Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The cut of his jib

Rosanne Cash has been blogging at the Times about songwriting--I like her music very much, and this post particularly caught my eye:
[C]onsidering only the hard-earned craftsmanship of songwriting, as I get older I have found the quality of my attention to be more important, and more rewarding, than the initial inspiration. I’ve found that the melody is already inherent in the language, and if I pay close enough attention to the roundness of the vowels and the cadence of the words, I can tease the melody out of the words it is already woven into. I have found that continual referral back to the original “feeling tone” of the inspiration, the constant re-touching of that hum and cry, more important than the fireworks of its origin. I have learned to be steady in my course of love, or fear, or loneliness, rather than impulsive in its wasting, either lyrically or emotionally.

This maturation in songwriting has proven surprisingly satisfying. Twenty-five years ago, I would have said that the bursts of inspiration, and the transcendent quality that came with them, were an emotionally superior experience, preferable to the watchmaker concentration required for the detail work of refining, editing and polishing. But the reverse is proving to be true. Like everything else, given enough time and the long perspective, the opposite of those things that we think define us slowly becomes equally valid, and sometimes more potent.
On a more frivolous note--crystal skulls! (Courtesy of the author.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Edward Champion weighs in on the Birkerts-Davidson conversation! (I must confess that I feel I am having excessive home-court advantage, in that anybody who writes a blog post on this topic is presumably mildly to moderately strongly pro-blogging!)

Anomalous crew members

I've seen two very good plays in the last couple weeks, quite different from each other but a reminder of what can be done in the theatre. I am too lazy to write proper descriptions, but fortunately for me, Alexis Soloski has reviewed both at TEWTSNBN, so I will just link to hers!

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead was a collaborative effort of South Africans John Kani, Winston Nshtona and Athol Fugard, first produced in 1972--Kani and Nshtona were the piece's original performers, and have now performed it for the last time in this run at BAM. A good but not great piece of theater, I would say, forceful in certain respects more because of history than because of true theatrical magic--but the writing is quite lovely, funny and smart and quite painful, and both actors' performances were extraordinarily good.

I rather loved Jay Scheib's Untitled Mars. Philip K. Dick, clever use of footage live and canned (some hilarious interviews with the colonization-of-Mars guys, and an altogether delightful MIT engineer live on screen answering the director's questions), imaginative set and lighting, strikingly good acting: most of all, I found the whole show very funny and smart (it shares this with the otherwise quite different Sizwe Banzi) in perhaps the way I most enjoy (highbrow-lowbrow amalgam, with not a hint of pretension).

I mentioned to my mother that I'd seen the South African play, and it spurred some remiscences on her part which she has generously written down for me to post here:
When I heard that Athol Fugard and "Siswe Banzi" were going to be in Princeton it was an enormous excitement because he and his writings were so revered by the group of students I belonged with as a teenager [in London]. Lured by a pair of friends, I used to spend Friday evenings hanging out at the Partisan coffee bar in Soho Square from about 1959 on; that was the evening that a body called the London Schools Left Club used to meet, to engage with left wing speakers, writers and politicians who would debate topics with us and inspire us to socialist passions. South Africa and the policy of apartheid was a frequent topic, and Fugard was a name to reckon with. From high school to undergraduate years a number of us would join the weekly demonstration that would take place on Saturday afternoons outside South Africa House, which is on the south-east side of Trafalgar Square. We formed a silent vigil, protesting apartheid and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. I wrestled with my conservative parents about all matters South African--begging my father not to buy South African sherry, and my mother to give up her favorite apricot preserves, which came in a 2 lb. tin from South Africa. I didn't get far. Curiously I was relatively uninformed about the simultaneous struggle for civil rights in this country; there can't have been much in the way of reporting on it, at least not in the paper my parents took, or I would surely have seized upon it and devoured it. (Banning the bomb was an equal passion, and the Aldermaston marches were another important issue for us at the time.)

Anyway, friends [in Philadelphia] were buying tickets to see "Siswe Banze" and it was a total thrill to go to see it. The two actors were utterly memorable. I feel that Fugard was there, but this may be a figment of my imagination as it is equally possible that he was banned from traveling and that my sight of him was at some later event. It was like taking actual part in something you have dreamed about, seeing the work of this amazing writer and thinker alive in the room with us. Of course we knew that this play could never be performed in South Africa, and the notion of banned artistic material was very important to us old Left Club hangers-on as so many of our not too distant ancestors had been banned from publishing, writing, acting or music-making by the Nazis not so many years before.

It was during my first year as a graduate student in Philadelphia that Dr. King was assassinated, and as I look back I am shocked at how little I then knew about his life and work. My whole sensitivity to civil rights seems to have been formed by the South African experience - surely a quirky result of all that colonialism I grew up with!
Light reading around the edges of a rather busy and stressful stretch of the school year: Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Princess Ben and Marisa de los Santos's Belong to Me, a sequel to Love Walked In.

Murdock and de los Santos have a certain amount in common as writers: they are both very gifted language users with a sensitivity to the warmest and most painful aspects of human existence. (I especially recommend Murdock's wonderful pair of novels Dairy Queen and The Off Season.) I have, I think, offended more than one writer by my use of the phrase light reading to cover their literary productions, but really it is one of my highest compliments. The only thing I privately think is that many good novels might be even better if they had vampires in them also! For instance, Marisa de los Santos uses these very fully rendered Philadelphia settings, and her characters are extraordinarily vivid and attractive--but where are the vampires and/or animal shape-shifters?!? I always feel very disoriented when I read a novel like this one that is just about husbands and wives and children and families, I feel it is somehow not really the universe I mentally inhabit! Though each of the characters in the novel seems to have a mental and emotional life that feels very much like my own... Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Soft purr, soft pad

Adela muses on animals and/in literature, and offers the lovely ninth-century Irish poem "Pangur Ban" in a translation by Seamus Heaney:
Pangur Ban and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Ban
Child-plays round some mouse's den.

Tight valleys

Sebastian Faulks on the wartime SOE. It is impossible to read about this sort of thing without wondering how one would have done in such circumstances oneself--is it necessary to be naturally courageous, or is courage something that can be worked up to?

