Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snowdrop skullduggery

At the FT, Joe Sharman tells Sarah Deguid about the amazing life of the galanthophile (site registration required):
Security is a big problem. This year the National Trust tagged its snowdrops at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. I know people who have opened their gardens and had everything stolen. If I have something new, I keep quiet. I have pulled the heads off flowers to stop people recognising them. I don’t open my garden or nursery. I never let people in. I don’t even tell people where I am. I always give one bulb away to a friend for security so that I can start again if things go missing. But stealing snowdrops is like stealing a Van Gogh. If it’s rare, all the galanthophiles will know who propagated it and where it was stolen from. You could only ever sell it in an ad at the back of a newspaper, if that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just so stories

When I think of candidates who are having great success on the academic job market, I have a considerable amount of empathy: it is not something that they can complain about to their less fortunate peers, but they potentially find themselves in a position somewhat like that of Kangaroo in Kipling's story (in the sense that it is not always as enjoyable as one might think to be "very truly sought after"...).

The gesture life

On the off chance that you are a Rochesterian (in terms of geography rather than primarily of literary preference), please consider coming to hear me talk about the relationship between Restoration theater and the eighteenth-century novel on Thursday, March 3 at 5pm!

(Fatigue and ignorance make me currently unable to figure out how to convert the PDF of the poster into a format I can post here, but you may be able to access a version of it here?)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Machines for thinking with

A good piece by Paul Deguid at the TLS on recent books about the fate of the book, including one by Jacques Bonnet that sounds highly worthwhile:
Peter Stallybrass argues that the codex is best suited for random access, allowing readers to dive in at any point in the text. If so, it is ideal for reference books and those nineteenth-century collections of government statistics, but curiously unsuited to the novel, where the scroll more easily lets a tale unfold. Indeed, praise for “page turners” almost suggests a triumph over readers’ resistance to turning the page. The digital world offers to take us back to scrolling – though uncertainty remains. Google books scroll. Scholarly resources such as JSTOR or ProQuest’s “Early English Books Online” turn. New reading devices (such as the Kindle, iPad and Nook) and new apps (iBooks, GoodReader, Stanza) seem uncertain about the page.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fatal attraction

These doughnut pictures are criminally attractive.

(I had a jelly doughnut from the new Chelsea Doughnut Plant location last week, and it was possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I try and avoid the Donut Pub on 14th St., though as I am very often taking the train home from that corner after I've been at Chelsea Piers, I very frequently need to block my ears against the siren call of the coconut cream donut...)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

19 grams

Nano hummingbird!

Froth and Whip-syllabub

"To the Editor of Pamela":
[L]et us have Pamela as Pamela wrote it; in her own Words, without Amputation, or Addition. Produce her to us in her neat Country Apparel, such as she appear’d in, on her intended Departure to her Parents; for such best becomes her Innocence and beautiful Simplicity. Such a Dress will best edify and entertain. The flowing Robes of Oratory may indeed amuse and amaze, but will never strike the Mind with solid Attention.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The interiority effect

At the TLS, Michael Caines on new books about eighteenth-century theater by Felicity Nussbaum and David Roberts:
Behind the mask of any given character on stage lies another mask: not the performer’s own face, but the impression of a private individual. In the public sphere – the intellectual shape that, we are so frequently told, held a particular appeal for the eighteenth century – with its concomitant redefinition of privacy, such an impression could become a useful commodity. Eighteenth-century audiences, Nussbaum maintains, quickly became fond of “imagining the inner lives of actors and actresses”, just as readers enjoyed the illusions of interiority conjured up by Pamela and Clarissa. Well before the time of those antithetical celebrities Sarah Siddons and Dorothy Jordan, successful actresses “recognized the necessity of creating an ‘interiority effect’”, and the resultant “personalities” – the performances of being performers – “could be translated into profit, but also could redefine feminine virtue”.
It is very much apropos of a wonderful talk I heard this evening, Joseph Roach speaking to the 18th-century seminar at Columbia on Eliza Linley's voice. (Here is an unrelated blog post that reproduces many of the portraits that provide some of his most evocative evidence.)

