…and a bun

July 8, 2013

On July 10 Sotheby’s is auctioning Samuel Beckett’s autograph manuscript of “Sasha Murphy”—what would become Murphy (1938). The handwritten, heavily-edited draft fills six school exercise books and is sprinkled throughout with hundreds of doodles, in pen and crayon, “of women with huge, globular breasts, of bicycles, syringes and astronomical figures, of a mermaid and men in bowler hats” along with caricatures of Charlie Chaplin, James Joyce and others. But, to my taste, the best sidebar doodle (noticed by Peter Leggatt in his preview of the manuscript) is a rhetorical question scribbled in the margins:

What is my life but a preference for the ginger biscuit? 

1930s doodles by Beckett, available this Wednesday for anyone with an huge billfold.

1930s doodles by Beckett, available this Wednesday for anyone with an huge billfold.


Taco Tidbits

July 8, 2013

From Harper’s Index:

harpers taco


From the NYT:

Taco Dibbits3


And, from our recent visit to Longfellow/Dante:

There was the Aretine, who from the arms
Untamed of Ghin di Tacco had his death,
And he who fleeing from pursuit was drowned.


The gentleman outlaw Tacco. Namechecked in Purgatorio 6:13-15

All good things to those who wait

July 4, 2013

Last night PBS aired a cool documentary on Mount Rushmore & its creation. The program ended with an incredible quote from the ever-intense sculptor/designer/engineer/promoter of the monument, Gutzon Borglum:

I am allowing an extra three inches on all the features of the various Presidents in order to provide stone for the wear and tear of the elements, which cuts the granite down one inch every 100,000 years. Three inches would require 300,000 years to bring the work down to the point that I would like to finish it. In other words, the work will not be done for another 300,000 years, as it should be.

Read the rest of this entry »

In tune with our time

June 27, 2013

From the permanent collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Apparently Philip Reingale invented internet humor in 1805.

"Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog" by Philip Reingale (1805)

“Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog” by Philip Reingale (1805)

Reel Around the Montaigne

June 27, 2013

Albrecht Dürer was on tour recently and played the National Gallery in DCDürer is an unimpeachable master, whose genius we won’t go into, suffice it to say that the dude knew how to dress! (Those sleeves!) For all his ability, however, Dürer had the strange habit of giving the most misfortunate lil’ scrunch-faces to his ladies. (See, for example, Eve.) One of the misfortunate-faced gals on display at the National Gallery was that of the quasi-mythic Lucretia.

The Suicide of Lucretia (1518). Not among Dürer’s Greatest Hits, not least because of the uneven length of her arms :-(

The Suicide of Lucretia (1518). Not among Dürer’s Greatest Hits, not least because of the uneven length of her arms :–(

Lucretia’s suicide was a popular & enduring motif in medieval & renaissance art, variously employed with sexual and/or political overtones. In the classical narrative, Lucretia was raped in her bedroom by the son of Lucius Tarquinius, the seventh and soon-to-be-final king of the Etruscan dynasty that ruled over Rome. In horror at the incident, and to demonstrate her resolute chastity, Lucretia took her own life with a dagger. Lucretia belonged to a prominent Roman family and they, outraged, vowed to avenge her death. The native leading men of Rome, who swore an oath while hoisting Lucretia’s bloodied dagger, led a revolution to overthrow the Etruscan king and banned forever any king from entering Rome. Thus, Lucretia, who would rather die than suffer the shameful subjugation of tyrants, is a heroine of both chastity and Republicanism. And her suicide is entwined with the birth of Rome.

Dürer considered her self-sacrifice so momentous & so redeeming that he portrayed Lucretia’s wound to exactly mirror that of Christ. Compare with Lamentation of Christ, for Albert Glim (1503). (That the wound which birthed Rome should match the wound that Jesus received from a Roman soldier is a symbolism-ouroboros for abler mind-snake charmers!) Apparently, however, Dürer’s idealization of Lucretia was not reverent enough for the viewing public of “prudish Catholic Munich around 1600”. The authorities felt that for a symbol of ultimate chastity Lucretia’s loincloth was not adequate. And so, more than half a century after Dürer’s death, Lucretia’s loincloth was “expanded upwards”! What’s funny here is that church censors were not the only ones who saw it necessary to further cover Lucretia’s (fictional) flesh. In Chaucer’s dream-vision poem The Legend of Good Women (c. 1380) Lucretia, that “noble wyf”, is presented as so modest & dignified & chaste that as she lay dying she took care to adjust her gown to cover her ankles!

