Friday, September 29, 2006 09/29/06-E.E. Cummings

In today's excerpt--poet E.E. Cummings's
(1894-1962) reflection on war, "my sweet old
etcetera." His publishers and others have sometimes echoed the unconventional capitalization by writing his name in lower case, as e.e. cummings; Cummings himself did not approve of this rendering. Cummings is probably best known for his poems and their unorthodox capitalization, layout,
punctuation, and syntax. Many of his poems are best understood when read on the page. When read in the correct fashion, his poems often paint a syntactical picture as vital to the understanding of the poem as the words themselves. Despite Cummings' affinity for avant-garde styles and for unusual typography, much of his work is traditional. During his lifetime, he published more than 900 poems, along with two novels, several plays and essays, as well as numerous drawings, sketches, and paintings. He is remembered as one of the preeminent voices of 20th century poetry:

my sweet old etcetera (1926)

my sweet old etcetera

aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what

is more did tell you just

what everybody was fighting


my sister

isabel created hundreds


hundreds) of socks not to

mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

mother hoped that

i would die etcetera

bravely of course my father used

to become hoarse talking about how it was

a privilege and if only he

could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly

in the deep mud et




cetera, of

Your smile

eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Today's encore excerpt comes from the rigorously
primary-source-oriented historian Barbara Tuchman in her book A Distant Mirror, the Calamitous 14th Century. Here she comments on the violence in everyday village life in the Middle Ages:

"In village games, players with hands tied behind
them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by
battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal's claws. Trumpets enhanced the
excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was
chased by men with clubs to the laughter of
spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and
women were not necessarily repelled by the
spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it. The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the
pleasure of seeing him quartered.

"Violence was official as well as individual. Torture
was authorized by the Church and regularly used by the Inquisition to uncover heresy. The tortures and punishments of civil justice customarily cut off hands and ears, racked, burned, flayed, and pulled apart people's bodies. In everyday life passersby saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls."

Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, the Calamitous 14th Century, Ballantine Books, 1978, p.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 09/27/06-Arrow, Knight, and Peasant

In today's excerpt--the beginning of the end for
the medieval knight and the age of chivalry. Their
demise was due to the military innovations of King
Edward III when he was twenty, and it happened at the Battle of Crecy during the famed Hundred Years' War between England and France. It stemmed from the King's tactical developments in archery, and it brought new power to the peasant class:

"On August 26th, 1346, Edward probably had about
6,000 archers remaining and 3,000 knights,
men-at-arms and other men. The numbers they
faced were ... four times as many in the French army. The French were confident, and had even settled in advance who was to take whom prisoner. Edward's methodical tactics changed everything. Even if each of his English bowman loosed one arrow every twelve
seconds--and there is good reason to believe they
could shoot twice as fast--then 30,000 deadly
arrows per minute would have rained down on the
French and their Genoese allies. The question thus
became one of how long the English could sustain
such an onslaught. If Edward's orders for arrows for his previous campaigns are anything to go
by--on one occasion he placed a single order for
three million--then the answer to this question has
to be reckoned in terms of hours. To this one has to add the fact that Edward had a number of
cannon--perhaps as many as a hundred--performing a similar function to the archers.

"... When the predictable charge came forward, the
[French] front ranks were caught in the arrow-storm, and fell, their corpses piling up and inhibiting the charge of those behind. ...

"The battle of Crecy was not the end of the age of chivalry but it signaled the beginning of the end. It
was the first major international battle to be won
predominantly by projectile fighting, rather than by
hand-to-hand combat. Most importantly, it was
obvious that it was not an accidental victory. By
learning to fight with projectile weapons, one could
defeat a much larger army ...