Also - did I link to this already, or did I just mean to? - Richard Holmes considers the portraits of Thomas Lawrence:
For all the wonderful extravagance of his portraiture, Lawrence’s own life appeared—on the surface at least—curiously reserved and restrained. He repeatedly said he never bet on cards, never gambled on horses, never got drunk with friends (all proper Regency male pastimes). Instead, he claimed his favorite reading was Jane Austen, and his most extreme sport was billiards. He never married. Yet he was handsome, flirtatious, and charming to a perilous degree. His great friend and confidant, the painter and diarist Joseph Farington, bluntly called him a “male coquet.” But this does not seem quite to explain the case. An anonymous female admirer wrote more perceptively:
He could not write a common answer to a dinner invitation without it assuming the tone of a billet-doux: the very commonest conversation was held in that soft, low whisper, and with that tone of deference and interest, which are so unusual, and so calculated to please.
A male friend called him simply an “old flirt.”

This insidious gift for intimacy, for making everyone feel special, which Lawrence practiced on both his male and female subjects, was evidently an essential part of his magic as a portrait painter. It was his actor’s ability to enter into all their characters and moods; and also that instinct to charm and flatter, which he had learned as a child. His drawings expressed this same swift and sometimes teasing empathy; while his paintings added those theatrical elements of glamour and gusto that became his trademark.

In an unexpected moment of self-revelation, Lawrence once described his own character as “Genius…infected by Romance, and wasted by Indolence and Languor.” He added that he had the mark of “the Voluptuary,” and that playing around his mouth were “Passions powerful to ruin, to debase, or to elevate the Character.” As suits a Romantic figure, there remains a kind of mysterious doubleness about his identity, a secretive and possibly bisexual quality that runs both through his life and through the ironic subtext of many of his portraits. He once wrote a curious little camp poem, “On Being Left Alone after Dinner,” which contains the lines: “I wish the sex were kinder grown,/And when they find a man alone,/Would treat him like a woman.”

Village X

Very busy trying to get some leverage on upcoming work stuff. Aphra Behn's The Rover is a strangely easy play to teach; we will see next week whether the same can be said of the sequel. Manon Lescaut also teaches very well, but I think Pamela this coming Monday should be enjoyable too...

Miscellaneous links: Ice Age skull mugs; Tony Paterson on what has become of Elisabeth Fritzl.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday miscellany

At the Guardian, Paul Theroux on living as an alien in England from 1971 to 1990:
Wank was a new word for me. I learned others in those years: pantechnicon, pastilles, salopettes, anorak, ginger wine, trifle, syllabub, riddling (the coal grate), gaiters, trug, secateurs, borstal, Boche, Gorbals, yobbos, scotia (a sort of household trim), valance, shandy, sent to Coventry, applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, chicane (as of a set of racing cars), gauntlets, whitebait, infra dig, subfusc, knackers, Christmas crackers, Dutch courage, Dutch cap, double Dutch, Screaming Lord Sutch.
'Dado' should surely be on this list also!

Other links: the Penguin archive, with every Penguin ever published in chronological order; an interview with Kristin Hersh (courtesy of Julie Park).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The books of knowledge

The Widow Blackacre, in Wycherley, The Plain Dealer:
O do not squeeze wax, son. Rather go to ordinaries and bawdyhouses than squeeze wax. If thou dost that, farewell the goodly manor of Blackacre with all its woods, underwoods and appurtenances whatever. Oh, Oh! (Weeps)
From Green's Dictionary of Slang: "squeeze-wax (n.) a surety for a loan; 'a good-natured foolish fellow, ready to become security for another, under hand and seal' (Grose)"; the first example, from a 1698 dictionary of cant, "Squeezing of Wax, being Bound for any Body."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On serendipity

After boot camp this morning at Chelsea Piers, I had a delicious coffee with Lauren at Chelsea Market and then headed to get the uptown train at 14th St. But it was all chaos and disarray there, with no information available other than that no 1, 2 or 3 trains were running uptown; if I didn't want to take the bus, I was informed by an unsurprisingly grumpy MTA employee, I had better walk over to 8th Avenue for the uptown C.

(Reading the paper later, I realized it was because of this; the only information available at the time was that there had been some sort of police action in Times Square.)

A very elegant middle-aged lady, an out-of-town visitor, was asking for directions, and I invited her to follow along with me as we were going more or less the same way (in fact it turned out she was going to Barnard, so it was really exactly the same sort of thing).

We fell into conversation and it turned into one of those truly lovely interactions with a stranger, where you can't believe quite how much it is like talking to someone you know very well already: she had done a master's degree in English at UCLA, she was a runner training for the Boston Marathon (something I have not yet qualified for, but which is one of my bucket list aspirations), etc.

It turned out that she had been in town for the Athena Film Festival to screen her documentary Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn. As we parted, she generously gave me a copy, and I have just watched it; it is a fascinating story, quite beautifully made, about the Japanese-American costume designer who left her job in order to write one of the first books exposing the true history of America's internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

In short, the day brought me something genuinely beautiful, important and altogether unexpected!

