Thursday, December 24, 2020

think life today is strange—just look at the future

Above Trompe l'oeil is an art historical term which translates literally from French as “fool the eye.” In this long-practiced tradition, artists create images that are so finely detailed that they might at first be mistaken for “the thing itself.” Until recently, I had not heard of Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, a seventeenth century Dutch painter. Not only was he an accomplished trompe l’oeil practitioner, he could also be terribly funny. Reproduced above, for example, is his The Reverse of a Framed painting (c1670), which is featured in an article on one of my favorite websites, The Public Domain Review, which includes an essay on Gijsbrechts and a selection of his paintings.


Ring Lardner, TEETH AND HAIR TO DISAPPEAR, NOTES RING: Will Mean Radical Changes—Barbers and Magazine Proprietors to be Jobless—Highballs for Breakfast in the Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport IA), March 1, 1925, p. 3—

The future man, says [a Harvard University professor], “is certain to lose his teeth because he don’t need them no more. The ape man used them to tear sinews and break nuts and etc., but civilization has done away with these conditions. Hair was given us by nature to protect us vs. cold, but now we have got coats and artificial covering. Man used to half to have toes, to help climb trees to escape from animals, but now he don’t need toes no more and can get along with a whole lot less fingers. The shape of the human skull and man’s erect position is designed to promote an increase in the size and weight of the brain.”

Well, friends set down a wile and ponder what all this means. It ain’t no wonder people will be wearing longer faces as they will be thousands and thousands throwed out of work. Without no teeth and no reason for teeth they won’t be no dentists and without no dentists they won’t be no factories for making them weapons that nobody but a dentist would dast use. And without no hair they won’t be no excuse for barber shops which means that all the barbers will not only be out of a job but they won’t have no place to talk and nobody to talk to.

Without hair and whiskers and teeth, they won’t be nobody advertising shampoo cream or shaving powder or toothpaste which means closing up a lot more factories to say nothing about shutting down all the magazines, which is now supported by the boys that advertises these implements. Any ways you can see the finish of same magazines which I don’t need to mention their names but the only place you ever find them, is at barbers and dentists.

With the barbers out of business they won’t be no shelter for manicure girls and besides when people only has one finger they ain’t going to pay no 50 cents or 75 cents for a manicure to say nothing about how is the gals going to wield their scissors and file and etc. with only one finger. Along with manicurists will go chiropodists because our feet is going to have even less toes than our hands and they won’t be no parking space for a corn let alone a bunion.

There is a few facts to be faced but they ain’t by no means all. Like for instance: What is to become of all the folks now employed in comb and brush factories? And what will women talk about when they ain’t got no hair? And who is going to provide for the boys that makes their bread and butter playing a clarinet or a horn or a harp or a violin and etc. The only musical instrument a person can play with one finger is the piano and one finger piano music ain’t libel to overcrowd the dance halls. How can Babe Ruth swing a bat or how can Vanco pitch a curve ball with one finger? And what is the coacher at first and third base going to holler when they can’t say “Be on your toes?”

A person will get up in the morning and thank heavens that they don’t half to have or comb their hair but it will take them just as long to dress if not longer because it is some trick to button things up with one finger and if you ain’t got no hair—why they’s so much more surface to wash and specially when you have longer faces.

Without no teeth you can’t have nothing for breakfast except soup or a couple of high balls and by that time the high balls probably won’t have much nourishment in them because the professor says that it is going to be anywheres from 40,000 to 75,000 years before all these changes takes place. After breakfast you go to whatever work a person can do with one finger and no toes. At lunch you can have some more soup or scotch then back to work and a big dinner at night consisting of soup and liquor. They will still be theaters in the evening but people who prefers revues and gal shows will be up against it for entertainment as nobody wants to open their mouth and sing when they ain’t go no teeth and Gilda Gray is the only dancer in the world that can perform without using her hands and feet.

As I say [the good professor] don’t expect all these evolutions and revolutions for 40,000 or 75,000 years and the big majority of us won’t hardily live that long so we should worry, but it would be kind of interesting to look on from the outside and see how the world rolls along under the new conditions. Personally I haven’t no idear what it would be like to have no fingers or toes, but from the start I have got it ain’t going to take me no 40,000 years or nowheres near that long to appreciate what it means to live without teeth and hair. 

Related Link

Roy R. Behrens and Paul D. Whitson, Mimicry, Metaphor and Mistake

you no longer have to suffer to be an artist

Above Digital montage poster © Roy R. Behrens 2011


Donald W. Winnicott

Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.

Related Link 

Khaki to Khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

i would rather buy a house than a cantaloupe

Behrens gravestone
Above While engaged in family history research, I ran across this photograph of the gravestone of my paternal German-born great grandparents, Heinrich Simon Diedrich Behrens (1824-1901) and Anna Christina Elizabeth Edelmann (1835-1921), in the cemetery in Garnavillo, Iowa. It is almost a literal family tree. It certainly differs substantially from the design of my own tombstone.


