Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finnegans Wake | James Joyce

Roy R. Behrens © Combat Fatigue. Digital montage (2004).

When I initially made this digital montage—in a form that alludes to a book spread—it had nothing to do with the Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882-1941), at least not directly. In fact, the obscured image on the right is reworked from a photograph (in the Library of Congress) of an equally admired writer and Joyce's contemporary, the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). But it had everything to do with writing and designing. Years earlier, when I was in an architecture class in graduate school (the only one I've taken), I began to think about Venn diagrams in relation to figure-ground patterns, and then, by extension, to architectural building plans. In part I was led to this by the writings of Christopher Alexander. It seemed to me then that one can make purposeful "category confusions" (puns, rhymes, parodies, allusions and so on) in architectural building plans as easily as one can with words. I was "reading" Finnegans Wake at the time, so to some extent this came to me because of their concurrence.

Not to pretend to explain Joyce's comic novel, its two central characters are HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker) and ALP (Anna Livia Plurabelle). Beyond that, you can find a detailed and reasonably good summary at the Wikipedia article on the book. For the moment, I would simply like to share a few examples of the astonishing word play that Joyce employs throughout the book.

He frequently offers sentences that say one thing and yet, by the way they are written, they echo (or parody) other famous passages, especially religious texts. Listen to these two examples:

"In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singitime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!"

"Wharnow are alle her childer, say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them farther? Allalivial, allaluvial! Some here, more no more, more again lost alla stranger."

The complexity of the patterns he makes is beyond belief. Here's a particularly interesting part in which he poses a question, then follows with an answer:

"8. And how war yore maggies?
Answer: They war loving, they love laughing, they laugh weeping, they weep smelling, they smell smiling, they smile hating, they hate thinking, they think feeling, they feel tempting, they tempt daring, they dare waiting, they wait taking, they take thanking, they thank seeking, as born for lorn in lore of love to live and wive by wile and rile by rule of ruse 'reathed rose and hose hol'd home, yeth cometh elope year, coach and four, Sweet Peck-at-my-Heart picks one man more."

Finally, I don't know how many people realize that, throughout this astonishing book, Joyce has embedded word sequences—words that begin with h, c and e—to allude of course to HCE (the protagonist). There are tons of them, but here a few:

"Howth Castle and Environs. he calmly extensolies. Hic cubat edilus. How Copenhagen ended. happinest childher everwere. Hush! Caution! Echoland! How charmingly exquisite! human, erring and condonable. heptagon crystal emprisoms. Heave, coves, emptybloddy! Hengler's Circus Entertainment. Heinz cans everywhere."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Priestly Curators

Mary Snyder Behrens, American Canvas Series, mixed media, 4" w x 5.5" h

British artist-writer Patrick Hughes, from the essay "A Bit of Artobiography," in the catalog of his recent exhibition at Flowers Galleries in London, titled Patrick Hughes: Fifty Years in Show Business 1961-2011

"The museum of art has replaced the church for popular devotion, and so the curator is the new priest. The priestly curator's job is to introduce new mysteries and moralities to the impressionable public, backed up by spectacle and verbiage.

My art has always appealed directly to the people, calling out over the heads of the priests straight to the congregation, doing the vicars and bishops of official art out of a job. I am an unbeliever. I do not speak in tongues. Thus officialdom ignores me. I like to think that art is a lingua franca which can be understood by all the inhabitants of the planet. The idea of Korean art or New Zealand art or Polish art or Nicaraguan art or Californian art or Kenyan art is anathema to me. Writers may be stuck in their languages, but we artists can be seen and understood by all."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Les Coleman | Just Thunking

Whatever can be said about British artist and writer Les Coleman (whose work we have followed for decades), he is not thoughtless.

