Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tradition and Innovation in the Craft of English:

Reconnaissance for a War on Aesthetic Poverty

It may thus be well to make a reconnaissance; to go from place to place, surveying the field from different angles and levels, now far, now near, that we may form a reasonable notion of what it all portends, and how and why this crisis has come upon us—this cataclysm of birth.

                           Louis Sullivan, Democracy: A Man-Search, p. 4

The future cannot be predicted, but it can be invented.
                           Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future

February 1966


A Heady Challenge 

The report which follows describes an odyssey which began two years ago on Market Street in San Francisco, where the National Council of Teachers of English was holding its annual convention. Professor Erwin Steinberg, then director of Project English, asked me point-blank how I would like to make films for the U.S. Office of Education on new and promising techniques in teaching English. Inasmuch as every aspiring filmmaker is looking for angels, his question found an eager affirmative.

A Pragmatic Response

Between that heady moment of promise in San Francisco and my first meeting with Dr. Thomas Clemens of the U.S. Office of Education Media Dissemination Branch (sociological qualms), I had some soberer second thoughts. True, I wanted very much to be a practicing filmmaker. True, since I began teaching English in a seventh-grade English-Social Studies program at East Lansing (Michigan) High School in 1952, I had been a fiery believer in educational innovation in my chosen craft of teaching English. But my apprenticeship—two years at the tenth and twelfth grades at East Lansing, a summer stint at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and a year as an instructor of freshman and sophomore English at Trenton (New Jersey) State Teachers College—had given me many misgivings about “aids” in general, and the films, so-called, which were being used specifically in support of the English curriculum. I tried to express these misgivings in “The Public Arts” department of The English Journal when I argued we needed “printed aids” (good criticism) to the newer media which dominate the popular consciousness perhaps more than we need (if at all) the near- and non-films which (I began to believe) infested our curriculum.

Standards in Popular Culture

Moreover, a Fund for the Advancement Fellowship in 1955-56 to study the popular culture industries in New York City convinced me that our received clichés about the anti-cultural biases of the people who run our secular media were not wholly relevant. Indeed, as I watched Life’s Art Editor Bernard Quint lay out a weekly issue with Managing Editor George P. Hunt, far from feeling contempt, I began to wonder if there wasn’t really more taste-making going on in Rockefeller Center than in most classrooms. The standards were higher, the talents were greater, the desire to move ahead of rising levels of American taste was unmistakable in the integrity of its conviction. As I talked with Richard Griffith, the film curator of the Museum of Modern Art, I discovered there were institutions outside the academic establishment which were more coherently and intellectually imaginative than a great many formal educational institutions. And because the Ford year off the line allowed me, say, to watch TV director Arthur Penn give preliminary collaborative shape to an original teleplay by Abby Mann in the off-hour quiet of the Roselund Ballroom, I simply could never accept any longer the unearned sense of superiority the American intellectual feels (not thinks) about the new media.

A Paradox of Academic Ignorance

Indeed, I began to wonder if the death of indigenous drama on American television was not as much a result of the bad thinking we academicians brought to the rise of the new medium as to the bad finagling of the Hollywood speculators who gave the overt coup de grace to a promising minor art form. Life of the new kind we disparagingly and despairingly call mass culture, I learned that year in New York, has more in it than we ever dreamed of in the facile philosophies of our Faculty Clubs.

In 1957-59, as holder of a Carnegie Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, I got further perspective on the simple-sounding task of “using the newer media to teach English.” There I developed a new course to examine, Socratically, what the new forces of mass production and communication had done and were doing to the quality of American life. My essential conclusion was that the humanities in mass education were radically out of sync with the kind of aesthetic and moral decisions this new kind of society exacted from the common man. I pondered the paradox that the most useful analysis of these new conditions had been extra-academic (e.g. Gilbert Seldes’s The Seven Lively Arts (1924) and Lewis Mumford’s Technics and Civilization (1934). More exasperating was the observation that it wasn’t until a full generation later that the best academicians began to give as equivalently valuable perspectives on the new human milieu—e.g. John Kouwenhoven’s Made in America: The Arts in Modern Civilization (1949) and Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950), to suggest two intramural works which have conditioned all of my subsequent observations and speculation.

In 1959-61 I then had the good fortune to work with one of the intellectual pioneers of an adequate humanistic criticism of popular culture, Gilbert Seldes, in organizing the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, a graduate school intended to employ the intellectual and imaginative resources of the humanities in preparing professionals for responsible craftsmanship in the newer media. That opportunity provided me an invaluable education in the complexities of involving Ivy traditions with the crass realities of popular culture.

A further perspective on the troubling ambiguities of civilizing the newer media by using them for humanistic purposes came in 1961-62 when I became first director of the Institute of American Studies at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii. My task there was to encourage academicians to use the newer media to interpret the meaning of American civilization to Asian nationals learning how to modernize their countries under U.S. fellowships. Just as one never really knows a poem until he tried to teach it, so one does not truly comprehend his own culture until he tries to explain it to a more or less unsympathetic foreigner.

Most recently, I have been chairman of the English Department at Beaver College, where I have returned to the teaching of American Literature, the subject for which my graduate training prepared me, and which my interim commitment to the bog of mass culture unhappily has kept me from—given the narrow biases of the departmental system. There, ironically, in the freedom of an unbureaucraticized liberal arts college, I have been most free to pursue the innovations my interdisciplinary degree in American Culture (Western Reserve, 1957)—with two fields in American Literature and one each in American philosophy, art, and history—had encouraged me to pursue.

This thumbnail academic autobiography is not idly prefixed to this report. I regard it as a catalog raisonné of my biases as well as my (perhaps) useful differences. I suspect a report which goes so much against the grain of what is in humanistic education in America will be more understandable if not more credible if the writer suggests the intellectual itinerary which prompted him to bring back such a minority report.

