Saturday, January 24, 2015

On the Fanciful Parts of the Preceding

Frontispiece from the 1941 reprint of an edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury (Garden City, 1907) with four color plates "reproduced from paintings by Maxfield Prarrish".  They are not all in the same Parrish maniera, and I cannot believe that they were done expressly for this book, otherwise an unillustrated text of Palgrave, ending with Wordsworth.  The list of illustrations gives as a caption to this one Shakespeare's "Tell me where is Fancy bred, Or in the heart or in the head?"  But I know of no Maxfield Parrish more charming per se than this one.  I found the book in a secondhand bin, and it is not only ex-library but ex-School Library and in condition by no means 'collectible.

Who Has Maxfield Parrish Prints Today?

My grandmother, until well after WW II, still had the pair of reproductions of two of those Maxfield Parrish horizontal paintings of mildly symbolic character with titles such as Evening or Summer Dream; one of the theaters (the Curran?) in San Francisco had his paintings, but vertical, on its walls (at least, I thought they were his…).  From the first decades of the 20th century more of his work was illustrations for books or magazines, like the lantern-lighting by young persons dressed like Pierrots, above.  One caption in Google Images says it came from Collier's magazine, for 1908 (that illustrated Palgrave went through several printings, down to 1930).  One caption in the Images says it was by a follower of Parrish's, but only one.  No matter.  
It exemplifies what Parrish did, and it probably was inspired by the Sargent painting, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose-n01615 which is still popular today and which I first saw reproduced in one of my grandmother's ladies' magazines.  When finally I saw the original Carnation Lily Lily Rose and had developed a lifetime admiration for everything that Sargent ever did, it only renewed my passion for Sargent's work: see the Tate Gallery's page on it, linked above.
Parrish was not a great painter, as Sargent was, but he was very good indeed (though the dreamy evening landscapes may pall).  And my love of Sargent explains why I bought that grubby Palgrave (already owning a couple in decent editions) about a quarter century ago.
http://hugoxavie5.wix.com/hxavier#!scribners-illustrated-classics-/cyev
A couple of other titles in that Classics edition also were illustrated by Parrish.
You will wager that I also unrepentantly love Jessie Wilcox Smith, and I do; I met her in the illustrations for A Child's Garden of Verses, also published in that fine series of Scribner's reprints c. 1955.  As for R. L. Stevenson, his Treasure Island in that series was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth, and the whole Illustrated Classics is a cultural treasure, in my opinion.
It is not a question, I think, of Post-Impressionism and Cubism being good and figural subjects (especially illustrations) being bad, as Art, but of the best in any category, if objectively of enduring value, being worthy of lifetime study and pleasure.
Similarly with generations (this does seem super-obvious, even objectionable): in distinguishing generations of authors (or other artists) D. E. Stevenson's 'Janetta Walters' (née Jane Watts) in the Barbara Buncle novels seems to be indistinguishable from the authors who publish in Harlequin Books (for example), is a spoof that could be made today; the novels for sale at Walmart, for example, are just like the romantic "bodice busters" that my mother got in the mail from the Dollar Book Club, and they still sell just as well.  What is astonishing, in fact, about D. E. Stevenson is her consistency in writing marriage-in-the-end novels for a more literate feminine readership.  I may have read no bodice-busters since I was in school, but I have enjoyed six of hers (which are not prudish but certainly decent).  But I am not much of a judge, because detective stories are the fiction I tolerate best.
Anyway, A. F. Benson (of the same cohort as, say, Picasso or V. Woolf—actually, of Henri Matisse) was fully a generation older than D. E. Stevenson.  Both wrote a lot, simply had to write, it seems.  Both are writers that I enjoy for their writing and for their literary high fun.  But his most enduring work, I think, will be Mapp and Lucia, rather late in his career, and hers, I venture (not having read so many) will be the Barbara Buncles, which are relatively early in her career.  His c. 1930  are his most free-wheeling (I think of that trip on the kitchen table), but hers  proceed from the onset of WW II to become more conventional from a literary point of view.  I mean, I like A.F. Benson so well that I'll even read his ghost stories, though it is not a genre that appeals much to me, apart from The Turn of the Screw.
By the way, I've gotten round to Benson memoirs, and I cannot recommend As We Were too highly (just get past the first chapter).  Free and easy but discrete and insightful memoirs of an Archbishop of Canterbury's son must be very rare indeed.
I must not try to summarize all the pleasures of a Great Depression child in the literature of her (or his, I'm sure) parents and grandparents.  And I am somewhat limited by the eye-ease of Kindle (and other electronic) editions.  And I let this go stale while I reacted to the World.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"The First Family" (1962)


