Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Each Instant of Our Countless Daily Deaths

At a recent tribute Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, stated:

"I only know that from the time I was 17 until this morning I've done nothing more than wake up early every day, sit in front of a set of keys to fill a blank page or a blank screen with the sole mission of writing a story never before told that will make life happy for a reader who doesn't exist. To think that a million people would read something written in the solitariness of my room with 28 letters of the alphabet and two fingers as my sole arsenal seems insane."

It seems appropriate to post his beautiful Nobel Prize Lecture from 1982.

From Nobelprize.org

The Solitude of Latin America - Nobel Lecture, 8 December, 1982

Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who went with Magellan on the first voyage around the world, wrote, upon his passage through our southern lands of America, a strictly accurate account that nonetheless resembles a venture into fantasy. In it he recorded that he had seen hogs with navels on their haunches, clawless birds whose hens laid eggs on the backs of their mates, and others still, resembling tongueless pelicans, with beaks like spoons. He wrote of having seen a misbegotten creature with the head and ears of a mule, a camel's body, the legs of a deer and the whinny of a horse. He described how the first native encountered in Patagonia was confronted with a mirror, whereupon that impassioned giant lost his senses to the terror of his own image.

This short and fascinating book, which even then contained the seeds of our present-day novels, is by no means the most staggering account of our reality in that age. The Chronicles of the Indies left us countless others. Eldorado, our so avidly sought and illusory land, appeared on numerous maps for many a long year, shifting its place and form to suit the fantasy of cartographers. In his search for the fountain of eternal youth, the mythical Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca explored the north of Mexico for eight years, in a deluded expedition whose members devoured each other and only five of whom returned, of the six hundred who had undertaken it. One of the many unfathomed mysteries of that age is that of the eleven thousand mules, each loaded with one hundred pounds of gold, that left Cuzco one day to pay the ransom of Atahualpa and never reached their destination. Subsequently, in colonial times, hens were sold in Cartagena de Indias, that had been raised on alluvial land and whose gizzards contained tiny lumps of gold. One founder's lust for gold beset us until recently. As late as the last century, a German mission appointed to study the construction of an interoceanic railroad across the Isthmus of Panama concluded that the project was feasible on one condition: that the rails not be made of iron, which was scarce in the region, but of gold.

Our independence from Spanish domination did not put us beyond the reach of madness. General Antonio López de Santana, three times dictator of Mexico, held a magnificent funeral for the right leg he had lost in the so-called Pastry War. General Gabriel García Moreno ruled Ecuador for sixteen years as an absolute monarch; at his wake, the corpse was seated on the presidential chair, decked out in full-dress uniform and a protective layer of medals. General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the theosophical despot of El Salvador who had thirty thousand peasants slaughtered in a savage massacre, invented a pendulum to detect poison in his food, and had streetlamps draped in red paper to defeat an epidemic of scarlet fever. The statue to General Francisco Moraz´n erected in the main square of Tegucigalpa is actually one of Marshal Ney, purchased at a Paris warehouse of second-hand sculptures.

Eleven years ago, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, one of the outstanding poets of our time, enlightened this audience with his word. Since then, the Europeans of good will - and sometimes those of bad, as well - have been struck, with ever greater force, by the unearthly tidings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend. We have not had a moment's rest. A promethean president, entrenched in his burning palace, died fighting an entire army, alone; and two suspicious airplane accidents, yet to be explained, cut short the life of another great-hearted president and that of a democratic soldier who had revived the dignity of his people. There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God's name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one - more than have been born in Europe since 1970. Those missing because of repression number nearly one hundred and twenty thousand, which is as if no one could account for all the inhabitants of Uppsala. Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children who were furtively adopted or sent to an orphanage by order of the military authorities. Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand men and women have died throughout the continent, and over one hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and ill-fated countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years.

One million people have fled Chile, a country with a tradition of hospitality - that is, ten per cent of its population. Uruguay, a tiny nation of two and a half million inhabitants which considered itself the continent's most civilized country, has lost to exile one out of every five citizens. Since 1979, the civil war in El Salvador has produced almost one refugee every twenty minutes. The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America would have a population larger than that of Norway.

I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.