Philip Roth, Patrimony: A True Story (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990)—

Look, a cantaloupe is a hard thing to buy—maybe the hardest thing there is to buy, when you stop to think about it. A cantaloupe isn’t an apple, you know, where you can tell from the outside what’s going on inside. I’d rather buy a car than a cantaloupe—I’d rather buy a house than a cantaloupe. If one time in ten, I come away from the store with a decent cantaloupe, I consider myself lucky. I smell it, sniff it, press both ends with my thumb…I’ll tell you about making a mistake with a cantaloupe: we all do it. We weren’t made to buy cantaloupe. Do me a favor, Herm, get off the woman's [back], because it isn’t just Lil’s weakness buying a [lousy] cantaloupe: it’s a human weakness.

Friday, December 18, 2020

that's the second dirtiest leg in all knox county

Above Drawing from Keith J. Holyoak and Paul Thagard, Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1995, p. 14.


Wilbert Snow, Codline's Child (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1974), p. 39—

One day working ln the garden, Polly Dan stumbled over a big rock and sprained her leg. The post-mistress telephoned for Dr. Hitchcock, who took a good look at her leg, probed the muscles, and said: “Aunt Polly, I'll bet that's the dirtiest leg in all Knox County.” “How much will you bet?” asked Polly. “I’ll bet five dollars.” “All right, it’s a deal,” she said. Thereupon she took off her other shoe and stripped down her stocking. “I washed that one because I knew you were coming.” The doctor lost the money, but he had a story which he loved to tell for the rest of his life.

i do not want a wide reading audience even if…

Richard Halls (1938) US government travel poster
Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Dancing with Professors: The Trouble with Academic Prose” in The New York Times Book Review, 31 October 1993, p. 3—

“We must remember,” he [a classics professor] declared, “that professors are the ones nobody wanted to dance with in high school.” This is an insight that lights up the universe—or at least the university. It is a proposition that every entering freshman should be told, and it is certainly a proposition that helps to explain the problem of [unintelligible] academic writing. What one sees in professors, repeatedly, is exactly the manner that anyone would adopt after a couple of sad evenings side-lined under the crepe-paper streamers in the gym, sitting on a folding chair while everyone else danced. Dignity, for professors, perches pre-cariously on how well they can convey this message: “I am immersed in some very important thoughts, which unsophisticated people could not even begin to understand. Thus, I would not want to dance, even if one of you unsophisticated people were to ask me.” Think of this, then, the next time you look at an unintelligible academic text. “I would not want the attention of a wide reading audience, even if a wide audience were to ask for me.”

Saturday, December 12, 2020

a woman's lone journey around the world / 1890

LIFE magazine cover (August 26, 1909)
Lilian Leland, Traveling Alone: A Woman’s Journey Round the World. New York: American News Company, 1890—

Darjeeling [India] is an exceedingly pretty place, unlike anything I have seen before. It is laid in terraces on the side of the mountain. Looking down from the hotel, the streets form an interlaced and zigzag pattern. I should never know how to get to any given house in the place. It  is like one of those labyrinth puzzles that you try to get to the center of without crossing a line. The safest way is to do as Alice did in the “Looking-Glass House,” turn your back to a place, and presently you find yourself walking in at the front door.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

be ruthless with opponents of modern painting

Cover of Hampton's Magazine (1910)

Stephen Potter
, "Notes on Exhibitionship"
in The Complete Upmanship (New York: New American Library, 1978), p. 202—

Be fairly ruthless, I think, with opponents of "modern" painting. If you are lucky enough to find a man who still says: "I don't know about pictures, but I know what I like," point out to him that because he does not know about pictures he does not know what he likes, and repeat this in a thundering voice. If he whimpers back something about it all being too advanced for him, point out exactly how many years Cézanne died before he was born, and the precise date of the exhibition of the first Modiglianis in London. Exaggerate both these dates and say, "After all, Matisse and your great-grandmother are exact contemporaries." If your man says of some picture, "Yes, but what does it mean?" ask him, and keep on asking him, what his carpet means, or the circular patterns on his rubber shoe-soles. Make him lift up his foot to look at them.

How Form Functions
Other sources

Monday, November 23, 2020

first sexual experience / fancy ball of bobolinks

Donald Barthelme, Paradise (New York: Putnam, 1986)—

"What was your first sexual experience, Simon?" He thinks for a moment. "I was about ten. This teacher asked us all to make little churches for a display, kind of a model of a church. I made one out of cardboard, worked very hard on it, and took it in to her on a Friday morning, and she was pleased with it. It had a red roof, colored with red crayon. Then another guy, Billy something-or-other, brought in one that was made of wood. His was better than mine. So she tossed mine out and used his." "That was your first sexual experience?" "How far back do you want to go?"