Buster
Not that he needs another portrait, but freezing weather demands a bed on the denim jeans.
Some folks feel that pets' comfort in sleeping on unwashed clothes that retain their owner's personal scent betrays nasty taste.  They forget that dogs follow scents and that cats who couldn't care less what an opossum looks like are greatly put off by their specific odor.  I have a neighbor whose cat for years found his way around quite easily when he'd been blinded by glaucoma.  As for Buster and my bluejeans, they are to him recognizable as a cub's den, where kits find one another and pile up till their mother returns from hunting.

I had in mind to head this posting by (a) a cartoon, and (b) by an album cover:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Family_(album).  All the dozens of reproductions of (b) are under copyright, and, I guess, so is the cartoon (a), which I recall seeing in The New Yorker just after the death of Pope John XXIII; some of you will recall that he called Vatican Council II and that he was famous for having come of peasant stock and being far more open-minded than Pius XII.  The caption was, "He was a good pharaoh" and it illustrated some rather housewifely Egyptian women (water jars on their heads) processing past pyramids, palms, and camels.  I have searched and searched for the cartoon but only located the caption for it.  So Buster is their stand-in.
As I recall, the Kennedys did not object very much to the LP record, and I never heard of the Church objecting to the pyramids.  Queen Victoria's offense at all sorts of improprieties (which astonishes us) was not something she'd deign to mention, and her subjects, one gathers, took for granted their license to be somewhat rude in their humor, just as Halévy and Offenbach used Jupiter's hypocritical womanizing when they figured him as Napoleon III and represented the personified Public Opinion as a rigorously judgmental Victorian lady in black.  When all bored Olympus begged 'Jupin' to take them along with Orpheus when Propriety demanded his return there, no one thought that the preference for Hades/Hell was sacrilegious.

My generation, which since WW II had regarded our presidents (and the UK royal family, too), and the Church, both Catholic and Protestant (consider Norman Rockwell pictures) as inherently serious, loved Pope John XXIII, even if some of us were non-believers who privately loved "The Merry Minuet" and did not take the words of Christmas songs literally, inwardly whooped and hollered at "The First Family" (which is still available from Amazon, by the way) when it came out, not least because we really enjoyed the Kennedy family, with Jackie speaking French in France, with the lovely little children, and all.  How great to make fun of grass-roots idealization of them!  It wasn't as if Pres. Kennedy hadn't real problems to deal with.  It wasn't as if they were really plaster saints, either.  But what joy to laugh with the songs on the LP record, how great to be free to do so.
Then, of course, he was shot.  Me, without a word, I put away the record.  Sure, they weren't saints, but their human loss...

It is not, of course, that France was the first nation to turn the unbearable into comedy.  Greece and Rome  (Japan, too) had done so, and gloriously.
Our European tradition springs from Greece.  I'll just mention Aristophanes.  At least as irreverent as CharlieHebdo, and still profoundly funny.
The Athenian Theophrastus encapsulated tiresome Athenian types in his Characteres, and in the 17th century Jean de la Bruyère published a French version that is quite faithful to Theophrastus (himself a follower of Aristotle).http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/7736 for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastus.
The old Loeb classical library for Jebb's edition, Greek facing English, is available at http://www.eudaemonist.com/biblion/characters   Jebb is hard to compete with: the text of the Characcteres is lucid Attic Greek, but you do need to know the finer meaning of the key words in context (just using the Latin equivalent given in a standard dictionary is often unenlightening at best and robs the work of its edge).  One English edition offered in Amazon is not only unedited (OCR not checked; punctuation abused) but just plain bad.  It is the one touted for having illustrations of the types.
If there's a new Loeb volume, I'll come back to add it.

How can any of our talking heads forget Rabelais?  Some of CharlieHebdo is Gargantua indeed.