Caroline says

Phil Nugent on Julian Schnabel's concert film "Lou Reed's Berlin". Hmmm, that was for a long time a particular favorite album of mine--as anyone who knew me c. 1989 or so may remember, I played it ad nauseam! Must see this film if I get a chance...

The west or the Wild West

These guys seem to have had an utterly delicious lunch.

The council of gatekeepers

At the BWOG, Paul Barndt sums up yesterday's blogging event.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Revealed preferences

Helen DeWitt on the preference for pie charts:
While the data may or may not show a strong preference for expatriate life, anyway, the presentation certainly demonstrates a strong preference on the part of the author for telling a story using miniature pie charts. We know this not merely from the use of a handful miniature pie charts, but from the fact that the author has gone out and paid good money for an Excel plug-in which generates miniature pie charts. (That's not all it does: it also generates miniature columns, miniature bar charts, miniature line charts, miniature win-loss charts and a couple of others that I forget.)

This is a preference that actually says quite a lot about a character: the character may be unable to explain things in words, not because she is inarticulate but because patterns of data are better presented in a graphic array. We don't see graphic arrays very often in modern fiction, which means a) that we literally don't see patterns of data about characters that can best be presented in graphic array and b) that texts don't represent a mode of thinking that is characteristic of the type of person who thinks in terms of patterns of distribution.

This is actually rather odd. There are other styles of thought and communication that can't get far using words - music is one very striking example. Musicians can play together without speaking a word of each other's languages; it's very powerful. But that's something one could only represent in a medium that made use of sound; you can't get sound off the printed page. Graphic arrays, on the other hand, are made to be seen; we just never see them.

Ur-texts of adolescent alienation

Top 50 cult books, at the Telegraph. It's inevitable with a list like that that there should be some surprising in- and exclusions. I must confess that I have read a large proportion of them, especially the novels--mostly when I was a teenager!

Ljubljana Lacanians and Huddersfield Hegelians

At the TLS, Terry Eagleton on Slavoj Žižek:
To illustrate the interplay of presence and absence, he recounts in another of his books the story of a guide conducting some visitors around an East European art gallery in the Soviet era and pausing before a painting entitled “Lenin in Warsaw”. There is no sign of Lenin in the picture; instead, it depicts Lenin’s wife in bed with a handsome young member of the Central Committee. “But where is Lenin?” inquire the bemused visitors, to which the guide gravely replies: “Lenin is in Warsaw”.

Semi-dormant baronetcy

Stephen Moss has a very good piece about Ferdinand Mount at the Guardian:
The section on journalism - one of five long, free-form parts of a book that manages to be both loosely structured and perfectly rhythmical, symphonic almost - offers a portrait of a drink-fuelled, seat-of-the-pants, less spin-obsessed age when it was also possible for Mount to get an exclusive interview with prime minister Harold Wilson. It took place at 9pm one Saturday evening in Wilson's study at No 10, which was in virtual darkness because a fuse had blown. "The atmosphere was rendered more sinister still by the fact that the prime minister was wearing a large black eyepatch," writes Mount. "The single lamp that was still functioning gave a weird cinematic effect. It was as though I had tracked down some war criminal in his last redoubt."

Typically, Mount's tape recorder ran out of tape and he had no idea how to put in a new one. Wilson's press secretary did it for him. Oh, and what sounds a magnificent set-piece interview never ran. The Daily Sketch had just bought the life story of the first Miss World and plumped for that instead.
Some very good phrases elsewhere in the piece--I like it when people have very striking and idiosyncratic spoken English...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sperm packages

Mating habits of the giant squid. (Thanks to Nico for the link.)

Pay packets

Lee Child's thoughts on personal finance, at the Times. (Thanks to Sarah for the link.)

I must confess that Lee Child is on my very short list of authors whose new novels I will buy in hardcover because I cannot delay the gratification of reading them. Nothing to Lose isn't out here till June 3, but came out in the UK in March. Hmmm, might be that I cannot wait...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Matthias castles

Murrough O'Brien on Marcus Tanner's biography of Matthias Corvinus, the Raven King, who ruled Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Transylvania, part of present-day Austria, Slovakia and Ruthenia in the fifteenth century:
This paragon of tolerance and magnanimity had some unlikely dinner guests – Vlad "the Impaler" Tepes (perhaps better known now as Dracula) being one. When I suggest that Matthias kept him as a sort of anti-mascot, a lightning rod to draw off divine wrath, Tanner hits me with an astonishing fact. "For an awful lot of what we know about Dracula, Matthias is the source, and he had a wicked sense of humour. There was the papal nuncio sitting there and Matthias would be saying: 'Of course, I haven't told you: he puts babies on spikes, he really enjoys cutting pregnant women to pieces and stuff.' Now the papal nuncio was writing this all down. I think Matthias got a real buzz out of that... he obviously didn't take it seriously. After all, he allowed his own cousin to marry Dracula... Matthias could say he had a Dracula at the end of the garden."

Competitively priced fake meat

I am utterly enchanted by the phrase in vitro meat studies.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The cats are laying siege to the Holy See"

At the Times, Andy Newman on the Pope as cat-lover:
. . . Benedict is, without a doubt, the first pope to have had an authorized biography of him written by a cat — Chico, a tabby who lives across the road from Benedict’s old house in Germany.

. . .

[T]he recently published “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat” (Ignatius Press, 2008) is a children’s book written by Chico with the “aid” of an Italian journalist, Jeanne Perego.

The book, which has been translated into 10 languages and has sold 12,000 copies in the United States, tells of young Joseph Ratzinger’s childhood love for all furry animals and of the adult cardinal’s deep bond with the narrator, who lives in the Bavarian village of Pentling.

“When I’d see that the shades were up next door, I knew he was home,” Chico writes. “Then I’d race over and rub up against his legs. What wonderful times we’ve spent together!”

Chico’s owner, Rupert Hofbauer, confirmed the substance of the book and said that Chico, now 10, misses his old friend, who has not been back to visit since becoming pope.

“Sometimes Chico goes over there on his own,” Mr. Hofbauer said in a telephone interview on Friday, “and he sits on the door sill or walks through the garden.”

Ms. Perego said by phone Friday that the pope’s brother, who lives near Pentling, continues to hang a cat calendar on the wall of the pope’s house and turn its pages every month in a sort of homage to his absent brother.