The Vices of Empiricism

For it was this academic hegira, neatly balanced (I like to think) between the world of affairs and the realm of ideas, which is ultimately responsible for the speculation that follows. I say ‘speculation’ advisedly, for as an undergraduate philosophy major at a Jesuit institution (University of Detroit, 1949), with some graduate training and a continuing interest in the philosophies of history and of science, I also believe that our enterprise is insufficiently theoretical, even, God save the un-American remark, excessively empirical and anti-metaphysical. This philosophical naiveté, in fact, shows in the helter-skelter of our approach to many problems, including using newer media to teach English. My training and my hunches make me question rather fundamentally the ad hoc quality of most American educational innovation. Our virtues are our vices, however; and while flying by the seats of our pants has paid off handsomely in some sections of American life, it has, I should argue here, failed signally and abysmally in others, in fact in our very own field above all.

This instant vita, then, is more than preliminary attitudinizing. It explains, for example, why I rejected the original proposal of the U.S. Office of Education—that I simply make films spreading the good word of significant innovations in the craft of English. In my judgment, each message demands a particular medium or array of media, for maximum effect. This is an aesthetic issue of the first order, and one which should interest English teachers intrinsically, this act of judgment in deciding which manner most suits the matter at hand. I agreed, then, to address myself precisely to the problem of which media were right for which messages under certain circumstances.

A Multi-Media Report

This “report,” then, may appear strange in its form as well as in its contents. Since its rationale was the quest for ways of accelerating innovation within the craft of English teaching, it is appropriate that is should include new, or at least underused, ways of reporting. Hence, appended are two radio series, “Talking Sense” (13 fifteen-minute interviews recorded at the Ninth International Conference on General Semantics), and “Literacy 1970” (13 fifteen-minute conversations with leading policymakers in English); both series have been presented to the National Educational Radio Network (NER) with the expressed hope that such series can become a pattern for NCTE-NER collaboration in the future. This report also includes the raw materials for sound filmstrips and films (transparencies, tape, and footage) on two critical problems—teaching the disadvantaged in primary schools and teaching generative rhetoric in high school. Preliminary screening of those materials by U.S. Office of Education officials in Washington makes me hopeful that funds will be given to finish producing these teaching materials and that they will become prototypes for series.

An Idea Bank for English

Through a series of questionnaires to state education departments and a mailing list of opinion leaders in the National Council of Teachers of English, we have identified a group of teachers like Thelma Hutchins teaching Detroit’s disadvantaged at the primary level and Russel Hill teaching generative rhetoric at the secondary. Their idealism and their styles need to be known in the profession, both to teachers already at work through national conventions, local conferences, and departmental meetings, and through teacher education courses. We hope the Hutchins and Hill projects will be promptly approved so that we go back to our Idea Bank and get more fresh ideas circulating in our craft through photoessays, filmstrips, 8-millimeter film loops, and 16-milimeter sound movies. I would suggest also that we not limit circulation to educational media. Just as English teachers begin to realize that the most “educational” films are sometimes showing at the local theatre or on television, so our story of educational innovation increasingly interests the public at large.

Long Range / Short Range

In this report I have tried to do two different but related things: to dig for reasons for the unsatisfactory response of the humanist to mass education and communication; and to suggest a few very specific ways that the humanist can begin to use mass communication to help solve the problems of mass education. Both perspectives are essential. The first is long-range; the second, immediate. Without the former satisfactorily analyzed, we shall never establish a wiser relationship between mass education and communication; without the latter we shall never really have confidence in mass communication as a legitimate part of the humanistic enterprise.

I have been in the humanists’ orbit long enough to know the risks I take in pushing candor to the limits in this report. On the one hand, I know that the educator-audio visual group will find unconvincing my conviction that only really serious art, firmly confronted, can unleash the human energies needed to extricate us from a depressing array of morasses. On the other, I know that the humanists’ century-long sneer-in at mass communication ill disposes them to see in the media as art authentic solutions to frustrating educational dilemmas.

I’m sorry. That’s the way it looks to me: the breach between the sentimentalists who run things in America and the predetermined idealists who feel we’re already too ruined to worry is exactly the cleavage this essay proposes to diagnose. Had I not the precedent of the irrelevance of the 17th-Century British university intellectuals as well as the firm conviction that America has become a middle-class ancien regime run by what C. Wright Mills called crackpot realists, I should not risk the hubris this essay seems to imply. So be it. This is the way I see it.

Beyond Bureaucratese

I have written this report as a personal essay as an experiment in bureaucratic communication. Having been so appalled at the newspeakishness of bureaucratese, I now run the risk of seeming impertinent. Others perhaps will find a happier medium than either. My only regret is that resisting committee-like diction tends to obscure the contribution of John Bigby to the report. A former mass-media student of mine at the University of Santa Rosa (California) for several years, thus possessing a rare combination, solid training in the liberal arts with an adventurous approach to mass communication. He has been indispensable every step of the way. And Judith Quigg showed in her work as project secretary that the more responsibility one give undergraduates, the more they relish taking, a phenomenon our educational routines don’t take nearly enough note of. I should also like to thank the administration of Beaver College, especially Dean Margaret LeClair, for extending the greatest latitude to us in the execution of our project.

                                                      Patrick D. Hazard

30 Août 1965

Place de Fontenoy


N.B. Part II, “Strategy,” is possibly too ambitious an effort to explain for myself and other English teachers why the humanities are so estranged from mass society and mass education. There is so little of this kind of speculation that everyone ought at least to try to define the issues as I have here. The naturally skeptical are advised to begin with Part III, “Tactics,” which is concerned with setting priorities in a war on aesthetic poverty. Part IV, “Logistics,” tries to anticipate road blocks and practical difficulties.