And if these difficulties, whose essence we share, hinder us, it is understandable that the rational talents on this side of the world, exalted in the contemplation of their own cultures, should have found themselves without valid means to interpret us. It is only natural that they insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that the quest of our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them. The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary. Venerable Europe would perhaps be more perceptive if it tried to see us in its own past. If only it recalled that London took three hundred years to build its first city wall, and three hundred years more to acquire a bishop; that Rome labored in a gloom of uncertainty for twenty centuries, until an Etruscan King anchored it in history; and that the peaceful Swiss of today, who feast us with their mild cheeses and apathetic watches, bloodied Europe as soldiers of fortune, as late as the Sixteenth Century. Even at the height of the Renaissance, twelve thousand lansquenets in the pay of the imperial armies sacked and devastated Rome and put eight thousand of its inhabitants to the sword.

I do not mean to embody the illusions of Tonio Kröger, whose dreams of uniting a chaste north to a passionate south were exalted here, fifty-three years ago, by Thomas Mann. But I do believe that those clear-sighted Europeans who struggle, here as well, for a more just and humane homeland, could help us far better if they reconsidered their way of seeing us. Solidarity with our dreams will not make us feel less alone, as long as it is not translated into concrete acts of legitimate support for all the peoples that assume the illusion of having a life of their own in the distribution of the world.

Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration. However, the navigational advances that have narrowed such distances between our Americas and Europe seem, conversely, to have accentuated our cultural remoteness. Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions? No: the immeasurable violence and pain of our history are the result of age-old inequities and untold bitterness, and not a conspiracy plotted three thousand leagues from our home. But many European leaders and thinkers have thought so, with the childishness of old-timers who have forgotten the fruitful excess of their youth as if it were impossible to find another destiny than to live at the mercy of the two great masters of the world. This, my friends, is the very scale of our solitude.

In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources - including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.

On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, "I decline to accept the end of man". I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Camille Paglia on C-SPAN: On the Arts and Religion

C-SPAN: American Perspectives has posted the video of a lecture by the always stimulating Camille Paglia at Colorado College last month. The lecture, delivered in an atypically moderated and enunciated style (cf. Jonathan Edwards' delivery of Sinners), argues for the centrality of religion in contemporary education by tracing the dynamic interplay between art and religion from the Reformation on, focused principally on the United States. Of particular fascination for me was her exploration of the legacy of hymns - hymnity - in American culture.

The crux of her argument is that without an educated understanding of the relationship between relgion and art, there is little hope for cultural meaning, for development, or for the production of defining and sustaining masterworks in either field.

As a matter of wishful thinking, while I was listening, I wondered, as many likely do, about the publication of Sexual Personae II (an issue she addresses in the final Q&A, stating it is no longer relevant - except as elegy). The examination of recent art world controversies - Serrano, Maplethorp, Ofili - in the overall context of her lecture added good fuel to the fire to see these ideas explored on a much larger canvas and in much greater detail.

The body of the lecture runs about an hour. After that, she steps from behind the podium to take questions. In a startling and delightful transformation, she suddenly becomes a hyper-intellectual improvisational stand-up comedian, with all of her natural Martin Scorsese-on-speed vocal mannerisms in full effect. Regardless of what you may think of her ideas regarding art and religion, it is worth that hour of lecture for the 40 minutes of dazzlingly funny, deliciously hectoring performance at the end.

(The images above were all captured from the Q&A. The iconic resonance of the final image amuses me greatly.)

From Paglia's "provisional" essay, Cults and Cosmic Consciousness: Religious Vision in the American 1960s, which explores many of the themes of this current lecture:

[...] By the 1980s, during the conservative administrations of Ronald Reagan, an artist's path to instant success was to satirize or profane Christian iconography. Warfare erupted in 1989 over "Piss Christ," a misty photograph by the American Andres Serrano of a wood and plastic crucifix submerged in a Plexiglas tank of his own urine, and then a decade later over a 1996 collage of the Virgin Mary by the British-Nigerian Chris Ofili, who adorned the Madonna with breasts of elephant dung and ringed her with pasted-on photos of female genitalia clipped from pornographic magazines. The Ofili painting made hardly a ripple in London but caused an explosion in the US in 1999 when it was exhibited, with a deplorable lack of basic curatorial support, by the Brooklyn Museum. The uproar in all such cases was fomented by grandstanding politicians with agendas of their own: New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, outrageously moved to cut off the Brooklyn Museum's public funding. Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for this continuing rancor rests with the arts community, who are fixed in an elitist mind-set that automatically defines religion as reactionary and unenlightened. Federal funding of the arts, already minuscule in the US, has been even further diminished because of the needlessly offensive way that religion has been treated in such incidents.