Sunday, November 22, 2020

the stuff of my pleasures / flesh of my thoughts

Honoré Daumier (attr.)
Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words (New York: George Braziller, 1964), pp. 93-94—

I’m a dog. I yawn, the tears roll down my cheeks. I feel them. I'm a tree, the wind gets caught in my branches and shakes them vaguely. I'm a fly, I climb up a windowpane, I fall, I start climbing again. Now and then, I feel the caress of time as it goes by. At other times—most often—I feel it standing still. Trembling minutes drop me down, engulf me, and are a long time dying. Wallowing, but still alive, they're swept away. They are replaced by others which are fresher but equally futile. This disgust is called happiness. My mother keeps telling me that I'm the happiest of little boys. How could I not believe it since it's true? I never think about my forlornness. To begin with, there's no word for it. And secondly, I don't see it. I always have people around me. Their presence is the warp and woof of my life, the stuff of my pleasures, the flesh of my thoughts.


Embedded Figures in Art, Architecture and Design 

Other sources

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

standing straddle-legged, balancing as it rattled

from a plant photograph by Karl Blossfeldt
OIL PAINT AND GREASE PAINT: Autobiography of Laura Knight. New York: MacMillan, 1936. p. 173—

Sally Hicks the fish-buyer, Mrs. Porritt's friend, was big, red-faced and as strong as a man. She always drove her cart at a furious pace, standing straddle-legged and balancing it as it rattled and bumped over the cobbles. One night Sally was driving home along the cliff road with the money from the sale of her fish in her pocket. Suddenly two men sprang out of the hedge, one seizing the horse's head and one hanging on the tail of the cart. Sally had the whip in her hand and with it slashed the man off in front, then she dived back at the other with her fishgutting knife, and drove on as fast as she could lick.

When she went to clean her cart in the morning she found four fingers lying inside.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

the notebooks of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson

Image based on the plant photography of Karl Blossfeldt
D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, quoted in Ruth D'Arcy Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, The Scholar-Naturalist (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p . 175—

You choose some subject or other which takes your fancy, you buy a notebook and label it with the title of your theme; and you keep jotting down therein whatsoever bears upon your subject, as it comes your way, in all your reading, observation and reflection. I have had many such notebooks and some I have soon grown tired of but others have lasted and served me well ... Your subject opens out wonderfully as time goes on, it tempts you into byways, it carries you far afield; if you play the game aright it never comes to an end. It grows in interest continually, for things are interesting only in so far as they relate themselves to other things; only then can you put two and two together, and see them make four or even five, and hear them tell stories about each other. Such is science itself and such is all the knowledge that interests mankind.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Remembering Iowa traders among the Navajo

Life among the Navajo (online access)


penny whistle popular tunes and Scottish airs

Above Image based on the plant photography of Karl Blossfeldt


OIL PAINT AND GREASE PAINT: Autobiography of Laura Knight. New York: MacMillan, 1936. p. 173—

The Beer house might well have been called the “Bear Garden.” We led poor old Mrs. Beer a dance and she loved it. She used to scream at us and we screamed at her—the noise was terrible every morning when she put a wet sponge down Joey Carter-Wood's neck to wake him and make him get up. She was always glad when we came back after an absence, and once she said, “I've felt that miserable all the time you've been away. It's that quiet and I miss the music!” Up till then we had been conscience-stricken about our nightly band.

Joey Carter-Wood played Scotch airs and popular tunes on the penny whistle. He had both good ear and voice. Thompson used paint brushes as drumsticks to play on two empty biscuit-tins, kettledrums to us. Harold [Knight] provided the big drum by beating his fist on the canvas of a big life study left behind by a former lodger, which picture was used in summer to hide the empty fire-grate. I hummed through a tissue-covered comb. We rehearsed our orchestra nearly every night, and generally stopped at two o'clock in the morning out of consideration for Mrs. Beer, who slept in the adjoining room. Apparently we need not have bothered!

There were two [Augustus] “John” drawings in our room left by their owner in lieu of rent. Most of Mrs. Beer's treasures were piled up underneath her bed; they included boxes full of books, which were no good to her, for she could not read. We always laughed to see her on Sunday afternoon, washed and shining, with her hair slicked back tighter than ever, dressed in her best black, sitting in the kitchen with a Bible in her hands; like as not it was upside down she did not know the difference.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

the chess piece could no longer be moved—

Man Ray, Self-Portrait (Boston: Llttle Brown, 1963), p. 237—

After dinner, [Marcel] Duchamp would take the bus to Nice to play at a chess circle and return late with Lydie [his first wife] lying awake waiting for him. Even so, he did not go up to bed immediately, but set up the chess pieces to study the position of a game he had been playing. First thing in the morning when he arose, he went to the chessboard to make a move he had thought out during the night. But the piece could not be moved—during the night Lydie had arisen and glued down all the pieces...A few days later Duchamp and Lydie divorced, and he returned to the States.

Artwork by Marcel Duchamp with Man Ray (1921)


Monday, October 19, 2020

How will the good people of Germany vote?

 Agnes Elizabeth Benedict, Progress to Freedom: The Story of American Education, 1942—

Whenever someone speaks with prejudice against a group—Catholics, Jews, Italians, Negroes—someone else usually comes up with a classic line of defense: “Look at Einstein!” “Look at Carver!” “Look at Toscanini!” So of course, Catholics (or Jews, or Italians, or Negroes) must be all right.