Humanist scholars have been accused of being overly genteel, contemptuous of popular culture, snobbish and anti-democratic after the fashion of their aristocratic Renaissance progenitors, backward looking, hostile to the present, fearful of the future, ignorantly petulant about science, technology, and the Industrial Revolution—“natural Luddites.” “It is a sad thought indeed that our civilization has not produce a New Vision,” a modern technologist complains, “which could guide us into the new ‘Golden Age’ which has now become physically possible, but only physically…Who is responsible for this tragi-comedy of Man frustrated by success?…Who has left Mankind without a vision? The predictable part of the future may be a job for electronic predictable, which is largely a matter of free human choice, is not the business of the machines, nor of scientists…but it ought to be, as it was in the great epochs of the past, the prerogative of the inspired humanists.” (Dennis Gabor, “Inventing the Future,” Encounter, May 1960, p. 15.)

Scholars in the humanities may modestly reject the suggestion that they can ever be the inspired prophets of a new age. But their scholarship is essential to enable us to distinguish the inspired prophets from the fanatical Pied Pipers.

                                    Richard Schlatter, general editor, The Princeton Studies:
                                    Humanistic Scholarship in America, in Walter Sutton,
                                    Modern American Criticism

The Arts are for all, like the bluebells, and not for the few. They should become, in some form or another, common in an uncommon way, in the home, in the school, in the church, in the street, and in the parks where man sits to think and look around. They must be brought among the people so that man may become familiar with them, for familiarity breeds, not contempt, but a liking.

                                    Sean O’Casey, “The Arts Among the Multitude”

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

America’s Architectural Obliviousness

Americans don’t dislike architecture. They’re oblivious to it. I first recognized this about twenty years ago when I was Greyhounding around to look at Louis Sullivan’s Midwest banks, those architectural gems he called his “jewel boxes.” I was the only passenger on the early morning schedule from Dayton to Sidney so I asked the bus driver as we pulled into the New England-like town square if I could have a few extra minutes stop. I wanted to take a good look at the bank with the splendid signature “THRIFT” scrawled Art Nouveau-gishly across its façade. He said sure, he had to take a smoke.

In fifteen minutes he picked me up as agreed in front of the bank, and remarked, “You know I must have driven past that bank hundreds of times and I never even noticed it. It’s really pretty, isn’t it?” You got that right, my epiphinated Greyhound bus driver, and how I wish I could quicken the eyes of your fellow compatriots so that they could see the rich visual heritage they are wasting when they’re so oblivious to the realities of American architecture. 

I am researching what I hope will become one small catalyst in this necessary awakening: “100 Great North American Spaces.” I say Spaces because I want people to realize that the Ezra Stoller Syndrome deadens us to the architectural verities when it photographs empty (i.e. people-less) buildings isolated from their surroundings. A building is a sight for sore eyes when it is sited properly in local spaces. I say North American because I want a sort of architectural NAFTA, an opening up, say, to the lively differences between Luis Barragan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Douglas Cardinal. 

I need your help in narrowing down the 100 Greats. There should be diversity as to genre, era, and region. Will you nominate your “must chooses?” A postcard to me would be fine. Or a FAX. Opinionated communications even more valued. To give you the idea, I hereby prime your pump.

Thorncrown Chapel
E. Fay Jones
F.L. Wright
T. Jefferson
High Rise
Marina Towers
B. Goldberg
Canadian M Civ
D. Cardinal
Trinity, Copley Sq
H.H. Richardson
Owatonna Farmer’s
Louis Sullivan
Oakland Museum
Kevin Roche
Mass Housing
National Homes
Charles Goodman
Gateway Arch
Eero Saarinen
Vietnam Memorial
Maya Lin
PSFS Building
High Rise
Medical Dental/SF
Timothy Pfleuger
The Roeblings
Biltmore, Asheville
R.M. Hunt
Peachtree Plaza
John Portman
Miami Beach
A. Isosaki
P. Soleri
Mesa Verde
Artist’s Colony
State Capital
B. Goodhue
Public Park
F. Olmsted
Columbus, IN
Public Park
Mud Island/Memphis
R. Harrover
Barnard’s/Ole Miss
F. Barnard
San Antonio
E. Ambasz

Monday, 26 November 2012

What Philly Could Really Learn From Paris (If It Dared To)

The historic encounter between Philadelphians and Parisians the Foundation For Architecture organized was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our city to get its priorities straighter. What can we learn from the French experience of the “Great Projects” to make Philadelphia a more viable and valuable city? A few Big Things, and many, many Little Things.

The Biggest Thing we can learn, paradoxically, is to retrieve our Revolutionary Heritage, practically lost because of our own intellectual laziness and an excess of consumerism. Alas, Tom Paine is better known and respected today in Paris than in his once native Philadelphia. The “Great Projects” of Francois Mitterand did not spring full-blown from the empty head of a French bureaucrat. They are the outward signs that the Socialist President of France still takes very seriously the inner graces of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite. The French take their culture seriously, from the quality of their morning baguette or croissant to the ordinary wine of the working man’s evening dinner. Their funding of the Great Projects is on a continuum which begins with the smallest details of everyday French life and culminates in the Great Projects.

Because we deny our revolutionary heritage (even though the French every once in a while try to remind us—out of gratitude for our original gift of the idea of Liberty to them—with mnemonic aids like the Statue of Liberty), we don’t see culture as a daily manifestation of wholesome vitality but more as an only on Sunday museum visit thing. The myth of American classlessness distracts us tragically from the gritty class realities the French express openly, in a continuing effort to make all Frenchmen proud of la gloire even though separated by class and region. Our feeble equivalent is the Disneyland Response, denying the particularities of our troubled history with a Dopey / Sleepy infantilism.