This cultural stalemate was aggravated, I contend, by the disappearance of voices from the sixties religious revolution. Even counterculture agnostics had respected the cosmic expansiveness of religious vision. There was also widespread ecumenical interest at the time in harmonizing world religions. The primary guide in this new syncretism was Carl Jung, who was the son of a Protestant minister and who began to study Asian thought in depth after his break with Freud in 1913. Jung's theory of the collective unconscious was partly derived from the Hindu concept of samskaras, the residue of past lifetimes. His interdisciplinary interpretation of culture was also influenced by Sir James George Frazer's multi-volumed work of classical anthropology, The Golden Bough (1890-1915). Jung revealed the poetry and philosophy in the rituals and iconography of world religions. But Jungian thought had little impact on post-sixties American academe, thanks to the invasion of European theory. French poststructuralism, the Frankfurt School, and British cultural studies all follow the Marxist line that religion is "the opiate of the masses." The end result was that, by the eighties, the claim that great art has a spiritual meaning was no longer taken seriously-and was positively perilous to anyone seeking employment or promotion in the humanities departments of major American universities.

[...] Study of the major world religions (including Islam) is the key to politics as well as art. As an atheist who worships only nature, I view religions as vast symbol-systems far more challenging and complex than poststructuralism, with its myopic focus on social structures. Poststructuralism has no metaphysics and is therefore incapable of spirituality or sublimity. There has been wave after wave of influences from Asian religion over the century and a half since Emerson and Madame Blavatsky, but the resultant New Age movement is choked with debris-with trivia, silliness, mumbo-jumbo, flimflam, and outright falsehoods. The first step in any solution is a return to origins-to the primary texts of sacred literature, supported by art history and archaeology.

The religious impulse of the sixties must be rescued from the wreckage and redeemed. The exposure to Hinduism and Buddhism that my generation had to get haphazardly from contemporary literature and music should be formalized and standardized for basic education. What students need to negotiate their way through the New Age fog is scholarly knowledge of ancient and medieval history, from early pagan nature cults through the embattled consolidation of Christian theology. Teaching religion as culture rather than as morality also gives students the intellectual freedom to find the ethical principles at the heart of every religion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Pieces of flesh and the remains of books were scattered everywhere."

Mutanabbi Street - From bbc.com

I sold books for over 17 years at a variety of chain and independent bookstores. Bookstores and Cafe Culture define, for me, the inner vitality of a city. These articles - which have a sort of Borgesian pathos - sink right to the bone. ( I do not mean to seek sanctuary in a literary abstraction here. This just worked into my brain. )

Originally posted by LanguageHat on Metafilter:

The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon. Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post writes about Mohammed Hayawi, "a bald bear of a man," who ran the Renaissance Bookstore on "Baghdad's storied Mutanabi Street." Back in 2005, Phillip Robertson wrote a Salon article about Al Mutanabbi Street, "Baghdad's legendary literary cafe, the Shabandar, " and Hajji Qais Anni's stationery store: "Hajji Qais had been on Al Mutanabbi street for 10 years and the vendors all knew him... He wore a beard and was also known as a devout Sunni who had no problem hiring Shia workers or spending time with Christian colleagues." Both Hayawi and Hajji Qais were killed by bombs, the cafe has been gutted, and the street that "embodied a generation-old saying: Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads" is no longer its old self. "When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, it was said that the Tigris River ran red one day, black another. The red came from the blood of nameless victims, massacred by ferocious horsemen. The black came from the ink of countless books from libraries and universities. Last Monday, the bomb on Mutanabi Street detonated at 11:40 a.m. The pavement was smeared with blood. Fires that ensued sent up columns of dark smoke, fed by the plethora of paper." Two views of a part of Baghdad that doesn't make the news much.
From bbc.com

From Many dead in Baghdad market bomb:

"There was so much smoke that I was vomiting," said the witness, who was in a bookshop when its windows were blown out by the blast.

"Papers from the book market were floating through the air like leaflets dropped from a plane," said Naim Daraji, a civil servant quoted by Associated Press.

"Pieces of flesh and the remains of books were scattered everywhere," he said.

From The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon:

A car bomb detonated last week on Mutanabi Street, leaving a scene that has grown familiar in Baghdad, a collage of chaotic images, disturbing in their brutality, grotesque in their repetition. At least 26 people were killed. Hayawi the bookseller was one of them.

