internets hadn’t already thought of it.

Domestic comedy

[Olive oil on the tablecloth. Oops.]

“Don’t use the good salt.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[At one time, salt was just salt.]

Thursday, July 16, 2015

From A Lost Lady


[From Willa Cather, A Lost Lady (1923).]

I like this sentence enough to look and think about it all by itself, embedded in a rectangle of snow.

Also from A Lost Lady
“Happy days!”

One more recommendation

The Wolfpack (dir. Crystal Moselle, 2015) tells the story of the Angulo family: father (from Peru), mother (from Indiana), six sons, one daughter, living on public assistance, in public housing, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The father doesn’t want his children damaged by contact with the world, so he keeps them, and his wife, inside. The daughter suffers from an unexplained malady. All the children have Sanskrit names. The sons fill their days with movies provided by their father (one son estimates 5,000 movies), watching, and watching, and then transcribing, rehearsing, and filming favorite scenes, with props and costumes made from whatever materials they can muster. On occasion the sons are able to sneak outside — one or two or more times a year, sometimes not at all. But one son defies his father’s rule and ventures openly into the city. His brothers begin to follow. Out for a walk, they run into Crystal Moselle, who befriends them and begins to learn their story.

The Wolfpack is well worth seeing. The Angulo brothers’ seriousness of purpose, their joy in their endeavors, their fidelity to the films they reënact — it’s all moving and inspiring to see. The imagination will find a way, this film tells us, even in a miserable, locked-up apartment ruled by a two-bit dictator. But the long history of family dysfunction underwriting this state of affairs is left largely unexplored. So many questions, not just unanswered but unasked. Manohla Dargis’s Times review, which points out that “no laws seem to have been broken” in raising these children, is too breezy by half. I would like to know how paterfamilias Oscar Angulo (who speaks for the camera on several occasions) reconciles his wish to protect his children with a diet of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. I would like to know whether his wife Susanne (who also speaks for the camera) ever thought of getting away. I would at least like to know how the brothers came by costumes and props and video equipment. I know the filmmaker has only ninety minutes. But still.

What most struck me in The Wolfpack: as the brothers begin to make their way into the world, their frames of reference are from film, and only film. Out on a walk: “This is like 3-D, man!” There is joy but also tragedy in that exclamation. I wish the Angulo brothers well as they continue learning their way into that world.

Here is the the film’s official site. And here is an article from People (of all places) that asks and answers a few questions that the film leaves unexplored.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Recently updated

“Pluto in His Cups” Now there’s Part 2.

A baker’s dozen, plus one

Fourteen films I recommend with great enthusiasm, more or less in the order in which we watched them:

House of Games (dir. David Mamet, 1987). A psychiatrist enters the world of con artistry. A fiendishly tricky story, with each false bottom opening onto another. Bonus points for Ricky Jay’s appearance.

*

Le Havre (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 2011). In the French port city of Le Havre, Marcel Marx (André Wilms), shoeshine man and one-time writer, befriends and hides Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young boy smuggled out of Gabon. He hopes to get to London. With Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen as Marcel’s ailing wife Arletty. The sweetest Aki Kaurismäki movie we’ve seen.

*

Moro No Brasil (dir. Mika Kaurismäki, 2002). A documentary by Aki’s brother, about the music of his adopted country Brazil. No bossa nova here. The film is in the spirit of a field recording, documenting music as the everyday joy of a people. How much music may be found in a tambourine? This film has the answer.

*


[“So happy together.”]

Total Balalaika Show (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 1994). The Leningard Cowboys, a faux-Russian Finnish rock group, perform with the Alexandrov Red Army Choir and Ballet. My favorite moments: “Let’s Work Together” and “Happy Together.” Elaine and I have now exhausted the Aki Kaurismäki reserves of Netflix and our university library. But I still cannot spell Kaurismäki without double-checking.

*

Hangmen Also Die (dir. Fritz Lang, 1943). The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Nazi-occupied Prague, and its repercussions. A good performance from Brian Donlevy. “Bert Brecht,” as he’s listed in the title sequence, is one of the film’s writers. The cinematographer is James Wong Howe.