Though Benedict is the first pope to be written about by a cat, he falls squarely within a long Vatican tradition. According to “The Papacy: An Encyclopedia,” by Philippe Levillain, Pope Paul II, in the 15th century, had his cats treated by his personal physician. Leo XII, in the 1820s, raised his grayish-red cat, Micetto, in the pleat of his cassock. And according to The Times of London, Paul VI, pope from 1963 to 1978, is said to have once dressed his cat in cardinal’s robes.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German newspaper Bild wrote, he tended to the cats that frequented the garden of the congregation’s building in the Vatican and bandaged their wounds.

That Alvin and the Chipmunks voice

An interesting article at the Times on how New York State's new governor David Paterson, who is legally blind, uses technology and other sorts of accommodation to do his job.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Glabrous vermicelli

At the Telegraph, Richard Davenport-Hines reviews Ferdinand Mount's autobiography in a fashion that makes me feel I must lay hands on a copy of this book at once! I had already rather felt this when I read the extract (on the mysterious allure of Margaret Thatcher) in the Times last week, but now I am certain...

The Ancient Mariner on alcopops

I am not especially likely to write negative reviews here at Light Reading--when I'm reading a book I don't like, I mostly just stop reading, and I privately (for myself more than for others, it is a question of what suits me rather than a general rule) feel that writing very negative reviews is bad for the soul!

(Now and again I write something negative about a book that seems to me to have garnered far too much positive attention--the motivation in this case is a kind of Emperor's-New-Clothes or setting-the-record-straight one. Often I feel after the fact that I was too judgmental, and that I would rather not have gone on the record with it--though I am still mildly regretful that I never wrote down my passionate diatribe against Mark Danielewski's books...)

Meanwhile, I do enjoy reading very scathing reviews by intelligent reviewers who are so irked by the book at hand that they cannot restrain their irritation, and Hilary Mantel has a rather good one in this vein at the Guardian this week...

Vampire wannabes

Alice on CSI as science fiction.

Fishy editing

Interesting Reuters story on the suspect use of reenactment footage in television documentaries.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


From Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (thanks to Andy Lynn for the passage):
No improvement is too small or trivial to be worthwhile. Of a hundred alterations each may seem trifling or pedantic by itself; together they can raise the text to a new level. . . Should the finished text, no matter of what length, arouse even the slightest misgivings, these should be taken inordinately seriously, to a degree out of all proportion to their apparent importance.

Octopus personality

At the TLS, Carol Tavris on the new theory of personality:
Gone are the old type theories (are you a Thinking or Feeling type?) and single-trait descriptors (do you have a Machiavellian personality? Are you an erotophobe or an erotophile?). Evolutionary theory, the genome project, studies of identical twins reared together and apart, and brain-imaging techniques such as PET scans and MRIs have given scientists the theory and methods of identifying the differences in how people’s nervous systems are wired up and how those differences express themselves in characteristic responses to other people and to events. These characteristic responses statistically cluster into five basic factors, which are pretty much the same in every culture that has been studied, from Britain to Korea, Ethiopia to Japan, China to the Czech Republic. Nettle devotes a chapter apiece to each of the five: extraversion, the extent to which a person is outgoing, talkative, adventurous and sociable, or shy, silent, reclusive and cautious; neuroticism, the extent to which a person suffers from anxiety and other negative emotions such as anger, guilt, worry and resentment; agreeableness, the extent to which a person is good-natured, cooperative and nonjudgmental, or irritable, abrasive and suspicious; conscientiousness, the extent to which a person is responsible, persevering, self-disciplined and tidy, or undependable, quick to give up, fickle, sloppy and careless; and openness to experience, the extent to which a person is curious, imaginative, questioning and creative, or conforming, unimaginative, predictable and uncomfortable with novelty.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Peek Freans and Fray Bentos

At the LRB, James Wood has an interesting piece on Adam Mars-Jones' appealingly titled Pilcrow:
John Cromer is never a banal narrator, but he does cherish the daily banalities of his existence, and Mars-Jones certainly wants to list them. ‘Once I found my way into a broom cupboard full of mops and buckets and couldn’t get out again. It was a surprisingly long time before anyone came looking for me.’ In hundreds, perhaps thousands of small descriptive sections, each given its own title, we learn about how John’s mother develops a passion for budgies, and how the family acquires Charlie, the blue budgie; we learn about how John likes to roll his own snot and smell his farts in the swimming-pool. He likes cereal, too, especially Rice Krispies: ‘I particularly liked the three elves on the packet. I wanted to have elves like that, to keep as pets. Snap, Crackle and Pop would be useful little helpers for me.’ Sixty pages later, John has discovered Liquorice Allsorts (‘I was going through a Liquorice Allsorts phase at the time’). His parents get a television: ‘We had a television at Trees by this time, although Mum didn’t let us watch ITV on it.’ ‘A tricycle was the next adventure.’ He visits the zoo: ‘A more important occasion for me personally was a visit to Whipsnade Zoo.’ And John loves songs, and wants to tell us about them:
I liked ‘I’m a Pink Toothbrush, You’re a Blue Toothbrush,’ because the guru Max Bygraves helped me see that love doesn’t mind if you’re different. I liked ‘A Windmill in Old Amsterdam’ because there was no resisting the idea of mice in clogs. I liked Lonnie Donegan’s ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ because it meant I could sing in Cockney . . . I liked ‘Little White Bull’ for the same Cockneyphile reasons . . . I liked Rosemary Clooney’s ‘This Old House’ . . . I loved ‘Dem Bones Dem Bones (Dem Dry Bones)’, for reasons that had nothing to do with the words.
One is reminded of the joke about the Oxford don, heard walking across the quad, intently saying to his interlocutor, ‘Ninthly’.