Even the best broadcast commentary, the best I have found being that on NPR's "On the Media", does not mention the Greek and Roman (think of Juvenal!) roots of our tradition.  These roots are in fact older than Islam (not that a few centuries matter, of course).  Here are some links to start with:

http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=aristophanes&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/7736 for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastes


http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=gargantua&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 for Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel

Some of the broadcast commentary explaining the problems in refraining from reproducing CharlieHebom has been especially good:
http://www.onthemedia.org/story/on-the-media-2015-01-09/?utm_source=local&utm_medium=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item0


Friday, December 5, 2014

News and Ideas at the Reilly-Reeves House

The Turreted House at the Corner of Park and Cherokee­

Last year, when a friend pointed out to me the singular features of this house, I was eager to learn about it.  At that time it still had a blue plastic protective sheet on part of the roof to protect it after damage due (I think) to Hurricane Gustave, and it needed a good paint job.  See the Teegee Essays blog posts from January and February of 2013. ­





Now an exemplary paint job, including details of shutters, etc., is almost complete.  I have added a new album of nine supplementary views: https://plus.google.com/photos/102498681030579488308/albums/6079512143570108641?banner=pwa
*******

Yes, it was Richard Norman Shaw who marketed the fancy houses from c. 1870 to c. 1910 as "Queen Anne".  Reading surveys of Nicholas Pevsner's generation I had been puzzled: we had endless specimens of the style that flourished about up to World War I both in California and in the Pacific Northwest to our north, where a whole neighborhood in Seattle has been called "Queen Anne".
But in the middle of the 20th century, when I was studying at Berkeley and labeling and filing 2X2 slides used in teaching there (and socializing with graduate students in both architecture and the figural arts, though never, I admit,  taking a course in 19th century American architecture), no one called these houses anything but Late Victorian (not even the occasional friends who owned one of them)—not that Victoria had been our queen, but certainly Anne hadn't.  At least some of us knew that she belonged to the generation of Jane Austen, say, and thought of Chippendale (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Chippendale)  and the Image album, s.v. chippendale furniture) to furnish it.  I don't know how our Baton Rouge house is furnished, but I can't quite see a forest of cabriolet legs in it (there's a good page on them in Wikipedia, s.v.) or even an American version of Hepplewhite.
As so often (but why didn't I find this page last year?),  the Wikipedia comes down hard and clear on the real estate abuse of "Queen Anne": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Anne_style_architecture , not deigning to call the American (and other colonial) "painted ladies" (their San Francisco nickname now) by Queen Anne's name unless prefaced by "revival".
Most of the antique or pseudo-antique furniture, from which I got my first notions of furniture styles (remember: no internet, no TV shows on Great Homes or Antiques Roadshow, no Wiki, though the Britannica of 1910, s.v. Furniture, does have five plates of excellent examples) came from Grand Rapids factories as they passed through my grandfather's shop, and the furnishings of the Reilly-Reeves house, whatever their stylistic affiliations, could just as well come from that industry, already by 1912 more than two generations old, and may have been of hardwoods finer than ash.  It doesn't matter; I think houses back then were named more for their period style than for charming association with earlier queens.  In fact, the commercial use of "Queen Anne" is so entrenched for Late Victorian that is both fancy and expensive that the Wikipedia labels the houses of the end of the 18th century "English Queen Anne".
*******
I have come round to this because a good friend sent me the Kindle edition of D. E. Stevenson's "Miss Buncle's Book", new to me and utterly delightful.  She was Scottish, born in Edinburgh in 1892, fully a generation younger than the very English E. F. Benson.  The novel in question, the first of half a dozen, appeared in 1934 just three years later than E. F. Benson's first Lucia.  Both start in a village of more limited possibilities and in the second volume move to a 'better' one, Benson's famous Tilling (which is Rye) and Stevenson's Wandlebury which may or may not be near Cambridge but does take its name from what is now a preservation Park (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=wandlebury+country+park).  That too may be coincidental, and its justly famous self-referential device of a novel written within a novel was unique, but the handling of characters and its sheer joy suggest irresistibly, to me at least, that Stevenson, who had written only one novel before this one, was practically intoxicated by Lucia.  I do recommend the Buncle books, which we owe to Kindle (the 1930s by a Scottish woman not being, perhaps, financially feasible publishing), but with the Baton Rouge promise of a blog post on the Reilly house puzzling me by being called "Queen Anne" I had to notice the two authors' descriptions of fine houses of the late 18th century, that the heroine is devoted to and the authors describe quite accurately.  Now I don't know what D. F. Stevenson actually lived in, but on line she is said to be related to Robert Louis Stevenson (not, to be sure, to an archbishop of Canterbury), and, I guess, is one of that intellectual bourgeoisie who all knew one another—and she writes that way, as Wodehouse, for example, does not, though he's just as clever as they are.  Wodehouse didn't live in a country house, such as he sent Bertie Wooster to, except sporadically.  The way one describes a house that one loves is quite different from a TV presentation of Chatsworth or Castle Howard (used to film Brideshead Revisited, and by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Castle%20Howard) whether a smaller house or a great one.  Now D. F. Stevenson loves the house she puts the second novel in the same way as Benson loved his Lamb House (for which I refer you to some very good photos of the house and the whole town (in Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=Lamb%20House%20Rye).
But the point is: whoever did it (I think in the Registry of noteworthy buildings in Baton Rouge), calling the Reilly-Reeves house Queen Anne of a sort, all those writers who need copy have copied the label (usually taking pains to disclaim it) and find nothing reliable but the photos in the EBRLibrary collection and the data attributed to "the courthouse", whence we have names for a contractor and an architect (both unknown to me, but no matter: an architect was hired to realize the owner's vision) and the date, also guaranteed, it is high time we considered the house itself and not some realtor's label.  Incidentally, if one chooses to trust the memories of someone of the family but elderly, and if the building of the Gottlieb House over on Drehr really was a direct response to that on Park Boulevard, it would seem to endorse a pre-World War II dating for the Gottlieb house.  Only one interview says so, but does assert that they had the first telephones.  One thing you can trust from Antiques Roadshow is the folkloric historicity of family memories.  It is like the genealogy of the Troy Tale: there is truth in these traditions but for accurate data…  If you've read thousands of student papers 'researched' in a branch public library (to avoid going to the university library) and then boiled down to make sense to the writer…  On the other hand, until I read those two descriptions of fine houses beloved by the authors who put their principle characters in them, and found the Wikipedia article, s.v. Queen Anne Architecture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Anne_style_architecture
I hadn't dared to let the house itself be its own evidence, making a stylistic statement unlike any in the handbooks or old catalogues.  But I admire the family who are proud of it, and for more than two decades I have been glad to live in its neighborhood.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Gottlieb House