*

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (dir. Brian Knappenberger, 2014). The life and death of Aaron Swartz, a beautiful and generous mind who exemplified all that is bright and human in digital culture. A Boston prosecutor’s effort to make an example of Swartz (who had illegally downloaded JSTOR articles) had tragic consequences: facing the possibility of thirty years in prison and a million-dollar fine, Swartz took his life before going to trial. For contrast: the three men guilty of lying to investigators or obstructing justice in the Boston Marathon bombing recently received sentences of three years, three and a half years, and six years.

The Internet’s Own Boy is available for online viewing at archive.org.

*


[Carol Kaye.]

The Wrecking Crew (dir. Denny Tedesco, 2008). Finally on DVD after a long fight to clear the music permissions. This documentary is a labor of love by the son of the guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The Wrecking Crew, a loose congregation of Los Angeles studio musicians, played on countless American pop and rock recordings in the 1960s and ’70s, from the Beach Boys to the Monkees to the Tijuana Brass to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions. The focus is on Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson, Carol Kaye, and Tedesco, with briefer appearances by other musicians, and a great many perspectives on the anonymity of studio work. Many, many DVD extras, including a sampling of musician jokes. This film would make an excellent at-home double-bill with Standing in the Shadows of Motown (dir. Paul Justman, 2002) or 20 Feet from Stardom (dir. Morgan Neville, 2013).

A Hal Blaine joke: What do you call a musician in a three-piece suit? The defendant.

*

Searching for Sugarman (dir. Malik Bendjelloul, 2012). A singer-songwriter from Detroit records two albums that go nowhere — except in South Africa, where unbeknownst to him, he becomes a major figure in music. (Estimated South African sales: half a million copies.) The film documents the search for Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez, and his later-in-life return to performing. (He’s now opening for Brian Wilson.) You don’t have to take to the music (which sounds to me like a cross between Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond) to find the story wonderful.

*


[Francine Bergé, holding on, for now.]

Judex (dir. Georges Franju, 1963). Homage to a 1916 silent serial (alas, not included in the two-disc Criterion release). A character helpfully explains the title: “It's a Latin word meaning ‘judge’ or ‘upholder of the law.’” A gleefully bizarre story of revenge and love, with silent-film and Hitchcock touches.

*

Magnificent Obsession (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1954). Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson in what might be called a philosophical melodrama, one that treats the question of How to Live. The chemistry between the two is unmistakable. The Criterion release includes the 1935 original with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor (dir. John M. Stahl). Elaine preferred the original for its greater plausibility. I preferred the remake for its greater implausibility.

*


[Cary reads the Bible.]

All That Heaven Allows (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1955). Wyman and Hudson again. Cary Scott is a well-off widow; Ron Kirby, a gardener and tree-nursery owner, and mentor to aspiring non-conformists. Will Cary accede to social pressure and walk away from this younger man, or will she gain the courage to march to the beat of a different drummer? My favorite scene: the lobster dinner, a gathering of the local eccentrics, including Manuel the lobster man, Grandpa Adams, beekeeper and artist (“Strictly primitive!”), and Miss Pidway, “head of the Audubon Society, and an outstanding bird-watcher.” Next-favorite scene: the gift of a television. This film gives melodrama a good name.

*

The Rape of Europa (dir. Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham, 2006). A documentary about the Nazis’ systematic effort to steal or destroy art, and the Allied effort to recover what was taken. Includes interviews with real Monument Men. Many of us will know the gist of the story from a single painting and legal battles over its ownership. But the extent of Nazi theft and destruction may come as a shock. There are strange overtones of ISIS here, now destroying and selling the treasures of Middle-Eastern antiquity. But the Nazis wanted art for themselves. I learned about this film (and Aki Kaurismäki generally) from Fresca.

*

The Band Wagon (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1953). I asked my dad this past Saturday, “Dad, do you know The Band Wagon?” “Do I know The Band Wagon !” said he. Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant, and Jack Buchanan put on a show. Songs by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. As one of those songs says, that’s entertainment. The injection of high culture in the form of Oedipus and Faust (via Buchanan’s character) makes for a special kind of hilarity. Trying to imagine a plot that could account for the songs of the final show makes for another kind of hilarity.

Reader, what have you found that’s worth watching?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Live-blogging the weather

4:06 p.m. Achoo . Achoo . Achoo . Achoo . Achoo .