There is an important difference between Cromer’s inability to select detail and his creator’s inability, but at times the two sicknesses coincide. There are dull patches, when the narrative – such as it is – is worn to a perfect sheen of boredom by the chafe of daily detail. But it is impressive, given the odds stacked against it, how lively most of the book is, and how funny, too. Mars-Jones is challenging us, rather as Harold Brodkey did in his enormous, microscopically narcissistic novel, The Runaway Soul, to keep up with the book’s massive deceleration. Unlike Brodkey, Mars-Jones is witty. So the novel displays an amusing self-consciousness about the sluggishness of its project; time and again, Mars-Jones seems to be nudging us to laugh at Pilcrow. Look at the delighted way John describes his grandmother making scrambled eggs: ‘Nothing seemed to happen, and it kept on not happening for a very long time . . . Her activity seemed designed in fact to protect the contents of the pan from any changes that might be brought about by cooking.’ This is a funny description of watching eggs not cook, and an even funnier description of watching a novel not cook. Mars-Jones knows how to ration his revelations: ‘Two things happened towards the end of my years of bed rest which had a knock-on effect on my future, although I wasn’t really party to their importance at the time. One was that my dad sat down on the bed, and the other was that Mum picked up a magazine.’ Later, John acquires a cactus, which is about as exciting as those scrambled eggs: ‘I had a cactus on the ward. It did nothing. It did nothing in a really big way. It was inert even for a cactus, and cacti aren’t the most entertaining of plants.’ Which takes us back to John rolling his snot: ‘The privilege of my situation, in which boredom lay so close to over-excitement that there was hardly any space between, was that snot qualified as a toy.’ Substitute ‘the novel’ for ‘my situation’, and you see what kind of fun Mars-Jones is having – not so much at our expense as at his own.

Haves and have-nots

At the New York Sun, Wesley Yang on the notion of meritocracy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Hmmm, the description of this event is more polemical/argumentative than I would have written myself! We will see how it goes ... (The conversation is sponsored by Columbia's American Studies program.)

April 25, 2008

Critic Sven Birkerts debates Jenny Davidson of Columbia University


4-6 p.m.
Room 516 Hamilton Hall

Perhaps I will see some of you there!

A bull goaded by picadors

At the Guardian, Mark Brown on a newly released CD in which Evelyn Waugh is quizzed by three abrasive interviewers:
Although fascinating, the interview does not disabuse listeners of Waugh's reputation as a brilliant, yet slightly mad and combative reactionary. On his family, Waugh says: "Thank God they don't live with me, except on holidays. They're most of them at school ... I don't see a great deal of them except in the holidays." Asked "do you play much with your children when they're young?" Waugh replies: "Not when they're infantile. When they get to the age of clear speech and clearness of reason I associate with them, I wouldn't say play with them. I don't bounce balls with them or stand on my head or carry them about on my shoulders or anything."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Extreme furniture

Richardson's Clarissa's coffin:
It is placed near the window like a harpsichord, though covered over to the ground: and when she is so ill that she cannot well go to her closet, she writes and reads upon it, as others would upon a desk or table.
Valmont, to the Marquise de Mertueil, in Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons (the translation is Helen Constantine's, the new Penguin edition), on the prostitute Emilie:
This indulgence on my part is in exchange for her kindness in serving as a desk on which to write to my beautiful devotee [the virtuous Madame de Tourvel]. I thought it would be amusing to send from the bed, from the arms almost, of a girl a letter -- interrupted, indeed, for a downright infidelity -- and in which I give her an exact account of my situation and conduct! Emilie, who has read the letter, laughed and laughed, and I hope you will too.

[The letter to Madame de Tourvel follows:]

... In fact, as I am writing this to you, the situation I am in makes me more conscious than ever of the irresistible power of love. I have difficulty in keeping enough self-control to order my ideas. And already I foresee that I shall not be able to finish this letter without being obliged to break off. Surely I may hope that you will one day share the passion I feel at present? . . . . The very table on which I am writing, dedicated for the first time to this use, has become for me the sacred altar of love. How much more beautiful it will be now in my eyes! I shall have traced upon it my vow to love you for ever!


Caleb Crain considers the snapshot. His NYRB piece is subscriber-only, but full of interesting things:
Because the serious amateur made a point of not compromising his images with the mundane, he is seldom of use to social historians. For documentary and aesthetic purposes, one turns instead to photographers who had no idea what they were doing—who "had the advantage of having nothing to unlearn," as the curator and photographer John Szarkowski once put it.

These photographers made mistakes. One scholar of the snapshot has catalogued the classic ones, including a tilted horizon, unconventional cropping, eccentric framing, a distant subject, blur, double exposure, light leaks, a finger over the lens, banality, and the photographer's shadow.[4] Nearly all these features appear in the snapshots at the National Gallery of Art and in the exhibition's catalog. In a snapshot taken around 1930, for example, a photographer appears to have tried to reproduce a Victorian-era portrait by photographing it being held by a pair of hands against an automobile door. He seems to have misjudged the framing, however, and the tiny portrait at the center of the photograph—a couple in formal dress, separated by a garden gate—appears as a mere detail, no more prominent than the large hands holding it in place. By accident, the polish of the car reflects the photographer, hunched over his device, as well as a tall, skeletal structure behind him, which might be either an electrical tower or a windmill. It fails as a reproduction, but suggests an allegory of the past's diminished place in the present —not as reflective of us as of the glossy new surfaces of the modern world.

Caleb's grandfather dances with a skeleton

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kissing, sneezing, laughing, blushing

From Nicholas Fearn's profile of Raymond Tallis at the Independent: "'It's a wonderful feeling when you have a book coming on,' Tallis says. 'The only point of writing a book is to discover things you've never thought before.'"


From Martin Gayford's Telegraph article on artists' books published by Ivory Press: "Cai Guo-Qiang's Danger Book: Suicide Fireworks contains drawings in gunpowder paste. A string dangles from the spine, attached to concealed matches. Pull it, and the whole thing ignites."

(I am going to regret it if I do not get over to the Guggenheim to see the exhibit of his work before it closes at the end of May.)

Spider bondage

At the NYRB (subscriber only), Tim Flannery considers the juicy parts of Paul Hillyard's The Private Life of Spiders:
The sex life of spiders is of course infamous: almost everyone has heard of the female black widow, which consumes her mate after sex. But who would have guessed that "bondage, rape, chastity belts, castration, and suicide" were also part of the sexual practices of spiders? Hillyard gives detailed examples of all of these practices, and his description of spider bondage is particularly intriguing:
The male European crab spider... approaches tentatively but, when close to the female, grabs one of her legs. Initially she struggles but later calms down as he moves over her body trailing silk threads, which bind her to the ground. He then lifts her abdomen, crawls under and inserts his palps [the organs that carry his sperm]. However, this bondage appears to be purely ritualistic because it is not difficult for the female to break free: it is likely that it helps to pacify her.
More touchingly, mother spiders also practice self-sacrifice. Australian crab spiders of the genus Diaea lay a single cocoon full of eggs (most spiders lay many more eggs), which they tend carefully. When the young hatch the mother spider feeds them with insects she has caught herself, until winter brings an end to easy prey. Then, unable to nurture them further, she offers them one last meal: herself.