They mean well, these defenders. But their approach is wrong. It is even bad. What a minority group wants is not the right to have geniuses among them but the right to have fools and scoundrels without being condemned as a group.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

rabbi: so here's the butter but where's the cat

Eric Morecambe

Would you like to hear how I asked for his daughter's hand in marriage?...I said, "I would like your daughter for my wife." He said, "But I've never even seen your wife. Bring her round and we'll talk about it."

Roy R. Behrens, altered book collage [detail]


Viktor 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?”

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Bill Styron | ah'm goin' home to grow pee-nuts

Peter Matthiessen in Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr, ed., George, Being George: George Plimpton’s Life. New York: Random House, 2008, p. 89—

[In 1952 American novelist] Bill Styron showed up on the dingy fourth-floor landing of our apartment [in Paris] at 14, rue Perceval, with no French and a thick Tidewater accent…Patsy and I gave him a drink, and then took him to…a little Breton café…[During dinner] We were all…sloshing up a good deal of rough vin de table, and at a certain point, overcome by dire homesickness, he fell face forward into his platter and lay lachrymose amongst the oysters, uttering the immortal Styronian words: "Ah ain' got no mo ree-sistance to change than a snow-flake." But by this time, we were were already fond of this well-read, humorous, and very intelligent man. We became fast friends on that first evening and from that time on.

Roy R. Behrens, rice bowl collage (detail), c1992

Like emptying a cormorant every few fish

John Train, in Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr, ed., George, Being George: George Plimpton’s Life. New York: Random House, 2008, p. 121—

[When The Paris Review was founded, the most effective distributors] were the hawkers we employed to peddle the magazine in the streets. In French, such people are called camelots. Our best camelot was named Abrami. He was a poet, and he would walk in front of the Deux Magots and the Flore handing out to the drinkers on the sidewalk copies open to some interesting illustration, preferably off-color; then he’d come back, retrieve them, or collect payment, if possible. He was particularly effective. You had to catch up with him at frequent intervals, because if he collected too much money from customers, you risked having him go into hiding and on to a spending spree. So you had to keep up with him. It was like emptying a cormorant every few fish… 

Roy R. Behrens, beetle montage (detail), 2004

Diversion by wagging the dog whistle

Eviatar Zerubavel, HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Social Structure of Irrelevance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 47-48—

…diversionary tactics are sometimes also used by politicians to keep certain things out of the public's awareness. They thus strategically time unpopular or embarrassing acts such as announcing controversial appointments or firing senior officials, for example, to coincide with other events that they hope will overshadow them. They likewise manufacture crises (and might even start wars) to divert the public's attention from economic problems or political scandals—a tactic also known since Barry Levinson's [1997] cinematic account of such an attempt at "wagging the dog." "'To wag the dog,'" in other words, means "to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance."

Friday, October 2, 2020

Diablo French Postcard | The devil in the details

A farmer once called his cow Zephyr,
She seemed such an amiable hephyr.
But when he drew near
She bit off his ear,
Which made him considerably dephyr.

A hefty whaler, after some discussion with [British missionary Samuel] Marsden, remarked: "Your religion teaches that if a man is hit on one cheek, he will turn the other." And he hit Marsden on the right cheek. Marsden obediently offered his left cheek and received a second blow. "Now," said Marsden, "I have obeyed my Master's commands. What I do next, he left to my own judgment. Take this." And he knocked the man down. 


Embedded Figures


Creativity and Humor

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Below Our friend Tony Drehfal says this book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions, 2020)—a special edition is coming out soon—is one of his favorite books, and not just because one of his exquisite wood engravings is featured on the dust jacket.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Sixty years of ceramic pots by Dean Schwarz

Below Dean L. Schwarz, Flat Sides, Two Moons, Two Eyes and Lips. Ceramic vase (2003). One of almost 100 clay artworks by Iowa potter Dean L. Schwarz (spanning six decades) reproduced in color in Dean and Geraldine Schwarz, eds., Sixty Years with Clay: Dean Schwarz. Decorah IA: South Bear Press, 2020. See cover below.

Related links South Bear Press. Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus. Centering Bauhaus Clay. Storied Pots. Dean Schwarz and the Black Pot Series.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ways to remain engaged during a pandemic

The feature article below was published earlier today in the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo IA). The full text and photos can be accessed online here.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Iowa Exploits of Buffalo Bill Cody

Iowa-born Wild West showman William Frederick Cody, famously known as Buffalo Bill, was fortunate not to have witnessed the final years of the Great War. He died on January 10, 1917, in Denver, Colorado, at age 70. His funeral was a major news event, as admirers worldwide mourned his passing. Ironically, despite the on-going conflict, condolences for his death were sent by both England’s King George V and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Cody’s death was undoubtedly fresh in American minds on March 6, 1917, less than two months after the funeral. On that day, according to an article in the Marshalltown (Iowa) Times-Republican, a group of Iowa youngsters, who were walking down the street in Cedar Falls…more>>>