Unlike the U.S. soldiers who die in this conflict, the names of most Iraqi victims will never be published, consigned to the anonymity that death in the Iraqi capital brings these days. Hayawi was neither a politician nor a warlord. Few beyond Mutanabi Street even knew his name. Yet his quiet life deserves more than a footnote, if for no other reason than to remember a man who embraced what Baghdad was and tried to make sense of a country that doesn't make sense anymore. Gone with him are small moments of life, gentle simply by virtue of being ordinary, now lost in the rubble strewn along a street that will never be the same.

After his death, I thought back to our conversation on that summer day. As he often did, Hayawi paused after an especially vigorous point and dragged on his cigarette. He ran his hand over his sweaty cheeks. "Does this look like the face of 39 years?" he said, grinning. He then knitted his brow, turning grimmer. "We don't want to hear explosions, we don't want to hear about more attacks, we want to be at peace," he told me. He always had dark bags under his limpid eyes, whether or not he had slept. "An Iraqi wants to put his head on his pillow and feel relaxed."
From The death of Al Mutanabbi Street

Near the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, at Al Rasheed Street, there is a meandering alley named after the Iraqi poet Al Mutanabbi. The poet's street branches away from Al Rasheed and heads down through a tissue of dilapidated buildings with thin columns that hold up warped balconies. Bookstores of every description occupy the street-level spaces, selling technical manuals, ornate copies of the Quran and a nice selection of pirated software. Al Mutanabbi then runs downhill toward the mud-brown bend of the Tigris until veering west at a covered market and the high walls of an old mosque school. Right at the bend in the road is Baghdad's legendary literary cafe, the Shabandar, where for decades writers and intellectuals have come to drink tea and smoke tobacco from water pipes. The place is smoke-scarred and dirty. When there is electricity, which is almost never, the fans do not cool the air at all. Literary men in their shirt-sleeves sit and smoke.
The Shabandar Cafe - From salon.com

From Violence Changes Fortunes Of Storied Baghdad Street:

Across the street on a recent Wednesday, the century-old Shahbandar cafe, its walls covered with black-and-white photos of Baghdad, is empty, save for two men. They silently smoke their water pipes. It is 1:30 p.m.

"At this time, you could not find a place to sit down," said Fahim al-Khakshali, whose father owns this legendary cafe.

That was before gunmen a few months ago killed two professors after they left the cafe, Khakshali said. And before men entered the nearby Al-Sadim bookshop last August. As they exited, they left a suitcase by the door. It exploded, killing the owner's son.

Three months ago, strangers threatened Khakshali and ordered him to shut down the cafe. He refused. He says he doesn't know why the Shahbandar is a target, but he can guess. "Maybe it is because educated people come here," he said.

Leni Riefenstahl: Pretty as a Swastika

An excellent article on the much improved New Yorker site, Where There's A Will: The Rise of Leni Riefenstahl by Judith Thurman - occasioned by the publication of a new biography Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl by Steven Bach.

From the article:

Walter Winchell’s memorable epithet for Riefenstahl—“pretty as a swastika”

[...] Riefenstahl’s acting roles, however, like her impetuous sexual adventures of the period, tend to blur. Beginning with Fanck, her fellow cast and crew members constituted a virile harem irresistible to an emancipated sultana inclined to take her pleasure where and with whom she chose (even if she later boasted of “my well-known, almost virginal sexual history”). The bruised egos that she left behind earned her an unsporting epithet, “the nation’s glacial crevasse.” And jealousy, perhaps, encouraged Fanck’s habit of subjecting his star and muse, in repeated takes, to immersion in freezing water, near-suffocation by avalanches, and the barefoot ascent of a sheer rock face. At least he respected her prowess. On the Nazi films, Bach writes, the supremely organized and imperious Riefenstahl “was competing with men she had displaced through a relationship with the Führer that invited speculation she actively encouraged,” and who were “disposed to view her presence behind a camera as illegitimate no matter how she got there.”

[...] Riefenstahl survived the debacle that her idol wreaked upon humanity to be reborn, in late middle age, as a amateur (or, according to the professionals, pseudo) ethnographer, in the Sudan. In exchange for beads and oil but also apparently with a measure of good will, the Nuba let her photograph their ceremonial dances and wrestling matches and rituals of body painting and scarification. (When they didn’t, she used a telephoto lens.) Those beautifull composed and reverential pictures, taken between 1962 and 1977, are Riefenstahl’s African “Olympia.” To explain the absence of imperfect specimens from her gallery, she later told an interviewer that old, ugly, or disabled Nuba hid themselves in shame.