Even the moderate arachnophobe may wish to avoid Hillyard's chapter "Tarantulas and Trapdoor Spiders." By way of introduction he says:
Called tarantulas in the Americas, bird-eating spiders, mygales or Vogelspinnen in Europe, baboon spiders in Africa, earth tigers in southeast Asia, mata-caballos (horse-killers) or araños peludas (hairy spiders) in Latin America, these are the large, well-built members of the family Theraphosidae. They have heavy jaws projecting forwards and they rival in size the biggest land invertebrates.
These are the spiders of nightmares, and extraordinarily large close-up photographs of these formidable creatures adorn every page.

Until recently the goliath tarantula of Amazonia was believed to be the largest spider on earth. Then someone collected an enormous spider in the remote rain forests of southeastern Peru. Its body was almost four inches long, and its legs spanned almost ten inches. It is said by those familiar with these near-mythical beasts that up to fifty share a single burrow, and that they cooperate in the hunt. Hillyard's clinical description of this new and as yet unnamed discovery (though it has been called araños pollo, chicken spider) has embedded within it the stuff of nightmares. I can imagine the scientist intent on studying them struggling through precipitous country and an endless tangle of roots, vines, and thickets as he forces his way toward their habitat. And then, in a sudden silence, he hears the drumming of countless hairy legs on dried leaves as the colony erupts from their abode. Though just how the spiders "cooperate in prey capture to overcome larger animals" is perhaps best left unimagined.

Friday, April 11, 2008

From the files

Pretty much every single morning of my life from age seven to age eleven I stood in the kitchen in front of my mother as she wielded a large black Mason Pearson hairbrush,* undoing one braid, brushing the hair out with a stern hand and plaiting it very tightly back up, then fastening the end with something we just called "a hair thing" or "hair bobbles" (I have no idea what they are really called--you know, the hard clickety-clackety brightly colored plastic spheres like marbles joined by an elastic band!) before undoing the second one and repeating the process.

As I grew older I sometimes had a single braid instead of those two distinctive plaits, but in seventh grade it was inevitably time to get it cut.

(And I still remember a slightly bizarre conversation the next year in ninth grade--I had skipped eighth grade--with a not very pleasant girl, the possessor herself of two very flyaway blond braids that had perhaps not over the years met with my mother's seal of approval, who commented that it was a good thing I had gotten my hair cut, since people were already jealous enough of me for having skipped a grade! Which was a very strange moment, because it had quite simply never occurred to me--despite various after-school-care-type scenes of random girls enthusiastically running their hands through my temporarily undone hair and sort of gloating over it!--that anybody would particularly like or admire such hair, it was just a thing, I was in a non-essential relationship to it. It was hair! Who cared about it?!?)

My mother is retiring this June, after teaching at Germantown Friends School for thirty years. My brothers and I grew up in that school, even more than one might ordinarily be said to grow up in school; I feel myself to be very much shaped by its ethos and curriculum, in all sorts of ways but especially because of the quite magical approach to elementary-school teaching that characterized my years in the Lower School.

In second grade, I was in love with the animals in the school science room. In third grade, my Jane Goodall obsession came into full force and I fantasized about an adult life of studying chimpanzees in Africa. (And wrote a lot of stories.) I was also always and from start to finish a maniacal and wildly enthusiastic filler-out of pages in math workbooks!

But in fourth grade, the full magic of history and literature began to possess me by way of a very rich and integrated curriculum built around the study of ancient Greece. I had already been in love for some time with the D'Aulaires' book of Greek myths, but I plunged into the study of ancient Greece that year with utter love and fervor. I read and wrote stories about it (and I seem to remember laboring over a papier mache head of Medusa that I built over a frame of chicken wire in the sink in the pantry at home!), I became obsessed with Heinrich Schliemann and the excavation of Troy (my affections moved from anthropology to archeology, indeed I would soon be spending more time reading about early hominids than about living great apes!), I learned the words dendrochronology and isthmus.

(I consoled myself for the certain foreknowledge that I would not acquit myself particularly well in any of the track and field events at "Greek Day" with the fact that I got to read out loud a Prayer to Dionysus written by me in the style of the Greeks...)

One of my mother's colleagues, also retiring this spring, was recently cleaning out her files and found this photograph.

We are in the art room stenciling patterns onto our chitons. . .

* ED. Has memory played me false? I may have mentally suppressed the possibility that the hairbrush was actually PINK...

Hyperbolic crochet

I cannot believe this actually exists, I am absolutely delighted by both the phrase and the thing itself!

Imagine--a pair of Australian twins named Margaret and Christine Wertheim fall in love with non-Euclidean geometry and set out to crochet realistically rendered segments of the Great Barrier Reef to draw attention to the impending destruction of one of the natural world's great wonders...

(Photo by Alyssa Gorelick from the IFF website)

It is quite a web of a project itself: a good place to start is the Institute for Figuring website. I especially like the "Hyperbolic Crochet Basics" section, and here are some press links--the whole thing is basically a demented and wildly intellectual craft project with a strong activist component, a very interesting and up-to-the-moment combination. Here is an intriguing interview from Cabinet Magazine. And parts of the Chicago exhibit are on display this month in New York--here's the New York Times story from March, which obviously I missed at the time (hmmm, it makes sense to me that Christine Wertheim teaches at Cal Arts--I was just thinking of how much my friend Helen Hill, who studied there, would have liked this project!).

Thanks to Doc Jim for the tip. Also, this post is in honor of my friend Wendy, a passionate photographer of flora and fauna (endangered and otherwise) who is now in Perth getting ready to swim in the World Masters Championships!

