Wednesday, 30 June 2010

In Praise of Art Well Drawn

I know how antediluvian—even deluded—of me it must sound, but my first reaction to both the recent Philadelphia Museum of Art anthology of local artists and the Art at the Armory collaborative was ennui: relieved by my recollection of seeing the Ian Woodner collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
 
This New York industrialist’s selection of five centuries of European drawings is luminous in its many peaks, moderately satisfying even in its valleys. When I emerged into the little K-Art/Mart that now forms the end point of every big show, the lady running the emporium asked me how I like the show.
 
“Well,” I began, “if it were an international soccer match, the Germans would have won, the Italians runners-up, and the Dutch and the Flemish would have scored higher had they entered as one team.” “Oh I don’t mean which works pleased you, individually, “she replied tartly. “I mean how well was it hung?” Picking up the free brochure on the show, I quipped, “Well, Benvenuto Cellini’s ‘Satyr’ is sure well-hung.” It was not appreciated, at all, at all.
 
I know it’s Philistine to want artists to draw well. There are so many more ways to touch us since verisimilitude went into limbo after the rise of photography. And I love most of those innovations because, when executed by an artist of genius (even of talent), they jump-start my emotions. When I grouse about the ennui I felt at PMA/AATA, it’s because when innovative techniques all but displace fine drawing, you get logy just trying to psyche yourself up for an immensely new experience—over a hundred times at PMA, and (gasp!) a cool 400 times at AATA.
 
We are already discovering compassion fatigue in our troubled social relations. I think I am suffering an analogous comprehension fatigue when I confront too much far-out stuff all at once.
 
As much as putti generally puts me off, when Filippino Lippi lines, in pen and brown ink on buff paper, “Dancing Putto Holding a Drapery,” my eyes flip at the saucy charm with which he has captured this proto-helicopter about to take off.
 
And before Raphael’s “The Heads and Shoulders of Eight Apostles,” in red chalk over stylus underdrawing, I am in awe of the singularities he achieves in their frieze—level procession—praying raptly, attentively observing, thinking deeply, turning to a fellow who has just uttered a witticism, and so on to the end of the row. Wow.
 
But my favorites in Woodner’s collection are two animal portraits by Hans Hoffmann (1530-1591). “Red Squirrel,” brush and watercolor and bodycolor on vellum, veritably bristles with the concentrated chomping of the animal, his ears slung back in tension. And “Hare Beneath a Tree,” point of brush and gouache, heightened with white, on vellum laid down on panel.
 
How is it, after seeing miles and piles of PTV footage on animals cavorting this way and that, that these hand-drawn figures are more “life-like”? They say that drawing is making a comeback in art education. Others also contend that Computer-Assisted Design makes such training obsolete.
 
What CADs. A gifted pen, a lyric pencil, an electrifying burin—will such talents ever be obsolete? Will any CADed architect of the 21st Century be able to vie with Louis Sullivan’s ornamentalism? I doubt it. I hope not.
 
Mr. Woodner was at the press opening. I had to blink at my press releases to be sure they said this tall vigorous man was already in his 80s. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in architecture, a pleasant surprise which made me wonder why there were no architectural drawings in his exhibition. The answer seems tied into his graduate work at Harvard, where he was awarded a European traveling fellowship.
 
His study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts gave him the opportunity and the leisure to travel and start collecting. He never stopped. And a career as a successful developer gave him the income to pick pieces of the high standard displayed at the Met.
 
This is surely one of the great strengths of the American art scene—the efflorescence here, there and everywhere of autonomous collectors. Let’s just hope that the Tax Deform Act of 1986, which disallows inflation-increased values being applied to a wealthy individual’s income taxes, will not throw these treasures into the auction house instead of in a public museum to be savored over the generations.
 
Heh, not every “drawing” show elicits my enthusiasm. I hurried down to Washington to see the Rembrandt landscape drawings. You may remember the wire service stories that ran in paper after paper across the country, with the sketch of a bridge that the great Rembrandt had executed as quick as a flash.
 
I am as bowled over as the next viewer by Rembrandt’s great portraits in oil. But, alas, these landscapes by the titan left me yawning. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time that I missed the message. But it was like watching Joe Montana putt. I remember the passes, and the putting palls.
 
Not that that visit was a waste. There were two other shows on in the cavernous doublebarreled National Gallery of Art. One was a miscellany of the work of John Marin, presumably to capitalize on the donations of many works by the artist’s son.
 
Even a so-so Marin show is full of glories. And this one was especially memorable for the outstanding catalog, written by Ruth Fine, formerly of the Alverthorpe Gallery and Beaver College, which makes a great read and a substantial gloss on the first American modernist to achieve both a popular and a scholarly critical reputation.
 
Finally, there was a glasnost-inspired show on “Matisse in Morocco.” Turns out two prescient collectors were among his earliest supporters. Their eyes weren’t infallible, but their hearts were way ahead of the pack. It was amusing to discover that Matisse was plagued by incessant rain the first month of his sojourn in North Africa after exotica and bright light.
 
I don’t mean to seem perverse, but the most interesting works for me in the show were the postcards (especially one sketch of himself, dressed to the nines, sketching arabesques in plein air) that he sent back to his friends in France. I guess the Matisse I most like is divided into two parts: the first fine, careless Fauvist raptures, and the post-arthritis paper collages (the Jazz series, the vestments for Mass, and the Rosary Chapel).
 
Reprinted from Welcomat: Hazard at Large, July 25, 1990

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Imperial Appetite

On reading The Imperial Appetite

Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 8, 2008 12:03

The Puritan rhetoric (our City on the Hill syndrome) which has kept median Americans from realizing how imperialistic we've covertly been , in the last century especially,makes our interface with the competing imperiums of the twenty-first century difficult to negotiate. I first notice this whistling in the dark that night in 1957 when I was celebrating getting my PhD in American Civilization. The metropolitan press was full of ad exec Fairfax Cone's reassurances that we need not fear an impending recession because America was still the All Time Hit on Humanities Hit Parade. As recently as last night, Mitt Romney sealed his abdication speech with the by now boilerplate assurance that America remains the greatest civilization in the history.

This infantile narcissism amuses thoughtful Europans no end, I've observed in my first decade as an exPat. I finally got. it. This is me protests too much reflex is a dangerous psychiatric tick.. The embarrassing disparities between our official ideals and our initial Amerind genocide and continuing corruption of black slavery persuaded us to assume this mask of the Greatest Ever. In what Studs Terkel has shrewdly called these United States of Amnesia, the yawning gaps between quotidien realities and our high fallutin' self image means that in a literal sense most Americans are schizophrenic.

Mark Twain and William Dean Howells railed against the first emergence of extra-continental American imperialism during the Spanish American War, but Hearst's sanctimoniously sanitized media version prevailed.Later our Marine's fronting for United Fruit anticipates the cruel ironies of today's Blackwater. Ask your average American how many military bases we have in the world, and they will be skeptical about those not immediately involved in an out and out war.Depending on how you define them, they approach a thousand!

If we are to stop stumbling into serial moral and economic disasters like Vietnam and the multiple Midlle East entanglements, the country is going to have to go through an intellectual makeover. Russia and China no longer tolerate our supremacist malarkey. It would be helpful if Hillary and Barack had the courage to begin to straighten us out in the impending election. Four centuries of deluding ourselves is a hard row to re-hoe. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

*

Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 13, 2008 10:26

I've just now had a chance to read "Frankly Speaking". It is a very thoughtful response for which I am grateful. If I gave the impression of smug condescension from my temporary German roost, I am truly sorry because my convictions are 180 degrees from such a slant. Incidentally, I'm here in Germany to write a book on the historical status of the idealism of the Bauhaus as well as its present influence. I have asserted on more than one occasion that the Germans have done a much better job of owning up to their cataclysmic failures, especially in the twentieth century, than, say, the Japanese or Russians. As a professor of American Lit I know very well how often our major writers warned us of subverting our own values, and, indeed, how widely our great writers have been ignored, even vilified. I am a committed believer in American meliorism. That is why I deplore that historical tick by which we try to ignore our historical failings by mouthing inanely infantile slogans about America as the greatest country in the history of the world. Only psychotic narcissists talk such piffle. The true task of the American clerisy is to put more and more common Americans in fuller and fuller possession of our tradition of meliorism. I'm grateful to "The Sun" for allowing me to clarify my position. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

*
Submitted by Patrick D.Hazard, Feb 21, 2008 03:00

Dear Mr. Smith: I came not to bury American Exceptionalism but to raise it:-- from Ideals to Realities. I used to tell my American Lit students that a citizenry that didn't read its great writers slowly loses its collective mind.. That is my sad prognosis of where we now are. Had they injected themselves with Walt and Emily, Melville and Twain, they'd be intellectually healthy, striving without rancor to close the gap between American dreaminess and quotidien reality.

As for patriotism, I enlisted in the U.S.Navy on my seventeenth birthday in 1944 and have spent a life helping people understand the sad reality behind sometimes guiltily puerile rantings--such as that we are the greatest country in the history of the world--Senator Arlen Spector (Rep., PA) brought Exceptionalism up to date this December at the annual Pennsylvania hootenanny at the Waldorf Astoria. Silly twaddle, from a normally thoughtful senator.

As for my European meanness, I'm in Weimar to write a book on the idealism of the Bauhaus. My heart remains in Philly, where I've made my home for the past 50 years, in a pioneer integrated community, trying my bit to make American life exceptionally better little bit by little bit. Patrick D. Hazard.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Five Germanys I Have Known

On reading Fritz Stern's Five Germanys I Have Known

Fritz Stern's visit to his hometown Breslau (I've never been able to pronounce the Polish name!) is truly touching. I visited it as a total stranger in 2000 with my new Ossi wife whose mother was forced out of Silesia at the end of the war. It seemed fully restored and impressive. I remember that a new art museum that had a great collection was originally a German businessman's villa.