The One Truly Different House in the Garden District
The front through the great tree


 When, Depression baby that I was, I had saved enough to put down the full 20% of the asking price on a house in the neighborhood that I liked,  I got a 6-room 1928 bungalow, with fixtures just like the ones of my childhood.  Our "Garden District" offered dozens of these.  My oldest neighbors then were about my present age, and many of them were the original owners, and they knew all about our Garden District.  As Southerners, though (I was from northern California, via New York City), they meant that they knew all of  Who was Who.  Our corner-lot houses are larger and most of them are the ones with family names.
Even in that category (I have written about several of them) this house is outstanding.  Kathryn Darsey, who lived next door to me and was about 80 even when I moved in, told me that the house above was the Gottlieb House.  In 1986 I didn't yet have a computer, let alone Wikipedia, but I did remember the name, partly because she didn't like the house (which I loved at sight), because it was dark.  I should have had the sense to photograph it while it was still dark: for this kind of brick and this kind of design, "dark" is like that original finish that the Keno twins on the Antiques Roadshow insist upon.
Does anyone have good photographs of the house before 2002, when, together with some necessary repairs, it was painted with the cream-colored paint that also is a sealant?
The forms are so powerful that it still has plenty of character, even without white window frames and black screens setting off the dark red brick.  But having a family to fully inhabit it is the most important; it's just that I'd like to have a record of it  as I remember it.
Thing is, since taking pictures of oak trees is a no-no on campus, for a faculty member whose colleagues teach photography (like putting a perfect pink rose on a wedding altar or photographing the Old Wagon Wheel or a Mail Pouch barn somewhere out West), I would go and photograph these equally grand oaks just three blocks from my own house—and only look at the house; I got into the study of houses only about 2011.  And I was timid to trespass: anyone who could have that house and maintain its gardening outclassed me by far, besides my having been taught as a little Presbyterian not to pry or snoop in other peoples' lives.  So one day as I drove past it, it was all cream-colored.  In Berkeley I had always envied the big brown shingle houses, pre-World War I, and knew that people who were working their way through college at 90 cents per hour could never have them.
Anyway, when a friend asked me to take pictures all around it, I was delighted for the excuse to oblige.
You can check as I did, in Wikipedia: The Gottliebs were bankers; they had founded the best and most solid of our banks, in the days before all our banks were bought out.  One of them was an important Louisiana state senator, too.  They certainly were qualified to build this great, solid house, apparently using imported brick and on property ampler than any other in Baton Rouge.  So "Gottlieb House" is correct.
When this old lady showed up with a camera, people were very friendly.  And I promised to post the pictures and not to relay any gossip I might be given and not to ask to come inside: this is a whole family real home.  I really should like to get a Plan, and someone thinks she has one.  It is true that some early Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie Style houses generally handle a porte cochere similarly, and I think that the date I was given, 1915 or 1917, must be about right.  (The Register of houses in Drehr Place gives very generalized dating, especially for houses so different from the Colonial manner or Cottage Style that is prevalent here).  My knowledgeable friends and former colleagues assure me that it is not Wright, but I see what they mean about Prairie Style; it is anything but Gracious Southern.  Colonial's nice, too, but very, very different.  This house is much more like many in well-to-do parts of America, including the Northwest as well as the Midwest.  Not that I've studied it yet.  I have written so many posts about houses that my neighbors tend to suppose I'm an architectural historian.  But what I am is a classical archaeologist and art historian and, admittedly, a thorough dilettante.
32 labeled images in Albums (use link):
and in
+Google (slokind)