The modern world

Hmmm, we are now in that month of the school year where I (to my own great annoyance) have insufficient time and attention for good-quality blogging! I've had three separate posts rattling around in my head for the last thirty-six hours--glad to have time this to sit down and write 'em out, even though they would probably be more enjoyable for the reader if doled out one at a time over a period of days...

I did manage to squeeze in around the edges of life last week an utterly delightful novel, Martin Millar's very funny and engaging Lonely Werewolf Girl. This book is not for everyone, I think, and yet--an unhelpful observation!--if it is the kind of thing you like, you will like it very much indeed!

(Neil Gaiman and his lovely assistant Lorraine are two of the ones who do!)

It's sprawling, it's written in deceptively faux-naive and frequently deadpan voice, it tracks a huge number of characters through a chaotic (and rather wonderful) from-the-boardroom-to-the-bedroom almost-Judith-Krantzian (but with werewolves) world that's heavy on comical but poignant teenage angst, unrequited love and sly cultural references. And--did I say it already?!?--werewolves!

I feel certain Martin Millar would be horrified by the notion, but this book reads like the lovely mongrel offspring of Jilly Cooper and Iain Banks, with a distinctly Lia Francesca Block cast to it also--but really all just its own thing. I really, really liked it, it is a while since I read a novel that so tickled me...

Other than some very funny stuff concerning the three main teenage characters, by far the best bits concern the Fire Queen Malveria and her obsession with high fashion--we sort of care less about the outcome of the battle for leadership of werewolf Clan MacRinnalch in the Scottish Highlands than about whether the queen's evil Elemental rival will foil her anti-spying precautions and steal werewolf fashion designer Thrix's brilliant designs for Malveria's grand appearance at the social event of the Elemental season.

Other cultural stimulation: Fuerzabruta (slightly undermotivated in terms of the relationship between spectacle and story, but the best moments are very lovely indeed--the overhead swimming sequences is like watching humans magically transmute into petri-dish frogs, like photographs of chromosomes mixing and matching--it is the best visual effect I have experienced for a long time!); The Little Flower of East Orange (not perfect, but really very good, good verging on excellent--the sentimental strain is genuinely moving rather than off-putting--and the verbal comedy is very, very funny--a really interesting and well-acted play, I strongly recommend it, only not perhaps if you are hard of hearing--they should probably slow it down a tiny bit, several theatregoers in the vicinity were straining to follow various plot points introduced in passing by way of dialogue, and of course it is a pity also to be missing the jokes, and trying for the spouse who has to explain them!); 21 (some local implausibilities, but the central teenage characters are very persuasively rendered--I liked it a good deal).

All in all, I am not going to die of cultural deprivation, even though I could use a good five-day massive novel-reading binge in order to recuperate! Oh, also strongly recommended, though now we are verging on more officially curricular territory: Laclos's elegant and timeless Dangerous Liaisons. This is one of European literature's great novels of the interaction of people in small groups (Muriel Spark is also a great novelist of the small group--many writers prefer to delve into the dynamics of couples, families or larger communities, but I have a special soft spot for writers who take an interest in the relationship between four, five, six, seven characters who are not biologically related to one another...).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Brigitte Le Juez's piece at the Guardian--on the lectures on French literature Samuel Beckett delivered in 1930 at University College Dublin--filled me with a mixture of delight and horror. (Horror, because as one who lectures myself, I can only imagine what sort of a narrative might be constructed from my students' notes!)
According to Burrows' notes, Beckett first defined his literary criteria by way of the contrast he set up between the 19th-century French authors Balzac and Flaubert. Unlike his Irish contemporaries, Beckett saw Balzac as the counter-example of the modern novel, and Flaubert as the great innovator. For Beckett (as he has the protagonist of his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, put it): "To read Balzac is to receive the impression of a chloroformed world." He resented both the lack of confusion and the lack of self-criticism in Balzac. What fascinated him was the clair-obscure (the painterly distribution of light and shade) he found in the writers he admired, like Dostoevsky and Flaubert. Balzac, by contrast, only transcribed the surface, creating a fictional world that resembled a pool table on which balls are perfectly arranged and sent in one direction or another according to a very precise strategy of control. In Beckett's eyes, Balzac divested his fictional universe of the unexpected and the unknowable, properties which, for Beckett, lay at the heart of human experience and whose expression must find its way into fiction.


My favorite bit in this week's Clarissa reading (text pasted in from this version, with italics added based on Angus Ross's Penguin edition--the letter is written to the evil seducer Lovelace by his friend Belford, who has by now agreed to be the executor of Clarissa's will):
When I concluded my last, I hoped that my next attendance upon this surprising lady would furnish me with some particulars as agreeable as now could be hoped for from the declining way she is in, by reason of the welcome letter she had received from her cousin Morden. But it proved quite otherwise to me, though not to herself; for I think I was never more shocked in my life than on the occasion I shall mention presently.

When I attended her about seven in the evening, she told me that she found herself in a very petulant way after I had left her. Strange, said she, that the pleasure I received from my cousin’s letter should have such an effect upon me! But I could not help giving way to a comparative humour, as I may call it, and to think it very hard that my nearer relations did not take the methods which my cousin Morden kindly took, by inquiring into my merit or demerit, and giving my cause a fair audit before they proceeded to condemnation.

She had hardly said this, when she started, and a blush overspread her sweet face, on hearing, as I also did, a sort of lumbering noise upon the stairs, as if a large trunk were bringing up between two people: and, looking upon me with an eye of concern, Blunderers! said she, they have brought in something two hours before the time.—Don’t be surprised, Sir —it is all to save you trouble.

Before I could speak, in came Mrs. Smith: O Madam, said she, what have you done?—Mrs. Lovick, entering, made the same exclamation. Lord have mercy upon me, Madam! cried I, what have you done?—For she, stepping at the same instant to the door, the women told me it was a coffin.—O Lovelace! that thou hadst been there at that moment!—Thou, the causer of all these shocking scenes! Surely thou couldst not have been less affected than I, who have no guilt, as to her, to answer for.

With an intrepidity of a piece with the preparation, having directed them to carry it to her bed-chamber, she returned to us: they were not to have brought it in till after dark, said she—Pray, excuse me, Mr. Belford: and don’t you, Mrs. Lovick, be concerned: nor you, Mrs. Smith.—Why should you? There is nothing more in it than the unusualness of the thing. Why may we not be as reasonably shocked at going to church where are the monuments of our ancestors, with whose dust we even hope our dust shall be one day mingled, as to be moved at such a sight as this?