Here's a piece about the film at the Huffington Post, and I've embedded the trailer below. Some of the most lovely things glimpsed in the full-length version: the colored sketches Michi made as a biology student at Mount Holyoke and as a costume designer on the Perry Como Show.

Many thanks to Sharon Yamato for making my day so much richer than it otherwise would have been!

The pleasures of neurasthenia

Gideon Lewis-Kraus on reading Thomas Bernhard in New York.

"Women, Willie. Women"

Two good things in the weekend's Times from Toni Schlesinger, author of the superlative Five Flights Up: thoughts on cruising the Caribbean aboard a behemoth and an interview with a much-loved Norwegian cruise-ship captain.

Also: I have rather a yen for a cube of this ilk!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Franciscan themes

Nicholson Baker, speaking at Dodge Hall, as reported by Ed Park:
Dick Francis is an inspiration to me: First person. About horses. Every single book.

Mescal and sympathy

Oliver Sacks has luxuriant eyelashes. (Courtesy of Dave Lull.)

My favorite bit of the exchange:
How often do you prepare your own meals?

Once or twice — in my lifetime. Usually I subsist on cereal, sardines, and tabouli. Sometimes I have food delivered by Tea & Sympathy, or my local sushi place.
Have been very busy this week. Insane amounts to get done in next 10 days or so. That said, have found time for minor extracurriculars: an odd play at the Flea (weirdly chronologically unanchored play about nuns and priests leaving their orders, with disconcerting moment in which a cellphone appears & thoroughly disrupts peculiarly timeless ambience - why weren't they talking about the molestation scandals and the difficulty of recruiting high-quality young nuns if it really is set in the present day as opposed to the 1960s?), a fun show by Titus Andronicus courtesy of my good friend and triathlon training partner Lauren whose sister Amy is in the band and was kind enough to put us on the guest list. Tomorrow I am going to see Nico's thing at St. Ann's Warehouse. New York life: very stimulating, very tiring....

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Subcontinental, uncomplimentary

This Wikipedia entry for English words with uncommon properties will repay further attention at some more leisurely moment. (Prompted by Brent's sending me this link!)

The catalog of things that must get done in the next week and a half is busting my brain! However it is all good, I am very happy to be back in my teaching life and with all sorts of other appealing obligations of a more or less optional kind; only I had better activate my superpowers, I think...

(Among other things I am reading lots of novels as a member of the judging committee for a fiction prize and tantalizingly can't really say anything about them, good or otherwise, until the awards have been given and the prize is over and done with, at which point I don't see why I can't say some good things about the ones I have particularly enjoyed...)

I did read a good book last night that it will not contravene the embargo to mention: Jessie Sholl's Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding. The content is excellent, and I am sure it will find a very wide audience; I did feel that it could have been an essay-length piece of absolute long-lived brilliance, and that something was sacrificed in the writing in order to make it a book-length piece, but it is still a very good book. Two paragraphs I particularly liked:
In June, I'm walking along the Hudson River as I sometimes do, when I notice that my iPod is sounding utterly fantastic. Because of the times I helped my dad test out his new audio gear, I can easily tell the difference between a crap stereo and a good one. And suddenly my iPod sounds as good as one of my dad's best systems.

I take out my earbuds. Did I buy new ones and not remember? They look the same. Besides, I would remember. And my iPod certainly hasn't changed. I put the earbuds back in and switch from the Lemonheads to Outkast. Again, the music sounds excellent. I try Radiohead, the Rolling Stones, PJ Harvey. I'm hearing individual parts to the songs that I haven't noticed, or at least appreciated, before. And these parts are coming together to create a vastly wider spectrum of sound. I continue walking, blown away by what I'm hearing, still baffled as to why. And then I realize: It's the Wellbutrin. I'd become so depressed that everything had gone flat, including music. Now it's round again.
Bonus link to my favorite PJ Harvey song:

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"It's all supposed to be embargoed"

An interesting long piece about Michael Moorcock by Hari Kunzru at the Guardian. (Strange to say, I have never actually read a book by Moorcock, though obviously his influence is everywhere; please offer recommendations in the comments if you feel that there is a particular one I can't live without reading!)