"Until the 1340s, the most valuable unit of military
power in medieval society had been the knight, or
rather the massed charge of knights. Thus military
power was vested in the richest element of society, those who could afford the equipment and who were given the training to become knights. It followed that this group, a fighting aristocracy, also wielded political power. At Crecy that began to fall apart. From then on, a thousand peasants armed with longbows were more than a match for a thousand knights, as long as they were well-trained and well-fed. Coupled with the economic independence of the wealthier peasant classes which followed the Black Death of 1348-49, the awareness that the social and political control had shifted to commoners spread rapidly. The most obvious manifestation of this is to be seen in 1381, when the yeomen of Kent and Essex
took arms. Their uprising is known as 'the Peasants' Revolt' but they were no rabble ... [and]
the 'peasants' had learnt that the military authority they had wielded on behalf of the King in France could be used with equally devastating effect in their homeland, with the most profound political consequences."

Ian Mortimer, "Poitiers," History Today,
September 2006, pp. 45-7.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 09/26/06-Emotions, not Words

Today's excerpt comes from Arthur Laurents (b.
1918), acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of such works as West Side Story, Gypsy, and
The Turning Point. Here he comments on two
of his writing teachers, one while he was a student at Cornell University, and
the second immediately after:

"I took a playwriting course from the noted Prof. A.M. Drummond, a huge man on crutches who right off the bat delivered a ukase never to begin a play with the telephone ringing. I immediately wrote a one-act play that began with a telephone ringing. If I hadn't, there wouldn't have been a play. It wasn't just rebelliousness that prompted that play; Drummond was a casually overt anti-Semite. He had no compunction about beginning a sentence with 'You Jews'--there were two others in the class--and I was declaring war. I didn't win, not while I was at Cornell anyway. He advised me to give up playwriting.

"It wasn't until I was writing professionally for radio that I did happen on a good teacher: Ned
Warren. ... Bald and rosy-cheeked, Ned looked as
though he got his clothes in London (he wore
ascots). He sat me down one day to discuss the
scripts I had been writing. He was so wry and
sardonic that I was completely unprepared when he told me I had talent. Just that, in those words: I
had talent. No one had ever said that before and he
was definite. I wanted to run out of the room before he continued because I knew there had to be a caveat. As indeed there was. [He said] my problem was that I was too facile. Too often, I made transitions in a scene through words, not as they should be made, through emotions. Emotions precede thought, emotions determine thought; plays are emotion. The single best lesson I have ever been given."

Arthur Laurents, Original Story, Knopf, 2000,
pp. 16-7.

Monday, September 25, 2006 09/25/06-hindering a friend's performance

In today's excerpt, Daniel Gilbert speaks to our
predisposition to select both friends and facts that
reinforce the self-perceptions and opinions we
already hold. Gilbert is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and his work is characterized by
extensive testing and research:

"... Of course, other people ... are the richest source
of information about the wisdom of our decisions, the extent of our abilities, and the effervescence of our personalities. Our tendency to expose ourselves to information that supports our favored conclusions is especially powerful when it comes to choosing the company we keep. ... [W]e spend countless hours carefully arranging our lives to ensure that we are surrounded by people who like us, and people who are like us. It isn't surprising then that when we turn to the folks we know for advice and opinions, they tend to confirm our favored conclusions--either because they share them or because they don't want to hurt our feelings by telling us otherwise. Should people in our lives occasionally fail to tell us what we want to hear, we have some clever ways of helping them.

"For example, studies reveal that people have a
penchant for asking questions that are subtly
engineered to manipulate the answers they receive. A question such as 'Am I the best lover you've ever had?' is dangerous because it has only one answer that can make us truly happy, but a question such as 'What do you like best about my lovemaking?' is brilliant because it has only one answer that can truly make us miserable. Studies show that people intuitively lean toward asking the questions that are most likely to elicit the answers they want to hear. ... In short, we derive support for our preferred conclusions by listening to the words that we put in the mouths of people who have already been preselected for their willingness to say what we want to hear.