. . . .

We were all silent still, the women in grief; I in a manner stunned. She would not ask me, she said; but would be glad, since it had thus earlier than she had intended been brought in, that her two good friends would walk in and look upon it. They would be less shocked when it was made more familiar to their eye: don’t you lead back, said she, a starting steed to the object he is apt to start at, in order to familiarize him to it, and cure his starting? The same reason will hold in this case. Come, my good friends, I will lead you in.

I took my leave; telling her she had done wrong, very wrong; and ought not, by any means, to have such an object before her.

The women followed her in.—’Tis a strange sex! Nothing is too shocking for them to look upon, or see acted, that has but novelty and curiosity in it.

Down I posted; got a chair; and was carried home, extremely shocked and discomposed: yet, weighing the lady’s arguments, I know not why I was so affected—except, as she said, at the unusualness of the thing.

While I waited for a chair, Mrs. Smith came down, and told me that there were devices and inscriptions upon the lid. Lord bless me! is a coffin a proper subject to display fancy upon?—But these great minds cannot avoid doing extraordinary things!

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Concordance was perfect"

At the Science Times, an appealingly lively article by Nonny de la Pena on the sounds fish make:
The most definitive tome on fish sounds was published in 1973 by the auspiciously named Marie Poland Fish and William H. Mowbray. Working at the Narragansett Marine Laboratory at Rhode Island University, they were granted access to Navy audio recordings made to detect enemy submarines. Because noisy underwater life kept interfering with the military’s objectives, the authors were asked to tease out the biologic from the manmade. The resulting work, “Sounds of Western North Atlantic Fishes: A Reference File of Underwater Biologic Sounds,” identifies the vocalizations of over 150 fish.

For most fish, the sonic mechanism is a muscle that vibrates a swim bladder not unlike our vocal cord. The bladder is a gas-filled sac used for buoyancy, but it can also be used as a sort of drum. The Gulf toadfish contracts its sonic muscle against its swim bladder thousands of times a minute to generate a loud drone. At nearly three times the average wingbeat of a hummingbird, toadfish have the fastest known muscle of any vertebrate. Cusk eel rattle bones against their bladder, but clownfish have a sonic ligament they use to “chirp.”

Other fish use stridulation, rubbing their bones together in a way that is comparable to plinking the tines on a comb or using a ratchet mechanism on their pectoral fins to make sounds. Herring release bubbles from their anus in a “fast repetitive tick.”
Good sound files, too.

"Hats and pants off to you all"

Janet Maslin is on a roll: here she pans Mary Roach's new book "Bonk". I found Stiff pretty much unreadable, for similar reasons: it was a great disappointment, as I felt well-inclined towards Roach and of course human cadavers are one of my favorite topics....

Intimate settings

Chimps and beautiful people. (Thanks to Amy for the link.)

Living to tell the tale

Talk of the Town: Rebecca Mead on last week's Erica Jong conference. (I make a brief non-speaking appearance...)

(NB I would say cantaloupe-colored jacket rather than tangerine--and, curiously, Margo Jefferson had a shirt in an almost identical shade!)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A donkey 'MoT'

Donkey-related bizarrerie via Nico:
Donkeys, which were first brought to Britain to toil down mines and can live to the age of 50, are a common sight in Blackpool, plodding along the beach through sun and rain. During a summer season they can take tens of thousands of children on rides at £2 a go.

Despite their indentured servitude, donkeys are actually very intelligent. They have an incredible memory, recognising places and other donkeys from 25 years ago. They were first domesticated around 4,500 years ago and were a status symbol. But unlike horses, they do not have natural waterproof coats so they must have access to shelter.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Catahoula hog dog

At the FT, Christian Tyler considers Henry Hitchings' The Secret Life of Words:
Almost every spadeful yields an etymological nugget, something to send the sceptic rushing to the OED in disbelief. (You will need the big one.)

Did you know, for instance, that “cushy” has nothing to do with cushions but is from khush, Hindi for “pleasant”? Or that “margarine” is from the Persian for “pearl” on account of its appearance? It was the Dutch, not the Scots, who gave us “golf” from their game of kolven; they also supplied “nit-wit” (from niet weet, meaning “I don’t know”). More recently, Romany gave us “lolly”, “gaff” and “chav”.

In fact about half of all English words are borrowed; our language is both highly absorbent (as it is so little inflected) and made voracious by the English appetite for trade, travel and conquest. Perhaps unnecessarily, Hitchings includes adopted as well as adapted words. So “cappuccino”, “spritzer” and “jihad” get in – not forgetting the ever-useful “schadenfreude” – as well as naturalised immigrants such as “crayfish” (from ecrevisse) and “mayday” (from m’aidez).

It’s intriguing to note that the movement of words has not just been one way: Swahili has the charming kiplefti for a traffic island, and Japanese engejiringu for an engagement ring. The game “Pokemon”, meanwhile, is a re-export: the word came originally from “pocket monster”.
Hmmm, it is a long time since I thought of the OED in terms of "big one" and "small one," the electronic version is supremely delightful to me...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"It is now Wretchedness!"

I am having an extremely stimulating and enjoyable time teaching Richardson's Clarissa this semester. It is an extraordinary novel, and it's giving me all sorts of ideas for the new critical book I'm contemplating, a sort of bread-and-butter investigation into some simple but puzzling facts about narrative style and the history of the novel. But it must be said that bits of it make me laugh....

Here, the villainous seducer Lovelace's evil minions (a gang of prostitutes) have unjustly had Clarissa arrested for debt (she has escaped from her imprisonment in the brothel, where she was drugged to unconsciousness and raped by Lovelace--this letter is written to Lovelace by his friend Belford, who has been won over to Clarissa's side):
[A]s she came out of the church, at the door fronting Bedford Street, the officers stepping to her, whispered that they had an action against her.

She was terrified, trembled, and turned pale.

Action! said she. What is that?--I have committed no bad action!--Lord bless me! Men, what mean you?

That you are our prisoner, madam.