He thunks, he unthunks—and now in his latest book, he's been having afterthunks. It's called (appropriately) Afterthunks (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Boekie Woekie, 2011. ISBN 978-90-78191-25-4). Above is a scan of the cover, as beautifully designed as are the interior pages by Colin Sackett. Some of Coleman's other books are available here at the same publisher's website (scroll down the page to find his name). Like many of his earlier publications, this is a book of his puzzling aphorisms (his thunks), ever so wonderfully interspersed with his equally "doubletake" drawings (one of which is shown below). As for the verbal thunks themselves, here are some teasing samples of those:

A triple-edged sword.
What is it about rag that makes a bull see red?
Houdini spent his life escaping from himself.
Terrified of shooting himself in the foot, he had both feet amputated.
"How the Electric Chair Saved Me From the Firing Squad"

As I have myself have always said, Les is more.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sirloin Steak and Whiskey

Mary Snyder Behrens, Trammel: White Wish III (2005) ©

From James Webb Young, The Diary of an Ad Man: The War Years, June 1, 1942-December 31, 1943 (Chicago: Advertising Publications, 1944)—

"Talked with domestic science editor of one of the women's magazines. She told me that she had tested literally thousands of recipes, covering almost every kind of food. Asked her what, after all this, she considered the best eating. She thought it was pretty hard to beat a good sirloin steak, washed down with straight whiskey. Western gal."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wright's City National Bank & Park Inn

Frank Lloyd Wright, City National Bank (restored)
Park Inn (restored)

RECENTLY WE were delighted to see the restored exteriors of the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel, two adjacent buildings in downtown Mason City, Iowa. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908, and completed in 1910, these are famous, influential works that are said to have influenced young European architects of that era, and to have contributed to Wright's own subsequent designs for the Midway Gardens and the Imperial Hotel. The interiors have also been fully restored, and the hotel is once again accepting room reservations. For detailed information, click here.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Packin' Cats for the Army | Geraldine Schwarz

US aviator John B. Moisant and his cat (1910)

PICTURED ABOVE are American pioneer aviator John B. Moisant (1868-1910) and his tabby cat companion (who often flew with him), variously known as Mademoiselle Fifi, Paree or Spark Plug. Moisant died in a fatal crash in 1910, but the cat lived on and, in the bottom photo, is dressed in appropriate mourning attire and poised in a basket at his funeral.

This reminds me of a new book by Iowa author Geraldine Schwarz, titled Packin' Cats for the Arrr-mee: Fun on the Farm in the 'Forties, a delightfully rich and vivid memoir about growing up with her brother (John Robert Fromm) on a farm near Mason City, Iowa, during World War II. Here's how it opens—
We were very-very good to our cats—always thinking what we could do to make them more comfortable, to make them happy, to keep them entertained. On cold winter mornings, we liked to have "cat warmings" because we knew the cats would be warmer if they curled up together. We got them all in the woodhouse and made a good spot in the corncobs where they could all sleep. But they didn't stay together very well. The tomcats fought with each other, and most of the others had better things to do. So we tried stuffing them in a cardboard box and folding the lid closed. 

Our work always had to be accompanied with a slogan or a song, so pretty soon we were singing, "We're PACK-in' cats for the ARRR-mee." The cats didn't have the same commitment to the war effort as we did—they were not as patriotic. After they had been crammed in the box and escaped a couple times, they really didn't want to stay there no matter how cozy it was. It was kind of hard to catch them again. If they got over the wall between the wood-and-cob part to the coal bin, we gave up on them and settled for any cats we could push in and closed the lid. Then one skinny head would come poking through the little opening and we'd have to start "PACK-in' cats for the ARRR-mee" all over again!

It's a wonderful book, replete with snapshots ("you-are-there") and scans of actual remnants from her childhood (including, for example, an account ledger of all the cats on the property), Schwarz's narrative is so fluid and so disarmingly conversational that, once you begin reading, it's hard to take a break—for fear of possibly missing out.

Here is the author's synopsis, as quoted from the dust jacket—

Packin' cats was never easy. They didn't like to be pushed into boxes even if it was for their own good. But if it had been easy, it wouldn't have been fun. It would have been "play," and that was what city kids did. We always thought of everything we did around the farm as "work." We liked to be useful, to be helpful…especially to cats and all our other livestock.