Read the rest of this entry »

The Picture I Took of Smokey Robinson Tonight, Big and Small

June 22, 2013




Police BBQ

May 31, 2013


The Shape of Things to Come?

May 18, 2013

Polydome Institute-of-Terrestrial-Ec

Benny Andersson Wearing a Maple Leafs Jersey

May 11, 2013



Maybe this will help somehow? I care about the hockey playoffs to the extent that they relate to ABBA.


May 3, 2013

You know how Google commands a fleet of camera-cars that drive around cities creating ‘street views’? This cumbersome process is only a suggestive stepping-stone.

In 7 years when every weirdo is wearing Google Glasses equipped with GPS, a complete pictorial map of the world will be steadily filled in. The uploaded views of 1,001 pedestrians in Bangkok will be aggregated by massive online databases and from your laptop in Illinois you’ll be able to tour Bangkok city streets and move your roving eye into restaurants, office buildings, and even some apartments, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, refrigerators, the drawer of a mahogany desk. Any visible space shared by wearers of the magic glasses.

As this astonishing spectacle dawns/dons on us we will turn to various gurus to make sense of it all, and inevitably we will need to consult Mr. Borges’ short fiction about the civilization—striving fanatically for informational exactitude—that created a map of the empire the size of the empire. “On the Exactitude of Science” (1960):

Borges Map

Related: See also the White House’s new initiative to ‘map the human brain’.

Tanky Soundtrack: My Bloody Valentine, “Map Ref 41°N 93° W” (Wire cover)

p.s. in our looming future there will also be a strange new journalistic genre, wherein people will compose accounts of virtually-encountered cities, written from afar. It will be a hybrid of “The Parisian Prowler” and Jayson Blair style absentee-reportage. (Also, related: Instead of waiting for after-the-fact youtube videos, Washington Think Tanks will hire Google Glass stooges/fixers to attend protests, meetings, etc. in distant cities. [Through an earpiece] “OK, Anwar, do you see that guy on the left holding an anti-Ennahda poster? Can you casually go up to him and ask his opinion of the new IMF loan deal?”

Taking It All Back

April 30, 2013


Animal Punishment

March 30, 2013

Animal Punishment

Lou Reed – Families

March 24, 2013


March 23, 2013


Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Late Thoughts

March 17, 2013

*  *  *

*  *  *


*  *  *


Cave Art These Days

March 12, 2013

Do you remember a while back we were riffing on the dystopian fantasy world, Warhammer 40,000, which, rather than being set a paltry fifty or one-hundred years from now like timid/typical sci-fi, is set forty-thousand years into the future?!

A comical, almost unfathomable span. Except: whenever I think about Warhammer 40K I think also about Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the incredible Herzog film exploring the art of Chauvet Cave—the oldest paintings ever discovered—which date from… more than 30,000 years ago. That is: We, now, are roughly equidistant in time from the artists of Chauvet Cave as we are from Warhammer Chaos Space Marines. (And, to these early human draughtsmen, surely we would be as freakishly post-human sci-fi as any 40K space marine—oh, if you’ll kindly excuse me while I update the RSS feed on my handheld device for an anonymous Yemeni blog about unmanned drone warfare… hmm, while I wait for that page to load (must be a slow signal from the telecom satellite—go figure) I’ll just read this week’s news about how the FDA approved 3D-printed synthetic skull replacements; the new worldwide network for robots to communicate and give each other advice; and how a rat brain in North Carolina remotely controlled the bodily functions of a rat body in Brazil via the internet.) (The thing, then, about Warhammer 40,000 is that we are Warhammer 40,000.)

One of Herzog’s basic contentions is that the wonder of the Chauvet Cave art rests not only in its extreme antiquity, but also its expressive quality—that is, the drawings are not only artifact, but art. The powerful, realistic drawings transcend the centuries and convey something essential of prehistoric experience.

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago. The eyes…


The motion of a ferocious horn.

The ferocious motion of a ferocious horn.


The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

Herzog argues that the drawings of Chauvet Cave announce the dawn of human culture.

I was happily reminded on the bus today of T.S. Eliot taking a similar line. In discussing the artist’s relation to her cumulative cultural heritage, Eliot draws the long line back to cave art. The cumulative cultural “mind” is a mind which changes, but “this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawings of the Magdelenian draughtsmen.”