[Heavy rain, and now, a high mold-count.]

Some more words to live by

I’ve added a sentence from Simone Weil to the sidebar’s little gathering of Words to Live By. The sentence appears in a letter from Weil to the poet Joë Bousquet, April 13, 1942: “L’attention est la forme la plus rare et la plus pure de la générosité.” In translation: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” The sentence is widely available online in English, but with no indication of a source. An couple of hours in the library looking through a dozen or so Weil books was no help, and I began to wonder if Weil had indeed written these words. I finally found the source by translating the sentence into French and searching for that online. A snippet view in Google Books gave me the answer.


[Joseph Marie Perrin, Mon dialogue avec Simone Weil (1984). I found the year elsewhere.]

Weil’s sentence seems especially suited to early-twenty-first-century life. To pay attention, when so many things compete to distract us, is to make a gift of oneself. I present the sentence as standing on its own, detached from any larger relation to Weil’s thinking about prayer and the Godhead (in which the idea of attention played an important part).

For many years I had Weil’s sentence (in translation) on a little slip of paper taped to my office door. (It was one of many things taped to the door.) The sentence was once the subject of an amusing conversation with a student, who told me that The Site That Shall Not Be Named had a complaint about me that went something like this: “He makes you come to his office and he goes over your essay with you line by line.” The nerve! My student said that reading that complaint made him decide to take a course with me. Ha.

“Pluto in His Cups”

From George Bodmer’s Oscar’s Day: “Pluto in His Cups.”

Note to Pluto: You are big . It’s the idea of what counts as a planet that got small.

I am a total third-grader when it comes to Pluto. The brave planet has been the subject of several OCA posts.

*

July 14: “Pluto in His Cups, Part 2”

Monday, July 13, 2015

“Happy days!”

From Willa Cather, A Lost Lady (1923):



Other Cather posts
Cather’s letters : Cather, snoot : James Schuyler on Cather : Proust and Cather

[If you think about how RSS readers turn paragraphs into nearly screen-wide ribbons, you’ll understand why I’ve posted these paragraphs as an image file.]

A concluding truck for belated pubs

So H. L. Mencken thinks English teachers are dumb? Take this, H. L. Mencken:

Transumption is the trope of a trope, or technically the metonymy of a metonymy. That is, it tends to be a figure that substitutes an aspect of a previous figure for that figure. Imagistically, transumption from Milton through the Romantics to the present tends to manifest itself in terms of earliness substituting for lateness, and more often than not to be the figure that concludes poems. Translated into psychoanalytic terms, transumption is either the psychic defense of introjection (identification) or of projection (refusal of identity), just as metaphor translates into the defense of sublimation, or hyperbole into that of repression. The advantage of transumption as a concluding trope for belated poems is that achieves a kind of fresh priority or earliness, but always at the expense of the present or living moment.
I first came across this passage (from an essay on the poet Geoffrey Hill) as an undergraduate in 1977. It has stuck in my mind ever since as an example of what might be called unfriendly opacity. (On at least one occasion it was a great hit read aloud in tipsy company.) I like legitimate difficulty in poetry and prose. This passage though seems meant to produce an academic version of shock and awe. A master is speaking. And he need not offer a single example.

There are parts of academic life I will never miss.

[My Mac’s Dictation did a fine job with this passage: “a concluding truck for belated pubs.” Regarding difficulty: say, John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”]

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Atticus Finch’s permanent record

“An explosive plot twist that no one saw coming”: that’s how a New York Times article describes Atticus Finch’s changed character in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. (Briefly: he’s an out-and-out racist.) Certainly those responsible for the publication of this work have long known that its older Atticus Finch is not the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the news has come out just days before the novel’s publication date (July 14) seems to me the result of careful, cynical calculation: the timing is right to produce maximum buzz with minimal damage to sales (the early orders are in).