We had a great life on the farm—and that's not from the perspective of a grown-up looking back on a distant childhood. We knew it was great even while we were kids. And we were never bored—we found hundreds of ways to have fun.

Our folks loved the farm, so we did, too. The farm belonged to us and we belonged to it. We depended on each other and took care of each other. It was sometimes tough, but it was such a good life.

Jacquie Colvin, jacket and book design

Here are the bibliographic details: Packin' Cats for the Arrr-meee: Fun on the Farm in the 'Forties, by Deanie and Johnnie, also known as Geraldine Fromm Schwarz and John Robert Fromm. Book design by Jacquie Colvin. Decorah IA: South Bear Press, 2011. 167 pp. 52 black and white photos. 29 color photos. Clothbound. First edition $25.00. ISBN 978-0-9761381-9-8. Library of Congress Control Number 2011909978. Available from South Bear Press, 2248 South Bear Road, Decorah IA 52101. Website

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ventriloquism for Dummies

Howdy Doody Patent No 156,687 (1950)

In the late 18th century, a British entertainer named James Burns, known as "Shelford Tommy," persuaded a freight carrier to empty his wagon in order to search for a child whose cries for help seemed to be coming from inside the load he was hauling.

During the same period, when a York shoemaker was accused by fifty witnesses of having tossed a crying baby into the river, he defined himself in court by producing a second crying baby, which he then shockingly beheaded—but which, upon closer inspection, was shown to be only an inanimate doll.

Both Burns and the shoemaker were experts at ventriloquism, the act of making it seem that a voice or other sound has emanated not from ones own larynx, but from some other adjacent entity. A person who does this professionally is called a ventriloquist or "belly speaker," a coinage that comes from the merger of two Latin words, venter (belly) and loqui (to speak). More

Friday, October 14, 2011

John Page | American Artist

Artworks © John Page

For more than thirty years, printmaker and painter John Page (1923-) was on the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa. He retired in 1988, and he and his wife Mary Lou moved to a retirement community in Arizona. Above are two of my favorite works from the hundreds he produced over a long (and on-going) artistic career. As a graphic designer, I am inevitably drawn to images not so much for the story they tell—but because they tell it well. The top image is a monoprint of a reclining nude, completed by John in 1980. I find it breathtaking when an artwork teeters on the line between structural perfection and gestural spontaneity; surely, this print does just that. The lower image is one of twenty small colored etchings (called the River Series) that John made in the summer of 1966. They are based on on-site drawings of seemingly insignificant scenes along the Cedar River, in the vicinity of Cedar Falls, Iowa (where the university is located). Again, while I surely relate to the story that's told, I am even more deeply astonished by the rhythmic perfection ("the exact words in the right order") that makes it an even more beautiful poem. In recent years, still living in the Southwest, John has turned to small, abstract watercolors, and, at the moment (October thru December 2011), some of these are being shown at the Posada Java in Green Valley AZ.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kultur Vultur

Remains of our barn and a vulture on July 11, 2011

This is what our barn looked like on the morning of July 11, as we walked out to take stock of the damage from a huge derecho windstorm that came through without warning at 4:30 in the morning. There was no tornado siren since, of course, it's not a tornado, just a massive straight wind, this one peaking at a speed of 130 mph. Preoccupied with cleaning up, there's not much time for blogging now. That morning, as we stumbled out in disbelief, a vulture landed on the barn, perhaps an indication that we weren't moving fast enough. I am reminded of Gertrude Stein's remark about Oakland CA: That "when you get there, there is no there there." So it is with our farm. Equally suitable may be Bobby Dylan's line: "I ain't workin' on Mary's farm no more" (simply because it no longer exists).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Costumes as Performance & Activism