The myth of classlessness has another debilitating effect on our culture life. The donnybrooks we have endured recently over the piddling pittances we have given to the National Endowments of the Arts and of the Humanities are ludicrous compared to the steady, substantial funding of the arts including architecture throughout France. We act as if Culture is a Band Aid to mollify lesions on the body politic. It is a potentially fatal mistake to construe Culture as good because it aids tourism. Culture for the bottom line is putting the cart of economy before the horse of personal cultivation. The arts are important because they civilize us, not because they make tourists want to stay an extra day. The French know that in their bones. And tourists from all over love the way they live and lived.

Another sad dimension of our misapprehension of the way culture works is the desperation with which we seek funding for the arts. The most recent example is the disgracefully sycophantic way the Philadelphia Museum of Art wangled to get Ambassador Annenberg to add his collection to theirs. (At about the same time the management of that cultural institution cut the pay of its guards. The French would never countenance such hypocrisy.) You would never know from the way the Powers that Wanted to Be More cosseted Walter Annenberg that he has been by all accounts the worst newspaper publisher in 20th-Century Philadelphia—managing the news like the tyrant of a banana republic.

Why? Because in the deficit-ridden cultural sector, money talks; big Enough Money Stops All Talking. The trouble with this Tax Deduction Philanthropy is that we common taxpayers ultimately pay for the MegaDonor’s munificence and eponymic hunger to have his name on everything in sight with our April 15 mites. The French tax the Biggies big and let is go at that. The French people then decide through their representatives how and when to fund culture.

Recently, I saw just how debilitating this system of ours can be to the working artist. After a screening of his luminous 83-minute documentary, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, at the Hot Springs Arkansas Film Festival, U. of Colorado film instructor Jerry Aronson told me of his ten-year ordeal to raise the $250,000 to finish his film. PBS didn’t want to touch it: Ginsberg, after all is gay, charismatic, and politically-minded. HBO told him to come back after Ginsberg had died! 

So how did he raise the final half of the money? From the French / German culture TV consortium, ARTE, and from the Japanese public television network NHK. Nice going, Yanks. American TV execs treated Aronson with disdain; European and Asian functionaries couldn’t get him into a screening room fast enough. I hope we Americans have the humility to ask the French serious questions about the role of funding in the life of the arts in our ravaged cities. The French don’t just fund the arts. They have day care, health care, subsidies for families raising children. You can’t expect a family worrying itself to death over mere survival to go all out for Culture.

Those are some of the Big Things. But it’s the Little Things where I think we can begin to learn what we need to learn from the French. I still remember my joy at first seeing Parisian garbage collectors in their funky lime-green jumpsuit uniforms. I was going into the press office at the Louvre at the time, and I almost got run over by one of those humungous Parisian buses, I was so mesmerized by this vision. Our garbage collectors dress in their own UrGrunge and drop great gobs of garbage on the street in their sloppy pick up habits. They despise what they do, and they despise us for despising them for doing their well-paid-enough job so despicably. We don’t really live in a community in Philly anymore. We cohabit the same spaces in diverse but sullen styles of withdrawal and alienation. If we actually listened to our artists—if we read poems, say, like Daniel Hoffman’s “Power”—we wouldn’t be reeling from crisis to crisis, a tabula rasa of a civilization with no memory and this no prospects.

I once taught a poetry seminar at the Holmesburg Detention Center, and the best student poet got to read his stuff one evening at the Northeast Regional Library, accompanied, of course, by a guard earning overtime pay. Do you know what that guard said to me after his great audience response? He didn’t join in the congratulations to the beaming prisoner. He whispered to me, with a stupid grin on his face: “Heh, this poetry stuff is O.K. More overtime.”

When Mayor Rendell or David Cohen argue that culture is good for the bottom line, “essential” to our economic future, I want to tell them, “Eddie and Dave, the arts are for civilizing individuals, for making it possible for all of us separate atoms to imagine and then create a common heritage, a (do we even recognize the word?) community.” The French already know this and determine their arts policies accordingly. The trouble is, I think they may be too polite to tell us. 

Let’s just hope enough of that natural French arrogance expresses itself when we ask them how to turn South Broad Street into another Beaubourg. You don’t, as they well know, start with architecture; you start with a steady and vigorous daily life out of which can grow, if we’re lucky and inventive, Great Projects. In other words, you can start with great baguettes and superb croissants. The infrastructure of Culture is daily lives well-lived. Big Things out of Little Things grow.

As the great English poet William Blake put it (ironically, since he was commenting on the rationalistic excesses of the French Revolution), “He who would do me good must do it in Minute Particulars.” Let’s hope the conferees at the Foundation for Architecture affair at the Top of the Bellevue November 10th get their Minute Particulars right.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Revving Down on the French Revolution

Thought you could never survive the Bicentennial Blitz unleashed by the French (and Francophiles the world over) in memory of their revolution? Well, it was a case of Tricolor Overkill. But oddly, two of the best exhibitions seem to have been saved for last.

I speak of the Lafayette show at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (through Jan. 21) and “Architects of Liberty: 1789-1799,” at the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris.

I have only the vaguest image of the Marquis over the years. I knew he was a goodie, but I had no conception of how exemplary a man he was. A French noble couldn’t volunteer for duty outside the country without royal permission until he was 25, but 19-year-old Lafayette wasn’t going to let any Ancien Regime regulation keep him from serving in the American Revolution, which he considered the wave of the future (long before Francis Fukuyama declared the End of History in 1989).

He sneaked out of Bordeaux with his retinue, and when American patriots sniffed at the major-generalship our American man in Paris had given him, he said he’d pay for his participation out of his own culottish pocket.

Washington, who had no natural son, came to regard the enthusiastic nobleman as his adopted one. And the Marquis, whose natural father had died in his infancy, repaid the compliment by thinking of the noble Virginian as his adopted father.