Bewilderment about how the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird could espouse the beliefs he holds in Go Set a Watchman bespeaks a failure to distinguish between fictional characters and human beings. “Atticus Finch” isn’t a human being, a moral agent, who devolved over time — which in itself would involve time travel, as Go Set a Watchman is the earlier work. “Atticus Finch” is the name of a character in two works of fiction. That the two works are wildly discrepant in their presentation of this character is a matter of a writer’s changing conception. “It’s sad to think that Atticus’s character is going to be tarnished,” says a teacher, as if the ugliness of Go Set a Watchman is going on Atticus Finch’s permanent record. (There is no human being for whom to make a permanent record.) Go Set a Watchman will require us to distinguish between what “our own desires” have made of Atticus Finch and “the literary truth,” says an academic, as if the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird was really the old racist all along. Confusion upon confusion.

For me, the most exciting news about Go Set a Watchman is that the book is arriving in mid-July, which leaves open (at least in my mind) the possibility that a J. D. Salinger book will be arrive later this year. I don’t think it’s too cynical to imagine that publishers get together on the timing of these things.

[The tea cakes and lemonade affair is going to be pretty awkward, I suspect.]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Mark Trail retort


[Mark Trail, July 11, 2015.]

Mark needs a boat. His editor Bill Ellis points out that the last one the magazine paid for got blown to bits. Mark’s reply offers a joyous philosophy of life: “Ha! . . . That wasn’t exactly my fault!” I’m not sure about the ellipsis though. How long to pause? Must practice.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

A Mark Trail jackpot

  
[Mark Trail, July 4, 6, 10, 2015.]

Recycle, recycle, recycle.

Previous instances: here, here, here, and here.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Beard Oil

A recommendation that may be useful to a subset of Orange Crate Art readers: Beard Oil, by Leven Rose. It’s a mixture of jojoba and argan oils, fragrance-free. It makes my beard softer and rulier. Your beard may vary. A few drops should go a long way.

What’s that? Yes, rulier. Having written softer, I had to find a way around more manageable, so as not to sound too much like a shampoo commercial.

Ishmael says that a man who uses hair oil for non-medicinal purposes “has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere.” But he doesn’t say anything about beard oil.

Related posts
Beards and Perfect Etiquette (1879)
Beards as signs of the times
Beard-trimming recommendation
Polyphemus, beard-wearer

[This recommendation, like every other OCA recommendation, is unsolicited.]

Friday, July 10, 2015

“Tea Peps You Up!”


[Life, July 24, 1939. Click for a larger view.]

I like the clutter of this advertisement. But it isn’t clutter, really; it’s just more and more stuff to delight the reader. I like imagining the woman’s words aloud: she sounds like she’s on a jag. I like suspecting that the man is picnicking on liverwurst. (It sure looks like liverwurst.) I like the little Bayeux Tapestry at the bottom of the page. I especially like the treatment of the word TEA, a treatment usually reserved for ICE itself.

And speaking of ice, here’s Mr. Cube, larger, cleaner, colder:



Words often attributed to William Gladstone: “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.” If you try to track down a source for these sentences, you will be disappointed. Here, have some tea.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

[I used the free Mac app Paparazzi! to grab the large ad. I used the Mac Preview alpha tool to clean up Mr. Cube.]

“Tea Answers America’s Call to Pep!”


[Life, December 9, 1940.]

Notice that this advertisement has a cameo by Mr. T. Pott, whose acquaintance I made last night. Pott was known on both sides of the Atlantic. On this side he appears without top hat, which makes a certain sense: he’s already wearing a lid. Besides, us Americans don’t have much truck with no fancy ways.

Here, for no practical purpose, is a neater, brighter, larger Pott:


[Life, February 12, 1940.]

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

[I used the free Mac app Paparazzi! to grab the large ad. I used the Mac Preview alpha tool to clean up Mr. Pott.]

Joyeux anniversaire, M. Proust

He was born on this day in 1871.

In reading, friendship is suddenly brought back to its original purity. There is no false amiability with books. If we spend the evening with these friends, it is because we genuinely want to. We often take leave of them, at least, only with regret. And once we have left them, none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: ‘What did they think of us?’ ‘Were we not tactless?’ ‘Did they like us?’ or the fear of being forgotten in favour of someone else. All these qualms of friendship expire on the threshold of the pure and peaceable form of it that is reading.

Marcel Proust, “Days of Reading,” in Days of Reading, translated by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 2008).
Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Days of Reading, from the third series of Penguin’s Great Ideas paperbacks, reprints five short pieces from Against Saint-Beuve and Other Essays (London: Penguin, 1988), now out of print.]