Please feel free to leave comments at foot of this Post, in Picasa album, or in +Google.

Here are the oak trees  about the time of Hurricane Andrew,
taken with a Nikon F camera on Tri-X film.





Saturday, October 25, 2014

Post-modern Cartography!

Not that Google Earth isn't great
(but a photograph is not the same thing as a map)
This was meant to be a footnote to the Post of July 29.  Here it is, better late than never.



So long as I was teaching undergraduate courses, as one means of keeping abreast of what the freshmen were getting from my colleagues, I browsed every semester among the textbooks ordered for history, geography, anthropology, et al.  It was quite by accident that I came across one called Human Antiquity, in its 2nd edition (1990 by Feder and Park.  I do not believe that the authors had ever checked the maps (and some of the dates such as that for Friederick Engels on p. 398, where "(1942)" must be that of some other textbook, Engels having died in 1884, indeed, according to the Wikipedia article, in 1892).
The map, reproduced above, is possibly the worst every provided for college students.  Its most egregious faults, the Black Sea, Pontos Euxinos, shown the color of land, and all of Mesopotamia (though left unclosed at the top!) colored blue.  But, someone surely will protest, the Young will not try to read the map; it is really just an obligatory ornament—though, as a "location of sites", its placing Halaf in the water is shocking.  The more you look, the worse it is: even with the omission of the Danube's mouth, 'GREECE' ought not to be printed where it is.
This textbook is not from a great publisher, but as a 2nd Edition…!  When I was in Middle School in the 1940s, the maps in our books (issued on loan by California to all the students, and after a long war grubby and inky from long use) never had such inadequacies as this one has.

I remembered this awful map when the Islamic State took Mosul, and the Kurds helped the refugees come down from the Sinjar mountains.  I had to go back to the EB of 1910, s.v. Syria, to find my way through the news reports.  The historical atlases I had on hand either omitted too many modern names or too many ancient ones (I knew that the Mitanni had been up there east of Aleppo or Damascus and west of Mosul, but not exactly where, relative to any of the groups of modern Kurds).  And where had the ancestors of the Kurds been (well, soon I did learn that they are Indo-Iranian, so that hadn't been earlier than Media—and how placed relative to Scythians?).  And what about all those other names concerning which I know little more than how to spell them?

