Friday, August 31, 2012

Catching up on video hits: cat with existential angst and dancin' in the streets

This video of the cat Henri, suffused with ennui, won best of show at the Walker Art Center's  Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, beating out even "Keyboard Cat." (A French accent gets them every time.) The museum received 10,000 submissions from a casting call, ending up with a hour's worth of feline antics for the attendees' viewing pleasure.
The goofy and joyful video below has deservedly gone viral, with copycats in Copenhagen, London, Australia, and Vancouver.
 Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Huxley grapples with Orwell's 1984

The website Letters of Note featured this missive from Aldous Huxley comparing/contrasting the two authors' takes on totalitarianism.
Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
Yours sincerely,
Aldous Huxley

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Classy cowgirl

Who says you can't be tough and stylin'?
Cowpokes, heroes & villains, and various in-betweens populate our DVD offerings of Westerns. John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, The Magnificent Seven, et al. are featured among plentiful stores of classics and curios from both Hollywood and television. So channel your inner John (or Jane) Wayne and rustle yourself up some gun-totin', cattle-drivin' frontier entertainment! (Left: publicity shot of John Wayne for Stagecoach, the film that launched his career.)
Related post: Best Westerns.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A story by Martha Gellhorn

I was gratified and excited the day that novelist / war correspondent Martha Gellhorn replaced "DIY bookends" as the most viewed post (out of more than 500) on this blog (see "Popular Posts" at right). She's been there for quite a while now, so I thought I'd celebrate by linking to her story "The Smell of Lilies," which appeared in the August 1956 issue of The Atlantic.
Gellhorn & Hemingway in China, 1941

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beatles covers, squared

The 50th anniversary of the first single by The Beatles ("Love Me Do") has prompted all kinds of media brouhaha, including a new tribute show in London's West End, an appearance by Sir Paul's son James at Liverpool's Cavern Club, and Enzo Gentile's new collection of 60s and 70s Beatles comics (see end of post for groovy samples). Which are your favorite Beatles album covers? 
"Cover" versions of Beatles songs are innumerable, and I'm especially fond of Allison Krauss's "I Will," both Judy Collins' and Bette Midler's "In My Life," and Aretha's uniquely soulful "Eleanor Rigby" (my sweet Lord, the funk! Ray Charles and Tina Turner were no slouches in that department either.)

 I know you'll have many covers to recommend! Here's a really special one, with Sean Lennon.
Super-mega-cringe/gag-worthy is this crowd-sourced feature on the worst Beatles covers of all time. Below, Beatles covers that charted in the U.S., in order of sales.
From Marvel's Beatles Story to DC Comics' Girls' Romances and The Invisibles, the Fab Four's influence on pop culture is vividly depicted in Ezio Gentile's book The Beatles in Comic Strips. Below, some groovy samples.
A note on "word verification": we are going to try disabling the hieroglyphic gobbleygook for a week to make it easier for y'all to comment. If the spam isn't too overwhelming, we'll keep it up. We do love your thoughts and don't want to disinhibit your sharing them with us and other DG readers!

Monday, August 27, 2012

What makes a classic?

    1.    A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
    2.    A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.
    3.    Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.
In 1991's Why Read the Classics?, Italo Calvino has 11 more observations on books that stand the test of time. Yet even in literature departments of universities, authors fall in and out of fashion and definitions of greatness fluctuate. "One man's Mede is another man's Persian" as Dorothy Parker once quipped. To take two stylistic extremes, one person may read Moby Dick or Heart of Darkness and be enthralled, whereas said reader might pick up Jane Austen and be distinctly underwhelmed. Are there any classics you loathed? Any recently discovered ones you'd like to go to bat for? Whether literary or popular, you'll find many affordable and well-designed literary classics in our stacks, including novels by Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Joseph Conrad, Henry Fielding, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Gaskell, Kate Chopin, and more. And unlike e-readers, you can even risk reading these paperbacks in the bath!
Who read Classics Illustrated as a kid? I couldn't get enough of them! (Well, as much as my allowance would allow.) Below, Homer and Twain get the CI treatment.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