[...] Marcel Ophuls declined her invitation to celebrate her career in a television documentary, so she awarded the job to an unknown German, Ray Müller. He released “The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl” to wide acclaim in 1993, and, seven years later, agreed to film her return visit to the Nuba. Though he himself narrowly escaped from the helicopter crash, she was furious that he hadn’t caught her being pulled from the burning wreckage. It wasn’t easy, she wrote at eighty-five, “to leave the present behind,” but she managed to write an enthrallingly disingenuous seven-hundred-page memoir, taking her epigraph from a complaint of Einstein’s: “So many things have been written about me, masses of insolent lies and inventions, that I would have perished long ago, had I paid any attention.” Finally, having joined Greenpeace and celebrated her thirty-fifth anniversary with Horst Kettner, her handsome sixty-year-old companion, she died in bed, at a hundred and one—living, working, loving, lying, and litigating with prodigious vitality until her heart gave out.

[...] Yet one has finally to ask if a creative product counts as a work of art, much less a great one, if it excludes the overwhelming fact of human weakness. That fact is the source of soulfulness and dramatic tension in every enduring narrative that one can think of. A seductively exciting surface, such as the morbid spectacle of a mass delusion, may distract from, but cannot insure against, a slack core, and in Riefenstahl’s case a handful of sequences singled out for their formal beauty and a quality that Sontag calls “vertigo before power” have achieved an influence disproportionate to their depth or originality.

"When you photograph a Greek temple and at the side there is a pile of rubbish, would you leave the rubbish out?"

Riefenstahl: "Definitely, I am not interested in reality."

- From “Reality doesn’t interest me...” by Stefan Steinberg

In both fascist and communist politics, the will is staged publicly, in the drama of the leader and the chorus. What is interesting about the relation between politics and art under National Socialism is not that art was subordinated to political needs, for this is true of dictatorships both of the right and of the left, but that politics appropriated the rhetoric of art—art in its late romantic phase. (Politics is "the highest and most comprehensive art there is," Goebbels said in 1933, "and we who shape modern German policy feel ourselves to be artists . . . the task of art and the artist [being] to form, to give shape, to remove the diseased and create freedom for the healthy.") What is interesting about art under National Socialism are those features which make it a special variant of totalitarian art. The official art of countries like the Soviet Union and China aims to expound and reinforce a utopian morality. Fascist art displays a utopian aesthetics—that of physical perfection. Painters and sculptors under the Nazis often depicted the nude, but they were forbidden to show any bodily imperfections. Their nudes look like pictures in physique magazines: pinups which are both sanctimoniously asexual and (in a technical sense) pornographic, for they have the perfection of a fantasy. Riefenstahl's promotion of the beautiful and the healthy, it must be said, is much more sophisticated than this; and never witless, as it is in other Nazi visual art. She appreciates a range of bodily types—in matters of beauty she is not racist—and in Olympia she does show some effort and strain, with its attendant imperfections, as well as stylized, seemingly effortless exertions (such as diving, in the most admired sequence of the film).

In contrast to the asexual chasteness of official communist art, Nazi art is both prurient and idealizing. A utopian aesthetics (physical perfection; identity as a biological given) implies an ideal eroticism: sexuality converted into the magnetism of leaders and the joy of followers. The fascist ideal is to transform sexual energy into a "spiritual" force, for the benefit of the community. The erotic (that is, women) is always present as a temptation, with the most admirable response being a heroic repression of the sexual impulse.

[...] Between sadomasochism and fascism there is a natural link. "Fascism is theater," as Genet said. As is sadomasochistic sexuality: to be involved in sadomasochism is to take part in a sexual theater, a staging of sexuality. Regulars of sadomasochistic sex are expert costumers and choreographers as well as performers, in a drama that is all the more exciting because it is forbidden to ordinary people. Sadomasochism is to sex what war is to civil life: the magnificent experience. (Riefenstahl put it: "What is purely realistic, slice of life, what is average, quotidian, doesn't interest me." As the social contract seems tame in comparison with war, so fucking and sucking come to seem merely nice, and therefore unexciting. The end to which all sexual experience tends, as Bataille insisted in a lifetime of writing, is defilement, blasphemy. To be "nice," as to be civilized, means being alienated from this savage experience—which is entirely staged.

- From Fascinating Fascism by Susan Sontag

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sticker Obsessions From My Youth

While I was admiring Coop's collection of decals over at the Positive Ape Index , I got to wondering where my old sticker collection was. One of my first youthful obsessions - along with the usual stamps, coins and plastic models. After some rummaging and much dust, I found them. Opening that box and that smell, that sticker smell... nothing else like it. Long-chain polymers and puberty are forever linked with me.