A couple of bits I especially liked:
In a recent introduction to The Dancers at the End of Time, which is set in a decadent far future, Moorcock claims to have sported Wildean green carnations as a teenager, not to mention "the first pair of Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frock coat to be seen in London since 1910". Elric, much less robust than his creator, who admits his dandyish threads gave him "the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander", is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it's tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand. I ask him whether he felt at the time that the 60s rockers were living out a role he'd imagined. He's too modest to agree, but tells an anecdote that seems to sum up psychedelic London's openness to fantasy of all kinds. "I'm in the Mountain grill on the Portobello Road, where everyone used to meet to get on the tour buses. I'm sitting there, and this bloke called Geronimo is trying to sell me some dope. He says 'have you heard about the tunnel under Ladbroke Grove?'. He starts to elaborate, about how it's under the Poor Clares nunnery, and you can go into that and come out in an entirely different world. I said to him, 'Geronimo, I think I wrote that'. It didn't seem to bother him much."
The literary culture in which Moorcock, Ballard and their peers could make a living from magazine serialisations seems as distant now, in the era of the internet, as the Grub Street of the 18th century to which it bears a more than passing resemblance. I ask Moorcock about his famous 15,000 daily word-rate. How on earth is it possible to produce so much? "It's all planning. I'd have been in bed for three days, during which I've had time to sketch out the story. Then I spring out of bed and I've got a straight nine to five – or nine to six or seven – regime, which frequently includes taking the kids to school, then I just sit down and go through with an hour break for lunch." He makes it sound deceptively simple, though not without its side-effects. "When you write that fast the book really does start to write you, you get high on the book. It's partly lack of sleep, it's partly the sugar – in my case I only had strong black coffee because it kept me going."

Blackberry as signalling device

At Wired Magazine, Sudhir Venkatesh on the new economics of prostitution in gentrified New York. (Via Bwoglines.)

Aerial running

Ptarmigans on ptreadmills (via Marginal Revolution).

Lost reputations

An interesting profile of Max Mosley by Lucy Kellaway for the Financial Times (site registration required).

Friday, February 04, 2011

Thursday, February 03, 2011

School year tidbits

The beginning of the spring semester always kills me; I don't think I'm really breaking any confidences when I say that we've had three candidates for each of two different junior faculty positions come to give talks in the last two weeks (the final candidate of the group is coming on Tuesday), and of course they must also be lunched and dined and so forth (I am drawing the line at dining this year, lunching is less overwhelming to my schedule!), and their talks subsequently chewed over with colleagues in offices and corridors; it is most tiring for them, and I do not mean to make light of their plight, but it is ultimately rather tiring for the visited as well as for the visitor!

There are a lot of regular talks at this time of year, too: good ones I've heard in the past week include Columbia instantiations of this and this. I wanted to go to this one this evening, but I was so tired that I instead took to my bed!

(Yesterday started very early, with 7am boot camp at Chelsea Piers, and ended late, sitting down around 11:15pm for a very pleasant and satisfying if nutritionally unsound dinner at the Penny Farthing; I had - I am slightly ashamed even to name it - buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese, and G. had fried chicken of evident deliciousness. We had come from the highly satisfactory though perhaps not absolutely stellar - it is such a good play, though! - production of Three Sisters at the Classic; the only thing I didn't care for was the translation, which struck me as obtrusively colloquial in a rather dated way, but many of the performances are very good, and Juliet Rylance was superb as Irina.)

My classes are both well underway, I think; I'm really enjoying being back in the classroom. Yesterday: the last half of The Country Wife, a play which continues to perplex and intrigue me ("Write as I bid you, or I will write whore with this penknife in your face").

Some bits of light reading around the edges: Dinaw Mengestu's How to Read the Air (superb in parts, less compelling in others, but the voice is at its best spectacular); Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead, which I loved. It was a recommendation via The Big Dime, a list that also sent me to Stuart Neville's Belfast thrillers; near the end of the first one now, and finding it very good, though perhaps a bit more conventional/not as much to my taste as Roger Smith's Cape Town thriller.

My only plans for tomorrow are to reread Robinson Crusoe and do a great deal of exercise.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

CABOB: "a loin of mutton roasted with an onyon betwixt each joint"

At the TLS, James Sharpe on Jonathan Green's dictionary of slang and one of its early precursors:
Slang relating to sex, of course, figures prominently. Taking a non-exhaustive list from the first two letters of the alphabet, we find the penis being referred to as Aaron’s rod, Adam’s arsenal, arse-wedge, augur, bacon bazooka, bald-headed bastard, and bayonet.
Alas, there is not yet a copy of Green's Dictionary of Slang in the Columbia library system, I suppose it is not yet actually released in the U.S. - I will have to console myself with The A-Z of Nuclear Jargon for now...

(Really I want my own copy!)