Monday, September 26, 2016

At Fred’s Landing

I dreamed of my friend Aldo Carrasco (d. 1986) last night. I was in our living room, calling him on our landline to say that I’d mailed a transistor radio to him and that Elaine and I would be in New York on Friday, and New Jersey on Saturday. Aldo said that he had to work ten hours and would be up for doing something after that. I sounded like my twenty-something self on the phone. Aldo sounded like his twenty-something self — in other words, like himself. The conversation was short and ordinary, one friend giving another a heads up and making plans.

What prompted the dream, I think: watching The Honeymooners episode “The Worry Wart” last night (first aired April 7, 1956). One of Aldo’s letters included a Honeymooners trivia quiz with something from that episode: the cost of a vacation at Fred’s Landing. Answer: $42. I knew it then and know it now, but I know it now as something in one of Aldo’s letters. There’s no forgetting.

A related post
Letters from Aldo

Quinnipiac’s dropped cap

Quinnipiac University has a new “brand identity system.” So says the school’s associate vice president for public relations:

This new system, which includes new wordmarks, logo marks, colors, fonts, design motifs, patterns, etc. is a modern interpretation of the past university brand and represents who we are today, a nationally recognized university with a focus on
— and so on. I can’t bring myself to quote it all.

The system includes the wordmark Quinnipiac university , with a lowercase u . In response, a Quinnipiac student has started a petition to restore the missing capital. Note to QU: when your own students are telling you that they care about capitalizing proper nouns, it’s time to listen. But the school’s vice president of public affairs says there are “no intentions of looking back.”

Those titles: I wonder how the associate vice president for public relations and the vice president of public affairs manage not to trade places in an Ovidian metamorphosis. I wonder too why the school’s vice president for brand strategy and integrated communications wasn’t the one to comment on the u .

And I wonder how much money the school spent on the branding specialists who must have advised dropping the capital — and chose a lousy font, to boot:

[From the school’s website. It’s an image, not text, and it scales dreadfully.]

Related reading
Capitalize. This. U. (The Quinnipiac Chronicle)
Revise the New Quinnipiac University Logo (A petition at

[The students in this fight have good intentions, but I have to say it: their fight is about conventions of spelling, not grammar.]

“Easily five foot eight or nine”

From Honoré de Balzac’s story “Another Study of Womankind.” A character, General de Montriveau, speaks of his colonel:

“‘An Italian, like most of the officers who made up his regiment — borrowed by the emperor from Eugène’s army — my colonel cut an imposing figure; he was easily five foot eight or nine inches tall.”

The Human Comedy: Selected Stories , trans. from the French by Linda Asher, Carol Cosman, and Jordan Stump (New York: New York Review Books, 2014). This story translated by Stump.
Imposing indeed. General, I like your perspective.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

NPR, sheesh

In a brief news bit about the death of the musician Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., an NPR announcer just spoke of zy-DEK-o music. No. Zydeco is pronounced ZY-de-ko, or \ˈzī-də-ˌkō\, as Merriam-Webster puts it.

You can hear the great Clifton Chenier say the word, right here.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

“The dream of a nine-year-old boy”

In The New Yorker , Roger Angell writes about the upcoming presidential election. After recounting various well-known Donald Trump insults and crudities, Angell turns to one more, Trump’s comment upon receiving a replica Purple Heart from a veteran. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier,” Trump said. Angell writes:

What? Mr. Trump is saying he wishes that he had joined the armed forces somehow (he had a chance but skimmed out, like so many others of his time) and then had died or been scarred or maimed in combat? This is the dream of a nine-year-old boy, and it impugns the five hundred thousand young Americans who have died in combat in my lifetime, and the many hundreds of thousands more whose lives were altered or shattered by their wounds of war.
Roger Angell is now ninety-six. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He calls his vote in the upcoming election “the most important one of my lifetime.” You don’t need to share his confidence in Hillary Clinton to agree that it’s necessary to vote for her.

A related post
Allegory (Choosing between A and B)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Antigone in Ferguson

The PBS NewsHour ran a deeply moving story tonight about ​a production of scenes from Sophocles’s Antigone in Ferguson, Missouri. Antigone in Ferguson is the work of Outside the Wire, the theater group that has (among other efforts) staged readings of Sophocles’s Ajax and Philoctetes for military audiences.

Whatever the fate of Sophocles and other representatives of “western civ” in academia, their work remains perpetually relevant to human suffering and human endeavor. Antigone: “Grief for the whole huge disaster of us .” Creon: “Oh weep, weep for the pain of human pain!”

You can learn more about this production from Outside the Wire and Ferguson’s Center for Social Empowerment.

Related reading
All OCA Sophocles posts (Pinboard)
Modest proposals (One of which involves Antigone)

[Lines from Antigone translated by Paul Woodruff, from Sophocles’s Theban Plays (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).]