All things Lenny

Jennie and Lenny
Composer's Datebook reminds us that on today's date in 1943, Leonard Bernstein accompanied  singer Jennie Tourel in the premiere of his new song cycle I Hate Music! And on the day after, Artur Rodzinski invited the 25-year-old musical polymath to be Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Later that year, Tourel and Bernstein gave the New York premiere of the same work  at Town Hall. The very next day, Bernstein subbed at short notice for Bruno Walter, during the Philharmonic's Sunday afternoon national radio broadcast, live from Carnegie Hall. The event made the front page of The New York Times, and his legendary career was up and running. This account of the episode by Minnesota Public Radio's Bill Morelock gives a lot of juicy background.
After the recital there was a party at Jenny Tourel's apartment on West 58 th St. There was food, drink, Bernstein played boogie woogie improvisations on the piano; but the possibilities, the dangers, Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann, Miklos Rozsa and all of America listening made Bernstein discipline himself for what Sunday might demand of him. Normally he was the last to leave a party. This night he decided to be more prudent. He left between 4:30 and dawn.
After a couple hours of sleep the call came at nine. Walter could not go on. Bernstein would have to conduct at three that afternoon. There would be no time for rehearsals with the orchestra, but Bruno Walter had agreed to go through some of the scores with him, and give him a few pointers. Bernstein arrived at the hotel to find Walter wrapped in blankets. He was "kindness personified," according to Bernstein. He showed him the ins and outs of Don Quixote, where to cut off here, or give an extra upbeat. Bernstein drank it all in like a man lost in the desert. And then all he had to do, according to Walter, was to hang on. Calls went out from the offices of the New York Philharmonic to music critics around the country. This was a radio broadcast, an event of national interest. Radio bound the nation together at the height of the war in a way no other medium could approach.
Further reading: Leonard Bernstein: American Original: How a Modern Renaissance Man Transformed Music and the World During His New York Philharmonic Years, 1943–1976. 
Listening booth: Composers on Broadway—Leonard Bernstein / Bernstein conducting Mahler, Stravinsky, and Mozart.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Samurai, geisha, ghosts & mountains: Edo prints in all their splendor

University of Virginia Art Museum.
Continuing with Tuesday's theme of wondrous woodblock prints from Japan's Edo period, here's a slideshow Salon did of an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It culminates with a modern interpretation by Iona Rozeal Brown of Katsukawa Shunei's "The Actor Ichikawa Komazto III," 1791 (left).
"One for the Money, Two Faux the Show (Still Pimpin')," 2006

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book blurb madness

This fabulous work of sand art takes beach reading to a whole new level!
Shelf Awareness reported that some authors have subcontracted the writing of blurbs for books by fellow writers (those squibs of praise on the back cover and in ads)— to idiotic hacks, apparently, who churn out meaningless garbage.  The practice of blurbing was already fairly questionable, but this takes it to ludicrous new heights. One from Column A, one from Column B and presto, a blurb!
One day I had lunch with a bestselling author and, thinking to break the ice, said, "I saw that you blurbed so-and-so's latest book. I love him, too!" The ice got thicker as she said she had no idea who I was talking about--she doesn't write her blurbs. She has "people" to do that. I recalled that as I was looking over publishers' catalogues for fall books and came across some seriously odd blurbs for new books, like "Once in a lifetime, a writer puts it all together," said of a co-authored book; and a Fifty Shades of Graywannabe described as cute and charming. Or "For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the Twilight series." Throw in Dan Brown for a stunning Venn diagram. [by Marilyn Dahl]
Over at Flavorwire, I viewed a slideshow on vintage book ads. These two were especially piquant, the first for the seductive pose of Capote and the second for the awkward prose touting Mice and Men (did the novel emerge full-blown from Steinbeck's brain, like Aphrodite from the head of Zeus?).

Further reading: Of Mice and Men: Centennial Edition.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Video game heroes get Japanese woodblock makeover

Illustrator Jed Henry's ukiyo-e series depicts his favorite video game heroes in the style of classic Japanese woodblock prints, such as the one at left. I haven't a clue about Nintendo, etc., but I sure like what he's done! Click here for screen paintings, art from the Imperial Collections, and much more gorgeous Japanese art.
Below: Rough Waves, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1704–9; Autumn Grasses in Moonlight, Meiji period (1868–1912), ca. 1872–91. Both screens are from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Charles Darwin ponders pros and cons of marriage; shrinks from being a "neuter bee"

Charles Darwin as a young man, probably subseq... Darwin as a young man, probably subsequent to the Galápagos visit.Available online at the Darwin Correspondence Project are these (and more) jottings the pioneering naturalist made to himself about whether or not he should tie the knot.
Children – (if it Please God) – Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, – object to be beloved & played with. – better than a dog anyhow.– Home, & someone to take care of house – Charms of music & female chit-chat. – These things good for one's health. – but terrible loss of time. – My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. – No, no won't do. – Imagine living all one's day solitarily in smoky dirty London House. – Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps – Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro' St.
Not Marry
Freedom to go where one liked – choice of Society & little of it. – Conversation of clever men at clubs – Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. – to have the expense & anxiety of children – perhaps quarelling – Loss of time. – cannot read in the Evenings – fatness & idleness – Anxiety & responsibility – less money for books &c – if many children forced to gain one's bread. – (But then it is very bad for ones health[19] to work too much). Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool –

The upshot was that he took the plunge and deemed himself the better for it. He and his wife, née Emma Wedgewood, had 10 children and a long and happy life together. Want to explore his life, work, and times further? We have six books on Darwin just waiting for you to dip into them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Downton Abbey preview

Downton Abbey
It's going to be way too long before Season 3 airs in the States, but here's a preview of upcoming delights (Shirley MacLaine!) as well as sturm und drang.

In the meantime, seasons 1 and 2 are available for re-viewing and savoring at a great price here.
Downton's Michelle Dockery wearing Ralph Lauren couture at last spring's Met gala.