Roy R. Behrens, Poster Design (detail), 2011
There is such enormous satisfaction in the process of graphic design, especially when a client is clear about the focus of an event (or product or whatever), budget restrictions, and so on—and thereafter it's left to my judgment. A good example recently is this logo-like title image I made for an upcoming symposium (lectures, exhibits, performances) on Costumes as Performance and Activism, sponsored by the University of Northern Iowa Arts Consortium and the Costume Society of America Midwest Region, on October 14-15, 2011. And of course it's the same kind of pleasure that designers of costumes and clothing enjoy.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Walter Hamady | The Gabberjabbs

Years ago, a friend of Walter Hamady said (as Hamady himself recalls), "right in front of my mother, 'Walter, you are a bastard!' And my dear sweet mother pulled up bigger than life-size and with huffy indignation said, 'He is not a bastard! I know who his father was and we were married at the time!" more>>

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More Than A Few Least Favorite Things

The likes and many dislikes of Inez McAlister Faber in Out Here on Soap Creek (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982), pp. 23-24—

Probably many people wiser than I dislike some of the things I like, such as hoeing, canning, cleaning house, cutting corn fodder, living in the country, being in my thirties, dahlias, roses, meals on time, empty houses with flowers still growing in the yards, old furniture, small boys, books, newspaper editorials, astronomy, chickens, dogs, cows, horses, meat or gravy cooked in a cast-iron skillet, waffles, carrots and spinach. It is quite likely that others, and I have no quarrel with them, like many of the things I hate, including petunias, cats, children who have been taught that they are cute, grown-ups who try to act kiddish, male or female sissies, superiority complexes, machine hemstitching, tablecloths hemmed on the machine, cows with horns, weedy gardens, dwelling houses painted green, rain on washday, so-called living rooms that are only used for company, and overstuffed davenports. Large women in striped or checked dresses, bad table manners, being flatly contradicted, people who handle books roughly or who lay an open book face down upon a table, people who read over my shoulder, inquisitiveness, concrete walks in front of farm homes, fried parsnips, mashed potatoes, interruptions while ironing, washing milk pails, cleaning muddy overshoes, cooking for visitors who do not come, going to bed, getting up, washing yesterdays dishes, and talking over the telephone.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Damaged Wings

Death's Head Moth
Ernest Hemingway describes F. Scott Fitzgerald as follows in A Moveable Feast (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964)—

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly anymore because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not Truss Worthy | Edward Marsh

Edward Marsh, Ambrosia and Small Beer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), p. 220—

A soldier up for medical exam proved to have been wearing a truss for the last 6 years, and was classified as P.E. or Permanently Exempt. On his way out he gave this news to his pal, who immediately asked for the loan of the truss, which was granted. The examiner asked how long he had been wearing it, and he said, "Six years," whereupon he was classified as M.E. "What's that?" he asked. "Middle East." "How can I go to the Middle East when I've been wearing a truss for 6 years?" "If you can wear a truss for 6 years upside-down, you can jolly well ride a camel for 6 months."

Get To Work | Richard Hugo

 Fine advice from poet Richard Hugo in The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)—

Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don't work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work.

Eddie Marsh Meets H.M. Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1872), with Kalulu, his adopted son

A couple of times in my life, when I first met in person someone who I had been wanting to meet for years, I became suddenly, atypically tongue-tied. As Edward Marsh describes in his memoir A Number of People (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), he had the same experience when he first met the famous journalist and explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (as in "Doctor Livingston, I presume") at a party (p. 41)—

At a party of old Mrs. Tennant's he [Stanley] crossed the room to where I was standing forlorn, and said: "I see you're looking neglected, so I've come to talk to you." This well-meant gambit completely froze the genial current of my soul, and neither of us could think of anything further to say.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Implicitness, Closure and Flow | Csikszentmihalyi

Diagram © Roy R. Behrens (2011)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. NY: Harper and Row, 1990, p. 53—

Whenever I took our hunting dog, Hussar, for a walk in the open fields he liked to play a very simple game—the prototype of the most culturally widespread game of human children, escape and pursuit. He would run circles around me at top speed, with his tongue hanging out and his eyes warily watching every move I made, daring me to catch him. Occasionally I would take a lunge, and if I was lucky I got to touch him. Now the interesting part is that whenever I was tired, and moved half-heartedly, Hussar would run much tighter circles, making it relatively easy for me to catch him; on the other hand, if I was in good shape and willing to extend myself, he would enlarge the diameter of his circle. In this way, the difficulty of the game was kept contant. With an uncanny sense for the fine balancings of challenges and skills, he would make sure that the game would yield the maximum enjoyment for us both.