At the time when Eliot wrote this (1917) it’s true that primitivism was en vogue, and appreciating Magdelenian cave art fit this aesthetic program. But Eliot isn’t praising Pure Premodern Man, pristine before all the muck of centuries piled upon him. He’s rapping about Premodern Man and all the subsequent stuff piled atop. For Eliot, the artist is situated in a long procession of cultural moments, and to become a mature artist

…involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year (LoL); and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.

(It’s not a coincidence, I think, that this was written at the crest of WWI, when Europe was imploding. One senses an anxiety to gather and footnote all the achievements of culture, against the tide of oblivion.)

So, as the Mind of Europe crawls onward through the centuries it accretes new experiences, builds upon the past, and develops new tools for expression, but, crucially, Eliot contends, it does not improve. “This development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.” Reflecting upon the past, the artist “must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same.”

This is what Herzog is up to in the cave, right? He would not argue that Chauvet has been surpassed, certainly not by his own art. And, in a broad sense, he too is trying to capture, to corral, to hold still, the wondrous experiences of being human—in a meta sense (art about art) as is his wont—but not unlike the original cave artists. Yes, the “material of art is never quite the same”—in the Chauvet Cave Herzog ‘draws’ with 3D cameras, and his cave images are displayed to others on distant glowing screens, but he is up to the same game. (By echoing the “dreams” of his forebears, he shares in them). And I think he’d welcome this comparison/compliment, and roll with this last quote from Eliot:

One of the facts that might come to light in this process [of criticism] is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.



p.s. BUT. To get back to our Warhammer space homies…. Eliot & Herzog contend a certain universalism of human experience—that mature art in any period rings roughly the same bell. But as we increasingly become psychic cyborgs of our former selves old art might become impossible—or merely a quaint hobby. No more “human experience”! Do we not have a renewed existential anxiety—like Eliot at the crest of the Great War—of a new Great Divide & an old world irrevocably crumbling? Gather ye rosebud paintings while ye may, for tomorrow we’ll be disembodied algorithms stalking the holographic horizon hunting/gathering network information packets. [Oops, Nevermind: I just received communication from Dunru, a Paleolithic shaman and art critic: “You think we didn’t have disembodied avatars? After Barnak, King of the Valley, perished from the earth his spirit was transferred to an obsidian stone, which was consulted for major clan decisions and conferred powers of fertility.” I stand corrected! Humans, always forever weird.]

p.p.s. Here’s a shout-out track for the Warhammer Space Marines: “Space Cowboy” by Sly & The Family Stone (perhaps obsidian?). Got some nice funk yodeling in there! Also, if you gulp the new JT album, The Mad Dog 20/20 Experience, I think Timbaland has been feeling the Sly Stone lately. Check in particular the outro on “Strawberry Bubblegum”.

p.p.p.s. To soundtrack the gaping span from Chauvet to Warhammer it’s probably best that we turn to sci-fi honky-tonk. From the compilation Nashville Sputnik, Brad Wolfe “Changing Times” and Joel Mathis “Time Machine“.

My Vacation

March 11, 2013


Guns Blazin

March 7, 2013

NYRB’s art department is going full jihad this month.

NYRB jihad


In other layout news, I can dig the WPost’s choreography of the Bolshoi Bad Boy and P. Ryan.

Bolshoi Ryan2

Hassan al-Banna & The Flux Capacitor

March 6, 2013

You know that silly internet meme where people locate “time travelers” in old photographs? Well—somewhat improbably—I think I discovered evidence of Muslim Brotherhood time travelers in an old Lehnert & Landrock photo. Check out the name of the ahwa in the classic photo below. The calligraphy is a bit ornate, but, yes, it reads: **Mohamed Morsi Supporter Club**.


Lehnert & Landrock & Morsi. The (literal) signs of his presidency have been in front of us for 75 years!

From right to left in standard font, it’s:

نادي    محمد مرسي    مؤيد

Muy trippy! Nice fodder for a new conspiracy theory…
(Now it’s only a matter of time until we unearth time-travelling evidence of Mohamed Morrissey…)

Sky / Guy

March 5, 2013

Tristan, this is a visualization of the joke I was trying to make at your mom’s house but was too drunk and you were like Who/what are you even talking about?