Prisoner, sirs!--What--How--Why--What have I done?

You must go with us. Be pleased, madam, to step into this chair.

With you!--With men!--Must go with men!--I am not used to go with strange men!--Indeed you must excuse me!

We can't excuse you: we are sheriff's officers--We have a writ against you. You must go with us, and you shall know at whose suit.

Suit! said the charming innocent; I don't know what you mean. Pray, men, don't lay hands upon me!--They offering to put her into the chair. I am not used to be thus treated!--I have done nothing to deserve it.

She then spied thy villain--Oh thou wretch, said she, where is thy vile master?--Am I again to be his prisoner? Help, good people!

A crowd had before begun to gather.

My master is in the country, madam, many miles off: if you please to go with these men, they will treat you civilly.

The people were most of them struck with compassion. A fine young creature!--A thousand pities! some--while some few threw out vile and shocking reflections: but a gentleman interposed, and demanded to see the fellows' authority.

They showed it. Is your name Clarissa Harlowe, madam? said he.

Yes, yes, indeed, ready to sink, my name was Clarissa Harlowe--but it is now Wretchedness!
Hmmm, potentially a useful line in the case of extreme airport delays--"My name was Jenny Davidson, but it is now Wretchedness!"--only potentially it would court disastrous misunderstanding in the stringent days of modern airline security...

Little cubes from the bones of drowned men

An interesting piece in the last NYRB by Colm Toibin on Hart Crane. I was fascinated by the sequence of observations in opening--here are the relevant paragraphs:
In 1926, in a letter to the editor of Poetry, Harriet Monroe, replying to her complaints about obscurity in his poem "At Melville's Tomb," Crane set down his defense of his poetry and offered one of his most detailed and useful explanations of what his lines actually meant, while making it clear that their meaning, while concrete and direct, was a dull business indeed compared to what we might call their force. The first stanza reads:
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
"Take me for a hard-boiled unimaginative unpoetic reader, and tell me how dice can bequeath an embassy (or anything else)," Monroe wrote. Crane in his reply admitted that
as a poet I may very possibly be more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness (and their combinations and interplay in metaphor on this basis) than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations at the cost of limiting my subject matter and perceptions involved in the poem.
In his next paragraph he emphasized, however, that there was nothing aleatory in his method. "This may sound," he wrote,
as though I merely fancied juggling words and images until I found something novel, or esoteric; but the process is much more predetermined and objectified than that. The nuances of feeling and observation in a poem may well call for certain liberties which you claim the poet has no right to take. I am simply making the claim that the poet does have that authority, and that to deny it is to limit the scope of the medium so considerably as to outlaw some of the richest genius of the past.
He then took Monroe through some lines of the poem, including "The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath/An embassy." "Dice bequeath an embassy," he wrote,
in the first place, by being ground (in this connection only, of course) in little cubes from the bones of drowned men by the action of the sea, and are finally thrown up on the sand, having "numbers" but no identification. These being the bones of dead men who never completed their voyage, it seems legitimate to refer to them as the only surviving evidence of certain messages undelivered, mute evidence of certain things, experiences that the dead mariners might have had to deliver. Dice as a symbol of chance and circumstance is also implied.
Monroe had commented as well on the opening of the last stanza:
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides....
"Nor do compass, quadrant and sextant," she wrote, "contrive tides, they merely record them, I believe."

"Hasn't it often occurred," Crane replied,
that instruments originally invented for record and computation have inadvertently so extended the concepts of the entity they were invented to measure (concepts of space, etc.) in the mind and imagination that employed them, that they may metaphorically be said to have extended the original boundaries of the entity measured?
In the same letter, he quoted from Blake and T.S. Eliot to show how the language of the poetry he wrote and admired did not simply ignore logic, it sought to find a logic deeply embedded in metaphor and suggestion. This poetry, he made clear, did not follow the lazy path dictated by the unconscious, or allow the outlandish or the merely associative to triumph, but was deliberate and exact, even though it belonged "to another order of experience than science." He worked toward both "great vividness and accuracy of statement," even if it might seem to some, including Monroe, that the vivid triumphed over the accurate.

"The minutiae of calico and camblet and kersey, of cherryderry and linsey-woolsey"

At the TLS, Ferdinand Mount has a great piece about John Styles' The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England:
The most heart-rending of the illustrations are of the little swatches, mainly printed cottons, which were cut from the clothes that infants were wearing when they were brought into the Foundling Hospital. These tiny pieces of cloth were then pinned to the child’s documents as a means of identification. They are often beautiful, the sprigged and flowered patterns as beguiling as the early Laura Ashley prints, the stripes and checks very much like those you find today in Ian Mankin’s pattern book. Looking at all the finery on the mercer’s shelves, one feels a twitch of sympathy with Elizabeth Wild, who stole three pairs of silk gloves worth 13s 6d from a London shop in 1716. All she could say in her defence was that “she long’d for them, and that she knew not why else she did it, not having any occasion as she knew of for them”. Female overspending led to the kind of fibs and concealments that two centuries later provided the leitmotif for the newspaper cartoon The Gambols. A late eighteenth-century shop ledger from Penmorfa in North Wales includes several marginal notes on purchases of clothes on men’s credit by wives or maidservants such as “handkerchief . . . wife, not to tell” and “hat 11s 6d, to tell 8s”.

Oneiric climates

At the LRB, Elif Batuman has an interesting and wide-ranging essay on the graphic novel. Interesting reflection on the old hero-in-two-persons arrangement, present in many cyclically related comics:
Probably the best-loved example is the duality of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Snoopy, the romantic ‘hero’, is variously an attorney, a pulp novelist, an Olympic figure-skater, a Beagle Scout, Flashbeagle, the Lone Beagle, the Flying Ace, a World-Famous Golfer, a World-Famous Surgeon; while Charlie Brown is inescapably ‘the Charlie Browniest’ of all Charlie Browns. Charlie Brown is all talk and worry; Snoopy is all image and imagination. And an ‘oneiric climate’ just about describes the sense of time developed by Schulz. Seasons change, as do fashions: Snoopy is always on top of the latest fads, from contact lenses to grunge. But although new babies are occasionally born (Sally, Rerun), the existing children don’t get any older; and history always remains outside the frame.