[Compare Arthur Koestler's contention (in The Act of Creation) that the value of cryptic communication "is not to obscure the message, but to make it more luminous by compelling the recipient to work it out for himself—to re-create it."]

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Here's the Butter—But Where's the Cat?

Frances Simpson, Book of the Cat (1903)

Victor Frankl, "Reduction and Nihilism" in Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smythies, eds., Beyond Reductionism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 403—

There were two neighbors; one of them contended that the other's cat had stolen and eaten five pounds of his butter; there was a bitter argument and finally they agreed to seek the advice of the rabbi. They went to the rabbi and the owner of the cat said: "It cannot be, my cat doesn't care for butter at all" but the other insisted that it was his cat and the rabbi said: "Bring me the scales." And they brought the scales and he asked: "How many pounds of butter?" "Five pounds." And believe it or not, the weight of the cat was exactly five pounds. So the rabbi said: "Now I have the butter, but where is the cat?"

Grasshopper Lecture | Louis Agassiz

Louis Agassiz statue at Stanford University, as toppled by the San Francisco earthquake in 1906

Louis Agassiz, in Lane Cooper, ed., Louis Agassiz as a Teacher: Illustrative Extracts on His Method of Instruction. Ithaca NY: Comstock Publishing, 1945, p. 82—

In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Massachusetts, before a Teachers' Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.

Humphrey Howarth's Naked Duel

British poet Samuel Rogers, in Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856)—

[In 1806] Humphrey Howarth, the [Army] surgeon [and Member of Parliament], was called out [challenged to a pistol duel], and made his appearance in the field stark naked, to the astonishment of the challenger, who asked him what he meant. "I know," said H., "that if any part of the clothing is carried into the body by a gunshot wound, festering ensues; and therefore I have met you thus." His antagonist declared that, fighting with a man in puris naturalibus would be quite ridiculous; and accordingly they parted without further discussion.

Drunk by God!

British poet Samuel Rogers, in Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856)—

Dr. [George] Fordyce [a prominent Scottish physician] sometimes drank a good deal at dinner. He was summoned one evening to see a lady patient, when he was more than half-seas-over, and conscious that he was so. Feeling her pulse, and finding himself unable to count its beats, he muttered, "Drunk by God!" 

Next morning, recollecting the circumstance, he was greatly vexed: and just as he was thinking what explanation of his behavior he should offer to the lady, a letter from her was put into his hand. "She too well knew," said the letter, "that he had discovered the unfortunate condition in which she was when he last visited her; and she entreated him to keep the matter secret in consideration of the enclosed (a hundred-pound banknote)."

Mad Magazine in Collision

Frank Jacobs in The Mad World of William M. Gaines. New York: Bantam Books, 1973, p. 77—

In the fall of 1954, [William M.] Gaines [founder and publisher of MAD magazine] and Nancy [a close friend and staff member] were turning into a gas station on West 96th Street in Manhattan. As they made their turn, a car came down the street and barreled into them. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn. About a year later, two blocks from the gas station, Gaines pulled up to a newspaper stand. After buying his paper, he returned to his car, backed out a few feet, and was struck by a car rounding the corner. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn.

"Didn't we have an accident a year ago?" Gaines asked.

"I believe we did," answered Zahn, giving a polite nod to Nancy, whom he remembered from the previous run-in. "Say, don't you think it's time you two got married?"