"And it gets worse ... to be considered a great
driver, lover or chef ... we simply need to park, kiss,
and bake better than most other folks do. How do we know how well most other folks do? Why, we look around, of course--but in order to make sure that we see what we want to see, we look around selectively. For example, volunteers in one
study took a test that ostensibly measured their
social sensitivity and were told they had flubbed the majority of questions. When these volunteers were then given an opportunity to look over the test results of people who had done better or worse than they had, they ignored the tests of the people who had done better and instead spent their time looking over the tests of the people who had done worse. ...

"And if we can't find people who are doing
more poorly than we are, we may go out and
create them. Volunteers in one study took a test and were then given the opportunity to provide hints that would either help or hinder a friend's performance on the same test. Although volunteers helped their friends
when the test was described as a game, they
actively hindered their friends when the test was
described as an important measure of intellectual
ability. ... Once we've successfully sabotaged their
performances and ensured their failure, they become the perfect standard for comparison."

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf,
2006, pp. 165-7.

Thursday, September 21, 2006 09/21/06-Elephants

Today's encore excerpt is on the constraining impact of the past:

"The best advice I ever got was from an elephant
trainer in the jungle outside Bangalore. I was doing a
hike through the jungle as a tourist. I saw these
large elephants tethered to a small stake. I asked
him, 'How can you keep such a large elephant tied to
such a small stake?' He said, 'When the elephants
are small, they try to pull out the stake, and they
fail.  When they grow large, they never try to pull
out the stake again.' That parable reminds me that
we have to go for what we think we're fully capable of, not limit ourselves by what we've been in the past."

Paul Vivek, quoted in "The Best Advice I Ever Got,"
Fortune, March 21, 2005, p. 100.



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Wednesday, September 20, 2006 09/20/06-Japanese Aristocratic Women

In today's excerpt, the liberated women of
aristocracy in tenth-century Japan:

"It just happens that the women of Kyoto, in the
days when it was the residence of the Japanese
emperor and known as 'the capital of peace,' made a record of what they felt, illuminating human
emotion ... While men wrote learned texts on the
usual subjects of war, law and religion, in the
language ordinary people could not understand
(Chinese, the Japanese scholars' equivalent of the
Europeans' Latin), women started writing novels in
the everyday Japanese language, and in the process
invented Japanese literature. For about a hundred
years novels were written only by women ... The
world's first psychological novel is the Tale of
Genji, written between AD 1002 and 1022, by a widow in her twenties ...

"In this period, it was shameful for an aristocratic
woman to be dependent financially on her husband.
She did not move in to live with him on marriage;
each kept their own home. ... [t]hey had both the
ability and time to reflect on their relations with men, which were unusual in that there were virtually no restrictions on sexual intercourse. ... Men could have many wives (some went up to ten at a time) and even more concubines. ... Wives were encouraged to have all the lovers they could attract, and virgins were thought to be blemished, possessed by evil spirits.

"Nobody expected a partner, either short or long
term, to be faithful. A wife, indeed, believed that if
her husband had many mistresses, she was more
likely to have exciting and affectionate relations with him, provided she was the woman he preferred; that was a constant challenge. But this system became a nightmare because these wonderfully elegant people could not stand the uncertainty. Both men and women were morbidly jealous, even though jealousy was regarded as a breach of good manners. They all pined for security, though they were bored by it."

Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of
Humanity, Vintage, 1998, pp. 281-284.



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Tuesday, September 19, 2006 09/19/06-Adolescence

In today's excerpt, the study of personality and identity in adolescents:

"... the recognition [by adolescents] that one's personality is multifaceted--even contradictory--may initially cause some distress, [but] in the long run it probably has a number of advantages. Indeed, some psychologists have suggested that the development of a more complicated view of oneself is one way that individuals cope with the recognition of their faults and weaknesses, a recognition that comes with the increased self-awareness of adolescence. ... Consistent with this, adolescents who have more complex self-conceptions are less likely to be depressed. ...