Before computer graphics routinely could make maps better, they made them really bad: not very good even when not cheap, not excellent any cheaper than the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, which is to say in atlases as such, not as illustrations in books with illustrations.  In the Art of the World series, published by Crown in the USA and, in German, originally, by the Holle Verlag, in the early 1960s, the maps are reproduced from line drawings, photographically, and visibly in plain pen and ink, usually by someone handy with a crow-quill or a Rapidograph (yes, it's in the Wikipedia).  Some of them were neatly done but with a dismal ignorance and insensitivity to geography.  In that series of archaeological books their quality varies.

Map provided for Edith Porada's Ancient Iran.  
In the same series, map for The Middle East  by Sir Leonard Woolley.
Woolley, the excavator of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, was a full generation older than Professor Porada, but by the end of his career he knew, as Henri Frankfort for his Peguin History of Art volume a decade earlier, what sort of map was required and, doubtless, where to acquire it.  He does not let everything north and west of the Euphrates just fall off at the left in this odd partial tracing of a pre-existing map; having known her, though not very well, I know that Porada cannot have approved of that skewed and discontinuous map of Ancient Iran.  In 1962 a good archaeological map of Greater Iran may not have been available (I didn't find a good 19th-century one offhand, and I suspect that 19th-century Biblical interest in Leonard Woolley's world is partly responsible.

Yet all three of these maps lack indicators of latitude and longitude.  About 38° North is close enough as a starting reference for Mosul and Aleppo, but how far north do modern Kurds live?  Well, south of Hasanlu and Marlik, I think.  Not north of Lake Van and Urartu.  Bit by bit I spread out the larger atlases and began to learn enough geography.  It's getting better, and Wikipedia offers some tourist pictures of the principal cities.  But I got the lay of the land from Robert Baer.  
I am forced to admit that I never did know where the Mitanni lived.  This is still the zone that is Iranian (at least since the end of the 2nd millennium BCE), south of Slavic and north of Semitic.  And please, everyone, don't call all the major groups of Semitic-speaking  peoples "anti-Semitic".

There are beautiful new maps of this whole world in the Metropolitan Museum's new catalogue of art from Assyria to Iberia: at the Dawn of the Classical Age.  Map reproductions of the mature computer age!  I wish I might scan some.  I just got the book.

But no other one that I have seen is as culpable and horrid as the one I put at the head of this Post.


Friday, August 8, 2014

The 1880s again

Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells, young Henry James, and, last but not least, Mark Twain
1880s armchair, japalac on oak
Back in March and April, 2111 (posts between March 17 and April 4), in my usual kind of Chain of Browsing, I came upon an author that none of my teachers had succeeded in making me read, Hamlin Garland, and learning that he was befriended by William Dean Howells I began to read his correspondence with Henry James and became interested in the decade, the 1880s, when my grandfather was born: but these were the writers born before the Civil War.
Yet, so thoroughly had I been driven from the most famous of them, by the anthologizing of the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and the choice of Tom Sawyer (I did know the movie of the 1940s) as something for Norman Rockwell to illustrate, that no amount of pressure had succeeded in getting me even past page one of Huckleberry Finn.  I seem to have felt that it was disrespectful of my friends of African (and Asian) ancestry to make them Types, and unsubtle, at best, to treat southern persons, much as I disagreed with them, as if they were all cruel slave drivers.  Besides, my quote-loving friends had tried a few dozen times too many to make me admire Mark Twain's 'calculation' of the length of the Mississippi as the pinnacle of wit (and, of course, its context was never given).
Anyhow, as you see, I was obdurate.  But just as too much secondary school had saved Hamlin Garland for me (and led me to acquire a whole library on my little Kindle), now the rebroadcast on PBS of Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey West's 2002 Florentine Films' Mark Twain has brought me to, first, Huckleberry Finn, which belongs to that annus mirabilis, 1885-6, and which, after all, all the best minds liked best (if both Arthur Miller and Bernard Shaw did, how could I not?).  And, behold, it is much, much more than about Race!  In fact, it is in the context of the whole work that the question of Race is a serious question.  Twain was much too wise to argue anything like that.
Now I shall decide which Complete Works is better (neither is expensive) and as with Howells and William James (Henry is the one that I'd read the most of) and Arthur Conan Doyle, with the help of zoomable fonts, I shall set about reading Mark Twain.  How (after writing my last post!) can I not have to read the great writer who came to accept the unknowable as such?  How can I not accept his  getting from day to day in his old age by playing the role that the World took pleasure in?
And now that I understand the American Renaissance Revival (see the headpiece here) I can happily appreciate the Hartford house.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The question of Iraq