But I come to praise Stern's proposal for memorializing all the heroes of the Resistance. Even some that no one seems to remember heroically. A family Golden Wedding anniversary in Schwerin last summer prompted me to visit the contested Arno Breker exhibition there.

As a Philadelphian, I became interested in the fact that Alexander Calder roomed as Breker's guest in Paris in 1927. The more I looked into Breker's career the less Nazi he seemed to me. His Paris dealer Flectheim was Jewish Two of his works in Schwerin were busts of Gypsies. His best friend in Berlin was Max Liebermann, whose death mask he sculpted for the widow.

When he won the silver medal for two works for the 1936 Olympics (the judges actually gave him the gold, but Hitler--for diplomatic reasons--gave to the gold to his new ally Italy), the Fuhrer playfully punched him in the shoulder, telling him he wanted all this future work, and adding that he didn't want "his" sculptor living in a garret either--giving him Jackelbruch, to live "like a Duke".

Hitler made him professor at the Berlin Academy. Untold prisoners or Gestapo targets owed their life and/or freedom to his wheedling for them to Hitler (including Picasso and Jean Marais.) He went out of his way to attend Chancellery dinners to plead directly with Hitler for prisoners. Speer actually pleaded with him to stop pressuring Hitler, perhaps fearing a backlash on himself. Hitler would settle such tiffs by asserting that artists knew nothing about politics, they were all dimwitted Parsifals.

At the end of the war, Russian and American troops looted or destroyed 90% of his works at Juckenbruch. When he went on trial after the war, some of those he saved actually testified against him! An American general gave Breker the alternatives: a 100 mark fine or create a fountain for Donauwurth. Breker scorned the artistic alternative, saying it was an undignfied abuse of a defeated enemy. He paid the 100 marks.

My theory is that Hitler, that bitter dropout from the Vienna Art Academy, "adopted" Breker as the artistic son he never was himself. I find nothing conniving in Breker's "Nazi" career. And he was an underground savior for hundreds of artists and other prisoners. It is inhumane and Nazi-like to judge him for only nine out of his ninety years. Before and after his Hitler adoption, he led an exemplary life, and not entirely blameful during his "adoption".

Klaus Staeckel canceled his own planned poster exhibition at Schwerin in protest. Staeckel, now the president of the Academy of Art (the same position the Nazis took from Breker's friend Liebermann), should rethink his 1980 Verbot campaign (No Nazi Art in German Museums). It is an intellectual position as stupid at the Nazi Verbot against "Entartete Kunst".

It's as foul as the DDR lefties trying to keep Wolf Biermann de-Burgered. I prefer Christian compassion and forgiveness. Nastiness comes in many forms. Breker had none as far as I can see. Besides I love his work. About which I knew nothing before Schwerin. Put him on Fritz Stern's list, please. Dr. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mirror

That first sad sag of jowl
amazing sleepy shaving eyes
after long shielding beard, removed
is like the first cold October wind
that prefigures coming winter snows
hackling my neck back sinews
that last lost flesh in letting go
I smile lyingly at my changeling self
and put razor and new blades back on the shelf
(Such quirky smirks tighten skin,
but only temporarily.)

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A Loose Cannon in the World: The Arrogance of American Innocence

Fifty years ago, when I took eighth grade civics at Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, Michigan, Fact to Remember One was that America "is the most peace-loving country on earth." Sister Charles Borromeo later made it perfectly clear that our country was in fact the most peace-loving in the history of the human race. In the 110% Americanism of ghetto Catholicism, such hyperbole was normal. In the interregnum between Al Smith and Jack Kennedy, Catholic Americans all tried to be Caesar's wives, above the least suspicion of unAmericanism.

Such ideological purity, then, accounts for the fact of this "innocence" about the real violence at the heart of the American experience. This, after all, was the Michigan of the sit-down strikes, of the Detroit race riot of 1943 (it broke out as I left for the Northern woods the summer of my junior year). As a swabbie in Pensacola, I was hassled by rednecks for drifting to the back of the bus as I used to do in Detroit.

It was not until graduate school, when my reading tilted leftward--first Commonweal, then the Nation and the New Republic, and finally Dissent and the National Guardian--that I began to understand how broad was the gap between the facile ideals of my Bay City boarding school and the gritty industrial realities of Detroit at the height of its power.

It is my increasing impression that Ronald Reagan's increasingly satisfied constituency still inhabits the Arcadian America of my youth. They are temperamentally incapable of conceiving that the non-American world has a deeply felt sense of having been abused by the American imperium--that only flakes (Khadaffi) or evil connivers (Ortega) are off-base enough to challenge the "What, me worry?" complacency of Disneyfied American polity.

Thus columnist Ben Wattenberg sneers at the sappy senility of Tip O'Neill's being influenced on his aid-for-the-Contras vote by his respect for the idealism of the Maryknoll religious and by his recollection of a relative who invaded Nicaragua in 1933 as a Marine pacifying a momentarily uppity banana republic.

How dare those nuns and priests commit themselves to a lifetime of Peace Corps-like identification with the economic underdogs of Central America? And, what the hell, bygones are really bygones when it comes to Marines putting down insurgencies; if you deplore that shortsighted tradition of American diplomacy (whose chickens are coming home to a red roost), then you're a commie lover.

What these "history is bunko" amnesiacs have long failed to see is that the highly vaunted American posture of bipartisan foreign policy really meant that respect for the egalitarian aspirations of other countries stops at our coastlines. Only an idealistic party-pooper would suggest that "our most important product" (contrary to Reagan's G.E. me-tooist teleblurbs) is our progressive social ideals, not our economic progress.

To most American politicians, other nations are surrogate fodder for "our boys" (surely the most contemptible narcissism in the history of geopolitics--as if only American boys had red blood to bleed). And to most American businessmen, foreigners are the ultimate union-busting tool--coolie wages with no back talk. This may turn out to be the tragic American error--to quarantine our idealism outside American borders (needless to say, there were internal forms of exploitation--of Indians, of blacks, of helpless steerage passengers--that predisposed the American establishment to embargo the export of Jeffersonian and Lincolnian lifestyles).

But spare us the intellectual blather of my childhood--of America as the paragon of peace. Paragon of pieces is closer to the truth. Piece of this Indian land, piece of that shipload of slaves. As long as we novocaine our minds with these childish caricatures of our truer selves--Eldoradans with Edenic pretensions--only then can we begin to devise policy rooted in the real world.

America is a loose cannon on the Spaceship Earth because its exceptional delusions of its true nature make it impossible to negotiate with. The paranoia about Communism (Isn't Havana still 90 miles from Miami? and aren't the refuges thriving in Miami as never before?) I believe derives from a bad American conscience about egalitarianism.

Going right back to Knights of Labor days, the agitators were trying to mock mainstream America to live up to its professed ideals. Is there a less exceptionable aphorism than the one that guided Eugene Debs--"Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization." And yet he ran for president from the Atlanta federal penitentiary, because his simple affirmation of basic American verities was perceived as disruptive by the plutocracy in power.

Is it not weird, on the edge of the absurd, that the same administration that is trying to boot leftist radical Margaret Randall out of Santa Fe for her beliefs rants and raves about the suppression of free opinion in Nicaragua? The Somocistas in Nicaragua are the historical heritage of bad American policy in Central America. They should have been "freedom fighters" for, say, the past 50 years when the banana republics were de facto colonies of ours. We had our shot, and we lost it.

Just as our purblindness over matters red vs. red, white and blue caused us to lend a deaf ear to Ho Chi Minh before the French lost its colonial empire in the Far East. Just as we nattered over Red China for a generation until Richard Nixon (who "earned" the "right" to recognize a de facto government by being stupidly anti-communist during the McCarthy Era) made his great breakthrough in 1972. I mean, how many times to we have to lose ourselves behind the Alfred Newman mask of our innocence?

As we're doing in our own unique way in the Middle East. The despised "ragheads" (how come the journalists who nailed Jesse Jackson for him Hymie talk don't nail Israeli supporters for their raghead denigrations, as ugly a racist streak as I've ever encountered?) won't go away. In our continued saga of self-delusion, we help maintain the fiction that only the PLO are terrorists.

If I were a Palestinian, and I had watched my homeland handed off (by Lord Balfour) in a bit of English oil territory derring-don't, I'd be a terrorist as well. The absurdity of a country (Israel) born in the bombing of Western diplomats and luxury hotels refusing to even consider Palestinian demands for land! I mean, it's what we did to the Indians. So I guess we'd be embarrassed by assuring a holier-than-they attitude.

And, notice, when desperate Arab factions blow a hole through a TWA 727, the first thing we hear are "how many American lives are lost?" And the second thing is, "How bad will it be for the tourist business?"

Heh, folks, those are human beings over there: and it's not Mare Nostrum: never was, never will be. Let's join the human race, while there still is one. Like democracy, it has imperfections, but it's the only race in town. And how about a permanent moratorium on Sister Charles Borromeo's naive version of America? It's a complex world out there, and our "innocence" adds unnecessarily to its dangers.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Luck of the Irish in Potsdam

Potsdam III: The Hitler Conspiracy and Einstein's Tower

I did what I usually do in a strange city before breakfast--I cruised the surroundings for interesting architecture. At 26 Karl Mendel Strasse, I stopped with a gasp. It was a Jugendstil manor house, badly abused by those crude old occupying powers, but sporting new high-gloss signage which signified that privatization had taken place there already. An advertising agency, for example.