"Most personality researchers now approach the study of personality using the Five-Factor Model (McRae & John, 1992), which is based on the observation that there are five critical personality dimensions, often referred to as the Big Five: extraversion (how outgoing and energetic a person is), agreeableness (how kind or sympathetic someone is), conscientiousness (how responsible and organized someone is), neuroticism (how anxious or tense someone is), and openness to experience (how curious and imaginative someone is). ... For example, delinquent adolescents are more likely than their peers to score high on the extraversion dimension and low on the agreeableness and conscientiousness dimensions, whereas adolescents who are high achievers in school score high on the conscientiousness and openness dimensions. ...

"... There is a good deal of evidence that many core personality traits, such as impulsivity or timidity, are quite stable between childhood and adolescence and between adolescence and young adulthood. Although external manifestations of these traits may change with age (for example, anxiety may appear as bed-wetting in early childhood but as nervous talkativeness in adolescence), our basic, underlying traits are quite stable over time. For example, studies show that individuals who have displayed relatively higher levels of aggression in preadolescence, temper tantrums during childhood, or negative emotions during infancy are more likely to behave aggressively as adolescents. Similarly, individuals who have difficulty controlling their impulses as preschoolers are more likely to be impulsive, aggressive, and danger-seeking as adolescents and young adults, whereas young children who are inhibited or sluggish tend to be relatively more timid, anxious, and shy as teenagers. ... Individuals who are judged to be well-adjusted in early and middle childhood tend to be resilient and competent in adolescence.

"Despite popular stereotypes about adolescence as a time of 'rebirth,' research has not supported the view that adolescence is a time of tumultuous upheaval in personality. Far from it. Indeed, as one team of researchers put it, 'The person who enters adolescence is basically the same as that who exits it.' "

Laurence Steinberg, Adolescence, McGraw-Hill, 2005, pp. 267-9.



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Monday, September 18, 2006 09/18/06-Reparations in 1865

In today's excerpt, reparations to slaves in

"For the ex-slaves, the promise of land was real, not just something they imagined or hoped for. General William Tecumseh Sherman made the promise when thousands of freed people followed the troops when he marched his army from Atlanta to the sea in 1864-1865, laying waste the Confederacy. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton heard reports that he had been heartless and shown indifference to the poverty-stricken condition of the newly freed people. Stanton
came to Savannah in January to meet with Sherman and talk to African-American leaders about their needs. Twenty blacks selected by Union authorities, deacons, and ministers, three quarters of whom had been slaves, came to the meeting and let national leaders know that land was their major priority. When asked how they could best support their families, their self-selected leader, Garrison Frazier from Granville, North Carolina, replied, 'To have land and turn in and till it by our labor.'

"With Stanton's support, Sherman approved the
request. He issued Order Number 15 of January 16,
1865, designating the rich sea islands and plantation
areas from Charleston to Jacksonville, thirty miles
inland, for settlement by the freedmen. Each adult
male could claim a forty-acre tract. The March
3, 1865, Freedmen's Bureau Act repeated the
promise that each freedman would be assigned 'not
more than forty acres' of abandoned or confiscated land at rental for three years and an option to purchase at the end of that time with 'such title thereto as the United States can convey.' Word of the promise spread quickly among the ex-slaves.

"By June 1865, 40,000 freedmen had been settled on the coastal lands and were growing crops. The
promise of forty acres and a mule seemed a reality. However, any hope that this policy would expand to the rest of the South proved to be an illusion. After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Johnson gutted the policy. He issued an amnesty proclamation on May 29, 1865, pardoning many rebels and restoring their lands to them. Abolitionists tried to stop the policy change, but to no avail. ... Incredulous, the freedmen cried out at the betrayal."

Mary Frances Berry, My Face is Black is True,
Knopf, 2005, pp. 11-12.



