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.