I asked a custodian if I could take a gander inside. Holy Moses. A ceiling-to-floor window illuminated a grand staircase. When I realized how superb it was, I pulled my usual time-saving research ploy: I asked the custodian if they had a pamphlet or feature article summarizing the history of the structure.

He misunderstood what I meant by history. "Follow me," he said, leading me downstairs, "and I'll show you some history." He then opened the door to the toilet. I thought my German must really be getting bad. (What sounds like "Geschichte" that happens in a toilet? I wondered.)

But, no, he wasn't showing me where to go. He was showing me where some really big history had--almost--transpired. This was where Count von Stauffenberg prepared the briefcase bomb that was meant to kill Hitler in the summer of 1944.

I was speechless. Even my English failed me. Not the least surprising thing about this historical john was the world-class art collection that graced its walls. I mean Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, among others. Dumb Irish luck, eh?

I went to the City Art Gallery to come down from this peak experience. Had a good cup of coffee and a couple of kuchen. I noticed a couple of retired old geezers like me sipping away, so I went over and asked them what the don't-misses of their city were, culturally speaking.

They rattled them off: The Film Museum. The History Museum. The Einsteinturm. "The Einsteinturm!" I gasped. "You mean the place designed by Erich Mendelsohn so Einstein could test his theory of relativity?" The same. It was on the top of Telegraph Hill a brisk quarter of an hour walk from the train station I was planning to use to get back to Berlin.

But first, those two museums. Trouble was, it was Monday. Dark day for museums in Potsdam. It has taken me almost 50 years to reach Potsdam for my first visit. Kohl only knows when I'd get back. So I decided to try my Philadelphia Police Pass. If it could get me past a fire line in Philly, why not use it to open a few museums in Potsdam?

At the History Museum, the pass apparently looked so formidable that that guard took me to the only person with the authority to let me in--the director. And was she ever in a good mood. A few minutes before my arrival, the postman had delivered the first copy of her just-published coffee-table book on the stained glass in Marlburg Cathedral.

I was literally the second person to fondle this marvelous volume. She extemporized an illuminating lecture on the stained glass itself and on its patron Saint Elizabeth, who became kind of a role model for social workers, since she had walked away from a rich life to succor the poor and the sick. Was I having a run of luck, or what?

She was a Wessie and had just been appointed to reorganize the city's museums, leading them out of their heavily propagandized past into the kind of sprightly venues Wessies have devised in their museums since World War II. She showered me with books and brochures. And told me how to get to the Film Museum.

When film buffs think Potsdam, their minds say Babelsberg--the sector east across the Havel River--because the legendary movie studios of the golden age of German cinema were there. Since my visit, a French conglomerate has taken over the task of rejuvenating the complex, and the Film Museum was already in the throes of doing a renewal that would keep it up with the renewed Babelsberg.

The old Film Museum (recycled Royal Stables) was fabulous enough for me, but I can imagine from the intelligence the curators displayed in their guided tour that the renewed museum will be as fascinating as the Babelsberg will be.

Now it was Einstein Time, relatively speaking. I parked my luggage in a locker at the train station, and headed for the hills--by walking South across the Lange Brucke. When I reached the Einsteinturm, a young French photojournalist was doing a shoot. His gear was almost as impressive as the Erich Mendelsohn building, and he showed me a swatch he had shot for an architecture magazine on an earlier assignment. World-class stuff.

But he was firm in his opinion that I'd never get anyone to let me look inside. I prowled around--squinting into windows, picturing the genius seated at this chair or that table. The photographer packed up his gear and drove away. I circled the sweetly bizarre structure one more time, dratting that luck had finally run out.

Just as I started to begin my dejected return to the train station, I noticed a scientist-looking man shambling up the walk. Bingo. I assumed my best Boy Scout posture and pretty-pleased him to let me just look inside for a few minutes, given that it was a world-class building and all.

He must have had a satisfying lunch or nooner because he said, "Why not?" It turned out that he was the director, and an excellent popularizer of science to boot. I left an hour later, even thinking I understood the theory of relativity--he was that luminous a tutor.

We went over the building and its history with a fine-tooth comb. All floors. Every cubbyhole. It was glorious. He even told me how the Allies had bombed Telegraph Hill because it was the center of radio communications.

A bomb had landed near enough to the Einsteinturm to shatter some of the cement and induce an interior rot because the patch work repair wasn't effective. In fact, if some American philanthropist would like to honor two geniuses--Albert and Erich--I'm sure the director would like to get the money to make the proper repairs.

As he left me glowing near the door, I asked him what such a nondescript stone was doing on the sculptural pedestal next to the entrance. "Ein stein," he smiled, and left me in state of cruelly unusual punishment as I walked on air back to the train station. Relatively speaking.

Planning a Visit: The Potdsam Tourist Centre was exceedingly helpful, telling me they were gearing up for a massive publicity effort to attract people to their Millennial Celebration. Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse 5, Postal Code O-1561 Potsdam. For faster if less complete service, contact the German Tourist Office in Manhattan--118 E 42nd St, 52nd fl, New York, NY 10168, (212) 661-7200. Lufthansa has various deals, Kennedy to Berlin/Tegel Airport, depending on when you go and how long you want to stay. 1-800-645-3880.

Reprinted from Welcomat: Hazard at Large.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

English Internationalizing

Regular BSR readers may remember my recent anguishing over the decline of the English major. My move in 1982 from college teaching to independent journalism stemmed from my growing conviction that my basic aim to internationalize the study of English could happen faster with a secular readership than with a degree-seeking crowd. You may remember how I first slipped black Americans writers in to my syllabic mix, then Appalachian poor whites.

I can’t complain that the Beaver brass discouraged my moves. Dr. David Gray, director of the college’s very successful overseas program, was a big help. (Beaver was better overseas than home, I think back!) I twisted my Am Lit course when I ran the London program, 1967-8, by pairing Amis and Brits, Twain and Dickens, Whitman and Arnold, Emily and Hopkins. (I loved the fresh insights on old favorites.)

And I scored big with Roy Danish, head of TIO, when I fielded a semester of unseen American TV at London’s Royal College of Art under the rubric “24 Hours”, then the leading BBC evening news program. BBC2 even prefaced the TV series by inviting me and PBS’s Robert MacNeil to discuss what Am TV was missing and why. And the British Film Institute booked me for several years as a quarterly prose commentator on American TV in their journal “Contrasts”. (Time-Life Films even made me their adviser (1968-72) on which BBC programs to bring on American TV. (Monty Python remains my sole home run!)

And Dr. Howard Springer invited me to Lagos for the Commonwealth Educational Conference in 1968 to show “Nigeria: Culture in Transition”( featuring Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka) at the U.S. Embassy: we wanted each and every Commonwealth country to create a similar hour long TV feature on their share of International English. And when I ran out of money, Gray bailed me back to London without a whimper!

And Dr. Bette Landmann gave me money to invite Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, black American poet Michael Harper (Brown U), and Jamaican egghead and ballet dancer (alas just passed) Rex Nettleford to a “Caribbean Seminar” as well as later Appalachian poets. It looked like International English was up and running in Glenside! But once you’ve shown a peasant Gay Paree, it’s hard to get him back on the farm! All that London and Africa rattled me.

Why this flood of reminiscence? Because I’ve just discovered by the bibliographical miracle of Gemeinschaft Bibliotheken Verein (the online General Library Network) that while I was tooling around globally in my self-devised post-post-doctoral studies, academics from all over the increasingly English speaking/writing world slyly but indefatigably (in Europe that is) were creating a solid infrastructure for a new discipline, International English Literature.

Take my first find, “The Politics of English as a World Language”, edited by Christian Mair (Editions Rodopi, 2003, Amsterdam.) Not one of the 36 essayists (who met for four days in Freiburg, Breisgau, 2001) to noodle the new literary domain was American! Indeed, there is a distinct ant-Americanism prevalent—almost like keep those Ami barbarians from taking this over too!

It reminded me of what the Canuck editor of Canadian Commonwealth Literature said to my ecumenical suggestion that Am Lit plus Commonwealth Lit equals International English Lit. He flew into a verbal rage suggesting I sounded like a CIA agent! (It was the era of “Encounter” and the Committee on Cultural Freedom.)

Far from being a CIA agent, I had an epiphany high up in a London Transport #4 on a hot day in July,1972 to found the Centre for Internationalising English (note my ecumenically Britty spelling) to sabotage the CIA with world poems in English! (Who dares to say I’m impractical!) Luckily that generally unknown institution was taken over by my son Michael and renamed the Center for International Education, a nonprofit group that has financed his growing treasure of humanist films.

This indispensable Bible of IE Lit reports a joint meeting in the Breisgau between GNEL (Gemeinschaft für Englischsprachgigen Literaturen) and MAVEN (for Major Varieties of English). They led me to new journals such “English World Wide” and “World Englishes”. And enough thick books on International English Literature to keep me overworked until my second reincarnation. Should you be interested, please look in about a month into my blog. Better late than never.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Whose Eye is My Global Eye?

Dr. Patrick D. Hazard was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was found in an abandoned Kellogg’s Corn Flakes carton. His Ph.D. (1957) is interdisciplinary in American Civilization: two fields in Am Lit, his specialty; Am Art and Architecture, Am Philosophy and its European antecedents; Am Economic History.

He has a special interest in the humanities and mass media, for which he held a Ford Fellowship in New York (1955-56),where he became radio TV editor of Scholastic Teacher 1955-61), Carnegie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania 1957-59 to create a new course on “The Mass Society” for the Department of American Civilization (1957-59), wrote the first curriculum of the Annenberg School of Communications at Penn (1959-61), where he taught the history of mass media, until appointed first director of the Institute of American Studies at the East West Center, U. of Hawaii, Honolulu (1961-62), and taught Am Lit, film, and media at Arcadia U,1962-82, after which he took early retirement to begin a second career as a cultural critic.