Iowa's Buffalo Bill

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Catacombs of the Capuchins in Palermo, Italy

Patrick Brydone
, A Tour through Sicily and Malta: in a series of letters to William Beckford, Esq., of Somerly in Suffolk, from P. Brydone, F.R.S., 1773. English Edition: New York: Evert Duyckink, 1813—

This morning we went to see a celebrated convent of Capuchins, about a mile without the city; it contains nothing very remarkable but the burial place, which indeed is a great curiosity. This is a vast subterraneous apartment, divided into large commodious galleries, the walls on each side of which are hollowed into a variety of niches, as if intended for a great collection of statues; these niches, instead of statues, are all filled with dead bodies, set upright upon their legs, and fixed by the back to the inside of the niche: their number is about three hundred: they are all dressed in the clothes they usually wore, and form a most respectable and venerable assembly. The skin and muscles, by a certain preparation, become as dry and hard as a piece of stock-fish; and although many of them have been here upwards of two hundred and fifty years, yet none are reduced to skeletons; the muscles, indeed, in some appear to be a good deal more shrunk than in others; probably because these persons had been more extenuated at the time of their death.

Here the people of Palermo pay daily visits to their deceased friends, and recall with pleasure and regret the scenes of their past life: here they familiarize themselves with their future state, and choose the company they would wish to keep in the other world. It is a common thing to make choice of their niche, and to try if their body fits it, that no alterations may be necessary after they are dead; and sometimes, by way of a voluntary penance, they accustom themselves to stand for hours in these niches…

I am not sure if this is not a better method of disposing of the dead than ours. These visits must prove admirable lessons of humility; and I assure you, they are not such objects of horror as you would imagine: they are said, even for ages after death, to retain a strong likeness to what they were when alive; so that, as soon as you have conquered the first feeling excited by these venerable figures, you only consider this as a vast gallery of original portraits, drawn after the life, by the most just and unprejudiced hand. It must be owned that the colors are rather faded; and the pencil does not appear to have been the most flattering in the world; but no matter, it is the pencil of truth, and not of a mercenary, who only wants to please.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The senescent departure of Emerson's life

Karl Blossfeldt photo adapted (2018), Roy R. Behrens
Edward Simmons, From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee. New York: Harpers, 1922, pp. 19-20—

The last time I saw Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson was in 1879 [three years prior to Emerson’s death]. I was in my twenty-seventh year, had just returned from California, and was spending some time in Concord [MA] before going abroad. Charles H. Davis, the painter, was visiting me at the Old Manse, and we both went over and supped with him. He seemed much older, but was still that example of perfect serenity I had known as a boy. His memory was beginning to fail him, which made him a bit querulous, but his daughter Ellen supplied it whenever she could. For example, he forgot that he had ever seen Tom Taylor's tribute, or apology, to Lincoln, in Punch—in spite of the fact that it is included in the Parnassus [Emerson’s own anthology of poetry] and read it to us, at my request, with astonishment and delight. He read beautifully. and his voice retained all of its old hypnotic quality.

While his memory failed in the detail of names and places, he still retained, in most cases, his fascinating mode of expression, and the process of thought was still there. He said the night Davis and I were there—

"Last week, it was the day…the day that…who was it was here? Ellen, can you remember? Oh! It was our religious friend." He referred to [John Greenleaf] Whittier.

He asked, upon going out for a walk, "Where is that thing everybody borrows and no one ever returns.” He meant an umbrella and had forgotten the name.

This story was told me by my mother. They knew (the women) that opinion of [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow was the same as theirs—the Bromides—and that the two men, of course, loved and admired each other—which they did not. Of course, Mr. Emerson must go to the funeral of the poet. Accordingly. the poor man was pulled up, himself more dead than alive [Emerson would die one month later], and brought down to Cambridge. He sat at the church, seemingly unconscious of the raison d’etre of it all. Then he rose (holding on to his coattails was not effective) and joined the procession about the body.

On crossing the Cambridge Common later, he suddenly stopped, faced around toward the church, and then looking at them, said:

"I do not remember the name of our friend we have just buried, but he had a beautiful soul."

In some people, the loss of memory can be a blessed thing.


Edward Bok (his account of visiting Concord MA, at age eighteen, to obtain Emerson’s autograph), The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years Later. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921, pp. 54-59—

After a while she [author Louisa May Alcott, a close friend of Emerson] said; "Now I shall put on my coat and hat, and we shall walk over to Emerson’s house. I am almost afraid to promise that you will see him. He sees scarcely anyone now. He is feeble, and—“ She did not finish the sentence."But we'll walk over there, at any rate.”


Presently they reached Emerson's house. and Miss [Ellen] Emerson [his daughter] welcomed them at the door. After a brief chat, Miss Alcott told of the boy's [Bok’s reference to himself] hope. Miss Emerson shook her head.