Good questions

Good questions: “Here’s What the Moderator Should Ask Clinton and Trump at Their First Debate” (Mother Jones ). I hope that Lester Holt at least comes close to asking some of these questions.

A suggestion for debate-watching that I posted in 2008 and again in 2012:

The best choice for watching a presidential or vice-presidential debate is C-SPAN. Why? C-SPAN’s continuous split-screen lets you see both participants at all times, allowing for all sorts of observations about body language and facial expression.
I trust that C-SPAN will do things the same way on Monday night.

Advertising v. criticism

What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving red neon sign says — but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.

“These Spaces for Rent,” in One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).
Other Walter Benjamin posts
Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Happiness : Metaphors for writing : On happiness : On readers and writers : On writing materials : “Pencils of light” : Smoke and ink

Eccentrics , no

I found a book on the library’s New Books shelves: Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness by David Weeks and Jamie James (1995, not new, I know). I looked in the index for anyone I knew and landed on pages 84 and 85. Here’s Emily Dickinson:

Emily Dickinson always wore white, never went out of her room, and hid her poems in little boxes.
Well, no. The 1846 daguerreotype of Dickinson (as a young woman) shows her wearing a dark dress. The 1859 daguerreotype that may be of Dickinson also shows dark clothing. In later life Dickinson became more reclusive and often wore white. She did not hide her poems in little boxes: she shared some of her work with close friends and published a handful of poems anonymously. And she wrote (famously) to Thomas Wentworth Higginson to ask for his thoughts about her poems — a gesture that suggests she was thinking of publication. Dickinson sewed pages together to bind her poems into fascicles. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Dickinson’s niece, described the fascicles and also noted “variants and fragments found lying loosely in drawers and boxes.” Lavinia Norcross Dickinson said that her sister’s poems were discovered in a locked box. Mabel Loomis Todd, Dickinson’s posthumous editor, kept Dickinson’s manuscripts locked away for decades in a camphorwood box. But did Dickinson hide her poems in little boxes? No.

And here’s Glenn Gould:
One of the most widely admired pianists of the twentieth century, Glenn Gould is perhaps even more famous for his eccentric performance habits and extreme hypochondria that for his interpretive genius. He lived in deathly fear of drafts, and habitually appeared on stage dressed for an arctic expedition — in the words of Leonard Bernstein, “doubly hatted, doubly mittened, and endlessly muffled and mufflered.”
Gould is perhaps even more famous for leaving the world of concert performance for the recording studio, a point that goes unmentioned in Eccentrics. Hypochondriacal, yes, of course, but the claim that Gould came on stage to perform in hats, mittens, and mufflers is absurd. It draws upon Leonard Bernstein’s account of having Gould over for dinner:
Bernstein invited the pianist to dinner at his place in the Osborne apartment house, just across from Carnegie Hall. “He was all bundled up,” Bernstein recalls, . . . “and he had an astrakhan hat over some other kind of hat, doubly hatted, doubly mittened, and endlessly muffled and mufflered.”

Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations (1989). This title appears in the bibliography for Eccentrics .
And from another Bernstein account of the same dinner:
At some point, early on — I think when he was doing the Beethoven C Minor Concerto with me — Glenn and I were going to do some work at my apartment, so I invited him to dinner first. This was the first time Felicia, my wife, had actually met him. As you know, Glenn had a “cold complex.” He had a fur hat on all the time, several pairs of gloves and I don’t know how many mufflers, and coat upon coat.
I think it’s fair to assume a degree of comic exaggeration in Bernstein’s description. Comic or not, it’s not a description of a musician appearing on stage.

Kevin Bazzana’s biography Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (2003) recounts a Moscow concert at which Gould, after endless encores, “gave a final bow dressed in his coat, hat, and gloves.” That’s the bow of a musician who knows when to call it a night.

Arthur Schopenhauer: “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” My conclusion from pages 84 and 85 is that Eccentrics is a book to skip.

Related posts
Emily Dickinson : Glenn Gould

[Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description appears in Emily Dickinson Face to Face (1932). Lavinia Norcross Dickinson’s comment is quoted in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955). The camphorwood box appears in Richard B. Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974).]

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Proust’s Muse

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe, is the subject of an exhibition: Proust’s Muse, the Countess Greffulhe (Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York). The countess was an inspiration for Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes and Princesse de Guermantes.

Here’s a short video about the exhibition. A Wall Street Journal article about the exhibition recounts the writer Mina Curtiss’s encounter with the countess:

Curtiss asked about Proust. “I didn’t like him,” Countess Greffulhe said, citing “his sticky flattery.” She added, “And then there was the nonsense about my photograph, pestering . . . to get one from me. In those days . . . photographs were considered private and intimate. One didn’t give them to outsiders.”
Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)