He has written for newspapers in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Butte, Salt Lake City, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Oakland, Tokyo, and London. His work has appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, American Heritage, Variety, Asahi Evening News, and The European. He has done radio for NPR, advised Time Life and Encyclopedia Films which BBC films to distribute in America, and wrote a quarterly summary for Contrasts, the TV magazine of British Film. He has appeared on two TV series for University of the Air, WFIL-TV,Philadelphia.

For the past ten years he has lived in Weimar, Germany, where he has a German wife, Hildegard, and a three-year-old son, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Hazard. He has just finished a book on Walter Gropius, Bauhaus: Myths and Realities. He is now working on an autobiography, Dumb Irish Luck: A Memoir of Serendipities, and an anthology of 50 years of his thinking, Hazard-at-Large: A Humanist in Mass Culture, 1955-2005.

Monday, 21 June 2010

My Kind of Librarian: Robert Darnton

What would you do if the newer media were muscling in on your book budget—and on your policy meetings?

If you were Robert Darnton, Harvard’s head librarian, and probably the most articulate in the world, you’d reconnoiter your priorities. ("The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future”, Public Affairs, 2009, is his twentieth title!) It is a collection of essays that describes how shrewdly he has deployed his diverse troops in many diverse engagements.

As a former Princeton history professor specializing in the eighteenth century Enlightenment, for example, he shows how the biggest book seller in small town Montpelier dickers with the refugee Voltaire for additions to his official edition (out of Geneva) of his "Questions sur l’Encyclopedie” to beat a competing local bookseller.

And V’s books, of course, were biblia non grata to the law. Sometimes this meant sailing them down the Rhone, sometimes shipping circuitously through smuggle-easy Marseilles, u.s.w. Bookselling in those trying times was like peddling drugs today, absent the weapons. All of these narratives Darnton assembles by scrutinizing the bookseller’s records!

And RD was not a late bloomer. As a Harvard freshman at 17, he shyly asks the brass at Harvard’s Houghton rare book collection, whether he can see Melville’s marked copy of Emerson’s “Essays”. Minutes later he is taking notes on the former Cape Horn sailor marginalia.

“Because Melville had written extensive notes in the margin, I found myself reading Emerson through Melville’s eyes–or at least attempting to do so. One bit of marginalia remained fixed in my memory. It had to do with Melville’s experience of rounding Cape Horn in what must be the roughest water in the world. At that time I thought the world in general was pretty rough, so I was primed to sympathize with a caustic note next to the passage about stormy weather.

Emerson had been expatiating on the world's soul and the transient state of suffering, which,as any sailor could testify, would blow over like a storm. Melville wondered in the margin whether Emerson had any idea of the terror faced by sailors on whaling ships at the Horn. I read it as a lesson about the Pollyannaish side of Emerson’s philosophy.” (p.56.) Not your usual 17 year old’s take!

Fifty years later Darnton had the itch to reread! “The terrors of the storm are chiefly confined to the parlour and the cabin. The drover, the sailor, buffets it all day, and his health renews itself at as vigorous a pulse under the sleet, as under the sun of June.” Melville’s actual response was: “To one who has weathered Cape Horn as a common sailor, what stuff all this is.” No wonder it took us to the 1920’s to “get” Herman. Ahab was much closer to reality than E’s glib formulations about the American Scholar!

One of the first library media responses was to throw out space taking newspaper files for microfilm. WRONG! "Microfilm is not an adequate substitute for paper: Its chemistry is worse. Frames that were supposed to last forever have developed blemishes and bubbles. They have faded into illegibility. They have torn and shrunk and sprouted fungi and emitted foul odors and melted together on the spool into solid lumps of cellulose. Microfilmed runs of newspapers often contain gaps where technicians skipped pages or failed to adjust the focus.”

Replace the tossed out files? "During the first wave of ‘preservation’ through microfilming, the State Library of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia stripped their shelves of complete runs of the Philadelphia Inquirer.” (p. 112.) Replacement cost? $621,515!

And consider the escalating costs of academic magazines. $20,000 plus for a year! JSTOR, the website funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allows institutional access to expensive serials for modest annual subscriptions. The New York Public Library delivers so much information all over the world electronically that as early as 1999, it reported ten million hits a month on its computer system compared to 50,000 books checked out of its HQ reading room at 42nd street.

And University presses are under greater pressure. In the 1970’s they could count on selling 800 copies of monographs to libraries. Today, it’s down to 300 copies. Even so “sellable” an edition as "The Papers of Ben Franklin” sold 8,047 copies of volume one in 1959. Volume 33, in 1997, only 753. So digitizing the dissertation to be improved into a solid monograph is one of Darnton’s schemes in cooperation with scholarly societies.

One of his favorite fields is the commonplace book that flourished after the example of Erasmus’s "De Copia”. He likes this genre because the interaction between reading and writing about a text triggers thinking. His philosophy can be summarized: “Digitize and democratize—not an easy formula, but the only one that will do if we really mean to realize the ideal of a republic of letters, which once seemed hopelessly utopian.” (p.58.)

So begin with his summary of media history: "Somewhere, around 4000 BC, humans learned to write. Egyptian hieroglyphs go back to about 3200 BC, alphabetical writing to 1000 BC. According to Jack Goody, the invention of writing was the most important technological breakthrough in the history of humanity." (p.21.)

Darnton analyzes the complexities of book culture in the mysterious but promising Google era. Proceed cautiously but enthusiastically. No more throwing out the baby of newspaper files into the junk heap of microfilm! He makes the challenge sound like a great adventure. He’s my kind of librarian!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Pop!!

Does Capital Punishment Deter?

Nat Hentoff's clear explanation of how capital punishment does not deter leads to a larger consideration of the American tradition of violence which began with the extirpation of the Indians and the management of slave revolts (See Howard Zinn's chapters in "A People's History of the United States").

Capital punishment and police overkill is but a variation of the lynch mentality which still prevails throughout American society. It is deplorable that neither Gore nor Bush had the intelligence or courage to face the sad fact that in America capital punishment is a strategy for pacifying the underclass.

Just as disparate coke/crack-cocaine sentencing patterns reveal an ingrained system of injustice towards the lower classes. Perhaps the most despicable act Clinton ever did was not messing around with Monica (she after all asked for that), it was his proudly and publicly going to Arkansas to supervise the execution of a retarded man. How revolting a way to run for President.

To put some first things first, in the hundred or so years when the courts, higher and lower, winked, say, at the abuses of violating the Fourteenth Amendment, was that judicial inactivism or activism of a particularly vicious sort? Do you deplore those justices "legislating" as much as you do ones who urge us to overcome traditional prejudices against abortion and homosexuality?

Given that America began its legal odyssey committing genocide on the Indians and enslaving the blacks, it is inevitable that if we are ever to live up to our putative ideals, me must both legislate more humanely and give as much scope to judicial interpretation as our ancestors didn't.

I suggest your outraged symposiasts read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" and then tell me whether it was conservatives or liberals who introduced mendacity into American political dialogue.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Pity the poor

Pity the poor pelican, long near extinction, about to be extinguished.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A Writer That Matters: Patrick Hazard

Feisty, outspoken Dr. Hazard is formerly of Beaver College, the University of Hawaii, The Annenberg School, Time-Life Films. A Carnegie post-doc fellow at Penn, radio personality, author of textbooks, a book on Hawaii, world traveler, humanist, master of controversies, agitator, father of three, irrepressible educator and voracious reader is one of the foremost intellectual gadabouts in greater Philadelphia.

Says Hazard, "I went to a writer's conference down in the South Pacific last year. It was one of those crash and burn airway fares." We can picture the plane landing on its last teaspoon of fuel, the wings shaved to transparency by Asian aluminum scavengers and their sharpened spoons. On board, the intrepid Patrick Hazard balances a computer on a primus stove on a tartan plaid blanket.

There is an "Eye 95" to put out, an article for Connoisseur to begin. Crisp keystrokes continue through the agonies of delivering the flight up to the gate. Hazard ignores the muffled rattle of automatic weapons fire. When a stray bullet penetrates the fuselage, he frowns, stuffs a half-eaten carrot in the void.

He returned from the trip a changed man.

"I haven't watched television since," he claims, a slight note of pain in his voice. A tough choice for one who has stuck with television from its precious beginnings into its present everlasting senility.

From the start Hazard sought to look the dragon in the eye, to unflinchingly tackle the challenge of the importance of the mass media in his students' lives. In this he was helped by the lively first years of American TV, Paddy Chayefsky et al. It was an age of new promise, a time when the word "plastics" would send chills up a young person's spine, a moment for the formation of a believer. (One doubts whether we saw anything comparable in the recent excitement surrounding two-way communications with cable TV.)

Hazard became one of a new breed of media-oriented academics.

With a PhD in American Studies from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, heavy on literature, he launched his career with a Ford Foundation grant to study the impact of mass communication on English teaching.

At a 1955 Four C's English Conference, he gave a talk called "Liberace and the Art of Cultural Criticism."

While at Penn in 1957-58, he became one of the founders of the Annenberg School of Communications, active in laying the groundwork curriculum for what was to be the first in its field.

He pioneered techniques of integrating television viewership with education-and wrote "Television and the Teaching of English." Students in a Hazard class would be assigned to watch programs, then to find common ground with themes in classical and contemporary literature. A lover of good architecture, Hazard would also assign a building to his students, requesting they find out how the structure worked as a dwelling, a workplace, as art.

Today first and foremost, Hazard is a writer seeking to make the world safe for humanism; an intellectual seeking a solution to the problems of the greater, non-intellectual world.

"Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness," he is fond of saying. At home and around the world he is in search of those candles. One recent discovery is the architect Douglas Cardinal, whose Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa puts him in mind of the spiritual qualities of the Spanish architect Gaudi.

Hazard cautions us against the trend towards elitism in art, and recommends we read the recently published "The Unfulfilled Promise," by Edward Arian.

"America never really tried egalitarianism," he argues, pinpointing the formation of a homegrown oligarchy during the Jacksonian period of American history (1830's).

Though he remains at heart an optimist, he concedes that "darkness is pervasive at present." The cyclops eye of his television screen is blank, but we can look to the wit and wonderful consciousness of Patrick Hazard to light a small, clear space for us to view the world.

From Art Matters, October 1989

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ignoring Bauhaus Idealism/A Betrayal of Walter Gropius

Martin Filler’s paean to lost Bauhaus glory deserves a rebuttal. As a homeless boy in Depression Detroit, I felt at first hand the pain of not having a house, until FDR’S FHA permitted my abandoned teacher mother to finally afford a new one, shared with another teacher. So when in graduate school Nicholas Pevsner’s innovative book on modern architecture alerted me to Gropius’ ideal of “good design for the working classes”, I chose art and architecture as a doctoral prelim. And made my Am Lit students do term papers on “a great American building”.

Our first house was a splendid National Homes prefab Cape Cod designed by Charles Goodman, $400 down and $40 a month, affordable for an ABD. A Ford Foundation grant the next year to devise media strategies in New York for TV in English teaching. And a Carnegie Postdoctoral grant at Penn in 1957 to create a new course on the Mass Society (first semester: industrial design, architecture and urban planning; second semester, print, graphics and broadcasting) landed us in a marvelous Levittown house on Thornyapple Lane. (I know Upper Westside eggheads despised what they never had the wit to try—nor to read my then colleague Herb Gans’ “The Levittowners”).

A lucky break led us to Greenbelt Knoll, Morris Milgram’s first experiment in interracial housing in Philadelphia where we recently had the joy of celebrating our fiftieth year in our Louie Kahn house! So I kept in mind the Gropius ideal as something important to study in my retirement. In 1999, Weimar was European Cultural Capital so I have settled into an 1874 villa with a new German wife and infant to take a good look at Gropius’ luck with his ideal of “good design for the working classes.”

The short answer from ten years of research is that his meliorism has been betrayed for mindless Tourism. The filiopietistic orgy that has just ended for the curious “90th” anniversary proved only that too many German cultural leaders suffer from a delayed Teutonic guilt syndrome. As long as I whistled along with their filiopietistic script, I was welcomed as an American mouthpiece for their thoughtlessness. As soon as I made up my mind “wrong”, I was non grata.

My loss really began at a Tagung in Dessau celebrating the 75th anniversary of the closing of the Bauhaus. Dr. Peter Hahn, former head of the Berlin Archive, was giving a talk on Mies that was like a precanonization testimony.

Now one of the major serendipities of my migrant life was meeting the last American Bauhausler, Bertrand Goldberg, at the 1970 Chicago Film Festival. He became my mentor, and every future pit stop in Chicago became a tutorial on the Bauhaus ideal, which he followed religiously to his dying day. We’d walk his dogs together as he expatiated! At our last meeting, in his club high above his masterpiece Marina, we talked again about Mies. Timothy McVeigh had bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building the day before and we were in a solemn mood.

He reminded me with rue how Mies played footsie with Alfred Rosenberg until he lost. And Mies romanced Albert Speer (unsuccessfully) until he fled in 1937 to Wood's Hole, Wyoming to do a rich man's summer home--at the instigation of Gropius. When I brought this up at the 75th anniversary Tagung, Hahn accused me of sacrilege. And more recently when I repeated this story to the former dean at the Ulm School of Design, he objected. “But he was a Catholic!”

As if that explained anything! He was often a nasty man, telling his onetime acolyte Phillip C. Johnson, that his famous glass house in Connecticut looked like a hot dog stand at night! And then there’s the house in Plano he made for his lover that proved unlivable. (It now serves as a Visitor Center to celebrate his architectural "genius”.) For a German feminist’s crit of his Weissenhof apartments, see my piece in the website of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Phillip Johnson in my opinion is the problem. He phoned Alfred Barr, Jr. the future head of MOMA/NY from Dessau in 1926, touting that new building as the greatest modernist structure he had yet seen. He should have asked the professors and students first, who alternately sweltered and froze in that many windowed factory! (I have overnighted often enough in their “hotel”, the former ateliers, to know they haven’t yet solved the temperature problems.)

But Johnson wasn’t after the truth. He wanted to brand Modernism; and become its prophet. And this parvenu from Cleveland tried to impose his hyperaestheticism on his master Gropius at Harvard! He mocked his boss viciously in private correspondence for being so working class. It was PJ who corrupted the Bauhaus visionaries into being façade fakirs for the Fortune 500. Any new ART style would do—if it attracted commissions.

But Gropius complicated his own ideal of worker housing. He wasted scarce cash by giving General Panel, his prefab venture, a HQ on Park Avenue! And his partner, Konrad Wachsmann, rented an abandoned aircraft factory in L.A.to make their prefabs! His major competitor, National Homes, based centrally in Lafayette, IN was ideally sited for interstate distribution! If the Bauhaus reputation custodians knew what they were doing, they’d field exhibitions for Charles Goodman and Bertrand Goldberg, the practical visionaries who got things done not just dreamt about.

And Gropius was lousy on follow through. He ordered everyone to photograph their work, but it wasn’t until 1955 that firemen found those photos abandoned in the attic of the main Weimar building. And it wasn’t until the 21st century that the uneven leavings appeared in album form. Gropius' speedy exit is still another example of his shaky leadership.

As the Dessau City Council drifted more and more rightwards, it was irresponsible to abandon the school to the Marxist Hannes Meyer. That he was being harangued by a crusading journalist (for double dipping salary as adviser to Torten, the ugliest suburb in history!) and hassled by a colleague over his wife are two very weak reasons for abandoning his ideal.

This last Bauhaus "intellectual" orgy has been the most fatuous PR in German cultural history. It has soiled Germany's well-earned rep for sound scholarship with fatuous hagiography.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Peter Porter

Peter Porter just died. I love his praise of poppies.

Streetside Poppies

After fifty years of writing poetry
I lust still for what is natural.

My vernacular was always bookish;
somehow I missed the right Americans,

I couldn't meld the High and Low —
even my jokes aspired to footnotes —

but I am open to Wordsworthian signs.
Along the Via Flaminia the whole

of Rome's rebuilding, cobbles
like liquorice blocks in Piazza del Popolo

and flowering by a building site
'a thin red line' of city poppies.

Time to abort my years of affectation:
burn, you petals, confront Bernini,

remember the queue of conquerors
from Alaric to General Clark.

History has clogged the open city
of the heart: it's sixty feet above

its early certainties and I
can visit churches only for the Art.

The rain's been heavy and the scarlet
of the poppies is flambeau'd along

the verge's dark viridian.
Nature, with Roman gravitas,

draws eyes away from angel angles
down to a footsore gallantry of blooms.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Howling about Ginsberg

All the hoopla about Allen Ginsberg’s first photography exhibition started me thinking about that overrated blowhard.

(His photos are boringly unartistic, anyman’s snapshots.) Our only face to face took place at the Walt Whitman Center in Camden in the fall of 1975. I was chosen to introduce his $1500 speech because of my fifteen months of fame for raising money from the nation’s English teachers to repair his caving in mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery. (I was stiffed for my $50 honorarium—Thanks, Frank!)

I was to show him the Whitman house and make him comfortable. He broke the ice with an arrogant inquiry about my qualifications re Walt. I humbly replied that I’d taught for twenty years. As we walked to the Whitman house I told him about the paradox that his mausoleum was falling down in the centennial year of the stroke that brought him from D.C. to Camden to live with his mother and brother George Washington Whitman. And that the English teachers annual convention was, providentially, in Philly that year, 1973.

I asked the Executive Committee if I could solicit cash with a sandwich board that on one side pleaded A BUCK FOR THE BARD’S BONES and verso SAVE WALT’S VAULT. They rather snootily replied, “Yes, if you abandon the meretricious rhetoric!” I didn’t, but the tight-fisted teachers coughed up $838 and we repaired his vault. (Scuttlebutt has it that it was Walt’s abstract late poetry (1891) that confused the masons laying the concrete.)

At the Beaver commencement that year I whiled away the longuers addressing Emily Dickinson postcards for the poets to celebrate. Buckminster Fuller, the speaker, asked me in the recessional what I’d been doing. I showed him an Emilygram. The next day his check for $100 arrived in the mail, last minute funding for our party!

The following birthday (May 31, 1974) we held a Graveyard Party for the local poets. I read my favorite, Dan Hoffman’s “On Crossing Walt Whitman Bridge” which chides the city for not honoring him. Beaver College Music chair Bill Frabizio, in his secular life Frank Sinatra’s must have flugel horn when he worked Atlantic City, composed a jazz suite “Perhaps Luckier” (Walt’s post Calvinist take on Death) for the NPR “All Things Considered” live broadcast.

At the Walt Whitman Liquor Store I bought nine (for the Muses)bottles of Great Western champagne (no French stuff for our hero)to loosen the poets’ tongues. Such anecdotage got Ginsberg off his high horse. As I wished him a safe journey home, he ruffled my hair sweetly like he suddenly wanted to make out. Yuck.

It recalled his feeling up Peter Orlovsky all too publicly at the Great Poetry Celebration at the Royal Albert Hall. What the hell’s wrong with that oaf I asked my wife Mary. It was our first trip outside the USA: June 1965. Mind me: I have nothing against same sex sex. The more the merrier! But discreetly.