"Father sees no one now," she said, "and I fear it might not be a pleasure if you did see him. “


"Well," she said, "I'll see."

She had scarcely left the room when Miss Alcott rose and followed her, saying to the boy, "You shall see Mr. Emerson if it is at all possible."

In a few minutes Miss Alcott returned, her eyes moistened, and simply said: "Come."

The boy followed her through two rooms, and at the threshold of the third Miss Emerson stood, also with moistened eyes.

"Father," she said simply, and there, at his desk, sat Emerson—the man whose words had already won Edward Bok's boyish interest, and who was destined to impress himself upon his life more deeply than any other writer.

Slowly, at the daughter's spoken word, Emerson rose with a wonderful quiet dignity, extended his hand, and as the boy's hand rested in his, looked him full in the eyes.

No light of welcome came from those sad yet tender eyes. The boy closed upon the hand in his with a loving pressure, and for a single moment the eyelids rose, a different look came into those eyes, and Edward felt a slight, perceptible response of the hand. But that was all!

Quietly he motioned the boy to a chair beside the desk. Edward sat down and was about to say something, when, instead of seating himself, Emerson walked away to the window and stood there softly whistling and looking out as if there were no one in the room. Edward's eyes had followed Emerson's every footstep. when the boy was aroused by hearing a suppressed sob, and as he looked around he saw that it came from Miss Emerson. Slowly she walked out of the room. The boy looked at Miss Alcott, and she put her finger to her mouth, indicating silence. He was nonplussed.

Edward looked toward Emerson standing in that window, and wondered what it all meant. Presently Emerson Ieft the window and, crossing the room, came to his desk, bowing to the boy as he passed, and seated himself, not speaking a word and ignoring the presence of the two persons in the room.

Suddenly the boy heard Miss Alcott say: "Have you read this new book by [John] Ruskin yet?"

Slowly the great master of thought lifted his eyes from his desk, turned toward the speaker, rose with stately courtesy from his chair, and, bowing to Miss Alcott, said with great deliberation: "Did you speak to me, madam?"

The boy was dumbfounded! Louisa Alcott, his Louisa! And he did not know her! Suddenly the whole sad truth flashed upon the boy. Tears sprang into Miss Alcott's eyes, and she walked to the other side of the room. The boy did not know what to say or do, so he sat silent. With a deliberate movement Emerson resumed his seat, and slowly his eyes roamed over the boy sitting at the side of the desk.…

For a moment he groped among letters and papers, and then, softly closing the drawer, he began that ominous low whistle once more, looked inquiringly at each, and dropped his eyes straightway to the papers before him on his desk. It was to be only for a few moments, then! Miss Alcott turned away.

The boy felt the interview could not last much longer. So, anxious to have some personal souvenir of the meeting, he said: "Mr. Emerson, will you be so good as to write your name in this book for me?" and he brought out an album he had in his pocket.

"Name?" he asked vaguely.

"Yes, please," said the boy, "your name: Ralph Waldo Emerson."

But the sound of the name brought no response from the eyes.

"Please write out the name you want," he said finally, "and I will copy it for you if I can."

It was hard for the boy to believe his own senses. But picking up a pen he wrote: "Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord; November 22, 1881.”

Emerson looked at it, and said mournfully: “'Thank you." Then he picked up the pen, and writing the single letter "R" stopped, followed his finger until it reached the "W" of Waldo, and studiously copied letter by letter! At the word “Concord" he seemed to hesitate, as if the task were too great, but finally copied again, letter by letter, until the second "e" was reached. "Another ‘0,'" he said, and interpolated an extra letter "—in the name of the town which he had done so much to make famous the world over. When he had finished he handed back the book, in which there was written:

The boy put the book into his pocket; and as he did so Emerson's eye caught the slip on his desk, in the boy's handwriting, and. with a smile of absolute enlightenment, he turned and said:

"You wish me to write my name? With pleasure. Have you a book with you?"

Overcome with astonishment, Edward mechanically handed him the album once more from his pocket. Quickly turning over the leaves, Emerson picked up the pen, and pushing aside the slip, wrote without a moment's hesitation:

The boy was almost dazed at the instantaneous transformation in the man!

Miss Alcott now grasped this moment to say: “Well, we must be going!"

"So soon?" said Emerson, rising and smiling. Then turning to Miss Alcott he said: "It was very kind of you, Louisa, to run over this morning and bring your young friend."