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Friday, September 15, 2006

Delanceyplace 09/15/06-Vermeer

In today's excerpt, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), whose entire extant work is comprised of only thirty-six paintings. As with many great artists, Vermeer emerged from the midst of an economic boom. In his case, it was Holland--the United Provinces--which had cast off the repressive leadership of Catholic Spain in 1581 and assumed a leading role at the heart of global maritime trade. As in Victorian England, this rapid change and prosperity brought with it a reactionary and heightened need for morality--including fidelity, avoiding vanity, placing the woman in the home serving the family, and others. Vermeer grew up in Delft, the capital under William of Orange, and painted pictures of breathtaking grace, light, isolation, and quietly veiled emotion. Some view Vermeer, whose technique foreshadowed the rise of Impressionism, as the supreme painter of any era:

"The overwhelming majority of Vermeer's paintings that depict women conform to the basic trend in Dutch genre painting, in that they criticize vice. It was their goal to educate people to behave virtuously--in other words to conform to norms of thought and behavior--and to do this by depicting, in a comic manner, characters behaving wrongly. The opposite of this is to educate by presenting the official code of behavior by means of a model of virtue ... only three of Vermeer's paintings have this purpose clearly in mind.

"Today, Vermeer is generally seen with Rembrandt and Frans Hals as the third great artist of the Golden Age. Vincent van Gogh ... waxed lyrical on the subject of Vermeer's colour harmonies: 'It is true that in the few pictures he painted, one can find the entire scale of colours; but the use of lemon yellow, pale blue and light grey together is as characteristic of him as the harmony of black, white, grey and pink is of Velazquez.' ... He was quietly innovative ... his predilection for balance; his method of simplifying complex structures to a few components; his treatment of light ... were hallmarks of a style unusual even in Vermeer's own day.

"In the early modern era, the family unit was of central importance. ... Since the increasing division of labour was now tending to involve many men in work outside the home, women, as keepers of the house, found themselves with greater responsibility to bear and more tasks to perform. ... Most of Vermeer's paintings are about these domestic duties, but they also show the conflicts called forth in women by the imperatives of duty and virtue, so much at odds with the libidinous desires that they were no longer permitted to express. ... Arguably Vermeer's figures, rejecting the norms and demands of society, have been forced into isolation, and have withdrawn modestly -- into silence."

Woman with
a Pearl Necklace: <>

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open
Window: <>

The Girl with a Pearl Earring: <>

The Lacemaker : <>

View of Delft: <>

The Astronomer: <>

Norbert Schneider, Vermeer, Taschen, 2006, pp. 87-91.

Thursday, September 14, 2006 09/14/06-Hollywood vs Independents

In today's encore excerpt, Oscar-winning
screenwriter William Goldman comments on Hollywood films vs. independent films:

"There are really two kinds of flicks--what we now call generic Hollywood movies, and what we now call independent films. Hollywood films--and this is crucial to screenwriters--all have in common this: they want to tell us truths we already know or a falsehood we want to believe in.

"Hollywood films reinforce, reassure.

"Independent films, which used to be called 'art'
films, have a different agenda. They want to tell us things we don't want to know.

"Independent films unsettle.

"Famous cartoon from fifty years back. A couple are at the original run of Death of a Salesman.
The man turns to the woman, here's what he says: 'I'll get you for this!' The point is that most of us work all day, often at something we don't love much anymore but we do it till we drop. At the end of our average days, we want peace, we want relaxation, maybe a bite of food, a few kind words. We do not want to watch Willy Loman's suicide ... Most people want to be told nice things. That we really are decent human beings, that God will smile on us, that there is true love and it is waiting for you just around the corner.
That the meek really will inherit the earth."

William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell? Pantheon, 2000, pp. 274-5.