How grand that he named his first son George Washington Lafayette (I haven’t been so pleased since learning that Mark Rosenthal’s son Theo was named after the fabulous Monk, or that Yale dean Eugene V. Rostow was really Eugene Victor Debs Rostow—I hope there will be a surge of Max Weiner Somebodies in the future). Lafayette named his first daughter “Virginie” after the American state closest to his heart.

My bicentennial reading had filled me in on how the Marquis had formed the National Guard (to guard the new “nation”) and that he was in the thick of the turbulence that led to the Terror and the regicide. But I had missed the sad fact that he had languished in an Austrian jail for five years.

So much the more just, then, that his triumphal tour of the United States in 1824-5 gave thousands of Americans (including the largest crowd—20,000—in Philadelphia) a chance to revere publicly this idealistic, principled man. I love the scene of a float of the Philadelphia Printers’ Guild grinding out a tribute to the honoree as they rolled down Market Street.

The catalog makes a marvelous evening’s reading. In our present muddled state, it’s more than edifying to remember how much America meant to a Europe eager to throw off the shackles of the Ancien Regime.

How pathetic that, as with our vaunted bipartisan foreign policy, we somehow managed during the past two centuries to let our ideals stop at our frontier—perfectly willing, for example, to let banana republics parody our first, fine, careless rapture for democracy.

There is rue of a different kind in the “Architects of Liberty” exhibition. Not since I visited the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in 1981, to see the first great showing of Russian avant-garde since Stalin lowered the Socialist Realist boom, have I felt so sad about unrealized architectural idealism.

The architectural section in Moscow displayed project after project of Constructivist buildings that never saw the light of day. Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” is but the most famous failed fantasy. Hundreds of buildings designed to accommodate the new vision of socialism never got past the drawing boards of the Soviet architects.

So it was in France, where there were plans for temples to the Goddess of Reason, monuments to Liberty, new assembly halls where the shape of the sphere would exemplify equidistant equality (which I covered in more detail here on December 6). Their classical vocabulary speaks more eloquently to my eye than 80% of buildings actually erected in the West.

Rather than palaver over the decade that ended in despair, let me use the space to show you an Etienne-Louis Boullee and a quirky non-architectural Jean-Jacques Lequeu, suggesting why the anti-clericalism of the revolutionaries led inevitably to a turbulence in French life that eclipsed the first fine careful rhapsodies of revolutionary idealism.

From Welcomat: After Dark, January 3, 1990

Friday, 23 November 2012


Somehow I’ve felt this year that the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has been following me. In London in June, at the National Portrait Gallery, I got my first long look at his work—and was underwhelmed.

An excess of self-portraits as well as of his pal Patti Smith conveyed the sniff of self-indulgence. Then in October, at the Palais de Tokyo, I got a fuller view of his oeuvre—and began to be interested.

The French grouped his homoerotic pictures in a back, X-rated room with a disclaimer. Except for the clearly contentious “Man in Polyester Suit,” in which a headless black man displays his semi-erect penis, Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic images are oddly distanced. You think of Greek idealism—bodies so perfect in their arête that you are reflexively ashamed of your own flesh.

Certainly these celebrations of man-to-man love are 180 degrees removed from, say, the glory-hole sleaze of promiscuous San Francisco bath houses. They are even strangely ascetic in their aestheticism.

In Paris, Mapplethorpe co-showed with Elliot Erwitt, that witty oddball of a photographer, an ironic Diogenes who prowls our precincts looking for the funny serendipity. The juxtaposition told me one thing that made me nervous about Mapplethorpe—his high humorlessness.

An aura of gloom, a promotion of disaster stalks his images. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing his affliction with AIDS. But however gifted he is as a pioneer of new experiences, he could still use a little levity. “How serious I am,” he seems to bray at me.

With these sorts of already-formed thoughts, I went to the Institute for Contemporary Art’s local ample retrospective. It’s the most catholic of the three retros (it was too hot for my muse to travel to New York last summer to see how the Whitney handled him.)

For a start, it exposes the 3-D mirror sculptures—“everyone can be his own Narcissus” play panes (it’s the nearest he gets to a saving wit). And it displays the marvelously evocative flower photos. Even if this artist were not a frontiersman of homosexual experience, he would merit our attention for the stunning classicism of these flower pictures.

And his celebrations of Lisa Lyons, body builder, are the strongest statements of female sensuousness I have ever seen. I hate body-building as an activity. Nonetheless, her body, especially emerging dripping wet from the sea, is an apotheosis of the female body. Bisexuality has never had a stronger voice.

Robert Frost’s “The Gift Outright” asserts that, in the beginning, America was “artless, unstoried and unenhanced,” until our artists and writers domesticated our new experiences in permanently resonant forms of poem, painting and photo.

Mapplethorpe is surely an eloquent enhancer. His sexiness does not reside in the occasional free-standing black dick, but rather in his Blakean celebration of the uses of discrete human experiences. How sad that he is dying so young. His images will surely live forever.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment: At ICA, 34th and Walnut Streets, through January 29.

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, December 1988

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Don’t Leave London Without It

London: Without, that is, seeing the American Express-sponsored “Rembrandt” show at the National Gallery of Art—in the spanking new Sainsbury Wing by Philly arch-mogul Robert Venturi.

Incidentally, when Venturi gave the Cigna lecture in 1985 on his plans for the commission, I trashed him from the floor for sounding too Las Veggy in his plans to make culture more accessible to born-again Brit slobs. I was wrong in almost all of my canards. It is accessible without too stupidly stooping to conquer. The detailing proves the truth of William Blake’s admonition: He who would do me good must do it in Minute Particulars. Venturi’s minute particulars are truly glorious—from the canny joining of the old building to his new wing with reflective glass that separates without disjoining, to the neat stanchions that praise 19th Century painted-cast iron railway station pillars by subtly imitating them, to the functional details of the small screening theatre where a handy rail guides you in the dark and another corral of a barrier keeps overflow crowds from getting in the way of exiting patrons.