Here are a few of my favorites. More at http://picasaweb.google.com/scotcasey/Stickers.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

“shaped like an ancient harpoon”

So I am cycling through the usual list of sites, stop on Dennis Copper's blog and see that Vomitingghosts presents ... Quotation Day. I scan down the quotes until I come to this, under Poetry:

From the Thursday, February 1, 2007 episode of The Colbert Report:

“People are often surprised to find I have a sensitive side. And I’m not just talking about my back covered in bedsores. I loves me sleep. And as a sensitive man, it was time I told you about the most poetic fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

[Cue strings, harps, sprinkly-sparkly sounds; image of a couple silhouetted against a sunset on a beach, an alpine mountaintop, a sunflower and sunflower buds, reeds shifting in the breeze on a coast before an ocean sunset; text in hyper-curly cursive font: “The Most Poetic F@#king Thing I’ve Ever Heard”]

It’s hamisaratoides heiroglyphica, a newly discovered moth that, quote, ‘alights on the neck of a sleeping magpie and drinks the bird’s tears.’

I’ve never heard of anything more deserving of rhyme. It’s right up there with the greatest works of Byron, Shelley, and that extraordinary young man from Nantucket.

Sorry, Raven, now you’re only second on my list of all-time most poetic birds.

[Cut to chart]

All-Time Most Poetic Birds
1. Magpie
2. Raven
3. Mourning Dove
4. Nightingale
5. Turquoise-Browed Motmot

[Cut back to Colbert]

Turquoise-browed motmot, ball’s in your court.

Because I’ve heard of unicorns galloping to the moon on rainbow-covered bridges paved with baby’s dreams.

But moths that drink the tears of sleeping magpies? That’s the most poetic fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

[Repeat segment-title montage]

And that’s our show, ladies and gentlemen. Good night.”

Very funny and, I assume, fabricated. Still, I am intrigued and do a quick google which turns up this beautiful article from the New Scientist:

A species of moth drinks tears from the eyes of sleeping birds using a fearsome proboscis shaped like a harpoon, scientists have revealed. The new discovery – spied in Madagascar – is the first time moths have been seen feeding on the tears of birds.

Roland Hilgartner at the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, and Mamisolo Raoilison Hilgartner at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, witnessed the apparently unique sight in the island state’s Kirindy forest.

Tear-feeding moths and butterflies are known to exist elsewhere in Africa, Asia and South America, but they mainly feed on large, placid animals, such as deer, antelope or crocodiles, which cannot readily brush them away. But there are no such large animals on Madagascar. The main mammals – lemurs and mongoose – have paws capable of shooing the moths. Birds can fly away.

But not when they are sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of their proboscises inserted under the bird’s eyelid, drinking avidly. This was during the wet season, so the scientists think the insects wanted salt, as the local soils are low in sodium.

But sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the Madagascan moth has a proboscis with hooks and barbs “shaped like an ancient harpoon”, Hilgartner says.

This can be inserted under the bird’s eyelids, where the barbs anchor it, apparently without disturbing the bird. The team does not yet know whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition from the tears.

Journal reference: Biology Letters (DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0581)
The moth uses its barbed proboscis to penetrate
the eyelid of sleeping birds and drink tears
(Image: Roland Hilgartner / Mamisolo Raoilison)

The Mütter Museum

Via the always fascinating gmt9 (-15), photographs from the Mütter Museum on the Portuguese site Lost Art > Mütter Museum:

From Lost Art

From Lost Art

From the Mütter Museum's website:

In 1858, Thomas Dent Mütter, retired Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College , presented his personal collection of unique anatomic and pathological materials to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia . Our collection now boasts over 20,000 unforgettable objects. These include fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens; skeletal and dried specimens, medical instruments and apparati; anatomical and pathological models in plaster, wax, papier-mâché, and plastic; memorabilia of famous scientists and physicians; medical illustrations, photographs, prints, and portraits. In addition, we offer changing exhibits on a variety of medical and historical topics.

Our Treasures

Our one-of-a-kind treasures include:

  • The plaster cast of the torso of world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang & Eng, and their conjoined livers
  • Joseph Hyrtl's collection of skulls
  • Preserved body of the "Soap Lady"
  • Collection of 2,000 objects extracted from people's throats
  • Cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland
  • Tallest skeleton on display in North America