Gaines thought if over and decided that the point was well-taken. Within a month, he and Nancy were married.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Growing Up on a Farm | Herbert Read

From the autobiography of British art theorist Sir Herbert Read, The Contrary Experience. New York: Horizon Press, 1963, pp. 22-23—

But the scenes [of growing up on a farm] that I have described, and many others of the same nature, such as the searing of horses' tails, the killing of poultry, the birth of cattle, even the lewdness of a half-witted laborer, were witnessed by us children with complete passivity—just as I have seen children of the same age watching a bullfight in Spain quite unmoved by its horrors. Pity, and even terror are emotions which develop when we are no longer innocent, and the sentimental adult who induces such emotions in the child is probably breaking through defenses which nature has wisely put round the tender mind. The child even has a natural craving for horrors. He survives just because he is without sentiment, for only in this way can his green heart harden sufficiently to withstand the wounds that wait for it.

Water Over the Dame

Anon, The Olio [1796] as quoted in Louis Kronenberger, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. New York: Viking, 1972, p. 238—

One day Lady Onslow, being desirious of knowing the most remarkable planets and constellations, requested Mr. Harvest, on a fine starlight night, to point them out to her, which he undertook to do; but in the midst of his lecture, having occasion to make water, thought that need not interrupt it, and accordingly directing that operation with one hand, went on in his explanation, pointing out the constellations with the other.

Cutting Meat with Scissors | Context

German satirist G.C. Lichtenberg, as quoted in W.H. Auden, A Certain World (New York: Viking Press, 1970), pp. 136-137—

How much depends upon the way things are presented in this world can be seen from the very fact that coffee drunk out of wine glasses is really miserable stuff, as is meat cut at the table with a pair of scissors. Worst of all, as I once actually saw, is butter spread on a piece of bread with an old but very clean razor.

Inattentional Blindness | Thoreau

From Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. New York: Knopf, 1989, pp. 3-4—

Henry David Thoreau seemed to think of everything when he made a list of essential supplies for a twelve-day excursion into the Maine woods. He included pins, needles, and thread among the items to be carried in an India-rubber knapsack, and he even gave the dimensions of an ample tent: "six by seven feet, and four feet high in the middle, will do." He wanted to be doubly sure to be able to start a fire and to wash up, and so he listed: "matches (some also in a small vial in the waist-coat pocket); soap, two pieces." He specified the number of old newspapers (three or four, presumably to be used for cleaning chores), the length of strong cord (twenty feet), the size of his blanket (seven feet long), and the amount of "soft hardbread" (twenty-eight pounds!)…
But there is one object that Thoreau neglected to mention, one that he most certainly carried himself. For without this object Thoreau could not have sketched either the fleeting fauna he would not shoot or the larger flora he could not uproot. Without it he could not label his blotting paper pressing leaves or his insect boxes holding beetles; without it he could not record the measurements he made; without it he could not write home on the paper he brought; without it he could not make his list. [He had forgotten to mention the pencil that enabled him to make the list.]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Biblical Printing Errors | Bloopers

The following is adapted from the article "Bible, specially named editions" in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. Third Edition. (New York: Harper and Row, 1987)—

In the so-called Wicked Bible, printed in London by Baker and Lucas in 1632, the word not was omitted from the seventh commandment, to make it "Thou shalt commit adultery."
Genesis 24:61, which is supposed to read "Rebecca arose, and her damsels," was mistakenly printed as "Rebecca arose, and her camels" in an edition known as Rebecca's Camels Bible, printed in 1823.
Published in 1702, the Printers' Bible contained an error in Psalms 119:161 in which the word printers was substituted for princes, so that King David was said to complain that "printers have persecuted me without a cause."
In the Murderers' Bible, published in 1801, the word murmurers was misprinted as murderers in Jude 16, resulting in a verse that reads "These are murderers, complainers, walking after their own lusts..."
The To Remain Bible refers to a flawed edition, published at Cambridge in 1805, in which Galatians 4:29 was mistakenly printed as "he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit to remain, even so it is now." The words to remain are erroneous. While checking the galleys, a proofreader questioned if there should be a comma after the word spirit. The editor responded by penciling "to remain" in the margin, which was then mistakenly typeset.