My mother used to counsel me: Never eat if others can’t join you. His grossly feeling up Peter’s legs in that attentive crowd was gross and disgusting. The notion that anything goes when you’re liberating yourself is no more civilized than Sharia law. Allen is a false god.

Let me compare his grossness to another Columbia pioneer, Daniel Hoffmann. Take his latest work, “The Whole Nine Yards: Longer Poems (Louisiana State, 2009):

Blessings
1
When both our bodies in one whole
Were joined, their grubbing histories
& our lonely souls’ imprisoned rant
Were swept immaterially aside
Unbearable exaltation shared
That throbbing unity of the sun
Until with death of boy & girl
Subsiding in the dark cocoon
Cradled in your curving thighs
And your head on my crooked arm
We were, unknowing, all we’d done,
As infants sleep before they’re born.

2
Some instant in that deep fond sleep
Nor felt, recorded, now unknown,
A seed was sown.
Deep in your warm down body’s weal
Two cells commingled: A soul leapt
From God’s eye forth, alive and tingling,
And all that while
We slept.
(This pious celebration of the silent miracle of birth ends. . .)
Three-personed, by continual love made one.

(It’s dedicated to his dead wife Liz and live child Kate.)

This hagiography of the “sainted” Beats fifty years after we’ve had time to evaluate them is grotesque. Scientists have protocols of evaluation. For humanists Anything goes, anytime.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Media Marriage

On Remembering Your Pasts

Ben Yagoda, that funky journalism professor down In Newark, Delaware has hit a humanistic homerun with “Memoir: A History” (Riverhead Books, 2009). It melds a universal history of the genre while illuminating how it fared (and sometimes failed) throughout American history. No easy trick when he estimates that tens of thousands of such recollections followed Caesar’s “Commentaries” some three millennia ago. Julius put his description of the Gallic wars in the third person because he was reporting those battles back home to the Rome HQ.

The French word for “memory” named the field “memoirs” which entered the O.E.D. in 1678. “Autobiography” didn’t make the cut until 1809. Gore Vidal made a crucial distinction in his cleverly entitled memouir, "Palimpsest" (1996): "A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts, double-checked.” (p.3)

And the American trend gets stronger all the time. When Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House in the 1920`s, wrote his own memoir “At Random”, he noted that “fiction outsold nonfiction four-to-one. Now (1960’s) that ratio is absolutely reversed, and nonfiction outsells fiction four-to-one.” (p.239). Nielsen Book Scan notes that memoirs boomed 400% between 2004 and 2008. Why that old Inkling John Grogan even expanded the genre with “Morley and Me: Life with the World’s Worst Dog”. No pet is now safe from such psychological exploitation!

It was not so when Saint Augustine triggered a religious revolution by confessing to his moral failings in public. Yagoda notes there were prefigurings of such religious experiences in both the Old and New Testaments. But it was a long jump to Rousseau’s “Confessions”. “For some strange reason,” Rousseau’s publisher (1759-60) “had been urging me for some time to write my memoirs.” (p.58.)

Heh, publishers are ever attuned to new curiosities, are even known to invent such! But Jean-Jacques was a far cry from the holy penitent Augustine. His obsessive masturbatory maneuvers turned off many of his semi-secularized, only partially Enlightened readers. It would take awhile for Walt Whitman to make a metaphysic of his “Songs of Myself”.

Which reminded me of the great Basil exhibition a few seasons back of “Art of the Everyday”. There the curators shrewdly revealed how we Euros slowly switched from images of Saints and saintly antecedents to first an awareness then an affection for the miraculous ordinary. As Blake enjoined us: To see the world in a grain of sand. Or Walt who exulted “The mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” Descralization is the first boldly timid step of secularization. From the miracle of transubstantiation to the blessedness of orgasm. The memoir is there in all of its multifariousness to trace the transition.

America played a major role in that transformation: From Ben Franklin’s blessings on an “ordinary” life of common commerce to Mark Twain’s humorous take on the newly egalitarian life. (It reminds me that Twain’s blackout for 100 years of his autobiography is finally over this spring,as the apex of his centennial.) He’ll finally (perhaps) let us know what he really thought of his lady office manager who perhaps tried to seduce the new widow but surely did finagle his assets! And both P.T. Barnum and Ulysses Grant added their special flavor to this newly expanded Panorama of Ego.

In the thirties the Frankfurt savant Leo Lowenthal (who almost turned me to a career in anthropology!) quantified the subjects of Saturday Evening Post biographies and saw a clear transition from producers to entertainers. I followed him in Journalism Quarterly in the sixties by analyzing the subjects interviewed on TV by Edward R. Murrow and Mike Wallace. Almost all of them were entertainers! The genre endures, but the focus shifts. We shall see what Facebook and Twitterology do to the memoir. Blogs after all are daily memoirs.

My only gripe with Ben is his lack of a traditional index. People only is a hack of a guide, especially when the contents frequently cite useful humungous bibliographies and diverse examples. He shows, for example, how the Puritan John Bunyan led to the novelist Daniel Defoe. There are almost 600 names cited in his “Index of Memoirists and Autobiographers”.

I’d settle for 100 significant categories in the history of the genre. Beggars can’t be too choosy! There is plenty of time and space left for follow-ups on how our media-saturated culture deals with this increasingly democratized genre. Do we understand each other more deeply and acutely? Or do we just skitter from one superficiality or another?

You may also read a version of this piece at Broad Street Review.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Ralph Ellison and All That Jazz

Thanks to Howard University professor Robert G. O’Meally who wrote the first doctoral dissertation on Ralph Ellison, we now have a handy guide to that black writer’s obsession with American jazz, “Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings” (The Modern Library, 2002).

We learn that he went to Tuskegee because his talent on the trumpet got him a much needed scholarship even though he had to ride the rails to get to Alabama. (He really want to attend Fisk in Nashville because of its musical rep.) He was not disappointed when he found the great composer William L. Dawson on the Tuskegee faculty. And he shyly tried to connect with Duke Ellington making a courtesy visit there, but it wasn’t until he moved up to New York that Langston Hughes took him up to Duke’s apartment in Harlem.

He was thrilled that the Duke remembered their brief meeting back in Tuskegee. Ellison cherished his early Oklahoma City contact with great jazz performers like Jimmy Rushing and Charlie Christian. But as opinionated as he often was, he couldn’t stand be-bop and was fairly nasty in his putdowns of Miles Davis. So when Hunter College medievalist and jazz historian invited me to the first Newport Jazz Critics Symposium in 1958, I was thrilled to learn Ralph would be there.

My luck had begun in 1956 when I got a Ford grant in New York City to assess the way English teachers should deal with new media, especially television. Lou Forsdale up at Teachers College, Columbia had wangled Marshall McLuhan down from Toronto to psych up his troops. I eagerly contacted the funky Canuck because his prescient essays in the Catholic layman’s weekly, “Commonweal, (these appeared in 1950 as “The Mechanical Bride: The folklore of Industrial Man”, a book that had turned me on to media criticism. (I failed in my attempt to write a dissertation on McLuhan: he was too goofy to be taken seriously! My doctoral advisers said Nyet.)

So it was a consolation to do face to face with the prophet who was not yet honored in our backward country!) That Marshall Stearns could specialize in medieval culture and be the greatest jazz critic in America was more than academic consolation. By 1958, after I had moved to Penn with a Carnegie grant, I was pleased to join their palaver in Newport.

As we settled in for our first dinner at the Viking Hotel, who should arrive but Mahalia Jackson! I expressed my reverence for her art by letting her eat the last chicken dinner! And she had the last (and perhaps final) word as the jazz symposium chairman S.I. Hayakawa, that semanticist always eager to give everyone the floor, saw Mahalia at the back of the auditorium at the closing session of the conference. “What do you make of our symposium, Mahalia?” She paused, and then shyly declaimed,” I don’t knows what you all’s been talking about, but I shore do love jazz!”

I felt equally puzzled when I ran into Ralph in the press room that first Sunday, after having taken a morning constitutional along the shore among all their fancy summer retreats. To break the ice, I blathered on a a bit about the paradox about a down to earth jazz festival taking place among so many uppity Americans. Ellison blew his top, assuming I had been laying on him a raggedly old 1930’s Marxist bleat of the kind he first went for and then railed against. My pal Jerome Shipman listened to his somewhat hysterically twitting me for what I wasn’t saying. Ellison had writer’s block alright. But he never thought before he fumed.

Take Miles. Ralph wrote to his pal Albert Murray (these letters form one of the more interesting parts of this pastiche of an anthology) "I finally saw that Chico Hamilton with his mannerisms and that poor, evil, lost little Miles Davis, who on this occasion sounded like he just couldn’t it together. Nor did Coltrane help with his badly executed velocity exercises. These cats have gone lost, man.”(p.245.)

My beef with Miles that night was the way he was beating up on his girlfriend. (Fate had booked into room next door!) I have remorse every time I wonder whether I ought to have turned him in. Even though I read often enough later on that he often resorted to gratuitous violence.

Heh, It’s “Invisible Man” that counts. He writes with passion about “real” jazz and what he construes as the failed changes. It’s a treat to read his many faceted contacts with America’s greatest esthetic innovation.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Free Speech

We needn't wait 20 years to see if free corporate speech threatens democracy. We can clearly see already that the Two Americas corporate and conservative America have engendered since the 80s is off the track of equal opportunity for all. Then the executive/ worker pay ratio was 50 to 1, now it's 500 to 1. Anyone can grow up to be a billionaire is a contemptible illusion.