Only the man in the cloak room had justifiable complaints: it’s too mechanized for its own goods; he even twitted Venturi on the minute particular of the garment checks: instead of two loose checks only one of which is ever handed out, he advised Venturi next time in imbed the one onto the hanger itself. (If you really want to make functional architecture, you gotta ask the guy who works there day after day.) Such nitpicks aside, it’s a grand building and goes a long way towards getting him out of Hazard’s Doghouse for having written that foolish book, “Learning from Las Vegas.”

Then, of course, let’s not forget Rembrandt. Begin with the short film on R as a history painter. (He was good in the other four genres of the era—portraits, still-lifes, landscapes, and genre—but he was especially gifted at turning historical turning points into moments of illumination.) 

This is the first big retrospective of R in 23 years and that in itself would be sufficient cause for rejoicing, but a great scholarly dustup over how many of the 3000 works attributed to him were really from his hand gives a special tartness to the display. It turns out that R was such a great teacher that beaucoup of his students turned out R-looking works. So maybe only a third of the Rembrandts in the world’s museums are really his—but all of them remain damn interesting.

Next door at the National Portrait Gallery there’s a boffo show on George Bernard Shaw which has been guided in its contents by his brilliant biographer, Michael Holroyd. It’s a gasper of a gloss on Britain’s second greatest playwright. There’s a 1930ish Movietone newsreel in which he clowns before the camera, slowly pirouetting to give the director both “profeels” of his quirky visage. 

I never knew that Shaw came from an impoverished Anglo-Irish gentry family, eager to get out of getting-poorer-all-the-time Ireland. This helps to explain his obsession with Socialism he started as a secretary for a friend of his mother’s who ran a magazine in London, then graduated to anonymous music reviews, little by little taking on drama crit, and then of course writing plays which still touch us deeply to this very day. Don’t miss this freebie. (The Rembrandt is also worth the £5 fee in any case.)

Then, as if this is Philly Time in Merrie Old England, there’s an eye-popping swatch of Alexander Calder at the Royal Academy of Arts—a ten-minute hike (through Piccadilly Circus). AC is an obvious effort of the usually stodgy old RAA to join the twentieth Century—like its year-old peekaboo John Portman-type elevators. A passel of Pakistani moppets were ogling Calder. They’d not heard of Philly. Heh, with both Calder and Venturi at work, they’ll soon get the word: Philly’s Phun.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Crystal Palace Syndrome

Human innovations are rarely perfect. In the case of modern architecture, the first fumbles derived from dealing irresponsibly with the new materials popularized by London’s Crystal Palace, the showplace for the first industrial world’s fair (1851): glass, iron and concrete.

Glass dazzles, and as early as 1910 Walter Gropius designed his Fagus shoe last factory with an all glass exterior: it looked good, but wasted energy and diminished control over factory lighting. Ditto, his Dessau Bauhaus HQ(1926). Professors and students alike complained: too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer. But it looked great in the photos sent over the world.

Mies van der Rohe was especially given to excess glass. The weekend retreat he built for his Chicago girlfriend Dr. Farnsworth in Plano, Illinois wasted so much energy she took him to court! Too much glass was a bad habit he inherited from his own Crystal Palace, the Barcelona Pavilion(1928). Temperature-wise, Illinois was no Spain! The 1950 structure proved uninhabitable: in 2005,faute de mieux, it became a Visitor’s Center honoring the architectural genius of Mies. Huh?

The Modernoid flat concrete roof maneuver those newly traveling architects picked up from North Africa. It looked good, neat and tidy. But roofs leaked, absent African sunshine. Alas they glibly dumped the gable, the greatest architectural breakthrough since humans inhabited caves. Another weakness of concrete was its vulnerability to rot! The older the concrete building, the uglier it looked.
As Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic for the “Financial Times (11/17/12) put it recently: “Concrete has been the dream material of modernity for more than a century. It can be moulded and formed .It can be polished, sculpted and bush-hammered; it can smooth and shiny, or gritty and graffitied. But it can all too easily be mouldy and deformed, cracked and stained: a nightmare for those who have to live in the degraded, cornercutting towers and underpasses of a degenerated modernist utopia.” Hence my neologism “MODERNOID”, i.e. foul or failed modernism.

But the same genius that gave us great modern architecture has also found ways to save even “bad” cement. The Dutch scientist Henk Jonkers of the Delft University of Technology discovered that many of cement’s weaknesses can be solved by implanting bacteria at the construction stage “These micro-organisms would be dormant inside the material until water penetrated deeply enough to indicate there was a problem—at which point they would activate and begin to repair cracks in the material in the way that bone heals itself when fractured.” 
That proves to me that the Humanities (Art) and Science (techno-innovations)are compatible, indeed properly cooperative. Heathcote cites other breakthroughs that a society with infrastructure problems (a.k.a. America)that these traditional intellectual enemies should kiss and make up. 

Indeed, ignorant as I have been, as a secluded humanist, about both business and science, the cultural section of the weekend “Financial Times” is the most valuable intellectual stimulation I have found since emigrating to Europe. FT is almost as mentally useful as the weekly “Economist”which gets better and better, as “Newsweek” declines to digital in 2013 and “Time” prints more and more pictures than prose. (And that’s no “Life”!)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Subject: Daniel Barenboim

Dear Mr. Wagner,

Your piece on Barenboim is splendid. I came to Weimar in 1999 to write a book on Gropius. And watching the East-West Divan orchestra begin was one of the intellectual thrills of my life. As a retired professor of Americal Lit (85!) I use BILD as my  belated aid for learning German--in spite of the fact that the relatives of my new German wife mock me for reading such "trash".