Shotgun Seminars at Princeton

From Freeman Dyson, Infinite in all Directions (New York: Harper and Row, 1988)— 

At our institute in Princeton we sometimes organize meetings which are announced as Shotgun Seminars. A Shotgun Seminar is a talk given by an Institute member to a volunteer audience. The subject of the talk is announced a week in advance, but the name of the speaker is not. Before the talk begins, the names of all people in the room are written on scraps of paper, the scraps of paper are put into a box, the box is ceremoniously shaken and one name is picked out at random. The name picked out is the name of the speaker. The unbreakable rule of the seminar is that nobody whose name is not in the box may listen to the talk. This rule ensures that everybody does the necessary homework. The audience is ready to argue and contradict whenever the speaker flounders. Anybody who has not given serious thought to the subject of the seminar had better not come.

The Evils of Hell Juice

From Bruce Siberts, in Walker D. Wyman, ed., Nothing But Prairie and Sky: Life on the Dakota Range in the Early Days (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954), pp. 5-6—

Our family were strict Methodists, attended church regular, and none of them ever got drunk, chewed or smoked tobacco, or used bad language. Only Uncle Ed, who bought cattle and hogs for the Chicago market, was different. He chewed tobacco, was suspected of drinking beer once, and had the reputation of seeing a show in Chicago called The Black Crook, in which women wore tights. As Uncle Ed and Mr. Crum, a neighbor, were the only Methodists who used tobacco, except on the sly, it was urged that they be expelled from the church. But in looking over the records, it was learned that they were the best in paying money for the support of the church so they were allowed to remain in good standing. However, the minister preached a good sermon on the evils of tobacco, saying, "There you sit with hell juice running out of your mouths," and on in that line for two hours. Uncle Ed said that the preacher could kiss his foot and go to hell. Only he didn't say foot.

Mail Art | Collage

Roy R. Behrens © Mail Art Collage (1980)

Back in the pre-computer days in the 1970s and 80s, it was common to complete a letter by making a collage on the envelope, using rubber stamps, labels, transfer type, hand-colored image fragments, or whatever. We mailed the best ones to ourselves, in the hope that the post office workers would contribute to it through multiple cancellations.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Joseph Langland | Something Well Said

From a Joseph Langland's essay on "Poetry! What in the World are You Saying?"—

One is drawn to poetry not nearly so much because someone thinks he has something important to say as that he thinks he can say something well. And when something is well said, it is more important than the same idea less well said. All those who care for civilization know the truth of this.

William H. Gass | Music of Prose

This astonishing passage is from "The Music of Prose" in William H. Gass, Finding a Form (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1997)—

For prose [like music] has a pace; it is dotted with stops and pauses, frequent rests, inflections rise and fall like a low range of hills; certain tones are prolonged; there are patterns of stress and harmonious measures; there is a proper method of pronunciation, even if it is rarely observed; alliteration will trouble the tongue, consonance ease its sound out, so that any mouth making that music will feel its performance even to the back of the teeth and to the glottal's stop; mellifluousness is not impossible, and harshness is easy; drum roll and clangor can be confidently called for—lisp, slur, and growl; so there will be a syllabic beat in imitation of the heart, while rhyme will recall a word we passed perhaps too indifferently; vowels will open and consonants close like blooming plants; repetitive schemes will act as refrains, and there will be phrases—little motifs—to return to, like the tonic; clauses will be balanced by other clauses the way a waiter carries trays; parallel lines will nevertheless meet in their common subject; clots of concepts will dissolve and then recombine, so we shall find endless variations on the same theme; a central idea, along with its many modifications, like soloist and chorus, will take their turns until, suddenly, all sing at once the same sound.

Sunday, January 2, 2011