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Wednesday, September 13, 2006 09/13/06-Pensions and Health Benefits

In today's excerpt, Malcolm Gladwell argues that
collectivization of pensions and health benefits would
help businesses:

"... in 1949 the head of the local United Auto
Workers, Richard Grosser, came up with a proposal. The workers of Toledo needed pensions. But, he said, the pension plan should be regional, spread across the many small auto-parts makers, electrical appliance manufacturers, and plastics shops in the Toledo area. That way, if workers switched jobs they could take their pension credits with them, and if a company went bankrupt its workers' retirement would be safe. ...

"[President of General Motors] Charlie Wilson, on the other hand, felt the way the business leaders of Toledo did: that collectivization was a threat to the free market and to the autonomy of business owners [and] ... companies themselves ought to assume the risks of providing insurance. ...

"The most influential management theorist of the
twentieth century ... Peter Drucker ... [writing in
1950] simply couldn't see how the pension plans on
the table at companies like G.M. could ever
work. 'For such a plan to give real security, the
financial strength of the company and its economic
success must be reasonably secure for the next forty years ... but is there any one company ... whose future can be predicted with certainty for even ten years ahead?' ...

"Bethlehem [Steel] had a hundred and sixty-four
thousand workers in 1957. By the mid-to-late
nineteen-eighties, it was down to thirty-five
thousand workers ... in 2001, Bethlehem, just shy of
its hundredth birthday, declared bankruptcy. It had
twelve thousand active employees and ninety
thousand retirees and their spouses drawing benefits. It had reached what might be a record-setting dependency ratio of 7.5 pensioners for every worker. ...

"Wilbur Ross acted quickly [to buy the company out
of bankruptcy and] ... put in place a new 401(k)
savings plan ... within about six months, Bethlehem
was profitable.  The main problem with the American steel business wasn't the steel business, Ross showed.  It was all the things that had nothing to do with the steel business. ...

"In 1962, G.M. had four hundred and sixty-four
thousand U.S. employees and was paying benefits to forty thousand retirees and their spouses, for a dependency ratio of one pensioner to 11.6
employees. Last year, it had a hundred and forty-one thousand workers and paid benefits to four hundred and fifty-three thousand retirees, for a dependency ratio of 3.2 to 1. ... "

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Risk Pool," The New
Yorker, Aug. 28, 2006, pp. 30-35.



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Tuesday, September 12, 2006 09/12/06-Soldiers at the Front

In today's excerpt, keeping soldiers from retreating
from the front in World War I. Previous wars had
only hinted at the horrors that awaited soldiers in the trenches of this war, in which tens of thousands would die in single battles and there would be twenty-three million casualties in all. In the excerpt below, British and French officers sent soldiers into battles where they knew of the carnage awaiting them but did not believe any
alternative was available. On too many
occasions, the officers of each army would keep their soldiers in the fight by pointing their own guns at them:

"The [British] knew nothing of this as they set out. Their inexperience and ignorance of what lay ahead helped to keep their enthusiasm high. They had also been fortified--steadied, dulled--by extra rations of rum. (In some units they were given as much as they would drink.) To the extent that further motivation was required, it was provided by
by warnings that any man who failed to advance
would be shot by his sergeants. Such practices
were common and often backed up with action,
though the orders were never put into writing. Nor were any officers foolish enough to put into writing the orders they issued with respect to the taking of prisoners. For a number of the units attacking at the Somme, these orders were simple beyond possibility of misunderstanding: no quarter was to be given. Any Germans attempting to surrender were to be dispatched forthwith. ...

"Meaningless as it was, the last assault of 1916
brought an ominous if largely unnoticed
foreshadowing of the year that lay ahead. As they
moved forward to the trenches from which they
would once again have to throw their flesh against
machine guns, the French troops began to bleat like
sheep. The sound echoed all around. Baaaa, baaaa--
the one pathetic form of protest available to men
condemned to die. More than the fighting, more than any piece of ground won or lost, this was the sign of what was coming next."

G.J. Meyer, A World Undone, Delacorte, 2006,
pp. 385, 405.