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rhymes with “Boops”

I know that tea is better for you than water. I know that, like chocolate and wine, it enhances cognitive performance. (Science!) I know too that it tastes swell, gives vitality, and makes you go “Boops.” (Advertising!) And I know that tea pairs well with madeleines, especially when Marcel Proust’s birthday is just a day away. (Literature!) But I did not know about the droops.


[“Tea Drives Away the Droops.” Poster by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1936. Click for a larger view.]

This poster, a product of the International Tea Market Expansion Board, is Cooper Hewitt’s Object of the Day. Geoffrey Ripert describes the poster as “an early and particularly representative example of globalization in advertising, speaking directly to the consumer as an individual, ‘sensual’ being.” A being with droops.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts

TWA, JFK

The photographer Max Tuohey tours the Trans World Flight Center, aka the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Those stairs! I was there in boyhood, but I didn’t know it until I saw these photographs.

[Via Daring Fireball.]

Fifty blog description lines

The first words of Van Dyke Parks’s song “Orange Crate Art” — “Orange crate art was a place to start” — long appeared on this blog as what Blogger calls a blog description line. (Right below the blog title above.) In May 2010, I began to vary the line, keeping the quotation marks for fun. I never stopped. I’ll quote what I wrote in a post that collected the first two hundred: “These lines now look like bits of found language, detached from contexts, amusing, banal, evocative, opaque. I like that.” And I still do. Here are the fifty that have followed the first two hundred:

“Caffeinated, mildly so”
“One part zot ”
“A name I’ve grown to trust”
“I’m not like that!”
“Thanks, Pete”
“1½ HOUR FREE PARKING”
“Doing what, exactly?”
“As it is, unadorned”
“As its writer intended”
“Ink-thrifty”
“Such a monkey”
“Turned out nice again”
“More powerful than a Coke and a slice”
“It’s very hard to be yourself, but it’s the best
    possible thing”
“A mistaken detail from me”
“Good usage isn’t nearly as fluid as you’re
    suggesting”
“Undivided attention to the most unimportant
    things”
“As if!”
“Not a Vermeer”
“Kinda haphazard”
“That’s me — or is it I?”
“We’re — or is it I’m?”
“Pretty much actual size”
“All that is the case”
“In the traditional manner”
“Pithy, brisk, prosaic”
“Only all palaver”
“Plenty to think about”
“Just plain wrong about some things”
“Echoes and clunkinesses”
“It’s study hour again”
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo
    Buffalo buffalo.”
“Bad advice and misinformation”
“A mere smidgen”
“With your permission and all of that”
“Sigh”
“Gullible pup”
“Plain enough”
“Received task, will do later”
“The crank and fuss”
“More readable”
”Naturally roundabout”
“Filled with language”
“Artisan grilled”
“More than slightly in a trance”
“You don’t have to be Frank Sinatra”
“Bits and pieces learned along the way”
“Increasingly unalphabetical”
“Pre-Code”
“Full of meaning”
To be continued.

Melville and Frost

Ishamel ponders whiteness, “the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind”:


Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

In a poem from 1936, Robert Frost, too, ponders “a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows”:



Frost’s poem also suggests Blaise Pascal: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” [The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.] Frost’s better-known “Design” depicts a scene in white and white and white, a design, if it is a design, “of darkness to appall.”

Appalling whiteness, of the whale and other things, seems like a good note on which to end these Moby-Dick posts.

Also from Moby-Dick
“Nothing exists in itself” : Nantucket ≠ Illinois : Quoggy : “Round the world!” : Gam : On “true method” : “A certain semi-visible steam” : Ishmael, dictionary user : A Sheffield contrivance

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to”

From The Simpsons episode “The Bart of War” (May 18, 2003), aired again (again) last night. Bart and Milhouse are in trouble:

Bart: Please, don’t call our parents.

Chief Wiggum: I’m afraid I have to for hijinks like these. Heh. Hijinks. Funny word. Three dotted letters in a row.

Eddie: Is it hyphenated?