Their snootiness is wrong. Tabloids are the way foreigners should approach a foreign langage. (But I'll never win that argument: at least my Hildegard admits you're worth reading!)

But I write for the website of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia (my last hometown). Broad Street is Philly's main drag. I'll send you a piece of my Gropius book to give you an idea of why I want to write a piece about you and BILD.

Sincerely, Dr. Patrick D. Hazard, Seifengasse 10, Weimar 99423. (We just paid off the bank for our third floor flat in a villa built in 1782. Do you know who lived at Seifengasse 1?)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Frill Lit

Everything That Has Been Shall Be Again: The Reincarnation Fables of John Gilgun
The Bieler Press, P.O. Box 3856, St. Paul, MN 55165,  $7.95.

America's culture is a mystifying mess as I sit glumly pondering the teaching implications of No Frills Lit and the long-range fallout from the chutzpoi hypesters putting the Muses in the S and M bondage of the Con Glom Ratings race, I get the pleasant and reassuring diversion at hand.

I’ve never heard of John Gilgun before—although I’ve been a insatiable savourer of wood cut-up Michael McCurdy ever since he graced a Beaver Arts Festival ten years ago. To have his images—ant, bear, cow, fox, gnat, hen, mouse, peacock, worm—Take Nine for old Ms. Muse—is more than worth the price of admission. (I paid $10 for his gloriously fey face of Walt Whitman ten years ago!) The way McCurdy cannily cases the woods’ grain masses to take into account the diverse anatomies of his bestiary is miracle enough to stagger sextillion of infidels!

But picking up on Gilgun is as upon first looking into Chapman’s Homer type experience. The basic theme is the continuity of all life. No species’ existence is beneath wonder, even (perhaps even especially the gnat—whose opening line is “I was never nothing.” And whose closing act is a happy immolation in the flame of “Absolute Truth.” The AT of course is the same as Whitman’s famous flora—the ever verdant grass. Lives pass but life endure, even prevails. (An “absolute” the resurgent peace movement would dearly love to keep truthful.)

These Aesopian Fibbles tease as they teach us into a reverence for the lives we only (alas) half lead. “Cow” is a fable about a modal Earth Mudder who keeps things mooooving for all the calves (and the occasional bull) who come her way. “Fox” is a wilily lubricious politician who will (literally) eat the innocent goose of a lady reporter trying to advance her career as a journalist with an exclusive interview. A deadly seduction. “Bear” recounts an utopian vision of the Golden Ursal Age when bear was all. 

“Hen” is a hilarious spoof of a creature writer teacher who pecks away nervously, neurotically in a non-ovoid reincarnation. “Mouse” is an all gray dirge about a light but non-stop eater who used to lead an equally mousey life as a wire rope corporation foreman in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

“Peacock” is a jaded tale about a Charlestown, S.C. aristocrat condemned to strut before the creepy hoi polloi. “Worm” is a short hilarious dialogue between Mrs. Noah and a worm signing on for the rainy voyage. “Magician of the clay” proudly boasts that all creation “begins and ends with me, the lowly worm.”

O.K. so it’s only 67 pages long. After all, this is “frill” lit. I just phoned down to the desk at my Moline, Illinois hotel to see what a carton of cigarettes costs these days. “$7-8,” the startled lady replied. Well, there you are. Don’t grumble about B.S. (for best seller) Culture. Go for the unfree frills. 

After all, you’ve already subsidized the Bieler Press’s grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Bieler, my son who stuffed it in my Xmas sock tells me, means Little Brat. Make that Funky Little Brat after you’ve read “Ant,” a scary Kafkaesque tale about a non-conforming insect who tries to unGulag his Ant Hill. Zowie. Put some new frills in your literary life for the Gnu year.

Friday, 16 November 2012

“Tempest in a pulpit”

Boy, am I glad I will never have to run against Destroyer Dan for anything. Who’d have thunk he could nail the too late Arlen as the spectre who tried to make a yokel out of Yeakel?

Monday, 12 November 2012

Who Owns Antiquity?

I was astonished today to read a headline in a Halle (Saale) Germany newspaper that the Archaeology Department of that city’s University was shipping back to Australia their unique collection of Aboriginal skeletons! It reminded me of Blake Gopnik’s perceptive essay,” Who Owns Antiquity?” (Newsweek, September 17, 2012, pp.52-53). It began with the fascinating detail that in 1966, the archaeological museum at the University of Pennsylvania bought a unique collection of gorgeous Bronze Age gold pieces from a private dealer in Philadelphia. They didn’t know about how this purchase would revolutionize future museum behavior, globally.

Penn had no idea about where or how these 24 gold objects had been found. That left the researchers with few clues as to where or when the gold had been worked or by whom. They suspected it had been dug up by looters! In their frustration they decided to prevent such “homelessness” for other antiquities! In 1970 they declared that the Penn museum would no longer acquire ancient objects if their legal provenience could not be determined. Later that year, UNESCO declared a convention on cultural property that other responsible institutions have followed to this day.

Last month Penn declared a corollary. It rejected the 1966 rule of thumb, by returning the acquisition of the Trojan Gold to Turkey on indefinite loan, to be displayed in a new museum near Troy itself.(They reached a bargain with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.) Chemical analysis had determined that a speck of dirt lodged in the 2,600 year old jewelry came from near Troy, although long before Homer’s war there. What did Penn get in this deal? Its museum will host shows about great Turkish excavations as well as have priviledged access to those digs. 

How civilized a solution to a world globally shrinking as its intellectual heritage deepens. Brian Rose, a Penn archeologist involved in these negotiations, argues that his museum is interested like others in the “archaeological narratives” that go with such objects which should be displayed near the site where they were excavated. He noted that Penn wanted to make a strong statement about looting and cultural preservation. “Archaeologists,” he argues,  "have to be diplomats as much as they have to know the archaeology of the ancient world, because there’s a political dimension to everything we do now.”

