Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where Something or Someone Is From

From Michael Martone, Flatness and Other Landscapes: Essays by Michael Martone. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000, a book in which he also notes that "If the rest of Americans know anything about this region [the Midwest] they know it as the place where something or someone is from" (p. 105)—

Circleville, Ohio, is known for its pumpkins. Blue Earth, Minnesota, is known for the Jolly Green Giant. Wausau, Wisconsin, is known for its insurance. Warsaw, Indiana, is the world capital of artificial knees and replacement hips. In Bryan, the Ohio Art Company follows the ancient craft of constructing Etch-A-Sketches. Battle Creek builds cereals; Muncie builds mason jars; and Oshkosh builds jeans. In Auburn they built Auburns and Cords and Dusenbergs, the survivors of the species returning to the Indiana village each Labor Day like swallows to Capistrano. There are glass cities and seats of furniture. Homes of flags and birthplaces of cheeses. Lima gave its name to the best steam engines in the history of the world. There are town famous for bikes, canal boats, lentils, Bing cherries, mint, jams, jellies, preserves, spark plugs, band instruments, copper wire, mobile homes, motorcycles, the Dum-Dum sucker, and even the kitchen sink. These town are like diminutive solar systems; the life of each town orbits the bright center of its product, produce, or past, its identity caught up in the gravity of the plant or the plant. Even the larger cities participate in this reduction to a simple common denominator, the brewers of Milwaukee for example. And what do they do in Detroit?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Looking Out Our Eye Hoals

From Russel Hoban, Riddley Walker. Indiana University Press, 1998—

You know Riddley theres some thing in us it dont have no name…Its some kynd of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals…It aint you nor it dont even know your name. Its in us lorn and loan and sheltering how it can…Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome. Temmering it is and feart. It puts on like we put our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Sometimes it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us apart…Now Im old I noatis it mor. It dont realy like to put me on no mor. Every morning I can feal how its tiret of me and readying to throw me away. Iwl tel you something Riddley and keap this in memberment. What ever it is we dont come naturel to it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spot Check

Here, an especially curious note from Henry Miller, To Paint Is To Love Again. New York: Grossman, 1968, p. 7. See also Miller's thoughts about book design at A Tribute to Merle Armitage

What is more intriguing than a spot on the bathroom floor which, as you sit emptying your bowels, assumes a hundred different forms, figures, shapes? Often I found myself on my knees studying a stain on the floor—studying it to detect all that was hidden at first sight.

A Bearded Virgin Mary

Above Engraving of a young, bearded John Singer Sargent, published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine Vol LXXV No 447 (October 1887), p. 68. Compare that with this statement by Pablo Picasso about beards and the generation of ideas, as quoted in Brassai, Picasso and Company. New York: Doubleday, 1966, p. 55—

Ideas are just points of departure. It's rare for me to be able to pinpoint them, just as they came to my mind. As soon as I set to work, others seem to flow from the pen. To know what you want to draw, you have to begin drawing it. If it turns out to be a man, I draw a man—if it's a woman, I draw a woman. There's an old Spanish proverb: "If it has a beard, it's a man; if it doesn't have a beard, it's a woman." Or, in another version, "If it has a beard, it's Saint Joseph; if it doesn't have a beard, it's the Virgin Mary."

Rope Trick

Above Historical photograph of US Civil War General Henry A. Barnum (1833-1892), who received what should have been a mortal gunshot wound through the left hip at the Battle of Malvern Hill in 1862. Although he survived, the wound became infected and required that an oakum cord (shown here) be passed through the bullet hole several times daily, to enable it to drain. There is an account of this in the autobiography of S.J. Woolf, Here Am I. New York: Random House, 1941, p. 13—

Among his [father's] friends were many Civil War veterans. The one with whom he was most intimate was General Henry Barnum, who had been on Sherman's staff during the war. Barnum had been wounded at Malvern Hill. With a bullet through his hip, he had been left for dead on the battlefield. Someone noticed him moving and he was carried to the hospital. He eventually recovered, but the wound was not permitted to close and all his life he carried a rope through it, which he had to pull back and forth a certain number of times every day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright Indentured

On exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, from September 10, 2010, through January 21, 2011, will be a traveling exhibition called Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon. It includes about 100 artifacts pertaining to the first US President, including (shown here) the only surviving complete set of his dentures.

This reminds us of a story about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as told by Edgar Tafel in his About Wright: An Album of Recollections By Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: John Wiley, 1993, pp. 189-190—

[Frank Lloyd] Wright wanted every tooth in his mouth pulled, which could compare to storming the Great Wall of China single-handed, and in one sitting, and then to be fitted for false. This greatly impressed my dad [a dentist in Grand Rapids MI], as this was never done; it was too hard on the patient. Usually one or two were pulled at a time, four at the most, but Mr. Wright insisted, and so my dad pulled them as if he were plucking corn off a cob. Mr. Wright never flinched, but treated it as casually as if he'd come to have a hair trim.

See also: Roy R. Behrens, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016).  

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bee Keeper

Above Photograph of American philosopher John Dewey. The following is a passage from the autobiography of Sidney Hook, Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1987, p. 92—

When I was still a student at Columbia, he [John Dewey] invited me to his home for Sunday dinner. His daughters, son, and daughter-in-law were there, and it seemed to me a rather formal affair. It was my first visit, and I was naturally nervous. When I rang the bell, he himself came to the door. The first thing he did when I had shed my hat and overcoat was to point out the bathroom. I had no experience with dinners as elaborate as this seemed to me and don't remember whether I talked too much or too little. I wasn't sure what all the knives and forks were for, and my lack of ease must have been quite apparent. At the end of the meal, when the nuts were passed around, I took only one lest I be considered greedy. "Sidney," remarked Dewey, "you remind me of the man who kept a bee."

Tolstoy's Childhood

Above Photograph (n.d.) of Count Leo Tolstoy, from the George Grantham Bain Collection in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Public domain. The following is an excerpt from Tolstoy's autobiography, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929—

One day during dinner—I was six years old at the time—they [his parents] were discussing my looks and Mamma, trying to discover something nice about my face, said that I had intelligent eyes, and I pleasant smile, and then, yield to Papa's arguments and to the obvious, had been forced to admit that I was plain; and afterwards, when I was thanking her for the dinner, she patted my cheek and said: "Remember, my little Nikolai, that no one will love you for your face so you must try to be a sensible good boy."