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Friday, September 08, 2006 09/08/06-Beethoven Controversy

In today's excerpt, the arrival of the nineteenth century sees a change in the career of Ludwig van Beethoven. With it, an elegant virtuoso pianist of the Viennese salons becomes a serious composer. As his deafness curtails his social and performing life, he pours his musical soul into ever more important compositions, notably "Eroica," a symphony of enormous dimensions that profoundly influences the form but confounds the greater part of his followers. An article from the April 26, 1805 edition of Der Freimuthige contains the following observation regarding the new symphony:

"Some people, Beethoven's special friends, maintain that it is precisely this symphony that is his masterpiece, that this is the genuine style for first- rate music, and that if it fails to please now, it is because the public is not sufficiently cultured, from an artistic point of view, to appreciate all these ethereal beauties; when a few thousand years have elapsed it will not fail to make its effect.

"Another group denies that the composition has any artistic value and claims to see in it an unfettered quest for strangeness and effect. Through curious modulations and abrupt transitions, by joining together the most disparate elements, as for example when a pastoral in the grandest style is torn apart by the basses, by three horns, etc., a certain unwanted originality may result without much difficulty; but genius reveals itself not in the strange and the bizarre, but in the beautiful and the lofty.

"The third group, a very small one, stands halfway between the others--it concedes that the symphony has many beauties, but also grants that the continuity is often completely disrupted, and that the enormous length of this longest, and possibly most difficult of all symphonies, exhausts even the connoisseur, and for the mere music lover it is unbearable; it would like Beethoven to employ his undoubtedly enormous talents in offering us works like his early compositions which have put him eternally in the company of the greatest instrumental composers. It is afraid, however, that if Beethoven pursues his present bent both he and the public will suffer. His music could soon reach the point where one would take no pleasure in it, unless well-versed in the rules and problems of the art, but on the contrary would leave the concert hall with an unpleasant feeling of exhaustion from having been overwhelmed by a mass of disconnected and cumbersome ideas and a persistent noise from all the instruments.

"The public and Herr van Beethoven, who conducted, were not happy with each other on this evening; the public thought this symphony was too weighty, too long, and himself too ill-mannered, because he did not incline his head to acknowledge the applause which came from a section of the audience. On the contrary, Beethoven felt the applause was not sufficient."

Alan Kendall, The Chronicle of Classical Music, Thames and Hudson, 1994, pp. 130-3.

Thursday, September 07, 2006 09/07/06-Schopenhauer's Porcupines

In today's encore excerpt, psychotherapist Deborah Luepnitz introduces her book by recounting and amplifying on Schopenhauer's famous fable and metaphor of the porcupines:

"I [mention] Arthur Schopenhauer's well-known fable, a story Freud liked enough to cite in his book on group psychology [and] I paraphrase the fable as follows:

" 'A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter's day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of commingling, and begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.'

"The story spoke to Freud as a lesson about boundaries. ("No one can tolerate a too intimate approach to his neighbor.") It also spoke to his belief that love is everywhere a thorny affair. Freud wrote: 'The evidence ... shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time--marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children--contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression' ...

"All relationships ... require us to contain contradictory feelings for the same person. As the poet Molly Peacock observed: "There must be room in love for hate."

Deborah Anna Luepnitz, Schopenhauer's Porcupines, Basic Books, 2002, pp. 2-3.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006 09/06/06-america recruits immigrants

In today's excerpt, having completed the transcontinental railroad in 1869, U.S. businesses and the U.S. government try to recruit individuals and families to settle in the middle of the country to create farms and towns along railway. For the businessmen in particular, it was not only a way to support the operations of their railroads, but a way to increase the value of the landholdings they had received from the government as part of the inducement to build the railroads:

"It had at first been thought that no settlers could survive anywhere on the semiarid, mostly treeless Great Plains that rolled all the way from Montana and the Dakotas south into Texas ... but the Homestead Act of 1862 began to change all that. It promised 160 acres of public land to any person who filed a claim, paid a ten-dollar fee, and agreed to work the property for five years. As it happened, the 1870s and early 1880s were unusually wet years in the West, and the prairies, plowed and planted for the first time, yielded bumper crops. Promoters made the most of it ... [but] most of these efforts came to nothing. Factory workers [from the East] weren't farmers, and even those who might try it could rarely afford it. Land itself was cheap, but getting to it, getting started, and surviving for the five years required to get title to a homestead cost money that most of them didn't have.