Our education system is great at preparing Nobel laureates, laughably incompetent at preparing high school graduates on how to live in a democracy. Social democracies in Europe thrive with free electoral TV and short campaigns. Our legislators sadly spend the time they should devote to legislation chasing media cash.

Most of them come from gerrymandered districts where their slice of the absurdly swollen military budget is all that matters. The Foxification of our news media has made a pathetic joke of my academic career of teaching the humanities so that all citizens can think clearly about political issues, whether skewed by unions or big companies.

We have reduced our politics to a sandbox and wonder pathetically why our infrastructure is dissolving before our very eyes. While we waste trillions "teaching" Afghans what Bush junior assumed to be democratic ideals, such as abusing the not so supreme court to steal the election of 2000 with brother Jeb's shenanigans followed by Slick Dick's civilianizing war through unexamined Blackwater and Halliburton robberies. We've kidded ourselves so long we don't believe we have 781 military bases around the world with a budget that outspends the entire rest of the world. Come on, Wake Up!

Patrick D. Hazard

*
We needn’t wait 20 years to see if free corporate speech threatens democracy. We can clearly see already that what corporate and conservative America have engendered since the ’80s is off the track of equal opportunity for all. Then the executive/ worker pay ratio was 50 to 1; now it’s 500 to 1.

Social democracies in Europe thrive with free electoral TV and short campaigns. But the Foxification of our news media has made a pathetic joke of my academic career of teaching the humanities so that all citizens can think clearly about political issues, whether skewed by unions or big companies.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
May 21, 2010

Please note Dan how gutted the original letter! Save the text for an EYE, running his abbreviated text and my reply.

Dear Dan: I respect the right of editor's to edit, but I was disappointed with the breadth of your knife. Surely the anomalies of Dick Cheney's presidencies are relevant to the corporate speech debate. Their Iraqi blunders are surely relevant to the corporate speech pseudo constitutionality. Dick's five excuses from Vietnam (he had other things to do) and Bush went AWOL from the Champagne Squadron. All these maneuvers are relevant to the Two Americas they left us with. Patrick

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

I Hait

I hait those typo types who can't leave well enough a loan.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Monday, 7 June 2010

Surfing: The Sport and its Lore

Between 1860 and 1910 surfing almost died out in Hawaii. Then Alexander Hume Ford, a journalist and the precocious playwright of The Little Confederate, came to the islands in 1910 looking for dramatic material. Instead he found a culture to trumpet to the world. He was particularly struck with the possibilities of reviving surf riding, which by then was practiced only occasionally at Lahaina.

He soon learned how to surf and started to teach others the old sport. He begged the site for the Outrigger Canoe Club from the Queen Emma estate, and before long he had made the surfer the image of Hawaii. Ford also helped found the Pan-Pacific Institute to make Honolulu the cultural and intellectual center of the Pacific.

Nathaniel B. Emerson contends that the sport was not restricted to nobility in the old days, as so often is heard. In ancient times the boards were ridden in a reclining position. The ancient olo (long) board was comparatively narrow and thick--about six inches--and convex on top and bottom, which made it too unstable for a standing ride. Some of the surfboards of koa wood used by the old Hawaiian chiefs have been found to weigh as much as two hundred twenty pounds, compared with the twenty-five to forty pounds of today's plastic boards.

The wiliwili boards were sometimes eighteen feet long and weighed one hundred fifty pounds. They were stained black, dried in the sun after use, rubbed with coconut oil, and put under a roof until needed again. Only chiefs used these big boards, which were thicker, tapering and convex on both sides, in contrast with the six-foot boards, made of koa or breadfruit wood, which were thin and nearly flat. Modern boards are six inches wider than the ancient eighteen-inch boards, flat on the top with a slightly convex bottom.

Back in the 1930's, when the hollow surfboard was not yet wholly accepted, Tom Blake and Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku conducted a lifesaving test with a sailor "drowning" one hundred yards behind his ship. The surfers had the man back aboard before a lifeboat manned by six men was free from the ship. That is why the American Red Cross considers the hollow surfboard the most efficient kind of lifesaving equipment ever invented. A Hawaiian rescue squad always has one.

One of the early surfing authorities, Tom Blake, pointed out that the average ride on a surfboard at Waikiki is not over two hundred yards, and the surf must be running blow-hole-break to make the ride. When the surf gets a little larger it is called first-break, and a rider can cover a maximum of three hundred yards. Only about three times a year does the great kalahuewehe, or Castle-break, run. With it you can ride the maximum distance all the way to shore.

Surfing has its mythmakers as well as its humorists. Umi was perhaps the world's grumpiest surfer in history. He was the high-living son of a king of Hawaii who insisted for his son's safety that Umi travel incognito on his pleasure and adventure trips.

Once Umi got wind of a surfing carnival at Laupahoehoe on the Big Island and sent a challenge. He raced against one of the local petty chiefs, named Paeia, for the high stakes of four large outrigger canoes (two-thousand dollar value). Umi won after a most exhilarating contest. But several years later, when he became king at his father's death, he went to Hilo to have Paeia sacrificed at the local heiau for allegedly bumping his board slightly during their contest.

From A Guide to Hawaii/Dolphin, 1965, Authentic Hawaiiana, pp. 32-34

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Kaahumanu Society

The black holoku and yellow feather lei are the official garb of one of Hawaii's prominent women's groups, the Ahahui (or Society) Kaahumanu. You will easily recognize this society by its distinctive costume at the Kamehameha Day parade and other patriotic Hawaiian celebrations.

It was founded in 1905 by a group of public-spirited women of Hawaiian blood who were distressed that no attention was being paid to the graves of the aliis at the Royal Mausoleum. They assumed the duties of supplying leis and flowers on significant Hawaiian feast days.

Later they began to take care of funerals of their own members. In 1962 there were four hundred fifty members in chapters on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu. All part- or full-blooded Hawaiian women between eighteen and sixty are eligible for membership.

Hawaii can be just tropical relaxation, which is value enough for the nerve-frazzled mainland American. But, to get more subtle values out of a visit, you should dig more deeply into this unique culture--as I have tried to lure you to do--with these vignettes on its language and customs. There is much more, all of it endlessly fascinating.

From A Dolphin Guide to Hawaii, 1965, Authentic Hawaiiana, pp. 34-35

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Hula

The revival of the authentic hula is an impressive achievement in "applied ethnology." It reminds mainland Americans that history and culture don't have to be cheapened to become economically useful. The Bishop Museum and the state's Department of Education deserve special commendation here.

The hula has almost become a trademark of Hawaii, but miles of Hollywood celluloid have perhaps distorted the true picture of the dance and its meaning. Take the grass skirt, for example. Strictly speaking, such gear is for Samoan and Tahitian shake dances. The more mellifluous-looking hula should be danced with large ti leaves making the skirt.

In the beginning the hula was a sacred dance to honor gods and praise chiefs. It was performed by trained dancers. Women wore the short skirt or pa'u; men wore a tapa-cloth malo. Especially impressive was the ceremonial, pure-white pa'u. Whale-tooth or bone necklaces and bracelets added to the decor of the professional dancers. The hula school was called the halau. While they were being trained, the dancers lived in, under strict rules.

Since the hula repertoire included about two hundred separate dances, learning was no easy task. The hula teacher, called the kumu hula, taught chants and prayers as well as dances. Chants were sung on two notes only, to the accompaniment of rattles and drums. Songs (meles) had to or three notes and were delivered mainly by poets. Meles were handed down from father to son through the generations. Some songs were prayers; others were love songs.

Through them family history was kept alive. A bard might have a hundred meles on the tip of his tongue. Dancing usually accompanied the singing of meles. Due to missionary disapproval of those scantily clad, gently undulating hips, the hula went underground until King Kalakaua, the Merry Monarch, revived it. When he crowned himself Kalakaua Rex, some two hundred hulas were danced, a testimonial to the endurance of this submerged art form.

There are several instruments generally used in hula dancing. The pu ili is made of split bamboo and makes a rattling sound when one of a dancing pair strikes the other's pu ilis. Ili ili are small, smooth stones clicked together, two by two, by each dancer holding a pair in his hands. A hollow gourd that makes an eerie set of sounds when hit in syncopation against various parts of the body is called the ipu. Seed-filled gourds that make sounds much like those of Latin American maracas, are called uli uli. Nowadays feathers in the royal yellow and red are added to enhance the color of uli uli.

For understanding the storytelling part of hula, it is necessary to master its basic "vocabulary." Hand positions and gestures for waves, clouds, stars, flowers, and water are easy for even the newcomer to decipher. Others are not much harder: a rainbow is suggested by arching finger tips; rolling one hand over another brings to mind an image of the rolling surf.

To close a story, a hula dancer brings both hands forward palm down. To dance the hula correctly, you must learn to bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor as the body shifts back and forth in a pattern resembling a figure eight. If you really want to see some fancy hulaing, to to Kapiolani Park during the summer hula festival.

The old hula survived in two environments despite the displeasure of the missionaries. In remote districts the old people tried to keep their customs alive; that is why most of the surviving hulas come from Kauai, which has always been the most isolated island. Mrs. Pukui's collection of eight hundred ninety-three hulas was mostly from the Garden Island.

Every time there was a royal progress through a village, it was customary to create a hula for the event. This was as de rigueur as making a feast for the great visitors. Mrs. Pukui believes that thirty or forty of these dignified and serious hulas still survive. The other environment where the hula led a kind of underground existence was in the brothels, where it was souped up to the sailor's sense of the bawdy.

In the most finished type of hula, gestures were very slight: a lifted eyebrow meant assent; a wriggle of the nose, refusal. What Westerners would regard as lewd hulas were danced for a serious purpose: sexual excitation to bring children to the childless. Only married people took part in this dance, in which the kumu hula would touch a man and a woman who would then retire to the dark. They might remain together for several days or until it seemed likely that conception had taken place. Issue from such liaisons was ascribed to the husband's genealogy. This particular dance was called the ume, which means "attraction" or "coming together."