Take the Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent purchase of a beautiful head of Drusus Minor, the bloodthirsty son of the Roman emperor Tiberius, the “Caesar” Christ wanted us to “render unto”. The museum’s director, David Franklin, believes this marble sculpture will be among the CMA’s top 50 treasures. Alas, he also recognized the 2000 year old object had no solid paper trail of acquisition. The French family which put it up for sale in 2004 brought it to France in 1960, where they moved from Algeria, and they had already owned it for almost a century. 

Franklin argued “that they did as much if not more than anyone could have done to research the this object. . .if all the arrows are pointing in one direction, you can make a reasoned assumption.” The inevitable risks that this assumption might turn out wrong are balanced by the open access visitors and scholars now have to enjoy the work. He argues that such works were not created as “antiquities”. They were meant to please from Day One. And great museums take better care of such masterpieces than most private owners.

There is another downside to the tradition of repatriation begun at Penn. They play into the ambition of every member of the U.N. to possess any and all objects created within their current boundaries. Except that over centuries a marble bust like Drusus belonged to many different countries, not all equally qualified to protect their great value to the greater “nation” of art lovers.

James Cuno, now the head of the Getty Museum in L.A., has perhaps made the last and most credible judgment about “possession” in his classic book, “Who Owns Antiquity?” Cuno rejects the assumption that “modern nation-states own the cultural remains of antiquity that lie within their boundaries simply because they are found there.

These claims are motivated by nationalist politics intent on strengthening government claims of political legitimacy by appealing to racial, ethnic and cultural pride.” One could argue that in an intellectual struggle between individual groups and the entire human community, the larger trumps the smaller. We value great art because it civilizes the free. And we value all human communities, whatever their size. We all “own” antiquity when we freely learn from it and share our esthetic joys with others. So down with looters and up with lovers!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Best of All Possible Elections

Regarding Dan Rottenberg's An Election to Celebrate, Really:

Your proposal to eliminate debate moderators is undebatable. TV moderators have mostly been immoderate egos trying to justify their indispensable value as moderators. Man-to-man confrontations (whoops! I mean person-to-person confrontations— my dream of Hillary in 2016 slipped into my rationalizing!) will tell us more about the candidates’ characters than an immoderator pretending to be unobjectively objective.
Debate moderators are needed for immature high school debaters, not needed between grown ups.

Swabbie, WWII

Patrick D. Hazard, Electronics Mate 2c, 19, Pensacola Naval Air Station, US Navy, Spring 1946, front and center

Saturday, 10 November 2012

"Speak Out, Mo Yan!": Ruminations on the Latest Nobel Laureate

Mo Yan, the first Chinese resident to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (jailed dissident Liu Xiabo who was Nobeled in 2000, but moved to France!), was born in 1955 to a farming couple on the dusty plains of the eastern Shandong Province. He was named Guan Moye, but his parents recommended the pen name of MO YAN which means “Don’t Speak!” because as he explained at a forum in 2011 at U.C., Berkeley: “At that time in China, lives were not normal, so my father and mother told me not to speak outside, and say what you think, you will get in trouble. So I listened to them and did not speak.” 

Not a very Nobel attitude! He was indeed even criticized by Beijing for attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009 after Beijing had barred Chinese several dissident writers! (Now that’s a functional definition of Chutzpah!)To which, Mr. Mo responded in his Frankfurt acceptance speech, “A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.” (International Herald Tribune, 10/12/12.) What is the vice chairman of the Chinese Writers Association to do—but equivocate! 
Beijing set an ambiguous standard In 2010 when the jailed dissident Liu Xiabo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Beijing brass erupted, blocked the award from the Internet, calling the award a “desecration”, perverse propaganda to insult and destabilize the Chinese ruling party. (Ho Hum!) They even retaliated against Norway, denying visas to Norwegian dignitaries, but, what really hurt, delaying shipments of Norwegian salmon so long that the fish rotted in customs!

What a difference two years make. Mo’s literary Nobel unleashed a national celebration—its nationalistic Golden Times tabloid posted a “special coverage” page on its website, motivating the state-run People’s Daily to exude that the prize was “comfort, a certification and also an affirmation—but even more so, it is a new starting”. Mo’s style was compared with the Magic Realists of Latin America! What a stretch!

The plot of “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out” (2006) is simple, even Simple-minded. Perhaps Notre Dame professor Howard Goldblatt the translator was hampered by Mo’s writing the novel in Chinese images rather than a transliteration. Ximen Nao, the anti-hero of this celebration of Mao’s China, is a benevolent and noble landowner in Gaomi county, Shandong. As a matter of principle he refuses to join the local farming collective. His eventual punishment is transformation into a donkey! (before the novel is over he has had his species shifted into pig, dog, and monkey, to be rewarded finally by a return to his manhood.)

His chief antagonist, by the way, has a instatiable hunger for donkey gonads, which he ritually consumes evenings along with his favorite drink. I presume this ballsy humor is meant to amuse the Coop peasants. There is much (too much) plot devoted to strategies for deballing our in-aminated hero, not to forget equivalent palaver over strategies for guarding his (its) balls from extrusion. Ho Hum! I think we should complain to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Disembodied Human Animals. (SPCDHA). 

Puzzled by all this Hoopla, I turned to my omniscient Wikipedia, whereas it allowed that this “novel” garnered ”some highly favorable reviews”, but that some critics “suggested the narrative style was hard to follow.” Ahem. Hard? Metaphysically impossible to comprehend. I wish his parents had counseled him to assume the pseudonym, SHUT UP!” Whew what an obscure experience!

All this inscr(o)table discourse is feebly connected to the calamities that Mao engendered between 1948 and 2000. Damn, I’d much prefer the longeurs of the Long March!

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review.