Then turning to the boy he said: "Thank you so much for coming to see me. You must come over again while you are with the Alcotts. Good morning! Isn't it a beautiful day out?" he said, and as he shook the boy's hand there was a warm grasp in it, the fingers closed around those of the boy, and as Edward looked into those deep eyes they twinkled and smiled back.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Banality epidemic | a nationwide memory loss

Poster (©2017) Roy R. Behrens
Studs Terkel in Touch and Go: A Memoir. New York: The New Press, 2007, p.232 and 236—

“Banality” is the operative word…

Britney Spears, a pop singer, shaves her head and goes into rehab. Most Americans know her name. She is a celebrity. None of the contestants in a recent episode of Jeopardy, a popular TV quiz show, knew who Strom Thurmond was. For most of the twentieth century, on the floor of the Senate, he was the drum major of segregation. Not even his fathering a black child was within the ken of the Jeopardy participants. Nor did they know the name of Kofi Annan (the newly former United Nations secretary general).…

What happens to all Alzheimer’s sufferers is tragic. What I’m talking about is what I call a national Alzheimer’s—a whole country has lost its memory. When there’s no yesterday, a national memory becomes more and more removed from what it once was, and forgets what it once wanted to be.

We’re sinking under our national Alzheimer’s disease. With Alzheimer’s you forget what you did yesterday. With Alzheimer’s finally, you forget not only what you did, but also who you are. In many respects, we [in the US] have forgotten who we are.

We’re now in a war [in Iraq] based on an outrageous lie [about “weapons of mass destruction”], and we are held up to the ridicule and contempt of the world. What has happened? Have we had a lobotomy performed on us? Or it it something else? I’m saying it is the daily evil of banality.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

life is an ever-shifting network of categories

Poster (© 2019) Roy R. Behrens
Morse Peckham, Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts. New York: Chilton Books, 1965—

Our lives are bathed in a continuous flow of signs which we interpret to catch the world in an ever-shifting network of categories. The condition of human life is continuous categorical metamorphosis. We are forever engaged in constructing around us an architecture of categories as fluid and yielding to our interests as the air. There is nothing man has not sacrificed, including millions of his fellow human beings, in the vain effort to fix that architecture, to stabilize his categories. But all knowledge, all science, all learning, all history, all thought are unstable, cannot be made static, even by the majesty of the law armed with the power of brute force.

Morse Peckham, Man's Rage for Chaos

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Zerubavel | perhapstheyshouldhavetrieditearlier

Event poster (©2016) Roy R. Behrens
In view of the many painful events and discussions that are currently on-going, were I asked to name a book that everyone (young and old) could benefit from reading, I would strongly recommend Rutgers sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life (New York: The Free Press, 1991). This is one of its many powerful thoughts (p. 80)—

It is society that helps us carve discrete islands of meaning out of our experience. Only English speakers, for example, can “hear” the gaps between the separate words in “perhapstheyshouldhavetrieditearlier,” which everyone else hears as a single chain of sound. Along similar lines, while people who hear jazz for the first time can never understand why a seemingly continuous stretch of music is occasionally interrupted by bursts of applause, jazz connoisseurs can actually “hear” the purely mental divides separating piano, bass, or drum “solos” from mere “accompaniment.” Being a member of society entails “seeing” the world through special mental lenses. It is these lenses, which we acquire only through socialization, that allow us to perceive “things.” The proverbial Martian cannot see the mental partitions separating Catholics from Protestants, classical from popular music, or the funny from the crude. Like the contours of constellations, we “see” such fine lines only when we learn that we should expect them there. As real as they may feel to us, boundaries are mere figments of our minds. Only the “socialized” can see them…

Eviatar Zerbavel, Taken for Granted: The Remarkable Power of the Unremarkable
Eviatar Zerbavel, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance
Roy R. Behrens, On Slicing the Cheese and Treating the Menu Like Stew: On Creativity and Categorization

Friday, June 12, 2020

the prairie as a lookalike of oceanic vastness

Full online article (1998)
Basil Hall, Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828. UK: Edinburgh, Cadell and Co (1829)—

The resemblance to the sea, which some of the [American Midwestern] Prairies exhibited, was really most singular. I had heard of this before, but always supposed the account exaggerated. There is one spot in particular, near the middle of the Grand Prairie, if I recollect rightly, where the ground happened to be of the rolling character above alluded to, and where, excepting in the article of color—and that was not widely different from the tinge of some seas—the similarity was so very striking, that I almost forgot where I was. 

This deception was heightened by a circumstance which I had often heard mentioned, but the force of which, perhaps, none but a seaman could fully estimate; I mean the appearance of the distant insulated trees, as they gradually rose above the horizon, or receded from our view. They were so exactly like strange sails heaving in sight, that I am sure, if two or three sailors had been present, they would almost have agreed as to what canvas these magical vessels were carrying.

Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse (The Green Line), 1905

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Eccentricity | When being blunt doth not sit well

digital montage © Roy R. Behrens 2020
Wilfred Scawen Blunt, diary entry dated June 17, 1893—

The party was to meet at the pier of the House of Commons and go up the river in two steamers. As we did not know precisely where the pier was we stopped outside the House of Lords [aka House of Peers] to ask a policeman.


I: “Can you tell me where I shall find the pier of the House of Commons?”

Policeman: “No, sir, indeed, we have plenty of peers in the House of Lords, but I have never yet heard of a peer in the House of Commons.”