"Prospects seemed better overseas. The Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society recruited Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe to establish farming communes in Oregon, Colorado, Kansas, and the Dakotas. The First Swedish Agricultural and Galesburg Colonization Companies started the towns of Salemsborg and Lindsborg in Kansas. Small groups of Dutch, French, Bohemian, English, and Irish families scattered across the Plains. Two hundred Scottish families settled together on the Kansas-Nebraska border. By 1875, more than half of Nebraska's 123,000 settlers were members of families headed by foreign immigrants. ...

"Then C.B. Schmidt [of the Santa Fe railroad] was dispatched for the biggest prize of all--the German- Russian Mennonites. They were pacifists who had fled Prussia rather than serve in its army three- quarters of a century earlier. ... There was plenty of competition for these able and prosperous farmers. After Canada offered them immunity from military service and free transportation if they would settle there, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota all also solemnly offered to exempt them from military duty-- although they had no legal authority to do so. Everyone promised them the right to govern themselves in their own communities, to speak German in their own schools, plenty of land at good prices, and easy credit.

"Mennonite emissaries were taken to Washington to meet President Grant. ... Secretary of State Hamilton Fish personally assured them the United States would not go to war again for at least fifty years."

Geoffrey C. Ward, The West, Back Bay Books, 1996, pp. 243-7.

Friday, September 01, 2006 09/01/06-Edward Hopper

In today's excerpt, the American artist, Edward Hopper, 1882-1967:

"Hopper's pictures truly seem to be located in a twilight zone, an interim condition. They reveal a world that is no longer in a state of innocence, but has not yet reached the point of self-destruction. His imagery is marked by a tremendous balance that is not yet equilibrium. It evokes no idyllic pre- industrial state, nor does it celebrate mechanization. Hopper shows us a situation that no other American artist captured in quite this way...This ambiguity, even indifference, made Hopper a forerunner of American Pop Art. Not so much a reliance on tradition as his conscious use of American set pieces from the environment made him a quintessentially American Painter...

"Hardly a trace of (faith in the blessings of technology) is found in Hopper. Once the diffuse religious feeling present in the earlier works had dissipated, nothing new replaced it. Only emptiness, a vacuum, remained. Again, it was not so much Hopper's themes that were typically American, as it was his pictorial inventory, the actual things he depicted. Besides railroads, these included train stations and gas stations. As Pop artists pointed out, Hopper was likely the first painter ever to dignify the latter feature of American landscape by using it as a motif in art...

"We know that Hopper was a great admirer of Ernest Hemingway. In 1927 Scribner's Magazine, for which Hopper worked as an illustrator, published Hemingway's story The Killers. Hopper wrote a letter to the editors, saying how refreshing it was to find such an honest piece of work in an American magazine, after wading through the endless, sugar- coated mush that was usually published. And, he added, the story made no concessions to mass taste, contained no divagations from reality, and had no spurious resolutions at the end...

"His ideal, which he knew to be unachievable, was to make his (paintings) 'with such simple honesty and effacement of the mechanics of art as to give almost the shock of reality itself.'

" 'I was never able to paint what I wanted to paint.' "

Interior Scenes : <>
Street Scenes : <>
Landscapes: <>

Ivo Kranzfelder, Hopper, Taschen, 2006, pp. 75, 70, 92, 98, 44