Chief Wiggum: It used to be. Back in the bad old days, you know. Of course every generation hyphenates the way it wants to. Then there’s ★NSYNC. Hah. What the hell is that? Jump in any time, Eddie, these are good topics.
I don’t know how Chief Wiggum spells ★NSYNC, but I know how ★NSYNC spells ★NSYNC. (I looked it up.) But I am unwilling to ruin line spacing by superscripting the star. Like so:
NSYNC
I also don’t know if Chief Wiggum italicizes words used as words. But I do.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)
The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem
Living on hyphens
Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner
One more from Mr. Hyphen

[Mary Norris’s Between You & Me (2015) and Edward N. Teall’s Meet Mr. Hyphen (1937) got me noticing hyphens and talk of hyphens.]

“Rich kids” and English

Linkbait from The Atlantic : “Rich Kids Study English,” complete with a stock photo of an oh-so-white, oh-so languid young woman, shades on, shoes off, reading, sort of, supine on the grass. The more temperate claim that the writer advances: “Kids [kids ?] from lower-income families tend toward ‘useful’ majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.”

I am skeptical about this claim. It’s not clear how much statistical evidence supports it: all we’re told is “National Center for Education Statistics data.” The graph presenting this evidence seems far from conclusive: “Associate’s Degree only” goes with an average parental household income of $56,636 ± $41,496. English goes with $99,533 ± $59,856. Of all majors listed, the greatest range in parental household income goes with the English major, which would seem to suggest that its students come from all kinds of backgrounds.

Which I believe is the case. I’ve known countless students from decidedly unprivileged backgrounds who have chosen to major in English. (I was one such major too.) This Atlantic piece furthers the pernicious idea that traditional study in the humanities is for a privileged few, while more practical fields offer a proper path for the rest of us. I will quote from a previous post:

If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few  . . . and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else.
The idea that the humanities are for “rich kids” is one that any humanist must reject.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It’s still WCW’s wheelbarrow

The New York Times reports on Thaddeus Marshall, “the forgotten man behind William Carlos Williams’s ‘red wheelbarrow.’” Interesting, certainly. But the wheelbarrow of “The Red Wheelbarrow” has been abstracted — removed from its source, dissociated from its surroundings (save for some chickens), lifted into the zone of the imagination, whose work upon things is the focus of Spring and All, the 1923 volume in which the poem (known only as XXII, an exhibit number of sorts) first appeared. To say (as the Internets now say) that Mr. Marshall owned the wheelbarrow in Williams’s poem is to make a category mistake about the relation between life and art.

Williams’s poem, like so much modernist art, is above all a work of juxtaposition: of the made and the natural, the one and the many, the red and the white. As Hugh Kenner observes, the poem forms “an ideogram of the barnyard.” “The Red Wheelbarrow” has small surprises: the broken words “wheel / barrow” and “rain / water,” the mysterious word glazed, which turns the wheelbarrow, if only for a moment, into a work of art, glazed like, oh, say, a Grecian urn. And the poem has a haiku-like economy of form: four two-line stanazas, of four syllables and two, three and two, three and two, four and two. Reading the poem at Princeton University in 1952, Williams invoked the opening line of John Keats’s Endymion : “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

It’s good to know where things come from. (It was Hugh Kenner who discovered that “Prufock” was the name of a St. Louis furniture company.) But it’s also possible in English studies to contextualize a work into oblivion — in other words, to miss what’s most important about it . What’s most important about “The Red Wheelbarrow” is its presentation of an everyday, unpoetic reality as the material of poetry. Not a Grecian urn: a wheelbarrow. Not nightingales and skylarks: chickens.

Related reading
All OCA William Carlos Williams posts (Pinboard)

Burt Shavitz (1935–2015)

The Burt behind — or at a distance from — Burt’s Bees has died: “Burt Shavitz, Scruffy Face of Burt’s Bees, Dies at 80” (The New York Times).

Elaine and I happened to watch the documentary film Burt’s Buzz (dir. Jody Shapiro, 2013) on Saturday. Its story was strange and sad: the guy whose face has sold who-knows-how-many tubes of lip balm turns out to have been exiled from the company that bears his name. Yet he still made appearances as a real-life brand emblem, when he would have liked nothing better than to stay on his thirty-seven acres. “A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere,” he tells the camera. Saddest scene: Burt in Taiwan, using Skype to talk to — and then howl with — his beloved dog.