Osbert Sitwell (brother of Edith Sitwell and Sacheverell Sitwell) whose father was Sir George Sitwell (1860-1943) (British writer, politician, and notorious eccentric), in The Scarlet Tree (Book IV of his Osbert's autobiography)—

When younger he [his father] had invented many other things; at Eton, for example, a musical toothbrush while played Annie Laurie as you brushed your teeth and a small revolver for killing wasps.

According to a Wikipedia biography of Sir George Sitwell

He banned electricity in his household well into the 1940s and made his guests use candles. He deliberately mislabelled his self-medication to stop anyone else using it. Sitwell lived on an exclusive diet of roasted chicken.

William Blake Poster (2011) Roy R. Behrens

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Leacock Peacock | Entrapped by duplicity now

Montage / collage website
Stephen Leacock, Humor: Its Theory and Techniques, with Examples and Samples (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935)—

He is the [jack]daw with a peacock's tail of his own painting. He is the ass who has been at pains to cultivate the convincing roar of a lion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Privy aperture: Set right down I'll mark 'er 'round

Roy R. Behrens, front cover, Journal of Creative Behavior (1976)
Buck Johnson, quoted in Remar Sutton and Mary Abbott Waite, eds., The Common Ground Book: A Circle of Friends. Latham NY: British American Publishing, 1992, p. 272—

Cousin Sally wanted an air conditioner, so she went into Metter [Georgia] to buy one, and they said: "Miss Sally, what size you want?"

She said, "I don't know."

They said, "Well how many BTUs do you want?"

She said, "I don't know a thing in the world about BTUs. All I know is I want an air conditioner with enough BTUs to cool a b-u-t-t as big as a t-u-b." She was really large.


Rockwell Kent in It’s Me O Lord: The Autobiography of Rockwell Kent. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1955, p. 177—

…I laughed when he [Mr. Young, an old carpenter who worked with him in Maine] told me of “the big fat lady over on the main” for whom he was building a privy. “Now you be sure and make it big enough,” sez she. Said Mr. Young: “Lady, you set right down there and I’ll mark her ‘round.”

Roy R. Behrens, rear cover, Journal of Creative Behavior (1976)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Flu pandemic and quackery in Iowa in 1918

Roy R. Behrens (©1980), Cream City Review
Richard Critchfield, Those Days: An American Album. New York: Dell, 1986, p. 189—

[Jessie in Postville, Iowa, writing to Anne in Minneapolis, October 28, 1918, in reference to the Spanish flu pandemic] . . . Hope you and the children got there safely. Helen got ill just after you left. It seems to be a recurrence. She had it awfully hard last year. I’m keeping her out of school. So far the rest of us have been spared. We keep hearing wild rumors. One is that some doctors and nurses at Camp Dodge outside Des Moines were caught injecting flu germs into patients and were court-martialed and shot. Another is that fifty black soldiers who died of flu were buried in a mass grave behind the hospital. Who can be believed? Dad says none of it's true but that so many of the young boys who got drafted and are down at Camp Dodge are sick and going overseas. One of the fellows we knew died of flu on his way to France and had to be buried at sea. Liquor is outlawed here, but the police will issue medicinal whiskey permits if Doc Schmidt signs them. No more than a quart and the man is watched. Doc Schmidt got hold of what he calls “pneumonia serum.” He told Papa, “I don't know if it's any good, but c'mon over and I'll give you a shot.” So he went. I tried a new medicine, “Vick's Vaporub,” with Helen. Folks have been trying just about anything—onions, kerosene, Hicks tablets, mustard poultices, lemon juice, turpentine, linament. Papa had me make up some little cheesecloth breath strainers. But there's plenty of quackery…

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Entangled threesome | a walking Läocoon

Coles Phillips "fadeaway" magazine cover illustration (1916)
Above Magazine cover illustration for the October 1916 issue of Good Housekeeping by Coles Phillips (1880-1927). As shown in this example, he was especially known for paintings in which edges of the figure merge with the background. Tragically, he died of tuberculosis at the early age of 47. We reproduced another work of his in an earlier blog post.


Ford Maddox Ford as quoted by Simon Nowell-Smith, compiler, The Legend of the Master (London, Constable, 1947), p. 44—

I was once walking with him [Henry James] and Mr. John Galsworthy…[whose] dachshund Maximilian ran sheep, so, not to curtail the animal’s exercise, the Master had provided it with a leash at least ten yards long. Mr. Galsworthy and I walked one on each side of James listening obediently while he talked. In order to round off an immense sentence the great man halted…He planted his [walking] stick firmly into the ground and went on and on and on. Maximilian passed between our six legs again and again, threading his leash behind him. Mr. Galsworthy and I stood silent. In any case we must have resembled the Laocöon, but when Maximilian had finished the resemblance must have been overwhelming. The Master finished his reflections, attempted to hurry on, found that impossible. Then we liberated ourselves with difficulty. He turned on me, his eyes fairly blazing, lifting his cane on high and slamming it into the ground: “H…” he exclaimed, “you are painfully young, but at no more than the age to which you have attained, the playing of such tricks is an imbecility! An im…be…cility!”