Encyclopedia Britannica XI (1910) s.v. Syria
(click to fit to screen)
When the invasion of Kuwait appeared suddenly on CNN, I found Kuwait on a map easily, and I knew from the excellent map in Henri Frankfort, The Art of the Ancient Orient, Pelican History of Art, 1954, to look for Babylon where the Rivers nearly met.  For that book had been my introduction to the subject.  In the meantime, I had learned that during the first years of the war beginning in 2003, Syria had received numerous refugees from northern Iraq.  True, I knew that Halaf, for example, was in Syria, and Mari and, of course, Damascus.  I mean, I knew bits and pieces but where the border had been drawn I really didn't know.  Being used to Europeans that I talked to on trains often knowing only New York, Chicago (gangsters) and San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge)— not much more and not necessarily where to look for them (for example, Hollywood was simply Hollywood), but that did not excuse me.  Or the makers of atlases. The great and good Bavarian Grosser Historischer Weltatlas had a beautiful ancient Mesopotamia and a detailed (color coded) modern Arabian Republics of the periods 1945–1961.  But I got it only in the 1960s, and I'm sure it's still in copyright.
But I had nothing for c. 1918.  T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars… had no map, and the movie with Peter O'Toole was filmed in Jordan.
This is an awful confession of ignorance but perfectly true, in so far as I knew nothing (unless you counted the Assyrian Empire in the back of my Sunday School Bible).
The 1910 Britannica was still very British.  It has a double page map in color of Ireland but no political map of Mesopotamia; as for Iraq, of course, the name had not yet been assigned to the country we know.  For some reason, it wouldn't say, or even index, Ottoman, and only later did I find Turkey in Europe, but less detailed than the Syria, above.  The Eleventh Edition  has become invaluable as the encyclopedia of the world before World War I, recording all its biases and assumptions, and its maps, engraved in Switzerland, I think, were great.  The Syria map I found for the area that I have had to read about for the last 25 years is perhaps an ordnance map and it is signed by Walker.

So much for my supplying the above half-page map of Syria to head this blog post.

The whole world would seem to be snowballing towards disaster of the senseless kind.  Though it was true that an almost predictable march back into Iraq from Syria was awful news, foreboding news, after watchers of CNN in 2003 had watched the Iraqi army dissolve through palm trees and across the Euphrates, and Syria had welcomed many Iraqi families, it was high time that we understood that it may not have been mere cowardice in the face of unbeatable invading forces; it might have been what they were instructed to do: cross the river and desert and regroup with their nearest ethnic relatives and train themselves in their own way.  Why would I think that?  I don't know.  I only could look back over the fluid and yet unchanging history of the truly middle Middle East.  And who could not reflect on the Kurdish people spread out across at least three modern nation states?  How can we expect that Iraqis will cling with deep pride to Iraqi identity?  To find their name on that Britannica map, you look for a people, but not a nation, and almost all the way down to the marsh arabs.  It may be enough to be glad if what was once Babylonia hangs together and what was once Assyria, for its part, too.  And Ctesiphon, of course, is not in modern Iran.  But we are still hung and bound and gagged by the insoluble problem of Palestinians and Israelis.
That is why I have no opinions, can form none, about the World.  I have known for decades how bitterly Ukrainians resent Russians and Russians hold them in contempt.  I don't know why, really, but when I lived in New York I heard it all the time.
I won't go through a laundry list to write an updated Merry Minuet, but I know how bitter and unhappy things feel.  I keep trying to tell myself that it's just an octogenarian's lack of élan vital.  Partly it is, but not primarily.  I find some solace in reading good spy fiction, like John le Carre.  Reading the tragic biography by Kai Bird of Robert Ames.  Even the patient rehearsal of my own youth and worst fears of  the Age of Edgar J. Hoover's FBI; my friends and I never dared even to speak of the FBI and that a lot earlier than Betty Medzger thought we did.  What is awful is the consolation afforded by this literature: none of what we hear today is new.  Small consolation.  It has taken most of my lifetime for civilization to put itself together again.  To me, civilized values and all the arts and all decency is what I love, or at least all that I flatter myself in believing.
That's inadequate and incoherent, but it's all I can muster right now.