From A Guidebook to Hawaii/Dolphin, 1965, Authentic Hawaiiana, pp 30-32

Friday, 4 June 2010

What Is So Great About Hawaii?

The question sounds like a simple one, until you discover that there are more Hawaiis than the one described by all the travel folders. Of course years and years of bad Kodachromes and kitschy hula music haven't been able to smother the real wallop to your senses that tourist Hawaii delivers on first encounter: that first breakfast next to the pool of the Edgewater Reef with sparrows buzzing your macadamia-nut pancakes; or, even earlier, jet-flown out of schedule, awaking to the predawn stirring of the trade winds on the lanai. The sheer sensual impact of these experiences is so completely new to most of us that it has to be felt to be believed. And when it is once felt, if you're not lucky enough to find a permanent place in the fiftieth state, you want to experience again this ever new freshness.

So there is an important physical side to Hawaii, and that is celebrated with gusto in these pages; but there is a further dimension to our newest state that I think even few of its kamaainas (Hawaiian for old-timers) are aware of. In fact, when a malihini (newcomer) like myself tries to explain this extra dimension, he is liable to be greeted by a painfully embarrassed silence or polite smiles.

I think my fresh perspective came mainly from the job that brought me to Hawaii. For the first full year of its operation, I was the director of the Institute of American Studies at the East-West Center for Technical and Cultural Interchange, a long mouthful for the most exciting idea in the United States today: a federally supported scholarship and research program at the University of Hawaii in which Asians can learn how to modernize their countries and Americans can learn more about the languages and cultures of the Asian countries we come into increasing contact with. The Institute of American Studies has the fascinating responsibility of explaining the nature of American civilization to the Asian grantees of the East-West Center.

The most challenging aspect of it for me, of course, was finding out in what ways Honolulu and Hawaii were like and unlike the rest of the United States. For this extraordinary mid-Pacific mixing (not melting) pot has kept alive several different ethnic strains (instead of grinding them down into a general American hamburger). This is much more than a toleration of diversity; it is an active cultivation of differences for their own intrinsic sakes.

It is the most important thing to learn about Hawaii. The 600,000 plus (1960 census) citizens of Hawaii have found a democratic future for America, and it works! Hawaii is not perfect in its social relationships, but it is at least halfway to paradise in its ethnic maturity. If you visit Hawaii and don't take a look at that part of its achievement, you should have gone to Miami Beach, where they also have palm trees and (somewhat) balmy breezes. In addition, then, to an exciting, sensual present, Hawaii has a Future to offer to the rest of America and to Asia.

And, as if that weren't enough, Hawaii has a Past. One might almost say the whole past of man (and mountain). For while we ate out Thanksgiving dinner at Volcano House on the Big Island, perched literally on the brink of a live and kicking, lava-making machine, it dawned on me that on Hawaii you can synopsize before your very eyes the actual formation of the earth's islands and continents.

Here on Mauna Loa, the process is still active; farther up the island at Mauna Kea, less evidence but still the possibility of eruption; next up the chain, on Maui, is Haleakala--the House of the Sun, a long-extinct but still fearsomely impressive volcano; west Maui, Kahoolawe, and Lanai are still further removed in time from the primeval upheavals; fly on to Honolulu and you have only the ancient craters of Punchbowl and Diamond Head to remind you of the terror that once rained on Oahu as its volcanoes gradually built up the island from undersea eruptions; still farther north is the Garden Isle of Kauai, where greenery thoroughly covers its oldest extinct volcanoes.

This historical record was expressed by the old Stone Age Hawaiians by their myth of Pele, who first lived on Kauai, then went island-hopping in a southeasterly direction until she disappeared into the very volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, where my geological daydream had begun. As in most myths, beneath the allegorical manner lay essential truths. But nowadays there is as much fun to be had savoring the manner as in understanding the matter. This mythic dimension is a heady bonus for the fact-fatigued American; every stone seems to be storied in Hawaii.

What is so great about Hawaii? Its fascinating Past, vigorous Present, and prophetic Future. It is the American dream of diversity in fullest embodiment.

From A Guidebook to Hawaii/Dolphin, 1965, Introduction, pp 3-5

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ten Worst Moments in the History of Books

Living five minutes by foot from the Anna Amalia Library, one of the world’s greatest, founded in 1696 by the eponymous Countess who became Goethe’s patroness, is a great blessing. (Serendipitous discoveries on its weekly New Books rack almost compensates for its dearth of English language titles.) The latest such bibliographic boon is the 12 year labor of love by Fernando Baez, director of Venzuela’s National Library, “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq” (New York: Atlas & Co.,2008, Translated by Andrew MacAdam.)

Not the least of its assets is a 35 page bibliography of almost 600 titles, getting into the particulars of library history, such as the transitions from cuneiformed clay tablets to papyrus and vellum. And most amazing of all is the ancients’ miserable batting average in passing on the complete works of major authors!

Aristotle, for example, “What we have today of Aristotle are merely class notes gathered together and preserved by bibliophiles or disciples. His first dialogues, miscellaneous writings, letters and poems have all disappeared.” (Baez, p.57.) How precarious the library was as a social institution before printing gave it a survival edge is amazing to this book lover!

More to the point is the map on page 282 entitled “Ten Worst Moments in the History of Books”:

1.Library of Alexandria, 48 BCE
2.Qin Shi Huang, Destruction of Scrolls, China, 213 BCE
3.Mongol Destruction Baghdad Libraries, 1258
4.Cordoba, Spain 980
5.Savanarola’s Auto-Da-Fe, Florence, Italy,1498
6.Burned Mayan Writings, Mexico,1562
7.Burning of the Library of Congress, Washington,D.C. 1814
8.Nazi Bibliocaust, May 10, 1933
9.Destruction of Nation Library, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Sarajevo, 1992
10.Libraries Burned in Iraq, 2003

Let’s look at the last first. Basically it was because no plans were laid for protecting Iraq after the crash victory that there was such mayhem. Baez notes sadly that he arrived to participate in a professional review of damages, that exactly 70 years after the Nazi Bibliocaust had occurred in Berlin. As the Shock and Awe campaign reached it apex, Baez notes that in the well protected Ministry of Petroleum, not so much as a pencil was stolen. The conquering Army’s values were evident: Oil mattered, Culture not.

“On April 10, a crowd gathered in the unprotected library. First they were cautious and swift, then brazen. Women and children, young and old, took away everything they could.The first group of looters knew where the most important manuscripts were and grabbed them up. Others, hungry and resentful of the old regime, came later and brought on disaster. They took the photocopy machines, the paper, computers, printers and all the furniture.” Baez, p. 269.

The vandals returned a week later with the white phosphorous they had stolen from the passive soldiers and set fire to the stacks. (Water cannot quench white phosphorous!) Donald Rumsfeld illiterate reaction:”Stuff happens!” He “reasoned” that “Freedom’s untidy, and free people aree to make mistakes and commit crimes, and do bad things.” So, clearly, are Secretaries of “Defense”.

The only other American participation in the Bibliocaust happened during the War of 1812.

The British burning of the White House, the Treasury, the Capitol and the Library of Congress was a reaction to President James Madison sending American troops into Toronto where they burned the Parliament and its legislative library. The new Library of Congress(1812) was torched in 1814.At least 2,000 books were burned.

Jefferson, always near his last dollar, recommended that the L of C buy his collection of 6,487 volumes—eventually in 1815 for $23,950, a maneuver that Baez snootily describes as “an act of cynical philanthropy”. In the interim the L of C has grown to one of the most renowned on the planet: 29 million books in 470 languages, 56 million manuscripts, 500,000 microfilm documents 4.8 million maps, and 2.7 million recordings! (Including my Folkways recording of the NAEB’s “Ways of Mankind”radio documentaries-“A Word in Your Ear: a Study in Language” and “I Know What I Like: A Study in Art”. Moe Asch wanted to make the entire series accessible on Folkways, but he passed too soon. Every quarter I get a sales report from the Smithsonian.

Last month they told me I sold $5.70 worth of I-phone pickups!. Next quarter I hope to cash in my first $25.00, the minimum! I’m going to tell them to send it to the Iraqui National Library, a token recompense for Rumsfeld’s illiterate barbarism. Meanwhile, read Baez’s history of how hard it’s been getting that most civilized of institutions up and running.

There’s even a photo from the disastrous Anna Amalia fire (an electric circuit malfunctioned) of 2004, in which Director Michael Knoche became a national hero for going into the flames and saving Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible. My wife was one of the 500 souls who formed lines of retrieval. (I was off in Finland confirming my faith in Alvar Aalto.)

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Dropping the Times

The greatest kick in Flushing
our first year in New York
was my midnight Saturday vigil
for the first truckload of Sunday Times.
Lugging holy writ home was
what came to pass for Church going.
The summer of 72 I went heretical in
picking up the Observer in South Ken, London
across Brompton from Newman's Oratory.
I looked his statue straight in its eyes.
The idea of a university, I lectured him,
is not needing any newspaper, but wanting one.

2/16/74

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Bruising Body Insides

Bruising body insides
Battering stupid muscle
with the nastiest power I had
TKO'ing people speechless
Later I married a woman
who found my heel
fighting me by not fighting
gelding me with saintly silence
None of this was clear--
until she betrayed me truly
not with another man
(He was welcome to the outside of her)
But with my daughter
Drubbing me near death
with perfidy inside
If only that Mick had kicked that shit
out of my outsides
that day in Tawas
How different these insides would have been.
2/8/75